October 17, 2018

Mario Diaz-Balart is banned from Venezuela, but his wife promoted travel there

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@alextdaugherty

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart dislikes Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro so much that he framed the notice banning the congressman from the country, hung it in his office and bragged about it on social media.

But the Miami Republican’s wife promoted travel to Venezuela two years ago. In 2016, a year after the ban on Diaz-Balart was announced by Maduro, Tia Diaz-Balart posted a list of “best places to visit in Venezuela” on the website for Ladat Travel, a company founded by the congressman’s wife to create “custom-tailored dream vacations” for clients and groups. The posts mostly describe tourist attractions like Venezuela’s Angel Falls, the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall. Tia Diaz-Balart’s LinkedIn page says she founded the company in August 2014 and worked there until September 2017, and the company’s associated LLC shows up in Diaz-Balart’s 2014 federal financial disclosure.

When asked by the Miami Herald, Diaz-Balart’s campaign said Mario and Tia Diaz-Balart never made any money off tourists traveling to Venezuela or anywhere else because the business venture never got off the ground.

“She never made any money off of any tour or travel anywhere,” Diaz-Balart campaign representative Cesar Gonzalez said. “It was kind of like this idea that she had of starting this travel agency. It never took off.”

More here.

October 08, 2018

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

Donald trump ap seal

@alextdaugherty

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

@alextdaugherty

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.

October 01, 2018

Diaz-Balart grapples with Trump effect as he runs for reelection in South Florida

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty

Florida’s master of backroom deals has 30 years of lawmaking experience, but Donald Trump’s propensity for governing with tweets and insults is making Mario Diaz-Balart’s job tougher.

The 56-year-old Miami Republican prides himself on being the state’s senior member of the powerful House committee tasked with overseeing federal spending and being a crucial voice on immigration issues in Washington. Unlike his South Florida counterparts Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, he doesn’t attract attention for publicly disagreeing with the president and is the only House member from Miami-Dade who voted for Trump in 2016.

But the messaging from the White House is hard to ignore as Diaz-Balart runs for reelection in District 25.

As Diaz-Balart sat down recently with an espresso — not his first caffeinated beverage of the day during hours-long spending talks — the president tweeted, without evidence, that a government-sponsored tally of 2,975 deaths in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria was a political ploy by Democrats to hurt him.

Diaz-Balart said he hadn’t seen it.

“I literally do not read tweets. I don’t watch the talk shows, I watch newscasts,” Diaz-Balart said. “ If you ask me the last time I listened to or watched a talking-heads show, which unfortunately now television news is pretty much all that except for a couple of newscasts, I don’t. I have a job to do and my job is to get things done.”

Trying to ignore Trump and the constant news he generates gives Diaz-Balart the ability to sidestep criticism of the president, but choosing to keep his mouth shut has opened him up to criticism that he won’t stand up for his mostly Hispanic constituents.

He didn’t respond to most of Trump’s claims on Puerto Rico, except when the president said he was “successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico,” a statement that is a direct jab at lawmakers like Diaz-Balart, who spent weeks crafting massive relief packages for Puerto Rico and Florida last year.

“The Constitution is pretty clear about that,” Diaz-Balart said, referring to Congress’ power of the purse.

If Diaz-Balart wins reelection in November, he will become the longest-tenured Republican in Congress from Florida — and the state’s most powerful House member if the GOP retains its House majority. His pitch to voters is a classic one for incumbents with clout: he’s the steady hand with experience in Washington since 2003 and the policy chops to best represent a majority Hispanic district with thousands of immigrants.

Diaz-Balart rarely makes cable news appearances, preferring instead to talk with reporters who cover the federal spending process or immigration talks in detail. He refuses to discuss private meetings, including the infamous White House session he attended where Trump reportedly referred to Haiti and African countries as “shitholes.”

“If you look at the folks who get things done, they’re not the ones on MSNBC and Fox 20 times a day,” Diaz-Balart said. “They’re the ones who sit down quietly. In Congress, appropriations have become more difficult. It’s become more difficult because of hyper-partisanship from both sides. And yet we have a constitutional obligation to get those bills done and they’re ugly and they’re not always ideal. But if you look at those bills it’s a smaller and smaller group of us that work on them, who are willing to put partisanship aside, egos aside, who can communicate with Democrats and Republicans and the administration.”

But the traditional path to reelection for a powerful incumbent has been upended by a president who thwarts sensitive negotiations on issues — like finding a solution for so-called Dreamers — by constantly offering mixed messages to members of his own party, lessening the incentive for any Democrat to compromise. Diaz-Balart failed to find enough votes for an immigration compromise earlier this year, even though he rebuked GOP leaders by signing onto a petition that would have forced a series of immigration votes with the blessing of Democrats. He now faces former judge Mary Barzee Flores in the November election, his first serious opponent in a decade.

Read more here.

September 20, 2018

Mary Barzee Flores named to DCCC's Red to Blue program

 

Mary barzee flores

@lesleyclark 

National Democrats are delivering a boost to Mary Barzee Flores, who is looking to unseat Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart in one of three South Florida races that Democrats are hoping to flip.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Thursday named Flores to its "Red to Blue" program which brings with it organizational and fundraising support.

Barzee Flores is one of 84 candidates nationwide to be included in the program which highlights candidates in competitive races who have exceeded fundraising goals and shored up local support. A first-time candidate, Barzee Flores raised nearly $500,000 in her first fundraising quarter.

“Through every step of her career, Mary Barzee Flores has shown the qualities that we need more of in Congress,” said DCCC chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico. “She will put hardworking Floridians before Washington special interests and will answer to the people she serves. She is running a strong campaign and finally providing the community she is running to represent the chance to vote for a new approach, not more of the same Republican agenda that hurts hardworking Floridians.”

Barzee Flores, a former federal judge nominee who was blocked by Sen. Marco Rubio, has support in the legal community and has picked up key endorsements from EMILY's List, a group that seeks to elect female Democrats to Congress.

Diaz-Balart represents the only Miami-Dade district where Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016, though he won by less than two percentage points. Diaz-Balart's district includes Northwest Dade and stretches across the Everglades to Naples and he hasn't faced serious opposition since 2008. 

September 04, 2018

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

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@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 22, 2018

Fred Guttenberg cuts ad blasting Mario Diaz-Balart

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty

Fred Guttenberg is going after the one South Florida congressman who accepted National Rifle Association money after the nation's deadliest high school shooting where Guttenberg's daughter Jaime was one of 17 people killed. 

Guttenberg, one of the most outspoken anti-gun Parkland parents, cut an ad that blasts Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart for supporting the NRA on behalf of Diaz-Balart's Democratic challenger, former judge Mary Barzee Flores

“Mario Diaz-Balart, after February 14th, after my daughter and 16 others died, you had a choice to make. And you chose to take money from the NRA,” Guttenberg says directly to Diaz-Balart at the beginning of the ad. “You chose to take their money... you’re not worthy of service... you need to be fired.”

Diaz-Balart has accepted more direct campaign contributions from the NRA than any other member of Congress from Florida over the last 20 years, including a $1,000 donation after the shooting in May 2018. His continued support from the NRA comes as other Republican members of Congress from South Florida like Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast have distanced themselves from the nation's largest gun lobby. 

Barzee Flores' campaign manager Sam Miller said the ad will run on digital platforms for now, but could end up on TV later in the campaign. 

Guttenberg has traveled around the country and lobbied dozens of lawmakers on Capitol Hill to change the nation's gun laws since the Valentine's Day shooting. 

"I will be working everyday to support Mary Barzee Flores for Congress," Guttenberg said after lauding her judicial background.

Diaz-Balart's Hialeah-based district that stretches across the Everglades is the most conservative of the three Miami-Dade congressional seats currently held by Republicans, though Democrats consider the district competitive after Donald Trump eked out a narrow win over Hillary Clinton there in 2016.

Diaz-Balart hasn't faced a competitive reelection challenge since 2008.

Watch the ad below: 

 

August 01, 2018

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 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 18, 2018

Diaz-Balart campaign attacks Barzee Flores' husband in first TV ad

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is going negative as he kicks off his campaign against Democratic challenger Mary Barzee Flores

Diaz-Balart, a Republican who hasn't faced a competitive reelection bid since 2008, launched his first television ad on Wednesday titled "Just Wrong." 

The ad, which will air in Miami-Dade and Collier Counties, opens with a tweet by Barzee Flores opposing President Donald Trump's decision to rollback the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by Barack Obama. Then, the screen shows Barzee Flores' federal financial disclosure form showing that her husband Hector Flores works as an attorney at Barzee Flores LLP before cutting to Flores' bio page on the firm's website which states "Hector L. Flores has handled numerous federal criminal trials and appeals, including death penalty, complex white-collar defense and international arms and narcotics conspiracies." 

The ad argues Flores' firm "boast about defending criminals that arranged millions of dollars of arms shipments to Iran in violation of the U.S. arms embargo." 

"Making money at the expense of our national security, and now wanting to represent us in Congress, is just wrong," the ad concludes. 

Barzee Flores argued that Diaz-Balart is attacking her family because he doesn't want to talk about his own record.

Diaz-Balart's Miami-based district extends across the Everglades to suburban Naples, and is the most conservative of the three Miami-Dade seats currently held by Republicans. Neither Barzee Flores or Diaz-Balart face primary opposition, and outside groups are likely to spend millions on the race. 

Watch the ad below: