Associated Press, Author at Florida Politics

Associated Press

‘Koch brothers’ rebrand underway, still a conservative force

The conservative Koch brothers are no more — even if they remain a political powerhouse.

The Democrats’ super villains for much of the last decade have quietly launched a rebranding effort that may vanquish the “Koch brothers” moniker from American politics. The catalyst came earlier in the year when ailing billionaire conservative David Koch stepped away from the family business, leaving older brother Charles as the undisputed leader of the Kochs’ web of expanding political and policy organizations.

There were already few, if any, clearly identifiable links between the Kochs and their most active spinoff organizations such as Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners or the LIBRE Initiative. But in the days after the younger billionaire’s retreat, company officials quickly began pushing journalists across the country to change references from “Koch brothers” in their coverage to “Koch network” or one of their less-recognizable entities.

Asked about the shift on Saturday, Koch’s chief lieutenants explained that 82-year-old Charles Koch was always far more involved with their political efforts than his ailing brother. The elder Koch addressed the shift directly as he welcomed hundreds of donors to an invitation-only summit at a luxury resort in the Rocky Mountains.

“I am not getting weak in the knees. … Truly I am not,” Charles Koch said with a smile. He added: “We’re just getting started.”

Regardless of its name, the conservative network remains one of the nation’s most influential political forces, a conservative powerhouse simultaneously playing the long- and short-game in a way that ensures it will remain a dominant force long after President Donald Trump is gone. And in sharp contrast to the Republican president who is eager to put his name on his accomplishments, the Kochs are happy to do it in the dark.

While much of the network operates out of sight, the Charles Koch Foundation announced Saturday that it would begin publicly posting all multiyear grant agreements with universities. Last year, the foundation gave $90 million for projects on 300 campuses.

An estimated 500 Koch donors — each having committed at least $100,000 annually — gathered for the weekend “seminar” that featured a handful of elected officials and high-profile influencers. As is customary for the bi-annual meetings, guests were required to give up their cell phones during some presentations. And while The Associated Press joined a handful of media organizations allowed to witness some activities, photos and videos were strictly prohibited.

Gov. Rick Scott and Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, both Republican Senate candidates, led the list of elected officials on hand. Senate Republican whip John Cornyn of Texas, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin were also on the guest list.

The money behind the Kochs’ push to transform education, philanthropy, immigration, health care, tax laws, courts, government regulation, prisons and the economy has long been cloaked in secrecy.

Koch officials have vowed to spend between $300 million and $400 million to shape the 2018 midterm elections. But there’s no way to verify how or where the money is spent because most of its organizations are registered as nonprofit groups, which aren’t required to detail their donors like traditional political action committees.

While they have long been closely aligned with the Republican Party’s far-right flank, they oppose the Trump administration’s policies on spending, trade and immigration.

On Saturday, network leaders seized on Trump’s push to apply billions of dollars in tariffs on America’s top trading partners. The burgeoning trade war has sparked an outcry from business leaders across the nation, and in a new video Charles Koch lashes out at what he calls the “destructive” rise of “protectionism.”

Koch official Brian Hooks warned that, on trade and immigration, “the divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage.”

Democrats who invested extraordinary time and resources into attacking the Koch brothers in recent years concede that, in the era of Trump at least, the billionaire industrialists are no longer the left’s No. 1 enemy.

Adam Jentleson, who previously worked for former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, said Koch’s quiet rebranding effort represents “a small victory.”

“Sen. Reid was always very clear that drawing the Koch brothers out of the shadows was a big part of his strategy,” Jentleson said. “He thought people deserved to know who was behind the dark money. This seems like a recognition that they’re uncomfortable being out front and are scurrying to get back in the shadows.”

NFL, NFLPA freeze anthem rules amid backlash to Miami Dolphins policy

The NFL’s two-month old national anthem policy is on hold.

Hours after The Associated Press reported that Miami Dolphins players who protest on the field during the anthem could be suspended for up to four games under a team policy issued this week, the league and the players union issued a joint statement late Thursday night saying the two sides are talking things out.

“The NFL and NFLPA, through recent discussions, have been working on a resolution to the anthem issue. In order to allow this constructive dialogue to continue, we have come to a standstill agreement on the NFLPA’s grievance and on the NFL’s anthem policy. No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing,” the statement read. “The NFL and NFLPA reflect the great values of America, which are repeatedly demonstrated by the many players doing extraordinary work in communities across our country to promote equality, fairness and justice. Our shared focus will remain on finding a solution to the anthem issue through mutual, good faith commitments, outside of litigation.”

