November 15, 2017

Rubio sees ‘progress’ on Senate tax bill

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via @learyreports @alextdaugherty

Senate Republicans unveiled changes to their tax overhaul plan on Tuesday, and one of the changes is a $2,000 child tax credit championed by Sen. Marco Rubio.

The $2,000 tax credit is the minimum amount that the Florida Republican said was necessary to help working families in a tax proposal and he previously indicated he would vote against any plan that did not meet the $2,000 minimum.

"We are making progress," Rubio said Wednesday on Twitter.

The initial Senate plan increased the child tax credit to $1,650 from the current $1,000 maximum, $50 more than the House proposal released two weeks ago. Democrats say the credit should be even higher and Rubio at one point talked up $2,500. 

Rubio held numerous meetings with Ivanka Trump and Utah Sen. Mike Lee to discuss a higher child tax credit. 

"I’m not going to vote for an increase on the middle class," Rubio said in October. "But we’re not going to get to that point. We’re not that crazy around here."

Democrats are not expected to vote in favor of the GOP tax bill, especially after Republicans included a provision to repeal Obamacare's individual mandate on Tuesday. Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, is frustrated that Democrats were not included in any preliminary discussions on a tax bill. 

November 13, 2017

Bill Nelson calls out Republicans by name for refusing to work with him on taxes

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Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson loves to talk about his bipartisan work in Washington and close relationship with Republican colleagues like Florida counterpart Marco Rubio

But Democrats weren't part of drafting the Senate's plan to rewrite the nation's tax code, and Nelson is personally appealing to his Republican colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee to find common ground. The bill is set for a committee markup on Monday afternoon, though Republicans can push the bill through with a simple majority. 

"We are completely rewriting our tax code," Nelson said, according to remarks prepared for delivery. "Yet, we haven’t had any hearings on the bill. Or any time to seriously debate the slew of policy changes that will affect people’s everyday lives." 

Then Nelson calls out several Republicans on the Finance Committee by name, referencing work he's done with them in the past. 

"Mr. Chairman (Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch), how many times have we come together to find common ground and get something good done for the American people? Just last year, we passed the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act out of committee with a bipartisan vote of 26 to 0. It started with you and the Ranking Member hashing out differences to find a workable middle. Why can’t we do that again?"

"Senator (Chuck) Grassley, we worked together on the ACE Kids Act, which would create a national network of children’s hospitals and other providers to better serve kids needing specialized care."

"Senator (John) Cornyn, we’ve worked together to increase accountability at the VA, to honor helicopter air ambulance crews that served in Vietnam, and to help citrus growers struggling to deal with a plant disease known as citrus greening."

"Senator (John) Thune, you and I have partnered on so many issues in the Commerce Committee it’s hard to keep count. If anyone wants a good example of how we should be conducting ourselves, just look to how Senator Thune and I work together in the Commerce Committee."

"You all get the picture. I could go all the way down the line citing examples of times when each of us crossed the partisan divide to do the people’s work. It doesn’t happen as much as I’d like. But it is possible," Nelson said. 

Nelson also offered nine amendments to the tax bill, including lower tax rates for people making less than $170,000 a year, reinstating personal exemptions and providing funding for citrus trees struck by disease in Florida. His amendments are likely to fail in the GOP-controlled committee. 

"All I’m asking is to give bipartisanship a chance," Nelson said.

The House is expected to vote on its tax overhaul, dubbed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, this week. If the Senate passes its version, the two chambers will deliberate in conference to come up with a final bill. 

November 09, 2017

Marco Rubio says Roy Moore should be disqualified from the Senate if allegations are true

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Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Roy Moore should disqualify himself from running for an Alabama Senate seat if an on-the-record account by a woman who said that Moore had sexual contact with her when she was 14 is true. 

The Washington Post reported that Moore had multiple relationships with underage women decades ago, including a relationship with a 14-year-old that began when the young girl's mother let Moore look after her outside a courthouse. 

"Today’s report in The Washington Post raises allegations against Mr. Moore that are deeply disturbing and, if true, disqualifying," Rubio said in a statement.

