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July 25, 2017

Venezuela accuses Rubio, CIA of plotting to topple Caracas government

Venezuela Crisis

@francoordonez 

Venezuela’s senior leaders charged Sen. Marco Rubio and the CIA of plotting to topple the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

With their country descending into crisis, Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada and Carlos Ron, the chargé d'affaires of the Embassy of Venezuela, accused Rubio and CIA Director Mike Pompeo of secretly conspiring against Caracas so that Washington can install new leaders amenable to U.S. interests.

“What this group is trying to do with Venezuela is basically divide the government, recognize other leaders and foment a conflict with the Venezuelans,” Ron told a small group of reporters in Washington on Tuesday. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”

The South American country with the world’s largest oil reserves is spinning out of control, its economy in tatters and its people starving as oil revenues plummet. Tensions reached a tipping point this week ahead of a July 30 vote to change the Venezuelan constitution and strip lawmakers of power. The government argues the change is needed to stabilize the country, but U.S. leaders see it as a move toward a “full dictatorship.”

In a nearly two-hour discussion at the Venezuelan residency in Washington, the Venezuelan officials — including interim Ambassador to the Organization of American States Carmen Velasquez — criticized U.S. threats of sweeping sanctions targeting Venezuelan oil if the vote isn’t called off. 

Ron said the American people are not hearing the full story and accused the United States of unfairly attacking a democratically elected government.

He said relations with the United States have long been challenging, but that tensions have escalated under President Donald Trumpciting sanctions against Venezuela Vice President Tareck El Aissami and threat of an embargo against Venezuelan oil.

“At this moment, relations are not good,” Ron said.

Read more here.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz to hold tele town hall on health care

DWSAPmug

@amysherman1

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, will hold a tele town hall about health care Tuesday night.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a motion to proceed with debate about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Wasserman Schultz has been a champion of President Barack Obama's signature legislation passed in 2010 although she has called for some fixes.

Among the problems, she told WPLG Channel 10, is that in numerous places around the country there is "very little choice in terms of competition among companies that provide policies."

Wasserman Schultz's spokesman Michael Liquerman said that a tele town hall allows her to reach a greater audience than an in-person event because thousands can participate.

But it also allows Wasserman Schultz to avoid in-person confrontation by critics, including supporters of her primary opponent Tim Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor who has advocated for single payer health care.

Although Democratic support for single payer health care is rising, it doesn't appear to be going anywhere in Congress. There is a great deal of disagreement among experts regarding how much single payer health care would cost.

A single payer bill, H.R. 676 Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, was introduced in February but has received no votes.

Wasserman Schultz is not one of the 115 cosponsors of the single payer bill. She has spoken in favor of a public option which would provide competition for insurers. 

Wasserman Schultz beat Canova by about 14 percentage points in August in the district which stretches from Weston to northern Miami-Dade County. She easily beat her Republican challenger, Joe Kaufman, in the left-leaning district.

The tele town hall is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. although that could change depending upon the House vote schedule. Constituents will receive a robocall with the phone number. Wasserman Schultz is expected to take questions from constituents and the media.

This post has been updated to include additional information from Wasserman Schultz's office

 

Miami-Dade schools will weigh joining HB 7069 lawsuit during Wednesday workshop

No F Schools Press ConferenceSBAB06_28_2017Jimmy Abraham_MDCPS_44

@ByKristenMClark

Miami-Dade Public Schools could decide as soon as Wednesday whether to join Broward County and other school districts in challenging the constitutionality of a sweeping K-12 education reform law that took effect this month.

Miami-Dade School Board members are holding a workshop to discuss their legal options when it comes to House Bill 7069 — but it’s evident by legal counsel they’ve already received which avenue they’re most likely to pursue: Suing the state.

Tapping the help of three outside legal firms, the district has already spent about $9,900 to research the constitutionality of HB 7069, a district spokeswoman said Monday. According to documents requested by the Herald/Times, some of that legal advice came even before the final version of the legislation was introduced and passed in the final days of session in early May.

With five memos in all, each raises questions about the law’s constitutionality and presents arguments the district could use in court. Chief among them are various ways, the attorneys argue, that the law grants new powers to privately managed charter schools and bypasses the authority of locally elected school boards to oversee public schools within their districts.

Full details here.

Was Adam Putnam, candidate for Florida governor, in favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants?

PutnamannouncesPolkCoTBT

@amysherman1

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has largely had the Republican field for governor to himself, but the camp of one potential primary challenger has portrayed Putnam as soft on immigration and undocumented immigrants.

Tony Fabrizio, a pollster hired by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran who may challenge Putnam in the 2018 primary, cast Putnam as not being conservative enough.

"He was for amnesty," Fabrizio told Politico July 10, while criticizing Putnam’s positions on a long list of issues.

That a-word can be a powerful weapon in a Republican primary. But we found that Putnam’s record on immigration can’t be boiled down to a soundbite.

