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Bill Nelson again talking the ‘centrist’ talk regarding Supreme Court nominee

Senator Bill Nelson does a good job of talking the moderate, bipartisan approach in the U.S. Senate. In the end, he nearly always votes with the liberals in his party.

To be sure, Sen. Marco Rubio votes primarily the same way as his Republican colleagues. The difference is Rubio makes no statements about being a centrist. He makes it clear he is a conservative and votes that way.

Nelson, who is up for re-election in 2018, has a high-profile vote coming his way. In the not-too-distant future, the Senate will conduct hearings involving Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

No credible person can argue that Gorsuch is not qualified to be on the Court. Nelson and some of his colleagues will want to know where the judge stands on certain issues.

He mentions voter suppression and “unlimited money in campaigns” as two issues most important to him. Bewilderment over the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in the Hobby Lobby case, in which Gorsuch participated, clouds Nelson’s opinion of the judge.

As usual, he is saying the right things.

“Whatever the pressure is,” he told the Tampa Bay Times, “I’m going to make up my own mind as to what I think is in the best interest of our country and Florida.”

No one who is aware of Nelson’s record expects him to do anything other than vote against Gorsuch. While Gorsuch supporters are open to pleasant surprises, Nelson telegraphed his intentions when asked whether he supported a filibuster against the nomination.

“You bet I do,” he said. “The filibuster has always forced the political extremes to come to the middle to build consensus.”

There is that “centrist” dialogue masking a liberal position again.

In this case, Nelson and the Democratic minority are picking the wrong fight if they try to filibuster this nominee. He does not need or want any advice from a conservative Floridian, but perhaps one of his home state newspapers might have more clout.

“Democrats are expected to vote against the nominee, likely with the dilatory move of a filibuster. They shouldn’t,” wrote the Miami Herald in a February 2 editorial titled “Don’t filibuster Supreme Court nominee.”

The paper goes on to recommend Gorsuch’s confirmation. It is safe to say the Herald does not fall into the category of a conservative organ.

A true centrist will take into account comments from people who know Gorsuch best. Jessica Greenstone, a former Gorsuch law clerk who is now a high-ranking official with the World Wildlife Fund, lays out the centrist case in a USA Today column.

Even if a Senator plans to vote “no” on a nominee, a true centrist will not participate in a filibuster in this case. The Herald editorial rightly points out that Republicans did not filibuster former President Barrack Obama’s nominees of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

While the Democrats’ outrage over the blockage of Obama nominee Judge Merrick Garland is easy to understand, it does not mean the vacancy should remain indefinitely. It was exactly one year ago that Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly.

Trump could have picked a highly polarizing figure to put on the Court, but he didn’t. As a constitutional originalist like Scalia, Gorsuch will face stiff opposition from true liberals.

A true centrist can support this nominee, but at the very least allow for an up-or-down vote.

What say you, Senator Nelson?

Personnel note: Public strategy firm Mercury hires Brian Swensen as senior VP

Global public strategy firm Mercury is adding noted Republican political adviser Brian Swensen to its Florida public affairs team as a senior vice president.

Swensen comes to the firm following his role as deputy campaign manager for the successful re-election of Sen. Marco Rubio, the latest in a series of key political victories in Florida and Louisiana. He his tenure with Mercury began Jan. 19, 2017.

In his new role, Swensen will bring extensive experience in the political arena to provide solutions and winning strategies for the firm’s clients. He will be based in Mercury’s Miami office.

Mercury Florida, now in its fourth year of operation, is led by partner Ashley Walker.

“We are thrilled to welcome Brian, who is one of the leading political operatives in the Southeast region,” Walker said in a statement Tuesday. “Mercury continues to assemble the state’s most talented team of public affairs professionals, and the addition of Brian underscores our commitment to building Mercury into the strongest bipartisan consultancy in the nation.”

“I am excited to work with the incredibly talented team of strategists at Mercury to help address some of the most pressing policy issues facing many organizations and corporations today,” Swensen said. “The Mercury Florida team brings together the state’s top political advisers across party lines.  Nowhere else can you find such deep, diverse skills and experience, and a winning track record to boot.”

“As someone who prides himself on having a great work ethic and outside the box thinking,” he added, “I look forward to unleashing my unique skill set to shape strategy, solve problems, and create wins for our clients.”

Before joining Mercury, Swensen served as deputy campaign manager for Rubio’s re-election campaign, during which he built a political operation that benefited numerous campaigns up and down the ballot, while training and empowering the next generation of political leaders.

Previously, Swensen managed the successful campaign of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, which helped set the tone for Florida Republicans in the 2016 cycle.

Additionally, Swensen was a part of the Bill Cassidy for U.S. Senate campaign, where he led the political and grassroots operation. He served as political director for the Republican Party of Florida, and was victory director for Gov. Rick Scott’s winning campaign in 2010.

Swensen got his start in the political process at The Leadership Institute, a conservative nonprofit based in Virginia, after graduating from Florida International University in Miami.

Mercury provides a suite of services including federal government relations, international affairs, digital influence, public opinion research, media strategy and a bipartisan grassroots mobilization network in all 50 states. With a global presence, Mercury has U.S. offices in Washington, DC, New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Tennessee, as well as international offices in London and Mexico City.

Mercury is a part of the Omnicom Public Relations Group.

Activists march at Marco Rubio’s Tampa office, calling to reject Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary

Last month, Marco Rubio had harsh words for Rex Tillerson when he came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as Donald Trump‘s pick for Secretary of State. But the Florida senator ultimately went ahead and supported the former ExxonMobil CEO anyway.

Now protesters are hoping Rubio won’t cave on Betsy DeVos.

With the Tillerson turnaround fresh on their minds, more than two dozen activists gathered in front of Rubio’s Tampa district office Monday, urging him to reject DeVos as the next Secretary of Education when her name comes up for a vote Tuesday.

But they are not expecting him to do so.

“Betsy DeVos is totally uneducated, and she’s totally biased,” said Sue Jenkins, a former Wisconsin schoolteacher who spends winters in Port Richey and summers back in the Midwest. She blasted DeVos for her dedication toward vouchers and privatizing education.

“We privatize the schools; we pay them money. Somebody’s going to make a profit.”

Many of those at the protest want Rubio to recuse himself from the vote because he received campaign contributions from DeVos. Then again, so have a lot of other Republicans in Washington.

DeVos admitted as much in her one confirmation hearing, saying “it’s possible” that she and her husband (Dick DeVos Jr.) have given $200 million to candidates over the years. That includes $2.7 million to GOP candidates in the 2016 election cycle alone, including $5,400 to Rubio.

“She’s clearly not qualified,” argued Pam from Madeira Beach. “The only clarity we got from the confirmation hearing is that she’s against public education.”

Last week Rubio tweeted that “many Democratic colleagues tell me they have heavy pressure from left-wing radicals to opposed everything before they know what it is,” irking some of the protesters.

“I don’t think I’m a left-wing radical nut,” said Tampa resident Jennifer Hollowell. “I’m a 53-year-old stay-at-home mom. I’m just passionate about the issues, and obviously Rubio’s not listening to me, but I am a constituent.”

“He’s been calling a lot of people who have been contacting him ‘extremist liberals’ which is pretty misleading,” added a Brandon woman named Courtney (no last name was given).

Senate Democrats Monday began what is expected to be a 24-hour marathon speech supposed to climax at noon Tuesday, right before the Senate is scheduled to vote on DeVos’ confirmation.

With two GOP Senators (Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine) announcing their opposition, it could result in a 50-50 tie. If that should happen, Vice President Mike Pence will likely be called to cast the tiebreaking vote for Trump’s selection.

Early Monday evening, Rubio spokeswoman Christina Mandreucci confirmed that Rubio will be voting for DeVos on Tuesday.

“People contribute to Senator Rubio’s campaign because they support his agenda,” Mandreucci said. “Ms. DeVos is a strong supporter of empowering parents and providing educational opportunity for all, policies Senator Rubio has supported for over a decade. Her nomination is opposed by Democrats who take millions of dollars from the big unions obsessed with denying school choice to low-income children. Senator Rubio looks forward to voting to confirm her.”

Environment Florida wants Bill Nelson to reject Scott Pruitt as EPA head

Scott Pruitt is one step closer to being the next leader of the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Thursday, Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 11-0 to confirm Pruitt, who serves as Oklahoma Attorney General.

Democrats on the committee boycotted the vote.

Pruitt, a climate change skeptic, was one of 14 attorneys general suing the EPA over regulations to limit carbon emissions put in place by the Obama administration.

The entire Senate will vote on his confirmation next week and the advocacy group Environment Florida is calling on the Sunshine State’s two senators to reject his nomination.

“This country needs an Environmental Protection Agency Administrator whose top priority is protecting our air and water and our families’ health,” says Turner Lott, Environment Florida’s campaign organizer. “We need somebody willing to enforce and defend our bedrock environmental laws and a leader guided by science when creating and implementing policy.”

The organization is one of several environmental groups criticizing Trump’s choice at EPA.

While Environment Florida is calling on both senators to oppose Pruitt, Marco Rubio already declared his support.

