The Delegation – Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State – 3.23.17

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The American Health Care Act (AHCA) is undergoing CPR in the House of Representatives. Several “doctors” are treating this patient and according to some on the inside, the prognosis is not good.

Florida Democrats and the rest of their colleagues around the country considered this legislation dead the day it was born. While the passage of the Affordable Care Act was an all-Democrat affair, the GOP must whip up enough of their own to move forward.

Apparently that is a tall order. Despite a 44-seat advantage (with 5 vacancies), there may not be enough like-minded Republicans to get the job done. President Trump’s visit to Capitol Hill has had only limited success.

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus aren’t budging in their opposition and want to start over. They may get their wish if the block of least 30 Republicans stay together. Among those Florida Republicans acknowledging opposition are conservatives Bill Posey and Ted Yoho. There is no official word from Ron DeSantis.

Also pledging a “no” vote in the bill’s present form, is moderate Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who represents a swing district. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo both voted for the bill in committee, but want improvements.

On Thursday, one of two things is likely to happen. Either significant changes will have been made overnight to attract enough support to pass it, or a postponement of the vote will be postponed. Neither Trump nor Ryan will want to endure a huge defeat, effectively killing the bill.

Late Wednesday came word of an “agreement in principle” between the Freedom Caucus and the President. Will that get it done?

We will know soon enough.

Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.

Russian elite invest $100 million in Trump properties in South Florida – A Reuters review found that 63 Russians invested a combined $98.4 million in seven Trump-branded properties in South Florida.

Each of the individuals have either a Russian address or passport, including a former executive in a Moscow-based state-run construction firm, the founder of a St. Petersburg investment bank and the co-founder of a conglomerate with interests in banking, property and electronics.

During a news conference last month, President Donald Trump said he owns “nothing in Russia” and “I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia.”

The White House didn’t answer Reuters’ questions directly, instead referring the news organization to the Trump Organization, the chief legal officer of which said the scrutiny of the business deals was misplaced.

“I can say definitively that this is an overblown story that is media-created,” Alan Garten said. “I’ve been around this company and know the company’s dealings.”

Trump received commissions for the initials sales in six of the seven Sunny Isles properties, totaling between $20 and $80 million.

According to a filing during his presidential campaign, Trump received between $100,000 and $1 million from a business called Trump Marks Sunny Isles I LLC, the company holding the Trump International Beach Resort, a hotel and condominium complex.

The most popular library in Florida — The main branch of the Palm Beach County Library System has become a hot spot for national reporters covering President Trump, reports Kristina Webb with the Palm Beach Post.

Located on Summit Boulevard across from Trump International Golf Club in suburban West Palm Beach, the library has become the weekend holding spot for members of the traveling press pool as they wait for Trump to finish with his visit to the club. While visitors to the library can be found mulling the shelves, when the president goes to the club, white vans that carry the pool head to the library.

Members of the press can stay in the van or go into the library to work in study rooms or an 80-seat meeting room. Journalists are allowed to go inside before the library branch opens, and the White House Executive Office of the President reserves a boardroom, paying $150 for each use.

But having the press pool hanging out among the stacks doesn’t necessarily make for good press. Webb reported the press pool is “discouraged about talking about their experiences,” and none of the recent poolers she reached out to would talk about their experience at the library.

Another Trump tax? — Palm Beach County Commission Steven Abrams is asking county staff to look into whether the county can use bed tax revenue to defray the cost President Trump’s frequent visits to his Mar-a-Lago mansion, reports Wayne Washington with the Palm Beach Post.

Abrams asked County Attorney Denise Nieman and County Administrator Verdenia Baker to see if money from the tourist development tax — the 6 percent tax on hotel stays — could be used to defray the costs of Trump’s trips. Abrams highlighted a section of the law that addressed how money can be used, which says counties located on the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic may use “up to 10 percent of tax revenue received … to reimburse expenses incurred in providing safety services including emergency medical services … and law enforcement services, which are needed to address impacts related to increased tourism and visitors to an area.”

