Add immigration reform to August town halls agenda
As the House and Senate prepared to head out for the month of August, another topic for town halls was thrown into the mix. Thanks to a bill proposed by Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton and Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue, legal immigration reform was back on the table.
The bill, called the RAISE Act, would limit the amount of family members legal immigrants could sponsor to only spouses and young children. This would end a practice known as “chain immigration.”
Instead, preferences would go to a “merit” system focusing on skilled workers and those already proficient in English. President Donald Trump quickly announced his support with Cotton and Perdue standing next to him.
With just a couple of exceptions, the proposal mirrored the ideas expressed by Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick (now an Arizona Supreme Court Justice) in their book Immigration Wars. There is no daylight between the main thrusts of the Cotton/Perdue/Trump plan – chain immigration – than the policy advocated by Bush.
“We propose limiting guaranteed admissions to spouses and minor children of US citizens,” they wrote on pages 18-21. “Reuniting married couples and their children is the essence of family reunification.”
Trying to get a sense of his constituents, Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan conducted an online poll asking how they felt about “cutting legal immigration” and supporting a “merit” system. While unscientific, 36 percent approve of both ideas while 18 percent support just the merit system and 8 percent advocate cutting the number of immigrants, as of Tuesday. A total of 38 percent are opposed to both.
Orlando Democrat Darren Soto, echoing the sentiments of several in his party, held nothing back in his condemnation of the legislation.
“The RAISE Act is a flagrant attack on legal immigration; it goes against American values and does not put ‘America First,” said Soto in a statement. “By eliminating all family-based legal immigration categories (except for spouses and minor children), adult U.S. citizens would now be unable to reunite with their loved ones in the country they call home.”
Republicans are far from united on the proposal to cut the number of immigrants and another to require English proficiency upon arrival. Bush did not propose either, nor did GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the 2013 “Gang of 8” that tried to pass legal immigration reform in 2013.
“I don’t think there should be an arbitrary cap,” he told CBS4 Miami. “That number should be driven by demand.”
Businesses small and large depend upon cheap labor unskilled immigrants can provide, creating a clash between Republicans demanding reform and others in their party who depend on the support of business interests. Asked about the bill’s chances of passing, Rubio had a simple response.
“That bill’s not going to pass,” he said. “I think the White House knows that you don’t have 60 votes for that in the Senate.”
Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.
Boca Raton man sets the stage for Trump
Modern day politics is a continuous election cycle. Last week, President Trump’s 2020 re-election bid quietly moved forward with the hiring of a Boca Raton man.
George Gigicos resigned his position as the White House Director of Advance and will now work toward helping Trump earn another term. Gigicos is expected to perform a similar role to that he carried out for Trump in 2016 as well as the last 5 GOP presidential nominees.
“I’m going back to the campaign…I’m going to continue serving the president, but I can serve him better from the outside,” he told the Palm Beach Post.
Gigicos’s specialty is logistics. Campaign rallies and events require careful planning, which is why he was a valued member of Trump’s campaign as well as those of Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush.
In the meantime, the New York Times reported Gigicos may join Lewandowski Strategic Advisors, a new firm headed up by Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, until Trump is ready to make his re-election campaign official.
While the bare-bones Trump campaign was often second-guessed, the large crowds and staging of his rallies were not. While the 50-year-old Gigicos played a major role in that portion of the campaign, he takes no credit.
“It was all (Trump) – the right man with the right message,” Gigicos said. “I just built the stages.”
Floridians set to serve in Trump’s diplomatic corps
Two Floridians of note will serve as ambassadors in the Trump administration.
Day is a long-time GOP activist and party leader. With more than two decades on the executive committee for the Republican Party of Florida and the Republican National Committee, Day recently concluded a 6-year run as the elected Co-Chair of the RNC. Her confirmation was one of 68 approved by the Senate prior to the August recess.
Buchan runs a private investment firm that donated heavily to Trump’s campaign. He and his wife, Heather, contributed nearly $900,000 to the effort. While in college at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Buchan earned degrees in both Spanish and business.
A date for Day’s swearing in was not announced, nor was one for Buchan’s confirmation hearing.
7 new VA health facilities coming to Florida
Florida veterans will soon have more medical centers where they can go for mental health and outpatient services, after the U.S. Senate unanimously approved legislation Aug. 1 that authorizes seven new major VA medical facilities in the state, reports Daniel Chang with the Miami Herald.
