November 12, 2018

Trump, Scott and Rubio continue to push claims of Florida voter fraud without evidence

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@alextdaugherty

President Donald Trump and Florida’s two highest-ranking Republicans are continuing to push unfounded claims of voter fraud as the state recounts votes to decide closely watched races for governor, U.S. Senate and agriculture commissioner.

The president said valid ballots in Florida should be thrown out because “an honest vote count is no longer possible.”

Governor Rick Scott said his Democratic U.S. Senate opponent, Bill Nelson, is “clearly trying commit voter fraud to win this election.”

And Republican Senator Marco Rubio said “Democrat lawyers... are here to change the results of the election and Broward is where they plan to do it.”

There is no evidence of voter fraud in Broward County, according to election monitors from the state’s Division of Elections who have been stationed there since at least Election Day. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has not received a request in writing to investigate voter fraud from Scott. And the Florida Department of State said Monday their staff has “not seen any evidence of criminal activity in Broward County at this time. ”

The president suggested Monday that Florida should certify the election based on Election Night vote tallies — even though the state is in the midst of a legally mandated recount. He had previously tweeted that Democrats were trying to “steal two big elections in Florida,” suggesting that Broward County withheld votes during the 2016 presidential election because they were “getting ready to do a ‘number’” on Trump’s margin of victory in Florida and that Democrats “’found’ many votes” in Broward County to help Nelson and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum.

“The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged,” Trump tweeted, while providing no evidence. “An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!”

Read more here.

November 02, 2018

Independents will decide Florida’s statewide elections, but polling them is tricky

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@alextdaugherty

Independent voters are the white whale of Florida elections.

They cannot vote in closed primaries, so they didn’t play a part in electing Andrew Gillum or Ron DeSantis in August, and typically turn out in lower numbers in years when a president isn’t on the ballot.

But a national environment dominated by President Donald Trump, combined with record-breaking spending in the U.S. Senate race between Bill Nelson and Rick Scott, have focused the political world’s attention on Florida. The intense interest is reflected in an uptick among all voters in early voting, including independents.

Statewide polls conducted in the past month show a massive variance among voters who are not affiliated with the Democratic or Republican Party. One poll conducted by the University of North Florida this week shows Gillum with a 25 percentage point lead over DeSantis among independents and Nelson leading Scott by 17 points. Another poll conducted by CBS/YouGov this week shows DeSantis and Scott both winning independents by 13 percentage points.

and Nelson with slight leads within the margin of error. For example, the UNF poll showed Gillum with a 6 percentage point lead and Nelson with a 1 percentage point lead, while the CBS poll showed Gillum up by 1 percentage point and Nelson in a tie with Scott.

Accurately polling voters who don’t identify or aren’t registered with either party is a tricky proposition.

“When you’re dealing with small samples like that, it gets really difficult to get a good sense of what they’re doing exactly as a group,” said Michael Binder, the director of the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Library. “The margin of error for that is relatively high. That’s just a problem you have.”

More here.

October 23, 2018

GOP leader who wants to build Trump’s wall is raising cash for Maria Elvira Salazar

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@alextdaugherty

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy likes Donald Trump so much he once sorted through a bag of Starburst candy to pick out the cherry and strawberry flavored square-shaped fruit chews—Trump’s favorite flavors—to present the president with a personalized gift.

McCarthy, a California congressman who wants to lead Republicans in the House of Representatives after the November election, has voiced explicit support for funding Trump’s proposed Mexico border wall and sponsored a bill called the “Build the Wall, Enforce the Law Act of 2018.”

He’s also raising money for Miami congressional candidate Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican running in a majority Hispanic district Trump lost by nearly 20 percentage points.

Salazar is set to host a fundraiser with McCarthy on Wednesday, according to an invitation obtained by the Miami Herald. The lunchtime gathering at the Riviera Country Club in Coral Gables lists a $10,000 in fundraising for “host” status and $5,000 in fundraising for “co-host” status.

Salazar, a former TV journalist, has won over national Republicans after making the race to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen against Democrat Donna Shalala competitive. The prospect of a Salazar victory has led to outside groups investing in the race after previously considering it unwinnable and has drawn the attention of Republicans like McCarthy who can raise money.

It also brings a Republican to South Florida who has pledged to support Trump’s request for Congress to fund a border wall, something the GOP has not done during Trump’s first term despite a unified majority in the House and Senate. As Speaker, McCarthy would have the power to force votes on spending bills that could include Trump’s border wall.

