Marco Rubio Archives - Florida Politics

Marco Rubio says any plan on DACA can’t be a product of a ‘gang’

Marco Rubio believes an agreement in Congress to protect approximately 780,000 undocumented immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program can and should happen.

But Florida’s junior U.S. Senator also warns that such a deal shouldn’t be the product of a “gang” of senators as it was with the group he was a part of for comprehensive immigration reform the Senate passed in 2013.

Appearing Monday on Fox and Friends, Rubio said any legislation would have to include funding to build a wall for border security and a need to find “some permanent status” for those currently in DACA.

“That is the deal. What has complicated it is people come forward and say ‘Well, I want citizenship,’ which Republicans and even the president has expressed an openness to but only if you deal with chain migration,” Rubio said.

Chain migration is a term used first by demographers in the mid-1960s to describe the process of allowing legal immigrants to petition for their parents, adult brothers and sisters and adult sons and daughters to come to the U.S.

Republican Senators Tom Cotton from Arkansas and David Perdue from Georgia have introduced legislation that would reform chain migration and create a point system to evaluate potential immigrants based on factors such as age, education, professional skills and English proficiency.

Rubio said that if Democrats want to talk about a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, then a debate about chain migration has to be on the table. But he said that Democrats have to understand that such a deal won’t happen until they agree to authorize funding to construct a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.

“The president has expressed a willingness to do it, but it’s important for Democrats to understand: nothing is going to happen unless we can figure out a way to permanently fund the wall and the enforcement that the president wants, and that the vast majority of Americans and myself included, support,” Rubio said.

Rubio added that progress can happen quickly on the issue, “but it cannot be a product of a gang of four or five people meeting somewhere, putting a bill on the floor, and saying ‘take it or leave it.'”

“I was part of an effort like that in 2013, I see others are trying to do it now. It won’t work. This issue is too critical to too many people to be a product of a small group and a ‘take it or leave it’ proposition.”

Rubio was a crucial part of the “Gang of 8” that passed a comprehensive immigration bill in 2013. The bill was attacked by conservative media, and then-Speaker John Boehner refused to put the bill up for a vote in the House.

Tea Party groups protested Rubio’s support for the bill as well, and he began backing away from it almost immediately after its passage in the Senate. While running for president two years ago, he said at a campaign stop that the bill “was not headed toward becoming law,” telling a questioner in Rock Hill, South Carolina, that “ideally it was headed toward the House, where conservative members of the House were going to make it even better.”

Rubio’s appearance on Fox took place just a few hours before the Senate was scheduled to vote on legislation that would reopen the government by extending funding until Feb. 8. It would also extend the low-income children’s health insurance program, CHIP, for six years and suspend some taxes under the Affordable Care Act. It does not include any legislative fix addressing those in the DACA program.

It’ll be magic if Joe Negron succeeds with new Lake O reservoir land buy

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations committee heard a presentation from South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Ernie Marks on the status report of the reservoir project authorized by Senate Bill 10.

Following the presentation, Appropriations Chair and Senate Bill 10 sponsor Rob Bradley expressed confidence in the district’s plans. But following the meeting, Senate President Joe Negron told reporters he is still planning to seek another 4,000 to 5,000 acres of land before the end of Session.

Why would the Senate president make these comments when the district says it has the land it needs, the chair is happy, and the project appears to be on schedule?

Negron’s comments come following a picture coming into focus that leaves little room for land buying, particularly taking more agricultural land out of production, which is a pillar of Florida’s economy.

In January of last year, Bradley first filed SB 10 — a bill that (at one point) called for the purchase of nearly 60,000 acres of working farmland south of Lake O.

It didn’t take long for questions to arise about how the state of Florida would buy this private farmland, warning it would adversely affect those living the region.

Among the first sounding the alarm about “eminent domain” was Marco Rubio.

“What about the people that live in those communities? What about Pahokee, what about those cities in the Glades communities that are going to get wiped out,” Florida’s junior senator told a blogger in April 2017. “If you buy up all that farmland, that means there’s no farming, that means these cities collapse, they basically turning ghost towns. Shouldn’t they be at the table? Shouldn’t they be part of this conversation as well?”

Soon afterward, an overwhelming bipartisan Senate majority revised SB 10, stripping the controversial provision that would have bought the 60K acres of privately-held farmland.

The last version of SB 10 — which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law that May, and was applauded by environmentalists such as the Everglades Foundation — prohibited the use of eminent domain.

According to comments today from Marks, more than 80 percent of the large landowners south of Lake Okeechobee are not selling. Glades farmers are steadfastly against losing valuable, productive agricultural land.

Also, the coming budget crunch following Hurricane Irma doesn’t lend itself to land grabs.

And there’s also the fact that this Florida Senate has little appetite for another bruising debate over land buying in an election year.

Finally, any deviation from the district’s schedule could delay the reservoir project — possibly for years.

Bottom line: this ship has sailed.

I have always maintained that President Negron is a true statesman, and this may be a moment showing the Stuart Republican cares more about the people in his district rather than the people in the Florida Senate — an admirable trait in any elected official.

But if Negron has any intentions of squeezing an acre of private land out under these circumstances, he’s more than a statesman. He’s a magician.

Marco Rubio bill says ‘nyet’ to foreign interference in American elections

Sen. Marco Rubio often trumpets his bipartisan legislation, and his latest bill — co-introduced with Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen — is no exception.

The so-called DETER Act (Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines) Act would impose what are called “severe consequences” for foreign actors who interfere with American candidates, campaigns, or voting infrastructure.

With many people concluding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, this bill is intended to ensure that such interference doesn’t happen again — either from Russia or other potential state malefactors, such as China, North Korea, and Iran.

The bill requires the Director of National Intelligence to report on whether or not there has been foreign interference in federal elections within a month after the vote. Such interference could range from online ads and gaming social media to hacking election websites.

The bill targets Russia specifically, advancing what Rubio’s office calls “severe sanctions” that include financial sanctions and blocking Russian political figures and oligarchs from entering the U.S.

As well, the Executive Branch would be required to coordinate further sanctions with the European Union.

“We cannot be a country where foreign intelligence agencies attempt to influence our political process without consequences,” said Senator Rubio. “This bill will help to ensure the integrity of our electoral process by using key national security tools to dissuade foreign powers from meddling in our elections.”

The Senate co-sponsors outlined the case in a Washington Post editorial Tuesday.

“We cannot underscore enough the urgency of this issue. In less than a year, Americans will head to the ballot box for the midterm elections. Our next presidential election will be here before we know it. It is unrealistic to think we can simply sit back and hope that we do not face another attack by a hostile foreign power.”

Sparks fly as Philip Levine spars with Gwen Graham campaign

Campaigns for two major candidates competing for Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination traded verbal jabs Thursday.

Former Tallahassee Congresswoman Gwen Graham has been the early leader in the four-person field, but Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine declared it’s now becoming a two-person race.

That left the Graham camp feeling “threatened” by the challenge, Levine claimed in a radio interview.

The war of words began the day before when Levine appeared in Tallahassee Wednesday as part of his statewide “Live! from Florida’s Living Room”  bus tour.

Levine boasted his background in the private sector, where he became a multimillionaire in the cruise-ship media industry.

“The fact that I’ve had that weird thing in my background called a job, the fact that I’ve actually done something with my life outside the public sector is probably a big differentiator,” he said, as first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat. “I’m a person who started with $500 and a pocketful of dreams, built some companies, employed hundreds of people if not thousands, and then I gave back and became a successful, two-term mayor of Miami Beach.”

Graham worked in the private sector as an attorney before focusing on starting a family and raising three children. She later volunteered to serve on her children’s school advisory board and as PTA president, then working for the local school district.

Graham, daughter of former Gov. Bob Graham, ran for political office for the first time in 2014, capturing the Republican-leaning congressional district seat. After redistricting, she stepped down from the position in 2016.

Her campaign did not take kindly to Levine’s remarks; former USF President and state legislator Betty Castor — a Graham supporter — fired back.

