October 04, 2018

Rubio bill that penalizes corrupt drug-treatment centers passes Congress

Rubio

@alextdaugherty

Marco Rubio isn’t a big fan of the U.S. Senate’s often slow-moving ways, but he managed to get a bill passed in less than six months that allows the federal government to crack down on non-reputable drug recovery homes.

In the midst of partisan fighting over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, Congress passed a sweeping bipartisan opioid package on Wednesday, a massive bill introduced at the beginning of 2017 that eventually included Rubio’s legislation, after he worked with Democratic Palm Beach County state attorney Dave Aronberg, to fight against a drug recovery system that allows unscrupulous treatment homes to collect thousands in private insurance payments from addicts and their families.

“The way this place works, to get from an idea in June to a law in October is not common. I don’t think I’ll be saying this much,” Rubio said. “We were brainstorming what we could do at the federal level and came up with a federal law that goes after the middlemen who make all this money. They’re basically trapping people and they put them back into rehab.”

The opioid package includes dozens of smaller bills like Rubio’s aimed at different parts of the opioid crisis, including preventing opioids from being sent through the U.S. Postal Service from foreign countries and various other aspects of prevention, treatment and recovery. The package passed the House with nearly 400 votes in favor and passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday in a 98-1 vote. The few no votes came from conservatives who vehemently oppose expanding the size of the federal government.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation into law.

Many of the bills included in the package were sponsored by lawmakers facing tough reelection fights in the coming months, including Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican who sent a press release titled “U.S. Senate Passes Buchanan Opioid Bill” because it included a proposal by Buchanan that creates a national database of medical providers who safely provide pain medication to patients. Rubio isn’t facing reelection until 2022.

Read more here.

September 05, 2018

Infowars’ Alex Jones insults, touches Marco Rubio outside U.S. Senate hearing

US-NEWS-CONN-SCHOOLSHOOTING-LAWSUIT-HC

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As Marco Rubio was attempting to answer questions outside a U.S. Senate hearing with social media executives about Russian interference, someone interrupted him.

It wasn’t an impatient reporter or a liberal protester. It was Alex Jones, the far-right talk show host and conspiracy theorist. He tried to question Rubio about far-right conservative trolls who have been banned from social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

“What about the Democrats purging conservatives?” Jones said as Rubio was trying to answer a question from another reporter. “Republicans act like it isn’t happening. Thank God Trump is.”

 

“That’s weird, man,” Rubio replied with a smile on his face.

For the next three minutes, the one-time presidential candidate was inches away from Jones as Jones shouted insults and interrupted Rubio as he tried to answer questions.

“I just don’t know who you are, man,” Rubio said when Jones kept interrupting him.

Jones started bragging about his website, noting the millions of views his talk show receives on platforms like YouTube and Facebook, which have now banned the far-right host for peddling numerous conspiracy theories, misinformation and harassment of public officials across the political spectrum, including Rubio.

“Infowars.com, you know what it is full well,” Jones said. “That’s why you didn’t get elected, because you’re snake-like.”

Rubio then turned and laughed, and Jones began to mimic his response in a baby-like voice, calling Rubio a “little frat boy.”

“All right man, who are you? Who is this guy? I swear to God I don’t know who you are,” Rubio said.

Jones again bragged about his website’s millions of views, and patted Rubio on the shoulder.

“Don’t touch me again, man. I’m asking you not to touch me,” Rubio said. “I’m not going to arrest you, man, I’ll take care of you myself.”

Read more here.

September 04, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh declines to shake Parkland parent’s hand at confirmation hearing

Senate Supreme Court

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Brett Kavanaugh stood up for a lunch break, began to button up his jacket and turned around to find the outstretched hand of Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the Parkland mass shooting on Valentine’s Day.

Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, declined to shake it.

“Just walked up to Judge Kavanaugh as the morning session ended,” Guttenberg tweeted. “Put out my hand to introduce myself as Jaime Guttenberg’s dad. He pulled his hand back, turned his back to me and walked away. I guess he did not want to deal with the reality of gun violence.”

The three-second exchange instantly went viral, as Democrats are trying to muster attacks on Kavanaugh even though they likely don’t have the votes to stop his eventual confirmation. The first leg of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday was frequently interrupted by protesters in the room, with encouragement from Democrats.

The White House said Guttenberg, a vocal advocate for increased gun-control measures who has traveled to Capitol Hill frequently over the last six months to push for changes in legislation, was “an unidentified individual” and that security intervened before Kavanaugh could shake his hand.

“As Judge Kavanaugh left for his lunch break, an unidentified individual approached him,” White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah tweeted. “Before the Judge was able to shake his hand, security had intervened.”

Guttenberg called Shah's version of events "incorrect." 

Read more here.

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

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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

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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.