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122 posts from June 2018

June 27, 2018

Immigration bill brokered by Miami Republicans fails



The Miami lawmakers who spent weeks trying to craft an all-Republican immigration solution settled for a messaging vote on Wednesday on an immigration bill that wasn't conservative enough for Republicans and wasn't liberal enough for Democrats.

Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo failed to navigate the third rail of GOP politics that has tripped up lawmakers like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the past. A compromise immigration bill that included a solution for giving young immigrants known as Dreamers a path to citizenship in exchange for $25 billion for President Donald Trump's border wall and limiting legal immigration failed by a vote of 121 to 301.  

Every Democrat and 112 Republicans voted against the plan. 

The bill also included a provision that would have allowed families to be detained together at the border if they cross illegally together. 

Trump endorsed the bill hours before the vote in an all-caps tweet, following days of mixed messaging as conservatives blasted the bill as "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants.


But Trump's tweet wasn't enough, and the failure of Republican leaders to get any immigration bill passed effectively ends the prospect of further congressional action on the issue before the 2018 election. 

Diaz-Balart and other Repubilcan lawmakers met with the president on Tuesday, one day before the vote on the immigration bill. Instead of talking about the effort, Diaz-Balart asked Trump about infrastructure, according to a pool report. 

The immigration bill did not come up during the part of the with lawmakers that was open to the press.  

“We have the worst immigration law in the history of the world. It’s a joke,” Trump said during the meeting, blasting a proposal to hire more immigration judges to speed up deportation hearings. 

Curbelo and Diaz-Balart's inability to pass a bill hurts Republicans' ability to deliver a message to voters in their competitive Miami-Dade districts that GOP members in Congress are capable of working working with Trump to solve issues such as what to do with 690,000 young immigrants who could face deportation.  Without congressional action, the fate of the young immigrants known as Dreamers rests with the courts. 

Read more here.

Rick Scott and the Cabinet won't pick Florida's next financial regulator until August

Florida Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott and his colleagues on the Cabinet won't pick Florida's next financial regulator until August, they decided this morning after interviewing five finalists for the job.

Scott said he "would like to take a little bit more time reviewing their backgrounds" and moved moved to appoint Pam Epting, the deputy commissioner for the Office of Financial Regulation, to lead the office in an interim role until the August Cabinet meeting.

He also reopened the job to new applicants, who have until July 15 to apply.

The job became open after CFO Jimmy Patronis pressured the current commissioner, Drew Breakspear, to resign this month. His last day is June 30.

After a brief 12-day window for applicants to apply, the Cabinet narrowed their choices to five people, including state Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, and longtime former OFR employee Linda Charity, who was twice interim director of the office.

Scott, Patronis, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam interviewed them by phone this morning, although Scott did not ask them any questions.

Bondi seemed enthusiastic about one of the finalists, Florida securities lawyer Kevin Rosen, who has a background investigating fraud, but noted that she hadn't even had a chance to meet with him in person yet.

Both she and Scott noted that they believed they had quality applicants already, but had no problem opening the job up to more people.

June 26, 2018

Some children held at Homestead facility have been unable to contact their parents


@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

Federal authorities have been unable to reconnect all children separated from their parents at the border because some of those parents may have already been deported with their kids remaining behind in U.S. custody, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson’s staff said on Tuesday.

Eight children now held at a South Dade migrant shelter haven’t been able to contact their parents, Nelson said.

Nelson said Barbara Flotus, the Homestead migrant shelter employee in charge of getting the children in touch with their parents, has been able to put 62 of the 70 children in touch with their parents.

Nelson's office said Health and Human Services officials told them that the reason eight children have not been in contact with their parents is because HHS has been unable to locate the parents, possibly because the adults have been deported.

Of the parents reached, 60 of them have requested their child be placed with sponsors or relatives in the U.S. while two have requested their child be sent back to their home country, Nelson said.

HHS spokesperson Kenneth Wolfe did not confirm how many children at Homestead have been unable to reach their parents.

"Reunification is always the ultimate goal of those entrusted with the care of unaccompanied alien children, and we are working toward that for those unaccompanied alien children currently in our custody," Wolfe said in a email.

Nelson questioned HHS Secretary Alex Azar about the children separated from their parents t the border during congressional hearing on Tuesday.

"How many of those children have been able to be in contact by telephone with their parents from whom they were separated?" Nelson asked at a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

"For any of them who have been separated from their parents at the time of the parents' detention by CBP (border patrol), within 2 hours of arriving at an ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) shelter, we endeavor to put them in touch, get them on the phone with their parents," Azar said. "Sometimes that can't happen, if for instance the parent has been located for criminal prosecution."

