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In letter, Gus Bilirakis demands justice for American attacked by Turkish security detail

Like most Americans, Gus Bilirakis was repulsed after seeing footage last week of bodyguards for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan beating up peaceful protesters in Washington D.C.

State Department officials expressed “concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms” and summoned the Turkish Ambassador for a visit.

That was pretty much it.

Now, Bilirakis is joining 39 other members of Congress in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanding that those Turkish officials based in the U.S. or Turkey involved in the attacks be expelled immediately. The latter also calls for them to be barred from entering the U.S. in the future.

“I was outraged to see remorseless acts of violence carried out by the Erdogan government against individuals exercising their First Amendment rights on American soil. This is unacceptable in any situation, but even more so when Turkish leaders visit our nation and claim to be faithful allies. We must uphold the law and demand accountability from all who are responsible,” said Bilirakis, who serves as Co-Chair of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus and the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance.

Overall, 11 people were injured in the melee, including a police officer and two Secret Service agents.

Washington police said they arrested two people who in the D.C. Area. However, Erdogan’s security forces enjoy diplomatic immunity, which means none can be held accountable for their actions.

The House of Representatives passed a resolution Thursday condemning the violence that took place at the Turkish Ambassador’s residence on May 16. It was backed by Speaker Paul Ryan, who said: “[T]he violent crackdown on peaceful protesters by Turkish security forces was completely indefensible, and the Erdogan government’s response was wholly inadequate.”

Worst treatment ever, Donald Trump grumbles; Dems demand deep probe

Surrounded by multiplying questions, President Donald Trump complained Wednesday that “no politician in history” has been treated worse. Democrats demanded an independent commission to dig into his firing of FBI Director James Comey, but Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan cautioned against “rushing to judgment.”

Ryan said Congress needs to get the facts, but “it is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president.” Elijah Cummings, top Democrat on a key House oversight panel, countered that Ryan and the Republicans had shown “zero, zero, zero appetite for any investigation of President Trump.”

The White House has denied reports that Trump pressed Comey to drop an investigation into Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. In addition Trump is facing pointed questions about his discussions with Russian diplomats during which he is reported to have disclosed classified information.

Also Tuesday, in an extraordinary turn of events, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to turn over to Congress records of Trump’s discussions with the diplomats.

The White House has played down the importance and secrecy of the information Trump gave to the Russians, which had been supplied by Israel under an intelligence-sharing agreement. Trump himself said he had “an absolute right” as president to share “facts pertaining to terrorism” and airline safety with Russia. Yet U.S. allies and some members of Congress have expressed alarm.

Republicans and Democrats alike were eager to hear from Comey, who has increasingly emerged as a central figure in the unfolding drama.

The Senate intelligence committee on Wednesday asked Comey to appear before the panel in both open and closed sessions. The committee also asked acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to give the committee any notes that Comey might have made regarding discussions he had with White House or Justice Department officials about Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Putin told a news conference that he would be willing to turn over notes of Trump’s meeting with the Russian diplomats if the White House agreed. He dismissed outrage over Trump’s disclosures as U.S. politicians whipping up “anti-Russian sentiment.”

Asked what he thinks of the Trump presidency, Putin said it’s up to the American people to judge and his performance can be rated “only when he’s allowed to work at full capacity,” implying that someone is hampering Trump’s efforts.

Trump himself hasn’t directly addressed the latest allegations that he pressured Comey to drop the Flynn investigation. But the swirling questions about his conduct were clearly on his mind when he told graduates at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut that “no politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

Striking a defiant stance, he added: “You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams. … I guess that’s why we won. Adversity makes you stronger. Don’t give in, don’t back down. … And the more righteous your fight, the more opposition that you will face.”

As for Comey, whom Trump fired last week, the FBI director wrote in a memo after a February meeting at the White House that the new president had asked him to shut down the FBI’s investigation of Flynn and his Russian contacts, said a person who had read the memo. The Flynn investigation was part of a broader probe into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election.

Comey’s memo, an apparent effort to create a paper trail of his contacts with the White House, would be the clearest evidence to date that the president has tried to influence the investigation.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republican chairman of the House oversight committee, sent a letter to the FBI on Tuesday requesting that it turn over all documents and recordings that detail communications between Comey and Trump. He said he would give the FBI a week and then “if we need a subpoena, we’ll do it.”

John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said late Tuesday that the developments had reached “Watergate size and scale.”

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, said simply, “It would be helpful to have less drama emanating from the White House.”

The person who described the Comey memo to the AP was not authorized to discuss it by name and spoke on condition of anonymity. The existence of the memo was first reported Tuesday by The New York Times.

The White House vigorously denied it all. “While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” a White House statement said.

Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 13, on grounds that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Russians.

The intensifying drama comes as Trump is set to embark Friday on his first foreign trip, which had been optimistically viewed by some aides as an opportunity to reset an administration floundering under an inexperienced president.

Said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: “He’s probably glad to leave town, and a lot of us are glad he’s leaving for a few days.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

‘One more time’ — Rick Baker seeks to unseat Rick Kriseman

Six days after he led a successful push for the Tampa Bay Rowdies to extend its lease at Al Lang Stadium, Rick Baker pulled the trigger on a bid for a third term as Mayor of St. Petersburg, a job he held from 2001-2010.

Baker personally filed his paperwork with the City Clerk’s office Monday. A phone number listed on his intent-to-file form was actually for another candidate who ran for Pinellas County Tax Collector.

Baker’s entry into the contest had been rumored for months, but he steadfastly refused to comment while he engaged in a mini-campaign advocating for the approval of the Rowdies referendum, part of his job working as president of the Edwards Group, led by entrepreneur Bill Edwards.

In addition to eight years as St. Petersburg mayor, Baker previously served as president of the Fisher and Sauls law firm, chair of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and has been with the Edwards Group since December of 2012. He also worked as Vice President of Economic Development at the University of South Florida.

Since ending his second term as Mayor in January of 2010, Baker has been rumored to be a candidate for a number of political seats, but ultimately declined to run for any of them.

Although a series of polls show Baker leading incumbent Rick Kriseman, it will not be easy. Baker hasn’t been in a serious race since his first election in 2001, where he came out on top in what was a nine-person field. He easily defeated Democratic activist Ed Helm in his re-election bid in 2005.

Kriseman has been gearing up for the race for some time and has already raised more than $400,000 for his re-election effort. And his campaign team is prepared to make what is considered a nonpartisan race a very partisan one. Kriseman is a Democrat, Baker a Republican.

Many predict the intensity among progressive voters will have implications in the mayoral contest.

“It’s going to be somebody who stood on stage with people like Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, where Rick Kriseman was out knocking on doors for Barack Obama, right?” Kriseman’s campaign manager, Jacob Smith, told SPB back in March. “I think that is a dynamic that will absolutely come into this race. A lot of the most fired up people right now are the people who stand with Rick on a lot of issues.”

One factor that could also make this race interesting is the city’s black community.

When Baker last won re-election in 2005, he took every precinct in the city, including those areas where blacks were the majority. Much of his success was from his re-election platform — the “Baker Plan” — which addressed five key issues: education; economic development, particularly in Midtown; public safety; neighborhood associations; and improved access to city services. Black voters had been a deciding coalition for Baker in 2001 and successor Bill Foster in 2009.

Baker, who received widespread recognition for his concept of a “seamless city, had made significant strides during his time at City Hall in the relationship with the city’s south side. As mayor, he was able to prove that a Republican can be both tough on crime and strong on the environment.

Upon finishing his final term, Baker opted out decided from mounting a statewide campaign, citing more time to be with family.

Of course, this year, Kriseman is a stronger opponent those Baker has faced before, as well as an advantage as the incumbent.

In a campaign statement, Kriseman responded to Baker’s entry in the race, pointing out specifically that the former mayor is filing for “a third run.”

“I welcome all candidates to this race,” Kriseman said. “In just a few short years our community has moved forward on issues big and small, creating a city of opportunity and elevating St. Pete as a bold, progressive city. I’m proud of how far we’ve come and look forward to sharing our accomplishments and vision for the future on the campaign trail.”

“Rick Baker had eight years as mayor and is now asking voters for more,” campaign manager Smith added. “Unfortunately for Rick Baker, this city is eager to pursue its future, not turn back the clock and unwind our progress with the Rays, the Pier, the police department, and economic development and opportunity creation in South St. Pete. Rick Baker is simply out of step with St. Pete. His refusal to embrace all individuals in our diverse community, especially our LGBT citizens, and his high-profile work against our first African-American president disqualifies him from governing a city as inclusive as St. Petersburg.”

Baker’s campaign announced they will hold a media event on the steps outside the St. Petersburg City Hall Tuesday morning at 8 a.m.

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.

No trial balloons: Donald Trump flips script with startling ideas

Washington policymakers have a time-tested method for rolling out new ideas: float a trial balloon. Spread rumors of a policy change or selectively leak it to the press, then see how it plays and proceed only if it looks doable.

President Donald Trump has flipped that script.

Big and startling ideas fly out of his mouth or from his Twitter feed. Then the rest of his administration scrambles to catch up — and to figure out when his statements signal new presidential policies and when they’re offhand remarks that mean little.

In the past week alone, Trump has suggested he’s open to higher gas taxes, tweeted that a government shutdown could be a good thing and called North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un a “smart cookie” whom he’d be honored to meet under the right conditions. Trump also invited Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte, with a troubling human rights record, to visit the White House and insisted the GOP health plan would provide coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, even though an ironclad guarantee is not reflected in the latest version of the legislation.

Such pronouncements sometimes force Trump’s top policy advisers to try to adjust administration policy to sync with the president’s remarks. His communications aides contort themselves to explain away inconsistencies in administration messages. And blindsided GOP congressional leaders have to decide when to realign their positions and when to stay the course.

“It’s a scramble drill in the White House every day, and certainly a scramble drill in Trump’s mind every day,” says Calvin Jillson, a presidential scholar at Southern Methodist University.

The frustration of Republican legislators was clear when Trump tweeted Tuesday that the government “needs a good shutdown” in September to fix the “mess,” after Democrats prevailed on a number of spending issues in a bipartisan budget bill designed to keep the government open.

“I do wish somebody would take his iPhone away from him,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

“I wish he’d think twice before tweeting,” seconded Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

House Speaker Paul Ryan wondered aloud: “How many times have I had this, ‘Do you agree with the tweet this morning?'”

Ryan said he shared the president’s aggravation with Democrats over the spending negotiations. But he also defended the budget deal, telling reporters it was an “important first step in the right direction.”

On North Korea, Trump seemed to recognize the startling nature of his conciliatory comments about Kim in which he told CBS on Sunday that he would be “honored” to meet the leader if circumstances were right. The president labeled his own comments “breaking news.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer quickly stressed that Trump wouldn’t meet with the North Korean leader unless he changed course and showed “signs of good faith.”

Asked how Trump could be honored to meet with someone who’s threatened to destroy the U.S., Spicer said that because Kim was a head of state, “there’s a diplomatic piece to this.”

Likewise, it fell to Spicer to tamp down expectations after Trump told Bloomberg in an interview that he would “certainly consider” generating more money for his big infrastructure plan by raising gasoline and diesel fuel taxes. The idea of raising taxes is a no-go zone for most Republican legislators.

Spicer said Trump was merely showing “respect” for an idea that had been raised by industry groups and “there was no endorsement of it or no support of it.”

Trump’s interviews sometimes make news to his own team.

When Trump promised an AP interviewer last month that he’d roll out his tax plan the following week, officials at the White House and Treasury Department, as well as Republicans on Capitol Hill, were caught off guard. The announcement sent aides scrambling to put together a one-sheet outline of a tax plan by the president’s surprise deadline.

Trump’s Twitter feed is an ongoing source of surprise, perhaps most notably his March accusation that President Barack Obama had him wiretapped during the presidential campaign. That triggered an all-out effort by aides to find ways to justify the claim.