“The next EPA administrator should be someone who understands the important balance between protecting our air, water and environment without needlessly hurting workers with excessive regulations,” Rubio said in a Jan. 10 statement. “Attorney General Pruitt ‎is the right choice to bring a much-needed dose of common sense to a department where overzealous, out-of-touch regulators have been allowed to operate seemingly unchecked. I look forward to working with him on the many important environmental issues facing Florida.”

Florida’s senior Senator, Bill Nelson, is getting lobbied from both sides to either support or oppose Pruitt. The Florida Democrat pleased liberals Wednesday by announcing his opposition to Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary.

“I will be joining my Republican colleagues Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski in voting ‘no’ against Betsy DeVos,” Nelson declared in a statement.

“Floridians and all Americans deserve an EPA administrator who will fight to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the planet we love. Scott Pruitt fails on all these accounts,” Lott said. “The Senate must stand with science. The Senate must stand up for our families’ health, clean water and clean air.

“We urge Senators Nelson and Rubio to reject President Trump’s nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA.”

Rick Scott cannot condone Cuba’s ‘oppressive behavior.’ What about China’s?

Gov. Rick Scott threatened Florida ports with sanctions if they do business with Cuba. He underscored it with a pair of tweets, the first in Spanish: “No podemos tolerar una dictadura brutal en Cuba.”

Translation: We cannot tolerate a brutal dictatorship in Cuba.

In another tweet, channeling his inner Donald Trump, Gov. Scott noted, “We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behavior. Serious security/human rights concerns.”

He has vowed to withhold state money from ports ink trade agreements with that island nation.

Well, OK. Let’s think this through. If Cuba is off limits, I guess China should be too.

According to a 2016 report by Human Rights Watch: “China remains an authoritarian state, one that systematically curtails a wide range of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly and religion … the trend for human rights under President Xi Jinping continued in a decidedly negative direction.”

Well, shucks. That sounds suspiciously like, to use the governor’s words, “serious security/human rights concerns.”

A report from Enterprise Florida shows our state did more than $28 billion (with a B) in merchandise trade with that totalitarian nation from 2013-15. The Miami Herald reported that China ranks behind only Brazil and Colombia as trading partners with South Florida.

But, if we’re going to make a stand …

We also sent about $2 billion in exports to Saudi Arabia from 2013-15. Of that nation, Human Rights Watch notes: “Detainees, including children, commonly face systematic violations of due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary arrest. Judges routinely sentence defendants to floggings of hundreds of lashes.”

That sounds, oh … what’s the word I’m looking for?

Brutal.

Thanks, governor.

I think we know what’s going on here. Republicans from Washington to Tallahassee have used Cuba as a political piñata for decades. They stepped it up after President Obama made several moves toward normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has been particularly outspoken on that subject, but after his poodle-like yapping against the business relationship between incoming secretary of state Rex Tillerson has with Russia didn’t result in a vote against his confirmation, we can tune that out.

By the way, Florida has a lot of trade with Russia too.

It is assumed Scott has his eye on Bill Nelson’s Senate seat in 2018, and the game plan for any serious GOP candidate involves cutting into Democrats’ traditional support in south Florida by pandering to those who hate the Castro family.

Scott’s actions look to me like a ready-made campaign ad for future ambitions. Meanwhile, Cuba will just keep doing business with the rest of the world. Nothing changes.

Bill Nelson sounds off on Donald Trump’s “rocky” first week in office

Although U.S. Senator Bill Nelson’s press conference on Wednesday in Tampa was ostensibly to discuss President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to spend up to one trillion dollars improving the nation’s infrastructurehe spent considerable time discussing – and criticizing- some of the moves that the newly-inaugurated president has made in his first week in office.

Nelson has voted against Jeff Sessions for Attorney General and Mike Pompeo for CIA Director, and he says he’ll oppose Rex Tillerson when the former ExxonMobil CEO’s name comes up for a confirmation vote for Secretary of State. When asked why at a press conference in Tampa, Nelson said just two words.

“Vladimir Putin.”

When asked to elaborate, Nelson simply said he didn’t feel comfortable with Tillerson’s past relationships with the Russian leader.

In his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month, Florida’s other U.S. Senator, Marco Rubio, was remarkably aggressive in questioning Tillerson, asking him at one point if he thought Putin was a war criminal. But Rubio ultimately voted for Tillerson in committee earlier this week.

Regarding Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s choice as Treasury Secretary, Nelson said he has not made up his mind, even after speaking with him personally.

