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Combative House Speaker vows contentious Session

The outcome of this year’s Florida Legislature session may depend largely on a 51-year-old firebrand attorney with a deep conservative streak and a love for cigars and the band U2.

New House Speaker Richard Corcoran has taken on rapper Pitbull, gotten in a knock-down fight with fellow Republican Gov. Rick Scott and vowed to keep legislators in session for months if he doesn’t get his way on property taxes.

He has an ambitious agenda for the 60-day session that starts next week, which also includes term limits for Florida’s most senior judges and throwing out some of the state’s regulations on health care providers. While at one time he lashed out at then-candidate Donald Trump, Corcoran has adopted the president’s populist tone in vowing to fight a “culture of corruption” in a town where Republicans have held sway for nearly 20 years.

Corcoran is unapologetic for his combative ways.

“I think certainly in the political arena, that the hardest thing, in my opinion, that determines a person’s character is what a man does when everyone is looking and you know you are going to go against the grain,” he said last month at a Tallahassee private school appearance.

Corcoran has flummoxed fellow Republicans and stirred speculation he’s more interested in grabbing headlines in anticipation of a potential run for governor in 2018. Corcoran has declined to discuss future political plans.

“Richard is not a political opportunist, he’s never been one,” said Mike Fasano, the Pasco County tax collector and a former legislator who met Corcoran nearly 35 years ago when he was a teenager helping out on local legislative campaigns. “He’s trying to accomplish what he truly believes in.”

Born in Toronto, Corcoran moved to Florida when he was 11. At a young age, he became enamored of conservative thinkers such as author William F. Buckley Jr., and drops names of philosophers like Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau in his speeches. He earned a law degree from Regent University, the school established by evangelist Pat Robertson.

Corcoran works at a well-established law firm and once did legal work for Scott before either was elected. But most of his career has been in politics, including as a legislative aide and chief-of-staff for then-Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, when he helped write Rubio’s blueprint entitled “100 Ideas for Florida’s Future.”

After two unsuccessful runs for the Legislature, Corcoran finally got elected to a Pasco County House seat in 2010. He quickly rose through the ranks and secured enough pledges to become speaker.

He pushed to have the Florida House reject billions in federal aid available under President Barack Obama‘s health care overhaul. During a floor speech now famous in Tallahassee, Corcoran made it clear during a standoff with Senate Republicans over Medicaid expansion that the House would never go along.

“They want us to come to the dance? We’re not dancing. We’re not dancing this session. We’re not dancing next session. We’re not dancing next summer – we’re not dancing,” Corcoran said.

Since he became speaker in November, Corcoran sued to force Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, to reveal how much it paid to Pitbull to promote the state. Corcoran then pushed legislation to scrap the state organization that uses incentives to lure companies to the state. Those moves have angered Scott, whose political committee labeled Corcoran a “career politician.”

Corcoran has put both Scott and Senate Republicans on notice he will not go along with a plan to use a hike in property values – which trigger higher tax payments – to boost funding on schools. Yet at the same time, Corcoran has hinted at his own ambitious plans for education, which will likely mean more money for charter schools. Corcoran’s wife, Anne, founded a charter school. They have six children, and met while attending law school.

Corcoran is a maze of seeming contradictions.

He has railed against the influence of lobbyists, banning them from texting or emailing legislators during committee meetings. Yet his own brother, Michael, is a long-time lobbyist. While at times he sounds stern, he can quickly run off a stream of sarcastic comments and jokes.

“Every day Gov. Scott and I get together and take long walks in the park together,” he quipped recently.

Yet despite harsh treatment leveled at him by the governor, Corcoran says he remains grateful that Scott once hired him, adding: “If Gov. Scott poked me in the chest or whatever, I would take it 10 out of 10 times.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump meets with 4th graders, private school leaders in Orlando

[The following is drawn from pool reports provided by Ted Mann, reporter for The Wall Street Journal.]

Accompanied by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and others, President Donald Trump dropped in on a Catholic school 4th-grade class the met with Orlando Diocese leaders Friday to talk about school choice.

With the 4th grade class of Jane Jones at St. Andrew Catholic School, Trump, who also was accompanied by his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, heard the students declare they were “scholars” and would be going to college and heaven.

St. Andrew is located in the largely-African American and low-income Pine Hills neighborhood of west Orange County, and some though not all of the students there are African-American.

Trump complimented them as “beautiful” and asked a few questions and advised them to “make a lot of money, right? But don’t go into politics after,” before moving on, after about 15 minutes, to a 2 p.m. meeting with Bishop John Noonan, from the Orlando Catholic Diocese, Henry Fortier, the superintendent of Catholic schools in Orlando, and others involved in private, parochial and charter schools.

Fortier told him he saw school choice creating “a partnership. It’s not a situation of us versus them,” he said. Of private schools, he said, “It shouldn’t be just for the wealthy who can afford it.”

John Kirtley, founder of Step Up for Students, which administers school choice aid, said the program provides tuition assistance for 100,000 kids, and that the average household income is $24,000 per year.

Trump said the school was doing a “fantastic job” and that it’s a school that “enriches both the mind and the soul. That’s a good education.”

He quoted Martin Luther King, saying that he “hoped that inferior education would become a thing of the past.”

Trump noted that he had said during his speech to Congress that education in the “civil rights issue of our time,” and added, “Betsy’s going to lead the charge, right?”

“You bet,” DeVos answered.

They left after about 30 minutes.

Hospitals hopeful on Medicaid following meeting with D.C. delegation

Florida’s congressional delegation is onboard with efforts by hospitals that provide charity care to persuade the Trump administration to treat the state more fairly under the Medicaid program, representatives said following meetings in Washington.

Members of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida met this week with senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, and with House members Carlos Curbelo, Stephanie Murphy, and Ted Yoho, and with aides to other members of the delegation.

“We had a very warm reception at Sen. Rubio’s office. He was very well aware that Florida gets short-changed in our funding for the uninsured, and was energized,” Lindy Kennedy, executive vice president of the alliance, said during a conference call Thursday.

Rubio warned that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was still organizing his management team, but promised the delegation “would do everything in their power” to press the hospitals’ case.

“Sen. Nelson was very gracious, spent a lot of time with us,” Kennedy said.

“He acknowledged the challenging, rock-and-a-hard place position that Florida’s hospitals now find themselves in, having aggressively worked with the federal government as well as our state Legislature to request passage of Medicaid expansion,” she said.

“He seemed to understand that we need to move forward with sort of the hand we’ve been dealt, was the way that he put it.”

Curbelo wants to write a letter from the delegation to Price. That’s not a sure thing, but “there is some interest in trying to pull that together,” Kennedy said.

But the state’s elected representatives understand the problem and want to help.

“That was a consistent theme with Congressman Yoho and Stephanie Murphy,” she said.

The representatives met with staff for Ron DeSantis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Francis Rooney, Tom Rooney, Dennis Ross, and Daniel Webster. Individual hospital representatives may have met with additional members of Congress.

“I understand they were very well received,” Kennedy said.

“We are working to follow up with Secretary Price’s new administration, and spending time with them, hopefully educating them about the disparity between Florida and some of the other nonexpansion states,” Kennedy said.

“We feel we’re uniquely positioned to maybe even lead the nation in setting policy” on supplemental funding for the uninsured, she said.

The alliance has complained that the Obama administration trimmed Florida’s reimbursement levels under the Low Income Pool program for uninsured patients from $2.2 billion to $608 million during the past three years.

It wants at least $1.6 billion during the new budget year, and more freedom in how they spend the money.

