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Facing defections, Senate GOP leaders delay health care vote

In a bruising setback, Senate Republican leaders are delaying a vote on their prized health care bill until after the July 4 recess, forced to retreat by a GOP rebellion that left them lacking enough votes to even begin debating the legislation, two sources said Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered the message to GOP senators at a private lunch attended by Vice President Mike Pence and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. The decision was described by a Republican aide and another informed person who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the closed-door decision.

All GOP senators were planning to travel to the White House later Tuesday to meet with President Donald Trump, one source said.

McConnell had hoped to push the measure through his chamber by this week’s end, before an Independence Day recess that party leaders fear will be used by foes of the legislation to tear away support.

The bill rolling back much of President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law has been one of the party’s top priorities for years, and the delay is a major embarrassment to Trump and McConnell. At least five GOP senators — conservatives and moderates — had said they would vote against beginning debate.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press.

These senators will make or break the GOP’s health care push

President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to repeal and replace “Obamacare” is now in the hands of a key group of GOP senators who are opposing —or not yet supporting — legislation Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing to bring to a vote this week.

These lawmakers range from moderate to conservative Republicans, and include senators who were just re-elected and a couple facing tough re-election fights. Their concerns about the legislation vary along with their ideology, from those who say it’s overly punitive in ejecting people from the insurance rolls, to others who say it doesn’t go far enough in dismantling former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Satisfying one group risks alienating another.

Trump spent part of the weekend placing phone calls to a handful of these lawmakers, focusing on senators who supported his candidacy — Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky. The next several days will show whether the president’s efforts pay off and if those lawmakers and the others will ultimately fall in line on legislation that would impact health care for millions of Americans, while allowing Trump and GOP leaders to boast of fulfilling a campaign promise seven years in the making.

McConnell has scant margin for error given united Democratic opposition, and can afford to lose only two Republicans from his 52-member caucus.

A look at the key Republican lawmakers:

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THE CONSERVATIVES

Cruz, Paul, Johnson and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah jointly announced their opposition to the legislation as written last Thursday, the same day it was released. They said it did not go far enough to dismantle “Obamacare,” and Johnson also complained of a rushed process.

“They’re trying to jam this thing through,” Johnson complained Monday to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Yet Johnson, like many other congressional Republicans, was elected in 2010 on pledges to repeal Obamacare and has been making that promise ever since. While looking for tweaks that can satisfy the conservatives, Senate GOP leaders are also arguing that any Republican who fails to vote for the leadership bill will be responsible for leaving Obamacare standing.

Few Senate Republicans expect Paul to vote with them in the end, because of opposition he’s long expressed to government tax subsidies going to pay for private insurance, but many expect Cruz could be won over, especially since he’s running for re-election.

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THE ENDANGERED

Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, the only Senate Republican up for re-election next year in a state Hillary Clinton won, surprised Senate GOP leaders by coming out hard against the health legislation at a news conference Friday. Standing next to Nevada’s popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, Heller said he could not support a bill that “takes away insurance from tens of millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Nevadans.”

Nevada is one of the states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The GOP bill would unwind that expansion and cap Medicaid payments for the future. Nevada also has a disproportionate share of older residents under age 65 — when Medicare kicks in — who would likely face higher premiums because the GOP bill gives insurance companies greater latitude to charge more to older customers.

Heller’s fellow moderate Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake, faces similar issues of an aging population in neighboring Arizona. He is viewed as the second-most-endangered GOP incumbent next year after Heller.

Flake has not yet taken stance on the bill but is facing a raft of television ads from AARP and other groups that are opposed.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat seen as a possible Flake challenger next year, said Monday the Senate bill “doesn’t make anyone healthier. It doesn’t make anyone safer.”

But Flake, who was outspoken against Trump during last year’s campaign but has grown quieter since his election, also faces a potential primary challenge from the right.

Both Heller and Flake face the uncomfortable prospect of angering their party’s base if they don’t support the GOP health bill — but alienating general election moderate and independent voters if they do.

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THE MODERATES

Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are fellow moderates who’ve raised concerns about the Senate health bill for a variety of reasons.

