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July 28, 2017

Venezuela doesn’t have any friends left in Washington



Marco Rubio and Nancy Pelosi rarely see eye to eye.

But both the liberal Democratic leader from San Francisco and the conservative Republican from Miami agree on one thing:

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is a brutal dictator.

“The President of Venezuela, to me, looks like he’s a thug and we just can’t let them exploit poor people in the country... with a message that looks like he’s their champion,” Pelosi said.

Ahead of a vote Sunday that could dramatically change Venezuela’s constitution in favor of Maduro, the tough talk from Pelosi and other liberal Democrats now mirrors the rhetoric of Miami Republicans who have long opposed Caracas.

As a result, any sympathy towards Maduro in Washington, even among liberal Democrats who once praised the leadership of Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, has vanished.

Members of Congress who maintained a dialogue with Caracas during Chavez’s administration no longer speak to Maduro.

The leadership of the Washington-based Organization of American States is demanding free and fair elections.

And the White House declared the U.S. “will take strong and swift economic actions” if the Maduro regime goes ahead with the vote Sunday.

For pro-Venezuela politicians and diplomats in Washington, Chavez’s commitment to the country’s 1999 constitution was a redeeming characteristic for a leader who trafficked in anti-U.S. rhetoric during his 14 years in power.

“I’ve known Chavez and Maduro. Anytime we met, [Chavez] would always go into his pocket and bring out the constitution of Venezuela,” said U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat and the only sitting member of Congress who attended Chavez’s funeral in 2013. “Unfortunately, what Maduro is doing is tearing up the constitution.”

Meeks maintained regular contact with Caracas even as Chavez accused the U.S. of orchestrating a failed 2002 coup and referred to former President George W. Bush as “the devil” in 2006.

But Maduro’s decision to annul the Venezuelan legislature in March, and widespread protests that have led to the deaths of more than 100 people, are too much to reconcile.

“He doesn’t seem to me to be same guy that I knew when he was the leader of the Parliament back when I first met him with Hugo Chavez or the individual I spoke with briefly after he became president,” Meeks said.

The congressman added that his conversation with Maduro in 2013 was about “getting diplomatic relationships going again.”

But something changed between 2013 and 2015, when Maduro arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and began suspending democratic norms.

“It seems to me at some point, I don’t know what happened, that he was not interested in having further dialogue, he’s not the same guy,” Meeks said. “Something has to happen to change what has been going on for years now. The lines have been crossed and there’s no attempt at trying to have reconciliation.”

That wasn’t the case years ago, when Chavez enjoyed amicable relations with U.S. officials appointed by President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s.

“The name of the game was to engage,” said John Maisto, U.S. ambassador to Venezuela from 1997 to 2000.

Maisto said despite Chavez’s antagonistic rhetoric toward business interests and the United States, he was deeply committed to Article 350 of the Venezuelan constitution, which states “the Venezuelan people will not recognize any regime, legislation or authority that runs counter to democratic values, principles and guarantees, or undermines human rights.”

Protesters, including a man who attacked government buildings with a helicopter in June, have said Maduro is disregarding Article 350.

“The current regime is blatantly violating the constitution by not having local elections, by not having referenda... by trampling separation of powers and the non-recognition of the legislature,” Maisto said. “They are crossing a red line.”

Read more here.

Marco Rubio throws cold water on Bill Nelson's bipartisan health care push



Less than 24 hours after Sen. John McCain scuttled the GOP's push to repeal Obamacare, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson confirmed he is working with moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on a bipartisan health care plan.

"Sen. Collins and I have discussed this issue many times and we are now working together," Nelson said. "As former state insurance commissioners, we know how complicated this issue is and we are working with a small bipartisan group of senators equally dedicated to finding real solutions. This group of senators met for dinner the other night to start sharing our ideas and discussing a path forward." 

But Nelson's Florida colleague, Sen. Marco Rubio, threw cold water over a bipartisan health care plan on Friday afternoon. 

"I'd love to see a bipartisan effort to repeal and replace Obamacare," Rubio said. "Unfortunately, the growing consensus within the Democratic party, although they didn't have the courage to admit it yesterday, was to vote in favor of a single payer system." 

Rubio was referring to an effort by Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines on Thursday to force red state Democrats like Nelson on the record as to whether or not they support a single payer health care system. Instead, the majority of Senate Democrats, including liberals who support single payer like Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, voted "present" instead of yes or no.  

