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128 posts from November 2017

November 30, 2017

The walls of this Miami politician’s new City Hall office hid a surprise from 1989



Manolo Reyes was apparently the ultimate Miami City Hall insider. It just took him 28 years to find out.

Reyes, an economist and Westland Hialeah Senior High teacher, tried six times to win an election to the city commission before breaking through this month at age 73. He was sworn in as Miami’s District 4 commissioner two weeks ago, finally ticking off one of the items on his personal bucket list.

But now that Reyes has won his way to public office, he’ll have to wait until he can actually occupy his public office.

Since Nov. 16, Reyes’ office has been undergoing renovations that according to Miami’s city manager have been planned for months in order to gut and clean the mold-ridden space, which was also damaged by Hurricane Irma. It’s not clear how much the work will cost, but City Manager Daniel Alfonso wrote a memo to Reyes noting that the city had budgeted $50,000 for standard renovations before finding unexpected water damage.

The construction has been a major inconvenience for Reyes and his staff, who represent Flagami and several other neighborhoods. But Reyes says it also revealed something unexpected: a June 1989 copy of Spanish-language periodico Combate that featured a picture of Satanic graffiti on the cover.

That was alarming, to be sure. Even more jarring, the journal also carried a photo inside of Reyes’ campaign kickoff that year.

Manolo Reyes says he and his staff found a June 1989 copy of Combate inside the wall of the District 4 office at Miami City Hall that included a photo of Reyes’ failed 1989 campaign launch. Reyes’ office is undergoing renovations and mold remediation.
“The workers found this old newspaper behind the Sheetrock,” said Reyes. “It was crazy.”

Read more here.

Rubio isn't bound to increasing corporate taxes to raise the child tax credit

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Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday that he's open to alternative ways to pay for an increased child tax credit, after his amendment with Sen. Mike Lee to raise corporate taxes to pay for the expanded credit was opposed by President Donald Trump and a slew of conservative interest groups. 

"I'm trying to pass it, and I'm open to how we pay for it," Rubio said. "Cutting corporate taxes by 13 instead of 15 (percent) is one way to do it, but if there's a better way we're open to it. But ultimately, we're trying to allow working families, welders, plumbers, firefighters, members of the armed forces, to keep a little bit more of the money that they earn by working." 

Other senators like Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins have also voiced support for an expanded child tax credit that is fully refundable for low-income families, though there are other ways to pay for it like reducing other tax deductions and raising the proposed corporate tax cut by one percent instead of two percent. 

Conservatives like Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said that the current 20 percent corporate tax rate in the House and Senate tax plans is non-negotiable. 

"We continue to strongly support the unified framework and the 20 percent corporate tax rate that the White House has said they would oppose raising," a letter by Koch-backed Freedom Partners to Senators on Thursday said. "The proposed Rubio-Lee amendment would deviate from that framework by increasing the corporate tax rate beyond 20 percent, undermining the full economic benefits that families would otherwise see. We believe this is the wrong approach." 

The Senate is expected to vote on a slew of amendments, including Rubio and Lee's, late into the evening on Thursday before they vote on a tax overhaul. The Senate and House, which passed its tax bill before Thanksgiving, would then conference together to hammer out a final proposal that would go to Trump's desk if it passes Congress. 

Democrats prod Miami Republican up for OAS ambassador over immigration bill

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A 2015 bill that would have made it a felony for an undocumented immigrant who was previously deported, or facing a deportation order, to be in Florida, was a point of contention for Democrats during state Rep. Carlos Trujillo’s Senate confirmation hearing to be U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States on Thursday.

Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., challenged Trujillo’s bill during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing chaired by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Trujillo ally.

“In 2015 you authored what I would consider to be a draconian bill in the Florida legislature that would have made not complying with a deportation order a felony punishable up to 30 years in prison,” Menendez said. “Give me a sense of what you meant by that bill because when you deal with the ambassadors to these countries they’re going to know this and...some of these countries, Mexico, Guatemala and others in Central America are good partners with us at the OAS. So this is going to be a bit of a challenge and I want to hear what your intent was and how you’re going to deal with that.”

Trujillo told Menendez he would have done things differently.

“I would not have supported that bill on the floor the way it was drafted,” Trujillo said. “It was poorly drafted, it never captured my original intent. My original intent for that bill was to codify federal statue for legal reentry post-deportation, post all of due process being exhausted.”

