June 13, 2017

Rex Tillerson doesn't get into Cuba policy review specifics during Senate hearing

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@alextdaugherty 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not get into specifics when asked about President Donald Trump's Cuba announcement set for Friday in Miami as senators from both parties questioned Tillerson during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday.

"Can you give us some of the general contours you see shaping up relative to what that policy is going to be?" asked committee chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and Trump ally. 

"The general approach...is to allow as much of this continued commercial and engagement activity go to on as possible," Tillerson said. "We do see the sunny side as I describe it, we do see the benefits of that and to the Cuban people. But on the other hand, we think we have achieved very little in terms of changing the behavior of the regime in Cuba and the treatment of its people. Our concern is that they may be the biggest beneficiaries of all of this which promotes the continuance of that regime." 

Tillerson said that pressure on the Cuban government to implement democratic reforms "has been, in our view, largely removed now" after former President Barack Obama strengthened relations between the United States and Cuba in 2016. 

"I was down there not long ago and America has always felt that if it could do more business with folks it would pave the way for democracy," Corker said. "I do hope we end up with a policy that will cause the Cuban people themselves to reach their aspirations." 

New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, a supporter of Obama's efforts, rattled off a host of business ventures now possible in Cuba after Obama's changes, including the introduction of Airbnb into the Cuban economy. 

"Do you agree we should continue these efforts or do you believe we should return to the failed policies of the Cold War?" Udall asked. 

"Well, what you have described is the sunny side of the relationship and it's all positive and it's great," Tillerson said. "There is the dark side though and that is Cuba has failed to improve it's own human rights record. What we have to achieve in approaching Cuba is if were going to sustain the sunny side of this relationship Cuba must begin to address the human rights challenges. Within the sunny side of the relationship there are troubling elements to us that bring the relationship into conflict with existing statute obligations. Are we inadvertently or directly providing financial support to the regime? Our view is, we are." 

Tillerson also said he supports efforts to improve internet access in Cuba, but hedged that the focus of the policy review is making sure the Cuban government does not financially benefit from increased U.S. involvement on the island. 

In late May, 55 senators from both parties signed on to a bill that would fully eliminate travel restrictions to the island. 

Cuban-American lawmakers Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart — who favor the elimination of what they see as concessions to the Cuban government — have been involved in the Cuba review in recent months. 

Friday's announcement will reportedly take place at the Manuel Artime Theater, a former church that is symbolic for Cuban exiles. 

Marco Rubio and Elizabeth Warren agree on one issue—federal flood insurance must change

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@alextdaugherty 

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren rarely see eye-to-eye on major policy issues but both agree the National Flood Insurance Program must be fixed. 

The program, run by FEMA, must be reauthorized by September 30 as part of the 2018 budget. Rubio and Warren, along with Sens. Bob Menendez, John Kennedy, Chris Van Hollen and Thad Cochran penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday outlining their plan to make federal flood insurance fiscally sound. 

"Powerful floods devastate communities across America every year," the op-ed reads. "After these catastrophic natural disasters, too many Americans find themselves facing a man-made calamity: a National Flood Insurance Program that overcharges and underdelivers for policyholders and for taxpayers. As members of the Senate Banking and Appropriations committees, which oversee flood insurance and provide federal disaster response, we plan to offer bipartisan landmark legislation to tackle systemic problems with flood insurance and to reframe our entire disaster paradigm." 

The proposal comes as the federal flood insurance program is billions of dollars in debt and still dealing with the financial impacts of major hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy, where homeowners said federal engineers were encouraged to lie about storm damage to limit federal insurance payouts.

Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo also introduced legislation relating to flood insurance earlier this year. His bill would allow non-primary residences and businesses to be eligible for the same flood insurance rates as primary residences.

“This bill is critical to South Florida, especially for residents of the Florida Keys that are in desperate need of affordable housing options," Curbelo said in a statement. "The Flood Insurance Fairness Act would ensure all Americans have access to affordable flood insurance by guaranteeing that all non-primary residences and business properties receive the same rates provided to primary homes under the National Flood Insurance Program.” 

Read the rest of the op-ed here.

 

June 05, 2017

Bill Nelson will fight Donald Trump over air traffic control privatization

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@alextdaugherty

President Donald Trump threw his weight behind a proposal to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system on Monday, and a White House adviser called the multi-billion dollar effort “low-hanging fruit” that can get through Congress quickly.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson doesn’t see it that way.

Nelson, up for reelection in 2018, is the top Democrat on the Senate committee which oversees the Federal Aviation Administration. He fought for years against proposals to hand the nation’s air traffic control system over to a private non-profit, which he argues will hurt smaller airports and recreational flights.