“We have a duty to care for the brave men and women who have served in our nation’s military,” said Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, a co-sponsor. “Getting these 7 new VA clinics opened here in Florida will make it easier for some of our veterans to access the care that they need.”
All seven clinics will be in North Florida and Central Florida. A total of $72 million is appropriated to construct the facilities in Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Ocala, Tampa, Gainesville, and another to serve the Tampa/Lakeland area. An additional Gainesville mental health clinic is also authorized.
“Our veterans have fought selflessly to defend our country and protect our freedoms, and they deserve easy and convenient access to quality health care,” said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, also a co-sponsor. “These outpatient clinics will allow them to receive outpatient care close to home, and I’m glad we were able to get these projects started in our state.”
Florida is home to nearly 1.55 million veterans, half of whom receive health care through the VA. The bill now heads to the president’s desk. The House passed the measure 414-0 on July 28.
Senate passes Rubio’s pediatric cancer bill — Sen. Rubio joined with three other co-sponsors to tout the Senate’s passage of a bill that will provide children battling cancer “with more innovative and promising treatment options.”
The Florida Republican introduced the legislation on February 27 along with fellow Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado and Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. The House already passed the measure, meaning it now hands to President Trump’s desk for signature.
“The RACE for Children Act is an important measure that will provide children battling cancer with more promising treatment options,” Rubio said. “Pediatric cancer is a leading cause of death by disease among children and yet children do not have the same treatment options as adults.”
Prior to the Senate passing the bill, Rubio took to the Senate floor to tout its many benefits. During his remarks he offered multiple examples of children who lost their battles with cancer.
“We live in a society where oftentimes good news doesn’t draw ratings and good news doesn’t drive eyeballs and clicks to a website,” he said. “It doesn’t make it unimportant. It doesn’t make it insignificant. This is significant.”
Rubio, Trump meet with Bay of Pigs veterans — Six Cuban-American Bay of Pig veterans attended a private Oval Office gathering with Sen. Rubio and President Trump last week, reports Patricia Mazzei with the Miami Herald.
The men got their photo snapped with Rubio and the president, who was seated behind the Resolute desk. Trump has been outspoken about the need to tighten U.S. policy toward Cuba, and met with Brigade 2506 veterans for a few minutes backstage at the Manuel Artime Theater in East Little Havana during his last visit to Miami.
Mazzei reports the brigade issued its first-ever presidential endorsement, for Trump, last year.
In a tweet, Rubio’s office said he was honored to visit with the Bay of Pig veterans at the White House, calling them “true heroes and great Americans.”
Rubio: U.S. must act on genocide of Christians in Iraq — In a Friday op-ed, Rubio called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to follow in the footsteps of the previous administration and take a stand against the killing of Iraqi Christians by ISIS militants.
Last year, then-Secretary of State John Kerry declared ISIS “responsible for genocide” against Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities. The declaration was only the second of its kind in American history, with former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s early 2000s declaration of genocide in Darfur being the first.
“Unfortunately, it is unclear whether the current administration maintains this determination,” Rubio wrote.
Rubio said if the U.S. fails to take “meaningful steps” to help religious minorities in lraq, many more will be forced out of their homes, which would constitute a “deathblow to the vision of a diverse, pluralistic, Iraq that respects religious freedom.”
The second-term senator then called on Tillerson to appoint a special coordinator in northern Iraq to oversee U.S. assistance in the region rather than letting the United Nations Development Fund handle the work.
“President Obama’s misguided foreign policy did real damage to Iraq’s minorities, but these ancient communities could disappear completely on President Trump’s watch if his administration fails to help them,” Rubio said.
Save the date:
Israel welcomes second round of congressional travelers
With Congress away for the August recess, quality time with constituents and perhaps a little Congressional travel is on the menu. Israel is a popular destination.
Freshman Charlie Crist from St. Petersburg, along with 19 other Democrats, is returning from their trip, while three of his first-term Republican colleagues from Florida are there this week. Brian Mast of Palm City, Neal Dunn of Panama City and John Rutherford of Jacksonville will meet with Israeli military and political leaders along with U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“This trip is a great opportunity to hear directly from the Israeli government and military leaders about how our two nations can work together to further advance these values,” said Mast in a statement.
Dunn said he is “looking forward to learning more about Israel’s efforts to combat terrorism on a daily basis, and how we can continue to work with them to root out radical terrorists throughout the Middle East.”