“I think that the unfairness shown to Florida in the past presents the Trump administration with an opportune platform to quickly demonstrate its new commitment to state flexibility in deployment of funding for health care to the uninsured and Medicaid patients,” Jonathan Ellen, CEO of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and chairman of the alliance board, said in a written statement.

The LIP program was launched 11 years ago under a waiver from the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, allowing Florida to put Medicaid recipients into managed care. Following two extensions, the state’s authority for that program ends on June 30.

The feds have been shortchanging Florida on the program for years, alliance president Tony Carvalho said — the state gets $401 per uninsured patient, compared to $1,612 for California, $1,934 for Texas, and $4,007 for New York.

“The federal government has treated Florida very unfairly,” Carvalho said.

“Florida’s Low Income Pool was reduced over the last several years as a strategy to pressure Florida to expand Medicaid coverage under ACA,” he said.

“We certainly support ACA expansion. But we believe the strategy really hurt the safety net hospitals and hurt the safety net in general — the people who are uninsured in this state.”

Gov. Rick Scott’s health aides are negotiating with the Trump administration but, with the Legislature settling into its session next week, and the state budget deadline looming, “time is running short,” Carvalho said.

“Whatever they do settle on, the Legislature would have to appropriate the money,” he said.

With the state House, particularly, looking for budget cuts this year, “we are concerned that the Legislature may be looking at rate cuts in the Medicaid program,” he said.

“Every dollar that they cut in hospital rates, if that should happen, the state saves 38 cents and we give back to the federal government 62 cents. If we’re starting from a basis in which we believe Florida is already in a very inequitable position in terms of its share of federal dollars, those types of cuts just are penny wise and pound foolish.”

Particularly if Washington Republicans enact major reforms, such as turning Medicaid into a block grant program, he said.

“The clock is ticking,” Kennedy said.

“We do need the Legislature and our federal delegation to work together with CMS to address this issue before sine die of our regular session, so the waiver can be renewed June 30 with increased flexibility and an increased amount,” she said.

“Everyone we met with (in Washington) and explained the different time-table, they acknowledged their understanding. They were very receptive, and I’m optimistic we will be able to move quickly with their help.”

Charlie Crist calls for Jeff Sessions to resign after reports of meeting with Russian ambassador surface

St. Petersburg Democratic Representative Charlie Crist is calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign, a day after published reports surfaced that Sessions met twice with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. during the president campaign last year, and yet said last month that he had not done so.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that one of the meetings between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race. Sessions did not disclose those meetings during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he was asked about ties between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.

“As the former Attorney General of Florida, I find Attorney General Sessions’ actions inexcusable, and call for his immediate resignation. How can we have faith that the duties of the office of the Attorney General will be carried out when the chief legal officer of the country doesn’t tell the truth under oath to the United States Congress,” said Crist. “It is clear that we need to establish an independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate this administration’s Russian connections. The American people demand answers, and we have a responsibility to get to the truth of this Russian imbroglio.”

Crist had previously said that there should be a 9/11-style commission to investigate potential ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

Earlier on Thursday, the man Crist lost to in the race for U.S. Senate in 2010, Marco Rubio, would not even go as far as to say that Sessions should recuse himself from any investigations regarding the potential Russian-Donald Trump campaign connection.

“We’re not at that stage yet,” Rubio said speaking with Steve Inskeep Thursday morning on NPR’s Morning Edition. “Let’s take this one step at a time, but this is certainly a relevant story. I want to learn more about it, and I want to learn more about it, and I want to hear from him directly.”

Marco Rubio not ready to say Jeff Sessions should recuse himself regarding Russian meetings

Marco Rubio wants to know more about why Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to disclose that he met twice with the Russia’s U.S. Ambassador during the presidential campaign.

Despite that, the Florida senator isn’t willing to say that he should recuse himself from investigating ties between Donald Trump‘s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.

Not yet anyway, despite the fact Sessions said in his Senate confirmation hearing last month that he’d never met any Russian officials during Trump’s campaign.