Moore, a fiery Republican former judge who has said that LGBT individuals are unfit to serve in Congress, is the Republican nominee for attorney general Jeff Sessions' former seat after winning a fierce GOP primary earlier this year. The election between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones is just over a month away, meaning Moore's name will still appear on the ballot even if the Alabama GOP revokes the party's endorsement. 

Rubio never endorsed Moore after he won the Republican nomination, in contrast to some of his Senate Republican colleagues. His campaign had no plans to speak or raise money on Moore's behalf.

Disavowing Moore could lessen the GOP's advantage in the Senate, which currently stands at 52 Republicans and 48 senators who caucus with Democrats. 

Many Republican senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, called on Moore to step aside if the allegations are true. 

Sen. John McCain did not include a qualification about proving truthfulness in his statement. 

"The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying," McCain said. "He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of." 

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he could not comment on the sexual assault allegations against Moore because he hadn't read the story yet. 

October 24, 2017

Bill Nelson blasts FEMA response in Florida and Puerto Rico

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Sen. Bill Nelson sharply criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday, arguing that the federal government isn't doing enough to get inspectors out to damaged properties and help people who are still displaced. 

in a 15-minute speech on the Senate floor, Nelson said it takes too long for people to reach FEMA by phone, and that the agency is caught up in bureaucracy. 

"People are suffering and people are hurting," Nelson said. "Red tape just should not stop anyone in this country from having a safe place to live."

Nelson also referenced a Miami Herald report detailing that 50,000 people waited in Tropical Park last week for special food stamps handed out to Hurricane Irma victims. 

"People are getting desperate," Nelson said."There were 50,000 people waiting at a center in South Florida and many were turned away after waiting in the heat for hours and hours. And then the next day, it was the same story in another city." 

Nelson's remarks come as the Senate is expected to pass a $36.5 billion hurricane relief package this week. The package was passed by the House two weeks ago and will likely not include $2.5 billion in specific funding for Florida's citrus industry and direct funds to help Puerto Rico, elements that Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio argued must be included into a relief package now. 

The White House has said a third relief bill will likely come sometime in November. This week's relief package must be passed to keep the federal flood insurance program afloat and fund FEMA.

"I hope very much that in November...we’re going to pass a new thing, and it’s going to have this money in there to help them," Rubio said in a speech on Monday. "That would be fantastic. But we all know how this place works, and I just don’t know why we couldn’t do it now." 

Nelson also said it's taking too long for FEMA to get inspectors out to damaged properties in the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida. 

"You call FEMA, you're supposed to get a FEMA representative and you have to wait and wait and wait," Nelson said. "The last time we checked, the expected wait time to get a housing inspector is 45 days. That's too long for families to wait for an inspector." 

October 19, 2017

Rubio says Congress isn’t doing enough to help Puerto Rico

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@alextdaugherty 

Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans are still without power and running water, and Marco Rubio says Congress needs to do more.

The U.S. Senate is expected to formulate its own disaster relief bill on Thursday or Friday after the House passed a $36.5 billion proposal last week.

But Rubio said simply passing the House proposal doesn’t do enough for Florida, Texas and especially Puerto Rico in their time of need. The House proposal gives large sums of money to federal agencies for hurricane relief but does not include specific provisions that immediately fund rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico.

“It’s not so much the dollar amount, it’s really how those funds would be accessed,” Rubio said. “For example, it requires...a damage assessment, they’re not going to be able to do this in a timely fashion while they’re trying to restore power and get water and food to people. They [Puerto Rico] are today, four weeks after the storm, where Florida was 48 hours after the storm. They’re still dealing with the acute, immediate challenges.”

Rubio said he’s been working with Texas Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, who have both criticized the pending disaster aid package because it lacks specific provisions, along with Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York, to make changes to the relief bill before the Senate votes on it.

