September 04, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh declines to shake Parkland parent’s hand at confirmation hearing

Senate Supreme Court

@alextdaugherty

Brett Kavanaugh stood up for a lunch break, began to button up his jacket and turned around to find the outstretched hand of Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the Parkland mass shooting on Valentine’s Day.

Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, declined to shake it.

“Just walked up to Judge Kavanaugh as the morning session ended,” Guttenberg tweeted. “Put out my hand to introduce myself as Jaime Guttenberg’s dad. He pulled his hand back, turned his back to me and walked away. I guess he did not want to deal with the reality of gun violence.”

The three-second exchange instantly went viral, as Democrats are trying to muster attacks on Kavanaugh even though they likely don’t have the votes to stop his eventual confirmation. The first leg of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday was frequently interrupted by protesters in the room, with encouragement from Democrats.

The White House said Guttenberg, a vocal advocate for increased gun-control measures who has traveled to Capitol Hill frequently over the last six months to push for changes in legislation, was “an unidentified individual” and that security intervened before Kavanaugh could shake his hand.

“As Judge Kavanaugh left for his lunch break, an unidentified individual approached him,” White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah tweeted. “Before the Judge was able to shake his hand, security had intervened.”

Guttenberg called Shah's version of events "incorrect." 

Read more here.

August 20, 2018

Florida congressman jokes ‘it would be a catastrophe’ if Trump were saved from drowning

Alcee2 (1)

@alextdaugherty

Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings joked about President Donald Trump drowning in the Potomac River during a campaign rally on Sunday night, prompting laughter from the audience.

Hastings, a longtime congressman who represents a heavily Democratic district in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, relayed a joke he learned from the son of Barry Silver, a former state representative.

“Do you know the difference between a crisis and a catastrophe?” Hastings said, quoting Silver’s son. “A crisis is if Donald Trump falls into the Potomac River and can’t swim... and a catastrophe is if anybody saves his ass.”

Hastings was speaking at the “Stronger Together” rally in Sunrise, which included Sen. Bill Nelson and four of the five leading Democratic candidates for governor. By the time Hastings made the joke, Nelson and the gubernatorial candidates had left, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, which first reported Hastings’ comments.

The longtime Democratic lawmaker, who once served as a federal judge until he was impeached in 1989 before winning his congressional seat in 1992, is known for making colorful comments about Trump and other Republicans. He also called Trump a “sentient pile of excrement” during the final stages of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Hastings’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“There is no question that something is tragically wrong with the president of the United States in his mind,” Hastings said, adding that Trump will be brought down by Omarosa Manigault-Newman, the former White House adviser and reality TV contestant on Trump’s show “The Apprentice” who says she has recordings of Trump using racial epithets, along with porn actress Stormy Daniels and Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the links between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Read more here.

August 01, 2018

Rubio votes against defense spending bill amid China concerns

Marco Rubio 3

@alextdaugherty

Sen. Marco Rubio joined a small minority of the most liberal and conservative members of the U.S. Senate to vote against a massive defense spending bill named after ailing Sen. John McCain on Wednesday after Republican leaders declined to punish Chinese telecom giant ZTE, a company that ran afoul of U.S. sanctions against North Korea and Iran. 

Rubio voted against the yearly defense spending package along with nine other senators, eight of them Democrats including potential presidential hopefuls like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders who will likely use their opposition to military spending as a campaign issue in a future Democratic primary. 

It's the first time that Rubio has voted against a defense spending bill since joining the U.S. Senate. He missed a vote on the package in 2015 while running for president. 

"We got a lot of good things in it that we fought for, but the ZTE, the threat that China poses in my mind, overrides everything," Rubio said.

In June, the Trump administration announced that Chinese telecom giant ZTE will pay a $1 billion fine and fund an in-house compliance team staffed by U.S. experts after the company was caught shipping communications equipment to North Korea and Iran, and lied to U.S. investigators about it. The ZTE deal came after the Commerce Department announced a seven-year ban on ZTE buying American parts, an action that President Trump said would lead to "too many jobs in China lost."