On Monday, after the release of a Congressional Budget Office analysis that the bill will leave 22 million more people uninsured over a decade, Collins announced she would oppose an important procedural vote on the legislation this week. Along with potential opposition from Johnson, Paul and Heller on the vote, that could leave leadership struggling to even advance to a final vote on the health care bill.

Collins said that the bill’s Medicaid cuts hurt the most vulnerable and that it doesn’t fix problems for rural Maine.

Murkowski has not taken a position but has also expressed concerns about the impacts on a rural, Medicaid-dependent population, as well as funding cuts to Planned Parenthood.

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THE TWO-ISSUE SENATORS

Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia are generally reliable votes for GOP leadership. In this case, both have two specific, and related, concerns causing them heartburn on the health bill: The prevalence of opioid addiction in their states, and their constituents’ reliance on Medicaid.

In many cases, voters with addiction problems rely on Medicaid for treatment help, and Portman and Capito both represent states that expanded Medicaid under Obama’s law.

Last year about 100,000 low-income West Virginia residents with Medicaid coverage had drug abuse diagnoses, according to state health officials.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Darryl Paulson: Midterm elections boost Democratic chances

Democrats are looking forward to the 2018 midterm election with great hopes of regaining political control of the House and Senate. Democrats would need to pick up 24 House seats and three Senate seats to capture the majority.

Democrats hope to pick up anywhere between one and four seats in Florida with the seat of retiring Republic Ileana Ros-Lehtinen their top priority. Other Republican targets include Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Brian Mast. A three-seat switch would give Democrats majority control of the Florida delegation.

A big plus for Democrats is that the party controlling the White House has lost an average of 30 House seats and four Senate seats in the past 21 midterm elections. If the Democrats can achieve the average midterm gains, they will take control of both houses.

President Barack Obama and the Democrats lost 63 House seats in 2010, with most of the losses attributed to the passage of Obamacare. Obama and the Dems lost 13 more seats in the 2014 midterm. The loss of 76 seats in the two Obama midterms gave Republicans their current 241 to 194 advantage.

President George W. Bush gained 8 seats in the 2002 midterm, becoming only the second president in the past 21 midterms to gain seats. The gain was attributed to public support for the president in the aftermath of 911. In the 2006 midterm, Bush and the Republicans lost 30 seats.

President Bill Clinton lost 54 seats in 1994 due to a reaction to his failed attempt to pass health care. Four years later, Clinton became the only other president in the past 21 midterms to gain seats. Democrats picked up five seats in 1998, a reaction to the Republican overreach in their attempt to impeach the president.

The largest midterm loss in the past 21 midterms occurred in the 1922 midterm of President Warren Harding. The Republicans lost 77 seats.

Midterms clearly are bad news for the party controlling the White House, which means Republicans will confront a major obstacle in 2018. In addition, Trump’s low approval rate, 34 percent, is historically low for an incoming president.

Not only is President Donald Trump unpopular, but so is his major legislative priority, the American Health Care Act. The public has strongly opposed the Republican plan with 55 percent strongly opposing the plan in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

It is worth remembering that two of the largest midterm losses were related to health care. Clinton and the Democrats lost 54 seats when his health care plan failed, and Obama and the Democrats lost 63 seats when health care was approved. Will a similar fate confront Trump and the Republicans in 2018?

Republicans point to the fact that they are five-for-five in winning special congressional elections since Trump became president. But, special elections have been poor indicators of electoral success in midterm elections.

Democrats should not be over-optimistic even though almost all political factors favor them. Likewise, Republicans should not be optimistic because of their success in special elections.

If Democrats fail to win political control in the 2018 midterm elections, look for Democrats to thoroughly out their leaders, especially in the House, and replace them with younger, more articulate leaders for the party. The current House leaders have an average age in the mid-70’s.

It is past time for new faces and new leadership.

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Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.

Rick Scott heads to D.C. to lobby for ‘Florida interests’ in health care bill, avoids specifics

Rick Scott heads to Washington D.C. this week, ostensibly to meet with members of the Florida GOP congressional delegation regarding the health care bill unveiled last Thursday by Senate Republicans.