The Trump administration's decision to reopen a Homestead facility that once housed unaccompanied minors who tried to cross the border illegally during the Obama administration set off a spate of protests over the weekend, as lawmakers from both parties demanded an end to the Trump administration's practice that led to about 2,300 children being separated from their families.

Read more here.

Donna Shalala has until late July to file financial disclosure


As her opponents picked at her time on corporate boards, Donna Shalala received a second extension this month allowing her to delay the disclosure of her personal finances with the U.S. House of Representatives.

Shalala's disclosure, originally due May 15, is now due July 27, roughly one month before the Democratic primary to replace U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Congress. Shalala requested a second extension -- which is not unusual -- on June 12.

"Donna Shalala believes in complete transparency and in that spirit will comply with all legal requirements pertaining to the release of her financial disclosure documents," said Fernand Amandi, a political consultant with the Shalala campaign.

Under House ethics rules, Shalala must file at least 30 days before the primary, meaning she'll be unable to delay her disclosure any longer without incurring a penalty. Amandi said the campaign will meet the late July deadline.

But state Rep. David Richardson, one of Shalala's four primary opponents, questioned Tuesday why Shalala needed to delay revealing her finances. Richardson has hoped to use the frontrunner's tenures on the boards of UnitedHealth Group and Lennar -- two massive corporations with somewhat controversial histories -- to undercut her lead.

Richardson himself filed for two extensions, but that was roughly a year ago. His campaign says they're concerned about the timing of Shalala's extensions, now that the primary election -- and the release of absentee ballots -- is just weeks away.

"All the other candidates in this race have disclosed their personal financial information, as required by law," said Richardson, one of Shalala's four primary opponents. "Why won't she make a timely filing? What is she trying to hide from the voters?"

As for Shalala's opponents:

*Matt Haggman listed his net worth between roughly $1.4 million and $3.7 million. The assets he listed, including those of his wife, Danet Linares, include five life insurance policies, a slew of IRA accounts, and Danet Linares P.A. The couple reported approximately $250,000 in income during the previous year, including $103,870 from Haggman's job with the John S. and James . Knigh Foundation, which he left in July. 

*Michael Hepburn, an academic adviser with the University of Miami, listed no assets. He reported $27,000 in income last year through his job at UM and reported between $100,000 and $250,000 in student loans.

*Richardson's assets are worth between $1.25 million and $2.5 million. He disclosed between $500,000 and $1 million in a tax-deferred IRA-type account, and roughly the same amount invested in a Fidelity government money market fund. He listed between $15,000 and $50,000 in income from Student Transportation Inc (a school bus contractor), and between $100,000 and $1 million from SYW LP, a New York-based hedge fund.

*Kristen Rosen Gonzalez listed assets that include her Alton Road home, which she valued north of $1 million and a trust fund she valued between $500,000 and $1 million. She said she can't touch the trust fund until she's 60. She is paying off a home mortgage worth between $250,000 and $500,000.

Rosen Gonzalez earned about $76,000 last year from her job as a Miami Dade College professor and her salary as a Miami Beach commissioner.

Matt Caldwell receives first NRA endorsement for statewide candidate

Cadlwell kickoff
A screen grab from Matt Caldwell announcement video | YouTube

In an election year when gun rights promises to be a high-profile issue in voters' minds, the National Rifle Association has officially started doling out its endorsements to statewide candidates.

And so it begins.

The first recipient on Tuesday was state Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, who is running for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services. While the NRA has not yet released its ratings for this year, Caldwell has in the past received an "A+."

"He is the only candidate in this race with a perfect record of unyielding support of the Second Amendment to our Constitution," read a statement from the NRA's longtime Florida lobbyist, Marion Hammer, as part of the endorsement press release. "That’s why we trust you to administer Florida’s Concealed Weapons and Firearms Licensing Program. We urge all Second Amendment supporters to vote for Matt Caldwell."

READ MORE: Why does Florida’s agriculture department handle concealed gun permits? The NRA wants it to.

READ MORE: Adam Putnam’s office stopped reviewing concealed weapons background checks for a year because it couldn’t log in

Caldwell's Republican opponents were previously dinged by the NRA for different votes they took while in the state Legislature.

Former Rep. Baxter Troutman voted against the so-called "Guns at Work bill," which requires employers to allow their employees to stow guns in their locked cars if they are licensed to carry concealed weapons. It passed and became law.