“It’s easy to get impressed by some of the dollar figures that are in there which is substantial,” Rubio said. “The problem for Puerto Rico and Florida and Texas is the package is not structured in a way that actually helps us entirely. In the case of Florida it leaves out key industries that need to be addressed. In the case of Puerto Rico it fails to adequately address the liquidity issue, and that is the ability to access the funds quickly to continue basic governmental operations.”

Rubio warned that the Puerto Rican government could shut down in the next 30 to 45 days if Congress doesn’t allocate funds specifically to the U.S. territory. A shutdown would be “incredibly cataclysmic” to Puerto Rico’s relief effort, Rubio said.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló met with Rubio on Thursday morning to update the senator on relief efforts before a meeting with President Donald Trump later in the day. Rosselló, who has been quick to publicly praise the federal government’s response in the weeks after Hurricane Maria, did not criticize Congress or the federal government’s response during remarks on Capitol Hill.

Read more here.

Rubio meets with Puerto Rico Gov. Rosselló

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@alextdaugherty 

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is in Washington on Thursday as the Senate mulls another hurricane relief package after the House passed a $36.5 billion measure last week. 

Rosselló will meet President Donald Trump at the White House later this morning but his first stop of the day was with Sen. Marco Rubio. Rosselló also met with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Thursday morning. 

"Our call is for Congress to take strong action so that we can have the resources appropriate to work with the U.S. citizens in Texas, U.S. citizens in Florida, U.S. citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands and U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico," Rosselló said. "In these emergencies things might have the appearance that they are stabilizing at one point but you always have future problems that can arise like public health emergencies. We need equal treatment." 

October 18, 2017

Puerto Rican Gov. Rosselló to visit White House, Capitol Hill on Thursday

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@alextdaugherty 

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló will visit the White House and Capitol Hill on Thursday as the U.S. territory pushes Washington for billions in aid after Hurricane Maria caused widespread damage nearly a month ago. 

"Looking ahead to tomorrow, we will be welcoming Governor Rosselló of Puerto Rico to the White House to talk about the ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. "We will continue working hand-in-hand with local leaders in all areas of our country that have been impacted by several natural disasters in recent months. As President Trump has repeated sand -- said, we stand with our fellow citizens. We're here to help and get them back on their feet." 

Rosselló is seeking $4.9 billion in federal disaster loans, and $1.2 billion for nutrition assistance, along with money for short and long-term storm relief. The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a hurricane aid package later this week after the House approved a $36.5 aid package for hurricane and wildfire relief last week. 

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, among others, have visited Puerto Rico as it struggles to rebuild after Hurricane Maria knocked out power and running water to most of the island. Rosselló has been largely supportive of Trump's handling of the relief effort, while other Puerto Rican politicians like San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz have sharply criticized the federal disaster response. 

 

 

 

Senate committee to investigate Florida nursing home deaths

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via @learyreports

The Senate Finance Committee will investigate the hurricane-related deaths of 14 people at a South Florida nursing home.

The top members of the committee, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today questioned the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services about its new nursing home emergency preparedness requirements and have requested responses from state agencies in Florida and Texas regarding their preparations and responses to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“We are writing to request information from Florida about its preparations for and responses to Hurricane Irma as it relates to nursing homes and other similar facilities,” the senators wrote in a letter to Florida’s Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, Justin Senior.

“The Senate Committee on Finance has jurisdiction over both the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs. As part of our oversight responsibilities, we want to ensure the safety of residents and patients in nursing homes and other similar facilities during natural and manmade disasters.”

The action follows a call for investigation from Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the committee, and that was echoed by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Nelson has questioned Gov. Rick Scott, a potential 2018 election rival, after the governor personally received calls for assistance from the nursing home. Scott has insisted the calls were properly routed and that the nursing home had an obligation to call 911 after losing power.

Crist's visit to a Florida eye doctor comes up in Menendez's corruption trial

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The federal corruption trial into New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen added a new character on Tuesday: current Florida congressman and former Gov. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg.

Crist's unannounced 2010 visit to Melgen's home is being used by Menendez's defense team to show that the New Jersey senator was engaged in a political, not personal, relationship when the eye doctor paid for Menendez's flight from New Jersey to Florida. 