Salazar’s campaign did not respond when asked if McCarthy’s visit means that she will vote for him to lead House Republicans if elected. 

More here.

October 12, 2018

‘That looks good, man’. Trump Jr. is served steak by Salt Bae

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@alextdaugherty @nicknehamas

President Donald Trump is no fan of Nicolás Maduro, but his son enjoyed artistically salted steaks Thursday by a celebrity chef who set off protests in Miami for feeding the Venezuelan dictator last month.

Donald Trump Jr. posted a video on Instagram Thursday night that showed him being served steak by Nusret Gökçe, a Turkish chef known as Salt Bae for finishing his elaborate steak presentations with a flourish of salt.

“This happened tonight. Amazing meal with @nusr_et #saltbae #salt#bae,” Trump Jr. posted to his verified Instagram account.

Salt Bae’s decision to post videos of him feeding Maduro and providing him with a customized T-shirt while Maduro puffed on a cigar set off protests in Miami after Sen. Marco Rubio, a vocal critic of Maduro, posted the address and phone number of Salt Bae’s Miami restaurant. Trump Jr. appears to have posted the video from Salt Bae’s New York location.

Rubio did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

More here.

October 08, 2018

‘We are not the enemies’: GOP candidate touts journalism career in congressional race

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@martindvassolo @alextdaugherty

Maria Elvira Salazar is trying to hug her way to Congress.

The telegenic former TV host turned Republican candidate is at Las Mercedes senior center in West Dade, a campaign stop full of elderly Cuban-American voters who helped fuel the GOP’s dominance in Miami for the last 40 years.

Everyone recognizes her. Most do not speak English.

Salazar works the room, hugging dozens who are eager to chat with someone they saw on TV for years. One asks her how she’s in such good shape for a 56-year-old.

“I don’t eat dairy,” Salazar replies with a laugh.

She is seeking to pull off an upset in the country’s most Democratic-leaning district currently under GOP control in a year where Democrats are poised to make gains in Congress. Her opponent is former University of Miami president and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, one of the most experienced first-time congressional candidates ever.

In an era where President Donald Trump shouts “fake news” at unflattering news coverage and belittles journalists who ask him tough questions, the Republican Party is putting its faith in a woman who touts her 35-year career in news reporting — and has vowed to serve as a centrist not beholden to the conservative wing or the president.

Republicans need to keep 24 seats from flipping blue if they want to maintain the House of Representatives for the latter half of Trump’s first term in office. Salazar, who voted for Trump, is running in Florida’s 27th Congressional District, one that Trump lost by more than 19 percentage points in 2016, the largest margin of defeat for the president in any district held by a Republican. But Salazar has the support of retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — who won reelection in 2016 by 10 percentage points despite Trump’s presence on the ballot — and local Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

“Being a journalist for 35 years it’s very difficult to stop being one,” Salazar said. “I covered the first year of [Trump’s] presidency so there is my record. I’ve always covered the issues, not on the fluff or on the words.”

Salazar is campaigning as Ileana 2.0. She’s indicated an openness to a ban on assault weapons, backs Curbelo’s new carbon tax proposal and says she’ll fight for comprehensive immigration reform if elected.

And she’s aware of the potential challenges Trump poses to her candidacy.

“The Republican Party, its values, the values that are entrenched are bigger than the president,” Salazar said. “I understand that Trump is an unconventional guy, I get that sometimes his words are not the proper ones, but I see what he’s done for the country, and what he’s done for China and North Korea no other president did.”

Salazar insists that she’s seeing a path to victory, and polling shows a closer-than-expected contest between Shalala, a former Clinton administration official and Clinton Foundation executive who does not speak Spanish, and Salazar, a known presence on Spanish-language television.

“Surprise!” she says when asked about her potential to steal what should have been a Democratic layup. “I can’t tell you the secret but the path to victory is there.”

Read more here.

September 24, 2018

Trump: No statehood for Puerto Rico with critics in office

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via @AP

President Donald Trump on Monday declared himself an "absolute no" on statehood for Puerto Rico as long as critics such as San Juan's mayor remain in office, the latest broadside in his feud with members of the U.S. territory's leadership.

Trump lobbed fresh broadsides at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a critic of his administration's response to hurricanes on the island last year, during a radio interview with Fox News' Geraldo Rivera that aired Monday.

