Florida Dems offer proportional response to Manafort indictment
On Monday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller announced a 12-count indictment against former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s longtime associate, Rick Gates. A campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with an individual with ties to Russia.
It was the event many had feared or had been waiting for, depending on the political point of view. There was something for both sides to use in making their case, but those looking for the weapon that would undermine Trump or, at the extreme lead to impeachment, did not get what they were seeking.
Had this turned out to be the bombshell for which some had hoped, the response from Democrats — and some Republicans — in the Florida delegation would have been quick and direct. Instead, the investigation lives for another day, which may well bring more charges of wrongdoing.
More than 8 hours after the indictments were announced, the few Florida Democrats who commented were careful with their remarks. Most raised a direct or implicit warning to Trump not to fire Mueller or otherwise interfere.
“These are very serious charges and show why we must be patient about the investigation,” said Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
“I expect this will be just the tip of the iceberg,” tweeted Alcee Hastings of Miramar. “@realdonaldtrump: Do not interfere with the Special Counsel’s independent investigation.”
For their part, Republicans have made fresh hay from the revelation that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) paid for the “Trump Dossier” that some claim started the Russia investigation in the first place.
“Instead of moaning about @HillaryClinton, the White House needs to worry about who’s next,” tweeted Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens.
“As the criminal probe escalates, Congress must signal that we will not tolerate any interference by the President or his Administration,” said Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and former chair of the DNC.
Is this the tip of the iceberg, or is it Mueller’s most significant volley?
Comments coincided with the fact that none of the activity leading to the indictments came while Manafort or Gates worked for the campaign.
Outside of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responding to reporters questions by saying Monday’s actions “had nothing to do with the President, nothing to do with the President’s campaign or campaign activity,” Republicans remained relatively quiet.
Which side will be doing most of the talking in the coming months?
Nelson seeks more Medicaid help for Puerto Rico
Florida’s senior Senator is asking the federal government to lift the current cap on Medicaid funding in Puerto Rico to help those on the devastated island receive necessary medical care. On Friday, he joined with four of his Democratic Senate colleagues to file legislation that would prevent Puerto Rico’s Medicaid funds from running out.
“The people of Puerto Rico need our help,” Nelson said in a statement. “As we work to help them recover and rebuild in the aftermath of this devastating disaster, we also have to look forward to the future and help them avert what could be a serious health care crisis if nothing is done.”
The bill would also provide prescription drug subsidies for low-income senior citizens in Puerto Rico.
Joining Nelson as co-sponsors for the bill was Bob Menendez and Cory Booker from New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Rubio: ‘No’ vote on tax reform without Child Tax Credit increase
With a draft tax reform bill due to be rolled out on Wednesday, Florida’s junior senator has laid down his marker. To earn his vote, the final package must include an expansion of the Child Tax Credit.
Rubio is working with Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee to raise the credit from $500 to $2,000 per child to prevent what they say would be a tax increase on working families. They believe their issue is good policy along with good politics.
“You can’t just produce a tax reform bill in which all of the benefit accrues to the people who can hire lobbyists at the expense of the people we should actually be helping,” Rubio told a group of reporters last week.
Rubio has said for two weeks that tax reform will not pass without adding the extra benefits for middle and lower-income families. Last week, he took it a step further.
“I’m not going to vote for an increase on the middle class,” he told reporters. “But we’re not going to get to that point. We’re not that crazy around here to think that we’re going to raise taxes on the middle class.”
The Constitution requires all tax bills to originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate can amend what passes the House. With Wednesday’s launch, proponents and opponents of the GOP tax reform push will have the rest of the week to go back and forth on cable news networks.
Debate on the tax bill is set to begin in the House Ways and Means Committee on November 6. Chaired by Texas Republican Kevin Brady, the committee includes Florida Republicans Vern Buchanan of Sarasota and Carlos Curbelo of Kendall.
Nelson draws on star power for November fundraiser
The three-term Democrat will have a well-known colleague come to Florida to help him raise money to win a fourth. Minnesota’s Al Franken will join Nelson at the home of former Florida CFO and candidate for Governor Alex Sink on Saturday, November 18.
