Marco Rubio – Page 3 – Florida Politics

New Rick Scott ad seeks to paint Bill Nelson as ‘party line’

A new television commercial being launched by Gov. Rick Scott‘s Republican U.S. Senate campaign features people complaining that incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson is a “party line voter.”

The 30-second spot features Orlando Republican Puerto Rico activist Dennis Freytes and others characterizing the senator as someone who does not vote independently in the U.S. Senate, and is perhaps somehow tied to the wishes of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“Bill Nelson just votes the party line,” Freytes says in the commercial. “That’s what’s wrong with our broken Congress. Everybody is a party-line voter and Bill Nelson is one of those.”

Others in the commercial say Nelson “no longer thinks and acts” independently, and speculate “I think Nancy Pelosi is a huge influence on the Democratic Party and Bill Nelson,” and “I believe Bill Nelson is way too partisan, and it’s time for him to come home.”

Carlie Waibel, Nelson for Senate spokeswoman responded, “For eight years, Rick Scott ran a one-party rule state and now, he’s doing and saying anything to be part of the one-party rule in Washington. Bill Nelson has a long record of working across the aisle and has been recognized for it, including passing legislation to keep oil rigs off Florida’s coast, bringing back our space program and working to restore the Everglades.”

The commercial was first reported on this morning on by the Tampa Bay Times, which pointed out that Nelson has one of the more moderate voting histories in the Senate, and has famously teamed with Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio so closely and on so many occasions that Rubio’s backing of Scott has been called into question.

Donald Trump taps Maria Chapa Lopez as U.S. Attorney

Longtime federal prosecutor Maria Chapa Lopez has been selected by President Donald Trump to serve as U.S. attorney in the sprawling Middle District of Florida, according to an announcement Thursday by the White House.

Chapa Lopez worked as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2000 to 2016, before a nearly two-year stint as a Department of Justice deputy attache in the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. She currently serves as interim U.S. attorney in the Middle District, which stretches from Fort Myers to Jacksonville and includes Orlando and Tampa.

Her selection by Trump is subject to U.S. Senate confirmation. Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, quickly issued a statement Thursday supporting the pick.

“She has significant experience in this (Middle District) office and has been integral in prosecuting and dismantling drug trafficking and money laundering operations and has most recently helped lead the Department of Justice’s efforts to stop heroin, fentanyl, and human trafficking into the United States,” Rubio said. “With her knowledge and expertise, I am confident she will honorably serve the people’s interests in the Middle District of Florida.”

Donald Trump campaign rolls out new ad pumping up tax cuts

A new ad from Donald Trump‘s 2020 presidential campaign aims to sell voters on the benefits of last year’s tax cuts. That’s a message he hopes will resonate with voters in 2018 as well, as the GOP looks to do what it can to hold off what Democrats hope will be a blue wave in November.

The ad highlights benefits felt by the “Shortway Brewing Company,” based in North Carolina. The owners, Matt and Lindsay Shortway, say the tax cuts have been a boon for their business. “The President’s policies are helping our small business grow, ” said Matt. “With President Trump’s agenda and the way that the country is moving right now, I am very optimistic about the future of this country.”

The couple says the cuts enabled them to give raises to their employees, and even hire an additional employee.

The tax cuts were unpopular early, sitting with an approval rating in the mid-20s when passed in December. Those ratings rose quickly, but have actually fallen by three points since taking effect, according to both Monmouth and Quinnipiac. Even Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has criticized the cuts passed by his party, saying they could do more for American workers.

The Trump campaign and the GOP hope ads like this which showcase the effects on small business can help turn that sentiment around.

It may pay off, as Trump’s approval ratings have steadily been rising. That could give hope to Republicans in November. A poll released Tuesday by Florida Atlantic University showed GOP Gov. Rick Scott with a four-point lead in his U.S. Senate race against Bill Nelson.

FEMA extends Puerto Rican transitional housing to June 30

Puerto Rican evacuees from Hurricane Maria’s wrath last fall have been granted another six weeks of federal assistance to live in emergency motel shelters in Florida, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy announced Thursday.

The latest extension, through June 30 according to social media posts Thursday afternoon from the Winter Park Democrat, means that families who migrated from the island to Florida, or to other states, will have federal assistance to stay long enough for their children to complete the school year.