What Scott thinks of the bill, or what changes he believes are warranted, remains a mystery.

“I want to thank President Trump; he’s absolutely committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare. I think that’s positive,” the governor declared to a small group of reporters Monday afternoon.

The comments came after Scott introduced former state Representative and Public Service Commission (PSC) member Jimmy Patronis as Florida’s new Chief Financial Officer during an event in the new offices of Aero Simulation, located near I-4 and U.S. 301 in East Tampa.

The governor kept it vague when asked to specify his exact concerns about the new bill, which was just published Thursday and may (or may not) come before the full Senate by the end of this week. When looking at the legislation, Scott said he is guided by two main thoughts: One, Florida is treated fairly in the process; two, that everyone has the right to choose the most suitable health care plan.

“We all pay our own taxes; we should be treated fairly in how those dollars come back to our state,” Scott said. “You should have the right to choose the insurance that fits you and your family.”

Critics of the GOP proposals in both the House and the Senate focus on the more than $800 billion in proposed cuts to Medicaid, which go toward fulfilling their stated mandate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

In Tampa, Congresswoman Kathy Castor said earlier Monday that those cuts would be devastating to Floridians, with so much of those funds being used to keep seniors in nursing homes.

“What’s important to be me is that Florida [is] treated fairly,” Scott reiterated in response to those concerns.

“As you know when I came in, our Medicaid program had been growing way faster than our general revenues,” he said. “We came up with a better way of doing it. We’ve seen a reduction in the cost per capita of our Medicaid population. It’s very important that people have access to good quality health care at a price. Whether you’re paying for it, your employer’s paying for it, or your government’s paying for it. Somebody’s paying for this. We’ve got to find a way to reduce the cost of health care. The problem with health care is that it cost too much.”

When asked again if he had specific issues with the bill, whose contents have been argued about nationally in the past few days, the governor chose to ignore the question.

“We know that President Trump inherited a mess,” he responded. “Obamacare was spiraling out of control. The costs were skyrocketing, they’ve gone up way too fast.”

Every governor in the country is obviously concerned with what will transpire out of Washington on health care.

But for Scott, the interest is intense. Before becoming governor seven years ago, the most important part of his resume was in the 1990s, his years as the head of the massive Columbia/HCA hospital chain.

It was at that time, Scott led the private sector activism against Hillary Clinton‘s attempt to remake health care.

After leaving HCA/Columbia in the late 90s (where it incurred the largest Medicare fraud in U.S. history, totaling $1.7 billion), Scott again resurfaced as the face of the opposition to a Democratic Party-based plan to again reform the health care system, this time under Barack Obama in 2009.

That’s when Scott formed Conservatives for Patients Rights, a vehicle designed to stop Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

“I used to run the largest hospital company in the country, that’s very important,” Scott told reporters Monday. “So I’m going to keep fighting for the things that I believe in.”

(Shortly after the governor’s news conference, the Congressional Budget Office announced the Senate’s bill would increase the number of people without health insurance by 22 million by 2026.)

Scott was in Tampa Monday afternoon for the third of three scheduled stops where he was traveling with Patronis, an earlier Scott appointee to the PSC and the Constitution Revision Commission in March.

In becoming CFO, Patronis resigned from both of those positions.

Speaking with reporters, Patronis begged off any discussion that he might be thinking about a CFO candidacy in 2018.

“They’ll be plenty of time to talk about politics later, right now I’m just really focused on getting up to speed on the job duties of the CFO’s office,” he said, adding that he’ll sit down with outgoing CFO Atwater Tuesday to learn more about the position.

“I wanted somebody who really cared about the state, he understands business, he understands the impact that taxes have, that regulations have, he’s served in the Legislature,” Scott said. “What I can tell you about Jimmy Patronis is he’ll always try to do the right thing. I look forward to working with him at the Governor/Cabinet meetings, because I know he’ll always show up and be thoughtful about the decision-making process.”

Among those attending the news conference were Tampa Bay-area Republicans Tom Lee, Wilton Simpson, Chris Latvala and Shawn Harrison. Patronis’ former PSC colleague Julie Brown was also there.

