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Marco Rubio kicked out of Tampa office because of protesters

In the new year, it’s been the go-to spot for those who are part of “The Resistance” – activists against Donald Trump and GOP establishment now in control of all branches of the federal government.

We’re talking about Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s Tampa District office in the Westshore area, where protestors have gathered on a weekly basis since early January.

But no more.

That’s because the landlords at the Bridgeport Center at 5201 Kennedy Blvd. – America’s Capital Partners – notified Rubio’s office on Feb. 1 that it will not renew his lease because the weekly protests are too disruptive to the other tenants and are costly for the company.

The story was originally reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

“Our lease has expired and the building management informed us they would not be renewing it,” Rubio spokeswoman Christina Mandreucci said in a statement sent to SPB. “We are actively looking for new office space, and our goal is to remain accessible and continue providing prompt and efficient service to all Floridians. Until we find a permanent new home in the Tampa Bay area, we will have a representative from our Tampa Bay office available to assist constituents on a daily basis and reachable at 1-866-630-7106.”

Not only has the small sidewalk in front of Rubio’s Tampa office been the site of regular protests against the Florida Senator, it’s where protestors went to back on the night of January 28 to protest President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning citizens from some predominantly Muslim nations from coming to the United States. Those activists had originally gone to Tampa International Airport, where similar protests were taking place across the nation, but we’re told that they could not protest on private property.

Charlie Crist is demanding more transparency out of Donald Trump

Charlie Crist says “count him in” on investigations into President Donald Trump’s possible conflicts of interest and ethical violations.

The St. Petersburg Democrat supports a Resolution of Inquiry put forward by New York Democrat Jerald Nadler, which calls on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide Congress with all information from any investigations into the president.

Nadler’s resolution bypasses standard procedures of how bills work through the House of Representatives. It’s written in a way that the resolution must be brought to the House floor for a vote within 14 days, if not reported by the relevant committee.

Critics contend that Trump has violated the emoluments clause in the U.S. Constitution, which bars him from benefiting (either financially or otherwise) from his extensive business dealings abroad.

“As public officials, we have a responsibility to promote transparency and provide oversight and accountability to ensure the public’s trust in our government, and that the government is working in their best interests,” Crist says in a statement. “This administration is breaking with precedent in ways that raise serious concerns and threaten the health of our democracy.”

“The American people deserve answers to the questions being raised, and Congress has the power to require them. Let’s get to work.”

Crist is backing an effort led by New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell Jr. for Congress to use its authority to make Trump’s tax returns available to ensure no conflicts of interest exist.

House Republicans have blocked the effort Monday night.

Pascrell also co-sponsored two bills (H.R. 356 and H.R. 530) that aim to investigate, expose, and deter foreign influence in the American election process.

Nadler’s Resolution of Inquiry follows two formal requests to House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte — the first dated Nov. 30, 2016, and a second Jan. 24, 2017 — asking for hearings into federal conflict-of-interest and ethical provisions that may apply to the president. They also call for an investigation of the legal structure and practices of the “trust” managed by Trump’s sons.

In a letter sent to Speaker Paul Ryan Jan. 12, Nadler is asking for any information needed to evaluate Trump’s financial entanglements for conflicts of interest and constitutional violations, along with details of any uncovered ties between Russia and the president, his advisers or businesses.

Kathy Castor preferred Obama policy on deportations, acknowledges ‘we’re a country of laws’

For Kathy Castor, it’s simple: “We’re a country of laws, and if you’re in the country illegally, you are subject to deportation.”

However, perhaps acknowledging the sentiment among the American public, the Tampa Democratic congresswoman had little to say Monday about the recent directives from the Department of Homeland Security that expand the scope for law enforcement officials to deport undocumented immigrants.

Instead, Castor said the situation calls for a return to looking for a more comprehensive solution to the issue.

Castor prefers the priorities of the Obama administration, who directed federal agents to concentrate on deporting gang members and other violent and serious criminals, and left most other undocumented immigrants alone.

“What is missing from the dialogue is how we address folks who have overstayed a visa and simply want to work legally in the country,” she said, bemoaning the fact that there is no discussion on Capitol Hill to discuss finding a pathway to citizenship for those whose work skills are needed in the U.S.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said last week the president wants to “take the shackles off” of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

On that subject, Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund, pointed to a published report about ICE agents waiting in a Denver courthouse hallway without a warrant to apprehend an undocumented immigrant.

“When a president gives the green light to federal law enforcement agencies that target vulnerable immigrants and operate with impunity,” Sharry said Monday, “this is what you get: out of control police forces that declare open season on anyone they encounter.”

“This is not the America we aspire to be,” he added. “Both the policy and the implementation of the policy run counter to our self-proclaimed identity as a nation that welcomes immigrants and refugees.”

“Our law enforcement does a very good job if someone is here illegally and they commit a crime. There’s a lot of cooperation between local law enforcement and federal agencies,” Castor said.

“But if we can’t address a legal pathway, then we’re not going to find a solution [for] immigration issues.”

Though there hasn’t been a whole lot of public polling on the issue, a McLaughlin & Associates survey published earlier this month showed that 69 percent of respondents approved of Trump’s executive order to make deportation of undocumented immigrants “who are criminals” a top priority.

That poll also showed the majority of voters support cutting off federal grants to sanctuary cities that refuse to turn in undocumented immigrants, 59 percent to 29 percent.

A Harvard–Harris Poll published last week found that 80 percent of voters say local authorities should have to comply with the law by reporting to federal agents the undocumented immigrants with whom they come into contact.

The poll showed that 52 percent said in that poll that they support Trump’s two executive orders allowing for the construction of a southern border wall, increasing the number of immigration officers by 10,000 and finding a way to revoke federal funds for sanctuary cities.

Castor is critical of an attempt to build a security wall on the Mexican border. Some estimates have show that it cost more than $20 billion.

President Donald Trump announced Monday he would boost Pentagon spending by $54 billion in his first budget proposal, slashing the same amount from non-defense spending, with that increase being funded partly by cuts to the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other non-defense programs.

“We also have to be very cognizant of the costs of all of this. Can America afford now to pay for this border wall, and a huge increase in border patrol agents?” Castor asked, adding that she believes government needs to invest in places that create jobs.

GOP proposed health reforms care would ’cause chaos,’ Kathy Castor says

Tampa Democratic Representative Kathy Castor says that a leaked GOP alternative plan for healthcare would have “dire consequences for families here in the state of Florida.”

A draft bill detailing Republican plans to begin repealing and replacing many facets of the ACA would provide expanded tax credits and health savings accounts for individuals while reducing federal spending on tax subsidies and Medicaid and practically eliminating both the current employer and individual mandate to provide and carry health insurance, according to NBC News.

“The changes that the Republicans have put on the table would really cause chaos,” Castor said on Monday at a news conference held in front of the Tampa Family Health Center clinic on Dale Mabry Highway.

The purpose of the event was to announce that Kathy Palmer, a Tampa resident currently on the Affordable Care Act, will be Castor’s guest at President Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night  Many of Castor’s Democratic House colleagues have also invited members of the public whose lives could be deleteriously affected by losing their care if the ACA is repealed as their guest of honor.

Palmer said that she was hospitalized at Tampa Community Hospital in December because of extreme chest pains. After a series of tests determined she was actually okay, she said she was dumbfounded when she was hit with a $70,000 bill.

“Because I had the Affordable Care Act, I only have to pay $179 of it. I can afford that. This is the only way I can afford insurance,” she said, adding that the two companies she works part-time at are “really small businesses, and they’re struggling too.”

Castor dissected the leaked plans for health care reform, popping a balloon into every one of them as being unworthy as a successor to the ACA.

She dismissed the idea of providing certain high risk pools for the state, saying that Florida tried that in the 80’s and 90’s to little success because “it’s very difficult to commit to controlling the costs.”

The tentative plans also include offering Health Saving Accounts to members of the public, which Castor says are fine if one has the money to put in a savings account. “A lot of folks in this community are working paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “They don’t have the ability to put a couple of hundred dollars away from every paycheck and an illness or a broken arm is not going to wait for you to save up to $10,000 -$20,000 in a Health Savings Account.”

Refundable tax credits also received a thumbs down from the Tampa Democrat, saying that would work out “great if you get it right after you get your tax refund, but an illness is not going to wait until your tax refund.”

While some Democrats have said they won’t consider working with Republicans on health care if the ultimate goal is to completely dismantle the ACA, Castor insisted she would “love” to be working the Republicans on possible solutions. While saying that there are plenty of different health care plans for someone in Hillsborough County to choose from, she acknowledged that there are far too many parts of the country that lack such competition.

“We’ve got to tackle that problem, ” she said. “Does that mean bringing a public option into those areas, or giving incentives to insurance companies to go into those areas? We’ve got to sort that out.”

Castor also said she would like to work with Congressional Republicans on reducing drug prices, noting that’s an issue that President Trump has repeatedly said he wants to tackle. However, she also noted, that in her decade in Congress, she’s never seen Republicans show much of an appetite for such reform.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says that the House is working to bring a bill to the House floor for a vote the first week of March.

At neighborhood meeting, Charlie Crist dismisses question about personnel shake-up

It was supposed to be a simple community meeting.

However, Charlie Crist wound up addressing a controversial personnel decision inside his office, which added a bit of drama to the proceedings.

Appearing at a community forum in St. Petersburg’s Midtown area Saturday morning, Crist’s visit was advertised as a discussion about the Affordable Care Act, economic development and jobs, education, and voting rights.

Ray Tampa, a community activist and former NAACP chapter president, challenged Crist to elaborate on the somewhat mysterious departure last month of district director Vito Sheeley.

Sheeley, who was Crist’s campaign outreach director in his race against Republican David Jolly last fall and was serving as his district director, stunningly announced last month said that he was leaving the office to begin working for Jolly as a senior adviser. That’s the same David Jolly who is no longer a congressman after Crist defeated him in November.

Tampa told Crist and the small crowd at Saturday’s event that he been solicited by Sheeley for campaign strategy in last year’s congressional race, and that ultimately Sheeley and other Crist advisers working for the African-American vote had decided to make copies of an email Tampa wrote in praise Crist, printed it out and distributed it to approximately 25 different churches in Midtown.

“And then shortly thereafter, you’re elected, and then Vito was terminated,” Tampa said. “That was not good. That was horrible, to say the least.”

Tampa said that he didn’t have anything against Gershom Faulkner, who has replaced Sheeley in Crist’s office, but added that “Vito’s termination had an effect on a lot of us in the community. And we don’t know if we’ve gotten a good response as to why that occurred, and it could affect you later on.”

“He wasn’t terminated,” Crist crisply replied. “Any other questions?”

Tampa left the event shortly after that exchange, saying later he was unsatisfied with Crist’s response. “That was horrible. For me to call for a question and it’s ignored, that’s not good.”

The public may never know what truly transpired between Crist and Sheeley, which resulted in the staffer jettisoning the office.

After Sheeley had announced last month that he would begin working with Jolly, he issued a statement saying: “Many have and will continue to question my reason for leaving Congressman Crist. That is an answer that will remain between Charlie Crist and me.”

Jolly’s hiring of Sheeley immediately set off speculation that the Pinellas Republican was already gearing up to challenge Crist in 2018, but Jolly said earlier this week that he won’t make any decision on another candidacy for the seat until next year.

Crist was joined at what was described by officials the “1st quarterly Pinellas County African-American Leaders Conference” at the St. Petersburg College Midtown Center, where he was joined by Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, former state representative and city council member Frank Peterman, and Carlos Senior, the Senior Pastor at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.

Although not an official town hall (which Crist said he intends to organize in the coming weeks), the format was similar in that there were a few people in the audience who wanted to speak with their representative about the Affordable Care Act.

In fact, the first two people (there were approximately 20 people in the room) challenged Crist to state his position on the ACA, saying that they couldn’t get a clear answer about where he stood on the GOP’s plan to repeal the landmark initiative from Barack Obama.

“I don’t want to replace it, I want to continue it … I’m not sure who you talked to in my office who told you I don’t have a position on it, but I stand strongly behind the Affordable Care Act,” Crist told Chelsea Baker, an audience member who said she had serious health issues.

Baker said she goes to bed every night “terrified” about the effort to repeal the law.

Crist elaborated that his GOP brethren in the House have undoubtedly learned through some of their own bruising town hall meetings this month that “they know that if they just take it away and that’s that, it’s over for them.”

“I think they’ve gotten that message and figured it out, and that’s why they haven’t done it yet,” he said about actually repealing the law.

Crist’s appearance came a day after news broke that he is divorcing his wife Carole after almost nine years of marriage, news that made Page Six of the NY Post Saturday.

Charlie Crist filing for divorce after less than 9 years

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is getting divorced less than nine years after becoming the first Florida governor in 42 years to get married while in office.

Crist spokesman Kevin Cate said the congressman filed papers Friday seeking to divorce his wife Carole, who he proposed to in 2008 after a 10-month romance. He was a Republican governor at the time.

Their St. Petersburg wedding was a grand event with an exclusive guest list of political elite and celebrities.

The couple stayed together through his switch from Republican to independent to Democrat and his unsuccessful 2010 U.S. Senate and 2014 gubernatorial campaigns.

The former Carole Rome was a New York businesswoman and socialite when the couple met. She is Crist’s second wife. He married his college sweetheart in 1980 and divorced less than a year later.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

David Jolly says the state of GOP will determine his electoral future

Though he’s out of public office, David Jolly has never been more ubiquitous in appearing on television.

The former Pinellas County congressman was scheduled to make another appearance on MSNBC Wednesday night, this time on “All In with Chris Hayes” talking about the buzzsaw that his former GOP brethren are confronting when hosting townhall meetings across the country.

Jolly is a rare Republican, speaking out critical against many of the moves of the Donald Trump administration, bumping up his status on many cable news producers rolodexes. However, that opposition could come at a price.

Because of his comments regarding the pressures of fundraising that he says the GOP establishment imposed upon him and other freshmen legislators, the National Republican Congressional Committee opted not to aid him in his uphill battle to retain his seat against Democrat Charlie Crist last year. If he were to challenge him again next year, he surely will need those funds to compete in a seat that Democrats will fight hard to maintain. Yet Jolly says he can’t think that calculatingly.

“We would have won if the NRCC had come in,” Jolly told this reporter on WMNF’s MidPoint program Thursday. “If there had been a half million or a million dollars, the reality is of modern electoral science is we would have won … we would have closed that three precent gap.”

Jolly lost by 3.8 percentage points to Crist, a closer race than many polls had predicted, based on the redistricting of the CD 13 seat that added the much more liberal parts of downtown and South St. Petersburg to the district. However, Jolly says he won’t fall in line and stay silent when he sees some of the actions that the new Republican president is doing in office.

“I’m not going to sell my soul simply for electoral office,” he said. “I’m not interested in being part of a Congress that’s broken.”

And Jolly includes some Democrats of being timid in speaking out against Trump when the occasion calls for it.

“The reality is that a lot of Democrats are afraid to speak out against Donald Trump as well. And Charlie’s one of those.”

Jolly also took note that while there’s been criticism about some Republicans (such as Marco Rubio) avoiding hosting town hall meetings this week, so has Crist.

“The Congressman is meeting with constituents and hearing their concerns at community events across the district,” responds Crist spokesperson Erin Moffet. “We are looking at options for future public events to make sure the people’s voices continue to be heard, and I’ll be sure to let you know when they are scheduled.”

Regarding a potential congressional rematch against Crist next year, Jolly says he won’t make that decision until sometime early next year.

“If this is the state of the Republican Party next year, what we’re seeing today, then there’s probably not a place for me on the ballot, but I just keep doing what I believe is right,” he says.”There will be a point at which that aligns with where the party is and the community is, and then perhaps there might be an opportunity to seek election again. It simply is not my singular focus, though.”

Charlie Crist joins blasts Trump administration’s rollback of protection for transgender students

Charlie Crist is blasting the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw Obama-era protections for transgender students in public schools that let them use bathrooms and facilities corresponding with their gender identity.

“This action sends a frightening message that the administration does not care about the safety of transgender children in our nation’s schools,” Crist said Thursday. “While repealing this guidance does not change the fact that Title IX protects transgender students, it subjects our public schools to more lawsuits and puts trans youth at risk. I stand with America’s trans students who, like all children, deserve a safe place to learn.”

Two GOP members of Florida’s congressional delegation have also criticized the decision.

“This is a disappointing choice for the Administration to make,” Congressional District 26 Representative Carlos Curbelo said in a statement. “We should be working toward ensuring all American children feel safe and accepted in their schools, regardless of where they live, their race, creed, gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called the decision by the Trump administration, “lamentable.”

Along with Rep. Jared Polis (D – CO), Ros-Lehtinen introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) in 2015 that would prohibit schools from discriminating against students based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. She’s also supportive of the Safe Schools Improvement Act which would require schools to create a code of conduct against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, and other important factors.

Last May, the departments of Education and Justice issued joint guidance directing schools to let transgender students use facilities that correspond with their gender identity. The “Dear Colleague” letter, addressed to school districts and colleges that receive federal funding, was based on the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools, to include gender identity.

Gus Bilirakis to hold another health care town hall in Wesley Chapel

Tampa Bay Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis will host another public listening session on the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday in Wesley Chapel.

During the two-hour event, Bilirakis said he would take feedback and ideas from constituents about the direction of the U.S. health care system, including the repeal and replacement of the ACA.

The six-term congressman has held similar sessions in Palm Harbor and New Port Richey this month, both of which packed with supporters of the health care law angered at Congressional Republicans’ plan to repeal the law without a replacement.

Following those events, Bilirakis signed on to a bill that would keep the ACA provisions protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions after its repeal.

“I heard a clear message from my constituents at recent town halls: people with pre-existing conditions need the peace of mind of knowing that they can get — and keep — health care,” Bilirakis said in a statement. “At events in Palm Harbor and New Port Richey, I listened to folks share personal stories about themselves and loved ones who were denied access to coverage because of a chronic illness. I made a promise to gather input from the people of Florida’s 12th District about the future of our nation’s health care, and I am keeping that promise with this legislation. We will protect those with pre-existing conditions and put in place a health care system that works for everybody.”

The Wesley Chapel will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Wesley Chapel High School Performing Arts Center on Wells Road. The event is open to the public.

 

Impressive roster of GOP leaders line up for Ed Hooper fundraiser

Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper is assembling an impressive number of high-profile state lawmakers for a Tallahassee reception next month. Hooper, a former state representative, is seeking the open Senate District 16 seat currently held by Jack Latvala.

Hooper’s campaign fundraiser will be Monday, March 6, from 2:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. at the Governors Club, 202 South Adams Street.

The host committee reads like a Who’s Who of GOP state leaders, including Senate President Joe Negron and nearly all the Pinellas County/Hillsborough delegation: Sens. Latvala, Bill GalvanoWilton SimpsonDana Young and Jeff Brandes.

Republican senators from beyond the Tampa Bay area will be there, too: Lizbeth BenacquistoGeorge GainerDenise GrimsleyFrank ArtilesDennis BaxleyAaron BeanTravis HutsonDebbie MayfieldKathleen PassidomoKeith PerryRobert BradleyDoug BroxsonDavid SimmonsKelli Stargel and Greg Steube.

The House will also be well represented, with Larry AhernBen AlbrittonChris Latvala and Kathleen Peters.

A former Clearwater firefighter who served four terms in the House before term limits forced him out, Hooper ran for Pinellas County Commission in 2014, losing to Democrat Pat Gerard after a contentious campaign.

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