In February, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw estimated the costs related to Trump’s visits have reached about $1.4 million.

Abrams’ idea marked the second suggestion to emerge in about a week to fill the hole Trump’s visit will make in the budget. Commissioner Dave Kerner has suggested assessing the owner of Mar-a-Lago a tax tied to special benefits provided by the county.

Alex Acosta has Senate confirmation hearing — The Florida International University Law School Dean and President Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Labor, answered questions on Wednesday from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. Acosta “frustrated Democrats” on the committee, but received “strong support” from committee Republicans.

“I have no doubt you’ll be confirmed,” said Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, the Committee Chairman. If confirmed, Acosta would be the only Latino in Trump’s Cabinet.

Acosta related his experiences as the son of Cuban immigrants, and pledged to push for increased opportunities and enforce workplace safety rules.

“Helping Americans find good jobs, safe jobs, should not be a partisan issue,” he said.

Signing NASA bill, Trump calls sending Congress to space ‘great idea’ – At a signing ceremony for $19.5 billion in NASA spending, as well as adding Mars exploration to the agency’s mission, The Associated Press reports that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz offered a helpful suggestion.

“You could send Congress to space,” Cruz said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “What a great idea that could be,” Trump shot back.

Cruz and Sen. Nelson – who has actually been to space – co-sponsored legislation funding the space agency, the first in seven years.

Days until the 2018 election: 593.

CVA Florida launches second wave of direct mail targeting Nelson over Gorsuch – As the Senate Judiciary Committee continues hearings on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch this week, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) is dropping a second round of direct mail in Florida, asking citizens to urge Sen. Nelson to confirm Gorsuch without delay. So far, Senator Nelson has failed to support Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination – despite having supported Gorsuch’s nomination to the Tenth Circuit Court in 2006. Here is a shot of the mailer:

Rubio spends weekend on official business in Middle East — The Miami Republican spent several days in Middle East, visiting Lebanon, Jordan and Israel as part of an official visit conducting oversight of United States programs abroad.

Rubio, a member of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, posted updates on his official Facebook page.

During his visit to Lebanon, Rubio met with Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri and government officials to discuss regional security. He said he stressed the importance of cracking down on Hezbollah, and discussed ways to addressed Hezbollah’s “threat to regional stability, and the necessity of helping to build the capability of Lebanese Armed Forces to confront terrorist threats.” He also visited the Beirut Memorial, a tribute to the 241 U.S. service personnel who lost their lives in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing.

Sen. Rubio met with Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri during his trip to Lebanon.

Rubio then visited Jordan, marking his second official visit as a senator. While there, he assessed the impact the U.S.-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act was having and tried to see what more can be done to advance the United States’ interests in the region. He also met with Americans service in Jordan, “thanking them for the work they do to advance U.S. interests, our strategic relationship, and security in the region.”

Rubio concluded his official tour of the Middle East on Sunday with a visit to Israel. It was his second trip to the country as a senator, and his third overall.

“From the moment one sets foot in Israel, the evidence of freedom, progress and tolerance are evident everywhere, as Israel continues to be an oasis of democracy and free enterprise in a tumultuous region plagued with difficult security, foreign policy and economic challenges,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Rubio visited the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, before later visiting the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. The country, he said, “remains a shining example of what free people can accomplish anywhere in the world, and the impact that unwavering American support and smartly targeted U.S. international assistance can have in advancing our interests and values abroad.”

More than 90 percent of Florida ACA enrollees get subsidy — More than nine out of 10 of the 1.76 million Floridians who signed up for a plan from this year qualify for a tax credit, reports Christine Sexton of POLITICO.

There are enrollees in each of Florida’s 67 counties. Miami-Dade, the largest by population, had 387,848. Liberty County had the least: 214.

The average Florida enrollee got a $360 subsidy for plans costing an average of $84 a month.

The bulk of Florida enrollees earns between $12,060 and $18,089 a year, putting them between 100 and 149 percent of the federal poverty line. The next bracket, 150 to 200 percent of the poverty level, made up a quarter of enrollees.