The issue has dominated headlines over the past two seasons, caused division and alienated some fans.

The NFL rule that was passed in May forbid players from sitting or taking a knee if they are on the field or sidelines during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but allowed them to stay in the locker room if they wish. The policy said teams would be fined if players didn’t stand during the anthem while on the field. The league left it up to teams on how to punish players.

None of the team policies had been made public until the AP obtained a copy of Miami’s nine-page discipline document. It included a one-sentence section on “Proper Anthem Conduct” and was provided to the AP by a person familiar with the policy who insisted on anonymity because the document is not public. It classifies anthem protests under a large list of “conduct detrimental to the club,” all of which could lead to a paid or unpaid suspension, a fine or both.

The Dolphins said in a statement: “The NFL required each team to submit their rules regarding the anthem before their players reported to training camp. We will address this issue once the season starts. All options are still open.”

Miami can choose not to issue any suspension nor fine any player guilty of “conduct detrimental to the club.” Other violations under that label include drug use or possession, gambling, breaking curfew and riding motorcycles as a driver or passenger from the start of camp until the last game of the season.

Jets acting owner Christopher Johnson said shortly after the league announced its policy that he will not punish his players for any peaceful protests — and would pay any potential fines incurred by the team as a result of his players’ actions.

The new league rules were challenged this month in a grievance by the players union. The NFLPA said the NFL policy, which the league imposed without consultation with the players union, is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights. Now, the two sides are hoping to reach a solution without litigation.

Dolphins veteran receiver Kenny Stills took a knee with a hand on his heart during the anthem throughout last season. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips put his arm around Stills before one game. Two other players who knelt — safety Michael Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas — are no longer with the team.

Defensive end Robert Quinn, who raised his fist during the anthem while with the Rams, is now with the Dolphins.

“Players who are on the field during the Anthem performance must stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,” says the 16th and final bullet point on Miami’s list of conduct considered detrimental, below disparaging teammates, coaches or officials including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The NFL started requiring players to be on the field for the anthem in 2009 — the year it signed a marketing deal with the military.

In 2016, then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting police brutality, social injustice and racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem, and the demonstration spread to other players and teams.

Critics led by President Donald Trump called the players unpatriotic and even said NFL owners should fire any player who refused to stand during the anthem. Some players countered that their actions were being misconstrued and that they are seeking social change rather than protesting the anthem itself.

Trump’s criticism led more than 200 players to protest during one weekend, and some kept it up throughout the season.

The league and a coalition of players have been working in tandem to support player initiatives for a variety of social issues. The NFL is committing $90 million over the next seven years to social justice causes in a three-segment plan that involves league players.

Kaepernick didn’t play at all last season and still hasn’t been picked up by another team. He threw 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions in his final season in 2016. Safety Eric Reid, one of Kaepernick’s former teammates and another protest leader, is also out of work.

Both have filed collusion grievances against the NFL.

Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer says his ‘silence is broken’

President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, who is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York, says he sat down for an interview with ABC News and his “silence is broken.”

Michael Cohen tweeted a photo Sunday of him sitting with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.

He said in the tweet that he sat down with Stephanopoulos for an interview to air Monday on “Good Morning America” but it wasn’t on camera. Stephanopoulos tweeted a similar photo.

FBI agents raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room in April as part of a probe into his business dealings.

Cohen was Trump’s longtime fixer and a key player in the Trump Organization.

Trump said last month that he hasn’t spoken to Cohen in “a long time” and that he was “not my lawyer anymore.”

Material from The Associated Press was used in this post.

Florida Democrats hope Donald Trump, issues end their losing streak

There are more Democrats than Republicans in Florida, but that hasn’t helped the party win many statewide races over the past quarter century. Weak candidates, low turnout and tepid fundraising have usually left Florida Democrats on the losing end, particularly in nonpresidential years.

But now party leaders believe they have improved their get-out-the-vote and rural and minority outreach programs to go with a not-so-secret weapon to bludgeon Republicans — President Donald Trump. Some think the disdain many in their party have for the Republican president will increase Democratic turnout and money donated to their candidates.

The party’s Florida leaders and strongest supporters are gathering this weekend near Fort Lauderdale, the heart of the state’s most Democratic region, for their annual convention to plan strategy as they try to win November’s governor’s race for the first time since 1994 and keep U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, their one consistent winner, from losing re-election to the outgoing Republican governor, Rick Scott.

Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Juan Penalosa said Scott won by a percentage point in 2010 and 2014 while Democrats did little campaigning in heavily Republican regions and did a poor job of turning out voters in Democratic ones. That is changing, he said.

“We have learned from our missteps — we are developing and employing a strategy that is working in 2018,” said Penalosa, who said there will be an emphasis on local issues like education. He is not as enthusiastic about directly attacking Trump as other Democrats but says it will have its place.

“Trump has absolutely galvanized our base because we now know what’s at stake when we lose elections,” he said.

There are 4.8 million registered Democrats in Florida, compared with 4.5 million Republicans. Some are conservative Dixiecrats who mostly vote Republican, but it’s still an advantage. Even with that edge, since 2000 the Democrats have won six of 27 statewide races, mostly because they are two for 18 in nonpresidential years like this one, where the governor, Cabinet and, sometimes, a U.S. senator are elected.

One reason, some Democratic strategists say, is simple – Republicans did a better job energizing voters, particularly in 2010 and 2014 when they used the presidency of Barack Obama to motivate their base. Trump can do that for Democrats this year, some believe.

Republicans in past campaigns try to tie Democrats who have baggage, like Hillary Clinton, to Florida Democrats seeking local or state office.

“They nationalize it, whether that be Hillary Clinton or (former House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi or anyone from our party who might be seen as negative,” said Screven Watson, a political consultant and former state party executive director. “We have to do the same thing with Donald Trump.”

Nelson has been Florida Democrats’ strongest performer the last 20 years, claiming three of the party’s six wins in the 2000s (Obama had two of the others in 2008 and 2012), but that comes with a small asterisk: his last two GOP opponents, former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, ran campaigns that imploded.

If Democrats want to retake the Senate, Nelson must win. Scott, whose banned from seeking a third consecutive term, runs highly disciplined and well-financed campaigns, bolstered by his immense personal wealth as the founder of a hospital chain.

Scott seems to have anticipated the Democratic strategy – while Trump and Scott have long been tight, the governor rarely mentions him now.

Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist, said Scott won’t be able to shake Trump – voters know their close relationship. He said tying Trump to other Republicans is a strategy that helped Florida Democrats win four special elections the past year.

“If this becomes a referendum on Trump, that’s bad news for Scott,” Schale said.

Taryn Fenske, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said the GOP hopes Nelson campaigns against Trump, believing most voters view his presidency as a success.

“Floridians deserve elected officials who will support a thriving economy, like Governor Scott, not candidates like Bill Nelson who resist and obstruct his agenda,” she said in a statement.

In the gubernatorial race, where the Democrats have lost five straight, the Democrats have five candidates competing in the Aug. 28 primary, with no clear favorite. They are former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham; former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; and two wealthy developers, Jeff Greene and Chris King.

The winner will face either U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who has Trump’s endorsement and frequent guest spots on Fox News, or Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who has three-times the campaign funds and higher statewide name recognition.

In the end, Watson and Schale said, both races will likely be determined by something that happens in October that swings the Florida electorate by a percentage point.

“It could come down to what Donald Trump tweets on Oct. 20,” Watson said.

About 2,000 minors separated from families

About 2,000 children have been separated from their families at the border over a six-week period during a crackdown on illegal entries, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security figures obtained by The Associated Press Friday.

The figures show that 1,995 minors were separated from 1,940 adults from April 19 through May 31. The separations were not broken down by age, and included separations for illegal entry, immigration violations, or possible criminal conduct by the adult.

Under a “zero tolerance” policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Department of Homeland Security officials are now referring all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. U.S. protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.

The policy has been widely criticized. Church groups, politicians and children’s advocates say it is inhumane. A battle in Congress is brewing in part over the issue.

On Thursday, Sessions cited the Bible in defending his policy, arguing the recent criticisms were not “fair or logical and some are contrary to law.”

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” he said.

The new figures are for people who tried to enter the U.S. between official border crossings. Asylum-seekers who go directly to official crossings are not separated from their families, except in specific circumstances including if officials can’t confirm the relationship between the minor and adults, safety of the children, or if the adult is being prosecuted. There were an additional 35 minors separated at ports of entry in May through June 6. There were more than 50 at the official crossings in April and March each, according to the figures.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Former GOP aide Nicolle Wallace lighting it up for MSNBC

Nicolle Wallace lives for the sort of chaos that makes most cable television hosts shudder.

