Marco Rubio Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Marco Rubio, Sen. Chris Coons introduce bill to enhance college opportunity for low-income youth

Sen. Marco Rubio has teamed with his colleague Sen. Chris Coons to introduce re-introduce legislation designed to help low-income and at risk students. The Florida Republican and Delaware Democrat launched the American Dream Accounts Act that would provide increased access to a college education.

The two senators joined with Opportunity Nation, a group promoting educational and employment opportunities for youth, to announce the introduction of the legislation. Joining them at the announcement was Opportunity Nation executive director, Monique Rizer.

“I was happy to join Senator Coons and Opportunity Nation today to announce the reintroduction of American Dream Accounts Act,” said Rubio. “Since its inception, America has been a unique nation where anyone from anywhere can do anything. We must keep it that way and I believe one way to do that is to provide more pathways for children to attend college.”

The legislation authorizes the Department of Education to award three-year competitive grants that would support innovation and partnerships supporting low-income students preparing for a college education. Those grants would fund personal online accounts and open college savings accounts for eligible students as well as supporting college-readiness efforts.

“If we want to ensure that American workers can compete in the global economy, we must ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to access higher education,” said Coons. “The American Dream Accounts Act would bridge the opportunity gap by connecting students, teachers, parents, and mentors to create a new generation of higher education achievers through streamlining resources that would allow young people to prepare for, save for, train for, and achieve their dreams for their futures.”

In addition to Opportunity Nation, the legislation is endorsed by other state and national affiliates such as the First Focus Campaign for Children, Corporation for Enterprise Development, the National PTA and others.

“We are proud to endorse the American Dream Accounts Act sponsored by Senators Coons and Rubio, which provides an evidence based, collaborating solution to ensuring more young people have access and complete their post-secondary education, which is critical in the 21st century workforce,” said Rizer.

While the senators are generally drawing kudos for the bill, not everyone thinks this is a good idea. Responses on Rubio’s Facebook page used terms like “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) and “Rubio is really a Democrat.” Others offered the Bernie Sanders approach that college should be free.

The bill was assigned to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Florida leaders react to the bombing at a concert in Manchester

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility Tuesday for the suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester that left 22 people dead and sparked a stampede of young concertgoers.

The attack was the deadliest in Britain since four suicide bombers killed 52 London commuters on subway trains and a bus in July 2005.

Here is a compilation of reaction from Florida’s elected officials and leaders about the tragedy:

— Sen. Marco Rubio on Twitter: “Our prayers are with the people of Manchester.”

— U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist on Twitter: “My thoughts and prayers are with Britain and the families impacted by this horrific act in Manchester.”

— U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo on Twitter: “Praying for the people of Manchester.”

— U.S. Rep. Val Demings on Twitter : “Standing with and praying for Manchester today.  Another cowardly attack against innocent people.”

— U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch on Twitter: “Tonight in #Manchester, enormous amounts of horror, grief, and pain. From America and beyond, we join you in sympathy, outrage and resolve.”

— U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn on Facebook: “Leah and I send our sincere condolences to the British people as they respond to another heinous act of terrorism. The events in Manchester remind us again that these vicious killers will consider any target, even a crowd of teenagers and children at a music concert. We stand with resolve alongside our British friends in the face of this threat.”

— U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings: “I offer my deepest sympathies to the families of the victims of yesterday’s terror attack in Manchester. As England’s law enforcement continues working to establish the full details of this horrific attack against innocent children and families, the American people stand side-by-side in grief, anger, and resolve. My thoughts and prayers continue to be with the city of Manchester and all of England as they come to terms with this terrible atrocity.”

— U.S. Rep. Al Lawson on Twitter: “Our thoughts and prayers are with #Manchester and the United Kingdom for all the victims of tonight’s attack. Such sad news.”

— U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz: “As I am writing yet another statement expressing horror and condolences after another inexplicable terror attack, I feel the angst and anger of a mother who has sent my children off to a concert just like last night’s in Manchester.