As a member of Congress from 2001 to 2010, Putnam represented a Central Florida district that included agribusiness interests that wanted immigrant labor. Putnam supported legislation that would have benefitted undocumented farm workers, and he supported changing immigration laws which included a path to citizenship.

But he also took some stances that didn’t benefit undocumented immigrants, such as opposing the DREAM Act and increasing enforcement.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Regalado's 2018 budget leaves out EB-5 center

Panorama

@NewsbySmiley

Of all the things funded in Tomás Regalado’s unprecedented $1 billion budget for 2018, his ballyhooed Office of International Business Development isn’t one of them.

The program, launched three years ago by the mayor in order to “market Miami to the world” through investment-based EB-5 visas, is in an uncertain place as Regalado prepares to end his second and final term in November. His proposed spending plan strips some $275,000 in annual funding from the program, leaving only leftover office funds to keep it open through April barring a change.

Regalado, though, remains a believer in Miami’s publicly owned EB-5 regional center — even if no one can say exactly how much money the city-owned and managed center has brought to South Florida since it opened, or how many jobs it has helped create.

The mayor says he simply wants to leave its fate to his successor.

To read the rest, click here.

(Photo above shows developer Tibor Hollo, left, with Mikki Canton, Tomas Regalado, and a rendering of Hollo's Panorama Tower, funded in part by EB-5 investors.)

With Miami-Dade's Diaz leaving, Corcoran shuffles House deck

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is reshuffling the leadership deck chairs with more changes to come in the weeks ahead.

The Land O'Lakes Republican announced Tuesday that Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, is the new chairman of the Commerce Committee, replacing Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, who resigned to Corcoran_richard 022217 1 run for an open Senate seat in Miami-Dade. Boyd had been chairman of the Ways & Means Committee that writes tax legislation, but Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, who recently won a GOP caucus vote to be House speaker in the 2022-2024 cycle, will be its new chairman. Renner, a redshirt freshman, had held no chairmanship.

"Updated committee assignments will be made in the next few weeks," Corcoran told members in a memo. That signals more change is coming from the speaker, who has the final say on members' assignments that determine political power and, in many cases, campaign fund-raising strength.

Two Tampa Bay Republicans sure to get new assignments are Reps. Kathleen Peters of Treasure Island and Dan Raulerson of Plant City, both of whom are on the outs with Corcoran. Peters chairs an energy and utilities subcommittee and has announced plans to leave in 2018 to run for a Pinellas County Commission seat, citing Corcoran's agenda to reduce local government home rule powers. Raulerson is alternating chairman of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee.

Under House rules in effect since 2000, committee assignments are good for one year only. They are two years in the Senate.

Raquel Regalado officially announces run to replace Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Regalado Congress

@alextdaugherty 

Raquel Regalado is officially joining the race to replace longtime Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring from Congress next year. 

The former Miami-Dade school board member and candidate for county mayor in 2016 filed her paperwork to compete in the Republican primary against county commissioner Bruno Barreiro on Tuesday morning. Nancy Watkins, a top Florida GOP political accountant based in Tampa, will serve as campaign treasurer. 

Regalado highlighted Miami's affordable housing woes in her announcement video. 

"I'm running for Congress because we cannot afford to live in South Florida, because before we get to any other issue we need better paying jobs" Regalado said. "We can't afford to buy a home. We can't afford to live here. We can't afford to raise our children here. We're at a critical point, we need educated, reasonable, articulate and thoughtful people in Congress."

The 43-year-old daughter of Miami mayor Tomás Regalado can now start fundraising after Barreiro raised $176,000 in the most recent fundraising quarter. Maria Peiro, who unsuccessfully ran against Ros-Lehtinen in the 2016 Republican primary also announced her intentions to run, but has not filed yet. 

Regalado is a self-described moderate Republican seeking election in a Miami-based district that Hillary Clinton won by nearly 20 percentage points over Donald Trump, making it the most Democratic district in the country currently held by a Republican. Ros-Lehtinen's retirement opens up a seat that national Democrats see as a prime pickup opportunity in 2018.

Regalado has a history of bucking the GOP. In 2010, she campaigned for Democrat Alex Sink for governor over Republican Rick Scott before unsuccessfully challenging Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez, a fellow Republican, for his seat in 2016. She also did not endorse Trump or Clinton in the 2016 election.

A slew of Democrats have announced or are weighing bids for Ros-Lehtinen's seat. 

Correction: A previous version of this most misidentified Regalado's age. She is 43, not 42. 

Putnam, Corcoran, Latvala all at Florida sheriffs' summer event

The leading Republican candidate for governor and two would-be rivals converged on Bonita Springs this week for the summer conference of Florida sheriffs.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam addressed the group Monday as did House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is there Tuesday. So is Gov. Rick Scott as he plots a run for U.S. Senate.

Corcoran is one of 21 lawmakers given a "Friend of the Sheriff" award for his support of their agenda. Latvala was one of five "champions" for his support for a prolific juvenile offender law aimed at reducing Pinellas' epidemic of car thefts.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Putnam spoke in support of law enforcement and "it was what you would expect from somebody in his position." Alachua Sheriff Sadie Darnell said Putnam "talked about the grandeur of Florida" in a luncheon speech, and recalled Putnam saying he doesn't want Florida to become like Colorado and California with their tolerance of recreational marijuana use.