Sen. Denise Grimsley voted in 2014 to weaken a bill that allowed people to carry concealed weapons for 72 hours without a permit when they were under mandatory evacuation orders, such as during a hurricane. Law enforcement opposed the bill and it died.

The NRA's ratings following the most recent Legislative session have not yet been released. Both Grimsley and Caldwell voted against the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which the NRA opposed because of its raising the gun purchasing age from 18 to 21 and its ban of bump stocks.

South Florida Democrats lurch left with call to abolish ICE



Abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement by starving it of cash is now in vogue among Democrats running for Congress in Miami.

Three of the five Democrats in a contested primary to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are in favor of abolishing the nation's immigration enforcement agency, a rallying cry of the far left that has gained rapid mainstream attention in recent weeks because of the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their parents when they cross the border illegally.

Former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman, former state Rep. David Richardson and former University of Miami academic advisor Michael Hepburn are all in favor of abolishing ICE by defunding the federal agency in Congress.

"The brutality of taking people out of their homes for 20 years has now sort of been fully seen," said Sean McElwee, an anti-deportation advocate who leads an ongoing abolish ICE effort on social media. "For a while, the only people I could get to agree with me were third-tier candidates, who I love and agree with but who don't have much of a chance...but now this has legs."

Over the weekend, four Democrats in Congress became the first elected officials in Washington to call for abolishing ICE. Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan said Monday he plans to introduce legislation that would defund the agency, which has powers to conduct immigration checks within 100 miles of the border or coastline, a zone that includes the entire state of Florida.

Most Democrats don't want to abolish ICE, instead arguing that the agency's leadership and direction under the Trump administration is the problem, not the existence of the organization itself. McElwee estimates that about two dozen Democrats running for federal office out of around 1,000 declared candidates nationally have publicly endorsed abolishing ICE.

The two Miami-Dade Democrats running against Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, who aren't facing competitive primaries, aren't on board. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he "hasn't considered" defunding ICE.

"ICE should be targeting and arresting people that pose an imminent threat to others, not just rounding up innocent-even if undocumented-people," said Mary Barzee Flores, a Democrat running against Diaz-Balart. "It is neither reasonable nor practical to simply say 'let's abolish ICE,' but its enforcement priorities should be significantly adjusted."

"Abolishing ICE is not the answer," said Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is running against Curbelo. "I believe the agency must correct its abuses and should dedicate its staff to protecting the country from actual threats, like child exploitation, human trafficking and drug-related crimes, instead of attempting to induce fear in immigrant communities."

But for Haggman and Richardson, two well-funded candidates seeking to beat former University of Miami President Donna Shalala in the Democratic primary for Ros-Lehtinen's seat, talk about abolishing ICE provides a way to differentiate themselves from an opponent with better name recognition and a way to sway far left-leaning voters in the primary.

Read more here.

In Tweetstorm, David Rivera claims acting U.S. attorney in Miami has 'overseen corruption'

David rivera

After months of laying low, former Miami congressman David Rivera has been on a Tweet-storm this week in which he's attacked his enemies, including Benjamin Greenberg, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

"Acting US [Attorney] Ben Greenberg will become a federal judge when cows fly," Rivera tweeted Tuesday, responding to a Sun-Sentinel article that named Greenberg as a finalist for a Trump appointment to the federal bench. "His tenure has overseen corruption inside [the Southern] District including extortion and sexual assault. Will be exposed publicly very soon. Stay tuned."

Rivera, who was investigated for years by the Southern District under then-US Attorney Wifredo Ferrer but never charged, also piggybacked on a Tuesday tweet by President Donald Trump about "hating frauds" at the FBI ad attacked the man who led his investigation, Assistant US Attorney Thomas Mulvihill. Rivera compared Mulvihill and FBI agent David Nanz to conservative boogeymen James Comey and Peter Strzok.

Rivera, a Republican, has been out of office since 2012, when he lost his congressional seat to Democrat Joe Garcia. During Garcia's primary race, Rivera was suspected of funneling nearly $70,000 into the campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad, a straw Democratic candidate who later pleaded guilty. A go-between, Ana Alliegro, also pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

Rivera also beat charges in a 2011 case led by Mulvilhill into alleged tax improprieties.

Rivera narrowly lost a bid to return to the state House two years ago and flirted with another campaign this year. He has denied any wrongdoing, and is currently fighting a lawsuit by the Federal Elections Commission that seeks to impose nearly $500,000 in penalties against Rivera for alleged campaign finance violations in relation to Sternad's 2012 campaign.

