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November 08, 2017

Here's what Trump's Cuba crackdown will look like

Cuba Trump
@PatriciaMazzei @ngameztorres @HeraldMimi

The days of Americans legally staying at Ernest Hemingway’s Old Havana haunt, the Hotel Ambos Mundos, or making purchases at Havana’s only luxury shopping arcade, will be over under new regulations the Trump administration issued Wednesday as part of a crackdown on U.S. business and travel to Cuba.

Americans will be banned from doing business with 180 entities tied to the Cuban military, including hotels, stores, marinas, tourist agencies, industries and even two rum rum makers owned bythe government. U.S. companies will be barred from investing in a sprawling economic development zone in Mariel that Cuba envisions as crucial to its commercial future.

The long-awaited rules will take effect Thursday. The regulations, intended to cut off cash to Cuban leader Raúl Castro’s government and tighten U.S. travel to the communist island, stem from a directive President Donald Trump signed in Miami in June that outlined his new policy. Trump has distanced himself from former President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba, criticizing him for getting a “one-sided” deal.

The Treasury, Commerce and State departments, together with the National Security Council, worked for months on the regulations, which took longer than some members of Congress and U.S.-Cuba policy experts expected. Sanctions against other countries, most notably North Korea, took priority for the administration, which continues to be understaffed in State and other agencies.

The White House also had to deal with the ongoing mystery over a sonic attack against U.S. diplomats in Havana. While Washington has not accused the Cuban government of causing the attacks, it holds Havana responsible for not protecting Americans diplomats while on Cuban soil and has reduced its embassy staff by 60 percent.

The delay in issuing the regulations allowed U.S. companies like Caterpillar, the heavy-equipment giant, to finalize business deals with Cuba that will be unaffected by the new restrictions. The Caterpillar agreement, which allows the company’s Puerto Rican distributor to set up a warehouse and distribution operation at the Mariel Special Economic Development Zone, was announced just last week.

More here.

Photo credit: Ramon Espinosa, Associated Press

Payday lenders, with major business before Trump, to hold conference at Trump Doral

Trump-business-1stld-writethru-02d5fac6-9be6-11e7-8ea1-ed975285475e (2)


National charities and industry associations are ditching Trump properties like Mar-a-Lago for annual galas and conferences, but at least one association with business before the White House is set to visit Trump National Doral for its annual conference.

The Community Financial Services Association of America, an interest group that represents the payday loan industry, is hosting its four-day annual conference in April 2018 at Donald Trump’s 90-hole golf resort 12 miles west of downtown Miami.

Payday loans are a form of high-interest credit usually taken out by low-income people who aren’t able to borrow from traditional banks. Many consumers access the loans online, and critics say the loans can be predatory.

Last month, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency responsible for consumer protection in the financial sector, finalized a rule that requires payday lenders to determine up front whether people can afford to pay their loans, a decision that was criticized by the Community Financial Services Association of America.

“The CFPB’s misguided rule will only serve to cut off their access to vital credit when they need it the most,” association CEO Dennis Shaul in a statement in October. “The rule is not only misguided, it’s hideously complex for loans of a few hundred dollars.”

The CFPB, established by Congress in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, has long been a target of Republicans, who charge that the agency creates burdensome regulations for industry groups. The CFPB was first proposed by liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, which further rankles Republicans.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is a co-sponsor of a bill proposed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that would eliminate the CFPB.

Diane Standaert, executive vice president for the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit that advocates for stronger regulations on the payday loan industry, said that President Donald Trump and Congress could nullify the new CFPB rule and help the payday loan industry by passing a bill that overturns the rule before the rule goes into full effect about two years from now.

“Payday loans are debt traps by design with interest rates averaging 300 percent,” Standaert said. “These small loans cause big problems for low-income people all across the country.”

Read more here.

Ros-Lehtinen: Fellow Republicans don’t care about finding a permanent TPS solution



Over 200,000 Haitians and Salvadorans could be forced to leave the United States if the Trump administration ends Temporary Protected Status for the two countries, and Democrats along with Miami Republicans in Congress are pushing for a permanent solution.

But Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen isn’t convinced that most of her fellow Republicans care.

The outgoing Miami congresswoman said Tuesday that the majority of Congress “would not know what TPS is” if asked about it and that there isn’t an appetite from Republicans to give TPS recipients a path to permanent residency.

“I spoke yesterday about TPS, had hardly anyone ask me about it. I spoke again today about TPS, radio silence from my colleagues,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “There’s just no interest for immigration reform generally, and I don’t think there’s much appetite to help these two particular groups of people. It hurts to say it but it’s the political reality.”

Ros-Lehtinen and the entire Miami delegation in Congress — Democrats and Republicans — are united behind a bill by Rep. Carlos Curbelo that would allow Haitians, Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans who receive TPS to obtain a path to permanent residency.

The Department of Homeland Security announced on Monday that TPS will expire in 2019 for Nicaraguans, while Hondurans will get a six-month extension until July 2018. The Trump administration has not yet announced a determination for Haitians and Salvadorans.

“While I’m disappointed in the administration’s announcement, these continued short-term extensions have created anxiety and uncertainty not only for these immigrants and their families, but also for their employers and neighbors whose prosperity also depends on them,” Curbelo said in a statement. “Congress has an opportunity to change that, and I’m grateful the Administration has called for a permanent solution from Congress.”

But finding a permanent solution will be a political challenge for House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Miami Republicans. Conservative Republicans have railed against any attempt to expand immigration, and the March 2018 deadline for Congress to find a legislative solution for young people known as Dreamers, who came to the country with their parents illegally as children, looms ahead of Nicaragua’s January 2019 TPS elimination or Honduras’ possible elimination in July 2018.

Read more here.

November 07, 2017

Miami elects a new mayor. His name is Francis Suarez



Francis Suarez is Miami’s mayor-elect.

The Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections released mail-in ballot results Tuesday evening, showing what everybody expected: the two-term city commissioner and Carlton Fields attorney won the city’s top post before the first ballot was cast on election day.

Through a strong absentee ballot game — and with little opposition — the 40-year-old political scion took 11,790 of 13,574 votes. With early voting also reporting, he holds more than 86 percent of the vote.

Suarez, the son of county commissioner and former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, is holding his election party at the Hilton Miami Downtown. He plans to give a speech in about an hour.



Bondi: Women charging sexual harassment 'have to come forward'

Florida’s chief legal officer, Attorney General Pam Bondi, said Tuesday that women who have anonymously accused a powerful state legislator of sexual harassment “have to come forward” and tell their stories to the Senate.

Addressing reporters' questions after a Cabinet meeting, Bondi said: “As a career prosecutor, I would say you have to come forward, because someone has the right to face their accuser. It can’t be done under the condition of anonymity. So you have to come forward.”

Six women have accused Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, of groping or making unwanted verbal remarks to them. The allegations by the six women, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, were first reported by Politico Florida last Friday.

Latvala has denied the allegations and called the story “totally fabricated.”

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, immediately ordered an investigation and is in the process of hiring an independent law firm to investigate the Latvala allegations. Negron also temporarily relieved Latvala of his duties as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday.

“As a woman, I’d say, ‘Please come forward,’” Bondi said. She added that the #MeToo movement on social media “says a whole lot about where we’re going and where we need to go further as a culture.”

“People say, ‘Well, why don’t women come forward?’ Because they’re intimidated. They’re scared. Don’t be scared,” Bondi told reporters at the Capitol. “If Rose McGowan can start this in Hollywood with someone as powerful as Harvey Weinstein, it can go throughout our country.”

Bondi’s office has no official role in the Latvala investigation.

“People are innocent till proven guilty,” Bondi said. “You have the right to face your accuser in any instance throughout this country ... I would encourage any victim to come forward. It’s one at a time, and that’s how you change things.”

Gov. Rick Scott, also asked about the allegations Tuesday, called them “absolutely disgusting” and said: “Behavior like that cannot be tolerated. The citizens of our state deserve much better than what we’ve read about in the papers.”

