Bill Nelson Archives - Florida Politics

Universal support for Robert Mueller so far from Florida’s members of Congress

Across the aisles and across the Sunshine State Florida’s members of Congress are universally praising the announcement that former FBI Director Robert Mueller will lead a special investigation into Russian interference in American elections.

Some Democrats, while praising the appointment and Mueller’s integrity, still called for more, including the special commission that Democrats have been pushing for in a bill in the House of Representatives. They also almost universally expressed hope that Mueller will conduct a broad investigation that includes pursuing obstruction of justice allegations against President Donald Trump.

Fewer Florida Republicans than Democrats responded Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, but those who did expressed confidence that Mueller’s appointment is the right move, and that Mueller is the right man for the job.

Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall once again got out front of other Republican in expressing concerns over Russia, going on MSNBC Wednesday night and alluding to the prospect that the Russians had American insiders helping them with their election influence operation.

“Because we all want to get to the bottom of what the Russians did to influence this election, and we need to know if any U.S. persons collaborated or colluded with the Russians, this is something that will get us much closer to the truth,” Curbelo told Greta Van Susteren on the For The Record With Greta show. “And it’s something we should be very happy about.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who’d been among the first and most vocal of Republicans to raise concerns about Russian interference last fall, but who had remained fairly quiet as news bombs exploded earlier this week, applauded the Mueller appointment, while cautioning that he still wants the Senate to run its own investigation.

“Mr. Mueller is widely respected for his independence and professionalism. I have confidence that he will conduct a fair and thorough investigation,” Rubio said in a written statement. “For the sake of the country, all parties must fully cooperate with his efforts that are focused on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This effort should in no way be allowed to impede the ability of the Senate Intelligence Committee to conduct and conclude its investigation into the same subject. It is my hope that these investigations will now move expeditiously.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson offered the hope that Mueller will get everything he needs.

“Bob Mueller has the experience to conduct a thorough investigation. Now, the administration must provide him the resources and independent authority he needs to follow the facts wherever they lead,” Nelson said in his statement.

Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key called Mueller “a man of integrity and independence.”

“Bob Mueller is a great choice to lead the investigation as the newly appointed special counsel. A former FBI director, Mueller is a man of integrity and independence who can be expected to conduct a thorough inquiry into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Mueller will get to the truth and give the American people confidence in the outcome of the investigation.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City called for truth.

“We should never run or hide from the truth,” Mast stated in a release. “If we seek out truth and embrace it then Americans can know we all play by the same set of rules.  I hope Former FBI Director Robert Mueller can be looked at as unbiased and his finding respected by all involved.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami called Mueller “no-nonsense.”

“I applaud the appointment of no-nonsense Mueller to lead the investigation of the negative interference of Russia in our democratic process,” she tweeted.

Republican Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami said the matter deserves the attention.

“By appointing former FBI Director Mueller as special counsel, the Justice Department recognizes the attention this matter requires,” he wrote in a statement. I expect Mr. Mueller will conduct this in a professional and thorough manner, just as he led the FBI for 12 years through two presidencies.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando called the move “brilliant” but held out a demand that the commission House Democrats have been seeking still gets established.

“The American people deserve answers. The appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller is a brilliant choice. Based on my knowledge of him, he will be relentless in his pursuit of the facts. He is well up to the task,” she wrote in a statement. “Now, we need an independent commission to ensure we protect our democracy and send a strong message that we will not tolerate any  interference in our elections from anyone.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park agreed, on social media posts.

“The appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation is a positive step toward uncovering the truth. We must follow the facts,” she wrote. “However, we still need an independent commission on Russia’s interference and hacking in our 2016 elections to inform the public and to determine how we can prevent future attacks on our democracy. “

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg expressed his confidence in Mueller.

“This is a very significant step and a win for our democracy and the American people,” he declared in a written statement. “Robert Mueller has broad respect across party lines and is the right person to lead such an important and sensitive investigation. We must get to the bottom of the Russia question, letting facts guide us to the truth.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa urged everyone, including Trump, to fully cooperate with Mueller.

“The appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate potential wrongdoing between Russia and President Trump is an important and overdue step to fully uncover the extent of Russian meddling in our political system and potential obstruction of justice,” she wrote. “A fully independent investigation outside of the partisan politics of Congress is required to restore public trust. This is a tall order and I hope the Special Counsel is up to this task. The appointment comes on the heels of intransigence by Congressional Republicans who as late as this afternoon refused to bring to the House floor a bipartisan bill I have co-sponsored to establish a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the malign Russian influence on our democratic system, the Trump campaign, and his administration. I urge President Trump, all of his associates and all who love this country to be forthright and do everything they can to cooperate and aid the investigation. The American people deserve no less.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston insisted the investigation must be as broad as possible.

“I’m encouraged by the Justice Department’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump-Russia connection, and I have a deep respect for former FBI Director Mueller. Assuming he is given true independence, this appointment will remove some of the clouds that have hung over our system of justice during this deeply troubling situation. It’s certainly overdue,” she said in a written statement. “However, the investigation must include Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, the Kremlin’s possible ties to the Trump campaign, and the President’s alleged interference in the Michael Flynn investigation. This is a positive step, but more still needs to be done to ensure that we provide the whole truth to the American people.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton said something similar in a tweet:

“Important step in Russia investigation. But any investigation must include possible obstruction of justice by POTUS,” he tweeted.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach called for vigilance.

“Thanks to public outcry, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein names a special counsel in Russia probe. Americans must stay vigilant,” she tweeted.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens specifically cited Trump’s presidential campaign as a target.

“The appointment of Robert Mueller to investigate possible ties between President Trump’s campaign and the Russian government is a long-awaited step in the right direction,” she said in a written statement. “After a week of constant controversy, Americans’ faith in government may begin to be restored. I applaud Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for having the courage to name a special counselor, a decision that Mr. Trump has denounced as a ‘witch hunt.’ My view is that if there is no connection between the president or his campaign and Russia, he should have nothing to worry about. Mr. Mueller is widely viewed as a man of the highest integrity who can be counted on to maintain that standard. I hope he will have all of the authority and resources necessary to conduct a thorough investigation, no matter where it may lead him.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee called the appointment a step in the right direction, but insisted on the independent commission.

“Appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel is a step in the right direction for continuing the investigation into Russia’s possible involvement in our democracy, but we still need an independent commission in order to ensure a thorough investigation,” Lawson said in a written statement. “The American people deserve to know the full truth.”

 

Carlos Curbelo raises obstruction of justice concerns as some Republicans join Dems’ call for testimony, memo

As Florida’s Democratic members of Congress entered another day of denouncements toward new reports of President Donald Trump actions – this time involving former FBI Director James Comey – Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo raised strong concerns about potential obstruction of justice by the president.

And other Florida Republicans are joining in a call to get Comey and his now famous memo in front of Congress.

In a late-night interview on CNN, Curbelo, of Kendall, said Congress should subpoena Comey and his documents and question him about the validity of reports that the president asked him to “put aside” an investigation, and that Comey wrote a memo detailing the conversation.

In an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon airing shortly before midnight Tuesday, Curbelo stressed that the truth is not known about the Trump-Comey meeting, but that an action such as that attributed to Comey’s memo could be construed as obstruction of justice. And Curbelo said the House of Representatives has found in the past, in proceedings against Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, that obstruction of justice “has been considered an impeachable offense.”

Multiple media reports Tuesday and Wednesday, starting with the New York Times, citing unnamed sources, say that after a Feb. 14 meeting in the oval office Comey wrote an internal memo reporting that the president asked him to “let go” an FBI investigation into whether former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had inappropriate dealings with Russia.

The White House denied that Trump made any such request.

“We have to hear from Director Comey,” Curbelo told Lemon. “Any effort to stop the federal government from continuing an investigation, any effort to dissuade federal agents from proceeding in an invesigation, is very serious, and could be construed as obstruction of justice.

“I’m not accusing anyone,” Curbelo added. “We don’t know what happened.”

Both Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Vern Buchanan also called for Comey and his memo to appear before Congress to start delving deeper to seek the truth.

“Mr. Comey should be asked to testify in public so that Congress and the American people can get all the facts and learn the truth,” Buchanan, of Longboat Key, said in a statement issued late Wednesday morning. “And we need to see Mr. Comey’s memo regarding his discussion with the president. Transparency is the best disinfectant.”

Mast, of Palm City, said Congress should have access to “whatever Comey memo or notes exist.”

“Speaking about intelligence, it’s a very serious thing,” Mast said in a written statement. “The way that you gather it is a very fragile thing. And it should be taken very seriously because irreparable harm can be done for a long time.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami tweeted, “I hope to get a full and complete briefing on details when they become available.”

In some ways, their comments were as strong as any provided by Florida Democrats following the Trump-Comey meeting reports, which followed within hours of the previous controversy, involving reports that Trump had shared highly-sensitive, highly-classified information with Russian diplomats.

Among Democrats, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson stated, “If true, this is another piece to the puzzle and it does not look good for the White House.”

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park said much the same as Curbelo:

“This is a very serious allegation,” Murphy said in a statement. “Congress must obtain all relevant information about this conversation, and James Comey must testify in an open forum. Congress must also subpoena White House senior officials and all of Comey’s memos related to his conversations with the President. We need a comprehensive, bipartisan investigation that can follow the facts and uncover the truth.”

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg renewed his call for a special prosecutor:

“If accurate, the President was attempting to impede an FBI investigation with national security implications. It’s just wrong, plain and simple,” Crist stated in a release. “The President is not above the law, but frighteningly it appears he thinks he is. If this isn’t the final straw making clear the need for a special prosecutor, I don’t know what is.”

U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando said the new reports set off an alarm for every member of Congress.

“On the surface this appears to be obstruction of justice, which is why I’m joining my democratic colleagues on the House Oversight Committee in asking for a launch an immediate joint investigation with the House Judiciary Committee,” she stated.

“We need to investigate whether President Donald Trump and his top officials are engaging in an ongoing conspiracy to obstruct the criminal, counter-intelligence, and oversight investigations currently being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice, and Congress into members of his presidential campaign and their contacts with Russian officials,” she added.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando called the latest reports “the most damning” yet.

“FBI Director Comey’s notes detail that Trump asked him to drop the case against Gen Flynn. This constitutes the most damning evidence of obstruction of justice yet,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “The revelation comes after news that Trump released highly classified info to Russians putting our country and allies in jeopardy. Time for independent investigative commission!”

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton said America is enduring “one shocking revelation after another.”

“The President asked the FBI Director to shut down one investigation, then fired the FBI Director in order to shut down another investigation. In the end, the President’s actions must lead to a new, fully independent investigation to determine any evidence of undue influence or obstruction of justice by this White House,” Deutch stated.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach accused Trump of abusing power.

“The latest report that President Trump asked former FBI director Comey ‘to forget about Mike Flynn’ is just the latest string of disturbing occasions of this President abusing his power,” she stated. “It’s clear we need an independent investigation of whether there is connection between the Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election and the Trump campaign.”

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens called Coomey “a perfect witness.”

“I see bombshells dropping everywhere. And from what I understand and what I have read and seen, our president needs to take an eighth-grade civics course because he doesn’t understand government. You cannot obstruct justice. You cannot threaten people. And now that he has fired the director of the FBI, we have a perfect witness in someone who can give us all of the details that we need to know. I’m hoping that he will spill the beans, and spill his gut, and tell everything he knows about Russia’s ties to our election and the president’s ties to Russia,” said Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24). “We have to find out the truth. And someone needs to help Mr. Trump because he doesn’t realize that he is on the brink of impeachment. People will begin to call for him to be impeached. The Republicans will have to join in because they need be on the right side of history. The world is watching us. And it’s a shame the way that we are showing up in the news every single day with some travesty involving the president. He has to understand this is not a reality show. He is the president of the United States.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston allowed for either obstruction of justice or abuse of executive power in her observation, calling either one disturbing.

“If President Trump pressured then-FBI Director Comey to close down an investigation into former National Security Advisor Flynn, it would represent an egregious corrosion of the rule of law. The latest reports indicate that the President possibly abused his executive power, or attempted to obstruct justice. Either one, if true, would represent one of the most disturbing allegations yet,” she said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

“Along with this latest revelation and President Trump’s subsequent firing of Director Comey, it is increasingly evident that Trump has interfered with an investigation into whether he or his campaign colluded with the Russian government. It is essential that we put our country and the rule of law above politics now, and allow an independent counsel to broadly investigate the Trump-Russia ties without fear of presidential influence,” Wasserman Schultz concluded.

Partly in disbelief, Florida’s members of Congress denounce Donald Trump’s revelations to Russians

A lot of Florida’s Democratic members of Congress are responding with stunned disbelief to news reports — and President Donald Trump‘s Tuesday morning tweet — that he shared classified, highly sensitive ISIS information with Russian diplomats last week, calling the prospect inexcusable and demanding details.

Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and Mario Diaz-Balart also denounced the events, while most other Republican members from Florida have yet to react Tuesday morning to Monday evenings’ news, and Trump’s tweet essentially acknowledging the information exchange.

On the other hand, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge argued that if the concerns are real and serious, the sources who brought the story forward need to be taking their concerns to Congress, not offering unnamed source tips to the media.

“The President has the authority to make decisions regarding our national security and work with other nations to combat international terrorism,” Posey stated. “It’s time for these unnamed sources to come forward and inform Congress and the public of any specific allegations.”

After reports first in The Washington Post and then other major media outlets, Trump responded Tuesday morning with two tweets stating, “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining …” and “… to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Essentially The Washington Post and others had reported that Trump told the Russian officials about intelligence it had gathered on ISIS in Syria, from third-party sources that presumably would not want that information shared with the Russians, who are not aligned with the United States in the multisided Syrian conflicts.

“If the story is true,” began a statement from Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“If these allegations are true,” opened Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando.

“If reports are accurate,” surmised Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton

“If true,” started Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston.

“Putin and the Russian regime are dangerous players in the global arena,” Diaz-Balart stated. “They are not our allies and cannot be trusted with sensitive, classified information.”

Ros-Lehtinen spoke on CBS Miami, and then passed along her essential position in a tweet Tuesday morning: “No one should share classified information with nations like #Russia that have interests adverse to ours.”

Democrats were no less direct, including those who caveated their statements in initial disbelief, calling for damage assessments and more.

And with later reports on Tuesday that the intelligence may have come from Israel, Deutch really let loose.

“It is shocking that President Trump shared classified information reportedly obtained by Israel with the Russians. Not only does this endanger Israel’s intelligence network, but it puts highly sensitive information into the hands of Russia — a partner of Israel’s enemies Syria, Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah,” Deutch said. “Intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel has always been a cornerstone of our relationship, and to jeopardize this while boasting to the Russians puts America’s national security and Israel’s security at serious risk.”

“When you betray the trust of our allies and national security partners, it jeopardizes our safety and future intelligence sharing. As the former vice chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I can’t stress enough how serious of a blunder this is,” declared U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar. “It is imperative that Congress is given a full briefing on the extent of the damage that President Donald John Trump has caused in compromising highly classified code-word intelligence to the Russians.”

“If the story is true, this is a serious breach of security and will have lasting and dangerous consequences for the U.S.,” Nelson said.

“Trump betrays our country & allies when he leaks classified info to Russia,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando.

“The news that the president gave highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador in the Oval Office is deeply, deeply disturbing. His actions are indefensible,” declared U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg. “They delivered a self-inflicted wound to our national security, imperiling secret, sensitive operations overseas battling ISIS, putting the lives of our operatives in grave danger. Congress must exercise its oversight responsibilities immediately. The repercussions of the disclosure, and measures to prevent the President from repeating such a serious error, must be weighed.”

“If these allegations are true, they are inexcusable and deserve immediate action from Congress. In leaking this kind of intelligence, the President would be putting lives in danger. Our allies need to know that they can trust us,” Demings offered.

“As president, Trump has the right to declassify anything he wants, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” offered U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens. “Russia is not our friend, and the sooner he realizes that, the better off our country will be.”

“If true, news reports indicate that President Trump compromised America’s intelligence gathering operations and security, and possibly harmed a relationship with a key ally and put lives at risk,” stated Wasserman Schultz. “His disclosure would be a gravely dangerous compromise of classified information with an adversary. Congress needs an immediate and full briefing on what damage has been done.”

“If reports are accurate, President Trump revealed vital and highly classified information in the Oval Office to Putin’s top officials. This reckless move jeopardizes our intelligence sources, exposes extremely sensitive information, and seriously calls into question our president’s judgment,” Deutch declared in his original statement, before the Israel report. “This dangerous behavior threatens our global alliances in the fight against terrorism and actually makes America less safe.”

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee posted on Facebook, “Reports of President Trump sharing highly sensitive information with Russian officials is extremely concerning. This underscores the need for a Special Prosecutor to investigate this administration’s ties to Russia.”

At a news conference Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa said: “If it’s true that President Trump shared classified information with one of our adversaries while they were invited into the Oval Office, it’s simply outrageous and it undermines the ability of the United States of America to cooperate with our allies across the world, gathering intelligence. It undermines the effectiveness of the brave men and women in our intelligence agencies.”

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, also sent out a tweet, stating, “If other nations can’t trust us to keep shared classified info secret, then they will stop sharing it with us — making us less safe.”

Murphy’s campaign side had a lot more to say on the subject late Tuesday, in a fundraising email, demanding that transcripts of Trump’s meeting with the Russians be sent to Congress for review:

“These leaks could put American lives in danger and no one — not even the President — should be given a free pass for this kind of reckless behavior. Nothing is more important than the safety and security of American citizens. Trump’s leaks to the Russians put our national security at risk and endanger our relationships with key allies.

“In fact, The Associated Press is reporting that other countries may stop sharing intelligence that could prevent future terrorist attacks. As a former National Security specialist with one of the nation’s top security clearances, Stephanie knows the importance of keeping classified information within the intelligence community.

“That’s why she’s taking Trump’s leaks VERY seriously and calling for the immediate release of the meeting transcripts for Congressional review.

“Congress should at least have the same information the Russians now have in their possession. If our President put our nation in danger — we deserve to know.”

The email then directs people to click on a link to send a message to Trump, but the link first sends visitors to a fundraising page for Murphy’s 2018 re-election.

Rick Scott has a friend in White House and foes back home

With a friend and a political ally in the White House, this was supposed to be a moment of triumph for Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

For years, Scott complained and criticized President Barack Obama and contended he wasn’t helping Florida. Now with Donald Trump in office, Scott has worked out a deal with federal officials to provide at least $1 billion for the state’s hospitals and he obtained a promise to move forward with repairs to a federally-operated dike that surrounds the state largest freshwater lake.

But that didn’t help him with the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Instead by the end of this year’s session, Scott’s legislative agenda was in tatters, ignored by GOP legislators he has feuded with for months and criticized during visits to the lawmakers’ hometowns.

And on Tuesday, he bashed the newly-passed $83 billion budget, giving his strongest sign that he may veto the spending plan and force the state House and Senate to reconvene in a special session. He criticized legislators for assembling most of the budget — which covers spending from July of this year to June 2018 — in secret and for refusing to set aside money for his top priorities including money for business incentives.

“I ran for governor to fight career politicians and it’s backroom deals like this that make families think politics is nothing more than a game,” Scott said in a statement. “Just like I do every year, I will make my decisions based on what’s best for our families because my job is to wake up every day and fight for Floridians.”

The Florida Legislature wrapped up its session late Monday, passing a series of budget-related bills that included a pay raise for state workers, a measure to cut funding to the state’s tourism marketing agency by two-thirds and a small boost in money for day-to-day school operations. They also passed a sweeping education bill that includes more than $400 million for teacher bonuses as well as money for charter schools that enroll students now attending failing public schools.

Scott contends the new budget could harm the state’s economy and suppress job creation.

The big question, however, is whether Scott will take the political risk of vetoing the budget since it was passed by overwhelming margins. A Florida governor hasn’t vetoed the entire budget in more than two decades.

Scott, a potential candidate for U.S. Senate next year against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, could be embarrassed if legislators return to the Capitol and override him. It takes a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, meaning Republicans would need Democrats to join with them.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has derided Scott’s requests for business incentives as “corporate welfare” and has ridiculed VISIT Florida for deals such as the secret one where the rapper Pitbull was paid $1 million to promote the state. The Land O’ Lakes Republican has defended his strong stance opposite Scott and criticized politicians he says have flipped positions. Scott backed strong anti-immigration moves in 2010 but then backed off later. The governor also flipped on whether to support Medicaid expansion.

“There’s a war going on for the soul of the party,” said Corcoran, who says he thinks the Legislature has enough votes to block Scott’s veto. “Are we going to be who we say we are?”

Senate Republicans say they tried to back Scott’s priorities and have urged him to sign the new budget. Sen. Bill Galvano, a top Republican from Bradenton, said Scott’s situation was a byproduct of negotiations in order to get a final budget.

“The reality is what it is,” Galvano said. “There’s got to be some give and take.”

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon from Miami Gardens said Republicans should not assume that Democrats will join in an override, especially since there are measures, including the education bill, that were opposed by Democrats.