Jillson allowed that sometimes Trump may appear to be winging it when his statements are planned, such as the president’s phone conversation during the transition with the president of Taiwan. The call generated speculation that Trump had unthinkingly broken longstanding U.S. policy but appears to have been part of a calculated effort to throw China off-balance, Jillson said.

Trump’s White House invitation to Duterte, whose record includes extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers and users, caught key players at the State Department unaware and left White House officials trying to explain why it would be a good idea.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus framed the president’s invitation as part of an effort to counter the military threat of North Korea, adding that “it doesn’t mean that human rights don’t matter.”

Jillson said that while administration officials may feel compelled to align the policies they’re developing with Trump’s latest statements, GOP members of Congress are becoming more discriminating about when they need to sync up with the president’s pronouncements and when they can disregard them.

On the bipartisan budget deal, he said, congressional Republicans and Democrats “forgot about Trump for enough time to craft a deal, almost without reference to him, and got a win.”

“They’re learning to let this stuff wash off their backs and continue to try to think systematically,” Jillson said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Four Tampa Bay area Republicans undecided as health care bill vote nears

When Paul Ryan pulled the American Health Care Bill off the floor of the House for a vote in March, it saved some Republicans from having to actually declare whether or not they supported the controversial legislation which would replace the Affordable Care Act.

Now, round two is taking place this week and Tampa Bay area Republican congressmen Gus Bilirakis and Daniel Webster remain undecided.

In a newsletter sent to constituents on Monday, Webster, who previously represented constituents in the Orlando-area before redistricting compelled him to run in the open CD 11 seat vacated by Rich Nugent, says he remains concerned about the new version of the American Health Care Act because Florida will be penalized under the bill because of demand for Medicaid-funded nursing home beds has not been fixed.

“This is critical to the access some of our senior population has to Florida nursing homes,” he writes. “Florida is a very efficient state when it comes to providing Medicaid services, however we are among the fastest growing states in the nation. Many seniors depend on Medicaid-funded nursing home beds when their Medicare coverage runs out.”

Webster says that the increase of Medicaid services, coupled with one of the fastest growing senior population in the country, “puts Florida particularly at risk for exceeding the costs established under the bill.”

“If a state’s costs exceeds the funds provided, the monies are taken out of the next year,” Webster writes. “I am concerned that this creates a vicious cycle of costs that – given our growth rate – Florida would likely never overcome. I continue to work with leadership and am still hopeful for a solution before bill comes up for a vote.”

Tarpon Springs Republican Bilirakis supported the March version of the American Health Care Act, even after enduring intense criticism at three town hall meetings he conducted to hear from his constituents regarding his support for repealing the ACA.

And now?

“He is undecided as conversations continue about the final form of the bill,” says Bilirakis spokesperson Elena Hernandez.

A spokesperson for Polk County Congressman Dennis Ross says he is uncertain as well.

“As the healthcare bill is still being tweaked and amended, Rep. Ross has not issued a position and will continue thoroughly analyzing and reviewing the final bill product before he does so,” said spokesperson Joni Schockey.

A spokesperson for Vern Buchanan says that with the bill still a work in progress, “Vern is going to wait until we see the final language,” says Gretchen Andersen. “One thing is clear – we need to replace the ACA with a new approach that lowers premiums, gives people choice and drives down the cost of health care.

New polling shows alarming trend, many Floridians unaware how government works

Many Floridians are unable to answer simple questions about how government works, says a new survey of residents by Florida Southern College.

Even those with college degree missed some of the answers from questions included on exams administered to those becoming new citizens of the nation. For example, only 65 percent could name Rick Scott as governor of Florida.

The poll, conducted April 2-14 and April 17-19 by the FSC Center for Polling and Policy Research, took responses from 377 adults. The margin of error is +/- 5 percentage points.

Respondents were asked a series of questions about how they get their news and then were asked questions derived from the citizenship and naturalization exams on their familiarity with state and federal government.

Many commentaries addressed the falling use of the printed newspapers, but results of the Florida Southern poll would suggest it is greater than previously reported.