Donald Trump returning to Iowa, where he may find remorseful independent voters

Iowa independents who helped Donald Trump win the presidency see last year’s tough-talking candidate as a thin-skinned chief executive and wish he’d show more grace.

Unaffiliated voters make up the largest percentage of the electorate in the Midwest state that backed Trump in 2016, after lifting Democrat Barack Obama to the White House in party caucuses and two straight elections. Ahead of Trump’s visit to Iowa Wednesday, several independents who voted for Trump expressed frustration with the president.

It’s not just his famous tweetstorms. It’s what they represent: a president distracted by investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and a court battle over his executive order barring refugees from majority-Muslim countries at the expense of tangible health care legislation and new tax policy.

“He’s so sidetracked,” said Chris Hungerford, a 47-year-old home-business owner from Marshalltown. “He gets off track on things he should just let go.”

And when he does spout off, he appears to lack constraint, said Scott Scherer, a 48-year-old chiropractor from Guttenberg, in northeast Iowa.

“Engage your brain before you engage your mouth,” Scherer advised, especially on matters pertaining to investigations. “Shut up. Just shut up, and let the investigation run its course.”

Scherer said he would vote again for Trump, but pauses a long time before declining to answer when asked if he approves of the job the president is doing.

Cody Marsh isn’t sure about voting for Trump a second time. The 32-year-old power-line technician from Tabor, in western Iowa, says, “It’s 50-50.”

“People don’t take him seriously,” he said.

Unaffiliated, or “no party” voters as they are known in Iowa, make up 36 percent of the electorate, compared with 33 percent who register Republican and 31 percent registered Democrat. Self-identified independents in Iowa voted for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton by a 13-percentage-point margin last year, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks

They helped him capture 51.8 percent of the overall vote against Clinton.

Nationally, exit polls showed independents tilted toward Trump over Clinton by about a 4-percentage-point margin in November, but an AP-NORC poll conducted in June found that about two-thirds of them disapprove of how he’s handling his job as president.

In North Carolina, Republican pollster Paul Shumaker says he has seen internal polling that has warning signs for his state, where Trump prevailed last year. Independent voters are becoming frustrated with Trump, especially for failing so far to deliver on long-promised household economic issues such as health care, said Shumaker, an adviser to Republican Sen. Richard Burr.

Inaction on health care and any notable decline in the economy will hurt Trump’s ability to improve his numbers with independents, with broad implications for the midterm elections next year, Shumaker said. At stake in 2018 will be majority control of the House. A favorable map and more Democrats up for re-election make the GOP more likely to add to its numbers in the Senate.

“How the president and members of Congress move forward and address the kitchen-table issues facing the American voters will determine the outcome of the 2018 elections,” he said.

In Iowa Wednesday, Trump will be rallying his Republican base in Cedar Rapids.

Earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence attended Republican Sen. Joni Ernst‘s annual fundraiser, where he talked about job growth and low unemployment since the start of the year, although economists see much of it as a continuation of Obama policies.

Trump has only been in office five months.

It’s a message the Republican establishment is clinging to, especially those looking ahead to 2018.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, installed last month to succeed new U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad, said last week of Iowa voters: “I think they are confident that President Trump and this administration are doing the job that they said that they would do, going out there and making America great again.”

But Trump has to worry about people like Richard Sternberg, a 68-year-old retired high school guidance counselor from Roland, in central Iowa, who voted for Trump. But is Sternberg satisfied? “Not completely.”

He is bothered by Trump’s proposed cut to vocational education, an economic lift for some in rural areas.

“We, especially in Iowa, need those two-year technically trained people,” Sternberg said.

More broadly, Trump needs to act more “presidential,” he said.

“Trump speaks before he thinks,” Sternberg said. “He doesn’t seem to realize what the president says in the form of direct communication or Twitter carries great weight and can be misconstrued if not carefully crafted.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Fact check: Donald Trump keeps much of Barack Obama’s Cuba policy

President Donald Trump’s announcement that he’s “cancelling” his predecessor’s policy toward Cuba is a good deal less than meets the ear.