Franken, who has represented Minnesota in the Senate since 2009, is also well-known as a comic actor, writer and liberal political activist. It is appropriate the event will be held on Saturday since he was a longtime writer and performer on NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
He has also hosted The Al Franken Show, a nationally syndicated, political radio talk show. Franken also is the author of six books, four of which were political satires blasting conservatives.
First elected in 2008 in a tight victory over incumbent Republican Norm Coleman — with a recount that lasted months — Franken won re-election in 2014.
Suggested donation to the event is $250; to co-host the reception is $1,000, $2,700 to host and $5,400 to chair.
Lawson caught by surprise by hometown bid for Amazon
Amazon has grown to be such a retail juggernaut that they need to open a second national headquarters. Should that new location somehow turn out to be Jacksonville, that would be just fine with the Democrat from Tallahassee.
Lawson, whose district stretches from the Panhandle to include a portion of Jacksonville, joined with Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford to make the pitch on behalf of Jacksonville. In a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the pair touted the many benefits Jacksonville would bring.
“Jacksonville is thrilled for the potential opportunity to welcome Amazon’s new headquarters to the city as it begins to grow and prosper as a thriving economic center,” Lawson said. “The promise of 50,000 jobs and economic growth are important to Jacksonville as it thrives to be the best city to live, work, and play.”
To the surprise of many, including Lawson, his hometown of Tallahassee also submitted a bid to land Amazon. The Tallahassee Office of Economic Vitality (OEV) submitted a proposal, along with 237 other cities, to land the company, which would bring a $5 billion capital investment.
“I never heard anything at all and had no idea Tallahassee was interested in it,” Lawson told the Tallahassee Democrat. His district contains a portion of his hometown.
Though “a long shot,” the Tallahassee bid came because it represented a “once in a generation opportunity,” according to Al Latimer, director of the OEV. Had he known, Lawson might have agreed.
Tampa-St. Petersburg, Miami-Dade County (with Broward and Palm Beach) and Orlando are also bidding.
Murphy announces $6.6 million in HUD funding
The Winter Park Democrat announced Orlando will receive $6.6 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The funding will expand the supply of affordable housing, reduce homelessness, and assist those with HIV/AIDS in finding affordable housing.
The city will receive $3.7 million under the Housing Opportunities for Persons with HIV/AIDS (HOPWA), $1.8 million under the Community Development Block Grant program, $877,000 under the HOME program and $162,000 under the Emergency Solutions Grant program.
“Orlando is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, so access to affordable housing is a serious challenge, especially for more vulnerable populations like those living with HIV or AIDS,” Murphy said in a statement. “Quality, affordable housing will help strengthen families and make our community stronger by reducing crime and attracting more, better-paying jobs to Central Florida.”
Murphy is the co-chair of the New Democrat Coalition’s Housing Task Force. Two weeks ago she announced $11 million in HUD funding targeted for affordable housing in Orange County, Seminole County and the city of Sanford.
Buchanan still wants ‘heads to roll’ in IRS targeting scandal
The Sarasota Republican still wants heads to roll at the Internal Revenue Service.
Nearly two months after Donald Trump‘s Justice Department announced plans not to charge former IRS official Lois Lerner over her role in the Tea Party targeting scandal, Buchanan said the DOJ should reevaluate that position. This follows the news that the IRS officials admitted to the intentional targeting of American citizens based on political leanings.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last Thursday that the DOJ settled two lawsuits with conservative groups that claimed the IRS had unfairly scrutinized them during applications for tax-exempt status.
Those settlements ended two legal battles that began after a 2013 treasury inspector general’s audit found groups with names containing “Tea Party” or “Patriot” received more scrutiny over their applications for tax-exempt status.
“Lerner betrayed the nation’s trust yet managed to avoid prosecution,” Buchanan said in a statement Monday. “Heads should roll, and people should be held accountable for this gross abuse of power.”
As part of the legal settlement announced last week, the IRS offered its “sincere apology” and agreed to pay a fine.
Buchanan, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, says that won’t cut it.
“An apology five years after the fact is not good enough,” said Buchanan, chair of the congressional subcommittee that oversees the IRS. “The American people need to know they can be critical of their government without fear of retribution.”