"I don't think they (Democrats) are really interested in repealing and I'm not sure we would like the replacement they have in mind because single payer is not a good replacement," Rubio said. "It would make things far worse than what we see now." 

Nelson said Friday he and Collins met earlier in the week to begin laying out ideas.

"While the imminent disaster of 20 percent rate hikes and 16 million people losing coverage has been avoided by the defeat of the Republican’s health care bill, now is the time to come together and start working in a bipartisan way to stabilize the market and make health care more affordable," Nelson said.

Rubio said Friday he's "proud" to be in a party that includes moderates like Collins and hard-line conservatives like Utah Sen. Mike Lee, even if it makes it harder to pass legislation. 

"I'd rather have them both and be a majority than have a more ideologically concise group but be in the minority," Rubio said. 

Rubio, who said he knew that McCain was going to vote against the Obamacare repeal measure dubbed "skinny repeal" about an hour before the dramatic vote early Friday morning, said the effort to repeal Obamacare isn't dead despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announcing "it's time to move on" after the failed vote.

"I imagine dictatorships are a lot more efficient, but I wouldn't want to live in one," Rubio said. 


Trump's new chief of staff is former head of U.S. Southern Command in Miami


President Donald Trump has replaced Reince Priebus and named Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly his new chief of staff, the president announced in a series of tweets Friday.

Trump praised Priebus to reporters in Washington.

"Reince is a good man," he said. "John Kelly will do a fantastic job. General Kelly has been a star, done an incredible job thus far, respected by everybody. He's a great great American. Reince is a good man."

Because all big stories have Miami ties: Kelly is the former head of U.S. Southern Command in Miami. Priebus is a University of Miami law school graduate.

Photo credit: Susan Walsh, Associated Press

Former legislators line-up for opening on Public Service Commission

At least six former legislators and the state's former comptroller have applied to fill the unexpired term on the Florida Public Service Commission while two sitting commissioners whose terms expire this year -- Art Graham and Ron Brisé -- and 12 others have applied to fill their two posts.

State Rep. Rich Glorioso, of Plant City, state Rep. Tom Goodson, of Rockledge, former PSC member and former state Rep. Kenneth Littlefield of Dade City former state Rep. Ritch Workman of Melbourne, former Sen. Greg Evers of Baker and former Rep. Dave Murzin of Pensacola, are among 23 candidates applying for the unexpired term being vacated by Jimmy Patronis, the Panama City former state representative who was appointed state chief financial officer by Gov. Rick Scott last month.

Also applying for that job is former state Comptroller Bob Milligan. 

Graham and Brisé are seeking a third four-year term on the panel that regulates utilities. Both were originally appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist and reappointed by Scott. Also applying to replace them is Littlefield as well as William H. Conrad, John R. Coleman, Bill L. Veach, Clayton W. Lindstrom, Kathryn D. Pappas, Norman “Bruce” Doueck, Steven T. Petty, Anibal I. Taboas, Jody Ann Newman, Dale T. Dougherty, and David C. Johnson.

The applicants must be screened by the Public Service Nominating Commission which recommends three names for each position and forwards them to the governor. The governor will then make the final appointment. 

Florida fulfills request for voter data by Trump election commission

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Florida provided voter-roll data to President Donald Trump’s election-fraud commission Friday despite a lawsuit by the ACLU of Florida attempting to prevent the state from providing the information.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner complied with the request by the commission after a federal judge in Washington D.C. cleared the way Monday for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to resume its effort to collect voter data from all states. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly rejected a request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center to block the data collection.

“Today the Department of State pursuant to Florida law fulfilled the public records request that we received from the Presidential Advisory Commission,” said Sarah Revell, Detzner’s spokeswoman. “As we have said all along, we will follow Florida law and will only submit information that is already available and regularly provided to anyone who requests it.”

Keep reading here.

Bob Milligan says he's ready for another chapter in his government career: PSC

Bob MilliganFormer Florida Comptroller Bob Milligan has been a marine lieutenant general, Florida's top fiscal watchdog, head of the Department of Veterans Affairs and now he wants to be on the panel that regulates utilities.

Milligan has applied to fill the unexpired seat on the Florida Public Service Commission, the position left vacant when Gov. Rick Scott appointed Jimmy Patronis to be chief financial officer.

With a background in finance and economics, an agile mind and a political career, Milligan said he would make a good candidate to fill the 15 months remaining in Patronis' four-year term.

"I thought: 'What the devil. I can jump in there and not miss a beat. I can do it,' he said in an interview Friday. "I've still got a brain that works and I like to use it."

Milligan, 84, has once before been appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to fill a vacancy. He was named interim director of the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2011, following the death of retired Navy Adm. Leroy Collins Jr., whose father was Florida's governor from 1955 through 1961.

In 1994, Milligan was approached by former head of the Florida state Republican Party Tom Slade and asked to run for state comptroller. He won and served in the role until 2002. 

Milligan was instrumental in persuading the Constitution Revision Commission in 1998 of combining the elective treasurer and comptroller jobs into a single state chief financial officer. It worked.

In 2007, CFO Alex Sink, a Democrat, asked Milligan to return to government. She appointed him consumer advocate in the office, and he took the job. 

"I've always been kind of intereast in the Public Service Commission,'' he said, as he was driving his wife shopping Friday. "I thought shoot let's see how that thing works!" 

He said he has spent his time working with several volunteer organizations since his retirement from government but joked he is also "Driving Miss Daisy,'' he said with a laugh. His wife chuckled. 

Milligan. who now lives in Tallahassee, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and holds an MBA from the University of Rochester. He served 39 years in the military, retiring from the Marines as a lieutenant general in 1991.

Milligan’s name is among  23 applicants to be among three names chosen by the Public Service Commission Nominating Council presented to the governor.

Other applicants for the position include a line up of former Republicans legislators: former state Rep. Rich Glorioso, of Plant City, state Rep. Tom Goodson, of Rockledge, former PSC member and former state Rep. Kenneth Littlefield, former state Rep. Ritch Workman, former Sen. Greg Evers, and former Rep. Dave Murzin

ICE is holding more than 1,300 Cuban migrants in detention centers

via @ngameztorres

They are teachers, engineers or farmers, all seeking freedom in the United States. But after an unexpected policy change and an end to special treatment that allowed the majority of Cuban migrants to remain legally in the country, more than 1,300 are now being held at detention centers across the country awaiting for their fate to be decided by immigration judges.

“What I heard were stories of people who felt that they literally could not live in Cuba anymore,” said Wendi Adelson, executive director of the Immigration Partnership & Coalition (IMPAC) Fund, a Florida-based organization that raises funds for the defense of undocumented residents without criminal convictions.

“Many say that not even in their wildest dreams would they have imagined that the United States would treat them this way,” she said. “They thought that this was a country of freedom and this was what they came for, to live without the government having its boots on their necks — and now this?”

Adelson recently visited four detention centers in Texas — two in Laredo (the Laredo and Rio Grande detention centers); one in Pearsall (South Texas Detention Facility); and the fourth near Austin, which is only for women detainees (T. Don Hutto Residential Center) — to identify those in need of legal representation.

She met with 16 Cuban detainees, mostly men. 

“Many said, 'Look, I've never committed any crime. I'm not a criminal, I'm not a gang member. I'm just a teacher, a husband, a normal person.' They are in a detention center for immigrants but for them it’s a prison,” the lawyer added.

More here.

Photo credit: Bob Owen, San Antonio Express-News

Rubio says he intends to keep campaign promises on Obamacare

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Sen. Marco Rubio says he remains committed to overturning Obamacare following the collapse of the latest attempt.

"In both 2010 and 2016, I ran on the promise of repealing and replacing ObamaCare, and I intend to keep that promise," Rubio told the Tampa Bay times in a statement. "The insurance markets are crumbling - the average premiums have more than doubled and earlier this year yet another rate increase has been proposed for 2018. If we do not to act, things will only get worse because a failing ObamaCare will remain in place.

"Many people, across Florida and the country, expect their elected leaders to keep their commitments and do the work they were sent to Washington to do. While last evening's vote was disappointing, I remain committed to passing a health care bill that leaves Floridians better off than they are under the disastrous Obamacare."

We have asked Sen. Bill Nelson for a statement.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Broward elections supervisor to testify in federal voter roll lawsuit filed by conservative group in Miami



Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes is expected to testify Monday in a lawsuit that alleges she has failed to adequately purge voter rolls of ineligible voters including those who have died.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the conservative American Civil Rights Union in federal court in 2016. (Hat tip to the Sun Sentinel about Snipes' upcoming testimony.)