The terror attack that apparently targeted innocent young people was a truly despicable act committed by cowards. As Americans, we are heartbroken and horrified by this mass murder of young adults and even children, but make no mistake: our resolve to make our world a safer one for our children is only strengthened, and our commitment to working with our British ally in pursuit of that goal remains unshakeable.

Our thoughts are now with the victims, their families and all the people of Manchester. And while many facts are still unknown, Americans will not waver in seeking justice and standing up against the hate that motivates such heinous crimes. And we will never let these pretenders who hold themselves out as the only true defenders of Islam to be recognized as anything more than what they are: murderers.”

— Gov. Rick Scott on Twitter: “Praying for everyone in Manchester tonight. This is an absolute tragedy and our hearts are with those who were harmed and their loved ones. Also praying for the safety and security of Manchester of law enforcement and first responders during this unimaginably challenging time.”

On Tuesday morning, the governor tweeted: “(First Lady Ann Scott) and I continue to pray for the 22 innocent lives lost in the senseless act of hate and terror in Manchester last night. Florida stands with the British people.”

— Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera on Twitter: “Horrible and senseless. We mourn those lost and pray for swift justice.”

— Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Twitter: “Terrorists who take the lives of innocent people are nothing but cowards & they must be brought to justice. My prayers to Manchester.”

— Democrat Gwen Graham on Twitter: “As a mom, my heart breaks. Praying for the children and families, parents and grandparents in Manchester.”

— Democrat Andrew Gillum on Twitter: “Deeply saddened by #Manchester tonight. Prayers to the families affected & the UK.

— House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Twitter: “My deepest sympathies and prayers for strength go out to the victims, parents, & families of the terror attack in the U.K.”

— Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto on Twitter: “Prayers to our British friends this evening. What a horrible tragedy.”

— Sen. Debbie Mayfield on Twitter: “My heart goes out to those in Manchester, especially to the families and first responders. Our prayers are with you and the United States of America will always stand by you.”

— Rep. Chris Sprowls on Twitter: “Our hearts are with the families of those killed in #ManchesterArena last night. May we unite together to eliminate terror.”

— Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Twitter: “My prayers go out to those in Manchester, as a Father of 2 little girls, I can’t imagine what these families are going through.”

— Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Twitter: “Outrage!!–Manchester terrorist attack. Tears & prayers for the victims and families.”

— State Attorney Melissa Nelson: “We’re all grieving for the victims and those affected by yesterday’s bombing in Manchester.

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Marco Rubio has little to say about Donald Trump, but a lot about the media

For anyone following national politics, it’s been a dizzying week.

Marco Rubio isn’t sure what to make of it all.

The Florida Senator, who turns 46 next weekend, was considered a possible nominee for President of the United States less than 15 months ago, but he’s now just a sideshow in the circus that is the Donald Trump presidency, and he’s getting frustrated about it.

Speaking at the Pinellas County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner, Rubio touted his bill to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is being co-sponsored by Montana Democrat Jon Tester and Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson and gaining some momentum in the Senate. The bill would reform the VA by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees, and “ensure appropriate due process protections for whistleblowers.”

“That’s an important law. How many of you read about that in the newspaper?” Rubio asked the hundreds of Republicans who gathered at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park.

He said it simply wasn’t sexy enough, without mentioning why the national press is so focused on what Trump has been saying and tweeting, and what his staff is telling the press every day.

“It’s not being posted because nobody clicks on those stories, because the stories that get all the clicks are the stories about something controversial and explosive,” he said, adding that, “I’m not here to beat up the press but just because somebody told you something doesn’t mean that’s what happened.”

“Maybe it did? And maybe it did, and if it did then we need to find out, but if it didn’t, that would be unjust, would it not? So before you ask me to give you a hard opinion on something, let me find out the truth first, let you find out the truth first?”