After on-air racial slur, top DeSantis fundraiser reportedly suspended from Fox News

David Bossie, left, made the racial remark to Joel Payne, right. | YouTube

A prominent Donald Trump surrogate and member of Ron DeSantis's national finance team used a racial slur during an appearance on Fox News over the weekend.

Monday evening, the Daily Beast reported that the comment had prompted the cable news channel to temporarily suspended him for two weeks.

Video clips from the Sunday appearance show David Bossie, Trump's former deputy campaign manager, get into heated debate with Democratic strategist Joel Payne, who was also appearing on "Fox & Friends Weekend."

Bossie and Payne were debating Democrat's assertions that Trump is racist when Bossie asked Payne: "Are you out of your cotton-picking mind?" Payne is black.

Bossie apologized on Twitter later that day:



The host, Ed Henry, then said on air: "I want to make clear Fox News and this show, myself, we don't agree with that particular phrase," Henry said. "It was obviously offensive, and these debates get fiery. That's unfortunate."

READ MORE: Report: Top DeSantis fundraiser impregnated Playboy model; Trump’s lawyer negotiated payment

Bossie was one of the big names on DeSantis's national finance team when that group of wealthy donors was rolled out earlier this year. Campaign spokesman David Vasquez declined to comment Monday on Bossie's remark.


High-speed rail announcement came just minutes after Bill Nelson's tweet

Sen. Bill Nelson, left, and Gov. Rick Scott

For about 20 minutes on Friday, it looked like Sen. Bill Nelson had a pretty good dig at Gov. Rick Scott, his Republican opponent in the Senate race.

On Friday afternoon, apparently sitting in traffic on I-4, the senator tried to blame Scott for his freeway woes.

"On I-4. Traffic is bad," Nelson tweeted. "Again, I am officially calling on Gov. Scott to let us build high-speed rail. We would be riding at 180 mph between Orlando and Tampa right now had he not turned away $2.4 billion in 2011."

Twenty-four minutes later, Scott answered Nelson's call, announcing a potential high-speed rail project linking Orlando and Tampa.

Never mind that Scott killed off a similar rail project just weeks after becoming governor. The timing of Friday's announcement was so peculiar that some people suspected politics were at play.

Not quite, according to the offices of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who were both quoted in Scott's press release.

Spokespeople for the two Democratic mayors said that while the mayors had known about the proposed rail line for months, the governor's office didn't tell them until mid-day Friday that they were making the announcement.

"We knew Friday that that’s when they were going to release it," Buckhorn spokeswoman Ashley Bauman said. "We obviously didn’t know what time they were going to do it."

Brightline, the company behind the rail proposal, formally pitched it to the Florida Department of Transportation three months ago.

Why wait so long for an announcement? According to an FDOT spokesman, evaluating the bid and drafting a request for competing proposals was "very complicated" and required months of work.

All of it coming together just minutes after an unfortunately-timed tweet.

June 25, 2018

Nelson says top Trump official barred him from seeing immigrant children in Homestead

Bill Nelson


Bill Nelson was on his way to the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children last Tuesday, attempting to gain access to the second-largest shelter in the country for children who crossed the border illegally by themselves or with their parents, when he called a top Trump administration official to get access. 

As he drove from Miami International Airport to South Dade, the Florida Democrat said he tried to call Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar but was instead referred to Deputy Secretary Eric Hargen.

Nelson said the number two official at the federal agency responsible for the Homestead facility told him it would take two weeks to schedule a tour.

"We had a rather heated conversation," Nelson said. "He said the policy of the department is that you fill out the forms, which I had done on Monday, and you have to wait two weeks. To which I replied 'Mr. Secretary, you and I both know that's bullhockey.'"

Nelson said the Trump administration's decision to deny his tour request was based on partisan politics as he fights for reelection against Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a supporter of the president.

"It's pretty obvious that this was being directed from on high," Nelson said.

An HHS spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Two days after Nelson and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz tried to visit the Homestead facility, HHS officials sent an email to lawmakers allowing them to request a tour of Homestead and other facilities around the country at predetermined times due to a high demand for visits. Lawmakers were not allowed to photograph or record their visits, and they were not allowed to speak with the children.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and about 20 members of the press toured the facility on Friday while Nelson and Florida Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson, Ted Deutch, Darren Soto and Wasserman Schultz toured the facility on Saturday. Scott has not toured the Homestead facility yet, though other state-level elected officials were told on Saturday they also had to wait two weeks to enter.

Nelson also said he was unable to meet with the woman in charge of reuniting the children at Homestead with their parents, because she wasn't working on Saturday. He plans to speak with Azar in Washington on Tuesday.