Marco Rubio Archives - Florida Politics

Rick Scott stays in sync with the NRA as he faces a reckoning on guns

The governor is planning to roll out his legislative proposal Friday that, according to a spokesman, will be “aimed at keeping Florida schools safe and keeping firearms out of the hands of mentally ill people.”

With Florida now at the epicenter of a fast-changing national gun debate, the state’s Republican governor is so far refusing to budge from his long-standing opposition to new limits on firearms.

The approach of Gov. Rick Scott, who holds an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association and is preparing to enter what would be a hotly-contested Senate race, stands in contrast to fellow Republicans such as Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and President Donald Trump who in recent days have expressed openness to some new gun limits.

In the days since last week’s mass shooting at a South Florida high school re-energized gun-control activists, Scott has so far responded to questions about the issue with answers that quickly turn to mental health and the need for enhancing safety protocols in schools.

Although he initially told CNN last week “everything’s on the table,” Scott declined an invitation from the network to appear at Wednesday night’s town hall with survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Rubio attended the event and said for the first time he was ready to consider some restrictions on assault weapons — while Scott’s potential opponent in the fall, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, hinted guns could be a focal point in the race by taking a swipe at the governor’s decision to skip.

″[Rubio] had guts, coming here,” Nelson said, prompting boos from the crowd of 7,000 moments later when he added: “Our governor did not come here.”

Scott could face a reckoning on the issue in the coming days, with GOP lawmakers engaged in talks with Democrats designed to produce a potentially modest gun restriction bill before the Legislature’s Session ends next week. The measure would go to Scott for his signature — or possible veto.

The governor is planning to roll out his own legislative proposal Friday that, according to a spokesman, will be “aimed at keeping Florida schools safe and keeping firearms out of the hands of mentally ill people.” The spokesman, John Tupps, said Scott would like to see “swift action,” but he did not specify what that could be.

Scott declined to be interviewed for this story, but several associates this week told The Washington Post he has no intention of softening his views on gun rights.

“He’s committed to Second Amendment rights, and that’s not going to change,” said Brian Ballard, a veteran Florida lobbyist and Scott supporter. “He’s a strong NRA supporter and knows that you have to be careful about tweaking anything that would affect someone’s right to bear arms.”

Keith Appell, a former Scott campaign adviser, said the governor is highly unlikely to embrace new gun regulations.

“He genuinely feels that you don’t solve a symptom of the problem, you solve the problem,” Appell said. “The problem is that schools aren’t safe and is eroding the Second Amendment going to make one kid safer?”

Appell added, “He’s going to be skeptical about the suggestion that banning guns will make school safer.”

Scott, 65, is a wiry and wealthy former health care executive whose anti-establishment entry into politics eight years ago foreshadowed the rise of his ally, Trump.

Known for an upbeat but scripted style, Scott has not shied away from political drama since last week’s tragedy.

He has placed blame on the FBI for failing to act on a call weeks before the shooting, calling for the resignation of the bureau’s director, Christopher Wray.

He has attended numerous funerals, and he has met with survivors of last week’s deadly rampage that killed 17 people and left scores injured. Even in private discussions, he has avoided talk of gun limits.

“He said there is no way that someone who is mentally deranged, such as [Douglas High School shooting suspect] Nikolas Cruz, should have access to a gun,” said Olivia Feller, 16, a junior at the high school who met with Scott on Wednesday along with other students.

One place for consensus could be a revision of Florida’s Baker Act, a law that determines how far law enforcement can go in restricting the activities or purchases of mentally ill people.

Sheriffs and other leaders were divided on whether a change to the scope of the law would infringe on gun rights. Some officials said it should be left alone and urged the state to concentrate on giving weapons to teachers.

Appearing Tuesday at a policy workshop, Scott steered clear of talk of gun rights and focused on “taking a hard look at security” in Florida schools.

“It’s very important we act with a sense of urgency,” Scott said, sitting with a group of sheriffs and state officials.

The deadline for Scott’s final decision on the changes he could support, if any, is fast approaching. State Republican leaders said Tuesday they are planning for a committee vote on their plans next week.

Scott’s enduring position on gun rights reflects the entrenched support for firearms in Florida, despite several of the most deadly mass shootings in U.S. history occurring in the state during his tenure.