Deutch, member of Knesset urge European action on Hezbollah
The Democrat from Boca Raton followed up last week’s meeting of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee by teaming with a colleague from Israel’s legislature to again urge the European Union to treat all of Hezbollah as terrorists. The EU only considers the military wing of the Iran-backed organization as a terrorist organization.
Deutch and Yair Lapid of the Israeli Knesset argued in a joint op-ed that the political arm of Hezbollah is just as worthy of the terrorist designation. Last week, the House passed a resolution urging the EU to take action.
“Both of us were bewildered that the resolution was even necessary,” they wrote. “How can anyone in Europe not believe that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization when Hezbollah itself confirms it over and over again?”
The resolution was co-sponsored by Florida Republicans Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami. Ros-Lehtinen is the chair of the subcommittee while Deutch is the ranking member.
“We urge the European Union to follow the lead of France and the Netherlands,” they said. “Designate Hezbollah — all of Hezbollah — a terrorist organization.
The op-ed, titled “Europe, believe Hezbollah — it’s exactly the terrorist organization it says it is,” was published in the influential El Pais newspaper in Spain.
Save the date: Bettina Rodríguez Aguilera CD 27 kickoff
Rodríguez Aguilera kicks off her campaign for Florida’s 27th Congressional District Wednesday, Nov. 2, at La Jolla Ballroom, 301 Alcazar Ave. in Coral Gables. The event is from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
“I vow to always place people above politics, continue to work to bring jobs, keep our country safe and fight for human rights,” Rodriguez Aguilera said in a statement.
Rodriguez Aguilera’s leadership and diplomatic career have taken her to nearly 20 countries in which she has taken an active role in promoting the American values of democracy and human rights. She is seeking the seat soon to be vacated by Congresswoman and fellow Cuban American, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Her official kickoff campaign fundraiser was postponed due to Hurricane Irma.
Harvey Weinstein invoked in CD 27 race
The race for the Democratic nomination to succeed Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Congressional District 27 was always expected to be hot and heavy. One of the candidates has added her name to the #MeToo hashtag.
Miami Beach City Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez claims that she was “Harvey Weinsteined” by a candidate for the commission. According to Rosen Gonzalez, progressive activist and commission candidate Rafael Velasquez exposed himself to her.
“I was ‘Harvey Weinsteined’ by Rafael Velasquez, the candidate I have been supporting and raising money for in the Miami Beach Commission race,” she said in a text message exchange with POLITICO Florida.
Velasquez did not explicitly deny the accusation but had a question about the timing.
“The whole Weinstein thing is in the news. Maybe she thinks she can get some traction from it,” Velasquez said. “I don’t want to speculate, but I know she seeks national attention as she’s running for office herself.”
While Rosen Gonzalez has raised a respectable amount for her campaign, she lags behind the front-runners. Through September 30 she had raised $236,000 and had $196,000 cash on hand.
The two leading Democrats on the fundraising side, David Richardson and Matthew Haggman, had both raised more than $500,000 and had around $450,000 cash on hand. Rosen Gonzalez was not buying the speculation offered by Velasquez.
“This is very embarrassing for me,” said Rosen Gonzalez, who was explicitly descriptive about her side of what happened. “I didn’t just support Rafael. I had his sign in my yard. I told the unions to support him. I told (Florida Democratic Party Chair) Stephen Bittel to support him.”
Stearns faces FEC complaint on personal spending from campaign account
The former GOP Congressman from Ocala faces an FEC complaint about using his old campaign account for both personal use and to bolster his “lobbying activities,” reports Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida.
The payments, reported by POLITICO Florida earlier this month, included paying annual dues to Washington’s Capitol Hill Club, payments to his wife, Joan, and regular cellphone bills, among other things. Stearns has been out of Congress since being upset in 2012 by Ted Yoho of Gainesville.
“Although Stearns left Congress in 2013, he has used Friends of Cliff Stearns funds for a variety of personal expenses … in violation of the prohibition against converting campaign funds to personal use,” read the complaint, filed Friday by Washington-based Campaign Legal Center.
He now serves as an executive director in the Washington office of APCO Worldwide, a communications and public affairs firm. That role includes federal lobbying.