“Philip Levine can lecture women on what it means to have a job and ‘do something’ with your life after he raises three children while volunteering at their schools and working 50 hours a week,” Castor said in a statement Thursday from Graham’s campaign.

“Not only does Levine not have the facts straight, his view that motherhood is anything less than a full-time job is exactly the kind of tone-deaf attitude we already see out of too many politicians in DC and Tallahassee.”

“Real Floridians know you don’t have to be a CEO or sell a company to contribute to your community. Working mothers, PTA presidents, teachers and public school officials perform some of the most important jobs in our state.”

If Graham’s campaign thought that would chill out Levine Thursday, they were mistaken.

“I think Gwen … thought this crown was going to be passed to her because of her brand name and she somehow was going to inherit the governorship of Florida,” he said on WMNF 88.5- FM.

Levine didn’t stop there: “My background is one of an entrepreneur and not a politician. I’m someone who ran for mayor and became a mayor twice. And in my background, I’ve created a lot of jobs, and I think that’s very important to the American people. I’m sorry that Betty Castor wants to play politics with such an important issue, and I’m sorry that Gwen Graham feels so threatened.”

About a new poll published Thursday by the Florida Chamber Political Institute — which shows him trailing Graham by seven points — the mayor said the comment from Castor showed Graham was “not happy with the polling numbers.”

(An overwhelming majority of those surveyed did not have an opinion about the Governor’s race.)

The Miami Beach Democrat openly flirted with the idea of running for governor as a political independent at one point last year, calling himself a “radical centrist.” Add to that the fact he gave a political contribution to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio at one point might have some Democrats questioning his Party loyalty.

Levine is having none of it, saying that he’s given “well over” a million dollars to the Democratic Party over the years, and “raised billions.”

“A tiny $2,000, $3,000 donation to somebody on the other side I think is kind of irrelevant at this point,” he said.

Then, Levine attacked Graham for standing by idly during the 2016 presidential campaign while he was regularly making media and campaign appearances on behalf of Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign.

“She was thinking about herself during Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” Levine charged. “She was thinking about how she wanted to become governor.  She was nowhere to be found. You know where I was? I was on television every single channel including Fox, making sure doing everything I could as Hillary’s surrogate so the Democratic Party would win the presidency. So, I think when it comes to being a Democrat, it’s not just saying it; it’s actually doing it.”

Graham spokesman Matt Harringer disputed that allegation, saying, “Gwen Graham worked very hard for Hillary Clinton, speaking at local Democratic Executive Committees across the state.”

Orlando area businessman Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum round out the Democratic field for governor. In the Florida Chamber poll, Gillum was a close third at 6 percent.

Later in the afternoon, Graham added to the crossfire.

“Having just finished my 49th Workday, working alongside personnel in the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, I just have so much respect for the working women and men of Florida — in both the private and public sectors,” she said. “Their work isn’t measured merely by the size of their wallets or the zeros in their bank accounts, but by the skills and dedication, they contribute to Florida every day.

“There’s no ‘inheritance’ in any campaign and there are no ‘titles’ that matter. The only thing that matters are the millions of hard-working Floridians and the pure inspiration found in the example they set.”

Later in the afternoon, Graham tweeted out photos of her most recent Workday with the Volusia Sheriffs, writing: “‘Real jobs,’ folks.” #Respect

Mona Mangat: Marco Rubio, you failed Florida kids once. Here’s your chance to make amends.

Just recently, in the midst of cold and flu season, a young asthmatic patient of mine who works in the fast food industry walked into my office barely able to breathe. She couldn’t speak. We quickly worked to open up her airways, and the story she then shared was chilling. She had stopped her maintenance asthma medications two months earlier because the out-of-pocket cost was too high, and she prioritized her child’s medications over her own.

She had been sick for two days but willed herself to go to work where, upon entering a freezer, her lungs immediately seized up.