Rubio made the same complaints while interviewed on Fox and Friends on Thursday when asked about Trump’s possible connections with Russia and Comeygate. So if you’re looking for Rubio to bash Trump when he seems to be in free fall, Rubio is not your man. Instead, he sounds like a man who isn’t sure what to think about all of the news coverage.

Other than he doesn’t like it, labeling the way politics is covered these days as “entertainment.”

Referring to the seemingly daily bombshell stories about Trump and Comey, Rubio asked if it wouldn’t be better for everyone involved if everyone knew the facts and didn’t have to “take concrete positions one way or another. “

“Isn’t that what you deserve? Isn’t that what the president deserves? Isn’t that what our nation deserves? Isn’t that what everyone deserves?,” as the crowd of partisan Pinellas Republican cheered lustily.

But before you think that Rubio thinks that Trump is getting a raw deal from the mainstream media, he was there to tell us that he spends 10 hours a week in the Senate Intelligence Committee looking at threats to the nation, including “looking at the specific threats to the 2016 campaign and what Russia did, and what they’re beginning to do in Europe and other places.”

Rubio said mournfully that the campaign last year was about getting people back to work and reminding people about the American dream, but “we don’t talk about these things.”

But the tone of his speech seemed like it was more of the media’s fault for not focusing on incremental policy changes — but how can it compare to a president who can’t stop contradicting his own press spokespeople?

He said that everyone was to blame for our current situation. Looking for an example of how the press doesn’t always get it right always, he chided an Associated Press story this week that initially reported that North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis needed CPR after exerting himself too strenuously this week proved to be incorrect.

“I’m not saying it was malicious,” he said about the AP report (who he praised as generally being straight up in its reporting), “but imagine if it was public policy or decisions of national magnitude. Should we not know the facts?”

Rubio didn’t leave himself out of his critique. Remember when he began attacking the size of Trump’s hands on the campaign trail last year and got live coverage from the cable news networks?

“I know that I spend all my time working on the VA bill and so forth — we will get very little coverage that doesn’t get a lot of clicks and a lot of attention, but if I spend time saying something outrageous, I’ll get a lot of coverage, so I’m incentivized to do that,” he admitted.

The media critique was the highlight of what was one of Rubio’s less inspired speeches seen in some time. Then again, he’s part of the Republican dominance of Washington D.C. that doesn’t appear to be getting much done. Well, there is that VA bill that’s gaining some momentum.

Before the event, a crowd of over 200 protestors gathered at the entrance to the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park. Activists have been demanding that Rubio hold a town hall meeting, something that he has yet to do in 2017.

There were layers of security both outside and inside the hotel.

UPDATE: On Saturday on Twitter, Rubio criticized the Tampa Bay Times coverage of the story, which highlighted his critiques on the media, tweeting, “They actually ran the exact headline I predicted they would run to get clicks!”

That supposition neglects the fact that very little else in his speech was newsworthy.

(Photos courtesy of Kim DeFalco).

Marco Rubio to headline Pinellas GOP Lincoln Day Dinner tonight

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is the featured speaker at the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee’s 2017 Lincoln Day Dinner, one of the region’s premier political events.

The Miami Republican will keynote the event tonight at the Hilton Carillon Hotel in St. Petersburg’s Gateway community. Cocktail hour begins at 6 p.m., and doors open at 7 p.m.

The annual event not only celebrates recent local GOP victories but has grown to become one of the key fundraising events to support future races.

Lincoln Day dinners are annual GOP celebrations held nationwide by various Republican Party organizations. After Ronald Reagan’s death in 2004, Lincoln Day festivities evolved into a celebration of the former president’s life and achievements, as well as an occasion to honor the party’s conservative successes over the past year.

Certain for inclusion in the celebration is the recent confirmation of Neil Gorsuch as Donald Trump’s first choice for the U.S. Supreme Court.