“There are a number of things that trouble me about him,” he said about the former partner of Goldman Sachs and hedge fund manager. “He’s got some tax issues. But the main thing is it’s kind of an attitude that – ‘I know better than you’ – and for a Treasury Secretary who has the tremendous responsibility to keep our economy on an even keel, that concerns me.”

Mnuchin initially failed to disclose $100 million in assets last week, which he called an “unintentional” oversight.

Meanwhile, Democrats have accused a potential conflict of interest for Tom Price, Trump’s selection at HHS, saying he held more than $100,000 in stock in companies that could have benefited from legislation he promoted.

In 2009, former Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle withdrew  his nomination by Barack Obama to become Health and Human Services secretary, amidst a scandal involving unpaid taxes. When asked if there had been a lowering of standards in vetting cabinet selections, Nelson said they had not been lowered in terms of how he votes.

Meanwhile, Trump repeated his false claim on Wednesday hat at least three million illegal immigrants cast ballots for Hillary Clinton, calling for an investigation into voter fraud, even though his own legal team has previously argued that no such fraud occurred.

Nelson said it “well documented” how little voter fraud there actually is in the U.S., and told the reporter who asked that it was “illustrative of our times that you have to ask that question.”

He grew quite passionate, however, in claiming that there’s been voter suppression in Florida and around the nation, and spent several minutes discussing specific examples in and outside of Florida.

Nelson also was dismissive of Trump’s call on Wednesday to begin plans to construct a border security fence on the Mexican border, saying that a “multiplicity of things” can be done to  protect our borders.

“This, unfortunately has gotten into a political issue,” he said, “and one particular demographic group is being singled out and I think unfairly,” referring to Mexicans.

When asked to describe Trump’s first week in office, Nelson described it simply as “rocky.”

The room where it happens just a phone call away

For voters who want to piss their politics into the wind, there’s Facebook. For voters who want to change the hearts, minds, and votes of elected officials, the telephone is the easiest, most effective way to go.

Every officeholder from Carrabelle to Congress employs human beings whose primary job is to lend a respectful ear to Floridians who want to be heard. Often, these staffers are civic-minded idealists who encourage their bosses to follow their better angels. They’re easy to talk to and very effective at delivering the vox populi to the corner office.

The dumbest politician knows that for every person who bothers to pick up the phone and speak his or her peace, there’s family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers with the same view, and they’re all likely to remember in November.

Marco Rubio is not Florida’s dumbest politician, and he might have voted his convictions, rather than those of his puppetmasters, if more Floridians had called his office with a polite, but firm, “Man up, Marco, and stick to your guns on Rex Tillerson.”

It’s been a long time since we’ve taught civics in our schools, so we can’t blame citizens whose political muscles have atrophied. Folks have been lulled into thinking that hitting a “like” button, forwarding an email, or being one of a thousand people to sign a letter forged in a cookie cutter factory in Consultantville, Ohio is a good use of time. They’ve been intimidated into believing they aren’t good enough, smart enough, or articulate enough to take their own messages, in their own words, to the room where it happens.

Being impossible to ignore is easier than you think, and calling is cheaper than it’s ever been. If there’s a Trump nominee you want confirmed, or kicked to the curb, take a cue from Ma Bell and reach out and touch your congressional delegation.

Richard Corcoran walks the walk, denies extra $13M for DEP water war

His job as Florida House Speaker requires Richard Corcoran to make some tough calls, but this one had to be easy for a man whose stated mission is to clean up the way Tallahassee operates.

While some politicians talk with a swagger (here’s looking at you, Marco Rubio) but don’t want the ball when the game is on the line, Corcoran has shown that his deeds match his words. He was at it again Monday when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection asked for an extra $13 million to fund its legal fight with the state of Georgia over water rights.

His blunt answer: Nope.

In addition to demanding more ethical behavior by House members, Corcoran guards the public’s purse like a hungry Rottweiler. He told the DEP that there will be no more money until it gives a full accounting of the approximately $98 million it already has spent.

That’s just common sense.

The bigger message was that this action came after Jon Steverson, who served as DEP head for the last couple of years, resigned his job to join the law firm of Foley Lardner.

Just what is Foley Lardner?

Why, one of four firms that is working on the lawsuit against Georgia that now is well into its second decade.

Corcoran has made it his mission to end that far-too-cozy relationship between the people’s representatives and those who would like to profit from that relationship.

“We won’t approve the money until an audit is done and we will pass legislation barring the revolving door from agency head to lobbyist/lawyer,” Corcoran said in a statement.