Florida has a history of taking the lead nationally in legislating concealed-carry permits, and it has passed a “stand your ground” law, which protects citizens who use deadly force if they feel they are in imminent danger.

Scott’s stance also underscores just how careful most Republican leaders, especially those eyeing higher office, remain on the issue of guns, knowing the party’s base is wary of any push to limit the usage of guns.

Scott has become one of the NRA’s favorite elected officials. The website for the group’s annual meeting this May in Dallas lists him as a speaker earlier in the week, but his smiling photo disappeared from the website by Wednesday. A flier the NRA sent out in 2014 hailed the governor as a trusted foe of “gun control extremists.”

NRA officials made clear this week they intend to fight back against efforts to curb gun rights. The group said in a statement on Wednesday it would oppose legislation to raise the age requirement for buying rifles.

A bill authored by Florida Democrats to ban high-capacity magazines and some semiautomatic weapons failed Tuesday, as gun-control activists and students watched the vote from the state capitol. State GOP leaders said afterward they would consider more modest bills.

The slow pace of debate is a familiar replay for longtime watchers of Florida politics and its governor, although Scott has shown in the past an occasional willingness to move to the center on issues such as Medicaid expansion.

“Florida is littered with examples of people thinking it’ll be a different moment on guns, but the culture never changes,” Florida Republican consultant Rick Wilson said. “This is another one of those moments. That cold political calculus is made, and there is zero movement in Tallahassee.”

Democrats have increased their attacks. “Governor Scott, we need more than your thoughts and prayers. Stop putting the gun lobby ahead of our safety,” a narrator says in the latest ad from Giffords PAC, the political-action committee helmed by former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat.

Trump’s allies say presidential action, while at its early stages, could ultimately prod Scott to move further on guns.

“The president’s position goes beyond that, the White House wants stronger background checks,” said Christopher Ruddy, a Trump ally and the Florida-based chief executive of Newsmax Media. “The smart thing to do politically would be to require stronger background checks not only for mentally ill people but for those with criminal backgrounds and other issues. Rick is a strong conservative but he likes to be in line with the president, and Trump is the standard-bearer.”

Florida lawmakers and consultants point back to Scott’s responses to past shootings as the better way to predict his next steps.

“The Second Amendment has never shot anybody. The evil did this,” Scott told reporters two years ago following a shooting in Fort Myers, where two teenagers were killed outside of a nightclub.

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The Washington Post’s Michael Scherer contributed reporting from Tallahassee.

Republished with permission of the Washington Post.

Chris King: Legislature ‘cowardly’ for running from assault rifle ban

On the debate over assault rifle bans, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King believes the Florida Legislature is a bunch of cowards.

With the eyes of the nation on them, the GOP-led state House blocked a move by Democrats Tuesday to debate a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines in Florida, six days after a massacre that took 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Republicans explained it would have been unprecedented to take a bill stuck in a subcommittee and move it to the chamber floor for debate.

The optics have been terrible though, with national media organizations focusing on showing Parkland students who were in the gallery that afternoon crying after the vote.

Headlines from outlets like The Washington Post screamed, “Florida House refuses to debate guns, declares porn dangerous,” referring to a resolution by Dover Republican Rep. Ross Spano that declares pornography a health risk that states a need for education, research and policy changes to protect Floridians, especially teenagers, from pornography.

King said it was downright “cowardly” for the House to not even engage in a debate on the issue.

“That’s a terrible explanation,” he said about the reasoning that such bills aren’t heard out of committee while appearing on Tampa’s WMNF 88.5 FM Thursday.

“There are good people that can talk about these issues, recognize that they’re complicated, and that we need to have a debate and we need to discuss it and talk about the substance of these ideas,” he said, adding that he supported the same proposal by Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (HB 219) that was similarly never brought up for debate last year after the Pulse nightclub massacre.

“I think it’s a real absence of leadership and it’s cowardly to not even talk about solutions, to not even be willing to stand out there and say, ‘I oppose,’ as the Republicans would likely do, ‘I oppose an assault weapons ban, and here’s why.’ They don’t want to make that argument. They don’t want to stand up to folks like those students from Parkland who can’t understand why they wouldn’t do that,” King said.