Trump then instructed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to cut a deal, over the objections of Rubio and most lawmakers on Capitol Hill from both parties.

But Republican leaders recently took out a provision in the military spending bill that would have prevented ZTE from buying American technology in a rebuke to Trump. The decision was met with derision by some Republicans and Democrats, though it wasn't enough to sway most senator's votes. Instead, the bill includes a provision that limits government purchases of ZTE technology such as cell phones and handsets. 

"Sadly we failed this chin check," Rubio tweeted a few hours before the vote. "The U.S. saved as a goodwill gesture to Xi. And responded to this overly generous gesture of “goodwill” by blocking Qualcomm pur­chase of NXP Semi­con­duc­tors NV even after asked them for it in return. Learn the lesson!" 

Rubio said he's not worried about voting against a bill the the president pitches as a win for the military, saying service members and veterans understand why it was important to send a symbolic rebuke to China. 

Curbelo, Diaz-Balart campaigns to receive campaign contributions from Trump

Curbelo (1)

via @anitakumar

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo didn't vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, but his campaign is about to get a cash infusion from the president as he fights for reelection. Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who did vote for Trump and is facing a competitive reelection himself, is also set to receive money along with Trump supporter and U.S. Senate hopeful Rick Scott. The Florida Republicans are part of a group of 100 Republicans nationwide that are receiving direct financial support from the president as the GOP seeks to maintain control of Congress. 

Read more below: 

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is giving money to a surprising group of Republican candidates this fall — those who are not only more moderate than he is, but also those have openly defied him on key issues of immigration and trade.

Some didn’t even vote for him.

Reps. Jeff Denham of California and Carlos Curbelo of Florida, who led a failed effort opposed by the White House to circumvent House leaders and force a vote on granting citizenship to so-called Dreamers, are getting Trump’s money, according to a list of favored candidates obtained by McClatchy.

Some vulnerable Republicans may not welcome the donations, fearful that Democrats will seize on the money as they look to tie the GOP to a controversial president in districts he lost in 2016 or where he remains unpopular.

“We have neither solicited nor received said contribution,” said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokesperson for Curbelo, who represents the most Democratic-leaning House district in the country held by a Republican seeking re-election.

Curbelo of Miami is a frequent critic of Trump and did not support him in the 2016 race.

The Trump campaign announced last week that it would donate the maximum amount allowed by law — $2,000 per candidate — to 100 Republicans running for Congress in November, perhaps a sign that the GOP is worried it will lose its majorities in Congress. Democrats need to pick up a net of 23 seats in the House and two in the Senate to gain control of the chambers.

The Trump campaign did not disclose which candidates would receive contributions and did not respond to subsequent questions about how the candidates were selected, but McClatchy obtained a detailed list.

Read more here.

July 17, 2018

Republicans say Rubio’s bill is the way for Congress to deter Russian meddling

Mueller

@alextdaugherty

Conservatives are lining up behind Marco Rubio’s plan to automatically sanction Russia for any future election meddling a day after President Donald Trump’s meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin drew widespread derision from the entire political spectrum. 

Trump supporters like Fox News host Laura Ingraham, moderates like Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senate leaders like Mitch McConnell have all expressed support for Rubio’s bill, signaling that Congress could pass substantive legislation that would swiftly punish Moscow if U.S. intelligence determines that the Kremlin tries to meddle in future U.S. elections. 

“There are some possibilities, Senator Rubio, for example, has got a bill that targets the 2018 election cycle we’re right in now which is, as I understand it, is potential penalties if the Russians do it again,” McConnell, who controls the U.S. Senate, said on Tuesday. “So yeah, there’s a possibility that we may well take up legislation related to this.” 