Children, families and parents like my patient are caught in the crosshairs of the Republican tax and budget overhaul that will shift trillions in tax breaks to the rich and corporations while forcing health care cuts and higher taxes on working families. At the same time, the health care of millions of children hangs in the balance as their families wait to see if Congress will provide long-term stability to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

After letting funding dwindle for months since its expiration in October, congressional Republicans relied on their standard answer for issues like this; they kicked the can down the road by only funding the program through March. But children and their families need full funding soon. They cannot spend several more months like they spent the last few — wondering if their children will get the care they needed.

And they need a real champion in Washington, D.C. — not just someone who pays lip service only to turn his back when families need him the most. Sen. Marco Rubio recently tried to claim the title of children’s champion, making headlines when he demanded improvements to the tax bill’s Children’s Tax Credit (CTC) in exchange for his vote. But that was grandstanding with little substance.

With just minor tweaks, Rubio voted for the Senate bill despite the fact that 26 million families would get only a token share of the credit and 4 million immigrant children of taxpaying parents would face new restrictions.

Recently, Rubio admitted that the deal he agreed to was lackluster, “probably” helps corporations too much, and won’t result in significant economic growth. This isn’t the first time Rubio has been caught showboating and pretending to be a fighter for families, and unfortunately, it’s hard to say that it will be the last.

But now Senator Rubio has an opportunity to stand up for many of the same kids the CTC leaves behind by becoming a vocal champion for CHIP and demanding that the same senators who pressured him into voting for the tax package provide families with certainty and ensure their kids will have the health care coverage they need.

Without CHIP reauthorization, 215,000 kids in Florida will be kicked off the insurance rolls. Failing to champion the reauthorization of CHIP is morally reprehensible, and Florida won’t forgive Rubio if he fails families again.

For me, this isn’t about a win for any particular party, it’s about taking care of my patients. Patients should never have to choose between purchasing their medications or their kids.’ Doctors like me stood up to speak out against this tax bill because we know it will hurt our patients, and we are demanding that CHIP be reauthorized because we know they can’t get the care they need without it.

It would have been refreshing to see Sen. Rubio stand up for his constituents during the tax debate but instead, he folded like he too often does. Florida voters won’t forget this latest publicity stunt from Rubio or his many votes to take away our health care, but agreeing to move CHIP forward would be a step in the right direction.

___

Dr. Mona Mangat is an allergist and immunologist in St. Petersburg and former Board Chair of Doctors for America.

Philip Levine: Check to Marco Rubio ‘tiny’ compared with long, deep Democratic support

There’s that Sept. 30, 2009, check to the U.S. Senate campaign of former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio:

It’s the $2,400 contribution to a Republican who then was seen as the darling of Florida’s Tea Party movement, an upstart whose explosive popularity on the right chased Charlie Crist from the Grand Old Party and made Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek a third-place finisher in 2010.

It’s the bank draft from Miami Beach businessman Philip Levine, who then was the future mayor of that city and who now is one of the leading Democratic candidates for governor in the 2018 election.

Privately, some Democrats have been whispering wonder about whether Levine’s erstwhile support of Rubio in 2009 reflected at all on his commitment to the Florida Democratic Party.

“Nope. Not at all. Zero,” Levine insisted in Orlando Tuesday when asked about whether that contribution meant he harbored an interest in Rubio or for what he stands.

“I have written millions of dollars to the Democratic Party, and that was just one small, tiny donation,” Levine said. “Friends of mine called me up and asked me for it, and I said ‘yes.’

“But he’s been a disappointment, and I’m not a supporter or a believer in any way, shape or imagination,” Levine continued. “Thank God my Democratic donations outnumber it about 5,000 to one.”

Levine is in a crowded race seeking the Florida Democratic primary nomination to run for governor, with former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Winter Park businessman Chris King, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; and terms such as “real Democrat,” “true Democrat,” and “lifelong Democrat” already have been tossed about in that contest, as if someone in the race is not. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach.

“Mayor Levine has raised millions of dollars for fellow Democrats, up and down the ballot,” spokesman Christian Ulvert stated. “Most importantly, his record of getting progressive policies done is crystal clear — and it’s exactly the leadership he will take to the Governor’s mansion.”

Levine tells his story often about how he left college to work as a Royal Caribbean cruise ship deckhand, later following his instinct to become an entrepreneur serving cruise ships, to starting up and then selling companies, to becoming very rich.