Gov. Rick Scott also applauded the extension Thursday afternoon.

The extension also means the families living in motels and paying their rents with Federal Emergency Management Agency vouchers, because there is little  available affordable housing, will not face a last-day crisis, at least not any time soon. That happened on April 20 when FEMA agreed to extend the program through May 14 on the very day that the previous extension was set to expire. Hundreds of families were reportedly packed up and being told to leave, with no place to go, on the day the extension was approved.

On April 18 Murphy, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, four other members of Congress from Florida, Democrat Darren Soto of Orlando, Republican Carlos Curbelo of Kendall, Democrat Kathy Castor of Tampa, and Republican Dennis Ross of Lakeland, as well as U.S. Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón of Puerto Rico, all signed a letter urging FEMA to extend the program through June.

They also urged Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to seek the extension. FEMA could not extend the program without a formal request from the governor of the area affected, Puerto Rico.

On April 24, Rosselló told FloridaPolitics he would ask FEMA to extend the program through June, in part so that Puerto Rican migrant families with children could at least get through the school year.

“Pleased to report that FEMA will be extending the Transitional Shelter Assistance program for displaced Puerto Rican families in Florida and other states through June 30,” Murphy posted on Facebook Thursday afternoon. “This will give families more time to find permanent housing and won’t result in children being evicted during the school year. Another successful bipartisan effort! Thank you to Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello for seeking the extension.”

Said Scott, in a press release: “Florida has done everything possible to help our neighbors in Puerto Rico with their continued recovery from Hurricane Maria. Over the past seven months since Maria made landfall, we have remained in constant communication with Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his leadership team and I have made five trips to Puerto Rico to offer our full assistance and guidance. Florida remains the only state with a Host-State Agreement with FEMA to help families from Puerto Rico.

“I also recently spoke with FEMA Administrator Brock Long about our joint efforts to make sure we are doing everything possible to help those who evacuated here. This includes keeping the FEMA case managers I requested on the ground across our state to offer assistance. I’m glad to hear that FEMA is once again extending Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) for the many families from Puerto Rico in the Sunshine State and we continue to stand ready to assist in any way possible,” Scott added.

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Joe Henderson: GOP wondering where Marco Rubio went

Marco Rubio is still a Republican, right?

I’m just trying to make sure. Lately, he has been saying and doing things that are, oh, what’s the word I’m looking for?

Liberal?

Let’s not go that far.

But the junior U.S. senator from Florida has been flashing a refreshing independent streak in recent days and weeks, a notion reinforced by his rather stunning assertion that American workers aren’t getting much benefit from President Donald Trump’s ballyhooed tax cuts.

Nope, Rubio said in a story published in the Economist, that just like opponents predicted, the windfall tax break is making a few corporate fat cats even more obese.

“There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they’re going to take the money they’re saving and reinvest it in American workers,” he told the Economist. “In fact, they bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.”

That prompted this pithy quip from Matt House, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer: “We couldn’t have said it any better ourselves.”

Quick! Someone get the vapors ready for all those “trickle down” twits who have pushed the laughably absurd notion that wages for the worker bees magically rise when the richest people get richer.

They’re not happy that Rubio has gone off the reservation.

“It’s disappointing to see Marco Rubio echo some of the false rhetoric of tax reform opponents, and we hope he clarifies his remarks,” Brent Gardner, chief government affairs officer for Americans for Prosperity, told the Washington Post.

That outfit is joined at the hip with the billionaires Charles and David Koch.

The Americans For Tax Fairness estimated the tax cut could put an additional $1.4 billion into the Koch coffers.

I would doubt Rubio has much intention of clarifying anything of the sort. After all, he has been cooperating publicly with Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson on issues like hurricane relief.

Rubio has gone as far as to say he won’t campaign against Nelson in this fall’s Senate election against Gov. Rick Scott. He did ask his backers to support Scott, but it seemed kind of tepid.

What’s his game?

A quote in the Economist story that didn’t get as much attention as the one on tax cuts may provide the answer.

“Government has an essential role to play in buffering this transition,” Rubio. “If we basically say everyone is on their own and the market’s going to take care of it, we will rip the country apart, because millions of good hardworking people lack the means to adapt.”

To achieve that, he told the publication that he is cooking up a new conservative economic movement aimed at giving workers who felt Trump was the only one listening to them a more viable alternative.