As Pinellas GOP Chair Nick DeCleglie said in an April 7 Facebook post: “With the help of a Republican-controlled Senate, whose members stood up to the Democrats’ partisan filibuster, Donald Trump will successfully follow through on what I consider to be his most important campaign promise — to appoint conservative jurists to the Supreme Court. Judge Neil Gorsuch is a jurist who will hold true to the Constitution, much like his predecessor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia. I am proud of our Republican Senators who used the precedent set by Harry Reid and the Democrats in 2013 to end debate and confirm this qualified member of the legal community.

“It is a great day for the rule of law in the greatest country the world has ever known,” DiCeglie added. “God Bless Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump, and the United States of America.”

The event also traditionally announces the winner of the C.W. “Bill” Young Public Service Award.

The Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon is at 950 Lake Carillon Drive in Saint Petersburg.

Universal support for Robert Mueller so far from Florida’s members of Congress

Across the aisles and across the Sunshine State Florida’s members of Congress are universally praising the announcement that former FBI Director Robert Mueller will lead a special investigation into Russian interference in American elections.

Some Democrats, while praising the appointment and Mueller’s integrity, still called for more, including the special commission that Democrats have been pushing for in a bill in the House of Representatives. They also almost universally expressed hope that Mueller will conduct a broad investigation that includes pursuing obstruction of justice allegations against President Donald Trump.

Fewer Florida Republicans than Democrats responded Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, but those who did expressed confidence that Mueller’s appointment is the right move, and that Mueller is the right man for the job.

Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall once again got out front of other Republican in expressing concerns over Russia, going on MSNBC Wednesday night and alluding to the prospect that the Russians had American insiders helping them with their election influence operation.

“Because we all want to get to the bottom of what the Russians did to influence this election, and we need to know if any U.S. persons collaborated or colluded with the Russians, this is something that will get us much closer to the truth,” Curbelo told Greta Van Susteren on the For The Record With Greta show. “And it’s something we should be very happy about.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who’d been among the first and most vocal of Republicans to raise concerns about Russian interference last fall, but who had remained fairly quiet as news bombs exploded earlier this week, applauded the Mueller appointment, while cautioning that he still wants the Senate to run its own investigation.

“Mr. Mueller is widely respected for his independence and professionalism. I have confidence that he will conduct a fair and thorough investigation,” Rubio said in a written statement. “For the sake of the country, all parties must fully cooperate with his efforts that are focused on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This effort should in no way be allowed to impede the ability of the Senate Intelligence Committee to conduct and conclude its investigation into the same subject. It is my hope that these investigations will now move expeditiously.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson offered the hope that Mueller will get everything he needs.

“Bob Mueller has the experience to conduct a thorough investigation. Now, the administration must provide him the resources and independent authority he needs to follow the facts wherever they lead,” Nelson said in his statement.

Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key called Mueller “a man of integrity and independence.”

“Bob Mueller is a great choice to lead the investigation as the newly appointed special counsel. A former FBI director, Mueller is a man of integrity and independence who can be expected to conduct a thorough inquiry into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Mueller will get to the truth and give the American people confidence in the outcome of the investigation.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City called for truth.

“We should never run or hide from the truth,” Mast stated in a release. “If we seek out truth and embrace it then Americans can know we all play by the same set of rules.  I hope Former FBI Director Robert Mueller can be looked at as unbiased and his finding respected by all involved.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami called Mueller “no-nonsense.”

“I applaud the appointment of no-nonsense Mueller to lead the investigation of the negative interference of Russia in our democratic process,” she tweeted.

Republican Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami said the matter deserves the attention.

“By appointing former FBI Director Mueller as special counsel, the Justice Department recognizes the attention this matter requires,” he wrote in a statement. I expect Mr. Mueller will conduct this in a professional and thorough manner, just as he led the FBI for 12 years through two presidencies.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando called the move “brilliant” but held out a demand that the commission House Democrats have been seeking still gets established.

“The American people deserve answers. The appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller is a brilliant choice. Based on my knowledge of him, he will be relentless in his pursuit of the facts. He is well up to the task,” she wrote in a statement. “Now, we need an independent commission to ensure we protect our democracy and send a strong message that we will not tolerate any  interference in our elections from anyone.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park agreed, on social media posts.