On Wednesday night, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and Boca Raton U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch appeared before a live town-hall audience broadcast nationally by CNN in Sunrise. Missing in action was Gov. Rick Scott, an absence that King calls “tragic.”

“We need a governor to not only sooth the wounds but propose big ideas that we can get behind,” King said. “I believe that’s a big problem. We haven’t had leadership from this governor for a long time.”

A Gravis Marketing poll released earlier this week shows King with only two percent support in his contest for the Democratic nomination for governor, but the Winter Park businessman says he remains unconcerned with more than six months to go before the August primary.

“My opportunity over the next seven months is as people are messaged and as people understand where we are on these issues, they’ll be making choices,” King said, adding that the poll showed that more than two-thirds of Democratic voters haven’t decided on a candidate yet.

Noting that while his better-known opponents, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine are still relatively unknown by Democratic voters at large, King’s job is to “catch fire” and speak to voter concerns.

CNN Parkland town hall crowd expresses powerful gun-control message

If the crowd at Wednesday night’s gun discussion at the BB&T Center in Sunrise was indicative of more than just a normally Democratic community now suffering from one of the most horrific school massacres in history, then Republicans such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and staunch 2nd Amendment advocates can find little place there.

In the CNN post-Parkland massacre town hall meeting show “Stand Up,” televised live Wednesday night, students’, teachers’, family members’ and others’  anger and conviction over the mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was clearly focused on gun control, on banning assault weapons, universal background checks and other gun laws.

That left Rubio, who joined Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, often in the spotlight of anger and pleading survivors, family and friends, as he defended 2nd Amendment positions opposing many of the gun restrictions the crowd was professing.

The trio of federal lawmakers found their roles well defined from the start, and found that the questioners, including teenagers, harbored no fear or intimidation whatsoever in pressing powerful members of Congress.

Deutch, the hometown congressman who has been a strong, longtime advocate of gun control, gave fiery calls for banning what he called “weapons of war,” and denouncing opposition to gun reforms. And for those he drew standing ovations.

Nelson, who’s been through all of this before, from previous horrible tragedies, sought to balm and inspire the crowd, declaring, “Your hope gives me hope. You’r determination gives me more determination…. You have been so strong. Keep it up.”

And on the other side was Rubio, who drew flat-out confrontations, and stood up to them with compassion and respect, and expressing sincere empathy and understanding, yet with convictions to positions the questioners and the crowd did not like. He took it.

“I want to like you. Here’s the problem: Your comments this week, and those of our president have been pathetically weak,” Rubio was told by Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime Guttenberg was killed last week.

“Tell me guns weren’t a factor in the hunting of our kids,” Guttenberg demanded.

At another point, student Michelle Lapidot asked, rhetorically, because she said she wanted to ask someone from the National Rifle Association, but there wasn’t anyone there yet, “Was the blood of my classmates and teachers worth your blood money?”

Rubio made some news pledging some concessions on gun control stands He renewed and strengthened vows to support a ban on bump stocks, an increase the minimum age for the purchase of a rifle to 21, an expansion background checks on gun purchases. Finally, he promised a new breakthrough, to consider restrictions on ammunition magazine sizes, an issue that had been front and center in the gun debate 20 months ago, in the weeks after the Pulse massacre in Orlando, and which Rubio had then strongly opposed.

The last concession was one he said has come to him from what he had learned from law enforcement briefings about what happened inside the high school last week. He said it was evidence in politics that people can change their minds.

“I traditionally have not supported looking at magazine clip size. … I’m reconsidering, and I’ll tell you why,” Rubio said. “While it may not prevent an attack, it may save lives in an attack. I believe there will be evidence that in a key moment in the incident, three or four people, three or four people, might be alive today because of something this deranged killer had to do.”

But Rubio’s other arguments, seeking to explain, for example, how complicated it could be to ban the kinds of guns that killed in Stoneman Douglas High School and in Pulse, fell flat, sounding as if he was nickel-and-diming the issues on technicalities. And he was doing so in front of young people who had stared down a blazing AR-15 just days ago, and in front of grieving parents and siblings.

At one point he asked Deutch if he would be so bold as to support a ban on all assault rifles, as if such was an absurdly-broad ban.

Deutch said yes. The crowed thundered.