On the day investigators raided the offices of President Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen, the news broke moments before the start of Wallace’s MSNBC show at 4 p.m. Eastern. The rundown that she and her team had planned for “Deadline: White House” was quickly discarded.

“When news happens, we respond immediately,” Wallace said. “We don’t blink. We don’t flinch. We don’t think about it. We never say, ‘let’s stick with what we’ve scripted.’ We blow it up. My most Zen moment is when the prompter goes black and (executive producer) Pat Burkey is talking to me and we’re trying to get through the moment.”

Dealing with the unexpected was a regular part of her work as White House communications director for President George W. Bush and senior adviser for John McCain‘s 2008 presidential campaign. Although news often knocked her on her heels, she loved the adrenaline rush.

President Donald Trump now provides regular opportunities to relive that feeling. One year into her role as a daytime host, Wallace has thrived with a sharp show that stays on the news. She’s incredulous about what she sees on a daily basis in the building where she used to work, and not reluctant to express it — making her a perfect fit for a network fueled in large part by viewers similarly angered by the Trump presidency.

Wallace took over a time slot that averaged a million viewers a day and lifted it to more than 1.3 million this spring, the Nielsen company said. MSNBC used to run neck-and-neck with CNN’s Jake Tapper but has opened a lead that now approached a half million viewers. Wallace’s show even beat Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto in March, the first time an MSNBC show had done that in the time slot since 2000.

“The audience has found somebody that they have confidence in, somebody that’s not scripted or prescriptive but reports on the events of the day,” said Phil Griffin, MSNBC president. “It’s about this period, this era, that’s extraordinary. But Nicolle would succeed in any era.”

That, of course, remains to be seen. It’s worth wondering how Wallace would fare with an MSNBC audience if someone closer to the Republican brand she was once identified with, like Jeb Bush, were president. Or if Hillary Clinton won. Before Wallace, MSNBC viewers rejected Greta Van Susteren, a transfer from Fox News Channel.

With Wallace and some other disaffected Republicans frequently on her show — commentators like Steve Schmidt, Charlie Sykes and David Frum — some conservatives refer to her show as the “traitor hour,” said Tim Graham of the conservative watchdog Media Research Center.

“We joke that she put paycheck ahead of party,” he said.

Wallace, who has called herself a “non-practicing Republican,” said the party as she knew it left her.

“This Republican Party is unrecognizable to me,” she said. “Non-practicing to me means not voting for Republicans if this is what it looks like, but I’m not embarrassed to share a political party with John McCain or the 41st president or 43rd president. That’s about it. I’m trying to think if there’s anyone else.”

She telegraphed her disgust with the brand of populism embodied by Trump at its roots a decade ago, when she was one of the McCain aides made uncomfortable by the rise of Sarah Palin, a journey publicized by her portrayal in the HBO movie, “Game Change.”

After shifting out of politics, Wallace spent a less-than-satisfactory year as the conservative voice on “The View.” She’s been a regular commentator for several NBC News shows, notably “Morning Joe” and Brian Williams‘ nighttime news hour. A post-election reporting assignment for “Today” seeking out the Trump voters who had defected from the Democratic Party was particularly meaningful to her.

The 4 p.m. hour for MSNBC is a key transition from daytime news programs to more opinionated nighttime fare, a time when many big stories break. Key to Wallace’s success is that her show is more about reporting than punditry, Griffin said. From her days in the White House, she knows many of the people who work there, and tries to speak to someone who’s had contact with the president each day. She’s more apt to have active reporters as panelists.

“She targets her questions specifically to every guest,” Griffin said. “She’s not looking for approval of her ideas, but she’s trying to draw out the information that she thinks best serves the discussion they’re having. That’s a really unique quality and makes her show different from all the others.”

On one recent show, Wallace fact-checked a series of misstatements by Trump before airing video of him speaking that day, instead of correcting the record afterward.

“He’s becoming like a cigarette,” she said. “You have to warn people of the side effects.”

She believes that service in a Trump administration will end up staining the resumes of most who worked there. She understands why many Republicans stand silent when Trump does something like attack the federal justice system, but doesn’t excuse them. She said they’ll have to answer to history.

“I don’t know if there’s any effect to making the points that we do,” she said, “but I never tire of trying to come up with creative and different and effective ways to break through on the audacity of him.”

Trump nominates Miami-Dade judge to be US attorney

President Donald Trump has nominated a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge to be the next U.S. attorney for South Florida.

The White House said in a news release Thursday that Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan was the president’s choice to be the top federal prosecutor in a sprawling district stretching along Florida’s southeast coast from Vero Beach to Key West and includes Trump’s Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago, and his Doral resort.

The position requires Senate confirmation. She would be the first woman in the position.

Fajardo Orshan was appointed to the bench in 2012 by Gov. Rick Scott, currently handling family matters. Before that, she was in private practice and previously served as an assistant Miami-Dade state attorney where she specialized in narcotics and organized crime prosecutions, according to the White House.

David Koch

Conservative icon David Koch leaving business, politics

Billionaire conservative icon David Koch is stepping down from the Koch brothers’ network of business and political activities.

The 78-year-old New York resident is suffering from deteriorating health, according to a letter that older brother Charles Koch sent to company officials Tuesday morning.

Charles Koch wrote that he is “deeply saddened” by his brother’s retirement. “David has always been a fighter and is dealing with this challenge in the same way,” he wrote.

David Koch is leaving his roles as executive vice president and board member for Koch Industries and a subsidiary, Koch Chemical Technology group, where he served as chairman and chief executive officer. Koch is also stepping down as chairman of the board for the Americans For Prosperity Foundation, the charity related to Koch brothers’ primary political organization.

Charles Koch had assumed a more visible leadership role in the brothers’ affairs in recent years. He will continue to serve as the CEO of Koch Industries and the unofficial face of the network’s political efforts.

Democrats have demonized the Koch brothers for their outsized influence in conservative politics over the last decade. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid regularly attacked Republicans for what he called a “Koch addiction.”

Yet the Kochs have clashed with the Donald Trump administration at times.

Citing concerns about Trump’s style and substance, the network refused to endorse either presidential candidate in the 2016 election. And while they have praised Trump’s policies on taxes, de-regulation and health care, they have aggressively attacked the Republican administration’s trade policies. On Monday, the Koch network announced a multi-million-dollar campaign to oppose Trump’s tariffs and highlight the benefit of free trade.

Using the money they made from their Kansas-based family business empire, the Koch brothers have created what is likely the nation’s most powerful political organization with short- and long-term goals. Their network has promised to spend $400 million to shape the 2018 midterm elections. They have also devoted significant time and resources to strengthening conservative influence on college campuses, in the Hispanic community and in the nonprofit sector.

David Koch, who served as the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential candidate in 1980, had begun focus more on philanthropy in recent years.

The Manhattan resident donated $150 million to New York City’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in 2015, the largest gift in the organization’s history. He has also given $185 million in total donations to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his alma mater.

In an April interview with the Washington Examiner, Charles Koch described his younger brother this way: “David is much more political than I am.”

Charles continued: “David is a much better engineer than I am and is much more into the arts and social life. Obviously he’s got to be or he wouldn’t live in Manhattan. And David is much more into elective politics than I am.”

In Tuesday’s letter, Charles Koch said his brother’s “guidance and loyalty, especially in our most troubled times, has been unwavering.”

“David has never wanted anything for himself that he hasn’t earned, as his sole desire has always been to contribute,” he wrote.

Parkland parents form political action committee

Some parents from the community where 17 people died in a Valentine’s Day shooting at a Florida high school are raising money for a campaign to push the National Rifle Association out of politics and ban assault weapons, bump stocks and high-capacity magazines in the U.S.

The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times reports Families vs Assault Rifles is a nonprofit and political action committee founded to be a counterweight to the NRA. It will target competitive federal races.

The Super PAC registered with the state and federal governments on May 18, the same day a shooting left 10 dead at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas.

The parents’ Super PAC is soliciting $17 donations, one dollar for each life lost in the shooting.

The group has a $10 million fundraising goal.

Report: State agency clearing out jobs for Rick Scott employees

A newspaper is reporting that a Florida state agency removed top employees and kept positions vacant in order to make room for employees who worked for Gov. Rick Scott.

The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald reported Tuesday that Department of Revenue officials replaced employees with people who have little experience in tax administration. Scott is leaving office due to term limits, and people who work directly for the governor could be replaced by the next governor.

Leon Biegalski, the head of the Department of Revenue, refused to grant an interview to answer questions about the personnel decisions. He instead issued a statement saying he had high standards for his employees.

McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for Scott, said the governor’s office had no involvement in the hiring and firing of the individuals.

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