“The safety of the flying public should not be for sale,” Nelson said Monday. “Handing air traffic control over to a private entity partly governed by the airlines is both a risk and liability we can’t afford to take.”

Nelson’s opposition has been successful for years, as Democrats and Republicans from rural states fretted about privatization’s effect on small airports and recreational aviation. A privatization bill proposed by House Transportation chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., didn’t even make it to the House floor last Congress.

But President Trump, with Shuster at his side, pitched air traffic control privatization as a win for consumers on Monday, putting pressure on congressional Republicans to get on board.

“For too many years, our country has tolerated unacceptable delays at the airport, long wait times on the tarmac and a slowing of commerce and travel that costs us billions and billions of dollars in lost hours and lost dollars themselves,” Trump said at a White House speech touting the plan.

Read more here. 

November 09, 2016

After U.S. Senate defeat, Patrick Murphy taking time for himself

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@ByKristenMClark

Following his decisive loss to Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday night, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy is keeping a low profile.

He's not doing any media interviews today, his campaign said. (The Herald/Times did request one.) The two-term Jupiter congressman has "no immediate plans" other than spending the next few days with family and friends, his campaign said.

After a hard-fought, 20-month campaign, advisers say Murphy was realistic about his odds and was prepared for Tuesday's outcome -- long indicated by consistent polls in Rubio's favor.

Murphy also knew that, regardless of the result, his life would change Tuesday, his campaign said: He'd either be a newly elected U.S. senator or he'd be on his way out as a public official.

Voters decided the latter would be Murphy's fate.

Photo credit: Jim Rassol / Sun Sentinel

Rubio's margin of victory: 716,833 votes

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@ByKristenMClark

While some expected Florida's U.S. Senate race to be relatively close at the end, Florida voters were decisive in re-electing Republican Marco Rubio on Tuesday.

In complete but unofficial results, Rubio's margin of victory was 8 percentage points -- 716,833 votes, to be precise, out almost 9.3 million cast.

Rubio outperformed president-elect Donald Trump -- who took Florida by about 120,000 votes out of almost 9.4 million cast -- while Rubio's Democratic challenger, Patrick Murphy underperformed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Rubio beat Murphy 52 percent to 44 percent, while Trump beat Clinton in Florida 49 percent to 48 percent.

MORE: Rubio returns to U.S. Senate

Murphy, a two-term congressman from Jupiter, won the majority of the vote in only nine of Florida's 67 counties -- most of them in reliably blue hotspots: Alachua, Gadsen, Leon, Orange, Osceola and St. Lucie counties, plus the Democratic stronghold of South Florida: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

While Rubio, of West Miami, lost his home county to Murphy by 109,000 votes, Rubio easily won most of Florida's rural counties and two key metros: Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. In Florida bellwether Hillsborough County, Rubio won by just 2,900 votes, with stronger support in the surrounding counties. In Duval County, Rubio's advantage was more than 69,000 votes.

Murphy -- who will now exit Congress in January after representing the Treasure Coast and northern Palm Beach County for four years -- had a mixed bag in his moderate congressional district. (His redistricted seat went back in the red column Tuesday, won by Republican Brian Mast.)

He won in Palm Beach County by more than 61,000 votes and eked by in St. Lucie County with 3,300 more votes than Rubio. However, he lost Martin County to Rubio by more than 16,000 votes.

Polls had shown Rubio ahead in nearly all polls in the Senate race -- by various margins -- since he declared for re-election in June. Less than a handful had Murphy evenly tied with him.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal / Miami Herald

November 08, 2016

Marco Rubio easily keeps seat in U.S. Senate

2016 Election Senate Rubio

@JeremySWallace @KristenMClark @DavidOvalle305

Marco Rubio is headed back to the U.S. Senate with his prospects of another run for president intact.

Rubio defeated two-term Congressman Patrick Murphy, who couldn’t overcome poor name recognition or questions about embellishments on his résumé.

Tuesday’s outcome was not a surprise given Rubio never trailed in 47 consecutive public polls of the race since he jumped into the contest in June. Yet given that Rubio emphatically stated he would not run for re-election six months ago, the outcome was still improbable.

Rubio, flanked by his family, took the stage at his watch party shortly before 9 p.m. to the cheers of a raucous crowd inside a ballroom at Miami’s Airport Hilton

He said he talked to Murphy by phone. “He ran a great race.”

In his brief remarks, Rubio struck a optimistic tone, making no mention of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. He took a sharply different tact than Trump, his party’s standard bearer who campaigned with divisive rhetoric.

“America is going to be OK. We will turn this country around. I have faith. I know God is not done with America yet,” Rubio said, adding: “While we can disagree on issues, we cannot share a country where people hate each other because of their political affiliations. We cannot move forward as a nation if we can not have enlightened debates about tough issues."

More here.

