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Bill Nelson: Puerto Rico response must ramp up now or drastic measures coming

The situation in Hurricane Maria-ravaged Puerto Rico is so bleak that the military response needs to shift from talk to all-out action today or “drastic measures” will have to be taken, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson declared in Orlando Wednesday.

“This is a disaster of gargantuan proportions,” Nelson said.

Speaking at the Acacia Puerto Rican Center in Orlando, and surrounded by numerous local Central Florida Puerto Rican community and political leaders, Democrats, Republicans and independents, Nelson lashed out at President Donald Trump‘s response as far too slow, combined with “happy talk … it’s just not realistic.”

Military involvement in the relief efforts began ramping up Thursday with the appointment of Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan to take command of operations, and Trump also announced a temporary suspension of the Jones Act, a 1920 maritime law that limits shipments of goods to the island.

Nelson and several others speaking at Acacia Friday including Florida state Sen. Victor Torres, charged that Trump finally began acting due to strong, angry, and growing pressure. Now, Nelson said, the actual efforts must turn dramatically immediately, and he and others contended that only the military has the logistical experience, training, equipment, and manpower to tackle the problems of impassable roads, no power, no running water and no communication across mountainous terrain.

“If we do not see this changing in the next day, and today, then drastic measures are going to have to be taken,” Nelson said. “But I do believe there has been enough agitation expressed to the administration, and to the White House, and to the Defense Department, and to the National Security Council, and to the FAA, and to the Department of Homeland Security. I think there’s been enough agitation including from this senator and my colleague Sen. [Marco] Rubio that we will see action starting right now.”

Nelson repeatedly said that he and Rubio are of one mind on what is happening in Puerto Rico and what needs to be done.

The consequences are that people already are dying inland from lack of food, water and other essentials, others said.

Natalie Rossy and Michael Maldonado just evacuated from Puerto Rico and joined Nelson, Torres and the others Friday. Maldonado said he watched someone die while they waited overnight in an un-air-conditioned airport. Rossy said it’s happening elsewhere.

“Things are much worse than what you see on television,” Rossy said. “We cannot wait until government or military or FEMA takes a plan because people are dying. People are starving. We need food and water.

“Please, we need your help. People can’t wait. Right now we need to take action. We need help. We really need, Mr. President, your help. We are American citizens,” she added.

“The people in the mountains, they are dying. They need help,” Maldonado said.

Nelson suggested that Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló was reluctant to criticize the federal government’s response so far because he does not want to anger the administration.

Torres criticized Florida Gov. Rick Scott for doing a flyover of hard-hit areas in Puerto Rico Thursday and not visiting people affected, and then saying he awaited requests from Rosselló on how Florida can help.

A former Marine, Torres added, “I know what the Army, what the Armed Forces can do. I know the [Navy] Seabees can reconstruct roads, build bridges, do things that nobody can think of because they have the capability, the know-how.”

“No more talk. Things are getting worse by the day,” Torres said.

Marco Rubio calls on Defense Department to ramp up Puerto Rico response

There’s a serious logistics problem in Puerto Rico right now, and Marco Rubio says the only ones who can break through effectively is the U.S. military.

Florida’s junior U.S. senator says that a significant number of containers are sitting at the Port of San Juan have not been transported to other parts of the island, because of a variety of factors. Those include a lack of communications, fuel, generators and broken down roads.

In fact, there are more than 9,500 containers of relief supplies currently stranded at the Port of San Juan, CNN reports.

Rubio said that there had been plenty of aid sent to the island, with more on the way, but the problem is the “supply chain is shattered.”

Rubio, who visited the island on Monday, says the government of Puerto Rico is severely challenged because of hurricanes Maria and Irma, and that the U.S. military is the best agency in the world trained to take over the logistics, and so he’s calling on President Donald Trump to do so.

“Unless DOD steps in quickly to establish emergency logistical assistance, it is my fear this situation will deteriorate rapidly,” Rubio wrote to Trump in a letter forwarded from his office.

“We need someone in charge of that with the know-how of logistics, with the capability to restore logistics and with authority to make decisions quickly without having to check with 18 agencies,” Rubio said at a news conference in Washington.

The Florida Senator said he was encouraged to hear that the Pentagon had appointed Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan to lead all military hurricane efforts in Puerto Rico. A three-star star general and the Commander of U.S. Army North (5th Army), Buchanan was expected to arrive in Puerto Rico Thursday as the military focuses on trying to improve distribution networks of relief supplies.

When asked by reporters if the administration has reacted quickly enough, Rubio said that the Trump administration has responded to what might be considered a “normal ” hurricane. The problem, he said, was that this is not a “traditional model.” But he said he wasn’t interested in criticizing anyone. Not when matters are so urgent.