Rubio looked surprised. He said, “Fair enough, fair enough.”

Still, Rubio fared better than Florida Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump. CNN invited both, and they both declined. And they both suffered  numerous unanswered hits during the town hall, for not participating.

Nelson, who likely will be facing Scott later this year in the U.S. Senate race, took several opportunities to criticize the pro-2nd Amendment governor.

“My colleague and I, Marco Rubio, have a good relationship. I told him before I came out tonight he had guts coming here, when in fact there is no representative of the state of Florida here. Our governor did not come here, Gov. Scott, but Marco did,” Nelson offered.

Rubio’s empathy and connection with the crowd was not shared by his successor on the 2nd Amendment side of the issue.

In the second half of the show, CNN brought out Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and NRA national spokeswoman Dana Loesch.

Loesch started out condescending and lecturing, trying to draw distinctions between selling weapons to people she called “nuts,” and to anyone else. Almost continuously, Loesch tried to blame the school massacre, and redirect questions and arguments, to being being about the madness of charged shooter Nikolas Cruz, and how the justice system, the schools, and society had missed all warning signs that should have signaled the blood to come, and led someone to intervene.

But the students and others, and the crowd reactions sounded as if they heard her argument as offensively irrelevant, as completely tone deaf to what they wanted to discuss: the role of the guns in Cruz’s hands. She was accused of avoiding questions, and Loesch occasionally retreated into the position of the cornered righteous.

That didn’t get by Israel, who told her she had not earned the right to tell the audience, as she had, that she fought for them. He declared there was no reason for the NRA’s opposition to universal background checks and assault weapon restrictions, declaring, “We’re calling BS on that!”

Kathy Castor hopes U.S. can learn truth about diplomat injuries in Cuba

Kathy Castor was part of a six-member group of Democratic members of Congress visiting Cuba over the past few days, but the delegation shrank to five this week when meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro.

“I came back to Tampa on Tuesday, ” Castor said in a phone call Wednesday afternoon before the rest of her colleagues visited Cuban leader.

It was Castor’s fourth trip to the communist island since 2011, but she has never met with either President Castro or his brother, the late Fidel Castro, in part because she says she wants “to turn the page.”

“I’m focused on the future, and I think the Tampa area community is as well,” she says, expressing regret that she didn’t meet up with Miguel Diaz-Canel, the first vice president of the Council of the State

Diaz-Canel is expected to succeed Castro when a transfer of power takes place in April. The 56-year-old is the first official who does not belong to the revolutionary “old guard,” since he was born after the Cuban Revolution took over in the 1950s.

Castor is the first Florida member of Congress to call for the end to the now nearly 60-year-old Cuban economic boycott after visiting the island in 2013.

Although considered a bold move in comparison to previous Cuba visitors like former Mayor Dick Greco and Representative Jim Davis, the conditions in Tampa had paved by activists and later members of the business community in Tampa who have embraced strengthening relations between the two communities.

The Greater Tampa Chamber, for example, has led several delegation trips in recent years, and wholeheartedly supported the concept of bringing a Cuban consulate to Tampa, an idea that died with President Donald Trump reversing the rapprochement during the Barack Obama era.

Castor said part of her trip (she left Florida Saturday) was to learn more about the mystery that continues to surround the strange symptoms of illness experienced by at least two dozen U.S. diplomats station in Havana.

The symptoms were first reported in late 2016 but not disclosed by the State Department until August of 2017. In response, Washington expelled 17 Cuban diplomats from Washington, and ordered most of its own diplomatic personnel from Havana back to U.S. soil and limited travel there to emergency personnel.

The Castro government condemned the purported attacks and denied any involvement but later called into question the integrity of the incidents.

A report by U.S. medical experts from the University of Pennsylvania, published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., concluded the diplomatic personnel suffered brain injuries without evidence of head trauma. The Americans reported a range of symptoms including hearing loss, headaches, dizziness, nausea and loss of concentration.

Initially, the U.S. government blamed the symptoms on “sonic” or “acoustic” attacks but has since backed off those labels.

The Penn group could not determine a cause, saying that any “sensory phenomena” was of “unclear origin.”

Briefed by intelligence officials, Castor reviewed the Penn study and said it’s clear that it was no sonar or acoustic attack, but agreed something did happen to the diplomats.