Rubio to Trump: Press China on Venezuela


Ahead of President Donald Trump's Asia trip, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio asked Trump to challenge the Chinese government on human rights -- including on its support of the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

"Even though the regime of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro has lost international legitimacy and engaged in a crackdown against pro-democracy activists that has claimed over 130 lives, China, along with Russia, continues to provide the regime with financial support," Rubio wrote Trump. "We therefore urge you to press the Chinese government to stop giving economic lifelines to the failing Maduro regime."

The Oct. 31 letter, which also raised several other issues in addition to Venezuela, was signed by Rubio and Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican. The two lawmakers co-chair the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, an independent U.S. government agency that monitors human rights and rule of law matters in China.

"You have sought to build a strong personal relationship with President Xi [Jinping] — in part, to increase cooperation to counter North Korean nuclear proliferation — but we encourage you also to develop a long-term strategy for challenging the Chinese government to abide by its international commitments, adhere to universal standards, and embrace the rule of law," they wrote. "Such a strategy is critical to advancing American geopolitical, security, economic, and human rights interests, and will further the Chinese people's desire for peace, freedom, and justice."

Trump is scheduled to arrive in Beijing on Wednesday.

Levine goes bilingual in radio ads on Obamacare


Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine's first ad buy as a 2018 candidate for Florida governor urges listeners to...sign up for health insurance using Obamacare.

It might seem like an unusual way to kick off a gubernatorial campaign. But the radio ads -- a "six-figure" buy funded by Levine's political committee, All About Florida -- help Levine link himself to former President Barack Obama and his signature achievement, a key for Democratic primary voters who in the past lamented that their candidates ran away from the Affordable Care Act.

"President Obama had a vision – that every American have access to affordable health care – and I join with him in urging that every man, woman and child in America be covered," Levine says in the spot. "Visit now and sign up. Every Floridian has until Dec. 15 to act before Donald Trump, or anyone, has a chance to tear down the Affordable Care Act we waited so long for."

President Trump's administration is making no effort to enroll people in the federal coverage. 

The ads, running statewide, also let Levine speak to Hispanic voters. Levine's Spanish is serviceable; he spoke a line in the language during his campaign launch last week, knowing he will have to appeal to Latino Democrats -- many of them in South Florida -- to have a shot at the Governor's Mansion.

UPDATE: Levine's ad drew the scorn of Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, who tweeted a link to this Naked Politics post. Corcoran is a potential 2018 Republican candidate for governor and a longtime Obamacare critic.

That set off a bit of a Twitter war with Levine, who is running against at least three other major candidates in the Democratic primary and can only relish being singled out by a Republican calling him "#LiberalLevine."

Elections underway in Miami-Dade

Election illo ballot box


It's an off-off-election year, but there are some important decisions being made Tuesday in four Miami-Dade cities. Polls opened at 7 a.m. in Hialeah, Homestead, Miami and Miami Beach. Thousands have already voted early or by mail, but turnout today could prove the difference between a ballot item passing or a candidate winning outright.

In Miami, where political dynasties are jockeying for power, voters are electing a new mayor, two new city commissioners, and deciding the fate of a $400 million general obligation bond and several charter amendments.

In Miami Beach, where a corruption probe and allegations of indecent exposure have made for a, ahem, lively election season, voters are also naming a new mayor, deciding two city commission races (here and here), and considering several ballot amendments, including a 2 a.m. ban on liquor sales on Ocean Drive.

In Hialeah, Mayor Carlos Hernandez is running for re-election and there are two council member races on the ballot. There are also two ballot questions related to the sale of city property.

In Homestead, voters are choosing two council members.

Polls close at 7 p.m.

He’s not up for reelection in 2018, but here’s why Marco Rubio is campaigning hard



Marco Rubio is back on the campaign trail.

For the first time in a year, Rubio stood in front of a crowd at a plumbing equipment warehouse in northern Virginia, a well-heeled part of the country that overwhelmingly supported him over Donald Trump during last year’s Republican presidential primary.

But as Rubio emerged to stump for gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie with Christian rock music blaring, a protester grabbed the microphone from Gillespie and demanded an end to immigrant deportations. Rubio stood off to the edge, displaying no visible emotion as the crowd shouted and grabbed the protester’s sign as she was escorted off stage.

