December 11, 2018

Ros-Lehtinen's Nicaragua sanctions bill passes Congress

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


The House of Representatives formally approved a bill by Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen that would limit U.S. loans to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government until the longtime president carries out democratic reforms. 

Ros-Lehtinen's Nicaraguan Investment and Conditionality Act, which passed the U.S. Senate earlier this month with additional penalties on Nicaragua sponsored by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, now heads to President Donald Trump's desk for his signature. The bill passed the House by a voice vote on Tuesday.

"With the final passage of the amended NICA Act, Congress took a leap forward in creating further accountability against the heinous abuses committed by Ortega and his puppets," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "In a desperate effort to cling to power, Ortega and his thugs have continued to clamp down on free speech and peaceful demonstrations. The United States has answered the call of the Nicaraguan people and will continue to do so in support of much needed electoral and human rights reforms.”

The bill also includes more sanctions for individuals who can be connected to violent acts against anti-Ortega protestors.

Though the NICA Act passed the House of Representatives earlier this year by a voice vote, Florida Republican Rep. Francis Rooney and Nicaraguan businessman reportedly lobbied against its passage in the Senate. Ros-Lehtinen was also worried that the bill's passage could get hung up on procedural grounds at the end of this Congress. Any bill that doesn't pass by the end of the year would need to start over in the next Congress, and Ros-Lehtinen is retiring. 

"We are one step closer to expanding sanctions and other pressures against the oppressive Ortega regime and sending a clear message that the United States will not tolerate the ongoing human rights violations,"Rubio said in a statement. "I thank Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who spearheaded these efforts, for her tireless work in support of democracy in the Western Hemisphere."

December 10, 2018

Miami’s ‘big bad she-wolf’ finishes a 29-year run in Congress

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wasn’t sure what to do.

The first Latina in Congress was scheduled to give a speech in front of a prominent Washington think-tank in less than 10 hours, and one sentence was tripping her up. She was unsure of whether or not she should call for Venezuela to be listed as a state sponsor of terror, and she called a former staffer to get his opinion.

But first, she had to wait for cheering patrons in a Washington sports bar to calm down from watching Thursday Night Football.

As she ate wings without sauce and sipped a double rum and Diet Coke at the end of a 17-hour workday that began at 4:30 a.m., Ros-Lehtinen listened to the thoughts of the former staffer, who argued that it was fine to include it. Another staffer pointed out that she already tweeted about listing Venezuela alongside North Korea and Syria as a state sponsor of terror, and the response from Venezuelans was positive.

“The tweets have spoken,” Ros-Lehtinen said, as she scribbled with her pen to update the speech last week.

As Miami’s longest-tenured congresswoman finishes out her final weeks in office, there’s still plenty of work to do. Her bill that would limit U.S. loans to the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega until he carries out democratic reforms passed the U.S. Senate, though it still needs final passage in the House of Representatives and President Donald Trump’s signature. Another bill named in her honor would authorize defense and security spending assistance for Israel, and it has an uncertain fate in the final weeks of this year’s Congress.

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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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 16, 2018

Sensing an upset, Paul Ryan-aligned super PAC attacks Donna Shalala



National Republicans are getting serious about trying to beat Donna Shalala

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, is running a Spanish-language ad targeting Shalala starting today. The six-figure buy on TV and digital platforms is the super PAC’s first foray into retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s district, a Miami-based seat where President Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by nearly 20 points. 

The ad titled “$7” tries to portray Shalala as out of touch with working class voters in the district, noting that she lived in a mansion that eventually sold for $9 million while serving as the president of the University of Miami and led the university when its janitorial staff went on strike because their wages amounted to about $7 an hour. Shalala’s Republican opponent, former TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, levied a similar attack on Shalala during a recent Telemundo debate.

“Donna Shalala is just another politician who puts herself first,” said CLF communications director Courtney Alexander. “As president of the University of Miami, Shalala lived in a $9 million mansion, but only paid university janitors $7 an hour while denying them health insurance. Donna Shalala is out for herself, not Floridians.”