Castor doesn’t believe the Cuban government had any motivation for the incident, since it has only frayed the improving relations between the two nations, which began to thaw with Obama’s diplomatic breakthrough in December 2014.

If not Cuba, though, she says it’s unclear who would have a motive.

“Some rogue element? Some other country? There simply isn’t any evidence to point in any one direction or another,” she said, adding that she hopes U.S. intelligence agencies can ultimately learn the truth.

While critics of U.S. outreach to Cuba (such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio) are continuing to criticize human rights violations of the Castro government. Obama overtures were fruitless since the Cuban government has continued such activities, they say.

But Castor has always championed the loosening of regulations that allow the Cuban people to become more entrepreneurial. However, in her recent excursion, Castor saw less growth in small business movement.

After talking to some small business owners over the past several days, Castor said: “It really appears that the economic reforms on the island have stalled.”

According to Castor, one factor hurting the Cuban people is that the government continues to sustain two separate currencies — one for everyday Cubans, and another for visitors.

Last fall, the Trump administration rescinded one of the most significant Obama-era changes regarding “people-to-people” visas for Americans to travel to Cuba.

The Obama White House had expanded those categories, allowing U.S. travelers for the first time to book a flight online to Havana, buy people-to-people visas at U.S. airport counters, then go on their trip.

Now, travelers need to be accompanied by a U.S.-based tour guide, who must ensure they engage in approved activities that help the Cuban people.

That’s put a sizable dent in the number of visitors who now travel to Cuba from the U.S., Castor said.

Joe Henderson: Only lowest of low would spread lies about Parkland students

What kind of vermin would say two Parkland students grieving from last week’s massacre at their high school were really actors who were being paid to make gun owners look bad?

I think we can all agree this represents the lowest of the low. Well, apparently not “all” of us. Helping spread that lie is why Benjamin Kelly lost his job Tuesday night as an aide to Republican state Rep. Shawn Harrison of Tampa.

Kelly sent an unsolicited note to Alex Leary, Washington correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times, that said, “Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”

When Leary asked for proof, he was provided with a link to a YouTube conspiracy video. Not long after, Kelly was out of a job.

Yes, Kelly got what he deserved for spreading crap even as funerals are being held for victims of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. But I ask again, what kind of horrible human being tries to turn an unfathomable tragedy into a personal attack on two students because they dared to speak out in the first place?

Well, someone did. They must be very proud today.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio summed it up as well as anyone by tweeting this was the work of a “disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency.”

I got into a long back-and-forth on Facebook Tuesday night about that subject with a guy I knew back in high school a long, long time ago but hadn’t kept up with. He was adamant the story was real and that I was a big part of the problem because I didn’t believe it.

He noted, “Yesterday CNN was caught using professional actors claiming to be Parkland students demanding gun control. My question is, when can we expect to read your column condemning CNN for this shameful and unprofessional journalistic practice.”

I could almost hear him stomping his foot. He wouldn’t accept overwhelming evidence that the story was fabricated. He wouldn’t accept the word of the Broward County school superintendent that the two people in questions were students.

He had read it somewhere on wing nut media, and it had to be true.

This is what we’re up against.

Back in the day, I can remember having a good chuckle at headlines on tabloids like the National Enquirer as I stood in the grocery store checkout line. That was about as crazy as it got.

Now, there is a whole industry devoted to tin foil hats and deranged conspiracies. This might be a good time to remember that then-candidate Donald Trump helped further that when he told chief kook Alex Jones that his reputation is “amazing.”

The president also has regular attacks on individuals, the foundations of government, the media (of course) and, well, you know.

Separately, the nonsense is easy to dismiss. But then something like this happens and we can see how it all comes together. We can’t even take comfort (if comfort is to be found) that it’s all just Facebook babble, not when it reaches into the office of a Florida state representative and belittles two Parkland students who just lived through a horror.

There have always been people who believe 9/11 was an inside job and that we faked the moon landing, but usually they were contained in their own little bubble.

No more.

In their world, truth is whatever they want it to be. Facts are lies. Everything is a cover-up.

And the crazier it gets, the more likely they are to believe.

That’s no lie.