It’s a bold gambit.

If Trump implodes, all bets are off and Rubio 2.0 might get some wind in the sails, even if some Republicans now are wondering whatever happened to that young man in a hurry they used to like so much.

Feds announce $340M grant for Florida citrus

A bit more money is on the way for Florida citrus growers affected by Hurricane Irma.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced on Monday that his agency will provide a $340 million block grant to the state to cater to Irma-affected farmers during the 2018-2020 crop year — that’s in addition to the $2.36 billion worth of farm disaster funding authorized by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in February.

According to USDA, the money from the grant will cover the buying and replanting of trees, grove rehabilitation, and repairs to irrigation systems.

“The Florida citrus industry was likely hit the hardest, and with such a high-value crop, they face a steeper financial burden and as a whole, have less coverage through our traditional insurance options,” Perdue said in a prepared statement.

Perdue said he was directed by President Trump to work “directly with Governor [Rick] Scott and [Agriculture] Commissioner [Adam] Putnam in Florida to put a process in place that will ensure the Florida citrus industry maintains its infrastructure and can continue to be the signature crop for the state.”

“Since Hurricane Irma hit our state, I have been fighting for Florida’s citrus growers to get the relief they need to rebuild their livelihoods, including taking immediate steps to provide relief from the state,” Scott said.

Added Putnam: “While no amount of relief can make the farmers who suffered damages from Hurricane Irma whole, this much-needed disaster relief will help Florida agriculture get back on its feet.”

The $2.36 billion, separate from the block grant, will be distributed by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency through the 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program.

Earlier in April, Florida leadership — Scott, Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, and Putnam — increased the pressure on the USDA to disperse the funds, the News Service of Florida reported.  

Since then, the USDA’s offered a few details and a rough timeline.

Per the agency, here’s what we know: “Eligibility will be limited to producers in counties that experienced hurricanes or wildfires designated as presidentially-declared disasters in 2017; Compensation determined by a producer’s individual losses rather than an average of losses for a particular area (where data is available); Producers who purchased higher levels of risk protection, such as crop insurance and noninsured crop disaster assistance program, will receive higher payments; Advance payments up to 50 percent; and a requirement that payment recipients obtain future risk protection.”

A sign-up period to determine eligibility will begin no later than July 16.

All Aboard Florida defends its bond status for railroad money

All Aboard Florida’s $1.75 billion in tax exempt private activity bonds are not only in link with the law and regulations, they’re not without precedent in federal funding of railroad projects, the company stated Monday.

In a letter to U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, chair of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Government Operations, All Aboard Florida’s general counsel Myles Tobin laid out the case Monday for why the privately-owned and -operated higher-speed passenger railroad’s federal financing should be above reproach.

Tobin also noted that Brightline, the name for All Aboard Florida’s passenger train project now running in South Florida and intended to eventually connect o Central Florida, is not the only railroad in this country to qualify for such bonds under the terms applied.

Tobin’s letter is a response to questions raised by Meadows, members of his committee, and two Florida congressmen who two weeks ago appeared highly suspicious of how All Aboard Florida had managed to obtain federal approval for private activity bonds for Brightline when those members didn’t think the railroad should have qualified.

The members, led by Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast of Palm City and Bill Posey of Rocklege, critics of the project, had questioned how the railroad could be classified as a “surface transportation project” when they understood that term to refer to roads; whether the company had actually received previous federal funding, as required; and whether it matters that the All Aboard Florida project doesn’t own the railroad that got the money.

Their skepticism and criticism came out in an April 19 hearing, and a few days later U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio joined in, with a letter demanding to know why the U.S. Department of Transportation gave All Aboard Florida approval for the tax-exempt bonds.

A couple days later, Republican state Sen. Debbie Mayfield of Melbourne wrote to Gov. Rick Scott urging him to stop the state from authorizing the bonds.

Tobin’s response to Meadows indicated that in all of the questioned issues, All Aboard Florida was correctly qualified.

“The Internal Revenue Code does not define the term ‘Surface Transportation Project’ itself, but the plain meaning of that term unquestionably encompass a passenger rail project, and my attachment to this letter includes various other examples where USDOT has defined ‘Surface Transportation Project’ to include passenger rail projects, such as Denver’s rail line construction from the airport to Union Station and Maryland’s Purple Line construction,” Tobin wrote.

The $9 million that the federal government spent in 2011 to upgrade railway-highway grade crossings is sufficient to qualify the Brightline project under the law, Tobin said. And the law does not require a company to actually own the railroad to qualify for federal approval to use the bonds, he added.

All Aboard Florida sold $600 million of the bonds to finance construction on the first phase of the railroad, connecting West Palm Beach to Miami. The railroad has been in operation between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale since early this year and is expected to stretch to Miami this summer.

The other $1.15 billion in bonds have not yet been sold. They were authorized to pay for rail improvements and extensions between West Palm Beach and Orlando, to create a private higher-speed rail line to connect Central and South Florida in a few years.

Tobin’s letter also indirectly addressed Mayfield’s caution that Florida might somehow be at risk. “I should also note that taxpayers are not at risk by the use of PABs,” Tobin wrote. “The federal government does not guarantee the bonds, subsidize the interest rates on the bonds, or assume any liability for the project. They do not impact the credit, borrowing or debt load capacity of any state, counties or municipalities. Private investors assume 100 percent of the risk.”

Marco Rubio still has second thoughts about recent tax cuts he voted for

Sen. Marco Rubio, who has at times been an eager proponent of the recently-passed tax reform package, again flashed second thoughts in an interview with The Economist.

“There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they’re going to take the money they’re saving and reinvest it in American workers,” he says. “In fact they bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.”

This quote is remarkable, given that Rubio did a press event in early April in Jacksonville, in which he and other politicians extolled the benefits of the tax reform package.

That event focused on a business expanding, an expansion from 6,500 to 47,000 square feet and 100 jobs in the next five years. And a roundtable at the event, in which the company’s principals focused on the benefit to the company, had relatively little focus on “American workers.”

Rubio’s public statements have been conflicted on the matter.

In December, Rubio said that the bill “probably went too far” in helping corporations, a statement consistent with the Economist interview.

However, Rubio also said late last year that people will notice the benefits of the bill.

“By the early part of next year,” Rubio said, “people will know whether they have a tax cut or not.”

“The American people will have the right to change their minds,” Rubio said, adding that their “opinions will be based on [what their] paychecks are showing them.

Debbie Mayfield urges Rick Scott to ‘protect’ state from Brightline bond questions

Armed with newly-raised congressional skepticism about the legitimacy of a financing method used by the company, state Sen. Debbie Mayfield on Wednesday urged Gov. Rick Scott to pull Florida from the financing deal backing Brightline’s proposed private passenger railroad along the east coast.

Scott’s office replied that it would review it.

At issue is $1.75 billion in federal, tax-exempt private activity bonds [PABs] that were approved last year for construction of the rail line for the privately owned and operated, higher-speed, passenger train railroad being developed by Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida.

Brightline has promised high-speed, private passenger rail service connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando, pledging to do so with private money. Service already has begun between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, and is expected this year to connect to Miami, with Orlando still a few years away.

Opposition has centered largely within the ride-over counties of Florida’s Treasure and Space coasts, between the planned stops in West Palm Beach and Orlando. They have raised strong objections to potential safety and disruption issues the trains may pose.

Yet now the company’s decision to seek and use federally-tax exempt PABs to raise capital for the project has led critics, notably now Mayfield, a Republican from Melbourne, to seize on this financing option as a potential critical weakness in the project.

Last week a congressional hearing raised questions about whether Brightline should have been approved for the bonds. Following up this week, Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio wrote U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao raising more questions about the deal.

Brightline has noted that it followed all federal rules and received the approval through appropriate processes, and that courts that reviewed the financing have agreed.

On Wednesday Mayfield sought to bring those questions to Scott’s attention and caution him that he should do something about protecting Florida’s reputation, and specifically that of the Florida Development Finance Corporation, which also approved Brightline’s PAB financing plan, and through which the bonds would be sold.

“In light of the cloud of uncertainty that has been placed on the legitimacy of the allocation of PABs to AAF, there must be an effort to protect the FDFC from a potentially embarrassing situation that could also jeopardize the state of Florida’s reputation,” Mayfield wrote.

Brightline already has spent $600 million to upgrade railroad tracks in South Florida, between West Palm Beach and  Miami. The longer, higher-speed, more expensive phase involves upgrading tracks and laying new tracks between West Palm Beach and Orlando. And that’s next.