"With the mayor of San Juan as bad as she is and as incompetent as she is, Puerto Rico shouldn't be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they're doing," Trump said in an interview with Rivera's show on Cleveland's WTAM radio.

Trump said that when "you have good leadership," statehood for Puerto Rico could be "something they talk about. With people like that involved in Puerto Rico, I would be an absolute no."

Cruz responded on Twitter: "Trump is again accusing me of telling the truth. Now he says there will be no statehood because of me."

Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico's representative in Congress, tweeted: "Equality 4 Puerto Ricans shouldn't be held up by one bad mayor who's leaving office in 2020 & do not represent the people who voted twice for statehood."

Trump's position on statehood for the island puts him at odds with the Republican Party's 2016 platform during its national convention, in which it declared support for Puerto Rican statehood.

The president's remarks followed his claims earlier this month that the official death toll from last year's devastating storm in Puerto Rico was inflated. Public health experts have estimated that nearly 3,000 people died in 2017 because of the effects of Hurricane Maria.

But Trump falsely accused Democrats of inflating the Puerto Rican death toll to make him "look as bad as possible."

Trump's pronouncements have roiled politics in Florida, which has crucial races for governor and U.S. Senate. The state was already home to more than 1 million Puerto Ricans before Hurricane Maria slammed into the island a year ago. Tens of thousands of residents fled Puerto Rico in the aftermath, with many of them relocating to Florida.

Read more here.

Official who could take over Mueller probe once worked on the 2000 Florida recount

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@alextdaugherty

There’s a Florida connection to the latest reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will be out of a job—changing the U.S. official in charge of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election.

U.S. solicitor general Noel Francisco, who would be next in line to lead the investigation if Rosenstein leaves his post or is fired, once worked for President George W. Bush’s team during the 2000 Florida recount that ultimately resulted in Bush becoming president over then-Vice President Al Gore.

Francisco was confirmed as solicitor general on a 50-47 party line Senate vote in October 2017. The solicitor general, the fourth highest position at the Department of Justice, is in charge of representing the federal government in front of the Supreme Court.

Francisco clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and worked on the Florida recount with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and dozens of other lawyers before working at the Bush White House in the mid 2000s. He then worked in private practice during the Obama administration.

Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio, a former general counsel for Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the executive director for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, is higher on the Department of Justice’s organizational succession chart but would not assume oversight of the Mueller investigation because he has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

Rosenstein is at the White House on Monday amid reports that he may resign or be fired days after the New York Times reported that he talked about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office and secretly taped the president. Some of Trump’s biggest defenders in Congress have tried to impeach Rosenstein in recent weeks, though the effort has not made much progress.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation when he acknowledged that he failed to inform the U.S. Senate during his confirmation hearing that he met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump has consistently expressed displeasure with Sessions and Rosenstein on Twitter.

More here.

September 13, 2018

Trump claims without evidence that Democrats distorted Hurricane Maria death toll

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@alexdaugherty @davidjneal

President Donald Trump argued Thursday, without evidence, that the deaths of thousands of Puerto Ricans due to Hurricane Maria was a political stunt by Democrats “to make me look as bad as possible” and that government officials and university researchers “just added” people who died from natural causes to the official list.

The accusation comes a week ahead of the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s landfall in Puerto Rico, which set off a logistical and humanitarian crisis for the U.S. territory’s 3.3 million U.S. citizens.

“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Trump tweeted, referring to Hurricanes Maria and Irma, which skirted the island two weeks before Maria hit. “When I left the island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers like 3000...This was done by Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”

The official death toll from last year’s storm stood at 64 until late August, although doubts had been cast on that estimate. Harvard University researchers door-to-door check produced an estimate of over 4,000, though there was a significant variation on the actual death total.

On Aug. 27, the Puerto Rican government put the number of dead at 2,975, a total that includes deaths caused or not prevented because the island’s infrastructure was blasted. The study was conducted by George Washington University researchers on behalf of the Puerto Rican government. On Tuesday, President Trump called the U.S. government’s response “an incredible unsung success.”

Earlier this week, Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rosselló, who had avoided criticizing President Trump’s handling of the disaster for months, said that thousands of people died in Puerto Rico and that the relationship between San Juan and Washington is not successful.

“No relationship between a colony and the federal government can ever be called ‘successful’ because Puerto Ricans lack certain inalienable rights enjoyed by our fellow Americans in the states,” Rosselló said in a statement. “The historical relationship between Puerto Rico and Washington is unfair and unAmerican. It is certainly not a successful relationship. This was the worst natural disaster in our modern history. Our basic infrastructure was devastated, thousands of our people lost their lives and many others still struggle.”