The trips for both Democrats and Republicans are sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, which is under the umbrella of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), America’s pro-Israel lobby.
The lawmakers are scheduled to return to the U.S. on August 14.
Gaetz will spend full day with constituents
Rep. Matt Gaetz will again spend an entire day with constituents from District 1.
With Congress in its August recess, the Fort Walton Beach Republican has announced the next Open Gaetz Day will take place in South Walton and Freeport on August 22.
It begins with a town hall at the Ocean Club Restaurant in Miramar Beach and ends with another town hall at Hammock Bay Lake Club in Freeport. In between are school visits to South Walton High School and the Seaside Neighborhood School, followed by a law enforcement roundtable and Mobile Office Hours at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.
Gaetz has hosted several similar events throughout the district during his first seven months in Congress.
Murphy seeks additional funding for English-language learning programs
Rep. Stephanie Murphy has introduced legislation designed to ensure Florida “receives its fair share of federal funding for English-language learning programs.”
The Ensuring Linguistic Excellence and Vocational Aptitude by Teaching English (ELEVATE) Act, would provide more funds to the state to sufficient resources are going toward providing instruction to students and their families.
The bill seeks to address a flaw in the funding formula that does not give credit for those moving to Florida and other states from Puerto Rico. Immigrants from the other four U.S. Territories (U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands) are included in the formula.
Immigrants from Puerto Rico continue to arrive in Florida with large portions settling in the Orlando metropolitan area, which includes Murphy’s district. The state’s share of funding has remained constant despite a 120 percent rise in the Puerto Rican population in Florida since 2000.
“I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan bill to give Florida its fair share of federal resources to improve English-language instruction,” Murphy said in a statement. “I grew up in an immigrant household where my parents spoke only Vietnamese. I learned English in school, and I know how challenging it can be, but also how important it is.”
Joining Murphy as co-sponsors are Democrats Darren Soto of Orlando, Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Weston, Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, and Alcee Hastings of Miramar. Republican Carlos Curbelo of Kendall is also a co-sponsor.
Buchanan chides Senate for inaction
Rep. Buchanan is growing impatient with the U.S. Senate. In a constituent email titled “You Can’t Make This Up,” the Sarasota Republican calls out Senators for the slow pace in passing legislation covering illegal immigration and mocks them for a resolution they did pass.
“Both parties in the upper chamber valiantly joined forces to unanimously pass a resolution designating September 25, 2017 as…National Lobster Day,” Buchanan wrote. “You read that right.”
He then jabbed the Senate for not passing two bills targeting criminal illegal aliens, Kate’s Law and the No Sanctuaries for Criminals Act. Both bills, co-sponsored by Buchanan, passed the House in late June.
Buchanan cited the recent case in Portland, Oregon as evidence of the need for both bills. The Oregon case involved an illegal alien deported 20 times, only to come back and sexually assault a 65-year-old grandmother. The accused was released earlier from local custody under Portland’s sanctuary city policy.
“It’s time the Senate acts to allow federal law enforcement officials to protect the public and enforce existing laws,” said Buchanan.
Paulson’s Principles: Some congressional districts are more vulnerable than others
There are 435 congressional districts in the United States. Florida, which started with one district when it joined the union in 1845, now has 27 House members. There are two truisms about congressional districts. First, some districts are more vulnerable than others. Second, few districts are truly at risk and that is a bad thing for American politics.
Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia identifies 276 of the 435 districts, or 63%, as safe. Republicans hold 141 of the safe seats and Democrats 135. 159 districts, or 37%, are competitive, although few of these “competitive” districts will change hands.
Virtually every political analyst in America agrees that the most vulnerable district in the nation is congressional District 27 in Florida. That seat has been held for 28 years by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican and senior member of the Florida delegation. Ros-Lehtinen has announced she will not run for reelection in 2018.
So, why should a district held by a Republican for 28 years and won by Ros-Lehtinen by 10% in the 2016 election, be considered the most vulnerable district in America? The district is a +5 Democratic district which was carried by 19 points by Hillary Clinton in 2016. It is one of the two most Democratic districts in America held by a Republican.
As soon as Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement, Sabato switched his rating of the district in 2018 from “likely Republican” to “leans Democrat.”
The other district that is even slightly more Democratic than District 27 is neighboring District 26 held by Republican Carlos Curbelo. District 26 is a +6 Democratic district won by Clinton by 16 points. Even though Curbelo is an incumbent, the district is rated a “toss-up” because of its left-leaning makeup.