We can say this was an easy call because the conflict of interest is so obvious, but for years Tallahassee winked and nodded far too long as legislators slid seamlessly into lucrative lobbying. There is no calculating how many millions of dollars that likely cost the public

That is why Corcoran is so public about trying to stop stuff like this. Message sent. Was it received?

Saying no to DEP’s $13 million request is just the first step. We wait for the audit and what comes next. What we can hope comes out of this is more rigorous oversight in how taxpayer dollars are spent because, you know, take $13 million and $13 million there and soon we’re talking about real money.

I think Richard Corcoran already knows that.

Donald Trump was right about ‘Little Marco’ all along

Little Marco.

Donald Trump had it right all along.

By announcing he will vote to approve Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, the fittingly titled junior U.S. senator from Florida proved he is compromised and cut down to size.

As they say out West, he is all hat and no cattle.

Under what certainly was significant pressure from the Republican Party and President Trump’s operatives, Marco Rubio confirmed that all that bluster he directed at Tillerson about the human rights violations in Russia was just for show.

Tillerson, of course, had extensive business dealings with Russia and Vladimir Putin. In the hearing, Rubio pointedly asked Tillerson if Putin should be considered a war criminal. It was a tough question and made for a dandy sound bite, but the real bite would have been if Rubio had stood on principle instead of politics and voted not to confirm.

Instead, he caved.

He can dress it up however he wants, but the fact is that with a chance to make a big statement Rubio shrank when the spotlight was the brightest.

This isn’t about whether Tillerson will make a good secretary of state. Opinions are mixed on that one, and Democrats seemed to have their eyes on blocking other targets. But with his mugging for the cameras at the hearing, Rubio defined the rules by how this confirmation will be judged.

I believe – well, believed – that Rubio’s concern about rights violations is sincere. If he really holds those core values, though, then he should have voted his conscience. The next time prattles on about the dictatorship in Cuba and all that, just tune him out. He is not prepared to back up his convictions with action.

If he voted no, there have been retribution from both his party and President Trump. Welcome to Washington. Surely, Rubio had known that before he went on his one-person jag while grilling Tillerson.

Did he really think all along he was going to vote to confirm and was just trying to make a statement that, roughly put, was, “OK, Rex, you’re approved, but I’m going to be watching every move.”

Or did he trade his principles for some political hay he can use later?

We may never know.

Here is what we do know.

After a disastrous run for the presidency and a flip-flop on whether he wanted to stay in the Senate, Rubio had an opportunity to reboot his political career by backing up his words with action. He would have climbed to the higher ground.

Instead, he proved again why voters have little to no faith in what politicians say versus what they do.

He wilted.

He melted.

He lived down to the name Trump hung on him.

Rex Tillerson has Marco Rubio’s vote in Senate

The Latest on activities in Congress (All times EST):

10:35 a.m.

Sen. Marco Rubio says he’ll support President Donald Trump‘s nominee for secretary of state.

The Florida Republican ended nearly two weeks of “will he or won’t he” drama by announcing on his Facebook page that he’ll vote for Rex Tillerson to serve as the nation’s top diplomat.

Rubio says his backing is not without concerns. He worries that in years to come the U.S. “will not give the defense of democracy and human rights the priority they deserve.”

But he says it “would be against our national interests” for Tillerson’s confirmation to be unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy.

Rubio and other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are scheduled to meet Monday afternoon to cast their ballots on Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil CEO.

The senator clashed with Tillerson at his confirmation hearing earlier this month.

___

7:15 a.m.

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says he can’t support President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland says in a statement that Rex Tillerson’s business orientation and confirmation hearing answers could compromise his ability to forcefully promote U.S. values and ideals.

Specifically, Cardin said he based his opposition on Tillerson’s unwillingness to call Russia and Syria’s atrocities “war crimes,” or to describe Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial killings as gross human rights violations.

Cardin also said the former Exxon Mobil CEO misled the committee about the company’s lobbying against sanctions, such as penalties against Russia for its annexation of Crimea.

The Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on Tillerson’s nomination on Monday afternoon.

___

3:30 a.m.

All eyes are on Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida as a Senate committee is poised to vote on President Donald Trump’s nominee to be secretary of state.

The nomination of Rex Tillerson got a boost on Sunday after two influential Republican senators — John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — offered tepid endorsements of the former Exxon Mobil chief. The focus shifts to the Foreign Relations Committee on Monday afternoon as the members, including Rubio, cast their votes on Tillerson.

Rubio, whom Trump defeated for the GOP presidential nomination last year, clashed with Tillerson at a committee hearing earlier this month. Rubio bridled at his refusal to label Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” or condemn human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and the Philippines in strong enough terms. He chided Tillerson over the need for “moral clarity.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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