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Val Demings leads call to end transfers of customs agents from Orlando, Port Canaveral

A trio of Orlando-area Democratic members of Congress, joined by Florida’s two U.S. Senators, is calling on the United States Customs and Border Protection agency to suspend proposed transfers of safety officers out of Port Canaveral and Orlando International Airport.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Val Demings, Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy, along with Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio are opposing to a Customs and Border Patrol initiative to rotate customs inspections officers from airports and other ports to serve temporary shifts along the United States-Mexico border. The transferred officers are not replaced on the lines in their home ports, leaving the staffing there short-handed for periods of time.

The group sent a letter Wednesday to newly confirmed U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, arguing that the airport and seaport customs inspectors were critical to public safety. They cited numerous incidents when inspectors have averted potential terrorist actions and seized countless amounts of illegal drugs and other contraband.

“The treats at our nation’s ports of entry are real, and, if carried out, could have permanent devastating effects on our nation and cities like Orlando,” they wrote. “Therefore we encourage your agency to prioritize and fulfill the scientifically based CFP officer working model for our nation’s ports of entry.”

Demings, Soto and Murphy first decried the program in January after Orlando International Airport officials called for help with overburdened customs stations at the airport’s international gates. In February Demings and Murphy co-sponsored a bill that would increase customs staffing levels at airports, including Orlando. House Resolution 4940, the Border and Port Security Act got three committee referrals, including the House Homeland Security Committee, but has not yet been heard anywhere.

In May, Rubio called for an additional 500 customs officers to help address staffing shortages at many of Florida’s airports and seaports.

“Orlando International Airport is one of the nation’s best ports of entry, and Orlando is the number one visitor destination in the U.S. As we continue to grow, it’s vital that we maintain safety staffing to meet increased passenger volume,” Demings stated in a news release issued Thursday by her office. “I urge Customs and Border Protection to once again reverse this ill-considered move and ensure that Central Florida continues to have the level of staffing necessary to ensure speedy travel and necessary security for all passengers.”

Airport officials have contended that, even without the rotations of agents and inspectors to the southwest border, the Orlando airport already was suffering from under-staffing by Customs and Border Patrol. They reported that from 2009 to 2016, the number of international passengers arriving at Orlando International Airport grew by 89 percent, from 1.49 million to 2.83 million.

However, over the same period, Customs and Border Protection Officer staffing levels have remained flat, the GOAA officials in a letter sent to area lawmakers, urging their help.

The lawmakers’ letter noted that Port Canaveral also is being squeezed.

In 2017, the seaport, which mostly handles cruise traffic, welcomed 4.5 million passengers, a 7 percent jump from the previous year, while customs inspectors staffing decreased, “resulting in significant bottlenecks.”

“Representatives Demings, Soto, and I have consistently told CBP that transferring officers from Orlando International Airport to the Southwest border is a mistake,” Murphy said in the release. “These officers are needed at the airport to keep the public safe and the economy moving. As Orlando’s representatives in Congress, we will continue to do everything possible to ensure Orlando International is fully staffed given that the airport is the busiest in the state and about to enter peak travel season.”

Murphy first got involved early on, after GOAA officials declared the program would “seriously diminish security” at the airport.

“We’ve seen overwhelming support for the CBP officers at OIA from our community, including repeated pleas from the Central Florida congressional delegation to at-minimum halt transfers,” Soto stated in the release. Each and every member of the CBP team is valued and desperately needed for the increasing demands of our area’s busy ports of entry. Their work is critical for passenger safety and smooth-running operations. We look forward to working with Commissioner McAleenan and continue supporting our CBP officers.”

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson introduce Pulse remembrance resolution in U.S. Senate

Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson joined forces to introduce a resolution in the U.S. Senate noting the survivors and commemorating the victims of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting that took place two years ago Tuesday.

The resolution refers to the massacre both as a terrorist attack and a hate crime – a distinction that has has created a bit of a partisan divide on which to emphasize – and calls for remembrance of the victims, honoring and supporting the survivors, applauding the dedication and bravery of the responders, Americans standing together against both hate and terrorism, and recognizing, “the unity, compassion, and resilience of the Orlando community.”

Here is the full text:

Whereas, in the early hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016, a 29-year-old man from Ft. Pierce, Florida, killed 49 and wounded 53 innocent people in a horrific terrorist attack on Pulse Orlando, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender nightclub, during Latin night;

Whereas the gunman, who was investigated in 2013–2014 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (in this preamble referred to as the “FBI”) for possible connections to terrorism, pledged his allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (in this preamble referred to as “ISIL”);

Whereas then-President [Barack] Obama called the attack an act of both terror and hate as well as an attack on all of the people of the United States and the fundamental values of equality and dignity;

Whereas the attack was, at the time, the deadliest mass shooting in the modern history of the United States and is the worst terrorist attack on United States soil since September 11, 2001;

Whereas the law enforcement professionals of the city of Orlando and Orange County, Florida, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and other emergency and health care professionals responded to the attack bravely and admirably and in a coordinated manner, saving many lives;

Whereas following the attack, hundreds of people stood in long lines to donate blood for those injured in the attack, and the people of Orlando, the State of Florida, and the United States expressed overwhelming support for the victims, their families, and their loved ones regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, or sexual orientation;

Whereas local organizations and caregivers came together with the Federal, State, and local government to support the victims and help the community heal;

Whereas the community of Orlando and communities across the State of Florida and the United States, in the spirit of unity and respect, continue to support the victims, their families, their loved ones, and all those affected by the attack, as well as the brave men and women of Federal, State, and local law enforcement and other emergency and health care professionals for their dedicated service to their communities;

Whereas Tuesday, June 12, 2018, marks 2 years since the attack; and

Whereas the threat of terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies persists, including the threat posed by homegrown terrorists inspired by foreign terrorist organizations like ISIL: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Senate—

(1) commemorates the victims killed in the horrific terrorist attack on the Pulse Orlando nightclub on June 12, 2016, and offers heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies for their families, loved ones, and friends;

(2) honors the survivors of the attack and pledges continued support for their recovery;

(3) recognizes the unity, compassion, and resilience of the Orlando community after the attack;

(4) applauds the dedication and bravery of Federal, State, and local law enforcement and counterterrorism officials for their efforts to respond to the attack, prevent future attacks, and secure communities;

(5) stands together with all people of the United States, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, or sexual orientation, in the face of terror and hate; and

(6) reaffirms the commitment of the United States and its allies to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other terrorist groups at home and abroad and to address the threat posed by homegrown terrorism.

John Rutherford, Marco Rubio spotlight federal money for JAXPORT dredge

Jacksonville policymakers don’t have to worry, at least for another year, where money for the JAXPORT dredge is coming from.

Rep. John Rutherford on Monday announced $32.389 million in federal funding via the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This is the second straight year of federal money, and an uptick from the $17.5 million that JAXPORT received for the project last year.

“Continued federal investment into the expansion at JAXPORT is a huge win for our region,” said Rutherford.

“As a strategically important asset to our national security,” Rutherford added, “JAXPORT has proven to be a reliable and prosperous port of entry for commerce and trade on the Eastern Seaboard. This important deep dredge project will enhance the economic growth and international competitiveness of JAXPORT, and this increased investment marks a significant step toward furthering JAXPORT’s substantial contributions to Northeast Florida and to our nation.”

The project, at last estimate, is expected to cost $484 million; this money will fund a deepening of the channel to 47 feet for 11 miles total.

Sen. Marco Rubio spotlighted the money amidst a host of other allocations from the federal government, including $556,250 for Miami Harbor improvements, $82 million for the Herbert Hoover Dyke, $28.375 million for the Brevard County shore protection project, and $26.9 million for the South Florida ecosystem restoration.

Ron DeSantis blasts FBI efforts regarding Donald Trump campaign as “not normal”

Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis is siding firmly with President Donald Trump in the so-called “Spygate” controversy, calling the FBI’s actions to uncover Russian interference in the 2016 campaign “not normal.”

Trump has repeatedly accused the FBI of implanting a spy within his campaign during the 2016 election. According to what we know so far, that’s not quite the case.

Instead, it appears the FBI used an informant to contact Trump staffers who the FBI suspected may have information about Russia’s efforts to interfere with the election. That informant was not “implanted” into the campaign but instead met with members of Trump’s team to ferret out any ties to Russia.

Still, DeSantis says those actions were inappropriate. In an interview on “Fox and Friends” this morning, DeSantis says the FBI should have carried out those efforts differently.

“If you had a problem with somebody on the periphery of the campaign, the obvious thing to do is to go brief the campaign and brief Donald Trump,” said DeSantis.

DeSantis seems to be echoing concerns by some that the FBI appeared to be targeting Trump himself rather than the Russians.

“When you are deploying surveillance powers, counterintelligence powers, against an opposition party’s campaign, that is not normal, and I think that is not what Americans want the FBI to be doing.”

That’s a break from statements from fellow Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Rubio defended the FBI’s actions: “As far as what I have seen to date, it appears that there was an investigation not of the campaign, but of certain individuals who have a history that we should be suspicious of, that predate the presidential campaign of 2015, 2016.”

“And when individuals like that are in the orbit of a major political campaign in America, the FBI, who is in charge of counterintelligence investigations, should look at people like that.”

South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also said the FBI’s actions during the 2016 campaign were appropriate.

“I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do,” said Gowdy, a Republican.

That DeSantis is splitting with other high-profile Republicans is nothing new for him or supporters of the president more broadly. Trump has routinely attacked Republicans such as Robert Mueller, Rod Rosenstein, John McCain and others who have occasionally acted against the president’s interests.

DeSantis has clearly thrown himself behind Trump in his bid for the governorship, now supporting attacks on the FBI that even his fellow Republicans say are unsubstantiated.

How that will play out in the Republican primary remains to be seen.

Republican voters will choose their nominee for Governor August 28.

25 big questions facing Florida politics heading into Summer

Summer is here — well, unofficially at least. And with it comes cookouts, summer vacations, and the final six months of the 2018 campaign. With the busiest election cycle in Florida’s modern history, the answers to these 14 questions (plus a fill-in-the-blank) could shape the future of the state.

Will Marco Rubio fully embrace his role as a counterbalance to Donald Trump? As close as Florida’s junior Senator appears to be with Trump and as much as the president seems to have abdicated foreign policy decisions on Latin America affairs to him, Rubio has recently been one of the most forceful critics of the administration. On China, the FBI investigation, immigration policy, and several other issues, Rubio is articulating an alternative to Trump’s vision. Rubio is anything but Lil’ Marco right now. How long this lasts, however, is anyone’s guess.

— Does Bill Nelson have an answer for the Rick Scott juggernaut? Even Democrats acknowledge that Scott’s first months back on the campaign trail have been impressive, so much so that he turned a four-point polling deficit to Nelson into a four-point lead. He’s done it by barraging Florida’s senior Senator with one TV ad after another. Scott is also working to reshape Florida’s electoral math by aggressively campaigning to Hispanic subgroups (Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans) that traditionally vote Democratic. Meanwhile, Nelson’s re-elect is bare-bones (the political director is splitting time between the campaign and her Senate job) and only recently received air cover from Senate Majority PAC. Nelson recently said he would keep his powder dry until the fall. That strategy did not work for Charlie Crist in 2014, but maybe Pete Mitchell (Nelson’s longtime consigliere) knows something we don’t.

Follow-up: Will an active hurricane season lockout Nelson from campaigning while Scott gets to don his Navy ball cap and SERT jacket and play Action Figure Governor?

— How often does Donald Trump campaign for Ron DeSantis? — With polls showing Adam Putnam and DeSantis running neck-and-neck for the GOP nomination for Governor, it seems like the entire race may come down to how much shoulder Trump puts behind the U.S. Rep. he has described as one of his “warriors.” POTUS recently said he’d soon be in Florida to stump for DeSantis, but with a trade war with China and peace talks with North Korea occupying so much of Trump’s time, how often can he campaign in the Sunshine State? Putnam supporters are prepared for a rally or two, plus a robocall and some tweets, but if Trump sets up shop at the Florida State Fairgrounds, there may not be much they can do to stop DeSantis.

Follow-up: Will DeSantis do anything that resembles traditional campaigning, such as hire an expanded staff, establish campaign HQs, or issue policy positions? Or is his only path to the Governor’s Mansion via Fox News?

Follow-up: Will Florida Man Roger Stone, indirectly linked with a dark-money campaign attacking DeSantis, be indicted as part of Robert Mueller’s investigation?

— Can Adam Putnam stop shooting himself in the foot? He’s raised $30 million, has built a statewide organization that would make Jeb Bush envious, and his knowledge of Florida and its issues is, arguably, unparalleled among those running for Governor. Yet, where it stands now, there’s never been more doubt about whether Adam Putnam can win his party’s nomination, much less the general election in November. It seems like just as he is gathering momentum, his campaign does something to trip over itself, as it did by scheduling a fundraiser at the home of a man videotaped in 2008 shooting two dogs. Putnam eventually canceled the event, but not after losing another news cycle. The hard truth is he never fully recovered from the cringe-worthy moment when he described himself as an “NRA sellout.” And that was before the Parkland school shooting. It’s become so bad for Putnam, even his hometown allies at Publix had to promise to stop contributing to him. Putnam’s saving grace? There’s still time to right the ship. Maybe.

Follow-up: Will any other significant corporate contributors to Putnam be boycotted similar to what happened to Publix over Memorial Day Weekend?

— Is the Democratic field for Governor set? Ever since John Morgan (wisely) closed the door on a statewide bid, the Democratic field has remained static with Philip Levine and Gwen Graham leading in the polls, Andrew Gillum insisting he has momentum, and Chris King looking to breakout. Perhaps because none of these four has been able to emerge as the clear front-runner, former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy and former U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene are both eyeing entering the race, with Greene the more likely of the two to get in. Murphy has floated the idea of running on a bipartisan ticket with former Republican Congressman David Jolly and has met with high-level donors about underwriting their maverick bid. It’s unclear how much of an appetite there is for a two-white-dudes ticket in a Democratic primary, just as it’s unclear if Greene is willing to part with the $40 or $50 million (at least) he’d need to be competitive. One thing you can bet on is Graham hoping one or both of them join the race and further divide the vote.

Follow-up: Will Morgan continue to plow money into a 2020 ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15? What will he do next to push for full legalization of marijuana (and not just the medical kind)?

Follow-up: If Murphy doesn’t run, what does Jolly do next? He’s ubiquitous on cable news, but he doesn’t live in a winnable congressional district. Read his Twitter account and try to tell yourself he doesn’t want to mount a primary challenge against Trump in 2020.

— How much money is Phil Levine willing to spend to win the primary election? He may not be getting the best ROI on his money, at least in terms of television points purchased versus his standing in the polls, but the former Miami Beach Mayor can claim ‘scoreboard‘ when it comes to his decision to spend millions of dollars on early TV ads in his pursuit of the Democratic nomination. He’s entering the summer with a 10 point lead over Graham, according to one poll. Of course, Graham hasn’t really gone up with her own ads, but even when she does Levine can still flood the airwaves with his spots. That’s if he wants to write a check for another $15 or $20 million. The increasing chatter among many insiders has Levine narrowly winning his primary, then facing off against DeSantis in the fall.

Follow-up: When does Graham go up on the air? More importantly, can she raise the money to be on the air for the final post-July 4th weeks of the campaign?

Follow-up: Will Gillum have the resources needed to communicate to African American voters and the progressive wing of the party, the two pillars he’s basing his campaign on?

Follow-up: Now that he’s rolling out his agenda and spending money on TV ads, will King finally see a bump in the polls?

Follow-up: Will any of the Democrats emerge victorious from the series of debates planned for over the summer? Or will they regress to their performances on display during the first televised debate?

— What kind of campaigns — for and against — will spring up around the CRC’s ballot questions? The Constitution Revision Commission tacked on a slew of proposed amendments to the state constitution. And almost all of these amendments address multiple, albeit linked, issues. And with each of these issues, there’s a special interest who will be impacted by whether the amendments pass. Energy companies are opposed to the ban on offshore drilling, tobacco interests should be opposed to the vaping ban, and the education establishment should be very afraid of the proposals dealing with charter schools. Both sides of the proposed ban on greyhound racing are already gearing up for a loser-leaves-town match. Political consultants should be able to pay their kids’ tuition with the money they can make off these races.

Follow-up: Will city and county governments be able to muster a defense against the expansion of the homestead exemption?

Follow-up: Will the push to restore voting rights find bipartisan support?

— Will any of the undercard candidates breakout? There are multi-way GOP primaries for Agriculture Commissioner and Attorney General and, after that, there are promises to be competitive races for at least two of the Cabinet positions. But if you polled any of these races, undecided would probably capture three-fifths of the vote. Who the heck knows who Jeremy Ring (he’s running for CFO) or Baxter Troutman (he’s running for Ag. Commissioner) are? With limited budgets, these candidates are hoping for a breakout moment in July or August. Meanwhile, they’ll keep up with the grassroots campaigning, clawing for endorsements, working the county parties, winning straw polls, etc.

— Where will state Democrats find the money to fund their Senate campaigns? In at least six districts, Republican incumbents face legitimate threats to their re-election as Democrats seek to win four of those races in order to regain a share of control of the Florida Senate. But these races are brutally expensive; some other states’ races for governor are not as costly as those in battleground Senate districts. Perennially cash-strapped, Florida Democrats probably need to raise $10 million to fund all of these challengers, but Republican Senate leaders have warned special interests not to play in these races. The bottom line: Democrats have the table set … they’ve got their forks and knives … they’ve even got the A-1 sauce. Now all they need is the steak.

Follow-up: Can Senate Democrats actually work together to gain seats or is the recent formation of two political committees by a faction of Senators a sign of dissension to come?

Follow-up: Will former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas decide to run for Senate District 36?

— What kind of surprises are in store for the last day of candidate qualifying? This is Florida politics, so you know there will be some kind of shenanigans on the final day of candidate qualifying on June 22? Perhaps a veteran pol will decide at the last moment to not seek re-election? Maybe (or almost certainly) someone hoping to run will screw-up their check or paperwork and, in the end, be kept off the ballot? How many faux candidates will qualify as write-ins, thereby closing legislative races to only one party? All of this and more will likely happen, so pull up a chair outside of the Division of Elections and watch the drama unfold.

— What is David Hogg’s next target? The Parkland student has taken down Laura Ingraham, Publix, and, somewhat, Putnam? If you are a corporate executive, right now you are praying Hogg doesn’t turn you into his next hashtag. And if he does, there’s working strategy for how to respond. Conservatives increasingly despise Hogg’s activism, especially as he threatens to get more involved in the upcoming elections. But good luck fighting with this teenager (that’s right, he’s still just a teenager). Hogg could be, if he’s not already, the most dangerous individual currently operating in Florida politics.

We always close this article with a reminder that it is the truly unknown unknowns that make Florida politics so maddeningly interesting. As much as we know there will be elections in August and November, we don’t know if there will be another hurricane or shooting that will change the trajectory of #FlaPol and all of the players involved. Best to pray that nothing tragic occurs, but be prepared for the eventuality that something will.

Marco Rubio expands China concerns to include South China Sea

Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is expanding his publicly-expressed concerns about President Donald Trump‘s dealings with China to include a warning Friday that the administration needs to urgently address that country’s rapid militarization of the South China Sea.

Rubio on Friday joined U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican; and Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, in sending a letter Friday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis urging that they have the United States “respond to Beijing’s introduction of advanced weapons systems into the South China Sea.”

All week, and previously, Rubio has been expressing near condemnation of Trump’s proposed trade deals with China, particularly involving the Chinese telecom company ZTE.

This letter is in response to media and other reports that China is moving swiftly to weaponize and deploy military to manmade islands that country built in disputed international waters be between China, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Taiwan.

The administration has taken some actions, including canceling China’s participation in a multi-nation Navy drill, and, according to reports, flying U.S. bombers over the South China Sea.

The trio of senators seek more. Their letter expresses “grave concerns about China’s ongoing militarization of the South China Sea, which is contrary to international law and intended to undermine the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific region.”

“The Chinese government has clearly reneged on President Xi Jinping’s pledge that ‘China does not intend to pursue militarization”’on the disputed Spratly Islands, which he made during a joint press conference with then-President Barack Obama on September 25, 2015,” the letter continues.

The letter declared that there is bipartisan support in Congress to for the U.S. to respond with “significant actions.

Among those the senators suggest is that the administration tell China it must abide by the international tribunal in The Hague’s ruling that China violated international law by constructing the islands; work with Japan and Australia to coordinate maritime security; back up sanctions; and explore the creation of a joint maritime task force led by the U.S. Navy.

“By placing weapons on these artificial islands—Fiery Cross, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef—China has increased the risk of conflict between itself and the five other claimants in the Spratlys. China’s People’s Liberation Army’s deployment of these weapons systems allows it to project power well into the Pacific Ocean. As Admiral Philip Davidson noted in his written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 17, 2018: ‘The only thing lacking [by the Chinese military’s expansion activities the South China Sea] are the deployed forces. Once occupied, China will be able to extend its influence thousands of miles to the south and project power deep into Oceania.'” the letter charges.

“Moreover, the missiles that China keeps in the Spratly’s are not solely for defense. Increasing its offensive firepower in the South China Sea gives the Chinese government an additional element of coercion in its disputes with its neighbors, including our allies in the Philippines and our partners in Vietnam and Indonesia.”

Marco Rubio rails against administration’s ZTE deal

Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is amping up his outrage over President Donald Trump‘s desire to prop up the Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE which also is suspected of running espionage in America.

Rubio railed against the administration’s intentions to lift sanctions against ZTE during a FOX News interview Tuesday night and then unleashed a Twitter storm late Tuesday and then Wednesday going even further.

“Those in the administration pushing for deal with #ZTE have access to same classified info we do about the national security danger posed by #ZTE & #China telecomm. I don’t understand how they can push for a deal that lets them keep operating in U.S.,” read one Rubio tweet Wednesday morning.

For weeks now Rubio has been pushing back against the administration’s proposals with China and that reached a head Tuesday when news emerged, via a Wall Street Journal story, that the administration and China have reached the broad outlines of a day: ZTE would pay a $1.3 trillion fine, fire some top people, and agree to buy cell phone parts from American companies.

“A $1.3billion fine & forcing them to buy more semi-conductors is how administration plans to punish ZTE? $1.3 billion is nothing for company backed by #China govt. And buying more semi-conductors isn’t a punishment, it is a reward. #DoNotCave,” Rubio tweeted Wednesday morning.

Trump later Tuesday denied a deal was complete, but confirmed some of the details of the deal he’s seeking.

Earlier Trump had banned American companies from selling parts to ZTE because the company violated U.S. sanctions against North Korea and Iran, and ZTE announced the ban was threatening to put it out of business. Trump pursued talks to save ZTE, as part of broader trade talks with China.

Rubio has expressed incredulity. On FOX News Tuesday night, he declared there should be no connection between trade talks and ZTE.

“Trade and ZTE are two separate issues. They shouldn’t be mixed. We have a huge trade problem with China. It’s structural, it’s not just how much they buy from us, it’s what they do to our companies. They force our companies to turn over intellectual property, secrets. You can’t do business in China unless you do that, if you can do it at all. Meanwhile their companies can do whatever they want here. That’s what has to be fixed because that’s long term and it’s problematic,” Rubio started.

“ZTE is a cell phone and technology company. They got caught violating the Iran sanctions and North Korea. And they got hit with a billion dollar fine and they were told they had to fire the employees who did that. You know what they did? They didn’t do it. They lied. They didn’t fire those employees, they gave them a bonus and they tried to cover that up as well like they tried to cover up the violation,” he continued.

“So now we hit them, and said ‘fine, you can’t buy our semiconductors anymore’ and that put them out of business. And that’s a good move. That’s what we need to be doing when people are violating these things. But now it appears as though some are saying, ‘well, let’s fine them again and let’s make them change the board of directors.’ That’s the same deal they broke already once. Meanwhile, all these phone companies, they have to report to the Chinese government,” he added. “You use those phones, and they can steal those secrets, they can spy on us, they even have subcontractors in ZTE that work for but people right now could be using ZTE and Huawei technology and not even know it because it says AT&T or something on it. But it’s theirs.”

Ron DeSantis hasn’t always been a full-throated supporter of Donald Trump

If there is one thing fueling Ron DeSantis’ ambition to be Florida governor, it is this: A full-throated endorsement (on Twitter, at least) from President Donald Trump.

But when Congressman Matt Gaetz takes to Breitbart to say “Trump knows he can trust DeSantis to make tough decisions,” it seems as if DeSantis also has the president’s back.

That has not always been the case

For DeSantis tosuggest he has always been a strong Trump supporter involves some revisionist history.

Looking back over the past few years, it’s clear DeSantis began bolstering the president only when it became politically expedient.

For example, as Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith noted in Sept. 2015, DeSantis sounded as if he favored Marco Rubio over Trump: “DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach tells The Buzz he is staying out of it, but in a recent 20-minute conversation he mentioned Rubio at least three times. When we suggested that he sounded like a Rubio guy, DeSantis acknowledged he likes the idea of Rubio facing Hillary Clinton: ‘He would be a good contrast, There’s no doubt about it.’”

A few months later, DeSantis was again hesitant to weigh in on Trump.

“No response so far to multiple requests for comment,” Smith wrote about asking DeSantis his feelings on then-candidate Trump’s call for a Muslim ban.

And during the Republican presidential primaries, DeSantis was still not a fan, telling “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” Feb. 25, 2016, that he was NOT endorsing Trump.

“Sir, you haven’t endorsed anyone?” host Van Susteren asked. “No.”

DeSantis campaign spokesman Brad Herold later clarified to the Times: “DeSantis has long decided to remain neutral in the presidential primary and is focused on building a broad coalition for his Senate campaign.’”

In other words, he was not a Trump devotee at the time.

Soon afterward (March 14), the National Journal reported on DeSantis’ response to being asked point-blank if he would support Trump as the Republican nominee.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said: “I don’t think I could.” DeSantis, on the other hand, “refused to answer the question altogether, saying, ‘I just don’t want to. … You can either run your own race, or you can make comments about other races.’”

By May, instead of full-fledged support, DeSantis only offered a tepid approval, mainly because Trump was “the Republican nominee.”

Again, the Miami Herald noted the congressman’s long-standing reluctance: “… DeSantis plans to vote for Trump. ‘The congressman has been clear that he will support the Republican nominee,’ campaign manager Brad Herold said. As recently as March, DeSantis would not endorse.”

While an actual endorsement wasn’t forthcoming, DeSantis’ real intent was a little clearer.

On May 6, Mark Harper of the Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote: “…While the GOP is not rallying in full support of Trump-for-president, it’s more unified in a sentiment stuck to [suntan lotion magnate Ron] Rice’s door: STOP HILLARY. That’s how a statement from U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis reads. ‘Electing Hillary Clinton will continue America’s journey down the wrong track.’”

At that point, DeSantis’ only mention of Trump was anything but a ringing endorsement. In fact, it seemed more like resignation: “It is now clear that Donald Trump will accumulate the delegates necessary to be nominated by the Republican Party. If we want to defeat Hillary Clinton and have a chance to change the trajectory of our country, we need to unite behind the Republican ticket this November.”

Making matters worse for DeSantis comes by way of new reporting from POLITICO Florida.

On Monday, Matt Dixon noted the largest donation to DeSantis’ political committee in April came from Andy Khawaja, a major Democratic donor. Khawaja, a California payment processing executive and founder of Allied Wallet, gave the committee $100,000. His affiliated company, E-Payment Solutions, Inc., gave another $100,000 to DeSantis’ committee in February.

“This election cycle, he and his company have already given $1 million to Senate Majority PAC, which supports Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, including Sen. Bill Nelson,” Dixon writes. “The super PAC is funding $2 million in ads supporting Nelson, calling him ‘one of America’s most independent Senators.’”

In 2016, Khawaja and his company gave nearly $6.5 million to Democrats, including more than $1 million to Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Revisionist history – and $200K Democratic backing – is not a good look for DeSantis, a candidate who claims to proudly carry the conservative banner, as well as Trump’s support.

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.”

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