The third most vulnerable district in Florida is District 18 held by first-term Republican Brian Mast. Mast won in a district formerly held by Democrat Patrick Murphy, who gave up his seat to run for the U. S. Senate.
Mast was an ex-army bomb disposal expert who lost both legs in Afghanistan. His main Democratic rival at this point is Pam Keith, who did better than expected in the 2016 U. S. Democratic Senate primary. Democrats are hoping that former state senator and states’ attorney Dave Aronberg will enter the race.
Only two Democrats in the Florida delegation are considered potentially vulnerable, Stephanie Murphy in District 7 and Charlie Crist in District 13. Both defeated incumbent Republicans in 2016. Both seem secure at this point.
Other potentially vulnerable candidates include Republicans Ron DeSantis in District 6, Mario Diaz-Balart in District 25 and Dennis Ross in District 15. All three Republicans are favored to win re-election, but could be defeated if Democrats find quality candidates.
If everything falls in place for Democrats, or falls apart for Republicans, then Republicans Ted Yoho in District 3, Bill Posey in District 8 and Gus Bilirakis in District 12 could be in jeopardy.
The most vulnerable seat in Florida and the nation is District 27. With no Republican incumbent and one of the most Democratic districts in the state, Democrats are under pressure to win in District 27. A defeat would deflate Democratic aspirations and demonstrate that Republicans can still win in Democratic districts.
One final point. With few really competitive districts, the real losers are the American public. If members of Congress don’t fear defeat, they are free to vote however they want, including support of more extreme positions. Close elections force elected officials to listen closely to the voters.
Poll: Democrats lead Republicans in generic ballot
Democrats have a 7-percentage point lead over Republicans on a generic congressional ballot, reports Steven Shepard with POLITICO.
According to a recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, the survey showed a generic Democratic candidate leads a generic Republican candidate, 44 percent to 37 percent. The survey found 19 percent of registered voters were undecided. The most recent survey came after the GOP’s effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, failed and President Trump’s chief of staff abruptly left the White House.
According to poll, Democratic voters back Democratic candidates by “an almost-unanimous margin, 90 percent to 2 percent.” Republicans, however, are less unified, 85 percent to 5 percent. Shepard also reported that the president’s approval ratings have held steady, even as the GOP dipped on the generic ballot test. The new poll found 42 percent of voters approve of the job he is doing, while 53 percent disapprove. That’s compared to a poll a week earlier, which showed 43 percent approved, and 52 percent disapproved of Trump.
The poll, which was conducted from July 27 through July 29, surveyed 1,972 registered voters and had a margin of error of 2 percent.
#FloridaWoman named RNC spokeswoman
The Republican National Committee announced Monday that Kayleigh McEnany, who until last week was a frequent fixture on news network CNN, will be the party’s new spokeswoman.
“I am excited to be joining the RNC at such an important and historic time in our country,” McEnany said. “I’m eager to talk about Republican ideas and values and have important discussions about issues affecting Americans across this country.”
McEnany, who grew up in Tampa and went to the Academy of Holy Names private school, was an early backer of then-candidate Trump during the 2016 Republican Primary and saw her airtime grow as the 17-candidate field dwindled and Trump eventually secured the GOP nomination.
The Harvard Law School alumna will serve as the RNC spokesperson on TV and radio and will be joined by a National Press Secretary and Deputy National Press Secretary, the RNC said.
Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel added that McEnany’s “experience will be invaluable to the RNC as we continue to support President Trump and build on our majorities in Congress as we head into 2018.”
Florida donors dump $1 million into Senate Leadership Fund
Florida donors doled out $1 million so far this year to a GOP political committee that’s likely to spend big bucks to knock out incumbent Democratic Sen. Nelson in 2018.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund took in $500K from FPL parent company NextEra, $300K from Walter Buckley, $100K from private prison company the GEO Group, $50K from Newsmax Media CEO Christopher Ruddy, $25K from Fairholme Capital Management’s Bruce Berkowitz and $25K from retiree Alfred Hoffman. Those half-dozen Florida donors made up one eighth of the PAC’s total receipts for 2017.
Last year, the Senate Leadership Fund spent $11 million attacking former Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy when he ran against incumbent Republican Sen. Rubio, and the committee will likely have to lay down a lot more dough to turn Nelson’s seat red.