The ad includes footage of a mansion juxtaposed with Shalala giving a speech in her UM regalia while criticizing her leadership when university janitors went on a hunger strike over low wages, attacks that she also faced during the Democratic primary. 

“As president of the University of Miami, Shalala lived in a nine-million dollar mansion,” the ad says. “But only paid university janitors seven dollars an hour while denying them health insurance.The scandal made national news and Shalala was called an enemy of the working poor.”

More here.

October 15, 2018

Ros-Lehtinen to teach at University of Miami after leaving Congress

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


Retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has lined up her post-congressional gig. 

The University of Miami announced Monday that the first Latina in Congress and longest serving member of Congress from Florida was named a Distinguished Presidential Fellow at the University of Miami, where she will teach a class called "Congress and American Foreign Policy" during the spring 2019 semester. 

“I’m excited to be back home at the U where I will have the challenging opportunity to exchange ideas with today’s bright minds and future leaders on the vexing foreign policy issues confronting our nation,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

Ros-Lehtinen's husband Dexter, a former Florida legislator and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, will join her in the classroom. 

“I am delighted to welcome Ileana Ros-Lehtinen back to her alma mater after an illustrious career in Congress. She has always maintained a close relationship with her hometown, and we are proud that she will join our academic community as a Distinguished Presidential Fellow. We look forward to her active participation, which will no doubt enrich the experience of our students and faculty,” said University of Miami President Julio Frenk.

October 08, 2018

Everybody knows her name, but Donna Shalala is finding it difficult to get to Congress

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Donna Shalala is so well known in Miami she has to tell voters it’s “really me” when she makes campaign calls. Otherwise, she says, some people assume it’s a robocall.

She’s big in Miami: the former University of Miami president who raised academic standards and billions of dollars, boosted the school’s national profile and raided other universities to put the medical school on the map. She was famous even before she arrived, as a Bill Clinton ally and the longest-serving Health and Human Services Secretary in U.S. history.

Outside the university, she eagerly promoted her adopted hometown: “She’d show up herself, not just send the third assistant to the vice president,” former Beacon Council president Frank Nero said of Shalala, who aided his efforts to lure companies to Miami. “She’d come in and she’d tell executives: ‘I could have gone anywhere, but I chose to come to Miami.’ She became one of the best sales people we had for Miami-Dade.”

Yet Shalala finds herself in a tight race against a political rookie for an open congressional seat that Democrats figured would be theirs after Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, announced she is retiring. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in the Democratic-leaning district — the highest margin of victory in the country for Clinton in a district currently held by a Republican.

As recently as January, Republicans fretted they were unlikely to find someone for the seat that encompasses Little Havana, most of downtown Miami and Miami Beach. Ros-Lehtinen in 2016 had faced a close reelection against a largely self-funded candidate who did not have the backing of national Democrats.

Now it’s Democrats who are worried: Two recent internal polls showed Shalala either losing or nearly tied with her Republican opponent, Maria Elvira Salazar, a telegenic former Spanish-language TV host who is well known in the district, where 63 percent of the voters are Hispanic.

Shalala, who won a crowded Democratic primary in August, says early polls showed that people know her résumé. But she says the race will turn not on her record, but her character.

“It can’t be ‘I’m Donna Shalala and you ought to vote for me,’ ” Shalala said in a recent interview at a South Miami restaurant. “You have to be out there, talking to people about what kind of a human being you are.”

But there are worries that Shalala, as accomplished as her record may be, isn’t connecting on the trail, especially against a Spanish-speaking television anchor accustomed to the camera.

“Donna’s a very no-nonsense person and that can come across as brusque because she likes to cut to the chase,” acknowledges Katy Sorenson, a former Miami-Dade commissioner who created the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami with Shalala’s blessing. “But she’s someone who cares deeply, and that’s reflected by her life and her career.”

Read more here.

‘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.

Miami Republicans running for reelection grapple with Trump’s immigration record

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Donald Trump’s first year in office forced Miami Republicans to step on the third rail of GOP politics: immigration.