“The appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation is a positive step toward uncovering the truth. We must follow the facts,” she wrote. “However, we still need an independent commission on Russia’s interference and hacking in our 2016 elections to inform the public and to determine how we can prevent future attacks on our democracy. “

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg expressed his confidence in Mueller.

“This is a very significant step and a win for our democracy and the American people,” he declared in a written statement. “Robert Mueller has broad respect across party lines and is the right person to lead such an important and sensitive investigation. We must get to the bottom of the Russia question, letting facts guide us to the truth.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa urged everyone, including Trump, to fully cooperate with Mueller.

“The appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate potential wrongdoing between Russia and President Trump is an important and overdue step to fully uncover the extent of Russian meddling in our political system and potential obstruction of justice,” she wrote. “A fully independent investigation outside of the partisan politics of Congress is required to restore public trust. This is a tall order and I hope the Special Counsel is up to this task. The appointment comes on the heels of intransigence by Congressional Republicans who as late as this afternoon refused to bring to the House floor a bipartisan bill I have co-sponsored to establish a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the malign Russian influence on our democratic system, the Trump campaign, and his administration. I urge President Trump, all of his associates and all who love this country to be forthright and do everything they can to cooperate and aid the investigation. The American people deserve no less.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston insisted the investigation must be as broad as possible.

“I’m encouraged by the Justice Department’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump-Russia connection, and I have a deep respect for former FBI Director Mueller. Assuming he is given true independence, this appointment will remove some of the clouds that have hung over our system of justice during this deeply troubling situation. It’s certainly overdue,” she said in a written statement. “However, the investigation must include Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, the Kremlin’s possible ties to the Trump campaign, and the President’s alleged interference in the Michael Flynn investigation. This is a positive step, but more still needs to be done to ensure that we provide the whole truth to the American people.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton said something similar in a tweet:

“Important step in Russia investigation. But any investigation must include possible obstruction of justice by POTUS,” he tweeted.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach called for vigilance.

“Thanks to public outcry, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein names a special counsel in Russia probe. Americans must stay vigilant,” she tweeted.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens specifically cited Trump’s presidential campaign as a target.

“The appointment of Robert Mueller to investigate possible ties between President Trump’s campaign and the Russian government is a long-awaited step in the right direction,” she said in a written statement. “After a week of constant controversy, Americans’ faith in government may begin to be restored. I applaud Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for having the courage to name a special counselor, a decision that Mr. Trump has denounced as a ‘witch hunt.’ My view is that if there is no connection between the president or his campaign and Russia, he should have nothing to worry about. Mr. Mueller is widely viewed as a man of the highest integrity who can be counted on to maintain that standard. I hope he will have all of the authority and resources necessary to conduct a thorough investigation, no matter where it may lead him.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee called the appointment a step in the right direction, but insisted on the independent commission.

“Appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel is a step in the right direction for continuing the investigation into Russia’s possible involvement in our democracy, but we still need an independent commission in order to ensure a thorough investigation,” Lawson said in a written statement. “The American people deserve to know the full truth.”

Activists express concern about transparency of Tampa CRC meeting Wednesday

Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) stops in Tampa Wednesday for public comments on potential changes to the state Constitution.

However, progressive groups are once again calling upon the Rules Working Group to improve what they say is a lack of transparency in how the CRC conducts these meetings.

The Constitution Revision Commission is a group of 37 people appointed to review and recommend changes to the Florida Constitution. Every 20 years, the Commission examines the Florida Constitution, holds public hearings and recommend possible changes to the Constitution, which then goes up for voter consideration.

But a coalition of progressive groups says the proposed draft rules for the Tampa meeting “deviate” from the rules “in some significant ways” compared to earlier CRCs.

In a letter sent Monday to the CRC, the group decries a lack of transparency and respect for Sunshine Rules; a lack of articulated provisions for meaningful public engagement; the potential for leverage and influence over commission members, and an unclear track for approval of proposals.

“Transparency and a clear set of ground rules are essential to the credibility of the CRC. As members of the Rules Working Group, you have an opportunity to enhance public confidence in the work of the CRC,” reads the letter, signed by several officials from groups ranging from the ACLU of Florida, Planned Parenthood, Florida AFL-CIO, Indivisible Tampa Bay and Progress Florida, among others.

The first CRC meeting was in Tallahassee in March. A week later, activists chided the CRC for the lack of transparency in a news conference.

In earlier CRC meetings, citizens have come before the Commission to discuss potential constitutional amendments: opening up of primary elections; requiring that a certain percentage of power generated be from renewable sources; recall initiatives for elected officials and require anyone running for president provide five years of income tax returns.

Chairing the Constitutional Revision Commission is Manatee County developer Carlos Beruff, best known for challenging (and losing) to Marco Rubio in the 2016 Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

The CRC meeting will be at Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry Campus DSTU Auditorium, Room 111, at 4001 W. Tampa Bay Blvd. The meeting begins 5 p.m.

Rick Scott to hold rally in Miami to call for release of Leopoldo Lopez

Gov. Rick Scott is headed to Miami Monday to rally for the release of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López.

The Governor’s Office announced Scott, a Naples Republican, will hold a Freedom Rally at 6 p.m., Monday at El Arepazo 2, 3900 NW 79th Avenue in Miami. He is expected to demand the release of López, who was arrested in 2014 and charged with arson and conspiracy after he called for peaceful protests. He was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison in September 2015, a move that was highly controversial.

The rally comes just days after reports that Lopez had been rushed to a military hospital with a medical emergency. The leader of Venezuela’s ruling socialist party deflated those rumors by showing a 20-second video on state television in which Lopez appeared in good health and said he was speaking at “May 3 at 9 p.m.”

But Lopez’s father and sister said they doubt the veracity of the video released in response to rumors spreading online about Lopez’s health.

Lopez appeared “unrecognizable,” said Diana Lopez, the opposition leader’s sister.

“We have big doubts about this video and we don’t accept it as proof of him being alive,” she said.

Scott joins other Florida Republicans in calling for López’s release. Sen. Marco Rubio accompanied Lilian Tintori, López’s wife, to the White House for a meeting with President Donald Trump in February, and has called for his release. So has Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican who in February called López “one of many pro-democracy members of the opposition … that have been imprisoned for running afoul of the corrupt Maduro regime.”

The governor’s decision to hold a rally is also notable for another reason: He’ll be far from Tallahassee as state lawmakers finish work on the 2017-18 budget, which doesn’t fund several of his priorities.

Legislative leaders extended the 2017 Session through Monday so they can pass the 2017-18 budget. Lawmakers are expected to reconvene in Tallahassee at 1 p.m. Monday, with a vote on the budget later in the day.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permissions.

Charlie Crist: ‘Horrible’ GOP health care bill ‘like they don’t care about people’

Three days after House Republicans passed a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a group of St. Petersburg residents, joined by Congressman Charlie Crist, is organizing some voter pushback against  the “horrible bill.”

Approximately 70 citizens met up with the St. Petersburg Democrat in North Straub Park Sunday afternoon to announce that they intend to “stand up and fight back” against the bill, viewed by many as the biggest legislative victory in the young Trump presidency.

“It was a horrible bill then — this one is even worse,” said Crist, referring to the GOP’s first legislative attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare that did not get a vote in March.

The House narrowly voted Thursday to support a reconfigured version of the American Health Care Act, 217-213.

“I can’t imagine that anyone would pass it, that anyone would write it, that anyone would support it let alone vote for the darn thing,” Crist said in disgust. “It’s awful. And it’s like they don’t care about people, and I don’t think they do,” he said of congressional Republicans.

Going back to his first electoral victory in the Florida state Senate in 1992, Crist said the AHCA (which he voted against) was the “worst piece of legislation I’ve seen in all those years. The worst!”