The push by conservatives for a bill that was introduced in January by Rubio and Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland comes a day after Trump and Putin met privately for two hours and the president said he believes Putin instead of U.S. intelligence over the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The joint press conference sparked widespread outrage and condemnation from Democrats and Republicans, though Trump tried to walk back his comments on Tuesday by saying he misspoke. 

Rubio and Van Hollen’s bill, called the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act, is the first bill since the 2016 presidential election that sets specific punishments for the Russian government and other countries that interfere in U.S. political campaigns.

“Congress has already taken various steps when it comes to Russia and its interference in 2016, this will just be one moving forward that hopefully would deter future attacks, which I believe is the real threat here ultimately,” Rubio said on Tuesday. “It’s not what happened, but what could happen in the future. Hopefully we’ll get to a critical mass and momentum that we can get going on it and get it passed.”

Rubio’s bill, if passed, codifies specific penalties for the Russians that must implemented within 10 days if the Director of National Intelligence determines that interference took place.

The penalties include “sanctions on major sectors of the Russian economy, including finance, energy, defense, and metals and mining” and blacklisting every senior Russian political figure or oligarch identified in the Russian sanctions bill that became law in 2017 over the initial objections of Trump after a supermajority in Congress approved it.

The bill lays out specific acts by foreign governments that constitute election interference. Foreign governments are forbidden from purchasing advertisements to influence elections, using social and traditional media to spread “significant amounts” of false information, hacking election or campaign infrastructure such as voter registration databases and campaign emails, and blocking access to elections infrastructure such as websites that provide information on polling locations.

Read more here

July 16, 2018

Florida lawmakers blast Trump for not calling out Putin

Donald trump 2

via @learyreports

Florida lawmakers on Monday blasted President Trump over taking Vladimir Putin's word that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election, a conclusion that stands in dramatic contrast to widely held views among the intelligence community and on Capitol Hill.

"I don't see any reason why" Russia would do that, Trump said in Helsinki.

"What the president said today is not accurate," Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said during an Atlantic Council event.

Florida Democrats were the first to react and in sharper terms.

"The president's refusal to acknowledge that Putin interfered in our elections should alarm us all," Sen. Bill Nelson tweeted. "Putin is a threat to our democracy and our upcoming election, that's a fact. The president's unwillingness to stand up to him and defend our nation is unacceptable and embarrassing."

"Today @RealDonaldTrump became an illegitimate president when he showed the world that his loyalty lies more with than the people of the United States," Miami Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson tweeted. 

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio did not directly criticize Trump but did say "Foreign policy must be based on reality, not hyperbole or wishful thinking."

Rubio was more specific during an Atlantic Council event.

"What the president said today is not accurate," the Florida Republican said, adding that "all I can speculate" is that Trump was trying to be nice to Putin to establish a better working relationship.

"The flaw is that Vladimir Putin is not interested in a better working relationship," Rubio said.

Miami Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen directly criticized Trump. 

"The President's comments in Helsinki were deeply alarming," Curbelo said in a statement. "Russia's meddling in the 2016 election is fact – and the recent indictment from Director Mueller and the evidence it outlines proves that. It is unacceptable that an American President not only stood there and said nothing while Vladmir Putin spewed fiction at that press conference, but also questioned the hard work and findings of American intelligence and law enforcement investigators. The U.S. relationship with Russia has deteriorated to its current state because of Russia's criminal interference in our elections, lack of respect for human rights, and invasive and militant actions against its neighbors and our allies around the world. Blaming it on anything else, is unacceptable."

"No, @POTUS. Mueller investigation on election manipulation by is not 'a disaster for our country,'" Ros-Lehtinen tweeted. "It is law enforcement doing work our country needs it to do. What has 'kept us apart' is failure to condemn Russia, lack of any sign that you’ll stop it from happening again." 

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart avoided directly criticizing Trump in his statement. 