The president banned foreign nationals from seven majority Muslim countries from entering the country weeks after he took office, setting off protests around the country. He announced the end of an Obama-era program to prevent the deportation of immigrants who came to the U.S. as young children, calling on Congress to act. The Trump administration began separating families and children who crossed the border illegally, and some parents were deported while their kids remained in U.S. custody. And Trump canceled a temporary program that allowed immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras to live and work in the U.S. without the threat of deportation.

The three Miami Republicans in Congress, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, were opposed to all of these policy changes. The trio have the largest shares of eligible Latino voters in their districts among all Republicans in Congress and have tried for years to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. They want to prevent their law-abiding constituents from being deported, but they’ve been stymied by their own party.

All three GOP-held seats are being contested by serious Democratic candidates. Former nonprofit fundraiser Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is running against Curbelo, former University of Miami president Donna Shalala is running for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat, and former judge Mary Barzee Flores is running against Diaz-Balart.

“That’s been my biggest disappointment,” Diaz-Balart said about the lack of an immigration compromise in the past two years. “In order to get that issue done, you need to put hyper-partisanship aside. You need to have the trust of everybody around the table.”

Republicans in Congress have been unable to overrule the president’s executive order, find a solution for the young immigrants known as Dreamers and help individuals receiving Temporary Protected Status. Instead, they’ve been reliant on liberal judges to prevent deportations. Last week, a federal judge in California ruled against the Trump administration’s decision to end TPS, and Dreamers remain in legal limbo weeks from Election Day.

“Such great news for our South Florida community!” Ros-Lehtinen tweeted last week after the TPS decision. “We have wonderful folks from these countries who have been here legally and their pending deportations would be heartaches for their familias!”

The Democrats seeking to replace the trio largely agree with the South Florida Republicans on immigration policy, though they likely wouldn’t support handing Trump money for his border wall in exchange for protecting existing immigrants from deportation. They’re arguing that a Democratic majority in Congress is the way to get an immigration solution.

There isn’t any evidence that Curbelo and Diaz-Balart, along with Maria Elvira Salazar, the Republican seeking to replace Ros-Lehtinen, could convince the majority of their party to come up with a solution should they all win on Nov. 6. Curbelo and Diaz-Balart were part of a small group of lawmakers who first negotiated with Democrats to find a solution for Dreamers, an effort that fell two votes short. Then, they tried to negotiate with conservatives in their own party, an effort that saw a conservative compromise immigration bill fail badly.

“It’s truly disappointing that after months of broken promises from Speaker [Paul] Ryan for Dreamers, Congressman Curbelo caved so easily to House Republican Leadership and handed over every piece of leverage on DACA to the most anti-immigrant Republicans in Congress,” Curbelo’s Democratic opponent, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, said shortly after Curbelo’s compromise effort failed this summer.

More here.

October 04, 2018

Liberal group calling for Trump's impeachment gets involved in Mario Diaz-Balart's race

Mario Diaz-Balart


NextGen America will now have a presence in all three competitive House races in Miami-Dade County. 

The liberal group led by California billionaire Tom Steyer that wants to impeach Donald Trump announced Thursday that they plan to expand their voter registration and youth organizing effort to Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart's district, where he faces a competitive reelection challenge from Demcorat Mary Barzee Flores

“All across the country, we’re seeing an unprecedented level of enthusiasm from young voters that has the potential to fundamentally reshape our political system and create a society that is more just and fair.” Steyer said in a statement“If we are going to deliver a more just, progressive future, it means being on the ground engaging those young voters everyday to make sure they know the power they have to make change happen on the issues they’re passionate about.”

Diaz-Balart's district, which stretches from Northwest Dade to the outskirts of Naples, is the most conservative congressional district in South Florida. NextGen already has a presence in Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's district and the open seat held by retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The Miami-Dade seats are among 35 House seats the group is targeting nationwide along with Florida's U.S. Senate and governor elections. 

NextGen said it has collected nearly 3,000 voter registrations in Ros-Lehtinen's district and about 1,500 in Curbelo's as of October 1. The group has knocked on about 15,000 doors between the two districts and over 87,000 doors across the state of Florida. 