State Rep. Bob Cortes, a Puerto Rican Republican who serves as Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis’ director of Puerto Rican outreach, told WFTV that he does not dispute the government’s estimated death toll.

“Every morning there is something new that the president tweets,” Cortes said. “I have no reason to doubt the number of 2,975 deaths in Puerto Rico.”

Other Republican officials, including Miami Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, criticized the president’s remarks.

Read more here.

September 11, 2018

Trump called Haiti a ‘sh--hole’ campaigning in Miami in 2016, Woodward’s book says

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@alextdaugherty

When Donald Trump visited Little Haiti during the 2016 presidential campaign, he told the Haitian-American community: “I really want to be your biggest champion.”

Minutes later, he was calling Haiti a shithole.

In Bob Woodward’s new book released on Tuesday, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” the veteran reporter wrote that Trump used the vulgarity to describe Haiti after a campaign stop in Little Haiti.

“The idea of ‘shithole countries’ was not a new one for Trump,” Woodward wrote. “During the 2016 campaign, Trump had visited Little Haiti in Miami. Former Haitian leaders had come to the microphones and accused the Clintons of corruption and stealing from Haiti.”

“After the event, in private, Trump seemed down. ‘I really felt for these people. They come from such a shithole.’”

The comments in 2016 came after a Trump campaign event where the then-candidate told Haitian-Americans they shared “a lot of common values” and railed against the Clinton Foundation’s spending in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

“Whether you vote for me or not I really want to be your biggest champion,” Trump said in prepared remarks. “Clinton was responsible for doing things a lot of the Haitian people are not happy with. Taxpayer dollars intended for Haiti and the earthquake victims went to a lot of the Clinton cronies.”

Michael Barnett, the vice chairman of the Florida Republican party who helped organized the Little Haiti event, said he will continue to believe the president when he says he didn’t say it. 

"I am still willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt," he said. "I would like to know where these allegations have come from; who are the sources? Until I see any concrete proof, I am willing to believe the president when he says he didn't say it."
 
Barnett was tasked with getting the Little Haiti community to show up to the Trump campaign event. He said he doesn’t recall the president having any private meeting after and that “he got into his vehicle and left the cultural center. I don’t know where he went after that.”

Trump’s use of the vulgarity set off a barrage of criticism earlier this year when the president referred to Haiti and some African nations as “shithole countries” during a much-publicized January meeting on immigration.

But it wasn’t the first time Trump used the term, according to Woodward.

Read more here.

September 10, 2018

Maria Elvira Salazar will vote for "any type of tower, any type of guards" at U.S.-Mexico border

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@alextdaugherty

Republican Maria Elvira Salazar wants to reform the nation's immigration system, but will vote to spend money on Donald Trump's border priorities if elected to Congress. 

Salazar, running to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a Miami-based seat that Trump lost by more than 19 percentage points in 2016, did not directly endorse Trump's border wall in a Sunday night interview with MSNBC host Kasie Hunt, but she did endorse specific parts of a border security plan that most Democrats do not support. 

"I would definitely vote in order to secure the border," Salazar said when asked about the wall. 

"Does that mean the wall that the president wants, the big, beautiful wall?" Hunt responded. 

"That means any type of tower, any type of technology, any type of guards for border security that will secure the border because we do not want (imprisoned Mexican drug lord) El Chapo or his friends smuggling drugs," Salazar said. "Listen, the undocumented people do not want to be undocumented. That's why we need to reform our immigration system and we need to give visas to those that are coming to pick up Jalapeno peppers in Southern California or to clean toilets in Orlando or in Manhattan. They need some type of legality so they can stay here, they can pay taxes, they can contribute to the economy and continue working as they are right now without a criminal record." 

Salazar blamed Barack Obama for prioritizing Obamacare over an immigration overhaul while in office and Bill Clinton for passing immigration laws that laid the framework for Trump's family separation policy. 

"This is not a matter of Democrats or Republicans, when it comes to immigration everybody's at fault," Salazar said. 

Hunt also asked Salazar, a broadcast journalist for decades until January, about Trump's comments declaring the press as the enemy of the people. Salazar disagreed with his remarks.

"We have the best press in the world," Salazar said. "The press, the press we need always." 

Salazar faces Democrat Donna Shalala and pro-Trump independent Mayra Joli in the general election. 

Watch the interview here.