“We’re not at that stage yet,” Rubio said speaking with Steve Inskeep Thursday morning on NPR’s Morning Edition. “Let’s take this one step at a time, but this is certainly a relevant story. I want to learn more about it, and I want to learn more about it, and I want to hear from him directly.”

The Florida Senator went on to say that “in the interest of fairness, and in his best interests, should potentially ask someone else to step in and play that role. Again, we’re not there yet, but we could be, and so we just need to start thinking about those things.”

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that one of the meetings between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.

Sessions himself told NBC News today that if it were appropriate, he would recuse himself. However, Sessions insisted that he had not met “with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign.”

Two House Republicans — Utah’s Jason Chaffetz and California’s Kevin McCarthy, said on Thursday that Sessions should recuse himself from any investigation regarding the Russians.

“I’m not interested in being part of a witch hunt, but I also will not be a part of a cover-up,” Rubio told NPR, adding that “Nobody has been tougher on the Russia issue than I have, I believe, and I will continue to be.”

Marco Rubio kicked out of Tampa office because of protesters

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

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

But no more.

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

The story was originally reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

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

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

Joe Negron, Pulse mother and doctor, a DREAMer, among Trump address to Congress guests

As is traditional, Florida’s congressional delegation is using its invite tickets to President Donald Trump‘s first address to a joint session of Congress mostly to make points, although U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is maybe making his points with his wife.

Each member of Congress gets one SOTU invitation to pass out. Democrat Nelson’s goes to his wife of 44 years, Grace Nelson.

Republican U.S. Sen Marco Rubio‘s bringing Florida Sen. President Joe Negron, who is in Washington this week for meetings with Rubio and other state legislators regarding federal-state issues.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando is bringing Christine Leinonen, mother of Christopher Leinonen, who was one of the 49 victims killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. Leinonen has been sharply critical of Trump for using the June 12, 2016, Pulse shooting to justify an immigration crackdown, particularly on Muslims.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park is bringing Dr. Marc Levy, Orlando Regional Medical Center surgeon who saved the lives of victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting last summer. Levy has called for more scientific and medical research on gun violence – from root causes to improved medical treatment.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando is bringing a potential DREAMer, a recent graduate of the University of Florida named Jose who migrated from Honduras to the United States at the age of 11 with his parents. Jose is seeking to avoid deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policies of former President Barack Obama, which Trump stated he intends to rescind.

No word yet on what Republican U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis, Bill Posey and Daniel Webster intend to do with their tickets.

 

Marco Rubio joins Tammy Baldwin in bill requiring Nazi art theft restitution

Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has joined with Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin on a bill that would force the return of, or restitution for, art and other belongings stolen by Nazis from Jews in the Holocaust.

The bill, entitled ‘‘Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act of 2017’’ would seek to use the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art of 1998 and the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Assets and Related Issues of 2009 to prosecute claims and return stolen property or award restitution.

The United States was a signatory to both treaties.

The bill also would require the State Department to report on certain European countries’ compliance with the goals of the 2009 Terezin Declaration, and what actions those countries are taking to resolve the claims of U.S. citizens.

“Seventy years after World War II, when Nazis and their collaborators illegally confiscated Jews’ property in Central and Eastern Europe, this theft remains a largely unresolved issue and a source of lasting pain for many Holocaust survivors and their heirs,” Rubio stated in a news release. “This bipartisan legislation will help address this lasting injustice from a dark chapter in human history by facilitating the restitution of Jewish communal, private and heirless property. American leadership on this issue is vital, and I’m proud to join Senator Baldwin in introducing this bill.”

Co-sponsoring the bill are 14 senators, split between Democrats and Republicans, ranging from Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to Orrin Hatch of Utah.

The release states that groups supporting the JUST Act include the World Jewish Restitution Organization, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federations of North America, B’nai B’rith International, HIAS refugee assistance organization, and the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, agreed to June 30, 2009.

