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Democrats ease into standard responses in final governor’s race debate

Anyone hoping Florida’s five Democratic candidates for Governor would break new ground in the final debate Thursday night may have left disappointed.

On stage, each candidate mainly stuck to the standards, with only a couple of questions eliciting any form of surprise.

Andrew Gillum, Jeff Greene, Chris King, Philip Levine, and Gwen Graham all pulled more punches than in previous debates, with just a few recycled squabbles — mostly centering on Graham’s record as a moderate member of Congress.

Graham also took a couple more shots for her family’s involvement in the development of the American Dream Miami megamall, as well as a brief flurry of jabs between Levine and Greene over the Palm Beach billionaire’s encounters with President Donald Trump.

On issues, the quintet renewed the standard commitments: Increasing public education funding; pushing for minimum wage increases; higher-paying jobs; standing up to the gun lobby; seeking repeal of the Stand Your Ground laws and fighting special interests to address the water flows creating the toxic algae blooms east and west of Lake Okeechobee.

Hosted by WPBF-TV in West Palm Beach and co-sponsored by the Florida Press Association, the debate provided the candidates a chance to restate a handful of distinctive policy ideas: Levine’s Education Security Administration to focus on school safety; King’s bullet tax and a ban on death penalties; Gillum’s Medicare-for-all style health care plan; Graham’s proposal for an executive order to ban sales of assault weapons and Greene’s commitment to spend $100 million or more of his own fortune to counter Republicans’ usual advantages in campaign money.

But this was a last-chance statewide appearance before the Aug. 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary, and most of the debate played out as a multipart closing statement on positions Floridians already heard through the first four debates.

“This is not a drill,” warned Graham, as the latest front-runner in polling. Her pitch was that as the party’s nominee — “whoever she is” — it needs to be someone, a mom, who can appeal to everyday Floridians.

“What I bring to voters is the best of the private sector mixed with the best of the public sector,” said Levine, the former Miami Beach Mayor and businessman.

“The Democratic Party is alive and well and kicking. The problem is we’ve been outspent by Republicans over and over again,” said Greene, the self-made billionaire from Palm Beach who is self-funding his campaign. “That’s going to be different this year. I have the resources.”

“We have got to come to them with big ideas that will fix their solutions. That’s how we defeat Donald Trump, not by calling people names, but by solving problems,’ said King, the Winter Park entrepreneur.

“Florida can’t be just a cheap-date state,” said Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor who argues the state’s corporations are not paying their fair share of taxes.

Some more telling moments in the debate came through cameo appearances through questions or answers: Trump, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida gun lobbyist Marion Hammer, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, currently the Republican gubernatorial front-runner

One Trump moment set Greene and Levine on each other.

Campaigning as the Democrat who can, as governor, take on Trump, Greene said he has taken on Trump, in the president’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago country club, of which Greene is a member.

“He couldn’t be worse!” Greene declared.

Hold on, hold on, Levine braked.

The former Miami Beach Mayor charged Greene with praising Trump in the past, and not publicly opposing him until after taking office, all while ignoring offensive things Trump said (or done) on the campaign trail. During that time, Levine was working hard on Democrat Clinton’s campaign.

“You said he was a great guy! I gotta tell you something. Seriously?” Levine exclaimed.

He then interrupted the next question to get to it: “It sounds like you’re more like Donald Trump! And I think one Donald Trump is enough!”

“Well, Phil,” Greene shot back, “first of all, I’m the only one who has stood up to Donald Trump. And this nonsense about your supporting Hillary Clinton? … When I was running for the United States Senate in 2010, you gave money to Marco Rubio!”

“I did what Barack Obama did, what Hillary Clinton did,” Greene explained. “The same day. I said: ‘You know, we have to stand behind our new leader.”

During the debate, Graham was tripped up by the Clintons, and badly.

Among a handful of questions directed at a single candidate, Palm Beach Post reporter George Bennett pointed out that the Clintons were bad luck to some other campaigns; he wondered if Graham, for whom Bill Clinton campaigned in 2014 for her congressional run, would welcome him back to campaign for her.

