July 05, 2018

Rubio wants to stop kickbacks that keep drug addicts perpetually in recovery

Rubio

@alextdaugherty

Marco Rubio is just as tired as you are of the ubiquitous commercial where a man in blue scrubs urges families beset by drug addition to call for treatment options.

As Congress seeks to stanch an ongoing, nationwide opioid crisis, the Florida Republican is trying to crack down on companies that make money every time a distressed parent or family member tries to find a drug treatment clinic to help a loved one become clean.

Rubio is set to introduce a bill in the next two weeks that prohibits drug addiction call centers from making money off every patient referral without verifying whether the treatment provider is reputable, and changing the system to reward companies that have a track record of getting people clean.

Currently, call companies can receive a small commission from the treatment centers for every caller they send their way, about $50, a pittance when various treatment clinics can reap $40,000 or more in insurance claims when someone goes through treatment for drug addiction. Unscrupulous treatment clinics can also tap into insurance money by routing addicts to labs that charge thousands for routine drug tests. The labs and "sober homes" where addicts reside while in recovery then get a cut of the insurance money in what amounts to a kickback.

The companies that run ads like the "man in blue" ad, a staple of late-night television, make money for every call they farm out to a treatment center, regardless of whether the caller ends up paying for treatment or if the addict becomes clean. Critics argue the companies that farm out calls to clinics aren't concerned with the patient's specific needs and best path to recovery.

Rubio said the current system treats addicts and their insurance plans as cash cows.

"Too many Americans suffering as a result of the opioid epidemic are exploited by illicit actors seeking to make a profit from addiction," Rubio said in a statement. "My bill will help stop the cash flow for middlemen involved in illicit sober homes and paid referrals. I remain committed to addressing this important issue that has left no part of the state untouched."

The kickbacks for government-run insurance plans like Medicare and Medicaid are already illegal. Rubio's bill would extend the anti-kickback provision to people who have private insurance, including Obamacare plans.

"The federal government has not done enough because this problem continues to be enabled and exacerbated by well-intended federal policies," said Palm Beach County state attorney Dave Aronberg, who has set up a task force to investigate the drug addiction recovery industry that flourishes in South Florida.

Read more here.

May 21, 2018

Scott blitzes Florida with TV ads. Nelson holds off. That's how Scott won last time.

CIA Haspel

@alextdaugherty

Bill Nelson is an incumbent without the advantages of incumbency.

Florida's only statewide elected Democrat is in a career-defining U.S. Senate race against Gov. Rick Scott, a multimillionaire with unlimited campaign cash and nearly universal name recognition in the state, for better or worse. And so far, Scott is attempting to define Nelson through $8 million in television ads across the state, including Spanish-language ads in Miami.

The early TV blitz raises the question: When is Nelson going to respond?

"The question is not how much money you have or how much money you spend but what is effective," Nelson said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office, where he was waiting to vote on Gina Haspel's nomination as CIA director in Washington while Scott was criss-crossing Florida switching between his official office and campaign mode. . "And so, to be determined. But I'm choosing not to use my hard-earned dollars now."

Nelson declined to say when he will spend his money and what type of message he plans to communicate to voters. But timing a television pitch too late could be Nelson's undoing.

Rep. Charlie Crist, who lost a statewide race to Rick Scott in 2014 by 1 percentage point, said months of television ads by Scott without a response from his campaign was one of the big reasons why he came up short.

"Back in '14 we were unanswering on television for like three months just because of the resource issue," Crist said. "You can handle it for a while but sooner or later you've got to start to respond."

Television advertising is essential and expensive in a state with 20 million people and six of the country's top 100 television markets, including the country's third-largest Spanish-speaking television market in South Florida.

Scott went up on television almost immediately after officially announcing his Senate bid on April 9, meaning Nelson has been playing the television waiting game for over 6 weeks, trying to amass campaign cash through fundraisers while also fulfilling his role as a lawmaker in Washington Monday through Thursday.

Crist said he expects Nelson to be up on TV imminently, though Nelson won't divulge when he'll take the seven-figure plunge. Nelson noted that he had done 44 events during the first five weeks of his campaign, though many of them were fundraisers. He took issue with the suggestion that he isn't campaigning aggressively, but acknowledged the disparity on television.

"I would ask you to question your premise there about him being more aggressive," Nelson said, as he propped his feet on a desk. "If you want to define that in terms that he has TV up, that’s correct, but not in the way the campaign is being conducted."

Read more here.

May 15, 2018

Bill Nelson to vote for Donald Trump's CIA Director pick

Bill Nelson

@alextdaugherty

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson announced Tuesday he will vote for Gina Haspel to lead the nation's foreign intelligence arm, joining a slew of Democrats who publicly said they would vote for President Donald Trump's pick. Haspel will likely be confirmed by the U.S. Senate later this week after about a half dozen Democrats who, like Nelson, are running for reelections in states won by Trump, said they would vote for her.