“This is not a time a time to stop and start pointing fingers,” he said. “Let’s get a result. Let’s save lives. Let’s get power back up. Let’s get fuel to generators. Let’s get communications going. Let’s get the roads stabilized so that people can move around. And then we’ll have plenty of time for you guys and others to say these guys and everybody else to say these people didn’t do a very good job or those people didn’t do a very job, but right now we can’t stop and have that argument. Let’s put out the fire, and then we’ll argue about who started it.”

Nearly half Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents still lack potable water eight days after Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the island, officials reiterated Wednesday. About 44 percent of the nation’s population remains without drinking water, the Department of Defense said in a statement.

Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio call for military help in Puerto Rico

Florida’s U.S. senators are calling for the “cavalry” – in the form of the U.S. military – to help in Puerto Rico, which was hammered last week by Hurricane Maria.

“There is a crisis in Puerto Rico where food, fuel, water and medicine is sitting at the docks and not getting out to the remote parts of the island,” Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said in a prepared statement Thursday. “The situation calls for an immediate response by the U.S. military to provide security and distribution to these remote areas. As was said after Hurricane Andrew: `Where the hell is the cavalry?’”

Earlier in the day, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted: “Conditions in parts of  #PuertoRico getting worse. The main problem is a logistical one, the distribution of aid beyond #SanJuan. Likely need the @DeptofDefense to address some `battlefield’ like logistical challenges in #PuertoRico. This will NOT improve on its own.”

On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott traveled to San Juan to provide assistance. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump temporarily lifted a century-old law – known as the Jones Act – that requires cargo between U.S. ports to be carried on American-flagged ships.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Marco Rubio expresses optimism in tax reform bill

Speaking to the Florida Chamber of Commerce Thursday, Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio expressed confidence that the Senate will pass President Donald Trump‘s tax reform plan but also expressed concern about the details.

Appearing by Skype at the chamber’s Future of Florida Forum luncheon in Orlando Thursday, Rubio raised concerns about the bill coming in “under modern conditions, today’s standards” and noted it will be complicated.

“Obviously, there are some individual impediments we have to work through,” Rubio said, without specifying what individual impediments he meant. “But by and large we have the votes we need for a forum that simplifies the tax code, makes us globally competitive, gives assistance to working families.

“I am generally optimistic,” Rubio added.

 

James Buchanan adds Marco Rubio endorsement

Republican James Buchanan keeps racking up endorsements for his House District 72 campaign, and Wednesday he added the one of the biggest names in Florida Politics to the list in U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

“James is a tenacious worker and someone the voters of Sarasota County can trust to deliver and produce results,” Rubio said. “He will put Sarasota’s interests above all and will never stop fighting to keep our economy strong, our infrastructure from crumbling, and our children in world-class schools.”

Buchanan said earning Rubio’s backing was both “humbling and energizing,” especially considering the second-term Republican senator was once Speaker of the Florida State House of Representatives.

“I am proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a proven champion for lower taxes, personal freedom, and smaller government,” Buchanan said.

Rubio joins an interminable list of Florida Republicans who have come out in support of Buchanan, who is the son of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan.

Less than a week ago, Buchanan got the nod from Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight, and has also picked up support from Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano, who is set to become Senate President after the 2018 elections. Republican Rep. Jim Boyd, who is wrapping up his final term in the House, has also lined up behind Buchanan.

Buchanan has spent most of his life in the Sarasota area. He graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School, and after heading to Tallahassee to attend Florida State University on a full athletic scholarship, he returned to Sarasota to work as a real estate agent.

He had been running for Boyd’s HD 71 seat before Alex Miller’s surprise announcement that she would abdicate HD 72 after less than 10 months in office.

During his months campaigning in HD 71, Buchanan was able to bring in more than $160,000 for his campaign. Through the end of August, he had more than $140,000 of that money on hand, putting him far ahead of his opponents.

Gov. Rick Scott set the filing deadline for Sept. 28, so unless another GOP hopeful materializes in the next few hours Buchanan will face Alexandra Coe in a two-way Republican Primary on Dec. 5.

Two Democrats are also running for the seat: Margaret Good, who has the Florida Democratic Party’s backing, and Ruta Jouniari, a businesswoman who FDP insiders view as somewhat of a pesky activists.

Questions surrounding Jouniari’s filing paperwork could disqualify her, though, which would prevent a Democratic Primary.

Also running for the seat is Libertarian Alison Foxall, who announced earlier this week that she would qualify for the ballot via petition.

Foxall and the winners of the two primary races will face off in a Feb. 13 general election.

HD 72 generally favors Republicans. Miller bested Democrat Ed James III by 10 points last year despite him being one of the best funded Democrats to make a run for the state House in that cycle.

Linda Stewart, Victor Torres, Randolph Bracy urging U.S. senators to help Puerto Rico

Three state senators from Orlando, Linda Stewart, Victor Torres and Randolph Bracy have sent a letter to Florida’s U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson to do all they can to help the people of Puerto Rico.

Both Rubio, a Republican, and Nelson, a Democrat, have been highly active on that front.

Rubio is sending his own staff to the island and pledged a second visit soon after touring the Hurricane Maria devastation on Monday.

Nelson took to the Senate floor Tuesday to urge his colleagues to quickly take up and pass an aid package to help those affected by the recent hurricanes in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“We need to act with urgency and purpose to aid Puerto Rico in their time of need,” Nelson said. “In a crisis, all that matters is saving lives and giving people the resources they need to get back on their feet.”

Rubio just visited the island devastated by Hurricane Maria and took to Facebook Live Tuesday to urge help for Puerto Rico, where he said the situation, especially outside San Juan, “is catastrophic.” Later he met with Vice President Mike Pence and Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González and said he would take to the floor of the Senate Tuesday night to “rethink how we can respond” and accelerate aid. He said he would send four members of his staff to San Juan and hoped to return himself in a few days.

Also Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat, took to the floor of the House of Representatives to describe what he called a “humanitarian crisis happening in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.” He called on President Donald Trump  to take immediate action and mobilize all resources possible, and urged Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to promptly bring forth a FEMA Supplemental Package to include Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Stewart, Torres and Bracy, all Democrats, urged a “swift federal response that uses every available tool at the disposal of the federal government.”

The request continued, “it is the sole responsibility of America’s federal government to provide the necessities of life for millions of its citizens in the hour of their greatest need.”

“We request that you use the full weight of your office to ensure the federal government, by utilizing its disaster relief agencies and military logistical capabilities, to swiftly secure the island of Puerto Rico so emergencies supplies and volunteer relief organizations can begin sending much needed supplies and volunteers to support the residents,” the trio wrote.

“We further request the federal government prioritize restoring essential services needed for the full operation of all airports, seaports and ground transportation infrastructure, as well as public utility services such as potable water systems, sewer service and electric power generation in Puerto Rico to facilitate the delivery relief supplies.”

Joe Henderson: Marco Rubio maybe gets the message

Gwen Graham’s attempt to make Marco Rubio look bad may have fallen flat, but it does raise a couple of interesting points.

First, Democrats obviously still plan to make an issue of Rubio’s image as a detached and disinterested U.S. senator. You may recall that was a major point of contention last year when Rubio successfully ran for re-election.

But second, is Rubio doing enough in the early stages of his second term to put that question to rest?

Maybe. His performance – and especially that of his staff – during the recent hurricanes suggests he has gotten the message that being a senator requires than showing up at election time and asking for votes.

Graham, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, released a video last Friday that hit directly at Rubio’s detached image. With a camera rolling, Graham called Rubio’s office to urge him to vote against the pending health care bill in the senate.

The call went to voice mail. She left a message.

She called his offices around Florida. More voice mail. More messages. Apparently, she never reached a live human, and she punctuated that with a tweet that read: Senator @MarcoRubio, answer your phone.

Olivia Perez-Cubas, Rubio’s communications director, responded with a zinger that said the reason no one answered is because staffers were busy helping “over 10,000 people apply for FEMA assistance, not sitting behind desk waiting for a political stunt.”

She released pictures to back up her claim.

Boom!

Rubio also just returned from a trip to Puerto Rico to survey and report on damage, again with photos. And this was after he was highly visible, along with Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, going around Florida before Hurricane Irma struck. After the Keys were dealt a severe blow by Irma, Rubio was on the scene with Tim Tebow (!) to pass out ice to people in need.

Genius.

Rubio’s staff gets an A-plus during this time. And someone seems to have gotten through to Rubio that being a senator, especially in a crisis, requires visibility and action. We need to see these people. We need to hear from them.

The late former U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons was renowned throughout Tampa for his rapid response to constituent needs. Nelson routinely returns to Florida to see what’s going on, and not just for fund-raisers.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa also spends a lot of time back home, listening to concerns from the people who elected her.

Throughout his first term, Rubio basically blew off the job he was sent to Washington to do, concentrating instead on an ill-fated run for president. He moped that he didn’t like being a senator and even said he wouldn’t run for re-election before changing his mind.

He won a second term, but after six years his brand was that of an absentee representative. As Graham’s gambit showed, that can be a tough image to change.

Give Rubio credit for this much, though – at least he seems to be trying.

Marco Rubio, Mel Martinez, Connie Mack III headline Mike Miller fundraiser

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, former U.S. Sens. Mel Martinez and Connie Mack III, and former Lt Gov. Toni Jennings headline a long host list for a congressional campaign fundraiser for state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park this week.

The Thursday evening, $500 per person fundraiser at the Country Club of Orlando aims to boost Miller’s campaign to first defeat fellow Republican candidate Scott Sturgill, a Sanford businessman, and then to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in the 2018 election.

The list of dozens of hosts, featuring Jennings and Martinez, two popular and once-powerful figures in Central Florida politics, also includes numerous current and former local Republican power brokers such as timeshare magnate David Siegel, airports board chairman Frank Kruppenbacher, attorney Marcos Marchena, financier Phil Handy, and former Walt Disney World President Dick Nunis.

Former U.S. Reps. Ric Keller and Connie Mack IV, and former Florida House Speakers Dean Cannon and Steve Crisafulli. also are among the listed hosts.

Miller, of Winter Park, hopes to re-flip Florida’s 7th Congressional District seat that Murphy won from Republican former U.S. Rep. John Mica of Winter Park, who had served the district for 24 years before Murphy came along. The district covers Seminole County and north and central Orange County.

SD 40 race could be Donald Trump test for Democrats

Florida Democrats are facing a test to see whether anti-President Donald Trump politics will give them a boost ahead of a critical election year and perhaps signal a turnaround after two decades of Republican dominance in the Legislature.

They’ve made Trump a focal point in a special election set for Tuesday to replace a Miami-area Republican state senator who resigned after using racial slurs in front of black colleagues. The Republican in the race, state Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, was a contestant on Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice,” helping to make that connection easier.

“Trump’s apprentice just got the GOP nomination,” said a Democratic fundraising email when Diaz won the primary in July. “Contribute now to fire Trump’s apprentice.”

If Democrat Annette Taddeo wins with less money against the stronger organization of the Republican Party, it could be a sign of better times for Democrats. It would also test an anti-Trump strategy ahead of a 2018 election when the governor’s seat and all three Cabinet positions are open and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is up for re-election.

“It’s an interesting test. Does the Trump thing translate down the ballot in a nontypical election?” said Democratic political strategist Steve Schale. “If Democrats talk about getting back to a majority, you have to win races like this at some point.”

On paper, the district southwest of Miami leans Democratic. Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Trump last year, but Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio also carried the district.

“I’m sure the Democrats are going to try to make it a referendum on Trump, but they’re going to have to spend a lot of money to do it,” said David Johnson, a Republican political consultant. “If Pepi wins, it will be credited largely to superior resources and organization.”

Taddeo, 50, has a television ad that begins with her clicking off a television showing a clip of Trump “attacking” professional wrestling icon Vince McMahon. And in a speech to supporters two months ago, she said, “We have a president that we need to stand up [to] and not stand on the sidelines. We need to fight him every step of the way.”

She has run for Congress twice, losing both times. She was also Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist‘s running mate in 2014 in a race barely lost to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

She said Diaz, 37, wasn’t shy about using his ties to Trump during the primary.

“When the president was insulting to Hispanics, instead of coming out and defending us, Representative Diaz actually joined his national Hispanic advisory council,” she said.

Diaz dismissed the attacks from Taddeo and Democrats over Trump and said that being on “The Apprentice” in 2006 was a life-changing experience — even if he was one of the first contestants to get fired.

“Having a camera on 24 hours a day changed me. It made me really think about just how important it is to make the right the decision at all times,” he said.

And while he said the race isn’t about Trump, some voters still see it that way.

“I support Diaz because I support President Trump,” said Republican Raul Musibay, 75.

Abel Lopez, a 65-year-old Democrat, agreed that the Trump factor was key.

“Anything I can do to help those against Trump,” Lopez said, “I will do it.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

Florida Sugarcane Farmers ready to ‘grow again’ post-Irma

Florida farmers may have just experienced the biggest crop loss event in state history, but Florida Sugar Farmers is determined to bounce back.

Our rural farming communities will recover, replant and we will grow again after #HurricaneIrma,” the group said on Facebook Thursday.

Florida Sugar Farmers included a video with the post that intercut descriptions clips of USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam and other public officials describing the record damage Irma brought to Florida’s agriculture industry.

“The devastation of this storm was probably greater and more catastrophic across this state than anything we’ve ever seen, and that’s what we want to come here to rectify,” Purdue said in the video. “We’ve flown over from Orlando down to see all the groves and the vegetables and the shade houses destroyed and roofs off dairy barns and things like that.”

Putnam, who is running for Florida governor, said the storm was a “widespread disaster that’s more than just what you’ll feel at the produce section of your grocery store.

Flanked by Putnam and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the video also included a clip of Perdue saying his department will “expedite as much as possible” whatever help they can pull together while appealing to Congress for more Irma relief.

“These people are used to getting up after they’ve been knocked down,” Perdue said. “They’ll do it again, but we need to help ‘em and that’s what USDA is going to do.”

In the same post as the video, Florida Sugar Farmers praised Perdue, Putnam and Rubio, as well as U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Tom Rooney, state Sen. Denise Grimsley for being elected leaders who support Florida farmers.

Watch the video on Florida Sugar Farmers Facebook page.

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