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May 12, 2017

Trump lawyers say he had no Russian income -- except for that big deal in Florida

Trumprussia_8colvia @learyreports

WASHINGTON - The White House on Friday released a letter from President Trump's lawyers asserting he has no income from Russian sources -- except the $95 million he received from the sale of a Palm Beach estate and proceeds from a Miss Universe pagent in Moscow.

"What do I have to do with Russia?” Trump said last summer in Doral. “You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach … for $40 million, and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million.”

The letter released Friday shows Trump acquired the estate in 2005 for $41 million and sold it to Russian billionaire for $95 million. 

Here's a past story the Miami Herald ran on the deal.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times


Coast Guard didn't pick up any Cuban rafters last month

IMG_11balseros630_2_1_A167SIN4_L169137789 (2)
via @ngameztorres

For decades, dramatic images of Cubans trying to reach the United States on decrepit boats made of all kinds of materials shocked many within the South Florida community. On the island, families waited desperately for news on whether loved ones had made it to shore.

No more.

In April, the Coast Guard did not intercept a single vessel ferrying Cuban migrants — the first time in seven years this has occurred.

“April was the first month in seven years where we didn’t have one Cuban migrant, not one,” Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard told The Wall Street Journal. “On a typical day at this time last year, we would probably pick up anywhere from 50 to 150 Cuban migrants.”

The remarkable change is due to a drastic measure taken during the last days of the Obama administration in negotiation with the Cuban government: the elimination of an immigration policy for Cubans known as “wet foot, dry foot.”

More here.

Photo credit: Lynne Sladky, Associated Press

Gov. Scott asks Trump administration to extend protections for Haitians

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON – Gov. Rick Scott has pressed the Trump administration to back off on timeline that could result in the deportation of thousands of Haitians, many living in Florida.

Scott raised the issue in a meeting Thursday with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. “Temporary protected status” for Haitians expires in July and they could be expelled in January.

"The secretary has not made a decision on TPS for Haiti,” spokesman David Lapan told the Tampa Bay Times. “He and Gov. Scott did have a conversation about the program and the secretary listened to the Governor’s points about his desire for DHS to extend TPS.”

About 50,000 Haitians have been allowed to live in the U.S. following the 2010 earthquake. The TPS program has been extended several times but now faces another deadline. The Trump administration has been examining the criminal backgrounds, but Lapan says that won’t be used to make a final decision about TPS.

Late last month, Sen. Bill Nelson and 14 other Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging them to extend the protection.

“Haiti is ill-equipped to handle the return of the roughly 50,000 Haitian nationals currently receiving TPS,” the senators wrote. “We welcomed the previous extension of TPS for Haitian nationals, and we believe the reports of widespread damage and destruction in Haiti make an extended TPS designation appropriate.”

President Trump courted the Haitian community during a visit to Miami in September. “Whether you vote for me or not, I really want to be your biggest champion,” Trump said.

Scott has successfully used his Trump connections before. Last month, he announced the state would get $1.5 billion to cover health care for the poor.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

When political nemeses Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio teamed up

Crist1_8colvia @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Shortly after the 115th Congress convened, Sen. Marco Rubio invited the Florida House delegation to his office. “Of course I went,” said Rep. Charlie Crist. “I thought it was gracious.”

“I just listened and at the end, I thanked him. He appeared sort of stunned,” Crist recalled. “I said, ‘You may not know this, but your office in Orlando and I are working on getting a Vietnamese husband to America to be with his wife.”

I ran into Crist on the day the House was voting on the Obamacare repeal. He wandered into the lobby, where reporters hang out, looking a little lonely. “I’m just a freshman,” he said, in classic Crist way, when asked how he was adjusting.

“It’s different. Being governor was amazing. But to be in Washington and to have the honor of representing my home, what’s better than that? Any service is an honor.”

Crist, 60, once had White House dreams and was poised to breeze into the U.S. Senate in 2010 until the charismatic young Rubio, 45, upended his world.

But years later, here was Congressman Crist telling an uplifting story of collaborating, in a way, with his nemesis.

Continue reading "When political nemeses Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio teamed up" »

Issues involving race played dominant role in Florida's 2017 session


@ByKristenMClark and @MichaelAuslen

It was an emotional peak in the long legislative session: Lawmakers — black, white, Hispanic — stood in somber solidarity in a Capitol rotunda to formally say the state of Florida was sorry for what it did seven decades ago to four black men who were victims in one of the most racist episodes in state history.

What few knew at that moment of unity on the morning of April 18 was that just 13 hours before, a state senator had cursed at a black female lawmaker using a sexist remark and a racial slur directed at other legislators.

As news of the confrontation spread hours after the state’s apology to the families of the Groveland Four, scandal engulfed the Capitol. Four days later, that senator — Miami Republican Frank Artiles — resigned.