Asked what they would say is their main source of news, 41 percent of those agreeing to participate in the random sample telephone survey said television. Forty percent said the internet while 7 percent said newspapers, the same [percentage who said their main source of news is radio. Another 2 percent listed other sources and 3 percent gave no answer.

Sixty-two percent of the 18 to 29-year-olds participating in the poll listed the internet as their main source of news and only 7 percent of that age group said newspapers.

Sixty-one percent of those 65 and older said their main source of news is television. Only 11 percent of that age group, which grew up with newspapers, early TV, and no internet, listed their main source of news as newspapers. Twenty-one percent of those 65 and over said their main source is the internet.

Although it was not measured, FSC principal polling analyst Dr. Bruce Anderson said it is possible some of those who get their news from the internet could be from online newspapers.

In the political-governmental questions, while only 65 percent were able to name Scott as governor of Florida, even fewer (45 percent) knew Paul Ryan was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In his analysis, Anderson stated that younger respondents were less likely were to know the answers, suggesting one factor could be dwindling civics and government education.

However, the survey also showed higher education levels did not ensure a correct answer, although a higher percentage of college graduates and post graduates answered more.

According to the polling memo, the telephone numbers used in the survey were formed at random by a computer to ensure that each area of the state was represented in proportion to its population. In addition to sampling error, the practical difficulties of conducting any opinion poll can induce other forms of error.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will not run for re-election in 2018

Democratic hopes to retake the House in 2018 received a boost Sunday, with the announcement that longtime South Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will not run for re-election.

“There was no epiphany. There was no moment, nothing that has happened that I’ve said, “I’ve got to move on,’” Ros-Lehtinen, who represents Florida’s 27th Congressional District, told the Miami Herald’s Patricia Mazzei in an exclusive interview. “It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected — but it’s not about getting elected.”

Ros-Lehtinen served in Congress for 29 years, first elected in 1988. Last November, she defeated Democrat Scott Fuhrman, a first-time candidate, by 10 percentage points — the closest margin in years. But Ros-Lehtinen — the first Hispanic woman and first Cuban-American ever elected to Congress — said she had no concerns about being re-elected in 2018 if she chose to retain the seat.

“There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I would not only win in this election, but I would win by a greater percentage,” Ros-Lehtinen said confidently.

Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 20 percentage points in Ros-Lehtinen’s district last year, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already boldly declaring that they’ll now take the seat next year. C

“As one of the most Democratic districts held by a Republican Representative, this district was always going to be competitive, ” said Cole Leiter, a spokesman for the DCCC. “Now it is all but guaranteed to be won by a Democrat who will finally provide the hard working people who live there the representation they deserve. As more vulnerable Republicans recognized the distance between their party and their districts, this retirement could well be the first of many.”

In January, the DCCC listed her, along with three other Florida Republicans, as part of a group of lawmakers targeted nationally in a midterm memo circulated to various Democratic allies.

Ros-Lehtinen was one GOP House moderate who did not support the Paul Ryan led American Health Care Act that was pulled at the last hour back in March. She hasn’t sounded that enthusiastic about the amended health care bill that may be voted on this week, but she says that Trump is not the reason she is stepping down at the age of 64.

“It’s not been part of the calculation of retiring,” she said of Trump, adding, “I would be talking to you even if Hillary Clinton were president.”

Undoubtedly, there will be those announcing their candidacies for the seat over the next few months. Fuhrman already announced he would run again for the seat in 2018, as has Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez.

Fellow Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, who represents the adjoining South Florida’s 25th Congressional District, called Ros-Lehtinen “one of the most respected and admired” members of Congress. For almost four decades, Ileana has served our community with honor and integrity. From her days as an

“For almost four decades, Ileana has served our community with honor and integrity,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement Sunday afternoon. “From her days as an educator to the Florida Legislature, and now ending her tenure in Congress, Ileana truly exemplifies what it means to be a public servant. She never seeks political expediency and always puts the interests of her constituents first. From one corner of the globe to another, she is tireless in her crusade for human rights and democracy.