“That was perfect, the timing, because I haven’t given a campaign speech in about a year so I’m a little rusty, I needed some warmup time,” Rubio said.

Rubio then began a speech that avoided certain hot-button social issues, like keeping Confederate statues in place that have galvanized some Republicans in certain parts of the country since Trump’s election. Instead, he talked mostly about jobs, though he did wade into his signature issue, Latin America, as he referenced the violent MS-13 gang, a frequent Trump villain with roots in El Salvador.

“I don’t want to get in the middle of all these fights ... but I got to say it, I come from a community that itself has been impacted by ... gang violence,” Rubio said.

Staying out of intraparty fights while building goodwill across wide swaths of the Republican Party is Rubio’s clear strategy heading into the 2018 elections, as the one-time and maybe-again presidential contender copes with a president who has low approval ratings and a resurgent GOP populist wing that is willing to cause trouble within the ranks.

Trump-inspired figures like Breitbart editor and former White House adviser Steve Bannon are engaging in open warfare with establishment-minded figures like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and two sitting Republican senators targeted by Bannon have already decided not to seek reelection in 2018.

But as Bannon and his disciples attack Republicans for failing to fully embrace Trump’s populist-oriented message, Rubio has stayed largely out of the fray. Rubio doesn’t have any plans to endorse Alabama judge Roy Moore, a Republican running for an open U.S. Senate seat who once declared that a Muslim should never serve in Congress. And Rubio was also relatively mum on the decision by GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, a harsh Trump critic, to retire after campaigning for him in Arizona less than two weeks before his announcement.

“I have disagreements with the White House and I have been able to address some of them privately and a couple of them more publicly, whether it was the initial response in Puerto Rico or some of the foreign policy issues in different parts of the world,” Rubio said. “But my view is this: 95 percent of what is going to happen to me today, I cannot control. What I can control is how I react to what happens. And what I’ve chosen to do more than ever is focus like a laser on the things I can control and get done.”

North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and an ally of Bannon’s, praised Rubio’s work on Capitol Hill one year into his second term.

“He gets no criticisms from me,” Meadows said. “Actually, we’re working very closely on the child tax credit that he’s working with Ivanka [Trump]. I think he’s doing a great job on that. I think he has an idea that it needs to be higher than what it is.”

Read more here.

November 06, 2017

Trump administration to end TPS for Nicaraguans. No decision on Haitians, Salvadorans


@francoordonez @jacquiecharles @brendamedinar @alextdaugherty 

The Trump administration will end a temporary program that allows some Nicaraguans to live and work in the United States, while leaving the door open to canceling the same program for more than 200,000 Haitians and Salvadorans in the coming weeks.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday night that about 2,000 Nicaraguans who have Temporary Protected Status must leave or seek another form of legal residency, though those affected will be able to stay until January 5, 2019.

The status had been granted to some Nicaraguans who had fled their homeland after the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

“Based on all available information, the country conditions in Nicaragua now exceed Hurricane Mitch,” said a senior administration official.

The 1998 hurricane killed more than 2,000 people in Nicaragua and caused over $1 billion in damage.

But the bigger impact will come when the administration makes a final decision on Salvadorans and Haitians’ status. Haitians status is set to expire in January 2018, affecting about 50,000 people, most of them in Florida, while Sanvadorans’ status expires in March 2018, affecting nearly 200,000 people.

Homeland Security officials also announced that Honduras will get a six-month TPS extension, until July 2018, after the program was set to expire in January. Just under 60,000 Hondurans have received TPS.

Local advocate Francisco Portillo, president of the Honduran group Francisco Morazán, said immigration organizations will keep fighting to win legalization for Honduran TPS holders.

“We are sad by the news but feel fortunate that we got six months to keep lobbying in Washington,” Portillo said. “Let’s see if we can get Congress to legalize these people who have been in the country for decades, are homeowners and business owners and whose kids were born here.”

A bill proposed last week by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and co-sponsored by other members of South Florida’s congressional delegation would grant TPS recipients from Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador and Nicaragua a path to permanent residency. Only Congress can provide a permanent solution for individuals enrolled in TPS.

Read more here.