“You can’t predict that until we see what he vetoes,” Braynon said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Carlos Lopez-Cantera to head federal judicial nominating panel

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera will be the next statewide chair of the panel that vets candidates for federal judges, according to a Thursday statement from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio‘s office.

The purpose of the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission is “to identify highly qualified individuals as finalists to become U.S. district judges in each of the three judicial districts in Florida,” the release said.

“Carlos is well-suited for this position and I am confident he is dedicated to this important process and will successfully lead the commission in identifying exceptional candidates to serve on the federal bench in Florida,” Rubio said.

“I look forward to reviewing the commission’s selections and working with Senator (Bill) Nelson and the president to ensure that these critical positions are filled.”

Added Lopez-Cantera: “I am committed to ensuring that the commission identifies for our senators’ consideration the most qualified applicants to serve as U.S. district judges.

“I am looking forward to working with all of the members of the commission to evaluate candidates based on their qualifications, experience, character, and integrity.”  

According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. CourtsFlorida now has seven U.S. District Court vacancies, the trial level of the courts.

Officially, district judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. But individual senators have veto power over individual candidates, a tradition known as “senatorial courtesy.”

“The commission will send the names of the finalists to Senators Rubio and Nelson for their individual and independent review and, if neither senator objects, those names will be forwarded to the White House for the president’s consideration,” the release said.

 

Joe Henderson: While Rick Scott goes on tour to plead his case, Richard Corcoran keeps piling up wins

While it’s clear what Gov. Rick Scott hopes to accomplish with his barnstorming tour of the state over the next few days, it almost certainly won’t make any difference.

He calls it the “Fighting For Florida’s Future” tour because he wants to fully fund Enterprise Florida so it can continue providing $85 million in taxpayer “incentives” for out-of-state businesses to bring jobs here.

Businesses will come to Florida if they believe they can make money. They don’t need what House Speaker Richard Corcoran has mocked as “corporate welfare” to do that.

Simultaneously, Scott wants to make sure VISIT Florida gets $100 million to promote tourism. Corcoran has offered about a quarter of that. While no one argues that tourists aren’t vital to the state’s economy, Scott would have a better argument for full funding if the agency was more judicious in its spending.

VISIT Florida spent $11.6 million to sponsor a cooking show hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and $1 million so rapper Pitbull could look cool and hip to potential visitors in the cold frozen north.

Scott’s hope for his speaking tour is that people will get riled up enough to call their legislators and demand they approve his agenda.

Yeah. That’ll happen.

He also wants the Legislature to spend $200 million to help fix the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee. That dam was considered a culprit in last summer’s polluted water runoff that led to the disastrous algae bloom.

Pushing for that money makes the governor look like he cares for the environment. A better time to show that might have been before that runoff and while his administration was gutting environmental laws left and right, but I digress.

The bigger picture is that Scott was essentially neutered during this Legislative Session by Corcoran. The governor is now the lamest of ducks, and that won’t help him as he casts a longing eye toward Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat in 2018.

Corcoran outfoxed the governor at every budgetary turn this year and was very public about it. It goes to Corcoran’s core belief that Tallahassee spends too much money and needs to go on a fiscal diet.

It has been assumed the Speaker has considered running for Scott’s soon-to-be vacant governor’s chair, but what if there is something bigger afoot?

While Corcoran would have a tough time breaking through against fellow Republican Adam Putnam to win the Republican nomination for governor, he could draw a strong contrast between himself and Scott if he decided to go for the Senate seat instead.

Hummmmm.

In a lengthy profile on the Speaker, the Tampa Bay Times reported he has already met with the billionaire Koch brothers and appears to have their support for his economic agenda. I’m guessing that would help close the fundraising gap with Nelson and/or Scott if this hypothetical showdown ever happens.

Obviously, this is speculation — the mother’s milk of politics.

But while the governor embarks on what would be better described as a self-immolation tour for a doomed agenda, Corcoran keeps piling up the wins.

Bill Nelson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz vow bipartisan opposition to drilling

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and three Florida members of Congress, Democrats U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch, and Republican Vern Buchanan sounded an alarm Monday against President Donald Trump‘s potential interests in oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts and said they’re gathering bipartisan support in opposition.