Mayfield called for Scott to not let Florida participate in financing that deal, at least for the time being.

“As I previously indicated, I respectfully request that you take action and direct the FDFC to not act as a conduit for AAF, its affiliate Brightline North Segment Borrower LLC, or any other affiliate of AAF, to sell $1.15 billion in PABs while there is an active discussion and analysis taking place at the federal level for the next 90 days.”

A response from Scott’s office declared, “We will review it.”

Last week at a hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Government Operations, largely under questions from Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast of Palm City and Bill Posey of Rockledge, federal officials revealed they had approved the bonds under a very broad interpretation of the law. That led subcommittee Chairman U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, to suggest that what happened appeared to him to be outside what Congress intended when it authorized the financing mechanism.

Rubio wrote Chao Tuesday wanting to know any precedents that might compare with Brightline’s case.

A Patrick Murphy-David Jolly gubernatorial run isn’t the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but …

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy seems to be under the mistaken impression that because he was his party’s standard-bearer in the 2016 U.S. Senate race, that he is the party’s leader.

So when the Democrat watched last week’s televised debate among the four announced gubernatorial candidates, Murphy, according to a source very familiar with his thinking about what he may be planning, sized up the field and said, ‘Hey, I can do better than that.’

While there’s no arguing with Murphy’s concept that Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Philip Levine and Chris King looked like, as the Tampa Bay Times’ Tim Nickens observed, they are not ready for prime time or with his conceit that he may be able to do better than that quartet, the possibility of a Patrick Murphy-David Jolly gubernatorial ticket isn’t the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s not only implausible, it’s practically insulting.

After putting down Alan Grayson in the Democratic primary in 2016, Murphy ran a lackluster campaign against Marco Rubio, losing worse than he should have.

After redistricting shaded his congressional district more blue than red, Jolly lost a quixotic bid to hang on to a seat that had become decidedly Democratic.

Since those campaigns, Murphy and Jolly have fostered a friendship and have traveled across the U.S. on their tour “Why gridlock rules Washington and how we can solve the crisis.

The duo has become the toast of editorial boards everywhere.

Politicos who yearn for a “third way” in American politics would love to see a Murphy-Jolly ticket, just as they wanted to see a John Kerry-John McCain unity ticket in 2004.

You know who is not clamoring for a Murphy-Jolly ticket? Florida voters, especially Democratic ones. And Murphy will quickly find that out in the polling he has commissioned to gauge his statewide viability.

Oh sure, when asking voters generically about, say, ‘two centrist leaders with experience in government,’ the numbers will be through the roof, but when you ballot-test Murphy-Jolly vs. the field, reality will set in.

What Murphy wants Democratic primary voters to do is pick him, a two-term congressman (hey, that’s twice as long as Graham’s time in D.C.) with a bent for moderation over a field of tried-and-true progressives. Part of his plan is a commitment to name as his running mate a former Republican lawmaker and lobbyist who agrees with very little in the Democratic platform other than Donald Trump is no bueno.

If this weren’t Florida politics, I’d say you were making this all up.

Unfortunately, this is reality and here’s where my words get serious. For one, Murphy’s plan to name Jolly as his running mate should be taken as an insult by true Democrats. They’ve been in the wilderness for more than twenty years, and now, with their first genuine shot of winning back the Governor’s Mansion, Murphy (a former Republican himself) wants to enlist the help of his while male buddy to get the job done. Neither of whom has worked day one in state government.

Democrats should tell him thanks, but no thanks. They should tell Murphy he’s more than welcome to join the Democratic primary, as candidate qualifying doesn’t close for a month. But they should insist he commit to not naming any Republican — be it Jolly or someone else — to the ticket.

I may be down on a Murphy-Jolly ticket, but I do have to give Murphy credit for something. Like John Morgan, he’s helped expose the weaknesses of this Democratic field — that Gillum is too radical, that Graham is over-emotive on the stump and underwhelming on fundraising calls, that Levine is from that foreign land known as Miami-Dade, and that King begins his day reading the Sayfie Review.

All four of these candidates continue to plead to party activists and the media that they are the real deal.

One of the four may eventually become something like the real deal, but because they’re not now, the door is open for one of the most interesting political partnerships since Matt Santos named Arnold Vinik his Secretary of State.

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