Trump’s move, announced Friday in Miami, actually leaves in place most of the important elements of President Barack Obama’s moves to open relations with the island.

And while his policy has the stated aim of helping the country’s nascent private sector, it contains a measure that could damage thousands of small-business people who host, feed and transport independent American travelers to Cuba.

Trump’s policy keeps a U.S. Embassy open in Havana and allows U.S. airlines and cruise ships to continue service to Cuba. Cuban-Americans can still send money to relatives and travel to the island without restriction. U.S. farmers can continue selling their crops to the Cuban government.

The new policy aims to starve military-linked businesses of cash by banning any U.S. payments to them. It pledges to help the entrepreneurial class that has grown since President Raul Castro enacted changes after taking office a decade ago.

“Effective immediately, I am canceling the previous administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Trump said. “We will very strongly restrict American dollars flowing to the military, security and intelligence services that are the core of the Castro regime.” He promised, “concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people so they can open private businesses and begin to build their country’s great, great future.”

The policy will undoubtedly reduce the flow of cash to GAESA, the military-linked conglomerate that operates dozens of hotels and other tourism-related businesses. But those businesses host hundreds of thousands of Canadian, European and Latin American tourists a year, and do unfettered business with corporations from around the world, reducing the impact of any U.S. cutoff.

Weakening the impact further, Trump’s policy carves out exceptions in the military ban for airlines, cruise ships, agricultural sales and remittances.

The policy also allows Americans to continue patronizing state-run hotels and other businesses that are not directly linked with Cuba’s military and state security services. And, of course, nothing prevents the Cuban government from simply moving revenue over to the military or state security, a vulnerability in the policy that the White House has not addressed.

The policy risks harming independent business people by restoring a requirement for most American travelers to visit Cuba as part of tightly regulated tour groups. The Cuban government has traditionally steered those tour groups to state-run business, meaning the majority of American travelers to Cuba will probably no longer be able to patronize private restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts and taxi drivers.

Private entrepreneurs say Americans represent a disproportionate share of their revenue because they spend more than other travelers for high-end services that badly run state-operated business typically cannot provide.

Trump also demanded the return of U.S. fugitives including Joanne Chesimard, a black militant convicted in 1977 of the murder of a New Jersey state trooper.

“The harboring of criminals and fugitives will end,” Trump said. “You have no choice. It will end.”

Many of the high-profile fugitives in Cuba are black or Puerto Rican militants who were offered political asylum by Fidel Castro during the 1970s and 1980s.

Cuba has repeatedly said it will not renege on the promise of the former president, who died in November.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

At Florida Democrats Leadership Gala, Joe Biden argues progressives can still win working class vote

In the immediate aftermath of Hillary Clinton‘s stunning Electoral College loss to Donald Trump last November, Democrats took to writing think pieces and conducting heated arguments about how they lost working-class white voters.

Questions like: Was it too much of “identity politics”? Were they too elitist?

Joe Biden has heard and read about those discussions, and he’s sick of them.

“This phony debate going on in the Democratic Party, the Hobbesian choice that we’re given — we either become less progressive, and focus on working folks, or forget about working folk and become more progressive,” he said while giving the keynote speech to more than 1,200 Democrats at the party’s Leadership Blue Gala at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood.

“There is no need to choose, they are not inconsistent,” he said to a cheering crowd.

That’s easy for Biden to say. Biden’s unique political persona as a longtime member of the U.S. Senate representing Delaware has been one of representing the working class whites that Clinton lost to Trump last fall.

Biden himself thought hard about running for president, but with no clear daylight and so much of the Democratic Party establishment supporting Clinton (including President Barack Obama), he opted to stand down, but made the case on Saturday that the party could win back those voters, with an obvious inference being that he could be that candidate to do so in 2020.

Citing congressional ratings that showed him to be among the top ten liberal senators in the nation in his 36-year career, Biden said he has been a progressive and someone who could capture the working class vote, so Democrats should know that they could get those votes as well.

“These folks we’re talking about who left us — they voted for a black man named Barack Obama!” 

