April 11, 2018

Democrats face long odds in effort to topple Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart

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Democrats are scrambling to find a credible challenger for Mario Diaz-Balart.

They may not find one.

Though a slim majority of the Miami Republican’s district voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, Democrats don’t control any significant state or local offices in the area, depriving them of a potential bench to take on a well-known and well-funded incumbent in the 2018 election.

“That’s a district that is very hard to win for a Democrat, especially if you’re not Hispanic and don’t speak Spanish,” said Raúl Martínez , a Democrat who served as mayor of Hialeah from 1981 to 2005 and who unsuccessfully challenged former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the congressman’s brother, in 2008. “You’ve got to remember this district was hand-drawn for Mario. It takes Hialeah and the conservative areas and goes all the way to Naples. The alligators in the middle don’t vote and the Florida panthers don’t vote.”

There are just more than three weeks before congressional candidates in Florida must decide whether to run for the August primary election, and Martínez, along with other Republican and Democratic sources, could not name a Democrat with deep connections to the district that could seriously threaten Diaz-Balart.

National Democrats insist there’s still time for a candidate to emerge, though Politico Florida reported House Minority whip Steny Hoyer recently tried and failed to persuade former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman, who is running in a crowded Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, to take on Diaz-Balart.

Read more here.

July 20, 2015

'Sad' day for Miami GOP members of Congress over Cuban embassy opening

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The three amigos, as U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen calls herself and Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, watched Monday morning from Miami as the Cuban flag rose once again in Washington D.C.

In the afternoon, they gathered in Ros-Lehtinen's district office to declare it a "sad" day for Cuban Americans who have fought to keep the dictatorship isolated until the Castro regime becomes a democracy. The three Miami Republicans stood next to posters brandishing images of beaten up Cuban dissidents and the four men who died shot down by the Cuban government in the Brothers to the Rescue flights of 1996.

"There is not enough room in this office to display the faces of the opposition," Ros-Lehtinen said. 

Diaz-Balart said he won't consider a Cuban ambassador or other diplomats representatives of the people who live on the island.

"Cuba's true leaders, those are the ones that are in the prisons,"  Diaz-Balart said, or who've had their professional licenses or rationing cards taken away as a punishment for their political views. "The Castro regime is not the Cuban people. If only we had a president who knew the difference."

Continue reading "'Sad' day for Miami GOP members of Congress over Cuban embassy opening" »

May 20, 2013

RIP: Lincoln Gabriel Diaz-Balart, 29.


LDBLincoln Gabriel Diaz-Balart, son and namesake of a former congressman and nephew of a current U.S. representative, died Sunday at the age of 29.

The family has asked for privacy and time to grieve.

The Diaz-Balart family is, perhaps, the most-politically powerful in Miami's Cuban-exile community.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is a sitting Republican representative. His brother, Lincoln Diaz-Balart retired from congress after the 2010 elections. Another brother, Jose Diaz-Balart is a Telemundo host. A cousin of theirs is son and namesake of Fidel Castro, a prior uncle by marriage. A longtime family friend and virtual sister, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, expressed her sorrow this morning in a radio interview during which she spoke of the toll of depression and suicide.

The family's statement:

It is with infinite sadness that we announce the passing, on May 19, 2013, of our beloved son and brother, Lincoln Gabriel Diaz-Balart.

For many years, Lincoln Gabriel struggled with depression.

Lincoln Gabriel was a kind and loving human being. His love and compassion touched many lives during his 29 years.

We will remember him with profound love and devotion for the rest of our lives.

Lincoln, Cristina, and Daniel Diaz-Balart

November 16, 2012

Rep. David Rivera: Late chief of staff was 'family man and committed public servant'

Congressman David Rivera issued a statement Thursday on his chief of staff, Steve Vermillion, who died Thursday night after a four-year battle with leukemia.

"For nearly twenty five years, I have known Steve as a friend, family man and committed public servant," Rivera said. "My service in Congress has been greatly enhanced by Steve's invaluable advice and knowledge regarding all aspects of the legislative process. As a 17 year veteran of Capitol Hill, Steve will be dearly missed by the Capitol family for his warmth and his sense of service to this institution and our nation."

Vermillion was the longtime chief of staff of former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. And he had ties to Miami: Vermillion, who spoke fluent Spanish, attended graduate school at the University of Miami and once worked as director of congressional affairs for the Cuban American National Foundation.

On Twitter, Diaz-Balart wrote, "I will always remember him with deep affection and admiration."

Jaime Suchliki, director of UM's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, also mourned Vermillion's death.

"Steve was devoted to the defense of human rights, particularly in Castro's Cuba," Suchliki wrote. "He was a jovial, kind, and intelligent human being and a loyal friend."

Read the full statements after the jump.


Continue reading "Rep. David Rivera: Late chief of staff was 'family man and committed public servant'" »

Rep. David Rivera's chief of staff, who used to work for Lincoln Diaz-Balart, dies of leukemia

From Roll Call: 

Stephen Vermillion, a beloved Capitol Hill veteran whose courage and commitment to public service inspired friends, family and colleagues, died early Friday morning after losing a four-year-long battle with leukemia. He was 52.

A competitive rower and devoted public servant, Vermillion was diagnosed with leukemia on Nov. 15, 2008. After undergoing rigorous chemotherapy treatments, Vermillion was able to recover and return to Capitol Hill in January 2011 to serve as chief of staff to Rep. David Rivera, R-Fla.

However, Vermillion’s illness returned this summer, and when it became apparent that he would not survive, he vowed to fight it out until at least Nov. 15, which would be the four-year anniversary of his diagnosis. Vermillion completed that goal, which friends and colleagues say is indicative of his indefatigable will to live.

More here. (UPDATE: Rivera's office says Vermillion died Thursday night, not Friday morning.)

September 22, 2012

Paul Ryan to Little Havana: 'We will be tough on Castro'

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan got the Cuban exile seal of approval Saturday at a campaign rally in Little Havana where he pledged to hold a hard line against the Castro regime.

The Republican vice presidential candidate did not mention that he once opposed the U.S. trade embargo against the island, but he pointed to his change of heart — prompted by Miami’s current and former Cuban-American Republicans in Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart.

“They’ve given me a great education — lots of us in Congress — about how we need to clamp down on the Castro regime,” Ryan told supporters at the Versailles restaurant. “We will be tough on Castro, tough on [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chávez.”

Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, has voted against the embargo at least three times. The Midwest tends to see trade opportunities in agriculture with Cuba.


Ryan began supporting the embargo in 2007 as he started to ascend the House Republican leadership ranks. And on Saturday he began criticizing President Barack Obama’s policies toward the island. The Obama administration has made it easier for families and certain groups to travel and send money to Cuba.


Ryan said he and GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney would take a different approach.

“We will not keep practicing this policy of appeasement,” Ryan said. “We will be tough on this brutal dictator.”

More here.

January 31, 2012

In last pitches to Hispanics, Mitt Romney's 'conviction' and Newt Gingrich's 'iron fist'

In a final bid to court Hispanic voters, the Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney campaigns dominated the Spanish-language talk show airwaves Tuesday morning during drive time. Their messages were similar: Vote for the candidate most likely to beat President Barack Obama.

Some of the ads were attacks -- Romney mocking Gingrich for the ties to former President Ronald Reagan that Gingrich plays up, a super PAC backing Gingrich saying Romney is not really pro-life. But some of the ads were positive, too. For a taste, click after the jump.

Continue reading "In last pitches to Hispanics, Mitt Romney's 'conviction' and Newt Gingrich's 'iron fist'" »

January 04, 2012

Hispanic Dems pounce on 'immigrant bashing' Mitt Romney for DREAM Act veto stance

As part of Democrats' orchestrated effort to go after Mitt Romney the day after his narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses, two Hispanic members of Congress bashed the former Massachusetts governor on immigration.

The chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez of Texas, and Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, said Romney's immigration stance will hurt him with Hispanic voters. And they repeated the line from other Democrats that Romney's positions are so muddied he can't be trusted. 

Gonzalez and Becerra defended the DREAM Act, which would grant U.S. citizenship to immigrants who came into the United States illegally as children and now go to college or serve in the military. President Barack Obama has supported the legislation. Romney said Monday he would veto it.

"It really demonstrates how far he is from understanding the issue," Gonzalez said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. "I understand in that particular field [of candidates] one will try to out-pander another, but you still have to be responsible…How do you paint yourself in such a corner on immigration where you can't walk back from that statement?"

Continue reading "Hispanic Dems pounce on 'immigrant bashing' Mitt Romney for DREAM Act veto stance" »

January 03, 2012

GOP Rep. Jeff Flake, a Cuban embargo critic, stumping for Mitt Romney in Iowa

Mitt Romney touted his endorsement in Miami last November of three Cuban-American Republicans who have made it their mission in Congress to keep a hardline stance against Cuba.

But in Iowa, Romney is campaigning alongside Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican and well-known champion of lifting the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo.

It was a trifecta for Romney to score the backing of Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz Balart, all staunch supporters of the embargo. (Earlier, Romney had drawn the support of former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, another influential Cuban-American. The four politicos had backed Sen. John McCain in 2008.)

Romney has backed the embargo as well as restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba, so he has disagreed with Flake on the issue. Similarly, Romney disagrees with the high-profile Cuban-Americans on immigration, though he once shared Martinez's views on broad reform.

Yet the clash of endorsers and their issues shows what a tightrope presidential candidates must walk when they campaign across the country. A supporter that works in one state (or even part of a state, such as South Florida) may not work -- and could potentially backfire -- elsewhere. It's tricky for the endorsers, too, who stand to be accused of putting their party over their principles when their presidential pick (or one of his surrogates) doesn't agree with them on some of their key issues.

It's safe to say the Cuban-Americans won't be stumping for Romney in Flake's district in Arizona -- and Flake won't be glad-handing for Romney in South Florida.

December 27, 2011

Is Bogdanoff correct that Florida is No. 4 in gambling?

Supporters of a proposed bill that would allow three massive destination casino resorts in South Florida often argue that gambling is already a big business here -- in fact, one of the largest in the country.

"Florida is considered the fourth-largest gambling state in the nation, but it has let the industry drive policy decisions and that has produced the worst kind of gaming,'' Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said in an October 2011 interview about her casinos bill. "To me, no kind of gaming is good, but we as policymakers have to decide, do we want gaming with five-star hotels or Internet cafes in strip malls?"

That fourth-largest ranking claim has been repeated multiple times by Bogdanoff, including in a joint editorial with state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and by other individuals, including former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Diaz-Balart is a lawyer and adviser for the Genting Group, which has purchased the waterfront Miami Herald property with plans to build a mega casino-resort there.

The Truth-O-Meter researched to find out if we are indeed No. 4.