Activists call out Donald Trump’s ‘Cover up Caucus’ on Russian investigation

For Presidents Day, activists in downtown St. Petersburg rallied to criticize congressional Republicans who they say have been silent or actively working to end special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Mueller laid out charges Friday against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities in a sweeping indictment describing in detail a years-long effort by Russians to interfere with the U.S. political system.

The indictments confirmed the conclusions of the country’s intelligence community but flew in the face of President Donald Trump‘s questioning of the probe.

In the eyes of some Republicans (like Marco Rubio), the indictments confirmed that Russia did attempt to disrupt the election — and are likely to do so again. Others, like Panhandle Representative Matt Gaetz, have been pushing to fire Mueller. In November, Gaetz introduced a nonbinding resolution calling for the House to endorse Mueller’s dismissal.

“These Republicans see their only role as protecting the president, and not the country,” said Andrea Hildebran Smith with the group FACT (Floridians against Corruption and Treason).

“We call them the ‘Cover-up Caucus’ … We expect members of Congress to use every tool at their disposal to protect this country.”

The liberal activists also are unhappy with Trump for announcing that he will not impose additional sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the 2016 U.S. election as well as its aggression in east Ukraine. Congress passed a law last year calling on the president to do so.

“We want protection for this special counsel to finish his investigation,” said Karen Berman with Fired Up Pinellas, who along with MoveOn.org organized Monday’s protest in front of the federal building on First Avenue North in downtown St. Pete.

“We want to see the latest Russian sanctions enforced, and we want to see the state and federal government take steps to protect our elections from any interference,” Berman added.

Over the summer, amid reports that Trump was considering firing Mueller, members of both parties were compelled to introduce legislation to prevent that from happening.

While four bills have been filed in Congress to protect Mueller’s investigation, none will likely go anywhere in the GOP-led House and Senate.

Two bills have been introduced in the Senate, both bipartisan. Sponsored by North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, the Special Counsel Integrity Act would only permit the firing of a special counsel in the event of “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity or conflict of interest.”

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, the Special Counsel Independence Protection Act that would require an extensive judicial process to do so.

The Act has been stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee for the past couple of months.

There are similar bills in the House of Representatives, which have a little more support. One, introduced by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, has 31 co-sponsors, all Democrats.

One Democrat who hopes to make it to Congress later this year is Chris Hunter, a former FBI agent now running in the District 12th Congressional District Democratic primary.

“Our democracy has been compromised, and it will happen again,” he predicted, “because some of our elected officials are running their same type of disinformation campaign against our own country that Russian intelligence services have run.”

Hunter served in the Department of Justice under the administrations of both Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama.

Not once, Hunter said, did political officials in either of those administrations “purposely set out to destabilize our democratic institutions.”

“Not only has our current president fail to protect our country, the Republican Congress has been complicit in that failure,” he added.

The winner of the Democratic primary in CD 12 will face Republican incumbent Gus Bilirakis this November. Bilirakis has not publicly commented on the Mueller investigation, according to statements published on his congressional website over the past year.

As a former FBI agent, Florida Politics asked Hunter what he thought of Gov. Rick Scott‘s comment last week that FBI Director Christopher Wray should resign in the wake of revelations that the bureau ignored a tip last month about Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17  people after he opened fire on a Parkland school on Valentine’s Day.

“I think it’s disgraceful to politicize the massacre in Parkland,” Hunter said.

Rick Scott will skip CNN town hall, workshop student safety instead

Gov. Rick Scott will not attend a CNN-hosted town hall discussion with students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, their family members and the surrounding community.

The reason? Scott’s staff said the governor will be busy in Tallahassee addressing the issue of student safety.

“With only three weeks left of our annual legislative session, Governor Rick Scott will be in Tallahassee meeting with state leaders to work on ways to keep Florida students safe, including school safety improvements and keeping guns away from individuals struggling with mental illness,” McKinley Lewis, Scott’s Deputy Communications Director, said in a statement provided to Florida Politics.

CNN announced the town hall in the wake of the tragic Parkland massacre to help “facilitate a discussion” between elected officials and those affected by the incident.

The event, “Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action,” will be moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper, who took to Twitter over the weekend to personally alert officials, like Scott, who were invited to the discussion.

