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15 big questions facing Florida politics heading into summer

Summer is here — well, unofficially at least. And with it comes cookouts, summer vacations, and the start of the 2018 election cycle (again, unofficially). With a tumultuous legislative session in our rearview mirror and a jam-packed election cycle on the horizon, the answers to these 14 questions (plus a fill-in-the-blank) could shape the future of the state.

Does Gov. Rick Scott veto the budget? The Naples Republican isn’t saying whether he plans to veto the $83 billion spending plan; but really when it comes down it, he isn’t saying much of anything about his plans. Scott has repeatedly taken swipes at lawmakers for slashing funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, as well as raising concerns about transparency. But when asked whether he’ll veto it, Scott has noted he could veto all or part of it.

If Scott were to veto the 2017-18 budget, it would trigger a special session to get a new spending plan in place before the end of the fiscal year. And after a year of legislative defeats, vetoing the entire budget could be a risky move: The House and Senate could overturn a veto with a two-third vote of members present and voting.

The budget passed the House on a 98-14 vote; while the Senate voted 34-4 to approve it, effectively giving it a veto-proof majority in both chambers, assuming no member changes his or her vote.

Will there be a special session? Forget a special session to tackle the budget. Let’s talk about medical marijuana.

Lawmakers failed to pass a bill to implement the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, which passed with 71 percent support in 2016. And almost as soon as the 2017 Legislative Session ended, calls for a Special Session began to pour in.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said he supported one, as did Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Chris Sprowls, among others. Senate President Joe Negron didn’t close the door on it, although he asked for input from his membership; and more than a dozen lawmakers have sent letters to the Department of State in hopes of triggering a special session that way. A special session to tackle medical marijuana is also backed by John Morgan, who bankrolled the 2014 and 2016 constitutional amendments, and the Drug Free America Foundation, which opposed it.

But with about a month until the Department of Health is required to have its rules in place, it’s not entirely clear whether lawmakers will call a special session this summer or wait until committee meetings begin in the fall.

How will the House Speaker’s race play out? Republicans in the House approved a rule that said Speaker candidates can only officially begin accepting pledges of support after June 30. But the shadow campaign, well that’s been ongoing.

The freshman class is expected to hold a vote June 30, with Rep. Larry Metz counting ballots, on June 30 to determine their caucus leader and the future House Speaker, if Republicans hold the majority in the House.

The race appears to be between Reps. Paul Renner, Jamie Grant and Randy Fine. Renner is believed to have a number of votes lined up behind him, including Rep. Joe Gruters who said he planned to back Renner. Grant is pulling in a significant number of anti-Renner votes, while Fine could play the role of spoiler if neither Grant nor Renner wins outright.

But Renner, Grant and Fine aren’t the only names in the pot. Naples Republican Byron Donalds is also a contender, and Erin Grall is said to be considering a run.

Who will be the next Chief Financial Officer? When CFO Jeff Atwater announced earlier this year he was leaving his post to take a job at Florida Atlantic University, he said his departure would come at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session.

While Atwater is sticking around until the 2017-18 budget is resolved, speculation of who Scott will pick to replace him have been swirling about for weeks now. Former Sen. Pat Neal is believed to be a top contender, and Sen. Aaron Bean has said he is interested in the position. Other names that have been floated include Gruters, a longtime ally of Scott’s, and former Rep. Jimmy Patronis.

Republicans will be watching who Scott selects, since it’s likely that person will run for the seat in 2018. And speaking of the upcoming election: Democrat Jeremy Ring filed to run for the seat in 2018, becoming the first person to officially throw their hat in the race.

What impact do the special elections have on the Legislature? Sen. Frank Artiles resignation from the Florida Senate has created a domino effect in the South Florida legislative delegation, with special elections scheduled in Senate District 40 and House District 116 this summer.

The South Florida Senate seat is seen as a must-win for Democrats, who lost the seat last year when Artiles defeated longtime Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard. Three Democrats — Ana Rivas Logan, Steve Smith and Annette Taddeo — have already qualified for the race.