“To say Ileana is a trusted friend and mentor to me is an understatement; she is a part of my family, and I will dearly miss ‘mi hermana legislativa’ in the halls of Congress. I wish nothing but the best for Ileana, her husband Dexter, their children, and their grandchildren as she begins this next chapter in her life.”

Democrat Ted Deutch, part of the Florida delegation from bit further north in the 22nd Congressional District, called Ros-Lehtinen’s retirement a “tremendous loss” for both South Florida and the entire country.

“As a public servant, she has worked tirelessly for her constituents for over three decades. Hardly a day goes by where Ileana isn’t on the House floor celebrating a remarkable person or event in her district.

Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen after bipartisan delegation visit to Israel in July 2014. (Photo courtesy Ted Deutch)

“Ileana broke barriers as the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress and the first female Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She has been a stalwart champion for human rights around the world, a voice for the oppressed, an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ equality, and one of the most steadfast defenders of Israel. Her legislative contributions have led to some of the toughest international sanctions against Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, and the promotion of democracy worldwide.

“From the moment I arrived in Congress, Ileana has been a friend and a partner. We have worked together countless times from championing equality to strengthening the U.S. — Israel relationship. It has been a pleasure and an honor to serve with her as Ranking Member of the Middle East Subcommittee. Her humor and good nature (see photo!) provides a welcome respite from the partisan challenges we face each day. Every Member of Congress should learn something from the way Ileana has conducted herself over the past 28 years. She has crossed the aisle to stand up for what she believes is right. She has stood firm in her convictions and stood up for those she represents even when it meant making tough political choices.

“As she finishes out her current term, I know that Ileana will work just as hard as she always has for the people of South Florida and on behalf of our country. I look forward to continuing to work alongside her for the next year and a half, and I will miss working with her when she is gone.”

Deutch’s statement included a photo of him and Ros-Lehtinen at a bipartisan delegation visit to Israel in July 2014.

Florida AARP raises concerns about new GOP health care plan

Although the House has not released all the details on a revised Republican plan to replace and repeal Obamacare, the Florida AARP says that over the past few days, they’ve learned enough to be concerned.

The senior advocacy group believes that about 454,000 Floridians age 50-64 enrolled and receiving tax credits in the ACA Marketplace would see higher health coverage premiums than they are currently paying, more than in any other state.

The American Health Care Act withered last month after House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the American Health Care Act from the floor when it became clear it didn’t have the votes. Most members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus said at the time they would not vote for the bill as it was written.

One of the changes announced in the new plan would make it so insurers could secure a federal waiver that kept them from having to cover certain essential health benefits established by the federal government, and while it would still require that people with pre-existing conditions receive coverage, they could be charged higher premiums. That’s being called the MacArthur Amendment, named after New Jersey Republican Tom MacArthur, co-chair of the moderate Tuesday Group.

Though a state like Florida might not want to secure that waiver, Jeff Johnson from the Florida AARP says that if the GOP plan ultimately allows buying coverage across state lines. This could still permit Floridians to purchase this health insurance “lite” plan for a low premium “perhaps not knowing that they’re not getting the coverage they would expect health insurance to cover.”

In turn, those with chronic conditions would be unlikely to choose a plan that wouldn’t cover a condition that they already have, and more likely purchase a more complete plan.

The problem with that, Johnson says, is if the healthiest people are paying for a cut-rate plan, forcing sicker people to buy a full plan, it will drive those costs up.

“So it affects those who don’t fall for the health-insurance-lite trick,” says Johnson.

Current essential benefits include:

— Outpatient care (essentially doctor visits outside the hospital)

— Emergency services

— Hospitalization

— Pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care

— Mental health and substance use disorder services

— Prescription drugs

— Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices, which help people with injuries and disabilities to recover

— Laboratory services

— Preventive care, wellness services, and chronic disease management

— Pediatric services, including oral and vision care for children

Another element in the new plan would allow states to end its “community rating” provisions. This would allow states to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, by creating so-called “high-risk pools” for individuals with pre-existing conditions.