She refused to answer, even when moderator Todd McDermott, a WPBF news anchor, pressed her a second time, asking for a direct answer. Instead, Graham talked about how she fits into the #MeToo movement, and how Florida’s gubernatorial election would be a national race likely to attract many people from other states to campaign.

Levine seized on her reluctance, again interrupting another question to make his point: “If one of the greatest presidents in American history wanted to come down and campaign with me, I would welcome him with open arms. He was a great president, President Clinton, and a wonderful secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.”

Levine soon found himself on the receiving end of perhaps the toughest directed question of the night; Miami Herald reporter Nancy Ancrum pointed out that during his administration as Miami Beach Mayor Levine was known at times to be anti-media, blocking and punishing critics.

Ancrum asked what sort of governing style Levine might bring to the governor’s office.

“Did I get things done? No question about it,” he said, adding with a big smile: “Have I learned a little more patience, no question about it.”

Nary mentioned once was the other major Republican gubernatorial candidate, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. DeSantis made an appearance only when King talked about how much DeSantis is running exclusively on his full support of Trump.

It led to one of the best lines of the night, from King: “Ron DeSantis is likely to become the Republican nominee. That should be terrifying to Floridians across this state. He is competing to be Donald Trump’s apprentice.”

King would be ready to counter that, he argued.

In an evening where most questions were asked before in four previous Democratic debates (or widely discussed in the 15-month campaign), and most of the answers had become rote, Gillum was the perhaps the only candidate who elicited even the slightest amount of emotion.

Nevertheless, the Tallahassee Mayor only did so only at the very end, in the final seconds of the debate.

As usual, Gillum did it with a personal story.

This time he talked about how his grandmother would watch him and his brother and sister early in the morning after his parents had dropped them off with her so they could go off to early-starting jobs.

Gillum recalled: “She would take her olive oil and anoint my head at the top so that no harm would come our way. And then she would have a saying, where she would say, ‘Boy, go to school. Mind your teachers. Get your lessons. And bring that education home, for your little brother, your little sister, for the neighbor down the street, for your mama and your daddy who get up every single day to work to support you, and to keep a roof over your head and clothes on your back.'”

“We have forgotten that we can do good — all of us.”

‘Ridiculous’: Rick Scott campaign rejects criticism of blind trust holdings

When one’s financial disclosure has over a quarter-billion dollars of holdings, it’s perhaps understandable that some of those holdings may be more controversial than others

This is the case with Gov. Rick Scott, who has seen his investment holdings scrutinized by the media since the release of his Senate financial disclosure last week.

Revelations have been regular and the latest is that Scott has holdings in a Taiwanese company that has continually done business with Chinese telecom giant ZTE, including during a recent American trade ban.

Per the disclosure, Scott personally has an interest of $1,001 to $15,000, and Scott’s wife has an interest between $50,001 and $100,000 in Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing — which, via a subsidiary, has continued to transact with ZTE … a company so controversial that concerns about it led Sen. Marco Rubio to vote against the defense bill this week.

The company, per its president, found a workaround to trade ban restrictions: “TSMC is not a direct supplier to ZTE. It’s not a direct supplier to ZTE. So indeed, some of the — they do have a subsidiary of ZTE and — but according to the rule you need to have a certain percentage of value-added from the U.S. And so for that particular subsidiary, the value-added is mostly from China and from TSMC. So that also is beyond the restriction scope.”

Rubio has been blunt about the company.

ZTE should be put out of business. There is no ‘deal’ with a state-directed company that the Chinese government and Communist Party uses to spy and steal from us where Americans come out winning. We must put American jobs and national security first, which is why I have urged NDAA conferees to ensure the bipartisan provision to reinstate penalties against ZTE is included in the final bill’,” Rubio said in July.

Ultimately, however, those penalties were not part of the final package. And the trade ban has been lifted after ZTE cut a deal. However, at least for Marco Rubio, the national security implications present an existential concern.

