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July 25, 2017

Marco Rubio votes to proceed with debate on Obamacare repeal

Marco Rubio


Florida Sen. Marco Rubio joined 49 Republicans to vote in favor of proceeding with Senate debate on an Obamacare repeal bill, a critical step in the effort by Republicans to repeal Obamacare.

Rubio had been expected to vote in favor. He announced on July 13 that his concerns with the repeal process had been addressed by Senate leadership.

“The sooner we get to the floor and start the debate on the floor in front of the American people, the better off it’s going to be for everyone,” Rubio said on July 13.

Two moderate Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted against proceeding with debate, meaning Rubio’s vote was essential in passing the measure. Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie in favor of proceeding with debate on repeal.

The 51-50 vote means that the Senate will now begin debate on a proposal to repeal Obamacare, although it is not clear what specific bill the Republicans decide to move forward on. It is expected that a bill that repeals Obamacare without a replacement and a bill that keeps portions of Obamacare will be debated, but if the various proposals increase the federal deficit after 10 years, a process typically determined by the Congressional Budget Office, at least 60 senators must vote in favor.

But the Senate can pass a bill with a simple majority instead of 60 votes if the Senate cobbles together a plan with elements that do not increase the deficit after 10 years, something dubbed a “skinny repeal” plan. Republicans only have 52 Senate seats compared to Democrats’ 48, so a bill that requires 60 votes would fail.

Rubio said two weeks ago that he wanted to ensure more Medicaid payments to Florida hospitals that serve a large number of low-income people, an option to choose catastrophic coverage plans with low monthly payments but high deductibles, and flexible Medicaid caps for public-health emergencies like Zika.

After a closed-door meeting with Republican leadership on July 13 Rubio emerged to say he would vote in favor of debate on a repeal bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ended months of behind-the-scenes negotiations and deal-making efforts by putting the motion on the floor Tuesday, forcing Republican senators like Rubio to either vote in favor of debating a repeal package or turn their backs on a long-running campaign promise for many Republicans.

Rubio has repeatedly said that he was elected in 2010 and reelected in 2016 on a platform of repealing Obamacare, and that he intends to follow through on his campaign promise.

Read more here. 

Rubio, Menendez to Trump: Sanction 10 more high-ranking Venezuelans

Marco Rubio 3

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez asked President Donald Trump on Tuesday to sanction 10 more high-ranking individuals in the Venezuelan government, ahead of a Sunday election in the South American nation that Trump warned last week would be met with “strong and swift economic actions.”

“However, even before that vote, the current situation in Venezuela justifies sanctions on numerous individuals responsible for supporting the Maduro regime,” wrote Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat.

The most prominent name on the list suggested by the two Cuban-American senators is Tibisay Lucena Ramírez, the president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council.

The other nine names are: Carlos Erick Malpica Flores, national treasurer; Jesús Suárez Chourio, commander of the Bolivarian Army; Carlos Alfredo Pérez Ampueda, director of the Bolivarian National Police; Maria Iris Varela, minister of Venezuela’s correctional system; Tarek William Saab, ombudsman; Simón Alejandro Zerpa Delgado, vice president of finance of state-oil company PDVSA; Carlos Alberto Osorio Zambrano, head of the strategic region of integral defense; Rodolfo Clemente Marco Torres, brigadier general; and Rocco Albisini, president of the national center for foreign trade, known as CENCOEX.

This developing story will be updated here.

Photo credit: Aaron P. Bernstein, Getty Images

Venezuela accuses Rubio, CIA of plotting to topple Caracas government

Venezuela Crisis


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



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


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?



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



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


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.