By the late-1990s he became an active political campaign contributor, and by early this century he was a prominent one, making him an extraordinarily unusual candidate for governor. Other wealthy candidates have run statewide in Florida before, notably Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Jeff Greene of West Palm Beach, who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010; yet neither previously had been as financially generous to others’ political causes as Levine had.

Though they do not quite show the multiple millions he asserted, U.S. Federal Election Commission and the Florida Division of Elections records do show that Philip Levine — from addresses in Miami, Miami Beach and Tallahassee — has contributed more than $1 million to others over the past couple of decades. He also has donated nearly $3 million to his own campaign’s funds in the past year.

Levine donated at least $189,900 to various state campaigns and political committees in Florida, and another $893,385 to various federal campaigns and political committees in Florida and across the country.

Campaign finance activity reviewed by Florida Politics does not include any political contributions Levine may have made in local elections in Florida [he was a two-term mayor of Miami Beach,] nor any he may have made in local or state elections in other states. Those would have been recorded outside the FEC and the Florida Division of Elections.

Levine, in fact, has a clear record of donating to Democrats for many years. His donations for Democrats compared with those for Republicans do not entirely create a 5,000-1 ratio, but it is higher than a 200-1 ratio, at least in dollars.

Since 2000, he has donated $161,800 to the Florida Democratic Party [including $61,800 in 2016] and at least another $12,500 to specific Democratic candidates and committees. Another $16,600 of his state political contributions went to committees that at least on paper may be considered nonpartisan. No state-level Levine money went to Republicans, the Republican Party of Florida, or Republican committees.

On the federal side, since 1999, Levine made at least 270 donations totaling $876,791 to Democrats, Democratic parties, and committees associated with Democrats. He has made six contributions totaling about $12,000 to committees that have some claim to being nonpartisan, or have unclear partisan standing.

He’s made just four donations, adding up to $4,650, to Republicans, including the Rubio check.

Levine was a big backer of Hillary Clinton, donating $300,000 to her Hillary Victory Fund committee in 2016. He also was a significant backer of Barack Obama, donating $30,000 to his Obama Victory Fund committee in 2008.

In contrast with the $2,400 he gave to U.S. Senate Republican candidate Rubio, over the past two decades Levine contributed $31,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, $25,000 to the Florida Senate Victory 2004 committee, and $15,000 to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s campaigns.

Levine also has made direct donations to campaigns of Florida Democrats Dan Gelber, Bill McBride, Janet Reno, Alex Sink, Joe Garcia, Raul Martinez, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Crist [when he ran for Congress as a Democrat,] Peter Deutsch, Betty Castor, Alex Penelas, Andrew Korge, Jose Javier Rodriguez, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Elaine Bloom, Ken Gottlieb, David Richardson, Richard Steinberg, and Wilbert Holloway.

Besides Rubio, other non-Democrats who received support from Levine include Miami Republican Lincoln Díaz-Balart, who got $250 for his 1998 Congressional re-election campaign; Montana Republican Conrad Burns, who got $1,000 for his 1998 U.S. Senate re-election campaign; and New Jersey Republican Dick Zimmer, who got $1,000 for his 2008 U.S. Senate campaign. Levine also donated to the nonpartisan campaigns of Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit judges Maxine Cohen Lando and Milton Hirsch.

David Jolly, pondering political run, admits progressives’ energy is ‘massive’

David Jolly says that if the physical boundaries in Florida’s 13th Congressional District in Pinellas County were the same as they were when he won the seat twice back in 2014, he’d already be running against Charlie Crist this November.

The reality is that it’s the same Democratic-leaning seat that he ended up losing to Crist in 2016 by a 52 percent-48 percent margin.

That fact, as well as what he predicts could be a Democratic tsunami at the polls this fall, has effectively quelled his entry into the contest, though he insists he hasn’t completely closed the door on running for political office later this year.

“I am still considering being on the ballot for Congress, and having conversations about some statewide possibilities that we might confront by filing deadline,” the Indian Shores Republican said this week.