In fact, exit polls show that approximately 12 percent of voters who supported Obama turned around and chose Trump in 2012.

The former Vice President talked about the working class voters that the Democratic lost in the crucial Rust Belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. He said it was things like digitalization and automation that are putting people out of work, in what he called “this fourth industrial revolution” which is causing real anxiety and fear among many Americans.

“They’re worried that they won’t be able to keep up,” he said. “So we saw of playing to their fears, their lesser angels, their basic instincts, rather than their better angels can still have a powerful impact as a political tool.”

He then dug deep into what he said was the “hopelessness” of some of these Americans, mentioning the statistic that white men aged 45-54 who are dying at a quicker rate than any other demographic right now.

“Highest rate of drug abuse. Not the ‘hood. There,” he barked.

And Biden talked about how that anxiety can play out by lashing out at “the others,” such as undocumented immigrants, Muslims and the transgendered. “Anyone not like you can become the scapegoat.”

It was a compelling speech, marred only by a detour into how cutting tax loopholes could free up money to pay for the community college being the only soft spots in the 51-minute address.

He also chastised Democrats for failing to think big, going for an incremental change instead.

“What the hell is happening?!” he asked. “We build new things by breaking old things.”

“No, no. I’m being deadly earnest,” he followed up, one of half-dozen times he would point out his previous comment, making sure everyone knew he wasn’t joking.

While his intensity came close to yelling at the audience at points, a few times he dropped down to a whisper, where the audience had to literally lean in to hear him, such as when he described a conversation with his father, who once told him: “Joey, I don’t expect government to be able to solve our problems, but I do expect them to understand them. Just understand them.”

Remaining sotto voce, Biden admitted: “That slice of people that Barack and I had, Democrats have always had, that don’t think we understand them anymore. It’s not a lot, but it was the difference in the election.”

The former VP also asked for more civility in our politics, without mentioning the current president’s name. “We have to treat the opposition with more dignity,” he said, then boasted that there wasn’t a single Republican on Capitol Hill who doesn’t trust him or won’t talk to him.

The 74-year-old Biden recently launched “American Possibilities PAC,” a political-action committee that will keep him engaged to help other Democrats, but immediately sparked more discussion about a possible 2020 run, when he would be 77.

Then again, Donald Trump is already the oldest president in our history, having turned 71 last week.

Though there will be plenty of other Democrats in the mix, two of the leading lights — Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — will also be in their 70s in three years. Sanders would be 78; Warren would be 71.

Rick Scott: hope for a free Cuba better for Florida than current thaw

Readying to join President Donald Trump in Miami Friday for the president’s expected reinstitution of economic sanctions on Cuba, Florida Gov. Rick Scott indicated in Orlando Friday morning that he is ready to support such a move.

At a jobs announcement in Orlando, Scott said he’s convinced the long-term economic advantage of democracy and economic freedom in Cuba is preferable for Florida to any business opportunities and other relationships opening due to the thaw and lifting of economic sanctions that President Barack Obama initiated.

“I’m going to fight for Cuban families to have freedom,” Scott said. “Long-term, that’s good for every Cuban family that’s come here.”

Scott would not respond to press inquiries allowing that Cuba’s regime had survived more than 50 years of strict U.S. sanctions without moving to democracy, and wondering Trump’s vision might be different from that long-standing U.S. policy. Scott said he was looking forward to hearing what the president proposes.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with President Trump to let him know about the importance of democracy and freedom in Cuba. He’s known that all along,” Scott said. “I look forward to hearing exactly what he’s going to say today. I believe it is something that is going to push democracy and freedom.”

Scott insisted Obama’s policy didn’t work. He cited Cuban President Raul Castro‘s human rights crackdowns over the past two years, including almost daily arrests and detainments of the “Ladies in White” protesters. Scott did not directly respond to questions about whether he thought the Obama policy had helped Florida businesses, or improved situations in which Cuba was cooperating on such matters as human trafficking.

“Barack Obama capitulated. Raul Castro hasn’t changed. He’s gotten worse,” Scott said.

“The reality in this: more democracy in Latin America means more jobs in Florida, whether that’s through our ports, or whether that’s through people doing business here… we need more democracy,” he added.