For Rick Scott, per his Senate campaign, the question is “ridiculous.”

“Governor Scott does not have investments in ZTE and any assertion that the Governor Scott is attempting to avoid U.S. restrictions is ridiculous,” posited Scott spox Lauren Schenone.

“Furthermore,” Schenone contended, “the Governor had no role in selecting that investment. The blind trust is managed by an independent financial professional who decides what assets are bought, sold or changed. The rules of the blind trust prevent any specific assets or the value of those assets within the trust from being disclosed to the Governor, and those requirements have always been followed.”

Scott’s ZTE stake is not the only entry in the 125 page document that has concerned Florida media. Scott’s media shop offered vigorous defenses of the Governor to us about each of them.

The Miami Herald reported Scott made over $50,000 from the sale of stock in Navigator Holdings, which does business with a Kremlin-connected energy company called Sibur. Vladimir Putin‘s son in law is among that company’s stakeholders.

This is not an issue, per Schenone: “Governor Scott no longer has an investment in Navigator Holdings. When asked recently, Governor Scott was clear he believes that Putin is not our friend or ally and should not be trusted.”

Beyond these entries and their foreign intrigue, Scott’s investments reveal controversial stateside ties as well.

Scott’s investments in Gilead Sciences, maker of Hepatitis-c medicine, have also drawn scrutiny via GateHouse.

Schenone’s defense: “The Governor has consistently fought against the national opioid crisis, including securing major state and federal funding and signed multiple pieces of legislation to combat opioid abuse and support law enforcement officers.”

And as the Florida Bulldog reports, the Scott administration doled out $200,000 of tax incentives to 21st Century Oncology, a company owned by Vestar Holdings, which Scott has between $50,001 and $100,000 of interest in.

Those, per Schenone, are coincidences, as Scott “does not unilaterally decide how state incentive projects are awarded.”

Under Scott’s watch, “the state has reformed the incentive process” rooted in “strict performance metrics, including total jobs and capital investment.”

“This highly accountable process works to recruit businesses to Florida, while at the same time protecting taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” Schenone maintained.

GOP Agriculture Commissioner race heats up on the air

As primary day nears, the race for Florida Agriculture Commissioner heats up on the airwaves, as two of four Republicans running are out with new campaign ads this week.

Former state Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven is launching a new ad in the district of state Rep. Matt Caldwell, who is also seeking the Republican Ag Commissioner nomination.

Meanwhile, Florida Politics reported earlier that state Sen. Denise Grimsley of Zolfo Springs is also starting to run “Get it Done,” an ad that addresses phone fraud.

Also competing in the Aug. 28 Republican primary is retired Army Colonel Mike McCalister.

Troutman’s ad is premiering in the Fort Myers-Naples area, largely in Caldwell’s state House district. The spot features segments of other ads he ran in Central Florida, featuring a scene with his wife and daughter, in the boardroom of his employment service and in hunter’s camouflage with a rifle on his shoulder.

Grimsley, who previously ran TV ads on her agricultural background, is now highlighting another responsibility for the head of Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service – addressing unwanted calls from telemarketers.

During her time in the state Senate, Grimsley helped pass legislation to allow phone companies to block “spoofed” numbers, which telemarketers use to look like a local call, but are actually from out-of-state or overseas.

Starting Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle and its heartland, the spots will appear in countries roughly south of Polk County in the center of the state, which somewhat corresponds to her state Senate District 26. They will be expanded statewide later, she said.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has endorsed Caldwell, a move that perhaps is forcing the other two candidates, who have each outraised the Fort Myers Republican in campaign funds, to spend more on television ads.

Worries over China compel Marco Rubio to vote no on defense bill

Sen. Marco Rubio took an unprecedented step Wednesday, opposing the National Defense Authorization Act in protest of the NDAA’s omission of penalties against Chinese telecom giant ZTE.

“I have never opposed an NDAA, and I have supported every single one of them, despite the fact that they didn’t have everything I wanted or everything I liked — until today … We have yet to realize what a significant threat China poses to this country and in every realm and sphere. And until we do, we are going to continue to be in danger of surrendering and forfeiting our way of life and our place in the world,” Rubio asserted in remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

The Senate voted 87-10 Wednesday to approve the measure, an annual policy bill that authorizes $716 billion in total defense spending for the coming fiscal year. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted in favor of the bill. The U.S. House of Representatives approved it last week 359-54, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

This latest decision amplifies a position established months ago when Rubio began calling attention to ZTE as a part of a larger offensive against Chinese expansionism. Rubio was willing to challenge Trump on the matter after the president cut a deal with the company imposing a $1 billion fine for flouting sanctions on Iran.

China, according to Rubio, believes itself “predestined to be the world’s most powerful country and … predestined to surpass the United States, and by mean surpass I mean surpass us geo-politically, economically and militarily.”

“It’s time we open our eyes. We are engaged in a geopolitical competition not with some poor agrarian country trying to catch up, but with a global superpower who is quickly nipping at our heels and doing so unfairly, with the intent of replacing us in the world as the most powerful country militarily, economically, geopolitically and technologically,” Rubio said.

ZTE, Rubio said, “is a part of a broader problem, and that is that we have yet to realize what a significant threat China poses to this country and in every realm and sphere. And until we do, we are going to continue to be in danger of surrendering and forfeiting our way of life and our place in the world, and if we do that, the world will be worse off for it and we will have no one to blame but ourselves for failing to act.”

In opposing the NDAA, Rubio was compelled to go against a measure larded with military spending for Florida.

“There is a lot of good in this legislation, and it makes it difficult to be an opponent of it. For Florida, it’s authorized over $200 million for military construction in the state. Littoral Combat Ship facilities at Naval Station Mayport, Air Traffic Control Towers at Whiting Field, F-35 facilities that are important at Eglin Air Force Base, KC-135 flight simulators at MacDill Air Force Base, it authorizes the Secretary of the Air Force to build a cyberspace test facility at Eglin,” Rubio asserted.

However, the issue of China — at least for the Senator — outweighs the immediate political benefit.

Marco Rubio lauds Ronald Reagan, laments Democratic socialism in speech to young conservatives

Sen. Marco Rubio, who only a few years ago was the shining star of movement conservatives in the presidential race, spent part of Wednesday morning discussing the “unique challenges and opportunities that young conservatives face in America” with Young Americans for Freedom.

The address, as pitched by his press shop, had a bittersweet quality: Rubio’s own vision for conservatism in America was ultimately derailed by President Donald Trump remodeling the Republican Party in his image. Thus, Morning in America became Morning at YAF, with Rubio reprising more than a few neo-Reaganesque tropes

Rubio invoked Ronald Reagan early and often in his remarks, using quotes like “shining city on the hill” to illustrate his belief in conservatism as a pursuit of “truths … all too often forgotten, or replaced by ideologies.”

“Truth is often replaced by outrage … tribalism,” Rubio said, seemingly describing what had happened to the right as much as on the left.

Rubio went on to describe “identity politics on college campuses” as “indicative of our challenges.”

And “the spirit of our youth,” meanwhile, is being “misdirected” in a way that impacts national “cohesion,” including a willingness to tell a pollster they are “extremely proud to be Americans.”

Social indicators, such as decreases in marriage rates, were also brought into scrutiny.

“The bedrock institutions of social life,” according to Rubio, have been undermined, with many young people “adrift.”

“What we need now is a new American courage … the same courage that Reagan had when he [told] Gorbachev to ‘tear down this wall’ … the same courage Reagan had when he took his message to the American people,” Rubio said, lauding Rubio for explaining “conservatism in plain terms” to the working class.

Rubio urged the audience to stand for the “dignity of work” and against the “tide of elite opinion” regarding proposals such as a universal basic income.

People think “socialism is this courageous thing we should get into,” Rubio said, but the examples of Cuba and Venezuela present evidence that runs contrary to the claim.