Crist specifically called out three provisions of the legislation which upset him. One is that the bill completely defunds Planned Parenthood in its first year of implementation.

Referring to how the family planning organization does more than just perform abortions, Crist said: “the ignorance about that is stunning.”

Crist also decried the parts of the bill that permits insurance companies to charge as much as five times a person between the ages of 50-64, compared to costs to a healthy 20-something. The bill proposes more than $880 billion proposed in Medicaid cuts.

On ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, House Speaker Paul Ryan defended those proposed cuts, saying the Medicaid system isn’t working (an argument echoed by state GOP lawmakers one was in defense of their opposition to Medicaid expansion in Florida).

“Doctors aren’t taking Medicaid, hospitals can’t survive with Medicaid alone. So by giving the states the ability to customize their Medicaid population their program to work for them,” Ryan said.

As an “eternal optimist,” Crist remains hopeful that the GOP Senate can substantially improve the bill. Republican Senators like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Lamar Alexander, are among those speaking out about the bill, he noted.

Crist also asked the crowd to contact Sen. Marco Rubio, prompting comments from the partisan crowd that they’ve tried, but couldn’t leave a message.

Others spoke to the crowd in defense of the ACA. Erica Behr, who said that when her husband’s kidney began to fail two years ago, she gave him one of hers. That is an act that the Republicans will punish her for, Behr said.

“This is a pre-existing condition for me,” she explained, adding that after kidney surgery, she developed autoimmune problems. “I would be on disability without my health care,” she said, “and that’s what the Republicans are trying to do if the ACA is repealed.”

“When you, your family or friends develop an illness, it becomes a pre-existing condition if your health care policy changes. People shouldn’t be punished financially for getting sick,” said Dr. Juan Dumois, chairman of the division or infectious disease at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

Sunday’s rally was one of more than 75 demonstrations scheduled to take place this weekend in opposition to the passage of the AHCA. Women’s March Pinellas and Awake Pinellas led the demonstration in St. Pete.

Carlos Lopez-Cantera to head federal judicial nominating panel

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera will be the next statewide chair of the panel that vets candidates for federal judges, according to a Thursday statement from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio‘s office.

The purpose of the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission is “to identify highly qualified individuals as finalists to become U.S. district judges in each of the three judicial districts in Florida,” the release said.

“Carlos is well-suited for this position and I am confident he is dedicated to this important process and will successfully lead the commission in identifying exceptional candidates to serve on the federal bench in Florida,” Rubio said.

“I look forward to reviewing the commission’s selections and working with Senator (Bill) Nelson and the president to ensure that these critical positions are filled.”

Added Lopez-Cantera: “I am committed to ensuring that the commission identifies for our senators’ consideration the most qualified applicants to serve as U.S. district judges.

“I am looking forward to working with all of the members of the commission to evaluate candidates based on their qualifications, experience, character, and integrity.”  

According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. CourtsFlorida now has seven U.S. District Court vacancies, the trial level of the courts.

Officially, district judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. But individual senators have veto power over individual candidates, a tradition known as “senatorial courtesy.”

“The commission will send the names of the finalists to Senators Rubio and Nelson for their individual and independent review and, if neither senator objects, those names will be forwarded to the White House for the president’s consideration,” the release said.

Darryl Paulson: Should the Florida GOP feel blue?

Florida’s Republican Party has governed Florida for less than a third of the past 150 years. After the Civil War, a coalition of newly enfranchised blacks, a small number of native white Republicans and northern carpetbaggers dominated Florida politics from 1865 to around 1885.

After the blacks were stripped of their voting rights at the end of Reconstruction, the Republican Party ceased to be a political force. By 1900, more than 90 percent of black voters were dropped from the voter rolls due to barriers to black voters adopted by the state Legislature and through constitutional amendments. As a result of the removal of black voters, not a single black or Republican was left in the legislature.