Crist, a former Republican who was running as an independent for U.S. Senate in 2010, visited Melgen's home in Palm Beach County on the weekend of Oct. 9, 2010, the same weekend that federal prosecutors allege that Melgen bribed Menendez by paying for his flight on a private jet. 

Melgen's wife, Flor Melgen, testified in federal court on Tuesday that Crist showed up to their home, but Salomon wasn't there. 

“He was looking for my husband. He knew that my husband was Bob’s friend, and he was wondering if he might be with him,” Flor Melgen testified. “I didn’t know he was going to spend the night at my home and I wasn’t prepared.”

Crist dined with Flor and her family before meeting Salomon later in the evening. 

“I had to order food because there was no food prepared at my house,” Flor Melgen said.

Crist was in the midst of a U.S. Senate campaign against Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek at the time, a race eventually won by Rubio. Crist's spokesperson said in an email to the Miami Herald that his visit to Melgen's house was political in nature. 

"The Congressman was a candidate for the U.S. Senate at the time, meeting with a potential donor," said Crist spokesperson Erin Moffet

Federal prosecutors allege that Salomon Melgen supplied Menendez with private flights, hotel stays, vacations and thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in exchange for official favors. Menendez is a Cuban-American New Jersey Democrat who frequently sides with Miami Republicans that favor a hard line against Cuba. 

Defense attorneys argued that Menendez's Oct. 2010 trip to Florida was political in nature and used Crist's visit to back up their theory. If the trip was political, defense attorneys argue that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee should have reimbursed Melgen instead of Menendez paying for the trip himself.

After Crist spent the night at Melgen's house, he wrote a $100 check to cover his visit, according to Flor Melgen. 

"I was very surprised when he gave me the check," Melgen said. "I asked him why, and he told me it was because of the dinner and because he spent the night at my house."

Prosecutor Monique Abrishami used Crist's check as a way to further bash Menendez during cross-examination. 

“This is a check from Charlie Crist to your husband?” Abrishami said.

“Yes,” Flor Melgen said.

“So at least this politician knows how to pay you back for things?” Abrishami said.

Federal judge William Walls then instructed the jury to ignore Abrishami's remark. 

"What lawyers [do] from time to time...is engage in the practice of a ‘throwaway question," Walls said. "A throwaway question is one that the questioner knows obviously is objectionable and he or she wants to make a point." 

Earlier this week, Walls allowed the trial to proceed on all charges after Menendez's defense team attempted to have the most serious charges thrown out. 

October 12, 2017

Rubio, Frederica Wilson call for federal investigation into nursing homes in Florida, Puerto Rico

Marco Rubio

@alextdaugherty 

Sen. Marco Rubio is asking the Senate Finance Committee to investigate the oversight of nursing homes in Florida and Puerto Rico after 14 people died at a Hollywood nursing home after Hurricane Irma. 

Rubio sent a letter on Thursday to Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the leading members of the Senate committee responsible for oversight of Medicare and Medicaid. 

"As the chairman and ranking member of the committee with jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid, I implore you to investigate the failures that occurred at this nursing home and others throughout the country, particularly in Florida and Puerto Rico, to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future," Rubio said in the letter. "Additionally, I respectfully request that you consider examining other ways in which Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries were impacted by these storms and how better planning and coordination between the federal, state, and local government could mitigate harm caused by hurricanes." 

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, whose district contains the Hollywood nursing home, also called for a federal investigation during a meeting between Florida's congressional delegation and Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday. She plans to introduce legislation that would require nursing homes and long term care facilities that receive federal funding to have generators. 

"We have to do everything we can to keep all these individuals safe," Scott said. "We live in a peninsula, we are going to have hurricanes, we've got to be prepared." 

"While this terrible tragedy is currently under investigation, it has been widely reported that these individuals were left in sweltering conditions after the nursing facility’s air conditioning system lost power," Rubio said. "This has shocked the state of Florida, and rightfully raised questions about the oversight of nursing homes, particularly the enforcement of existing emergency preparedness requirements."