“Democratic socialism is not rebellious, it’s just fashionable,” Rubio said.

Rubio lauded programs like the expansion of child tax credits and family leave as potential ways forward for the conservative movement.

“President Trump was elected on the promise to Make America Great Again,” Rubio said, a promise that can only be filled through “national consensus.”

Rubio closed with an optimistic rejoinder, saying that national decline was not “destined” but “shaped by what we do and what we fail to do.”

“Our greatest challenge,” said Rubio, “is that paralyzed by fear, we will fail to act at all.”

Marco Rubio defends FBI, calls Helsinki walkback necessary

While making the rounds of political shows today, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said the FBI was right to investigate President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign’s connections to Russia and that a news conference held by the president with Vladimir Putin was “not a good moment.”

But the Republican senator also stressed he has not seen a reason yet to believe Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia.

“The only plot here is the plot to interfere in our elections by the Russians,” he said.

Carter Page investigation

Rubio appeared this morning as a guest on CNN’s State of the Union shortly after Trump tweeted that new documents prove FBI scrutiny of campaign adviser Carter Page reveal the investigation is an “illegal scam.”

Rubio pushed back on that and defended the FBI. “I have a different view on it,” Rubio told CNN moderator Jake Tapper. While he said Page was no “James Bond,” the adviser had connections to the Kremlin that predated his involvement with Trump.

“He’s a guy who went bragging around the world about his connections to Russia, so they [the FBI] knew who he was before the campaign,” Rubio said. “Then you see they guy kind of gravitating around a leading campaign, and then other things came up on their screen, and they said we’ve got to look at this guy.”

Rubio also noted Trump’s campaign had downplayed Page’s role, so connections between Page and Russia don’t indicate collusion in and of themselves. “Carter Page is one of these guys; we never would have heard of him before all this,” Rubio said.

FBI officials appropriately sought out approvals from FISA courts to conduct surveillance of Page, says Rubio, a member of the Senate’s foreign relations and intelligence committees.

Helsinki walk back

Rubio also visited CBS’ Face The Nation, where he said Trump had no choice but to take back comments made at a widely criticized news conference with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

It was important that he [Trump] do that,” Rubio told moderator Margaret Brennan.

The comments came up in a discussion of Trump’s controversial appearance with Putin after a summit in Helsinki. There, Trump said Putin had strongly denied Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election. “He just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said, according to transcripts. “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

But the next day, Trump pulled back his comments, saying he meant to say “wouldn’t” instead of “would.”

Brennan asked if the senator was “really satisfied with what has been characterized as walk back.”

Rubio, a Republican who has been critical of Putin’s tactics for years, said the president had no choice but to rescind his comments after the Helsinki news conference played out poorly.

“It left the impression we were siding with Putin versus our intelligence agencies, so it was important that he do that,” Rubio said.

The Helsinki conference did not go well for the U.S., by Rubio’s assessment. “It was not a good moment, but it was what it was,” he said. “We need to move forward from that with good public policy, and part of that is, I think, standing with our intelligence community.”

The senator also stressed in his CBS appearance that FBI surveillance of Page was not the same as spying on the Trump operation. “I have a different view on this issue than the president and the White House,” Rubio said. “”They did not spy on the campaign from anything and everything that I have seen.”

Rubio, who ran against Trump in the Republican presidential primary in 2016 but exited after losing the Florida primary, said he would never stand with Putin. But he said election meddling should not be tolerated from any country.

“No matter what you are, Democrat or Republican, we wouldn’t want any country in the world involved in trying to influence the outcome of our elections or the direction of our elections,” Rubio said.

“We should never be tolerant of any country in the world coming into our own country and trying to pit us against each other. We wouldn’t tolerate that of France. We wouldn’t tolerate it of Luxembourg. Why would we tolerate that of Russia?”