Trujillo, a Republican and vocal supporter of President Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, was announced as the White House’s appointment for OAS ambassador in October, just two months after Trump named him one of four U.S. representatives to the United Nations General Assembly. That job made Trujillo one of U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s four deputies.

As OAS ambassador, the Cuban-American Trujillo would become a leading voice on U.S. policy toward Cuba and Venezuela, countries of key importance to South Florida immigrants and to Rubio, a Trujillo friend and go-to adviser to Trump on Latin America. Trujillo is bilingual and a married father of four.

Read more here.

Mario Diaz-Balart's district now rated "safe Republican"

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Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, popped up as a potential target for Democrats in 2018 when President Donald Trump carried his district by fewer than 2 percentage points in 2016. 

But Diaz-Balart hasn't drawn a big-name challenger in 2018 yet, prompting Sabato's Crystal Ball managing editor Kyle Kondik to move Diaz-Balart's reelection chances from "likely Republican" to "safe Republican" on Thursday. 

While other Republicans' reelection chances aren't as rosy, Kondik rated 18 Republican-held seats as more competitive for Democrats in his recent ratings, Diaz-Balart was one of just two GOP incumbents whose reelection chances improved. 

"As we cycle more races onto the competitive board from Safe to Likely Republican, it makes some sense to cycle out a couple of Republican-held seats with long-time incumbents where there’s not much going on at the moment," Kondik said, referring to Diaz-Balart and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska. "Both of these seats qualify." 

Currently, Diaz-Balart faces nominal Democratic opposition from Alina Valdes, who handily lost to Diaz-Balart in 2016. She has raised barely over $1000 in her bid to take on the longtime Republican. 

Kondik rates Rep. Carlos Curbelo's reelection chances as a "toss up," though he referred to the Miami Republican as one of the party's "best incumbents." 

"Despite the aforementioned retirements, Republicans have some of their best incumbents digging in to defend some of their most vulnerable districts: Reps. Mike Coffman (R, CO-6), Carlos Curbelo (R, FL-26), Barbara Comstock (R, VA-10), and others. If the wave is big enough, there may be nothing these members could do to survive, but they all should run strong, well-funded races and won’t be easy for Democrats to defeat." 

Retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat is rated as "leans Democratic," an indication that it will be challenging for Republicans to hold that seat. 

November 29, 2017

Marco Rubio bucks Donald Trump, proposes higher corporate tax rate (updated)

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Sens. Marco Rubio and Mike Lee are adamant that any tax overhaul bill must benefit working families and corporations alike, and they're willing to support a smaller cut to corporate taxes in order to pay for an increased child tax credit.

President Donald Trump doesn’t like the idea.

Rubio, R-Fla., and Lee, R-Utah, announced Wednesday that they want to increase the federal corporate income tax rate to 22 percent from the 20 percent proposed in the Senate’s tax overhaul bill. The corporate tax increase would pay for a child tax credit that reduces some families’ tax bill for every child they have under the age of 17.

“We have a chance to do better by working families in this tax bill,” Rubio and Lee said in a statement. “Right now, 70 percent of the tax cuts we’re considering would go to businesses, and only 30 percent to individuals. This amendment would level the playing field for families, while still kick-starting national investment and growth. By increasing access to the Child Tax Credit, we can increase working family fairness and deliver overdue relief to America’s greatest investor class: our moms and dads.”

Rubio and Lee have repeatedly said that Republicans will pay at the ballot box if it is perceived that their tax plan doesn't do enough to help working families. The pair did get the child tax credit increased to $2,000, which is higher than the current ceiling of $1,000, but they are arguing that more must be done.

Rubio and Lee’s plan would also make the $2,000 tax credit fully refundable, meaning that if a low-income family’s tax credit exceeds their total amount owed in taxes, they would be eligible for a tax refund. The tax credit would also be tied to the rate of inflation, which means the tax credit will increase if inflation increases. 

“I’m not going to vote for an increase on the middle class,” Rubio said in October. “But we’re not going to get to that point. We’re not that crazy around here.”

President Donald Trump called the proposed 20 percent corporate tax rate a “perfect number” earlier this year, though at one point he wanted an even bigger cut to 15 percent. A White House official confirmed to the Miami Herald that Trump opposes Rubio’s plan.

“We do support the child tax credit. We also think it’s important to make businesses more competitive. We would not support raising the corporate rate as outlined in that amendment,” said White House spokesman Raj Shah.

Read more here.

A Miami congressional candidate shares her #metoo moment

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Mary Barzee Flores was 17, working the night shift at Pizza Hut when her boss followed her into the walk-in freezer.

She had just been installed as the night manager after the previous night manager, the boss’s wife, was ousted after Barzee Flores noticed irregularities on the books.

Her boss was angry.

“The manager followed me in and shut the door,” Barzee Flores said. “He said if I was going to take his wife’s place I would have to do all of her duties, and he made clear what he meant by that.”

Her boss groped her, she said.

“It was terrifying thing to happen, but I pushed him off and told him off and got out of there,” Barzee Flores said.

Barzee Flores is now a 55-year-old lawyer and former judge who is running as a Democrat to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The recent #metoo movement that exploded after high-profile sexual assault and harassment allegations against dozens of men in politics, entertainment and media gives more women the opportunity to speak out about their personal experiences, Barzee Flores said.

She didn’t tell anyone about the Pizza Hut incident at the time, choosing instead to keep working while keeping her guard up. Looking back, she said, it was a “terrible position for a kid to be in.”

“Sexual harassment is a bipartisan issue, it doesn’t have to do with whether you’re a Democrat or Republican,” Barzee Flores said. “It’s an abuse of power when it happens and I think that the last few months with these allegations coming out, whether in politics or Hollywood and workplaces all over the country have been very important.”

And Barzee Flores has been quick to criticize members of her own party who have been accused of sexual harassment.

She was one of the first Democrats to call for the resignation of Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a civil-rights icon and the longest-serving member of Congress, after multiple women accused the congressman of sexual harassment. At least one woman reached a taxpayer-funded settlement with Conyers.

“There is no reason we should hold Rep. Conyers to a different standard than any TV show personality, movie mogul, or corporate leader,” Barzee Flores said last week. “In fact, we must hold him (and every elected official on both sides) to a higher standard. For that reason, given everything I’ve read and seen, Rep. Conyers should resign.”

Read more here.

Fla. Supreme Court denies Scott's bid to disqualify Pariente

The Florida Supreme Court Wednesday tersely rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s request to disqualify Justice Barbara Pariente from a critical case involving upcoming court vacancies.

In a one-sentence order, the court said: “The Respondent’s (Scott’s) motion to disqualify Justice Pariente is hereby denied.”

The decision came a day after Common Cause and the League of Women Voters filed a brief with the court, opposing Scott’s motion to remove Pariente from the case.

Scott’s motion was in response to brief, cryptic comments Pariente made to Justice Jorge Labarga over an open microphone at the end of oral arguments in the case that prompted the Republican governor to question the impartiality of Pariente, who was appointed to the court by Florida’s last Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles.

Scott last week filed a 17-page motion with the court, arguing that after oral argument, Pariente handed a document to Labarga, who said the word “Panuccio,” after which Pariente replied: “Crazy.” Labarga then said: “Izzy Reyes is on there. He’ll listen to me.” Pointing again to the document, Scott’s motion said, Pariente appeared to say, “Look whose pick they’re getting....”

The document in question was a list of nine Scott appointees to the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, which will screen and recommend finalists for each of the three vacancies.

The JNC includes Jesse Panuccio, Scott’s former economic adviser and now a high-ranking U.S. Justice Department official and Israel Reyes, a Miami lawyer.

Another JNC member is Daniel Nordby, Scott’s general counsel, who represented Scott at oral argument and who filed the motion seeking to disqualify Pariente.

In the case of League of Women Voters of Florida et al v. Gov. Rick Scott, the legal issue is whether Scott or his successor has the authority to replace Pariente and two other justices, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who face mandatory retirement and whose terms all will expire on the day Scott will leave office about 13 months from now.

The question of which governor gets to fill the three slots on the seven-member court could dramatically shift the court’s direction for decades to come.

In a statement, Scott spokesman John Tupps said: “Gov. Scott expects all judges to be fair and impartial. It is disappointing that today’s decision was made without providing any plausible justification for Justice Pariente’s comments. Given the gravity of this case, Floridians deserve better.”

Lewis also is a Chiles appointee, and Quince, the court’s first African-American woman jurist, was jointly appointed by Chiles and his successor, Republican Jeb Bush, shortly before Chiles died on Dec. 12, 1998, less than a month before he was scheduled to leave office.

Three justices, Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Labarga, were appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist. Scott appointed the court’s newest justice, C. Alan Lawson.