“We’ve had high-risk pools in the past, and they’ve never really worked,” says Johnson. “They don’t bring in the people who need it. They’re not able to offer insurance at rates that real people can afford who actually need it, and I don’t know that there is anything that would lead us to believe that the results would be different this time around.”

Another element that Florida AARP says they’re trying to get clarity on is language that would allow states to offer a different age rating than the 5:1 that’s in the original AHCA bill. That ratio breaks down into charging those 50-64 up to five times more than those in their 20s. The AARP says that number could go higher, which “could mean worse,” said AARP’s Jeff Johnson.

Stella Mariani-Gonzalez was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2001 and ultimately spent hundreds of thousands on her treatment, after her original insurance company said they would only pay for four chemotherapy treatments. She said it was cheaper to remain uninsured after she recovered, and pay out of pocket for routine annual exams until she signed up for the Affordable Care Act in 2014.

“For the first time in years,” she said, “we had the relief of actually being able to afford health care.”

Mariani-Gonzalez acknowledges that she’s had to change doctors “a few times” and has large deductibles.

“At least I know I have something, after hearing about these high-risk pools, it’s just devastating,” she said. “I can’t imagine having to go back to that again.”

AARP also prepared a new analysis examining how Floridians of modest means would fare under the House health plan coverage, outside of high-risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions.

The report shows that in eight Florida counties, premium costs for those aged 50-64 would eat up most, or in some cases all, their annual income.

For example, a Miami-Dade County resident age 64 with an income of $15,000 a year would see an effective premium increase of $11,666 per year, or 77 percent.

In Collier County, a similar individual would see a premium increase of $15,923, actually more than their entire annual income.

A person age 64 in Miami-Dade County with income of $25,000 a year would see effective premium increases of $10,272.  In Collier County, a similar person would see an effective premium increase of $14,529.

While political prognosticators think the newly revised plan could get through the House, there still are no guarantees it would survive in the Senate, where the rules governing the Senate’s reconciliation process requires all changes to have a direct effect on the federal budget. It’s also doubtful such a bill could they garner 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

Ethics panel to probe complaints against Devin Nunes

The Latest on the congressional inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election (all times local):

10:20 a.m.

The House Ethics Committee is investigating allegations that intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information.

The full 10-member committee is investigating the allegations, a departure from the usual procedure of having a smaller subcommittee handle a probe, and an indication of the seriousness of the claims.

The California Republican congressman says several left-wing activist groups have filed accusations against him with the office of congressional ethics.

Nunes says the charges are false and politically motivated. But he says it’s in the best interest of the committee to have Republican Mike Conaway of Texas temporarily take charge of the committee’s investigation.


10:15 a.m.

Two ethics watchdog groups filed complaints about the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Republican Devin Nunes of California.

Nunes says he’s temporarily stepping aside from the panel’s investigation of Russian meddling in the election because of the complaints.

Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington say Nunes disclosed classified information, which violates House ethics rules.

The groups say Nunes publicly disclosed information he learned by viewing classified material.

Two of the four people who signed the March 28 letter alleging ethics violations served as White House counsels in Republican and Democratic administrations.


10:05 a.m.

Speaker Paul Ryan says Texas Republican Mike Conaway will take over the House investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election.

Ryan says an ethics complaint filed against Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes of California by government watchdog groups would be a “distraction” and that Nunes should no longer lead the probe.

Nunes has come under intense criticism for meeting secretly with White House officials to view intelligence regarding Trump associates.

Ryan says he is confident that Conaway “will oversee a professional investigation into Russia’s actions and follow the facts wherever they lead.”


9:49 a.m.

The chairman of the House intelligence committee says he will temporarily step aside from the panel’s probe into Russian meddling in the election.

In a statement on Thursday, Republican congressman Devin Nunes of California says that several left-wing activist groups have filed accusations against him with the office of congressional ethics.

Nunes says the charges are false and politically motivated. But he says it’s in the best interest of the committee to have GOP congressman Mike Conaway of Texas temporarily take charge of the committee’s investigation.

He says he will continue fulfilling other duties with the committee and wants to talk to the ethics committee as soon as possible to defend himself.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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