That time Scott Sturgill wasn’t on board the Trump train

Sanford Republican Scott Sturgill has been an unabashed supporter of President Donald Trump during his campaign for Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

That isn’t shocking on its face, of course — standing with the President is a common thread that nearly every GOP primary campaign shares nationwide, and for good reason. Take one look at U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who was often amenable to Trump but didn’t provide cover for certain behaviors or kowtow on tariffs.

With one tweet, Trump dealt a deathblow to his 25-year political career.

But Sturgill doesn’t have a political record. There are no votes to question, no policy decisions to parse. No anything, really. In a way, he can purport to be whomever he thinks voters want him to be on the campaign trail. And when it comes to his support of President Trump, it appears he’s doing just that.

A glance at his Facebook timeline during the 2016 primary season shows that Sturgill was an avid supporter of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign.

In February 2016 alone, Sturgill made several pro-Rubio or anti-Trump posts on social media. Those included an article touting Rubio’s gains in polls ahead of the New Hampshire primary, a link to donate to Rubio’s campaign, an image that read “Keep calm it will be Rubio,” and finally a Washington Post article titled “The moment of truth: We must stop Trump.”

Among the many anti-Trump statements in that article: “Republicans, you cannot count on the Democrats to stop Trump… Trump has to be blocked in your primary.”

Another: “Finally, to all of you Republicans who have already dropped out, one more great act of public service awaits you. As candidates, you pledged to support whomever the Republican party nominated. It’s time to revoke your pledge. Be bold, stand up and shout that you will not support Trump if he is your party’s nominee.”

Supporting one of Florida’s candidates in the primary is one thing. Whether it was Jeb Bush or Rubio, there’s only a handful of Florida Republicans who can claim they were on the ground floor of Team Trump. Buying into — and spreading — anti-Trump narratives, however, is a different story.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with a politician sticking up for his positions, even if they conflict with Trump. And Sturgill has done that. Take his support for granting amnesty to illegal immigrants, for instance. That puts him at odds with the White House and shows a willingness to reach across the aisle, which is something Washington desperately needs more of.

Of course, another advantage of Sturgill’s short political track record is that not many people saw those posts. That allowed him the opportunity to scrub his social media accounts of any dissension. But the internet never fully forgets.

But being a member of the “Never Trump” movement in private, while acting as a stalwart supporter in public makes him nothing more than a duplicitous poseur. His dishonesty was already apparent given the blatant lie he was willing to spread about Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy. But the two-timing regarding the president makes his candidacy even more questionable.

Sturgill is running against attorney Vennia Francois and state Rep. Mike Miller in the Republican primary. The winner of that Aug. 28 contest will face Murphy in the Nov. 6 general election.

Mike Miller launching his first TV ad in CD 7 race

State Rep. Mike Miller is taking to the airwaves in the hotly-contested Republican primary race for Florida’s 7th Congressional District with a television commercial featuring Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio praising him.

The 30-second TV spot, “They Both Like Mike,” is essentially a mashup of some video highlights from two internet ads that Miller’s campaign released this spring. It features Scott talking about Miller at an event the governor held in Orlando earlier this year, and then Rubio talking about Miller at a Miller campaign fundraiser.

Rubio has endorsed Miller. Scott has not.

Miller, of Winter Park, faces two other Republicans, Sanford businessman Scott Sturgill and Orlando lawyer Vennia Francois in the Aug. 28 primary for CD 7, which covers Seminole County and north and central Orange County.

Neither of them nor the Democratic frontrunner, incumbent U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, have launched any TV commercials yet. She has a primary opponent in Chardo Richardson.

The commercial begins with a narrator declaring, “Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott are saying the same thing about conservative Mike Miller: I Like Mike.”

It then cuts to Scott saying, “I want to thank Mike Miller for all that he’s done. He’s making sure our taxes are low.”

It then moves to Rubio declaring, “That individual liberty is something we value and cherish.”

Scott continues, “That we have a great education system, and that people are safe.”

And Rubio finishes, “Mike will make a difference. And I look forward to working with him in making that difference.”

Text also notes him as “100 percent pro-life.”