Progressive group launches ad campaign and website focusing on working class poverty: Rick's Recession

Ricks Recesssion screen shotA day after the Florida Chamber held a day-long "prosperity summit" to focus on Florida's growing population of people in poverty, a left-leaning advocacy group has launched a website and social media ad buy highlighting Gov. Rick Scott's economic record -- and focusing on the regions of the where the economy has not improved during his term.

RicksRecession.com is the work of For Florida's Future, an organization that calls itself a "working families advocacy group"  and which also operates a super PAC. The data comes from the Florida Chamber Foundation, the FIU Metropolitan Center, and uses media reports over the last year -- such as how 36 of the state's 67 counties have still not returned to pre-recession employment levels and how 45 percent of all Floridians are considered "working poor." 

Blake Williams, For Florida's Future communications director, said the group is highlighting the issues in a "significant" social media ad buy on Facebook and Twitter. 

“Not a single thing Scott has focused on - slashing funding for public schools, refusing to expand Medicaid for millions of low-income Floridians or giving taxpayer funding to corporations who donate to his campaigns - has helped everyday Floridians,'' he said in a press release.

"If we’re going to dig our way out of Rick’s recession, the first thing we need to do is start prioritizing working and middle class families, something Scott clearly hasn’t done.”

An economic analysis compiled for the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau by Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center in October 2016 showed that in 40 of the state’s 67 counties there were fewer people working in 2015 than were working in 2007. Only South and Central Florida’s metropolitan areas had seen employment levels return to — or exceed — pre-recession levels.

Scott spokesman John Tupps called the information on the web site "outdated and misleading."

“Florida has been a national leader in job creation since Gov. Scott took office and the state has gone from losing 800,000 jobs in the four years before he took office to adding more than 1.4 million in less than seven years,'' he said. 

The Herald/Times asked the governor’s office to provide answers to the following questions, as well as to supply information on what the governor’s office is doing to narrow the prosperity gap in the counties that have not recovered the lost jobs. We will update this post if they do.

Can you provide me with an update of the data you allege is outdated on ricksrecession.com?
Do you dispute the Florida Chamber claims and concerns about the widening prosperity gap in Florida?

Rubio on sexual harassment: People need to ‘stop being creeps’

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via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio this morning said people "need to stop being creeps" and "regulate" themselves when it comes to sexual harassment.

"The more power people have, sometimes, the more immune they think they are, sometimes, from the rules," Rubio said during an interview on Capitol Hill. 

Participating in a Politico Playbook event as scandals continue to emerge on Capitol Hill, Rubio said he wasn't sure why allegations didn't stop Donald Trump.

"Part of it is that it happened in the midst of a heated and divisive political campaign where people are going to keep to their corners," the Florida Republican said. "Beyond that, I don't know."

Rubio repeated his opposition to Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore but displayed the conflicted thinking about the seat.

"It is a complicated, difficult situation. Because on the one hand, as a Republican, you want the Republican Party to keep the seat. On the other hand, I personally find the accusations against him to be credible and I don't think he has done or said anything in the last month that has helped himself or in any way made me feel better about it.

"But he's staying in the race, the people of Alabama will have their vote and we'll move on from there."

Rubio had previously said that Moore will face a tough time if elected, given a probable ethics investigation that could bring out more details. 

November 28, 2017

Rubio gets an assist from D.C. council to rename street in front of Russian embassy after slain opposition leader


via WAMU 88.5 in Washington

Ask anyone where the Russian Embassy is in D.C., and they’ll point you to the large diplomatic complex on Wisconsin Avenue NW. But the embassy may soon have a new address: 1 Boris Nemtsov Plaza.

A bill making its way through the Washington D.C. Council would symbolically rename the portion of Wisconsin Avenue directly in front of the embassy — between Davis Street and Edmunds Street — after the former Russian politician and longtime critic of President Vladimir Putin who was assassinated in Moscow in early 2015.

The idea was born earlier this year on Capitol Hill, where Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a bill to commemorate Nemtsov by making sure Russian diplomats coming in and out of the embassy couldn’t easily ignore his name. But after the bill stalled in the Senate, Rubio found a willing partner in Democrat Mary Cheh, who introduced her own bill in late October in the council. It will get its first hearing next week.

“People are being assassinated simply because they are agitating for democracy,” said Cheh. “That’s wrong, and if this a small way of us saying that’s wrong, I’m happy to do it.”

Read more here