The third-term Democrat’s likely opponent is Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who also has millions on hand in his “Let’s Get to Work” committee, a state political committee.
DCCC calls House Republicans agenda a “spectacular failure”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee blasted House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republicans Monday for their failure to pass any of the measures announced in Ryan’s agenda six months ago.
The political committee went down the list of the Speaker’s agenda items, noting no healthcare, infrastructure, budget, tax reform or debt ceiling legislation has passed into law even though they were included in Ryan’s “bold” 200-day plan.
“‘Republicans lament an agenda in ‘quicksand’’ is the perfect summation of the last 200-days. Of course, House Republicans have also failed on every level of holding President Trump accountable, from his conflicts of interest and ethical issues, to tax returns, and more,” the DCCC press release said.
Of course, the DCCC made clear they don’t mind that Ryan’s agenda has had limited success, since they say his policies are “out to benefit the very rich and largest corporations, while devastating hardworking people’s health care, cost of living, jobs and wages.”
“At least temporarily, Ryan’s ineptitude has saved tens of millions of Americans their healthcare,” the DCCC said.
The DCCC also gloated over Ryan’s slipping public approval ratings and, gave airtime to some of House Republican’s political in-fighting over the failed Obamacare repeal, saying “it’s clear that conservatives are not going to stomach failure for much longer.”
Curbelo the subject of Spanish-language ads seeking tax reform
Rep. Carlos Curbelo is once again the subject of advertising from the American Action Network (AAN). While others before have provided support to the second-term Congressman in a swing district, the latest ad is asking for something in return.
The AAN’s Middle Growth Initiative is targeting the U.S. Tax Code and is asking “conservative lawmakers to make middle-class tax relief a priority.” The 60-second, Spanish language ad asks constituents to call Curbelo and “tell him to keep fighting for real tax cuts.”
“It’s time to reform America’s outdated, unfair, and complicated tax code,” said AAN Executive Director Corry Bliss. “Hispanic middle-class families have seen less opportunity and stagnant wages for too long. Their voice in this debate is critical; we urge them to contact their representative and ask for a tax code that prioritizes more jobs and higher wages for hard-working families.”
Curbelo is one of six members from California, Texas, Arizona or Florida targeted by the ads. The group has pledged $6 million in ad buys.
Last week, AAN and the Middle Growth Initiative announced English-language ads in 34 Congressional Districts, including Curbelo and Palm City Republican Brian Mast.
Former Tampa Tribune reporter new chief of White House correspondents
Margaret Talev, the White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, is the new President of the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA). She succeeds Jeff Mason of Reuters.
Talev was a political reporter for the Tampa Tribune from 1995 to 1999, before moving to the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee, and McClathchy Newspapers before joining Bloomberg in 2011.
Among the responsibilities of the WHCA is organizing the annual White House Correspondents Dinner. Last year’s event gained more notoriety surrounding who was not attending than any of those who did attend. She was asked by the Poynter Institute whether President Trump might attend in 2018.
“The dinner honors the First Amendment, the best work of journalists who cover the White House and scholarship recipients we hope will go on to cover the White House,” she said. “WHCA will celebrate its 104th anniversary next April and it’s been a proud tradition of ours – one we intend to continue – to welcome U.S. Presidents as our guests to break bread with us in recognition of the principles being honored.”
Talev is married to Ray Locker, who worked for the Tribune from 1987-2000 as a reporter, columnist and editor. Locker is the current Washington enterprise editor for USA Today.
U.S. Senate salutes Gators’ national baseball championship
With immigration, health care, tax cuts and North Korea rightfully having the attention of Capitol Hill, the Senate took a brief time out for recognizing outstanding athletic achievement. A resolution from Republican Sen. Rubio and co-sponsored by Sen. Nelson saluted the Florida Gators, who won the NCAA Baseball College World Series in June.
Among the “whereas” statements, was the fact that the Gators became only the sixth school to win NCAA titles in football, basketball and baseball. Another pointed out Florida has won 39 national titles in all sports.
Rubio is a graduate of the University of Miami, who has won the baseball championship four times. Nelson attended Florida before later transferring to Yale.
The Gators defeated Louisiana State University in the finals. Since the resolution was approved without a roll call vote, no definitive evidence exists that Louisiana Republican Senators John Neely Kennedy or Bill Cassidy uttered the words “aye.”