A frequent political analyst on cable news, Jolly says that before he were to commit himself to a campaign, he needs to ask and answer the question that he says every Republican should be asking in 2018: Is this a year to be a Republican on the ballot?

“The energy on the left is massive,” he says, pointing specifically to the results in Virginia’s state legislature last November as an indicator of the pent-up momentum among Democrats nationally.

In that election, Democrats flipped 16 Republicans seats in the Virginia House of Delegates, nearly seizing control of that chamber (Republicans maintained control this week only after their candidate’s name was picked out of a bowl to break a tie with a Democrat). The last time Democrats had taken more than five seats in that body was in 1975, a year after Richard Nixon resigned from office because of the Watergate scandal.

Virginia’s house races shows that the amount of energy on the left “is remarkable,” Jolly says.

“People on the left cannot wait to get to November,” he adds. “I don’t think the right has that enthusiasm.”

Congressional District 13 was one of eight congressional districts that the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2015 needed to be redrawn by the Legislature to comply with the Fair Districts constitutional amendment, passed in 2010, that prohibited lawmakers from intentionally drawing districts that favored incumbents or political parties.

That resulted in CD 13 moving from being a rare swing district with a slight GOP advantage to becoming a large Democratic-leaning seat.

That initially led Jolly to opt out of a run for re-election to instead run for what was an open U.S. Senate seat. That changed once incumbent Marco Rubio decided to run again for the seat, compelling Jolly to attempt to win the seat that he originally said after redistricting was one that no Republican could possibly win.

The Cook Political Report last month listed the CD-13 set as as being “likely Democratic” in 2018.

Major conservative PAC backs Carlos Curbelo, Brian Mast

Conservative political committee Maverick PAC is backing Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast this election cycle, both could face hard-fought re-election battles in the fall.

Maverick PAC, or MavPAC for short, focuses on getting young professionals engaged in the political process. It got started in the 2004 cycle and became known for hosting inexpensive fundraisers aimed at giving younger people access to politicians and top political operators. During the 2016 cycle, Maverick PAC raised over $3.5 million for federal candidates.

The political committee said it’s “unique” in that its membership nominates and votes on which candidates will get the PAC’s support come election time.

Curbelo, Mast and another 44 candidates are on the MavPAC roster, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, whose current term runs through 2022. The PAC in the past named Curbelo, a former member, one of its “Future 40.”

Curbelo represents Florida’s 26th Congressional District, which was one of just 23 House seats nationwide — and one of two in Florida — to vote in favor of Hillary Clinton for president while also sending a Republican to Congress. Clinton won the district by 16 points, while Curbelo beat former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia 53-41.

In 2018, four Democrats are vying to knock Curbelo out of his South Florida seat: Ricky Junquera, Steven Machat, Steve Smith and current primary race front-runner Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who had $162,000 cash on hand at the end of the third quarter compared to $1.3 million for Curbelo.

Mast represents Florida’s 18th Congressional District. He was first elected in 2016, beating out Democrat Randy Perkins 53-43 on Election Day. Democrat Patrick Murphy held the seat for the two terms prior, but gave it up to run for U.S. Senate against Rubio.

So far, two Democrats have filed to run against Mast in 2018: Lauren Baer and Pam Keith. Carla Spalding is also running as an independent. Baer leads the pack with $236,000 in her campaign account as of the end of the third quarter, while Keith has $64,000 on hand. Mast had $921,000 in the bank through the same date.

Baer and Keith got some encouraging news last month when a poll from left-leaning PPP found him winning by just one point, 45-44, against a generic Democrat. The survey also found him underwater on favorability, 40-45, and that his constituents were against the Republican tax plan he voted for 51-35.

Returning from Puerto Rico, Darren Soto organizing advisory task force

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto announced Wednesday he is forming a Central Florida task force to advise on matters involving the the tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who have fled the island for Central Florida to escape the island’s plight following Hurricane Maria.

The regional Task Force on Puerto Rico Arrivals to Central Florida was announced to consist of elected officials from Seminole, Osceola and Polk counties. It will hold its first official meeting in Central Florida starting at 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon, to discuss effective ways to tackle the housing, educational, employment and healthcare challenges facing new Puerto Ricans in the area, according to a news release.