The coincidental contrast between the long-awaited apology and Artiles’ offensive tirade at a private Tallahassee club marked a climax in a nine-week legislative session when race played a dominant role. Policy proposals and unrelated events intersected at the Capitol in ways that emphasized racial divides that still exist in 2017.

Full story here

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

In Miami Herald op-ed, Curbelo says liberal healthcare critics 'sadly' imitate tea party

From a Miami Herald op-ed by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo:

Sadly, the far left is today simply imitating the reprehensible conduct exhibited by many on the far right in 2010. Words like ‘unconscionable,’ ‘immoral,’ and ‘cruel,’ get tossed around generously in response to the House’s consideration and approval of the American Health Care Act. Americans are being told that they will die as a consequence of this legislation and that life in our country will be miserable should it become law.

One group recently claimed that the proposal would consider victims of rape and domestic violence as having a pre-existing condition, earning a full four Pinocchios from The Washington Post, the highest measurement in deceitful rhetoric. Opponents often ignore key provisions in the new AHCA, many introduced by Democrats, that prohibit discrimination against women, allow young people to stay on their parents’ plans longer, guarantee access to healthcare for those suffering from pre-existing conditions, and more.

To be sure, the legislation moved out of the House last week is far from perfect and needs to be improved. Many people have serious and legitimate concerns — myself included. However, the sheer complexity of healthcare in America means that no bill will ever please everyone. While some today applaud the ACA, many others are facing higher premiums, fewer options, and reduced access to care. In many counties, like Monroe, there is only one insurance provider left. In some counties in Iowa and other states there are none. That’s right, no insurance options at all for those in the individual market.

More here.

May 11, 2017

Budget line item only for Jewish schools raises some questions


@kyragurney and @amysherman1

Following a wave of bomb threats against Jewish institutions across the country, Florida lawmakers have taken unprecedented action to bolster security at Jewish schools in the state.

Legislators — both Republicans and Democrats — were eager to comply with a request to help secure Jewish schools following months of news reports showing children and adults evacuating from schools and other places in response to threats in Florida and other states.

But the line-item in the budget has raised some questions about government dollars earmarked to help schools serving just one religion.

Kara Gross, ACLU of Florida’s legislative counsel, told the Miami Herald that while responding to violent threats made against religious minorities is extremely important, the budget item raises constitutional questions.

“The fact that the funding singles out one religion raises serious concerns about unconstitutional discrimination, whether intentional or not,” she said in a written statement. “Many groups are seeing a spike in violent threats in recent months – not only Jews, but also Muslims, Sikhs, and immigrants. If the state sees responding to these threats as a priority public safety issue, funding should be available to all similarly targeted groups.”

It’s unknown if the ACLU plans to pursue any action because it doesn’t typically comment on hypothetical future litigation.

Florida’s budget allocation appears to be unusual. The Orthodox Union — an Orthodox Jewish group that helped draft the budget request through an affiliated project called Teach Florida — has championed similar legislation in other states this year, but those bills would make funding available to other types of private schools as well. Legislation the group helped draft in Maryland, for example, would make security funding available to schools and child care centers deemed at risk of hate crimes or attacks.

Keep reading here.

Possible gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine engaged and awaiting child



Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is in the midst of touring Florida as he mulls a possible run for governor in 2018, is engaged and awaiting his first child.

Levine, 55, recently got engaged to Caro Murciano, a real estate agent and younger sister of television actor Enrique Murciano. Levine has never been married before. The couple are expecting.

The mayor told the Miami Herald these changes in his personal life only bolster his motivation as he considers a run.

"Becoming a husband and father will be one of the greatest highlights of my life and reinforces my determination to make our children's future secure and bright," he said on Thursday.

Levine has yet to commit to a run to replace Gov. Rick Scott, who is term-limited in 2018. He would enter a field of Democrats that include Gwen Graham, former North Florida congresswoman and daughter of former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham; Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King. Trial attorney John Morgan may also run.


Quelling candidacy chatter, Carvalho vows to remain Miami-Dade schools chief

@PatriciaMazzei @KyraGurney

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho appeared to squash rumors Wednesday night that there's a chance he could run for Congress.

Speaking at an awards ceremony for the Education Fund, a local schools nonprofit, Carvalho vowed to remain schools chief this year, next year and for years to come, according to several attendees. The comment seemed to address his own acknowledgment last week that he was being courted to replace Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Carvalho, an independent who has never run for public office, could have mounted a formidable candidacy, given his broad popularity and name recognition. But he sounded reluctant to run even last week, when Florida Democrats were abuzz about his potential candidacy. And he has since spoken to school board members, including one, Lubby Navarro, who said Carvalho was clear he wasn't running.

Wednesday night, Carvalho's promise to stick to his job was met with resounding applause.

Photo credit: José A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald