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Marco Rubio re-sharpens condemnation of Putin and any U.S.-Russia deals

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio continued his sharp attacks on Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday calling any potential grand deals “immoral” and “fantasy” while positioning himself to be in staunch opposition to any agreements President Donald Trump may want with Russia.

On Thursday, speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing entitled, “The United States, The Russian Federation and the Challenges Ahead,” Florida’s Republican senator condemned prospects of a grand deal between the Trump administration and Putin involving ISIS, sanctions over Russian hacking, and Ukraine, calling it “a really stupid deal” that would have no chance of forwarding American interests.

Rubio has long been a leading critic of Putin and has made no secret of his strong disagreement with Trump on any warmth Trump may have toward the Russian president, or any prospects for deals. For every tweet Trump has issued defending Putin, Rubio has called out human rights abuses by the Russian leader.

Last fall Rubio was one of the first and most ardent Republicans to disavow any damaging information being leaked about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton because Rubio was convinced by intelligence reports that the information came from Putin. And last month Rubio severely grilled Trump’s secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson over his views on Russia, demanding to know if Tillerson would call Putin a war criminal.

Still, Tillerson, who has long, direct business dealings with the Russian government, refused to do so, and Rubio voted to confirm his nomination anyway.

On Thursday Rubio resumed his position as one of the Senate’s most outspoken critic of Putin and any relationship he might have with Trump or Tillerson.

Rubio’s comments came in reference to a “grand bargain” that could ask Putin to fight ISIS in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Russia for its cyberattacks against the U.S. and annexation and occupation of Ukrainian territory.

“I think this whole notion of a grand bargain, where they are going to help us kill terrorists and fight ISIS in exchange for lifting sanctions, is a fantasy,” Rubio said in response to comment from two witnesses, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Philip Breedlove, USAF (Ret), and Julianne Smith, senior fellow at the Center for New American Strategy.

He was not alone in his sharp condemnations of Russia and Putin. Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, a South Carolina Republican, and ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland also did so.

“For starters, I think it’s borderline immoral because it basically views the Ukraine situation as a bargaining chip to be used as part of a broader deal. In essence, an asset that we can give away in exchange for something broader, which I don’t think the Ukrainians are going to go for it to begin with and I don’t think there’s support for it in Ukraine,” Rubio continued. “But this talk about fighting against ISIS – that’s what Putin says he’s doing now. Obviously why would we have to cut a deal to get him to do what he claims to already be doing?

“First of all, you can’t pressure him because you die and if you try to there is no media. So we are going to try to cut a deal with a guy who thinks he’s winning, has no internal pressure, and wants us to give up everything in exchange for him doing what he claims to be doing anyway,” Rubio added. “So maybe I am a little harsh, but I think that’s a really stupid deal.

“What do you think?”

“Agreed,” Smith replied. “The grand bargain mythology is really getting, for lack of better word, laughable.”

“Senator, I agree,” said Breedlove.

 

Activists march at Marco Rubio’s Tampa office, calling to reject Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary

Last month, Marco Rubio had harsh words for Rex Tillerson when he came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as Donald Trump‘s pick for Secretary of State. But the Florida senator ultimately went ahead and supported the former ExxonMobil CEO anyway.

Now protesters are hoping Rubio won’t cave on Betsy DeVos.

With the Tillerson turnaround fresh on their minds, more than two dozen activists gathered in front of Rubio’s Tampa district office Monday, urging him to reject DeVos as the next Secretary of Education when her name comes up for a vote Tuesday.

But they are not expecting him to do so.

“Betsy DeVos is totally uneducated, and she’s totally biased,” said Sue Jenkins, a former Wisconsin schoolteacher who spends winters in Port Richey and summers back in the Midwest. She blasted DeVos for her dedication toward vouchers and privatizing education.

“We privatize the schools; we pay them money. Somebody’s going to make a profit.”

Many of those at the protest want Rubio to recuse himself from the vote because he received campaign contributions from DeVos. Then again, so have a lot of other Republicans in Washington.

DeVos admitted as much in her one confirmation hearing, saying “it’s possible” that she and her husband (Dick DeVos Jr.) have given $200 million to candidates over the years. That includes $2.7 million to GOP candidates in the 2016 election cycle alone, including $5,400 to Rubio.

“She’s clearly not qualified,” argued Pam from Madeira Beach. “The only clarity we got from the confirmation hearing is that she’s against public education.”

Last week Rubio tweeted that “many Democratic colleagues tell me they have heavy pressure from left-wing radicals to opposed everything before they know what it is,” irking some of the protesters.

“I don’t think I’m a left-wing radical nut,” said Tampa resident Jennifer Hollowell. “I’m a 53-year-old stay-at-home mom. I’m just passionate about the issues, and obviously Rubio’s not listening to me, but I am a constituent.”

“He’s been calling a lot of people who have been contacting him ‘extremist liberals’ which is pretty misleading,” added a Brandon woman named Courtney (no last name was given).

Senate Democrats Monday began what is expected to be a 24-hour marathon speech supposed to climax at noon Tuesday, right before the Senate is scheduled to vote on DeVos’ confirmation.

With two GOP Senators (Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine) announcing their opposition, it could result in a 50-50 tie. If that should happen, Vice President Mike Pence will likely be called to cast the tiebreaking vote for Trump’s selection.

Early Monday evening, Rubio spokeswoman Christina Mandreucci confirmed that Rubio will be voting for DeVos on Tuesday.

“People contribute to Senator Rubio’s campaign because they support his agenda,” Mandreucci said. “Ms. DeVos is a strong supporter of empowering parents and providing educational opportunity for all, policies Senator Rubio has supported for over a decade. Her nomination is opposed by Democrats who take millions of dollars from the big unions obsessed with denying school choice to low-income children. Senator Rubio looks forward to voting to confirm her.”

Environment Florida wants Bill Nelson to reject Scott Pruitt as EPA head

Scott Pruitt is one step closer to being the next leader of the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Thursday, Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 11-0 to confirm Pruitt, who serves as Oklahoma Attorney General.

Democrats on the committee boycotted the vote.

Pruitt, a climate change skeptic, was one of 14 attorneys general suing the EPA over regulations to limit carbon emissions put in place by the Obama administration.

The entire Senate will vote on his confirmation next week and the advocacy group Environment Florida is calling on the Sunshine State’s two senators to reject his nomination.

“This country needs an Environmental Protection Agency Administrator whose top priority is protecting our air and water and our families’ health,” says Turner Lott, Environment Florida’s campaign organizer. “We need somebody willing to enforce and defend our bedrock environmental laws and a leader guided by science when creating and implementing policy.”

The organization is one of several environmental groups criticizing Trump’s choice at EPA.

While Environment Florida is calling on both senators to oppose Pruitt, Marco Rubio already declared his support.

“The next EPA administrator should be someone who understands the important balance between protecting our air, water and environment without needlessly hurting workers with excessive regulations,” Rubio said in a Jan. 10 statement. “Attorney General Pruitt ‎is the right choice to bring a much-needed dose of common sense to a department where overzealous, out-of-touch regulators have been allowed to operate seemingly unchecked. I look forward to working with him on the many important environmental issues facing Florida.”

Florida’s senior Senator, Bill Nelson, is getting lobbied from both sides to either support or oppose Pruitt. The Florida Democrat pleased liberals Wednesday by announcing his opposition to Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary.

“I will be joining my Republican colleagues Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski in voting ‘no’ against Betsy DeVos,” Nelson declared in a statement.

“Floridians and all Americans deserve an EPA administrator who will fight to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the planet we love. Scott Pruitt fails on all these accounts,” Lott said. “The Senate must stand with science. The Senate must stand up for our families’ health, clean water and clean air.

“We urge Senators Nelson and Rubio to reject President Trump’s nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA.”

 

Marco Rubio says Senate Democrats should confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court

Marco Rubio has come out solidly in support of President Trump’s selection of Neil Gorsuch to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Judge Gorsuch is a highly qualified, mainstream jurist, which is why he was unanimously confirmed to the circuit court by the Senate in 2006,” Rubio said in a statement shortly after the announcement was made in the East Room of the White House in prime time on Tuesday.

“By all accounts he has the right temperament and experience for the job, and I’m pleased to see him nominated to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Rubio. “Most importantly, he is committed to the principles of original intent and judicial restraint. This is critical, because too many in the federal judiciary today believe it is appropriate for judges to invent new policies and rights instead of interpreting and defending the Constitution as it is written.”

Original intent, or “originalism,” was the focus of the late Antonin Scalia, the longtime Supreme Court justice who Gorsuch would be replacing on the high court. Original intent theory hold that the interpretation of a written constitution is (or should be) consistent with what was meant by the Founding Fathers.

The question now remains is how much of a fight will Senate Democrats pose to the Gorsuch pick. Many are still hopping mad that GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell never put Merrick Garland up for a vote in 2016. Garland was Barack Obama’s choice to replace Scalia when he died nearly a year ago

“Unfortunately, Senate Democrats already announced they would oppose any Supreme Court nominee no matter who it is,” said Rubio, who says “this objection  is neither principled nor reasonable, considering we just had an election where the future of the Supreme Court was a central issue not only at the presidential level but in every Senate contest.

“On the issue of this Supreme Court nomination specifically, the American people gave the president and the Republican-controlled Senate a mandate to choose a successor to Antonin Scalia,” Rubio continued. “Senate Democrats should accept the results of the election and allow the process to move forward with a vote. I look forward to a fair and thorough confirmation process, and I am confident Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed by the Senate once again, this time to serve on the Supreme Court.”

Several Senate Democrats have already announced their opposition to Gorsuch, but not Rubio’s Florida colleague, Bill Nelson. Nelson said he’ll base his decision on a full examination of Gorsuch’s judicial record and his responses to senators questions.

 

 

Marco Rubio says he’s ‘uneasy’ about potential impact of Trump’s executive order on refugees

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is weighing in on President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order temporarily banning refugees from mostly Muslim nations from entering the U.S., saying in a joint statement with South Carolina Republican Tim Scott that while generally supporting additional vetting, they are “uneasy about the potential impact of these measures on our military and our diplomatic personnel abroad, as well as those who put their lives on the line to work with us.”

The President’s executive action signed on Friday blocks refugees from Syria entering the country immediately, and blocks entry into the U.S. for 90 days for citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Rubio posted the statement with Scott on his Facebook page Sunday night.

Earlier during the weekend, Rubio had said that, “while I am supportive of strengthening our screening processes and securing our borders, a blanket travel ban goes too far,” according to the Washington Post.

Here is his joint statement with Scott in full:

After reviewing the recent Executive Orders, it is clear to us that some of what is being said and reported about the scope and implications of these measures is misleading. However, it is also clear that the manner in which these measures were crafted and implemented have greatly contributed to the confusion, anxiety and uncertainty of the last few days.

We generally support additional vetting for many of those entering our country from nations where the United States has identified there are serious concerns regarding terrorist activities and planning. But given the broad scope and nature of these policy changes, we have some unanswered questions and concerns.

We are seeking clarity on the changes to the Visa Waiver program, which is critical to the economies of our respective states.

And we are uneasy about the potential impact of these measures on our military and our diplomatic personnel abroad, as well as those who put their lives on the line to work with us.

We are both committed to doing what we must to keep America safe. We are equally committed to the defense of religious liberty and our tradition of providing refuge to those fleeing persecution. Like so many Americans, we are both guided by our belief that when we stand before our Creator to face judgment, He will say that “to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

That is why we intend to do all we can to both keep America safe, and keep America special.

Rick Scott cannot condone Cuba’s ‘oppressive behavior.’ What about China’s?

Gov. Rick Scott threatened Florida ports with sanctions if they do business with Cuba. He underscored it with a pair of tweets, the first in Spanish: “No podemos tolerar una dictadura brutal en Cuba.”

Translation: We cannot tolerate a brutal dictatorship in Cuba.

In another tweet, channeling his inner Donald Trump, Gov. Scott noted, “We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behavior. Serious security/human rights concerns.”

He has vowed to withhold state money from ports ink trade agreements with that island nation.

Well, OK. Let’s think this through. If Cuba is off limits, I guess China should be too.

According to a 2016 report by Human Rights Watch: “China remains an authoritarian state, one that systematically curtails a wide range of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly and religion … the trend for human rights under President Xi Jinping continued in a decidedly negative direction.”

Well, shucks. That sounds suspiciously like, to use the governor’s words, “serious security/human rights concerns.”

A report from Enterprise Florida shows our state did more than $28 billion (with a B) in merchandise trade with that totalitarian nation from 2013-15. The Miami Herald reported that China ranks behind only Brazil and Colombia as trading partners with South Florida.

But, if we’re going to make a stand …

We also sent about $2 billion in exports to Saudi Arabia from 2013-15. Of that nation, Human Rights Watch notes: “Detainees, including children, commonly face systematic violations of due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary arrest. Judges routinely sentence defendants to floggings of hundreds of lashes.”

That sounds, oh … what’s the word I’m looking for?

Brutal.

Thanks, governor.

I think we know what’s going on here. Republicans from Washington to Tallahassee have used Cuba as a political piñata for decades. They stepped it up after President Obama made several moves toward normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has been particularly outspoken on that subject, but after his poodle-like yapping against the business relationship between incoming secretary of state Rex Tillerson has with Russia didn’t result in a vote against his confirmation, we can tune that out.

By the way, Florida has a lot of trade with Russia too.

It is assumed Scott has his eye on Bill Nelson’s Senate seat in 2018, and the game plan for any serious GOP candidate involves cutting into Democrats’ traditional support in south Florida by pandering to those who hate the Castro family.

Scott’s actions look to me like a ready-made campaign ad for future ambitions. Meanwhile, Cuba will just keep doing business with the rest of the world. Nothing changes.

 

Bill Nelson sounds off on what he calls Donald Trump’s “rocky” first week in office

Although U.S. Senator Bill Nelson’s press conference on Wednesday in Tampa was ostensibly to discuss President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to spend up to one trillion dollars improving the nation’s infrastructurehe spent considerable time discussing – and criticizing- some of the moves that the newly-inaugurated president has made in his first week in office.

Nelson has voted against Jeff Sessions for Attorney General and Mike Pompeo for CIA Director, and he says he’ll oppose Rex Tillerson when the former ExxonMobil CEO’s name comes up for a confirmation vote for Secretary of State. When asked why at a press conference in Tampa, Nelson said just two words.

“Vladimir Putin.”

When asked to elaborate, Nelson simply said he didn’t feel comfortable with Tillerson’s past relationships with the Russian leader.

In his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month, Florida’s other U.S. Senator, Marco Rubio, was remarkably aggressive in questioning Tillerson, asking him at one point if he thought Putin was a war criminal. But Rubio ultimately voted for Tillerson in committee earlier this week.

Regarding Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s choice as Treasury Secretary, Nelson said he has not made up his mind, even after speaking with him personally.

“There are a number of things that trouble me about him,” he said about the former partner of Goldman Sachs and hedge fund manager. “He’s got some tax issues. But the main thing is it’s kind of an attitude that – ‘I know better than you’ – and for a Treasury Secretary who has the tremendous responsibility to keep our economy on an even keel, that concerns me.”

Mnuchin initially failed to disclose $100 million in assets last week, which he called an “unintentional” oversight.

Meanwhile, Democrats have accused a potential conflict of interest for Tom Price, Trump’s selection at HHS, saying he held more than $100,000 in stock in companies that could have benefited from legislation he promoted.

In 2009, former Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle withdrew  his nomination by Barack Obama to become Health and Human Services secretary, amidst a scandal involving unpaid taxes. When asked if there had been a lowering of standards in vetting cabinet selections, Nelson said they had not been lowered in terms of how he votes.

Meanwhile, Trump repeated his false claim on Wednesday hat at least three million illegal immigrants cast ballots for Hillary Clinton, calling for an investigation into voter fraud, even though his own legal team has previously argued that no such fraud occurred.

Nelson said it “well documented” how little voter fraud there actually is in the U.S., and told the reporter who asked that it was “illustrative of our times that you have to ask that question.”

He grew quite passionate, however, in claiming that there’s been voter suppression in Florida and around the nation, and spent several minutes discussing specific examples in and outside of Florida.

Nelson also was dismissive of Trump’s call on Wednesday to begin plans to construct a border security fence on the Mexican border, saying that a “multiplicity of things” can be done to  protect our borders.

“This, unfortunately has gotten into a political issue,” he said, “and one particular demographic group is being singled out and I think unfairly,” referring to Mexicans.

When asked to describe Trump’s first week in office, Nelson described it simply as “rocky.”

The room where it happens just a phone call away

For voters who want to piss their politics into the wind, there’s Facebook. For voters who want to change the hearts, minds, and votes of elected officials, the telephone is the easiest, most effective way to go.

Every officeholder from Carrabelle to Congress employs human beings whose primary job is to lend a respectful ear to Floridians who want to be heard. Often, these staffers are civic-minded idealists who encourage their bosses to follow their better angels. They’re easy to talk to and very effective at delivering the vox populi to the corner office.

The dumbest politician knows that for every person who bothers to pick up the phone and speak his or her peace, there’s family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers with the same view, and they’re all likely to remember in November.

Marco Rubio is not Florida’s dumbest politician, and he might have voted his convictions, rather than those of his puppetmasters, if more Floridians had called his office with a polite, but firm, “Man up, Marco, and stick to your guns on Rex Tillerson.”