Steyer was an early backer of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum and has vocally stated his support for liberal priorities like impeaching Trump that some Democrats worry will hurt them at the ballot box. Barzee Flores said she would work to impeach Trump while running in the Democratic primary for Ros-Lehtinen's seat, and hasn't changed her position since switching races to a more conservative district that Trump narrowly won in 2016. 

NextGen also announced plans to get involved in Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan's district in the Sarasota area and an open Central Florida seat occupied by retiring Republican Rep. Dennis Ross, two seats where Republicans are favored but Democrats see as potential pickups. The group is already active in Democratic Central Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy's district and Republican Rep. Brian Mast's Treasure Coast distirct.

September 20, 2018

Polls suggest a tough race for Donna Shalala for Miami congressional seat

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@lesleyclark @alextdaugherty

Democrats exulted when U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced last year she was retiring. Because the Republican congresswoman’s district leans Democratic, one prominent Washington election watcher immediately labeled the race “lean Democratic.”

No longer.

On the heels of two internal polls Wednesday that showed Democratic nominee Donna Shalala either losing or nearly tied with GOP opponent Maria Elvira Salazar, the Washington non-partisan election handicapper, the Cook Political Report, moved the needle back to the middle to “toss-up.”

David Wasserman, who tracks House races for Cook and last week suggested that some Democrats were worried that Shalala had not pulled away, called it a “stunning turn” for a race that should be a “slam dunk” for Democrats.

“Democrats believe the race is tied and that Trump’s rampant unpopularity in the district will ultimately tilt the scales to Shalala,” Wasserman wrote. “But Democrats are now on the verge of frittering away what was once considered their easiest pickup of the cycle.”

He cited a bad candidate match up, noting that Shalala, 77, would be the second-oldest House freshman in history and is seeking to represent an overwhelmingly Hispanic district, despite not speaking Spanish.

Her Republican opponent, Maria Elvira Salazar, 56, is a well-known former Spanish language television reporter who has “been savvy in attracting free media.”

The downgrade follows two recent polls that suggested Shalala would have a tougher time than expected flipping the seat.

The two internal campaign polls, conducted by Salazar and by Shalala’s own campaign, show a narrow race to replace Ros-Lehtinen, who is vacating a Democrat-friendly district that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 by 19 points.

In the poll conducted for Salazar’s campaign by McLaughlin & Associates, Salazar leads Shalala by 51 percent to 42 percent, with 7 percent undecided. The poll also found Shalala’s negatives were twice those of the former television journalist, “yet her favorables are 14 points lower.” A memo accompanying the poll says that “while Salazar is ahead, she must not take anything for granted and will need significant resources to continuing running a very strong campaign.”

In her own poll conducted by Bendixen & Amandi International, Shalala, the former Clinton-era Health and Human Services Secretary tops Salazar, but only by narrow margin: 46 percent to 42 percent. No-party candidate Mayra Joli, the self-described master of selfies, polled at 8 percent, with 4 percent undecided.

A spokesman for Shalala’s campaign said the Republican poll was a “push” poll that used negative statements about Shalala to pose questions.

“Given that, it’s no surprise the result,” said Mike Hernandez. “This will be a competitive race, no doubt. But this study is not an accurate snapshot of where the contest stands today.”

He said the Democratic poll is a more accurate representation.

“Any Democrat could have beaten Donald Trump in this district in 2016,” he said. “But Secretary Shalala isn’t running against Donald Trump. She is running against a Donald Trump supporter who has been on television for over 20 years.”

Democrats have eagerly eyed the open congressional seat, believing it’s one they could pick up as they attempt to harness discontent with President Donald Trump and turn it into a blue wave that results in Democratic control of the House.

But Salazar was in Washington last week meeting with Republican lawmakers to tout her candidacy and raise money.

They came away impressed: Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, a leader of the House Republicans’ political arm, said Salazar was the best possible candidate for the majority Latino district where Donald Trump lost by more than 19 percentage points in 2016.

Read more here.