 

Cuba hardliners, U.S. defenders battle over new Donald Trump policy

Cuba’s best friends in the U.S. used to be a smattering of Washington policy wonks and leftists who sent donated school buses and computers to the communist-led island.

Five months into the Trump administration, Cuba has a new set of American defenders: a coalition of high-tech firms, farming interests, travel companies and young Cuban-Americans thrown into action by the looming announcement of a new Cuba policy. On the opposite side, hardline members of Miami’s Cuban exile community who suddenly have a direct line to the White House through Cuban-American Republican members of Congress and the administration.

President Donald Trump planned to announce the new policy on Friday in Miami but had not yet decided all the details, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations.

The U.S. Embassy in Havana will remain open, but Americans can expect actions by the Departments of State, Treasury and Homeland Security to ban U.S. trade with any Cuban entity linked to the military. Also planned: a reduction in the number of categories for which Americans do not need U.S. government licenses to go to Cuba. The U.S. will demand greater internet access and the release of prisoners and return of American fugitives in Cuba. President Barack Obama’s repeal of the special Cuban immigration privileges known as wet-foot/dry-foot will not change, the official said.

“If this were a traditional policy environment, we’d be having great success,” said Collin Laverty, head of one of the biggest Cuba travel companies and a consultant for U.S. corporations seeking business in Cuba. “We’re certainly winning the debate for public opinion and in foreign policy circles, but unfortunately it appears that it’ll come down to a backroom political deal between the president and Cuban-American members of Congress.”

The most prominent figures still seeking a reversal in the opening are Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both Cuban-Americans. The Trump government wants to maintain good relations with both Rubio, who sits on the Senate committee investigating Trump’s relations with Russia, and Diaz-Balart, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Laverty is one of the most prominent figures in the new pro-Cuba lobby, which has been furiously tweeting and writing letters to the White House in a last-minute rush to sell the Trump administration on the benefits of the friendly relations established by President Barack Obama on Dec. 17, 2014. A particular focus is saving Obama’s easing of U.S. travel to Cuba, which tripled the number of American travelers to the island and pumped tens of millions of dollars into the island’s private hospitality sector.

“Thousands of Americans are visiting Cuba and fueling the fastest growth in its private sector since 1959,” CubaOne, a group of young pro-engagement Cuban-Americans, wrote in an open letter to Trump Monday.

After months of public silence, Airbnb last week released a report on its activities in Cuba, which have put $40 million into the hands of private bed-and-breakfast owners since the online lodging giant became the first major U.S. company into Cuba in the wake of Obama’s declaration of detente. Google, which installed servers on the island to speed Cuban internet service last year, spoke out for the first time Monday in favor of maintaining relations.

“Google has played a formative role in the first chapter of Cuba’s connectivity story, but this is just the beginning,” Brett Perlmutter, head of strategy and operations for Google Cuba, said at a conference in Miami on Monday. “Connecting Cuba will require an entire ecosystem of players … It will also require the US maintaining a policy that allows telecommunications firms work in Cuba.”

Even the Cuban government is getting into the game, with high-ranking diplomats tweeting pro-engagement articles and foreign correspondents given a series of interviews with officials from the powerful, secretive Interior Ministry about the new era of U.S-Cuban cooperation in areas such as human trafficking, drug smuggling and the prosecution of fugitives.

Two officials told The Associated Press that they were now in regular contact with the FBI, DEA and other U.S. law-enforcement agencies, sharing information about investigations that cross jurisdictions.

“The start of direct relations between the agencies has already shown results,” Lt. Col. Yoandrys Gonzalez Garcia, head of the Cuban National Police, told the AP. “Going back now would send a bad message to delinquents and criminals that there can be impunity.”

Those messages are scoffed at by many members of South Florida’s Cuban-American exile community, who call for starving Cuba of funds in order to topple its communist government and bring capitalism and multi-party democracy to the island. While most Americans support closer relations with Cuba, Cuban-Americans’ ability to influence Florida’s 29 electoral has long given them heavy influence over American policy.