It’s been a long time since we’ve taught civics in our schools, so we can’t blame citizens whose political muscles have atrophied. Folks have been lulled into thinking that hitting a “like” button, forwarding an email, or being one of a thousand people to sign a letter forged in a cookie cutter factory in Consultantville, Ohio is a good use of time. They’ve been intimidated into believing they aren’t good enough, smart enough, or articulate enough to take their own messages, in their own words, to the room where it happens.

Being impossible to ignore is easier than you think, and calling is cheaper than it’s ever been. If there’s a Trump nominee you want confirmed, or kicked to the curb, take a cue from Ma Bell and reach out and touch your congressional delegation.

Richard Corcoran walks the walk, denies extra $13M for DEP water war

His job as Florida House Speaker requires Richard Corcoran to make some tough calls, but this one had to be easy for a man whose stated mission is to clean up the way Tallahassee operates.

While some politicians talk with a swagger (here’s looking at you, Marco Rubio) but don’t want the ball when the game is on the line, Corcoran has shown that his deeds match his words. He was at it again Monday when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection asked for an extra $13 million to fund its legal fight with the state of Georgia over water rights.

His blunt answer: Nope.

In addition to demanding more ethical behavior by House members, Corcoran guards the public’s purse like a hungry Rottweiler. He told the DEP that there will be no more money until it gives a full accounting of the approximately $98 million it already has spent.

That’s just common sense.

The bigger message was that this action came after Jon Steverson, who served as DEP head for the last couple of years, resigned his job to join the law firm of Foley Lardner.

Just what is Foley Lardner?

Why, one of four firms that is working on the lawsuit against Georgia that now is well into its second decade.

Corcoran has made it his mission to end that far-too-cozy relationship between the people’s representatives and those who would like to profit from that relationship.

“We won’t approve the money until an audit is done and we will pass legislation barring the revolving door from agency head to lobbyist/lawyer,” Corcoran said in a statement.

We can say this was an easy call because the conflict of interest is so obvious, but for years Tallahassee winked and nodded far too long as legislators slid seamlessly into lucrative lobbying. There is no calculating how many millions of dollars that likely cost the public

That is why Corcoran is so public about trying to stop stuff like this. Message sent. Was it received?

Saying no to DEP’s $13 million request is just the first step. We wait for the audit and what comes next. What we can hope comes out of this is more rigorous oversight in how taxpayer dollars are spent because, you know, take $13 million and $13 million there and soon we’re talking about real money.

I think Richard Corcoran already knows that.

Donald Trump was right about ‘Little Marco’ all along

Little Marco.

Donald Trump had it right all along.

By announcing he will vote to approve Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, the fittingly titled junior U.S. senator from Florida proved he is compromised and cut down to size.

As they say out West, he is all hat and no cattle.

Under what certainly was significant pressure from the Republican Party and President Trump’s operatives, Marco Rubio confirmed that all that bluster he directed at Tillerson about the human rights violations in Russia was just for show.

Tillerson, of course, had extensive business dealings with Russia and Vladimir Putin. In the hearing, Rubio pointedly asked Tillerson if Putin should be considered a war criminal. It was a tough question and made for a dandy sound bite, but the real bite would have been if Rubio had stood on principle instead of politics and voted not to confirm.

Instead, he caved.

He can dress it up however he wants, but the fact is that with a chance to make a big statement Rubio shrank when the spotlight was the brightest.

This isn’t about whether Tillerson will make a good secretary of state. Opinions are mixed on that one, and Democrats seemed to have their eyes on blocking other targets. But with his mugging for the cameras at the hearing, Rubio defined the rules by how this confirmation will be judged.

I believe – well, believed – that Rubio’s concern about rights violations is sincere. If he really holds those core values, though, then he should have voted his conscience. The next time prattles on about the dictatorship in Cuba and all that, just tune him out. He is not prepared to back up his convictions with action.

If he voted no, there have been retribution from both his party and President Trump. Welcome to Washington. Surely, Rubio had known that before he went on his one-person jag while grilling Tillerson.

Did he really think all along he was going to vote to confirm and was just trying to make a statement that, roughly put, was, “OK, Rex, you’re approved, but I’m going to be watching every move.”

Or did he trade his principles for some political hay he can use later?

We may never know.

Here is what we do know.

After a disastrous run for the presidency and a flip-flop on whether he wanted to stay in the Senate, Rubio had an opportunity to reboot his political career by backing up his words with action. He would have climbed to the higher ground.

Instead, he proved again why voters have little to no faith in what politicians say versus what they do.

He wilted.

He melted.

He lived down to the name Trump hung on him.

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