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee / AP

Patrick Murphy wraps up Election Day still on the campaign trail

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@ByKristenMClark & @DavidJNeal

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy spent Election Day in his familiar territory of South Florida trying to maximize as many votes as possible in what's expected to be a close outcome between him and Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

The Miami-born Palm Beach County congressman began the day in north Miami-Dade County -- including with a stop at a polling site he visited on the day of the Aug. 30 Democratic primary, which he won decisively.

"I think it's good luck to be in this location," Murphy said at the North Dade Regional Library in Miami Gardens. "So we're here making sure people show up to vote, getting those last few voters, making sure if they have any questions, we're here to answer them.”

MORE: Live coverage of Election 2016: Here’s what’s happening right now

The hip-hop and modern soul music from WEDR 99 Jamz booth that dominated the library parking lot got stepped on by chants of “Mur-phy! Mur-phy! Mur-phy!” as Murphy shook hands, posed for selfies and talked with supporters before hitting the radio booth.

Asked what he wanted to see on Election Day to indicate he'd defeat Rubio, Murphy said, “Long lines. People show up to vote, we win.”

“It's going to be a close race,” he said. “It's Florida. We expect close races.”

By this afternoon, Murphy had made his way up to Palm Beach Gardens -- home to his campaign office and where Murphy's campaign is hosting its Election Night watch party.

Speaking with reporters, he repeated similar themes of optimism for victory and echoed some of the main talking points of his campaign as a final pitch to TV viewers.

He also said -- on the final day of his 20-month campaign -- that if voters elect him to the U.S. Senate, he's going to work on his Spanish.

At one of his last stops of the campaign, Murphy was asked twice Tuesday afternoon by reporters from Spanish-language media if he could offer a message to their viewers in Spanish.

With a quiet, awkward laugh, all Murphy could humbly say each time was: "Gracias por su voto." ("Thank you for your vote.")

After the second reporter had asked, Murphy jokingly explained: "At one point I was pretty much fluent in Spanish, but I’ve lost it in 14 years, so if elected to the U.S. Senate, that’s something I’m definitely going to brush up on."

Murphy has lagged Rubio throughout the general election campaign this fall, but Murphy says he's optimistic tonight and predicted, "I think we win by 1 or 2 points."

But if he doesn't win, what are his plans? "I haven't thought about that yet," Murphy said with a big grin. "Call me tomorrow morning."

Murphy is campaigning down to the wire in an effort, he said, to maximize voter turnout. His campaign has sent out a half-dozen fundraising emails today making last-minute pleas for money and support.

"We're just trying to do everything we can to get our message out there," Murphy said.

Murphy's dozen supporters at the Palm Beach Gardens library -- waving signs and chanting and cheering -- were outnumbered by the army of media that's come in to town to cover the conclusion of Florida's nationally watched U.S. Senate race.

Clark reported from Palm Beach Gardens, and Neal reported from Miami Gardens.

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

November 04, 2016

Hillary for America spends $50K on late media buy for Florida's U.S. Senate race

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Five days before Election Day, the campaign for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton dumped $50,000 into a media buy for Florida's U.S. Senate race -- both in support of Democrat Patrick Murphy and against Republican incumbent Marco Rubio.

The expense on Thursday by "Hillary for America" was reported late Friday in a disclosure report to the Federal Election Commission, according to ProPublica's FEC Itemizer, which tracks campaign finance filings.

This marks the first time Clinton's campaign has put any direct funding behind Murphy, the Democratic Party's long-time hope tasked with unseating Rubio.

Last month, Clinton's campaign said it would be sending $6 million in all to help down-ballot Democrats in key swing states. However, it wasn't revealed at that time whether Murphy would benefit from that or by how much.

It was not immediately clear what Clinton's money would exactly be used for in the final days of Murphy's campaign. (Fifty grand can't buy a lot of TV time in a state like Florida, where ad slots are expensive.)

Clinton has helped elevate Murphy's candidacy in the past few weeks, as polls showed the two-term Jupiter congressman continued to struggle with statewide name recognition against the nationally known Rubio even as Election Day drew closer.

Since mid-October, Murphy has spoken at several of Clinton's campaign rallies in Florida -- including a handful this week -- sometimes ahead of Clinton herself and other times ahead of high-profile surrogates, like President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden or vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Patrick Murphy won't return donations D.C. newspaper says are tied to FBI probe

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@ByKristenMClark

Capitalizing on a controversy affecting Democrat Patrick Murphy's U.S. Senate campaign less than a week from Election Day, Florida Republican Party leaders want Murphy to return what they call "tainted donations" that a Capitol Hill newspaper reported are the subject of an FBI investigation.

But Murphy's campaign told the Herald/Times on Friday that the Jupiter congressman has no plans to.