“We’re confident that the president has listened to us. We’re confident that it will be a step in the right direction,” said Marcell Felipe, president of the Inspire America Foundation, an anti-Castro group that has been running ads on Spanish-language stations in Miami urging Cuban-Americans to demand a hardline policy from Trump.

He said he agreed with pro-engagement forces that their efforts were likely in vain.

“The real question to them there is, ‘Why is it that we have an inside line to the White House?” Felipe said. “It’s because we have the votes.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Darryl Paulson: In defense of politics

Some readers may be incapable of getting beyond the title of this article. How in the world can anyone defend politicians and politics? It’s easy and, I would argue, necessary.

One recent study found that Americans rank politicians lower than cockroaches. I hope Americans are expressing their frustration with politicians, but not their actual sentiments. Would you really prefer a houseful of cockroaches to a few politicians?

For 35 years I would introduce my students to politics by claiming politics came from the Greek word “poly” meaning “many many,” and “tics” meaning “ugly bloodsucking parasites.” It was always good for a laugh, and no one ever disagreed.

Americans probably hold politicians and politics in lower esteem than at any point in American history, but it was not always that way. Politics was once a noble endeavor and held in high esteem.

One of President John F. Kennedy‘s favorite books was “Pilgrims Way” by John Buchan. Buchan, a member of Parliament, wrote that “Public life is regarded as the crown of a career, and to young men, it is the worthiest ambition. Politics is still the greatest and most honorable adventure.”

How did politics fall from “the greatest and most honorable adventure,” to ranking below cockroaches? Polarization, hypocrisy and corruption are three primary factors associated with the decline of politics.

Where politicians used to work together to solve the nation’s most pressing problems, the growing polarization means that compromise has been discarded as a political principle. Compromise is seen as weakness and an evil. Anyone willing to work with the other party is viewed as a traitor and will face opposition within his own party in the next election.

For over a half-century, the Gallup Poll has conducted a Partisan Polarization Index to measure the degree of polarization. From the Eisenhower to Carter administration, the index averaged 34 points. That meant that Republicans and Democrats rated their party’s president 34 points higher than the president of the other party.

From the Reagan to the George W. Bush Administration, the polarization index climbed to 55 points. More Republicans and Democrats saw their party’s president as better than that of the other party.

During the Obama administration, the Index skyrocketed to 82 points. Almost all Democrats viewed Obama positively and almost all Republicans viewed Obama negatively. The Gallup Poll has not had sufficient time to release an index for President Trump, but I think no one expects that the polarization index will decline.

Hypocrisy is a second factor in the declining view of politics. Every Republican in the House and all but three Republicans in the Senate opposed Obama‘s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but over 100 Republicans sought funds from that stimulus program.

President Obama and the Democrats attacked the George W. Bush administration for its secrecy and they promised the most transparent administration in history. According to Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, the Obama administration was “the most secretive White House” she had covered.

A third factor in the declining view of politics is corruption. While corruption and politics often go hand in hand, it seems to many that corruption has completely dominated contemporary politics. Most Americans see corruption as the standard operating procedure of politics.

It is easy to blame everything on politicians, but the American public most share the blame. It is the public who has elected and re-elected these polarizing, hypocritical and corrupt politicians to office.

For over a quarter of a century, Florida voters have elected Alcee Hastings as their member of Congress despite the fact that he was impeached and removed from his position as a U.S. District Court judge for accepting bribes and committing perjury. We reap what we sow.

Politics has made important contributions to our nation. In fact, our nation would not exist if it was not for the political efforts of those who opposed the tyranny of the Crown.

Without politics, we would not have our constitution, over which they were great divisions. We would not have ended slavery and kept the nation united without politics. We would not have triumphed over the horrors of fascism in World War II or communism in the Cold War without a united political effort.

Those who denigrate politics and politicians do so at their own peril. There are still many problems that need to be overcome, and all of them will require political solutions.

As Bernard Crick wrote in his book over 50 years ago, “politics does not claim to solve every problem or to make every sad heart be glad,” but where politics is strong, ” it can prevent the vast cruelties and deceits of ideological rule.”

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

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