"As our own intelligence experts and the House Intelligence Committee have asserted, Russia interfered in the United States' 2016 election just as it meddles in the elections of its neighbors," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "Throughout the world, Russia is often on the opposite side of U.S. interests in crucial areas such as Ukraine, Syria, and Iran. Under Putin's charge, Russia has become increasingly undemocratic, expelling pro-democracy NGOs from its territory, suppressing independent media, ignoring human rights, and manifesting a perilous environment for journalists. We must remember that Russia is not an ally of the United States, and that those responsible for attacks on our democratic institutions must be held accountable."

July 13, 2018

Mary Barzee Flores raises $450,000 in first quarter running against Diaz-Balart

Image1 (3)

@alextdaugherty

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has a race on his hands. 

Democrat Mary Barzee Flores, who jumped from a crowded Democratic primary in retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's district to run against Diaz-Balart unopposed in May, raised over $450,000 in the latest fundraising quarter from April to June. 

Barzee Flores will likely have less cash to spend than Diaz-Balart, who reported $1.1 million on hand at the end of March, though she will likely have the backing of national Democrats and outside groups that can inject money into the Miami-to-Naples district. Her campaign says they have around $650,000 on hand. Diaz-Balart's campaign did not respond when asked for an updated fundraising total, which must be finalized by Sunday. 

Barzee Flores doesn't have to worry about a contested primary and is seeking to tie Diaz-Balart to President Donald Trump in her campaign. Diaz-Balart was the only member of Congress from Miami-Dade County who voted for Trump during the 2016 campaign, and he worked closely with the president and Sen. Marco Rubio to roll back portions of President Barack Obama's Cuba policies last year. 

Diaz-Balart hasn't faced a competitive election since 2008, and his district which covers Northwest Dade and stretches across the Everglades to suburban Naples, is the most conservative congressional district in Miami-Dade. Trump won Diaz-Balart's congressional district over Hillary Clinton by two percentage points, and Democrats are giddy at the prospect of taking control of all five Miami-based House seats after the 2018 election. 

UPDATE (7/16) 

Diaz-Balart raised $507,000 in the latest quarter and has $1.6 million on hand. 

 

 

12 Russians accused of hacking Democrats in 2016 have plenty of Florida connections

Trump Russia Probe

@alextdaugherty

The Department of Justice’s indictment on Friday that accused 12 Russian military officials of directly meddling in the 2016 election has myriad connections to South Florida, where stolen emails eventually brought down Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, stolen internal documents aired unflattering details about a Democratic primary race and a Florida-based provocateur with connections to President Donald Trump was in contact with the hackers.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 12 Russian military officials with engaging in cyber operations that involved releases of stolen documents from the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, the DNC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The indictment, announced by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, claims the Russian agents were trying to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, and tried to hide their connections to the Russian government by creating false identities and using cryptocurrency to pay for the operation.

Emails stolen by hackers showed that then-DNC chair Wasserman Schultz expressed frustration with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, contradicting claims by Wasserman Schultz that the Democratic Party remained neutral during the presidential primary between Clinton and Sanders. Wasserman Schultz resigned as DNC chairwoman on the eve of the 2016 Democratic convention.

“The Democratic National Committee was the first major target of the Russian attack on our democracy, and I strongly believe that every individual who helped carry it out — foreign or domestic — should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat, said in a statement. “I’m pleased that the Justice Department is following the facts wherever they may lead, despite Donald Trump’s dangerous distortions and his refusal to acknowledge the conclusions reached by the American Intelligence Community.”

Russian government officials using the pseudonym Guccifer 2.0 also released hundreds of internal documents from the DCCC, the organization that seeks to elect Democrats to Congress. The documents included information on former Miami Rep. Joe Garcia and current state Sen. Annette Taddeo, who were running in a primary to unseat Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

The information in the documents was unflattering for Garcia and Taddeo, as Democrats talked candidly about each candidate’s shortcomings, though the information itself was not new. But the indictment said Guccifer “received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for U.S. Congress” on Aug. 15, 2016, the same day that the stolen DCCC documents related to five Florida congressional campaigns and research files on seven Democratic candidates in Florida were released to the public by the hackers. Guccifer hackers later released more documents on congressional races in other states.