The Hill reported this week that federal investigators are looking into allegations that Murphy donor Ibrahim Al-Rashid -- the son of a Saudi billionaire whom Murphy first met in high school -- orchestrated a "straw donor" scheme to boost Murphy's first run for Congress in 2012. The accusations originated from the Senate Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC that filed a formal complaint in June and is spending $15 million on ad time this fall to attack Murphy and support Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

The Hill noted that Murphy himself is not under investigation, and Murphy's campaign has said repeatedly this week -- in the original story and subsequent media interviews about it -- that neither Murphy nor anyone from his campaign has been contacted by the FBI.

Seeking to link Murphy's (unrelated) controversy with that of the FBI's probe into Hillary Clinton's emails, Republican Party of Florida chairman Blaise Ingoglia said in a statement Thursday: "Floridians are tired of the Democrats and their concurrent FBI investigations. ...  It’s time for [Murphy] to return all of the donations tied to the alleged straw donor scheme and finally end his track record of shady campaign contributions."

Murphy's campaign says it's not going to return the money -- citing the political motivations of both RPOF's request and the Senate Leadership Fund's complaint.

The campaign also noted -- in explaining its decision to the Herald/Times -- that The Hill's report is based on unnamed sources and not, what the campaign would deem, information that proves definitively an FBI investigation is ongoing or that the donor scheme even happened. Murphy's campaign added that it doesn't dispute the facts in The Hill's story, although the congressman downplayed it Wednesday, telling reporters: "There's nothing in there."

"There is no investigation into Patrick Murphy, as The Hill reported. We haven't been contacted by any authority about this issue," Murphy spokesman Joshua Karp reiterated in a statement Friday.

Murphy -- as recently as this week -- has agreed to donate other past contributions associated with controversy, though.

For instance, on Monday, Murphy's campaign said he would donate to the U.S. Treasury nearly $22,000 in contributions Murphy received from a Boston Law firm that was exposed by The Boston Globe over the weekend for allegedly engaging in a different type of donation scheme.

Last spring, Murphy also said he'd given away $16,000 in direct contributions from Al-Rashid after the Senate Leadership Fund publicized the fact that Al-Rashid had pleaded guilty in 2014 to an assault charge against his wife.

Murphy's campaign said those two examples are different because, in the latter situation, it involved proven criminal charges or, in The Globe's case, "a thorough investigation by a widely respected newspaper."

Photo credit: AP

Outside money floods Rubio-Murphy race thanks to high court's Citizens United ruling

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Individuals, corporations, advocacy groups and super-PACs from outside Florida are pumping money into the close Senate contest between incumbent Marco Rubio and challenger Patrick Murphy.

More than $48 million in independent expenditures, most of it from outside the Sunshine State, has been spent on the Rubio-Murphy race in which the Miami Republican has held about a 3 point lead in recent days, according to the polling average on realclearpolitics.com.

Only five other U.S. Senate campaigns -- in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio -- have received more money from outside their campaigns.

Every state except Nevada features incumbent GOP senators who, like Rubio, are trying to fend off Democratic challengers. Nevada's race is for an open Senate seat vacated by the retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

Those six races will likely decide whether the Republican Party retains the Senate majority it gained in the November 2014 elections.

In addition to money contributed by outside groups, Rubio's campaign had raised $12.48 million through Oct. 19 while Murphy's campaign had raised $13.72 million, for a total of $26.2 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.

That figure combined with the independent expenditures puts an overall price tag of almost $75 million on the Rubio-Murphy Senate race.

In Florida's Senate race, outside groups have made 14 TV, media and digital ad buys totaling at least $1 million, all but one of them targeting Murphy.

The biggest buy was made by the Senate Leadership Fund on Oct. 27 for $3.16 million.

The Senate Leadership Fund, a spinoff of the American Crossroads super PAC started by former President George W. Bush senior adviser Karl Rove, has spent $81.7 million in the current election cycle.

Among all super PACs in the country, only the liberal Priorities USA Action and the conservative Right to Rise USA have spent more.

Other groups based outside Florida that have spent big against Murphy are the American Future Fund, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Republican Senate Committee and the National Rifle Association.

The only Florida-centric organization with significant expenditures opposing Murphy is the Florida First Project, a super PAC created in June on the day Rubio did an about-switch and announced he was running for Senate re-election after having declined during his earlier presidential bid.

So-called "super" political action committees are free to collect unlimited amounts of money as long as the donors' identities and the amounts of their contributions.

The flood of independent expenditures by super PACs has followed a landmark 2010 Supreme Court ruling, in a case brought by the conservative watchdog group Citizens United, that described such spending as expressions of free speech protected by the First Amendment.

However, direct contributions to political campaigns remain limited by campaign-finance law.

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press