Both sheriffs said Putnam did not discuss guns, and that the issues of campus carry and open carry didn't come up. The sheriffs' group has opposed open carry and campus carry bills in Tallahassee, though some individual sheriffs are supportive. Putnam last week described "absolutely a pathway" to a form of open carry in Florida, which has the support of the National Rifle Association. For the second straight year, an open carry bill wasa blocked by moderate Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Florida Sheriffs Association cannot endorse candidates, but individual sheriffs can, and in many parts of Florida, sheriffs are the most prominent elected countywide officials.

Special Miami House, Senate primaries to be decided Tuesday

IMG_voting_booths_4_1_RUA90PLK_L283396393
@PatriciaMazzei

Late July is hardly peak election season in Miami-Dade County. But the polls in some parts of town will nevertheless open Tuesday for voters to cast ballots in a pair of special primary elections featuring campaigns as heated as the season.

Republicans will pick among Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares to represent Senate District 40, a competitive Southwest Miami-Dade district where Democrats will choose between former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and businesswoman Annette Taddeo. The winners will face off in the Sept. 26 general election.

Diaz, the only sitting lawmaker of the bunch, had to resign to seek the seat — requiring another election for the Republican-leaning House District 116, also in Southwest Dade. GOP voters there will select between brewery owner Jose Mallea and attorney Daniel Perez. There is no Democratic primary because only one candidate, Gabriela Mayaudón, qualified to run. She and either Perez or Mallea will take each other on in September. Both districts are majority Hispanic.

The elections stemmed from the April resignation of Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican forced to step down after making offensive comments to a pair of legislators. He was also dogged by revelations that he hired questionable political consultants, including a former Hooters “calendar girl” ahead of last year’s election.

Last November, Artiles bested Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard. Democrats hope to win back the seat to get a better shot at blocking legislation in the GOP-controlled Capitol. Republicans outnumber Democrats 24-15 in the 40-member Senate.

More here.

Photo credit: El Nuevo Herald file

July 24, 2017

As chaos envelops Venezuela, Caracas spends millions on lobbyists in Washington

C1

@alextdaugherty

Venezuela’s currency is essentially worthless. Its people are starving. Rampant inflation has rendered the bolívar less useful than toilet paper.

And since Donald Trump’s election, the Venezuelan government has spent at least $1.3 million on Washington lobbyists through its subsidiary Citgo, a Houston-based oil company.

Three Washington-based firms currently represent Venezuela in Washington, pushing Capitol Hill, the White House and Cabinet agencies on issues like “fuel refining” and the “potential impact of U.S. energy policies on CITGO’s operation impacting U.S. consumers,” according to Senate lobbying records.

Caracas sees its investment in lobbyists as a way to fight possible sweeping sanctions targeting Venezuelan oil. Pushed by lawmakers like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the White House said last week “all options are on the table” and promised “strong and swift economic actions” ahead of a vote on July 30 that could alter the country’s constitution in favor of President Nicolás Maduro.

“The costs for representation is a drop in the bucket when compared to the potential economic loss” of oil sanctions, said C.J. Gimenez, the son of Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez and a lobbyist who left Avenue Strategies, a firm started by Donald Trump’s former campaign aides, after the firm decided to pick up Citgo as a client. 

U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil market could have major financial implications for the Maduro regime and for average Venezuelans. Although Venezuelan crude makes up a small fraction — about eight percent in 2016 — of all U.S. oil imports, the U.S. buys nearly half of Venezuela’s oil, and oil revenues account for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings, according to OPEC.

Gimenez said Venezuela’s greatest asset is its oil and that Maduro “uses it to fund his continued existence.”

In order to shore up the Maduro regime’s future in the face of intense pressure, Washington-based lobbying shops, Avenue Strategies, Cornerstone Government Affairs and VantageKnight. All are well connected in the nation’s capital, spending millions on behalf of corporate titans like Google and Citigroup and staffed with former congressional aides who know Capitol Hill.

VantageKnight, a firm started by Democratic strategist and lawyer Manuel Ortiz, spent $540,000 on behalf of Citgo to lobby on the “potential impact of U.S. energy & foreign policy restrictions on CITGO Petroleum Corporation's operations and valuation of assets” and “sanctions related issues” in 2017.

Neither Citgo nor Ortiz responded to requests for comment. An operator at a Houston office for Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, which owns Citgo, hung up when contacted by a reporter.

Citgo is feeling the heat in Washington, where lawmakers have questioned PDVSAs’ pledge of 49.9 percent of its shares in Citgo as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan from the Russian government-owned oil giant Rosneft. That could leave Moscow with indirect control over Citgo’s U.S. energy assets, including three oil refineries, nine pipelines and dozens of petroleum platforms.

Read more here.