"Gina Haspel has dedicated her life to serving her country and the brave men and women who work at the CIA deserve a career professional, like her, to lead them," Nelson said in a statement. "Gina Haspel has publicly acknowledged that the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program should not have been undertaken and has vowed to uphold our nation’s laws and values in leading the agency. She has earned the respect and backing of former intelligence chiefs from the Bush and Obama administrations. I will vote to support her nomination to be the next director of the CIA." 

Nelson's announcement comes after he met one-on-one with Haspel on Tuesday. The former deputy CIA director's nomination has come under scrutiny from some Republicans and Democrats over her connections to torture while she worked overseas during the George W. Bush administration.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Nelson's likely opponent in November, called on Nelson to divulge his stance on Haspel last week, and criticized Nelson for "slow walking" her nomination.  

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has publicly said he supports Haspel's nomination, though Republican Sens. John McCain and Rand Paul have said they will not vote for Haspel due to her past ties to torture. 

May 02, 2018

Why Nancy Pelosi likes Marco Rubio's talk on taxes

Marco Rubio 3

@alextdaugherty

Minutes after the GOP tax bill passed the U.S. Senate last year, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said "this GOP tax bill was never about helping the middle class."

Months after the GOP tax bill became law, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who voted for the tax bill, made an argument that sounded much like Nelson's.

"There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they're going to take the money they're saving and reinvest it in American workers," Rubio said in a recent interviewwith The Economist. "In fact they bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there's no evidence whatsoever that the money's been massively poured back into the American worker."

Rubio's comments were quickly lauded by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Democrats in Washington.
 
"We couldn’t have said it any better ourselves," Schumer's office said in a statement. Pelosi wielded a paper copy of Rubio's remarks while visiting Florida on Wednesday.
 
More here.

April 25, 2018

Bill Nelson will vote for Mike Pompeo as secretary of state

Pompeo_Senate_59399

@alextdaugherty

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson will vote to confirm Mike Pompeo as President Donald Trump's second secretary of state, his office confirmed Wednesday. Nelson's stance is a change from January 2017, when he voted against Pompeo's confirmation as CIA Director.  

Pompeo, a former congressman and currently director of the CIA, is expected to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate after about a half dozen Senate Democrats said they would vote for him. Some Democrats have expressed concerns over Pompeo leading the State Department due to his past support for torture practices and military intervention in Iraq. 

Nelson said Pompeo's secret meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un "put him in a better light" in terms of his confirmation but stopped short of saying how he would vote last week.

"I support the trip, I think it's a lot better talking than shooting especially when the crazy child dictator has nuclear weapons, I think it's better to be talking," Nelson said. "On Pompeo, I will defer on that. I voted against him. I thought he was going to be too political as CIA Director and I'm going to evaluate that as secretary of state." 

Pompeo will take over the State Department if confirmed after Rex Tillerson was fired via tweet. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is an enthusiastic supporter of Pompeo, who endorsed Rubio during his presidential bid. 

“CIA Director Mike Pompeo has the full confidence of the president, an outstanding record of service to our country, and is more than qualified to serve as Secretary of State," Rubio said in a statement. "As Director Pompeo’s nomination now moves to the Senate Floor, I strongly urge my colleagues to put country over party and confirm him without further delay."

April 24, 2018

How one Republican held up the U.S. Senate over Cuba travel policy

Cuba Trump

@alextdaugherty

The U.S. Senate ground to a halt last week, and Cuba was the culprit.

After months in limbo, Donald Trump's pick to lead NASA finally appeared to have enough support for confirmation, and a vote was scheduled. Sen. Marco Rubio, who opposed Rep. Jim Bridenstine's nomination because he wanted a non-politician to run the nation's space program, switched his stance, giving Republicans enough votes to move forward with Bridenstine on a party-line vote.

But Jeff Flake had other ideas.

The Arizona Republican seized the GOP's one-vote advantage over the minority and initially cast a "no" vote on Bridenstine. Vice President Mike Pence was in Florida, unable to hustle to Capitol Hill to break a 49-49 tie. Republican leaders were forced to negotiate with Flake on the Senate floor to get him to change his vote.

Flake's reason for dithering? The longtime critic of U.S. trade and travel restrictions with Cuba wanted to talk to Mike Pompeo, Trump's nominee for secretary of state, about travel restrictions to Cuba, according to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas.

"I want to talk to Pompeo on a number of issues, that's all I'll say," Flake said with a smile when asked if he sought to talk to the secretary of state nominee about Cuba travel restrictions in exchange for a "yes" vote on Bridenstine.

Flake, a frequent Trump critic, doesn't have much of an incentive to listen to party leaders who could help his reelection chances:. He's retiring after the 2018 elections.

That means he can continue to push Senate leaders on issues like Cuba, where the fault lines aren't drawn up neatly along party lines.

"My goal has always been the same, of closer ties, more travel, more commerce because I think that moves Cuba closer to democracy, so I'll use any leverage I can to try to bring that about," Flake said. "I'll try to keep the progress and the policies we've made particularly with Cuban entrepreneurs achieving some kind of independence from the government down there that we don't turn them back."

