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.

September 04, 2018

A Miami Cuban American has never lost a House seat to a non-Cuban. It could happen in November

Donna Shalala00101 JAI

@alextdaugherty

Miami-Dade Democrats, hoping to ride a blue wave in November, have set their sights on winning all five of Miami-Dade County’s congressional seats. It’s a tall order that, if successful, would end the longtime dominance of Cuban-American Republican lawmakers who have exercised outsized power over the nation’s relationship with Latin America.

If a blue wave were to actually hit Miami, the county would be represented in Washington by five women from an unusually diverse background: one African American, one non-Hispanic white, one Jewish, one Ecuadorean American and one Lebanese American. The only Cuban-American Republican left from Miami would be U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

But unseating incumbent Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, and flipping the seat held by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring, will require convincing tens of thousands of independent voters — and even some Democrats who have voted against their party in congressional races — that the unique perspective brought by the sons and daughters of Cuban exiles is no longer a prerequisite for holding elected office in Congress, where members have influence over the nation’s foreign-policy course.

“The South Florida tradition in Congress established by Ileana, that tradition is going to continue,” said former Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American lawmaker who served in Congress from 1993 to 2011. “When you see these national things about waves and all these predictions, South Florida’s different and we’re going to remain different.”

Since Ros-Lehtinen first won her seat in 1989, no non-Cuban has ousted a Cuban-American Republican from a Miami-Dade congressional seat, even in years like 2006 and 2008, when Democrats made sweeping gains across the country in the latter part of George W. Bush’s administration.

Democrats will need to win in Cuban-American strongholds in all three GOP-held districts, including Little Havana and Westchester in Ros-Lehtinen’s district, parts of Kendall in Curbelo’s district and Hialeah in Diaz-Balart’s district.

Ros-Lehtinen is supporting Cuban-American journalist Maria Elvira Salazar — who handily won her GOP primary Tuesday — as the way to continue the legacy that began 29 years ago.

“Lincoln [Diaz-Balart] and I have had the pleasure of working together as a united team for many years and I’ve missed him in Congress,” Ros-Lehtinen said at Salazar’s victory party on Tuesday night. “And now I hope that Chucky [Curbelo] and Mario [Diaz-Balart] miss me in Congress, but they won’t miss me for very long because Maria Elvira Salazar is going to take over.”

Read more here.

August 25, 2018

GOP candidate Salazar says attacks of her interview with Fidel Castro aren’t sticking

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@alextdaugherty

Maria Elvira Salazar says her Republican opponents could learn a thing or two about reporting.

The longtime broadcast journalist is the favorite to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as the GOP nominee in Tuesday’s primary, and in response her opponents have launched coordinated attacks over an interview she did 23 years ago with Fidel Castro.

“They have nothing to catch me on, my record is very clean,” Salazar said. “Otherwise they would have brought it out. They had to go 25 years back. What about the last 15 when I’ve been on the air at 8 o’clock at night Monday through Friday for 52 weeks every year? It’s been 25 years, couldn’t you dig something?”

Salazar has largely avoided appearing with the large Republican field in public as she maintains a double-digit lead in polls conducted by her campaign and her opponents. She didn’t show up to a TV debate on Tuesday night, saying America TeVe didn’t have a defined criteria for who was invited to speak on air.

During a campaign stop on Friday at Las Mercedes Adult Daycare in Southwest Miami-Dade, Salazar was a recognizable face to the crowd of about 200 senior citizens who wore red lanyards adorned with her name. When Salazar asked how many of them were registered Republicans, about 75 percent raised their hands.

“I have spent the last five months, ever since I filed, touching the base, touching the real base which is this,” Salazar said, referring to the older Cuban voters who her opponents think will abandon her candidacy if she is perceived as pro-Castro.

Ada Borees, a 75-year-old retiree and registered independent, plans to vote for Salazar in the general election if she advances from the primary.

“She’s talking about Cuba. The people here appreciate that,” Borees said. “I don’t like [Donald] Trump but I like Maria.”

Voters like Borees will be the key for Salazar if she wants to pull off an upset in a district that voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump by more than 19 percentage points. For years, Ros-Lehtinen was able to comfortably win reelection by appealing to independent and some Democratic voters, though election prognosticators have largely said the seat is Democrats’ to lose in November.

But first, Salazar must beat a large GOP field filled with underfunded candidates like Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, a former Doral councilwoman who once claimed she boarded a spaceship with blond aliens, and quixotic candidates like Stephen Marks, a former GOP operative who funded thousands of dollars of attack ads against Salazar only to drop out of the race at the last minute and endorse Democrat Donna Shalala.

Salazar said she hasn’t heard much about aliens on the campaign trail, but that anyone is free to vote for whomever they want.

Read more here.

August 17, 2018

A tale of two primaries: The race to replace Ros-Lehtinen enters the final stretch

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty

The Republican and Democratic primaries to replace Miami icon Ileana Ros-Lehtinen both have front-runners.