In the indictment, the Justice Department did not name the congressional candidate who sought stolen documents.

“The hacks impacted Democrats’ chances, because the information was solely focused on anti-Democrat messaging and no Republican candidates were touched,” said Juan Penalosa, the executive director for the Florida Democratic Party who helped run Garcia’s campaign in 2016. “Democratic candidates had to spend a month responding to the information included in the documents, even when it wasn’t new — while Republicans were able to focus on issues. And today’s information that candidates, most likely Republicans, reached out to Russians for information that would influence American elections is particularly disturbing.”

Read more here.

July 11, 2018

Rubio symbolically rebukes Trump on tariffs

Marco Rubio

@alextdaugherty

Sen. Marco Rubio joined a majority of his Senate GOP colleagues to vote in favor of a symbolic resolution that would give Congress more power to check President Donald Trump's tariffs that are justified through national security concerns. 

Rubio and Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted in favor of a non-binding resolution by Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker that would require the president to receive congressional approval when enacting tariffs due to national security concerns, which Trump did last month when imposed tariffs on aluminum and steel imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union. 

The final vote was 88 in favor of the resolution and 11 against. The 11 "no" votes were all Republicans. 

Rubio has not directly criticized the Trump administration's decision to levy tariffs on U.S. allies, though he has been critical of the administration's decision to back away from tariffs on China. His office did not immediately respond when asked if he would have voted in favor of Corker's proposal had it been introduced as an actual bill instead of a symbolic resolution. Other Republican Senators who voted for Corker's resolution said they would not have voted for it if it was a bill with substantive trade policy implications. 

Trump's decision to levy tariffs on certain countries has drawn sharp criticism from a host of groups traditionally aligned with the GOP, though Republicans in Congress haven't moved forward with legislation on the issue after GOP leadership declined to bring Corker's bill up for a vote unless it was symbolic. 

A number of Florida industries, including boat manufacturers, fisheries, coffee producers and food manufacturers could be negatively impacted by tariffs imposed on China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They estimated that $713.4 million in exports from Florida could be affected by a trade dispute over tariffs. 

July 10, 2018

New Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh has ties to big Florida moments

Obit Alan Diaz

via @moniqueomadan

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, nominated by President Donald Trump Monday night to the U.S. Supreme Court, has played a pivotal role in some of Florida's most contentious moments, from Elian González to the Bush vs. Gore presidential election.

In 2000, Kavanaugh represented pro bono the Miami relatives of 6-year-old Elian, who wanted to keep the child in Miami despite his father's wishes to have custody of him in Cuba. Kavanaugh lost that fight when Elian was removed from his uncle's Little Havana house by federal agents with their guns drawn in the predawn hours of April 22, 2000, on Saturday before Easter Sunday.

On Thanksgiving Day 1999, two South Florida fisherman found Elian, who was then 5 years old, floating on an inner tube in the open sea. The small aluminum boat that initially carried 14 people from Cuba, including his mother, broke up and took on water. His mother perished at sea along with 10 others.

The custody battle polarized the Cuban community and all of South Florida, with some believing Elian should not be returned to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, while others thought his place was with his father, who had remained in Cuba.

Around eight months later, Kavanaugh got involved in another contentious case in Florida.

This time, it was the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. With the Florida votes still undecided in December because of a state-mandated recount due to the razor-thin margin of the election results, Kavanaugh joined Bush's legal team, which was trying to stop the ballot recount in the state.

The case went before the U.S. Supreme Court, which voted 5-4 to stop the recount, essentially paving the way for Bush to become president. That decision by the Supreme Court is still controversial 18 years later.

Read more here.