Rivas Logan ran for the seat in 2016, but lost the primary to Bullard. She previously served in the Florida House as a Republican. Taddeo, meanwhile, ran for Congress in 2016 and was Charlie Crist’s pick for lieutenant governor when he ran for governor as a Democrat in 2014.

The Republican race pits former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla against Rep. Jose Felix Diaz. Republican Lorenzo Palomares also filed to run.

Diaz resigned his seat to run for Senate District 40, triggering a special election in House District 40.  Republicans Jose Miguel Mallea and Daniel Anthony Perez have filed to run, as has Democrat Ross Hancock. Mallea has received the backing of former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Not to be outdone, Central Florida voters will also head to the polls this summer to replace Rep. Eric Eisnaugle in House District 44. Several legislative hopefuls have already thrown their hat in the race.

Can Democrats recruit? The special elections this summer could the first test of the Democrats power going into the 2018 election cycle.

With a new chair at its helm and a host of new staffers, the state party says its confident it will “build the strongest, most effective grassroots infrastructure in the entire country as we turn Florida back to blue in 2018.”

At the state level, Democratic House Victory announced it was bringing on Reggie Cardozo, who worked with the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns in Florida, as its general consultant; as well as Janee Murphy, a Tampa political consultant and an ally of incoming Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee.

With several vulnerable congressional seats up this election, including the seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Democrats are going to need to be able to recruit good candidates across all levels of government. And that could mean pulling from robbing from one level — as could happen in the case of Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat running for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat — to help another.

How long before Rick Scott announces U.S. Senate bid? It seems like more and more the discussions about whether Scott will challenge Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018 are turning into not if, but when conversations.

The Naples Republican is already starting to sound like he’s running for something, calling members of the House and Senate “politicians in Tallahassee.” His frequent trips to Washington, D.C. haven’t gone unnoticed; neither has the $3.26 million his state political committee, Let’s Get to Work, has raised since January, despite the fact Scott can’t run for re-election again in 2018.

And he seems to be laying the groundwork for a political operation. He recently announced he would chair the New Republican, a federal super PAC headed up by Melissa Stone, his former chief of staff and campaign manager for his 2014 re-election bid.

Scott has been coy about whether he’ll run, saying it’s an option before going on to say he’s focused on his current job. With an early session in 2018, he might hold off making any formal announcements until after next year’s Legislative Session.

What can Bill Nelson do to hold off Scott? The Orlando Democrat has already said he’s running for re-election in 2018, and several polls earlier this year showed Nelson leading Scott. But with millions upon millions of dollars expected to be spent on the race, Nelson might have to ramp up his efforts if he wants to guarantee another win in his column.

As the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, look for a lot of pressure on Nelson to perform. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is already attacking him, and it’s expected millions upon millions of dollars will be poured into the race to try to defeat the 74-year-old.

Nelson has already raised nearly $2.1 million for his re-election campaign, and had $3.6 million cash on hand at the end of the first quarter of 2017. Look for Nelson to take a more outspoken stance against President Donald Trump, an ally of Scott’s, in the coming months as he begins to ramp up his campaign.

What will Jack Latvala do? The Clearwater Republican is one of the big question marks when it comes to the 2018 race to replace Scott.

Latvala has made no secret of the fact that he’s considering a gubernatorial run. He’s been making the rounds across the state, and his fundraising committee has raised nearly $1.5 million since the beginning of the year.

In May, he told the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club if he runs it would keep career politicians from taking over Tallahassee like they’ve done in Washington, saying the state needs “a business perspective. We need experience in the real world. I just don’t see that on my side of the aisle in the governor’s race.”

But Latvala is hardly an outsider. He served in the Florida Senate from 1994 until 2002, and was elected again in 2010. He currently serves as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and arguably one of the most powerful state lawmakers in the House and Senate.

While he isn’t a household name, Latvala could spice up the Republican race to replace Scott. And his support for Scott’s top priorities this session — namely Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida — could earn him some Brownie points from Scott.

Latvala said he plans to announce his intentions in August. If he gets in, watch for a heated primary between him and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who many consider the front-runner. Latvala’s son, Rep. Chris Latvala, is already taking jabs at Putnam on social media, using the hashtag #PutnamIsStale when tweeting about Putnam.