That’s where the similarities end.

Democrats are arguing over policy issues that could accelerate the party’s leftward shift and are trying to attack former University of Miami President Donna Shalala. Discussions about abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and implementing Medicare for all are ideas that just recently came to the national party’s attention.

Republicans are arguing that the leading candidate, TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, was flirtatious with former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in an television interview 23 years ago, lobbing well-worn accusations of being soft on Cuba that have been a staple of Miami campaigns for decades.

“You would think that in Miami that we’re running campaigns on foreign policy,” said Republican political consultant Jesse Manzano-Plaza, who is not involved in the GOP race. “This is an example on the federal level, but even on the policy it seems like it’s about the perception that someone may have been friendly to Fidel Castro in an interview years ago.”

When Ros-Lehtinen, the GOP’s leading social moderate in Congress and a noted critic of President Donald Trump, announced her retirement nearly a year and a half ago, the seat instantly became the Democrats’ to lose. Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by more than 19 percentage points in the district that encompasses Miami Beach, most of Miami, Kendall and parts of coastal South Dade.

Republicans and Democrats have gone 0 for 23 in situations like Ros-Lehtinen’s since 1994, when an incumbent representative doesn’t run for reelection in a district carried two years earlier by a president from the opposite party.

Read more here.

August 06, 2018

New Matt Haggman poll shows Donna Shalala losing ground

Shalala

@alextdaugherty

Donna Shalala could have a serious fight on her hands.

New polling from Matt Haggman's campaign shows that Shalala's lead in the Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is shrinking with three weeks until the Aug. 28 election. 

The poll, conducted from Aug. 2 to 5 by RABA Research on behalf of the Haggman campaign, shows Shalala with a 10 percentage point lead over Haggman among likely primary voters and state Rep. David Richardson virtually tied with Haggman. A fourth candidate, Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, also captures double digit support in Haggman's poll while 27 percent of voters are not sure who they will vote for. 

The 10 percentage point lead for Shalala over Haggman is less than half of a 27 percentage point lead Shalala had when her campaign conducted a poll in June. 

The RABA poll, conducted in English and Spanish via automated and live phone surveys, gives Shalala 26 percent support while Haggman has 16, Richardson 15 and Rosen Gonzalez 11. Michael Hepburn received four percent. The poll's margin of error is 4.7 percent. 

"To see where we’re at with just over three weeks left until the primary compared to where we were a few months ago, this is a testament to the strong campaign that has been built," Haggman campaign manager Michael Edwards said in a statement. "As a first time candidate, Matt did not come in with the name recognition Donna Shalala did. When you look at the poll, 59% of likely voters could change their mind and over a quarter of the electorate is still undecided. We will continue to knock on every door and meet voters across the district, drive Matt’s progressive message forward, and take this race all the way to victory in November." 

Haggman and Richardson are trying to present themselves as liberal alternatives to Shalala, the former president of the University of Miami and the former Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. Haggman, the former director of the Knight Foundation, and Richardson both support a "Medicare for all" healthcare system and want to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, two positions that Shalala does not support. Haggman was one of the first candidates running for congress nationwide to call for abolishing ICE and released television ads on the issue. 

Richardson and Haggman also have enough financial muscle to continue television advertisements through the primary, though Shalala has shown she can out raise the field and would have the resources to mount a substantial attack against either if she chooses to do so. 

Though Haggman's polling shows a tightening race, Shalala remains the favorite to win the nomination for a seat that Democrats expect to flip in November, as Ros-Lehtinen's Miami-based seat had the largest margin of victory for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump among all congressional districts held by Republicans in 2016. 

"The question is, where's Donna?" Richardson consultant Eric Johnson said.  

 

July 27, 2018

Miami lawmakers plan to publicly rebuke Daniel Ortega for violence in Nicaragua

Nicaragua Unrest

@alextdaugherty

Daniel Ortega’s biggest foes in Washington are trying to draw more attention to Nicaragua’s ongoing human-rights crisis, though they acknowledge that military action by President Donald Trump against the leftist leader is unlikely.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Sen. Marco Rubio of Miami are leading efforts in the House and Senate to publicly rebuke violent attacks by masked gunmen linked to Ortega’s government who have killed 97 people since July 11. This week, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution written by Ros-Lehtinen that condemns the violence and calls on the use of sanctions for individuals that are connected to the killings. Rubio has proposed a similar resolution in the Senate.

The retiring Miami congresswoman said the successful resolution was the first step in a four-part plan to rebuke Ortega.

Additionally, she’s angling for the Senate to pass her bill that limits U.S. loans to Ortega’s government until the longtime president carries out democratic reforms; more sanctions for individuals who can be connected to violent acts against anti-Ortega protestors, and overturning the Trump administration’s decision to end a temporary immigration program that allowed 2,500 Nicaraguans to live and work in the U.S. without the fear of deportation.

“I would not want to compare atrocities, but Nicaragua is a smaller country than Venezuela, smaller population, and they had almost 400 people killed and the international community shrugs,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “If we’re going to say that it’s terrible in Nicaragua, why are we going to deport Nicaraguan Americans to Nicaragua when we are saying that it’s in political chaos?”

The Trump administration decided to end Nicaragua’s Temporary Protected Status in November 2017, a designation that was made in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch killed nearly 4,000 people and uprooted land mines around the country. Nicaraguans who have been living in the U.S. with TPS since 1998 now have until January 2019 to seek another form of legal residency or else return to Nicaragua.

“By next year, they will all be deported,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “These are law-abiding people, they are legal, they have permits to work, they’re being educated, they’ve got driver’s licenses and now we’re going to deport them to the violent hell that is Nicaragua? That’s just not right.”

Ros-Lehtinen’s letter to Trump urging him to change Nicaragua’s TPS designation was signed by four of Miami-Dade County’s five House members, including Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart. Miami-Dade is home to about one-third of all Nicaraguan Americans.

Rubio said there is already work being done to sanction individuals and entities in Nicaragua that are responsible for the violence. Ortega’s recent decision not to move up elections that were scheduled for 2021, as requested by the nation’s business community and Catholic clergy, moved him past the point of no return in Rubio’s eyes.

“There is a direct national security interest for the United States in seeing a return to democracy and stability in Nicaragua,” Rubio said in a statement. “The message from the U.S. to the Ortega regime was very clear: Call for early elections and allow legitimate elections. That did not happen. As Nicaragua follows Venezuela’s dangerous path, the U.S. should be prepared to take further action with our regional allies to address the threat of Ortega’s regime.”

Read more here.

July 23, 2018

Café con politics podcast: When the attacks focus on candidates’ spouses

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@newsbysmiley

On the latest episode of Café con Politics, the Miami Herald’s political team breaks down attacks on the spouses of two congressional candidates, Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s carbon tax, state Rep. David Richardson’s trip to Cuba and an update on the White House’s child separation policy.

The Herald’s D.C. reporter Alex Daugherty joined the podcast to discuss all these issues and more. Give it a listen.

Listen here.

July 20, 2018

At Democratic debate for Ros-Lehtinen seat, it was ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘It’s Complicated’

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At some debates, it’s hard to tell one candidate from another. This was one of them.

“We all have similar platforms, but we approach problems differently,” said Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, one of the five Democratic candidates who debated each other Thursday night in the race for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, a seat now held by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican who is retiring.

While some expected frequent attacks to be levied against frontrunner Donna Shalala, the former University of Miami president, attacks among the candidates were infrequent throughout the night.

The most substantial challenges throughout the evening came from state Rep. David Richardson, who represents Miami Beach and Little Havana. His critiques were leveled at Shalala.

At one point during a series of questions about immigration, he said Shalala had contributed to the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” Policy, a 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act, while she was U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. Michael Putney, the moderator for the debate, said Shalala had not contributed to the policy.

Hours later, Richardson challenged Shalala to submit her financial disclosure statements — forms the public can use to evaluate potential conflicts of interest. Richardson noted that she has delayed sending the two documents two times. He emphasized that she may take an extra extension of 30 days to turn in the forms, the latest time that she would be allowed to turn them in.

Shalala fought back, saying Richardson had also taken two extensions in sending in the documents, which he acknowledged to be true.

Of the five candidates, only three had significant visible representation at the debate: Shalala, Richardson and Matt Haggman, a former reporter for the Miami Herald and most recently, the Knight Foundation program director for Miami. Of the five candidates, only those three left campaign materials on the church pews. Rosen Gonzalez. a Miami Beach commissioner, and Michael A. Hepburn, a former University of Miami academic adviser, had fewer visible pockets of support.

Read more here.

July 19, 2018

Unions get involved in Democratic primary for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

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@alextdaugherty

David Richardson is getting a boost from the National Education Association, the first major national union to endorse in the competitive Democratic primary for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat. The United Teachers of Dade and Florida Education Association are also behind Richardson's candidacy as he runs to the left of former University of Miami president Donna Shalala

"Throughout his six years in the State Legislature, Representative Richardson has championed traditional public schools, working to ensure our students have the resources they need to succeed," FEA president Joanne McCall said. "He has steadfastly supported teachers, education staff professionals, and protected our pensions along with those of other public employees. David has been an unwavering friend of public school staff and our efforts to unionize and collectively bargain under Florida's harsh Right-to-Work Laws. Especially after the Janus decision, we need a fighter like David representing us in Congress, and the FEA was proud to recommend him and support his NEA endorsement."

Richardson, a state representative, is running in a five-way primary for a Miami-based congressional seat that national Democrats see as a prime pickup opportunity in November. Richardson, Shalala and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman have all raised over $1 million in the Democratic primary, more than double the money of the top Republican running for the seat.

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