Marco Rubio wimps out on town halls. Are we surprised?

As we saw during the last campaign, Marco Rubio can be awfully good at not showing up. His latest no-show has nothing to do with his attendance in the U.S. Senate, though. Now, he doesn’t want to show up at town hall meetings because people might be rude.

“They’re not town halls anymore, and I wish they were because I enjoy that process very much, going back to my time as speaker of the house. I hosted over a hundred idea (meetings) around the state,” he said in an interview with CBS4 in Miami.

“But the problem now is – and it’s all in writing, I’m not making this up – what they want is for me to organize a public forum. They then organize three, four, five, six hundred liberal activists in the two counties or wherever I am in the state.”

No, he isn’t making it up.

He is, however, wimping out.

Are we surprised?

Yes, those forums do offer those pesky Florida liberals a rare opportunity to remind Republicans that a whole lot of people want their representatives to protect health care coverage.

This is not some political talking point, either. For these folks, it’s emotional and personal, so they do heckle, they shout, they boo and they are loud. That bothers Florida’s very junior U.S. senator – although it didn’t bother him in 2010 when he was swept in by the tea party wave that wrote the book on heckling, shouting, booing and doing that at high volume.

As a first-time senate candidate, it was OK to be supported by disruptors. Those rallies took place around the country, organized at the grassroots level through websites like the Tea Party Patriots. The plan was to put the “riot” in patriot.

It worked. Rubio was elected.

Facing angry constituents didn’t stop U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis from showing up recently at multiple Pasco County meetings, nor has it stopped many of Rubio’s house and senate colleagues from facing the 50 percent of the country that doesn’t agree with them.

But not Rubio. Change of heart, I guess, after an opposition group now called Indivisible, which supports Democrats, copied those tea party guerilla tactics. The group has a game plan called “A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” It’s available on the internet for all to see.

In his interview, Rubio said, “They then, according to the document, they get there early and take up all the front seats. They spread themselves out. They cheer when the questions are asked. They are instructed to boo no matter what answer I give.

“They’re instructed to interrupt me if I go too long and start chanting things. Then, at the end, they’re instructed not to give up their microphone when asked. It’s all in writing in this Indivisible document.”

That’s sort of true, but also sort of not.

Indivisible supporters are indeed told to get there early, sit in the front, spread out. They also are instructed to “be polite but persistent, and demand real answers.”

It adds, “MoCs (members of Congress) are very good at deflecting or dodging question they don’t want to answer. If the MoC dodges, ask a follow-up. If they aren’t giving you real answers, then call them out for it. Other group members around the room should amplify by either booing the congressman or applauding you.”

Rubio is awfully good at deflecting and dodging. He gets into trouble when strays from the talking point. In a friendly town hall, that’s OK. In a hostile setting, he might get exposed (further) as a lightweight or, as then-candidate Donald Trump liked to call him, “Little Marco.”

CBS4 host Jim DeFede started to ask, “So you don’t believe these are real …”

“They’re real people,” Rubio quickly said. “They’re real liberal activists and I respect their right to do it, but it’s not a productive exercise. It’s all designed to have news coverage at night saying, ‘Look at all these angry people screaming at their senator.’”

So instead the story becomes, look how their senator runs and hides.

Yeah, that plays well.

Marco Rubio says holding a town hall wouldn’t be productive

Sen. Marco Rubio said he has not held an open forum with constituents because the room would be packed by “liberal activists” and wouldn’t be productive.

Rubio told CBS4-Miami interviewer Jim DeFede on Sunday that liberal groups would organize hundreds of protestors, show up early and take all the seats. They would then ask all the questions, many of them about his opposition to the Affordable Care Act. He said they would boo no matter what answer he gave in hopes that would be shown on television.

The Republican senator said their goal would be to make it seem like he lacks support even though he won re-election in November.

He said he would hold a town hall if he thought the conversation would be productive, but he doesn’t.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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