Soto, a Democrat from Orlando, went to Puerto Rico Wednesday with Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, meeting with Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, former Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, and others to discuss the island’s status, much of it still without power or water, and federal responses and laws, including the new excise tax included in the federal tax reform bill approved last week. Together, the pair also plan to hold a separate 1 p.m. meeting Thursday with Puerto Rican community leaders in Central Florida.

Soto’s office described the task force as bipartisan, but like the vast majority of Puerto Rican relief efforts and events arranged in Central Florida in the past three months, it is largely uni-partisan, at least in its initial makeup. Immediately after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 20-21, Nelson and Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio appeared together and vowed to work together, and have made several joint statements since. Gov. Rick Scott organized a roundtable discussion in late October in Kissimmee that included Democrats and Republicans. But otherwise, bipartisan crossovers have been rare at numerous events involving Central Florida political leaders dealing with assistance for Puerto Rico and the evacuees coming to Florida.

Among the regional Task Force on Puerto Rico Arrivals to Central Florida members announced by Soto’s office are U.S. Reps. Val Demings of Orlando and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park; state Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando; state Reps. Amy Mercado and John Cortes; Osceola County Commissioners Brandon Arrington and Viviana Janer; and Osceola County School Board Chairman Kelvin Soto, all Democrats.

Soto’s office said Republican office holders who have been very active in Puerto Rico and evacuee assistance efforts, such as state Reps. Rene Plasencia and Bob Cortes, and Orange County Commissioners Jennifer Thompson and Pete Clarke, were invited and that he hopes they will join the effort.

Recently when Plasencia was asked why Democrats were not active in relief and assistance efforts he, Cortes, and other Republicans were helping organize and run, he said the same thing, that Democrats had been invited, and he hoped they would join the effort.

Marco Rubio, Matt Gaetz split on Russia probe

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio wants Special Counsel Robert Mueller to continue his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as other Florida lawmakers battle in the media spotlight about the need for the ongoing probe.

In giving a recap of his year Wednesday, Rubio, a Miami-Dade County Republican, said the best thing for everyone, including President Donald Trump, is for Mueller to be able to complete his work.

Rubio described as “troublesome” text messages between FBI agents that were critical of then-candidate Trump — an issue that conservative critics of the probe have seized upon. But Rubio said he’s convinced Mueller, based on personal interaction with the former FBI director, will only pursue “things that are true, and he will do it in a fair and balanced way.”

“If the end product does not reflect that, I’ll say I was wrong,” Rubio said. “But I think the best thing that can happen for the president, for the country and for everyone is that he be allowed to lead his investigation as thoroughly and as complete as possible and that we allow the facts from that investigation to lead where they may, to lead to the truth.”

Rubio’s approach contrasts with Congressman Matt Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican, who more than a month ago warned on the House floor that the country was at risk of a “coup d’etat” by Mueller’s investigation.

On Wednesday, Gaetz was on Fox News to declare the Russia investigation “riddled with conflicts of interest” and that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions should “step up” to end the probe or for Mueller to immediately show what he’s found.

“It’s time for Bob Mueller to put up or shut up,” Gaetz said. “If there’s evidence of collusion, let’s see it. If there’s not, let’s move on as a country and let’s institute reforms at the FBI so that an egomaniac (former) FBI director like James Comey cannot depart from the normal standard procedures that guarantee all Americans equal treatment under the law.”

Trump dismissed Comey in May and later suggested the move was tied to the investigation into Russian election interference.

Meanwhile, Congressman Ted Deutch, a Palm Beach County Democrat, expressed concern Wednesday on CNN about the “concerted efforts by my Republican colleagues and others to undermine the special counsel’s investigation.”

Deutch pointed to “coup d’etat” comments by Gaetz and others as undermining “the rule of law in this country.”

Meanwhile, Rubio, who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, dismissed reports that Trump has urged Senators to end their own investigation.

“I’ve never discussed the Senate investigation with him,” Rubio said.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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