Does Phil Levine really want to run for governor (and as a Democrat)? Earlier this year, the Miami Beach Democrat seemed to be on track to announce a 2018 run.

He started a political committee, All About Florida, and hired Matthew Van Name to coordinate efforts. State records show he poured $2 million of his own money into the committee, but hasn’t raised any coin beyond that.

With three Democrats — Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham and Chris King — already vying for their party’s nomination, Levine’s entry would make a crowded field even more crowded. And that appears to be something he’s cognizant of, even opening the door to an independent run during a Tampa Tiger Bay Club event in May.

A big Democratic fundraiser, Levine would have put raise lots of cash — and put plenty of his own on the line — in order to boost name recognition. And with a wedding and baby on the way, one has to wonder if Levine wants to invest the time (and money) to get his name out there.

How much money will races pull in? We’re already seeing big numbers when it comes to the 2018 governor’s race, and with more than 400 days until the Aug. 28 primary that number will surely be on the rise.

But it isn’t just the governor’s race we’re watching. With all the Cabinet positions, several competitive state House and Senate races, a U.S. Senate race, and a couple of congressional districts in play, the 2018 election cycle could be one of the most expensive cycles to date.

It isn’t just candidates (and their political committees) we’ll be watching, though. Already you’re seeing outside groups, like the American Action Network, pour money into Florida, and it will be interesting to see how much groups are willing to pay to play in the Sunshine State.

Which Rick will come out on top in St. Pete? The race between Rick Baker and Rick Kriseman for St. Petersburg mayor is shaping up to be one of the must-watch local races this election cycle.

Baker, the former Republican mayor, is hoping to make a comeback, and polls show he has a wide margin over Kriseman, the city’s current Democratic mayor. A recent poll from St. Pete Polls showed 46 percent of registered St. Petersburg voters saying they would pick him in a head-to-head matchup, while 33 percent are with Kriseman. Twenty percent of voters polled said they were unsure.

You can expect the city’s recent sewage issue to be a big factor when voters head to the polls in the upcoming mayoral race. According to the recent St. Pete Polls survey 44 percent of respondents said the city’s recent sewage issues will be a “major factor” in their decision for who they vote for in the upcoming mayoral race; while 36 percent said it will be a “minor factor.”

What will the CRC do? It’s been 20 years since the Constitution Revision Commission last met, and this uniquely Florida board seems to be off to a rough start.

The commission still hasn’t adopted rules, something that has drawn the ire of several organizations, including the Florida League of Women Voters. And with Republicans controlling the Governor’s Mansion, the House and the Senate, the 37-member panel has a distinctly Republican lean, leaving some Floridians to worry about what will end up on the ballot come 2018.

The commission has held a series of meetings across the state, giving Floridians a chance to weigh in on what they think should be changed. And voters have sure sounded off, suggesting the Florida Constitution be amended to address abortion, privacy, voting rights and even secede from the United States. But since committee members have remained mostly silent during the meetings, it’s hard to say where they stand on any of the proposals.

Will a hurricane sweep through Florida? We are talking about a political storm, although if you ask Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a weather event can turn into a political one in the blink of an eye.

No, we’re talking about the weather. Florida got hit with two hurricanes last year, after a decade-long dry spell. The weather woes put the Sunshine State in the spotlight, and forced everyone — including politicians in impacted communities — to make sure they were ready for the storm.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is predicting 11 to 17 named storms, five to nine of which could become hurricanes. Of those hurricanes, NOAA’s forecast calls for two to four to become major hurricanes.

While it’s impossible to say whether a storm will hit Florida’s shores, one thing is clear: Another storm season like 2016’s could have a major impact on the state this year — and could have a ripple effect on politics in the year to come.

— Any list of questions facing Florida politics has to include a fill-in-the-blank section because you truly never know what event will occur to reset the axis. Will it be another tragedy, like last year’s shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub? Or will a prominent Florida pol take their act from the Sunshine State to the Donald Trump administration? You never really know because, as we like to say about trying to predict Florida politics: “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”

In Jacksonville, Bill Nelson takes aim at opioid addiction among newborns

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson visited Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon, meeting with doctors at UF Health Jacksonville’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to discuss the ever-increasing problem of newborns addicted to opioids.