The ACRU is being represented by the Public Interest Legal Foundation which has filed similar lawsuits in other states including North Carolina, Virginia and Texas. The president and general counsel of the foundation, J. Christian Adams, is a member of President Donald Trump's commission on voter integrity which has sought to collect voter roll data from all of the states. Trump's allegations about widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election have repeatedly been debunked by PolitiFact, a Miami Herald news partner.

The complaint filed against Snipes alleges that she has violated federal law by failing to conduct reasonable voter list maintenance for federal elections. It does not allege that ineligible voters cast ballots. The lawsuit seeks that a judge order her to make improvements in handling list maintenance.

The complaint states that Broward's voter rolls have "either more total registrants than eligible voting-age citizens or, at best, an implausibly high number of registrants," according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Election Assistance Commission.

At the time of the 2014 general election, approximately 103 percent of the citizens of voting age were registered to vote, the complaint states.

Among actions the plaintiffs seek is for Snipes to request jury recusal forms from the clerk of courts to determine if anyone who has declared themselves a non-citizen has registered to vote. (Florida's controversial attempt to purge non-citizens from the voter rolls before the 2012 election led to about 85 being removed statewide.)

Snipes disputed the allegations in a letter she wrote to ACRU in February 2016. Snipes wrote that Broward "adheres strictly" to the state's guidelines about voter list maintenance. Court records show Broward removed about 240,000 voters between 2014 and 2016.

"At no time in my tenure, which began in November 2003, has the number of registered voters outnumbered the live persons living in Broward County," she wrote.

Before filing the suit, in January 2016 the plaintiffs sent letters raising concerns about voter roll maintenance to multiple Florida counties in addition to Broward including Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Orange, Clay, Flagler and Santa Rosa. However, a lawsuit was only filed against Broward County. 

When asked why the plaintiffs ultimately only sued Broward, a spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation pointed to Adams's opening statement in which he said that Snipes was unwilling to "engage in substantive discussions -- essentially saying all counties in Florida who received a letter from the ACRU must be involved in those discussions."

Broward has about 1.2 million voters and has the highest number of registered Democrats -- about 600,000 -- in the state. Snipes, a Democrat, was first appointed to fill a vacancy in 2003 by then Gov. Jeb Bush and has subsequently won elections.

The trial began July 25th and is being presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Beth Bloom. Burnadette Norris-Weeks is representing Snipes.

A spokesman for the plaintiffs said that Snipes is expected to begin testifying at 9 a.m. Monday.

Miami Herald photo of Brenda Snipes testifying in a separate matter pertaining to ballots in 2016. 





Miami-Dade mayor welcomes Real Madrid but may need soccer refresher

via @NickNehamas

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is a big fan of bringing a David Beckham-led soccer team to Miami, but he may need a refresher course on the beautiful game.

During an interview at an event held Friday in anticipation of Saturday's Clásico between Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, Gimenez referred to Real star Cristiano Ronaldo as "Rolando" and struggled to pick out his favorite soccer match.

"The best U.S. soccer victory in a World Cup, whatever that was," he said with a smile.

Soccer purists will debate whether he was referring to the U.S.'s famous 1-0 win over England in the 1950 World Cup -- or a 2-0 victory over arch-rival Mexico that propelled it into the quarterfinals of the 2002 tournament, its best-ever showing.

Gimenez also remarked that el Clásico is bringing more attention to Miami than the recent Major League Baseball all-star game, calling it bigger "than a Super Bowl." Tickets are selling for hundreds of dollars a pop -- and some are listed for more than $1,000.

Real Madrid stars including Sergio Ramos and Marcelo attended the event, held at the Mandarin Oriental on Brickell Key, to unveil plans for a Real Madrid-branded cafe set to open in Miami.

Ramos and Marcelo were teammates with Beckham at Real a decade ago. Reporters weren't allowed to ask questions, and Ramos smiled apologetically when asked if he wanted to play for Beckham in Miami someday.

Gimenez said he expects the former England captain's franchise to win a long-hoped for Major League Soccer approval within two months.

He and other guests lined up to take photos with Real's European Champions League trophy, earned this spring after a victory over Italian side Juventus.

The mayor will attend Saturday's match at the Hard Rock stadium with Dolphins owner Steve Ross. He also watched Juventus defeat Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 on Wednesday.