The CLC complaint says that Stearns’ payments to the Capitol Hill Club, a favorite GOP locale for Washington politicos, indicates he is using money from his campaign account to help his lobbying career. The CLC points to a 2015 USA Today article in which Stearns said he lobbies members at the Capitol Hill Club.
“Former Members of Congress spending leftover campaign money as golden parachutes to subsidize their personal lifestyles is a serious misuse of contributions,” said Adav Noti, who is the CLC’s senior director, trial litigation, and strategy, in a statement. “The law bans elected officials from pocketing the campaign contributions they receive, and the FEC should strictly enforce that ban.”
Brendan Fischer, CLC’s director of federal and FEC reform, added: “By law, campaign contributions are to be used for a candidate’s run for office or one’s duties as an officeholder, not as a personal slush fund.”
Paulson’s Politics: Previewing the 2018 Florida congressional elections
As we approach the halfway point to the 2018 midterm election, I will spend the next few weeks profiling the Florida congressional races. This week, a look at the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and Rick Scott, his likely Republican opponent.
A series of recent polls provides good news for Scott and should raise concerns for three-term Senator Nelson.
An August poll from Florida Atlantic University found Nelson ahead by a narrow 42-40 percent margin, with 18 percent undecided. Voters under 35 support Nelson; those over 55 back Scott. Older voters vote; younger voters stay home.
A St. Leo University poll in late September showed Scott leading Nelson 35 to 33 percent, with 21 percent undecided. Scott’s approval rating jumped from 56 percent in March to 62 percent in September. At one point during his first term, his approval rating was in the low 30s.
A September poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce had Scott leading 47-45 percent. In March, Nelson was leading 39 to 34 percent.
The most recent poll from the University of North Florida had the race a dead heat, with Nelson at 37 percent and Scott at 36 percent, with 27 percent undecided.
The UNF poll contained two pieces of information that has to concern Nelson. First, like most of the polls, Nelson’s numbers are heading down while Scott’s are going up. Nelson had been at 44 percent in February 2017.
Equally concerning is that 49 percent of the voters were not sure how to evaluate Nelson. Michael Binder, director of the UNF poll, noted that “When a three-term sitting U. S. senator has almost half of the sample unable to assess his job approval, you have a problem.”
Nelson began his political career in 1972 with his election to the Florida House. He then served 12 years in the U.S. House, six years as Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshall, before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000. How do you have a 45-year career in politics and, yet, half of the voters cannot judge your performance?
Nelson’s strategy of “offending no one” has worked, but it has also created a political dilemma for him. He may not have offended anyone, but he has not won staunch defenders. As political guru Mac Stipanovich noted, Nelson “is a connoisseur of low-hanging fruit.”
Nelson does have strengths, as a 45-year political career is a testimony to his strengths. He is also the only Democratic senator from the Deep South and only Democrat holding statewide office in Florida. He has lost only one race, and that was to Democratic icon Lawton Chiles in the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Rick Scott emerged from obscurity in 2010 to become Florida’s governor. He first defeated Republican establishment candidate Bill McCollum in the primary, and then beat Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink 49-48 percent in the general election.
Four years later, Scott would defeat former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who was now attempting a comeback as a Democrat. Scott eked out a narrow 48-47 percent victory, defeating Crist by a mere 64,000 votes.
Nelson has been in Florida politics for 45 years. That experience may be a plus, but it may also be a drag in the current environment where voters are looking for a fresh face. He will turn 76 shortly before the 2018 election, and that may be an issue.
Scott biggest pluses are that he has shown he can win close races, his approval ratings have substantially increased, and his numbers in a head-to-head matchup with Nelson are going up, while Nelson’s are slipping.
Democrats have reasons to be concerned. Republicans have reasons to be encouraged.
A lot can change in a year, but Democrats are in for a far more difficult race than they expected.
Interest grows for Congressional App Challenge
Delegation members, with good reason, are touting the Congressional App Challenge. The Challenge is a competition among individuals within a Congressional district to create an app that could be used to “innovate policymaking by connecting Members of Congress to new and emerging technologies.”
Working in conjunction with the Internet Education Foundation, the program has reached nearly 4,000 students in 33 states. The Challenge was launched in 2013.
The deadline for submission is November 1.