Read more here.

April 20, 2018

Parkland parents say public officials need to be fired soon for failing their children

Guttenberg

@alextdaugherty

Fred Guttenberg, the Parkland parent who confronted Marco Rubio on national television about the senator’s opposition to an assault weapons ban, had a very different conversation with the Florida Republican on Capitol Hill this week.

“Senator, see you tomorrow?” Guttenberg asked.

“I’m around all day, flying out Thursday night,” Rubio replied.

The pair disagree on gun-control policy, but Guttenberg and the Parkland families are united with Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson behind an effort to make the authorities who failed their children accountable.

History suggests they may be successful.

The families of the 17 victims in the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School persuaded the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to sign a gun bill over the objections of the National Rifle Association. They successfully got the slow-moving U.S. Senate to fast-track limited school safety legislation into a must-pass spending bill last month.

And the voices that no lawmaker can ignore are pushing for agencies like the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Broward School Board and FBI to be held responsible, and soon.

“We all think we know, but we need to know with certainty, we need to find out why they made the mistakes and we need to fire people for their mistakes,” Guttenberg said. “Do any of the mistakes cross over to a criminal activity? I don’t know the law, but I do know at a minimum people need to be fired and they need to be fired soon.”

Three Parkland parents are serving on a state commission established by Scott and granted subpoena powers. The commission is set to meet next week. One parent recently met with FBI Director Christopher Wray to discuss how the agency can learn from its mistakes. And the parents are confident something will happen, even if it takes a lot longer than they would want.

Read more here.

April 18, 2018

NASA administrator opposed by Bill Nelson approved in drama-filled vote

Bill Nelson

@alextdaugherty

For months, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson has railed against the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., as NASA administrator, and his nomination stalled when Democrats along with Sen. Marco Rubio opposed him. 

On Wednesday, Bridenstine was finally confirmed to lead the nation's space program, but it wasn't without drama.

Rubio's belated support appeared to give Republicans enough votes, but Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake surprisingly voted "no" on Wednesday. Vice President Mike Pence was out of town, unable to break a 49-49 tie. Two senators were out for health-related reasons. 

The vote remained open for nearly an hour before Flake had a conversation with party leaders and switched his vote, though he was coy about his reasons for doing it. 

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Flake was trying to exert leverage over one of his signature issues: increased trade and interaction with Cuba. Flake wanted to talk Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo about travel restrictions to Cuba, according to Cornyn.   

Nelson has argued that Bridenstine, an elected official, should not be tapped to lead an agency typically led by a scientist. Bridenstine also attacked Rubio on immigration during the 2016 Republican primary. 

April 05, 2018

Rubio blames ‘bureaucracy’ for the wait on federal Irma funding

Congress Gun Violence

via @keywestgwen 

Asked why parts of the Florida Keys remain severely damaged nearly seven months after Hurricane Irma, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio had one word: Bureaucracy.

“It’s a pretty straightforward task,” Rubio said, standing in a trailer park in Marathon where a canal is still choked with debris and filth from the storm. “Get the money that we’ve already voted for down here so they can hire people to clean this up.”

People applauded.

“Don’t clap yet, we’ve got to get the money,” Rubio said. “We just voted for the money; the hard part is getting the federal government to release it. We’ll keep banging on the door. There’s nothing else they can use the money for — it’s appropriated for this.”

Rubio added, “Next time we get back here, these things will be cleaned up.”

Rubio also attended a one-hour roundtable discussion at the Marathon Government Center where he spoke with mostly elected leaders about struggles in the Keys over affordable housing.

“We’ve had a housing crisis in this community for decades,” said County Commissioner Heather Carruthers, of Key West. “The storm exacerbated it and revealed the real depth of the problem.”

One solution, she said, is to purchase property and deed-restrict it for affordable and workforce housing.

“We don’t have the depth of resources to be able to do that,” Carruthers said.

Read more here.

March 23, 2018

Miami Republican lawmaker confirmed as U.S. ambassador to OAS

100MPence15 NEW PPP

@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Trujillo was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States by the U.S. Senate on Thursday. 

The White House announced Trujillo’s appointment in October, just two months after President Donald Trump named him one of four U.S. representatives to the United Nations General Assembly. That job made Trujillo, an early Trump campaign supporter who attended the president’s inauguration, one of U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s four deputies.

Trujillo was ultimately approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, though he did face questioning from Democrats over a 2015 bill in the Florida Legislature that would have made it a felony for an undocumented immigrant who was previously deported, or facing a deportation order, to be in the state. 

"As someone with a strong understanding of U.S.-Latin American relations, Carlos Trujillo is an outstanding choice to serve as U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States," Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. "Carlos has served his constituents diligently in the Florida House of Representatives over the last eight years, and I know he will do the same while representing the American people at the OAS."

Rubio, an ally of Trujillo's also serves as chairman of the Latin America subcommittee in the U.S. Senate.