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican, along with Democratic Florida U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, have accepted the invitation. President Donald Trump will not attend the town hall. It’s scheduled to air live on Wednesday at 9 p.m.

Scott’s planned absence from the event has drawn criticism, including from Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

In declining the request, Scott seemed to point to a sense of urgency in the state’s lawmaking process. Later on Monday, he followed through by announcing a series of planned workshops for law enforcement leaders, school administrators, teachers, mental health experts, and state agency heads to discuss school safety improvements and keeping guns away from individuals struggling with mental illness.

Those workshops will take place throughout Tuesday. Scott will hold a roundtable to discuss findings at the end of the day.

Scott, who said he’s spent the past week in the area surrounding Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said, “A tragedy like what occurred in Broward County must never happen again and swift action is needed now. I am bringing local and state leaders together to find solutions on how to prevent violence in our schools and keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill individuals. This is an urgent matter that we must address quickly.”

The meetings are closed to the public, but will be live-streamed on the Florida Channel. Viewers will be able to provide public input via a website.

Workshops will take place from 10 a.m. to noon and 2-4 p.m at the Florida Department of Education to focus on “school safety improvements and updating school security protocols and emergency plans.”

At the Florida Department of Children and Families, workshops will take place from 9-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. to focus on “ways to expand mental health services for Floridians, especially students, and improve coordination between state, local and private behavioral health partners.”

Potential safety improvements and an emphasis on keeping guns away from the mentally ill will be the focal points of workshops held from 10 a.m. to noon and 2-4 p.m. at the Florida Sheriffs Association.

Scott’s roundtable is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Capitol.

Bill Nelson: ‘Let’s get these assault weapons off our streets’

Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson told his colleagues on the Senate floor Thursday that they shouldn’t shy away from addressing gun control measures in the wake of the recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“To those who say now that it’s not the time to talk about gun violence because it’s too soon, we don’t want to politicize right after a tragedy, that’s what is said over and over,”  Nelson said. “Then I would ask, when is the time?”

The senator then recounted the horrors that occurred on Wednesday and honed in on the shooter’s weapon: an AR 15.

Describing himself as a hunter, Nelson said that an AR 15 has no use in the sport.

“An AR-15 is not for hunting,” Nelson said. “It’s for killing.”

Nelson said that claiming the shooting is the result of mental illness or a lack of protection at schools addresses only part of the problem.

He then stopped just short of calling for a ban on assault weapons.

“Let’s talk about that 19-year-old carrying an AR-15,” Nelson said, referring to the Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz. “Let’s do what needs to be done and let’s get these assault weapons off our streets.”

Marco Rubio, following Nelson’s testimony, shared a very different message.

The Republican senator said that often laws do little to prevent someone who wishes to harm others.

“If someone decides that they are going to take it upon themselves to kill people — whether it’s a political assassination of one person or the mass killing of many — if one person decides to do it and they’re committed to that task, it is a very difficult thing to stop,” Rubio said.

But Rubio also said that solutions could arise from looking at what mass killers have in common. He said they almost always commit violence with careful and deliberate steps after premeditation.

On Cruz, Rubio said that several red flags should’ve indicated the shooter was a threat to society.

He described several “warning signs” on Cruz’ social media that showed he was deranged, including a comment on a YouTube video where Cruz claimed he was going to be “a professional school shooter.” 

Rubio said that he was sworn into office after promising to uphold the Constitution, which in its Second Amendment lays out American citizens’ rights to own and operate firearms.

But, noting the increased frequency of shootings, Rubio said that the Second Amendment is listed after the Preamble, which enumerates the insurance of domestic tranquility and the promotion of general welfare. 

The move hinted the senator might be open to some discussion of gun control.

“I’m not saying don’t focus on the gun part,” Rubio said. “But we also have to focus on the violence part.”

Joe Henderson: Gun control? Politicians make sure we don’t have a prayer

Gun control? That’s a laugh, given the culture of political complicity created by the National Rifle Association.

In the alternate universe in which NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre and his army of lawmakers throughout live, more guns  make America safe and free.

That’s what he said before the NRA’s 2013 meeting in Houston.

Safe?

I wonder how safe those who attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County will ever feel again. Tell the family, friends and neighbors of the 17 people who died there in Wednesday’s mass shooting that it’s all about freedom and gun control would only make a bad situation worse.