The issue is an especial challenge at UF Health – the sole “safety-net” hospital in Northeast Florida, where the vast majority of patients are either on Medicaid or no insurance at all.

The hospital operates “hand to mouth” in terms of budgeting, and for Sen. Nelson – who is attempting to lead Senate resistance to the American Health Care Act that finally passed the House – the impact of the opioid crisis and D.C, budgetary uncertainty offered Nelson a unique opportunity to message about what is clearly a life and death issue in Jacksonville and nationwide.

The problem at UF Health: a perpetual one, one that siphons resources and staff attention. Of the 43 newborns on site now, three of them have been determined to have neonatal addiction issues.

But that doesn’t mean those are all the babies affected: premature babies, said a nurse, are often affected by opioid addiction from the mother, but the symptoms manifest differently.

Nelson noted that Duval County is second only to Pinellas in addiction issues for newborns.

“We are in the midst of an opioid crisis,” Nelson said.

And if that is true, Duval County is an epicenter.

And children are affected worst of all – especially poor children from sub-functional families.

Consider: 70 percent of Florida kids are on Medicaid. For kids with neonatal addiction issues, that number goes to 80 percent. At UF Health, the estimates are that up to 90 percent of the babies with addiction issues out of the womb are Medicaid babies.

In the last three years, the number of babies with neo-natal addiction issues at UF Health is up from 10 per 1,000 to 15 or 16 per 1,000.

Those babies, on average, stay on premises for 16 to 17 days after being born … though others have stayed up to two months.

And those aren’t pleasant stays – not with distinctive high-pitched cries, convulsions, inabilities to feed, and other very adult symptoms of withdrawal for babies just removed from their mothers’ wombs.

Often, the mothers are in “maintenance” programs themselves – methadone, helpful in adult rehab, catalyzes withdrawal symptoms in these babies.

Morphine often is required to quell those newborns’ existential hells. And once discharged from Newborn ICUs, they often go home to dysfunctional households, where needs – including physical therapy – often go woefully unaddressed.

These children: more likely to die early, either from SIDS, mental health issues, or physical abuse.

And their mothers often didn’t expect or want babies: 90 percent of newborns battling the demon of addiction, passed via fallopian tubes, were products of “unintended pregnancies.”

Prevention can help; but by the time the situation gets to UF Health, it is clear standard advice regarding disposal of prescription medicines is the least of the problem.

Nelson sees the problem of opioid addiction as one with “no boundaries,” ranging from New Hampshire to the farm belt, and to the Sunshine State itself.

And indeed, it’s a problem with an exponential growth curve. Neonatal addiction has almost doubled in five years, and has increased 5 times since 1994, a combination of Big Pharma marketing and product refinement, all of it wrapped up in a package with a bright bow of FDA approval.

For Russ Armistead, the CEO of UF Health, the impact is one of “longer lengths of stay” for these babies, and the increasing possibility of other illnesses being contracted while hospitalized.

Medicaid in Florida picks up just 60 percent of the costs … a problem that could have been eliminated, agreed Nelson and Armistead, if Florida had expanded the program.

“Politics is getting in the way of care for babies,” Nelson said. “The poor child, through no fault of its own, is born addicted.”

“It’s another symptom of our times. We have a lot of opioid addiction. It has become a pandemic,” Nelson said, noting that 2,000 babies “are addicted because the mothers are addicted.”

Without federal Medicaid money, Nelson noted that there was no possible solution.

Bill Nelson on Donald Trump investigation: ‘Just the facts, ma’am’

In Jacksonville Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson addressed problems in the Presidency, including shakeups in the Donald Trump Administration related to Russia, and President Trump’s just concluded trip to the Middle East and Europe.

Nelson stopped short of recommending impeachment proceedings against President Trump, but is – unsurprisingly – keenly interested in where the investigation leads.

And demonstrating that interest, Sen. Nelson invoked an iconic television character.

“There was a detective/sergeant named Joe Friday on a very popular television series, and he always said ‘just the facts, ma’am’,” Nelson said.

“That’s why we have an investigation going on now on the collusion between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government, Russian intelligence. And so I’m going to hold in abeyance any conclusions until I know what the facts are,” Nelson added.

“Just let the investigation occur, by the former head of the FBI, Robert Mueller and we can judge from there who all’s caught up in this.”

Nelson also evaluated President Trump’s foreign trip, which the President described over the weekend as a “home run.”

There apparently are different ground rules in Nelson’s home park.

“He did pretty good in his first two stops, in the Middle East. Then in Europe, he certainly made all of our allies in NATO nervous when he did not stand up for Article V of the NATO treaty, which says if one is attacked, all of the others will come to their defense,” Nelson said.

When asked if he’d ever seen anything like this before from an American President, Nelson noted that he’s “actually to the point of never being surprised” by the Trump Administration.

Nelson, expected to face a challenge from Gov. Rick Scott in 2018, no doubt will have more opportunities to hold forth on what are at least glaring perception problems with the Trump Presidency.

Democrats have opportunity-in-crisis with Rick Scott education bill veto possibility

Winston Churchill once said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Democrats are starting to formulate a strategy for Bill Nelson’s upcoming Senate re-election effort — more likely than not facing Gov. Rick Scott.

Not one to waste a good opportunity, Nelson’s nascent campaign could receive a significant boost by way of a veto of the sweeping education bill assembled by lawmakers in the 2017 Legislative Session’s final hours.

The proposal (HB 7069) – a leading priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran – has been panned by educators, parents and labor unions, all calling for Scott to wield his veto pen.

Opponents decry both the bill and state budget, primarily for adding ‘just’ $24 in average per-student spending while moving $140 million to charter schools, described optimistically as “Schools of Hope.”

However, tucked away in the PreK-12 Conforming Bill is a political “poison pill” in the case of a veto; rewards for teacher performance, as much as $233 million in bonuses.

Teachers considered “Best and Brightest” could receive $6,000, those “highly effective” will get $1,200, and those considered “effective” could see a bonus of up to $800, based on available funds.

Scott, still stinging from the rebuke by lawmakers who severely cut his favored VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida, could use his veto power to retaliate against projects near and dear to Speaker Corcoran.

Corcoran rallied throughout Session against the state’s business and tourism incentive programs, calling them “corporate welfare.”

Vetoing the reduced spending for VISIT and Enterprise Florida would be of little help since both programs would remain underfunded. Corcoran would not be unhappy if either one disappeared.

But a veto of HB 7069 would certainly do the trick, though not without a hefty political price.

Scott’s veto of teacher bonuses could hand Democrats an effective talking point for 2018. Just imagine the headlines: “Rick Scott denies bonuses for public school teachers.”

Such a move would certainly play well for Nelson and Democrats in attack mailers, TV ads and the like – each designed to inflict maximum political damage for Scott’s statewide campaign, should he choose to run.

Of course, this presents Scott with a classic Catch-22 scenario: damned if he vetoes, damned if he doesn’t.

So, as the deadline approaches, what remains is political calculus – finding the best way to mitigate any damage ahead of an all-but-certain Senate run.

And at least one option has a solid upside; it gives money to teachers, which is far from a bad thing.

Why is Bill Nelson still silent on outrageous comments by Sally Boynton Brown?

Much has changed during Bill Nelson’s tenure as an elected official.

As National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Katie Martin observes in a recent email, campaigns are nearly unrecognizable today compared to 1972 when Nelson first arrived in the Florida Legislature.

Since then, Martin says America has seen nine presidential administrations, the first woman in space, and the rise (and fall) of Britney Spears in her journey from pop superstar to a breakdown, recovery, and re-emergence as a Las Vegas lounge act.

In other words: Nelson has been around a long, long time.

While political campaigns have certainly changed, one important thing has not — calling out someone when they are wrong.

With that, Martin tries to understand Bill Nelson’s silence on controversial comments made by Sally Boynton Brown the Florida Democratic Party’s new executive director.

As reported by the Miami New Times, Boynton Brown said that in the time and place Democrats are in now, it is “very hard” to get low-income voters excited about “issues” such as single-payer health care; the problem is these very same people are “not voting.”

The New Times also notes: “[Boynton Brown] said that taking money from large corporations … could somehow be a good thing … and that the ‘relationship’ created when gigantic corporations give thousands of dollars to political candidates can somehow make it easier for politicians to push back against corporations when they are ‘raping our country.’”

That leads Martin to ask: Why has Nelson, only statewide Democratic officeholder, not yet weighed in?

Good question.

‘Morally repugnant,’ ‘cruel,’ ‘obscene,’ ‘inhumane,’ ‘heartless:” Democrats react to Donald Trump budget

Florida’s Democratic congressional caucus reacted Tuesday to President Donald Trump‘s proposed 2018 budget with a shower of outrage over cuts to Amtrak, environmental programs, food stamps, student loans, disability funding, infrastructure grants, food stamps, and Medicare, while one Republican responded: “Don’t worry, we’ve got this.”

“The president’s cruel and inhumane budget should be dead on arrival,” demanded Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando.

If Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall has anything to do with it – and he’ll have more say than Demings or any of the other Democrats, it mostly could be.

“As the House looks to begin its own budget and appropriations process, my colleagues and I will work to ensure many of these programs remain adequately funded,” Curbelo stated in a news release that issued almost as many objections to cuts as many of the Democrats raised.

“Today’s budget proposed by the Administration does not reflect the appropriate allocation of funds to get our country back on sound fiscal footing,” Curbelo stated. “From cuts to agencies needed to protect our environment and combat the threats of climate change, to cuts to our safety nets for the most-needy Americans, to complete slashing of public broadcasting funds, this budget abandons progress already made on programs that enjoy bipartisan support.

And as he and many of Florida’s other members of Congress – Republicans and Democrats – Curbelo pledged to look out for key environmental protections.

“I’m committed to standing together to advocate for the many bipartisan priorities of our Florida delegation such as funding for transportation projects, the Florida Keys Water Quality Improvement Program, and Everglades Restoration,” he stated in a news release.

By early Tuesday evening, no other Florida Republicans had publicly weighed in on Trump’s budget proposal.

Democrats lined up to express outrage not just over proposed cuts, but over tax cuts and incentives offered elsewhere, to the rich, they said.

Demings pointed out numerous proposed cuts she said “would will have devastating effects on working families, women and children, and those with disabilities.”

Among items she decried: additional Medicaid cuts, together with those in the American Health Care Act, would total $1.4 billion over ten years. The Home Investment Partnership Program, which fuels efforts like Habitat For Humanity, would be eliminated. After school early learning center grants would be cut. Funding for community-based drug abuse centers would be slashed. Homeland Security grants to cities would be cut 25 percent. The Social Security Administration’s administrative funding would be reduced. Prices would be raised on student loans.

“While a balanced budget is a top priority in this country, leaving working families, seniors and children without services they need, and veterans without coverage they deserve, is not a practical solution to going about it,” she wrote.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa also found a long list of objections, calling the proposed budget, “an immediate threat to my neighbors, families and small business owners. If we were discussing the budget around the kitchen table, you would be aghast at its fundamental policy choices,” she stated in a release.

Among the items she denounced: elimination of Meals on Wheels, reduced help for Alzheimer patients in nursing homes, reduced basic living allowances for disabled people relying on Social Security SSI assistance; reductions in assistance for victims of sexual or domestic abuse and basic access to reproductive health care; a $7 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health, which she said will impact cancer treatment centers like Moffitt in Tampa; and elimination of TIGER grants to help communities with local infrastructure improvements.

“If Trump really wanted to help working families he would reject policies and budgets like this one that put his millionaire and billionaire family and friends first,” Castor added. “Instead he would invest in research, education and our crumbling roads and bridges and create jobs for families struggling to achieve the American Dream.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee also had plenty of specific beefs, adding cuts in food stamps to many of those cited by Demings and Castor.

“President Trump’s budget calls for extreme cuts to vital funding for programs that help our nation’s poor, from health care and food stamps to student loans and disability payments,” Lawson said in a news release. “It is a short-sighted plan that seeks to give tax breaks to the wealthiest while taking away lifelines for those who need it most.”

Among other reactions:

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson expressed alarm over elimination of Amtrak’s long-distance routes, which include all three routes in Florida, the Auto Train running from Sanford to Virginia, and the Silver Meteor, which connect numerous Florida cities from Miami through Orlando to Jacksonville, before going on to New York.

“Eliminating Amtrak service in Florida not only affects the nearly one million Floridians who ride the train each year, it would have a real impact on our tourism-driven economy,” Nelson stated.

Nelson also sent a separate release declaring, “This plan cuts some of our most critical programs including Medicaid and food stamps. It also cuts funding to agencies such as NIH, which is working to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, and the EPA, which protects our environment. Slashing these vital programs will hurt millions of hardworking families. We should be focused on helping people, not hurting those who need our help the most.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg called the proposed budget “fiscally irresponsible and morally repugnant.”

“A budget is a reflection of our principles and this proposal illustrates a complete lack of values. It decimates vital programs – from environmental protections to public education to medical research. It cuts taxes for the very wealthy while leaving the poor, sick, and disabled out in the cold. It doubles down on cruel cuts to Medicaid – despite promising not to touch it. In Pinellas County where 40 percent of our children depend on Medicaid and CHIP for their care, what could be more heartless?”

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park offered a similar observation, calling the budget proposal “both morally and fiscally irresponsible.

She accused it of “using smoke and mirrors to make false claims about its real fiscal impact. It also makes us less safe, cutting critical anti-terrorism programs—which hurts cities like Orlando—and slashing State Department funding during a perilous time in the world. This budget especially punishes children and families, seniors in nursing homes, college students with debt, families that rely on Planned Parenthood for life-saving health care, communities that need better roads and bridges, and all of us who depend on clean air and water.”

“Congress has the final authority over our nation’s budget, and I plan to work with my Democratic and Republican colleagues to pass a bipartisan budget that keeps us safe, upholds our values, and puts us on a fiscally responsible path to prosperity for all,” she added.

Democrat U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach called the budget “a broken promise to hard-working families.”

“I call on Congress to reject this and instead focus on protecting Social Security and Medicare, fixing crumbling roads and bridges, and preparing students and workers for jobs in an ever-changing economy,” she said in a statement.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando took to the floor of the House of Representatives to denounce the budget as “more broken promises.” He read some of Trump’s past statements promising to keep Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid whole; offer insurance for everybody; and a strong safety net for the nation’s farmers.

“Yet he cuts $50 billion in over ten years from farm subsidies, including critical citrus greening research dollars for Central Florida,” Soto said on the floor. “He says, I quote, ‘I’ll be the greatest president for jobs that God’s ever created.’ He’s cutting the National Institute for Health, crucial research dollars does by $5.8 million, cuts NASA by $200 million, cuts the National Science Foundation, by $776 million.”

Soto also took to Facebook, and posted: “Pres Trump unveils his heartless 2018 budget that hurts seniors, children, families and students in order to pay for tax cuts for millionaires,” Soto posted. “He cuts Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, School Lunch, Kidcare, Meals on Wheels, Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness and so many other programs critical to America’s working families. Another promise broken!”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston said the budget should be “cast aside.”

“The Trump budget ignores the needs of America’s hard-working families and brutally assaults our health care and public education system, while all but abandoning those struggling to make ends meet. It hollows out crucial commitments to housing, nutrition assistance, and the environment, along with job training and medical research investments. Yet it delivers obscene tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, and relies on unrealistic revenue projections that no respected economist would embrace.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miami wanted to know: “who is the President fighting for?”

“President Trump’s budget envisions an America that has abdicated its responsibilities to its citizens; an America that takes a back-seat in innovation, education, research, and economic progress in order to funnel millions in taxpayer funding to corporate executives and special interests. His proposal continues the cruel Republican trend of targeting poor people, eviscerating nutrition assistance programs and cutting $1.4 trillion from Medicaid. All the while, the proposal relies on pipe-dream mathematics in a poor attempt to mimic sound economic policy,” he said in a written statement. “This entire proposal should immediately be rejected out of hand.”

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.

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