Nelson, Wasserman Schultz of Weston, and Buchanan of Longboat Key announced they intend to file bills Monday to tighten protections set in drilling moratoria, adding they already have four other Florida Republican co-sponsors, and hope to get the entire Florida delegation. The bills are a reaction to an executive order Trump signed Friday, re-examining prospects of oil and gas drilling along the Atlantic.

The trio of Democrats gathered Monday at the Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Campus in Dania Beach, joined by Richard E. Dodge, executive director of Nova’s National Coral Reef Institute, to profess the dangers offshore drilling can pose to Florida’s ecology and beach tourism economy. They offered plenty of horrific remembrances of the Deepwater Horizon spill of seven years ago.

“Welcome to paradise,” Nelson said. “We want to keep that paradise.”

Nelson and Wasserman Schultz said they have all of Florida’s Democratic members of Congress and hope to get Florida’s Republican House members to sign on as co-sponsors, and that they already have commitments from Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Brian Mast, Francis Rooney, and Matt Gaetz.

One uncertainty, however, is whether Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will sign onto Nelson’s bill.

Nelson said he has spoken with Rubio, but “he has not signed on yet.”

The current federal bans on oil and gas leases and drilling off both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast extend until 2022. But Trump’s executive order on Friday rescinds a President Barack Obama order banning sonic testing for oil and gas on the Atlantic side, and also orders the U.S. Department of Interior to reassess the oil and gas prospects there.

The bills would require that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Coast Guard weigh in as well, and sets other precautions, such as requiring NOAA to carry out a long-term marine environment monitoring and research program for the Gulf of Mexico. It also would extend the Gulf-side ban through 2027.

Buchanan, a lifelong opponent of drilling off the Florida coast, declared in a news release, “Florida’s beaches are vital to our economy and way of life. Our coastal communities depend on a clean and healthy ocean.”

The sponsors said Trump’s order puts Florida’s coastlines at risk, signaling a desire to open the areas up to oil and gas leases.

“The oil boys will not stop. They think they have a friend in the White House. This is the opening salvo,” Nelson said of Trump’s executive order.

Wasserman Schultz called drilling along Florida’s coasts potential “environmental and economic suicide” for Florida.

“So let me be crystal clear: Florida’s bipartisan congressional delegation locks arms to defend our coast. We are drawing a unified line in the sand,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Bill Nelson: If China can’t deter North Korea’s nuclear plans, it could mean war

According to North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador, the standoff over his country’s nuclear program will end only when the U.S. withdraws its “hostile policy” toward the northeast Asian nation.

In an interview with The Associated Press Friday, Kim In Ryong says his government will not attend “any type of talks which would discuss its nuclear abandonment.”

That includes the U.N. Security Council meeting Friday on the North Korean nuclear issue.

He called it “another abuse” of U.N. authority, acting on instructions of the United States, a veto-wielding member.

Kim said that “it is a wild dream for the U.S. to think of depriving the DPRK (North Korea’s official name) of its nuclear deterrent through military threat and sanctions.”

But neither the Donald Trump administration nor Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, sound like they’re ready to tamp down the rhetoric when it comes to living with a nuclear North Korea.

“I can tell you that this Senator doesn’t want to live with a nuclear North Korea any more than what it has right now,” Nelson told reporters at a news conference at his district office in Tampa Friday. “And that means having an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) that can reach almost the entire U.S.”

Meanwhile, China is calling for North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile activities, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying at a U.N. Security Council ministerial meeting Friday that “use of force … will only lead to bigger disasters.”

While the Trump administration is banking on China pressuring its communist neighbors, Nelson says it would be foolhardy to rely on the Chinese alone to restrain the North’s nuclear ambitions.

“If we’re relying entirely on China, I think it’s going to be a long time coming because the Chinese are not reliable,” the Florida Democrat said. “So if China can’t help us, that leaves one thing left, and that is kinetic action, which is a war.”

With almost 26 million people living in the Seoul metropolitan area, Nelson says “there are no easy answers.”

The senator feels the ideal situation is a nuclear arms deal, similar to what the Obama administration and the western powers executed with Iran in 2015.

But Nelson also acknowledges that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, isn’t likely to back down.

“So, we’re ultimately going to be faced with a war,” Nelson said on a dour note, “or we’re going to have to be faced with a North Korea with a nuclear ICMB that can reach the U.S.”

The U.S. Air Force test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile which traveled over 4,000 miles before splashing down in the South Pacific after launching early Wednesday from a base in California. The test was long-planned, according to defense officials.