While he’s at it, ask those affected by the deaths of 229 people in 14 mass shootings in the United States since LaPierre declared us safe how they feel about things. Check out the Las Vegas hotel where a shooter murdered 58 people. Drop by the site where 49 people were butchered in Orlando at the Pulse nightclub. Let us know how they’re feeling.

Offer your prayers, President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, for the 74 victims who have died in Florida in five mass killings since the NRA boss declared us safe. Because that’s what you say when you don’t really want to have a conversation about what needs to be done. Thoughts and prayers.

 

Since Rubio likes to quote the Bible so often, I suggest his verse of the day should come from the book of James: 2:15-17. I’ll save him the trouble of looking it up.

“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?’ ”

The way I interpret that, Jesus is teaching that words are empty unless accompanied by action.

So, Rick Scott, please let us know what the appropriate “time to continue to have these conversations” would be, as you stated following the massacre.

I’m guessing it’s on the current governor and would-be U.S. senator’s calendar for the 12th of Never, but I could be wrong.

Um, no I’m not.

Rubio was in his full NRA damage-control mode by Wednesday evening, telling Fox News that we need to slow down, take our time, before we “jump to conclusions that there’s some law we could have passed that would have prevented it.”

Ah, Marco! Just like LaPierre would have you rehearse it. Don’t “politicize” a tragedy, especially when politics helped create it.

While we’re at it, thanks for the moment of silence on the state House floor over which Speaker Richard Corcoran presided as news of the slaughter spread.

Appropriate, eh? A moment of silence. The Legislature has been nothing but silent for years when it comes to even addressing the concept of tougher gun control laws to regulate the weaponry.

But go ahead.

Lower flags to half-staff.

Declare a day of mourning.

Or two. Or seventeen.

But just understand, we get it. We know who owns you. We know you all are, as gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam so artfully declared himself, proud NRA sellouts. At least he had the nerve to admit it.

We know that down inside, none of you will do anything to meaningfully address this madness.

 You’ll fall back on NRA talking points about freedom and safety, and you’ll keep putting out boogeyman ads like Corcoran’s reprehensible TV spot that basically says all undocumented immigrants are out to kill you.

Many of you will keep pushing the expansion of places where guns can be taken, displayed, and theoretically used because – as LaPierre said after children died at Newtown, Conn. Elementary school, only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.

Keep telling yourself that.

Keep on sending your thoughts.

But if that’s all you’ve got, we don’t have a prayer.

Marco Rubio on Parkland massacre: ‘It can happen anywhere’

Sen. Marco Rubio discussed the latest mass shooting on Fox and Friends Thursday.

Former student Nicolas Cruz killed 17 people with an AR-15 Wednesday, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Rubio said that when an “individual decides in a premeditated and orchestrated way” to do something like this, “it can happen anywhere.”

“There was a running joke — it’s not a joke anymore — that he would come back” and do something like this, Rubio said.

Rubio noted that there had been “police complaints” about the shooter.

“It’s a guy that’s putting all these things on social media, a guy [with a history] of threatening people in school,” Rubio remarked.

“Parkland is one of the safest communities in America,” Rubio said. “This is an isolated incident — a catastrophic and tragic one.”

The weight of evidence suggests that such incidents are becoming increasingly less isolated.

The Guardian notes that there have already been eight mass shootings at schools in 2018 that have resulted in injury or death.

At one point on the program, Rubio said that these incidents need to be looked at “in their totality.”

Rubio is getting criticism from gun control advocates for the amount of National Rifle Association money he has garnered in campaign donations.

The New York Daily News tweeted that Rubio has “received $90,205 in campaign donations from gun rights groups during the 2015-2016 campaign cycle and received an ‘A+’ grade from the NRA. Rubio has received $3,303,355 over the course of his career as an elected official.”

That is the sixth most NRA money given to any Senator.

Rubio followed Florida Gov. Rick Scott on the same program.

Scott told Fox and Friends that “something has to change here,” wondering “how could anybody do something like this.”

“I want every parent to wake up every day and say my child is going to a safe school,” Scott added.

Scott, when asked about mass shootings in the past, has said they were “evil” and recommended “more prayer.”

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