“It is an exciting time for our campaign,” Miller’s campaign manager Alex Bolton stated in a news release. “Momentum is building with voters and this ad further illustrates the fact that Mike is the only conservative in this race. Voters should not be tricked by false claims about Mike,” continued Bolton. “Sen. Rubio and Gov. Scott know Mike will protect the Trump tax cuts and is 100 percent pro-life.”

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen call for consequences in Nicaragua

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen say Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega must face consequences after protests of his regime turned deadly this weekend.

A new wave of violence broke out late last week as anti-Ortega protesters clashed with the government. The Nicaraguan Bishop’s Conference tells the BBC that one man died when police and paramilitary forces on Friday evening assaulted a Managua church where 150 students had converged.

Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, on Friday called Ortega a coward in a Spanish-language tweet. She condemned the regime and called for the international community to take action in response to the violence.

Rubio said Ortega should consider himself on notice. “If his violence leads to a bloodbath he will face consequences,” he tweeted Friday.

Rubio also said that he had spoken with Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada Colindres weeks ago, personally telling him an “opportunity still existed to avoid cycle of conflict with U.S. if they held early & fair elections. But Ortega/Murillo regime responded with more violence making very clear the path they have chosen.”

The tweet referenced Rasio Murillo, Ortega’s wife and vice president.

Rubio said he was closely monitoring the situation and awaited news of a promised release of students, journalists and clergy still trapped inside the church.

Nelson also tweeted in Spanish on Friday that the Nicaraguan people face repression from the Ortega regime. He expressed fear the country could follow the same path as Venezuela under President Nicolas Maduro.

And Florida Gov. Rick Scott chimed in as well, echoing concern that Nicaragua and Venezuela were on the same path to totalitarianism, while also expressing his belief that Cuba’s fate could be tied to that of those nations.

“What we are seeing in Nicaragua this weekend is scary,” he added. “We have to stand with the people of Nicaragua who desperately want freedom and safety.”

Violent protests in Nicaragua in April resulted in nearly 30 deaths, the deadliest political conflict in the nation since the close of the Nicaraguan Revolution, according to The New York Times.

Ros-Lehtinen in June led a Congressional effort urging President Donald Trump’s administration to strongly support the Nicaraguan people resisting totalitarianism. She and U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat, penned a bipartisan, bicameral letter calling for action.

“We are calling on the Administration to target additional regime officials for designation under the law, so that Ortega and his cronies feel the real impact of their brutal policies,” the letter reads.

Eight other federal lawmakers signed onto the letter, including fellow Floridians Rubio, Nelson and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The State Department announced new sanctions on Nicaragua on July 5.

Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio file bill wooing Canadian snowbirds for longer visits

Florida’s U.S. senators agree that those crossing the nation’s northern border should get to stay here for a while.

Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio filed The Canadian Snowbird Act, legislation that would let older Canadian visitors to the United States stay here as long as eight months without being considered residents.

“It’s no secret that Canadians love to visit Florida in the winter,” said Nelson. “The millions of Canadian snowbirds who visit our state each year play an important role in our state’s tourism-driven economy. Allowing them to stay even longer is a win for them and for the local economies they visit.”

With certain exceptions, Canadians merely visiting the United States do not typically need visas, according to the State Department. But under current law, those who come to the U.S. and stick around for longer than six months will be considered full-time residents of the U.S. and must pay income tax on their entire annual income, even money made in Canada.

Canadians who become permanent residents of the United States must have a visa or a waiver that says that the foreign nationals intend to be in the United States for less than 90 days.

If the new bill becomes law, Canadian citizens over the age of 50 could stay here for 240 days, or eight months, though they would be expressly prohibited from working for American employers or seeking public assistance in the U.S.

Regardless, visitors from the Great White North find their way to Florida and stay around for some time.

Visit Florida, which endorsed the legislation filed by Rubio and Nelson, estimates 3.2 Canadians visited the state in 2016. The Canadian embassy forecasts visitors from Canada contribute $4 billion each year to Florida’s economy.

The Canadian Snowbird Association is also endorsing the legislation.

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