When asked about the timing of the test amid threats surrounding North Korea, one official told Fox News“If we had canceled the launch, that would be a story too.”

The U.S. Air Force has 450 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in underground silos across three bases in Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana.

In the coming years, that number will reduce to 400.

Meanwhile, rumors are circulating on Capitol Hill that House Republicans may have enough votes to commit to attempting to pass a health care bill next week.

Disputing that notion, Nelson believes there is still too much dissent within the GOP’s various factions for a vote to make it to the floor.

“I don’t think they’ll pass it in the House,” he says, “because they can’t get their act together, just like they couldn’t a month ago when they tried to pass a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.”

“What we ought to do the fixes to the ACA, and then you don’t throw 24 million people that now have health insurance that never had it before,” Nelson adds. “You don’t throw them out on the street not having any health insurance. That’s what we ought to do, but this all gets balled up in politics, and you get the pushing and tugging, and you get the partisanship and all of that.

“Well, this time you see that, even within one party, you can’t get agreement. So, I don’t anticipate we’re going to have that problem again. We do need to have some fixes (to the ACA).”

Nelson also says he would work with Trump on tax reform, and it needed to come with a plan for infrastructure spending.

It was the same idea then-candidate Trump talked about on the campaign trail but has yet to enact in his first 100 days in office.

Donald Trump order reassesses drilling off South Atlantic coast

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday afternoon to have Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke reevaluate oil and gas drilling prospects along a number of areas of America’s outer continental shelf including the South Atlantic Ocean.

Those include areas along the Florida coast and southeast U.S. coast where oil and gas drilling are currently banned, under a moratorium that Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican then-U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez pushed into law in the past decade.

That ban is set to expire in 2022.

Trump’s executive order targets the entire outer continental shelf. In a release, the White House argued that it potentially could be tapped for up to 90 billion barrels of oil and more than 300 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas deposits.

“I am going to lift the restrictions on American energy, and allow this wealth to pour into our communities,” Trump declared in the release.

Reaction was swift from some quarters in Florida.

Nelson and Democratic U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Ted Deutch of  Boca Raton called a press conference for Monday to detail opposition plans to any drilling off the Florida coast.

Wasserman Schultz and Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan announced they intend to file a bipartisan bill Monday to extend the moratorium for five more years, matching a bill Nelson introduced earlier this year.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, called out Gov. Rick Scott for supporting Trump, and then promised to work tirelessly to protect Florida’s shores and ecosystem.

“President Trump is threatening Florida’s economy, beaches, waterways and natural resources with today’s executive order expanding offshore drilling,” Gillum stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “It’s shameful that Governor Rick Scott is speaking at a political event supporting President Trump when the Administration is so recklessly threatening the very fabric of Florida’s economy.”

Mosquito Zika bills by Darren Soto, Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio pass panels

Two bills with Florida sponsors and cosponsors were approved by committees in both the U.S. Senate and House Wednesday to reauthorize a 2004 law to spend $100 million a year for local grants to help mosquitoes, now in the age of Zika, has been approved by a key committee.

House Resolution 1310, introduced by U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, the Democrat from Orlando, was approved Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

Earlier, U.S. Senate Bill 849, cosponsored by Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, was approved Wednesday by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The House of Representatives bill was cosponsored by 21 others, including a dozen members of Florida’s delegation.

The companion Senate bill was filed by Maine’s independent U.S. Sen. Angus King.

Both bills intend to reauthorize the “Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health Act” (SMASH Act) of 2004.

They would authorize an additional $100 million per year for five years in grant funding to local mosquito-control efforts to eliminate the mosquitoes responsible for spreading the virus.

They also would also authorize additional funding for public health laboratories so they can better test for the virus, and would require the Government Accountability Office to find ways to improve existing mosquito-control programs.

“One of the best ways to curb the spread of the Zika virus is to eliminate the insects known to carry it,” Nelson stated in a news release from hi suffice. “As summer approaches, Florida’s mosquito population is going to rise, and we need to make sure our local mosquito-control boards have the resources they need to protect their communities.”

Although Zika – the mosquito-borne disease that can cause horrific burt defects – has dropped from the news over the winter, the disease is seasonal along with the mosquitoes, and likely to reemerge soon. With more than 1,300 cases of the virus reported last year, no state has been harder hit by Zika than Florida, Nelson noted.

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