Republican Party fortunes were so bad that when the party failed to run a candidate for governor in 1918, the Florida Supreme Court declared that “The law does not know such a political party as the Republican Party.

From the 1880s to the 1950s, Democrats completely controlled the political process in Florida. Only once in that 70-year period did a Republican presidential candidate carry the state of Florida. Almost 57 percent of Floridians voted for Republican Herbert Hoover in 1928 over Democrat Al Smith. Smith was the first Catholic candidate for the presidency, and Protestant voters in Florida were not ready to support a Catholic candidate.

Partisan change in Florida and the rest of the South was triggered by events at the 1948 Democratic National Convention. The convention adopted a strong civil rights plank which led to a walkout of most southern delegates and the formation of the States Rights or Dixiecrat Party headed by Governor Storm Thurmond of South Carolina.

The Southern states had agreed to support the national Democratic Party as long as the party did not interfere with racial policies and states’ rights. The bond was now broken. Beginning in 1952, the Republican Party won the electoral votes of three Southern states, including Florida. “Presidential Republicanism” was the wedge that began to open the door for the Republican Party in the South.

Republican strength in presidential elections would be followed by increasing Republican victories in Congressional elections. This would be followed by growing Republican numbers in the state legislatures and then in local elections.

From 1952 to 1992, Republicans won nine of the 11 Florida presidential elections. The only GOP losses were Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Jimmy Carter in 1976. The Lyndon Johnson campaign successfully convinced voters that Goldwater would lead the country into a nuclear war, and Florida voters were concerned about Goldwater’s proposal to privatize Social Security. Carter was helped by coming from neighboring Georgia. Republican President Gerald Ford assumed the vice presidency when Spiro Agnew was forced to resign and then became president due to Nixon‘s Watergate resignation scandal. Scandal and a bad economy contributed to Ford’s narrow loss to Carter.

Republican dominance in Florida presidential elections changed beginning with the 1996 election. Bill Clinton, who narrowly lost Florida to George H. W. Bush in 1992, defeated Republican Bob Dole by 6 percent in 1996. Republicans would win only three of the six Florida presidential elections from 1996 to 2016, and one of their losses was by 537 votes to George W. Bush in 2000.

Going into the 2016 election, almost all political observers predicted a Hillary Clinton victory in Florida and nationally. Although getting 3 million more votes than Donald Trump, Trump carried 30 states and won 304 electoral votes, including Florida’s.

In state elections, Marco Rubio retained his U. S. Senate seat and Republicans only lost one U. S. House seat despite the redrawing of districts which many believed benefited the Democrats. Republicans also retained large majorities in both houses of the legislature.

Looking toward the future, Democrats have several things working in their favor. First, the election of Trump has been a great motivating factor for Democrats. Massive turnouts at congressional town halls attest to the fact that Democrats appear to be more motivated than Republicans.

A second advantage for Democrats is that Republicans are in disarray. Republicans in the Florida House are battling their Republican counterparts in the Senate, and Republicans in both chambers are fighting Republican Governor Rick Scott. Growing factionalism within the party creates opportunities for the Democrats.

Third, the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), once viewed as one of the premier party organizations in the country, has fallen on hard times. When Governor Scott’s hand-picked choice to lead the party, Leslie Dougher, was defeated by state legislator Blaise Ingoglia, Scott abandoned his role as party leader.

Scott urged donors not to give to the RPOF, but to contribute to his “Let’s Get to Work” political action committee. The RPOF now has about half of the revenues it had four years ago.

For Democrats, they face the same problem they have faced for the past 25 years:  disorganization. Numerous party leaders have come and gone, and the results from been dismal. Democrats have just elected a new party chair, Steven Bittel, and hired a new executive director, Sally Boynton Brown. Will they do any better than their predecessors?

2018 is an off-year election, and the party occupying the White House usually suffers large losses. 2018 will provide a good look at whether Florida Democrats have got their act together and will achieve better results than they have achieved in the past.

It is hard to imagine Democrats doing any worse.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

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