Those making between one and four times the poverty level are eligible for tax credits through the ACA. The majority — 85 percent — of Florida enrollees chose the silver plan from the platinum, gold, silver, bronze and catastrophic plan levels.

DSCC trashes GOP health care plan in TV ad — The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee launched a television ad Wednesday blasting the American Health Care Act as a “wealthcare” bill that will raise health care costs for older Floridians.

The nearly wordless ad portrays a couple selling their property before a final shot of them next to a child in a hospital bed with the line “What will the Republican health care bill cost you” across the screen.

The ad is the DSCC’s first of the 2018 cycle.

Alongside the ad, DSCC announced it had launched, a website where voters can learn and share information on the AHCA, including Florida-specific information on how the bill will increase health care costs for Florida families.

The website says a 60-year-old Floridian would pay another $3,420 a year if the bill passes, while a 45-year-old Floridian would pay another $1,082 a year.

“The Wealthcare Plan would do three things: put big insurance companies ahead of Americans’ healthcare, cause seniors and working people to pay more for less care, and make it tougher for middle class families to do something as basic as seeing their doctor,” said DSCC Chairman and U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen in the press release.

Paulson’s Principles via Dr. Darryl Paulson

Republicans attempting to “repeal and Replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with their more market-friendly plan. They have been greeted at town halls by raucous and rude constituents who have urged Congress to “improve, not replace” the ACA.

The hostile audiences are reminiscent of what Democrats faced seven years ago after the ACA was adopted. The anger of the Tea Party activists led to the Republican takeover of both houses of congress.

Republicans point out their plan will cut the federal deficit by $337 billion over the next 10 years. Democrats counter that the plan would substantially reduce the numbers of Americans with health coverage.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that 24 million Americans would lose their health care by 2026, wiping out all the gains under the ACA. The ranks of the uninsured would increase to 19 percent from the current 10 percent.

The CBO calculates that premiums for young individuals would decrease by 20-25 percent, while premiums for seniors would increase by a similar amount. The ACA covers 1.7 million Floridians, more than any other state; 454,000 Floridians would find a jump in premiums.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who represents Miami, opposes the Republican plan because too many of her constituents would be adversely affected. Another Republican, Ron DeSantis also opposes the Republican plan. He contends that it does not go far enough in overturning the ACA.

The most recent town hall was held in Sarasota, home of Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan. All 1,700 seats in Van Wezel Performing Arts Center were filled, and another 800 listened outside via loudspeakers. Over 5,000 RSVP’d to attend.

Congressman Gus Bilirakis faced angry constituents, mostly Democrats, in his Pasco County town hall. Bev Ledbetter, a member of the Pasco County Democratic Executive Committee, warned Bilirakis to listen to his constituents and “vote according to the directions that we have expressed.”

Does following the will of constituents mean following the views expressed at the town halls, dominated by Democrats, or following the views of the electorate who voted for Bilirakis and Trump in November?

“Democracy” and “representation” mean different things to different groups.

Delegation asks DOD to put aircraft carrier in Mayport — The Florida delegation does not agree on much, but if it comes to bringing an aircraft carrier to home port in Florida, they are a choir totally in sync. Sens. Bill Nelson and Rubio wrote, and all 27 Members of Congress signed, a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis and interim Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley to carry out improvements to the Mayport Naval Station with the ultimate goal of bringing a carrier to the region.

Florida’s request is not seeking a policy change. In fact, they are asking for the Defense Department to do what it said it would do seven years ago. DOD’s Quadrennial Defense Review, published in 2010, said “to mitigate the risk of a terrorist attack, accident, or natural disaster, the U.S. Navy will homeport and East Coast carrier in Mayport, Florida.”

The letter implored the Navy to “no longer defer resource allocations needed for Mayport to continue its service to the carrier fleet.”

The Jacksonville region has been without a carrier since the USS John F. Kennedy was decommissioned in 2007.

Gaetz announces support for revised AHCA – Explaining his support for the amended bill, Gaetz said “Even though the original was a huge improvement over Obamacare, we needed to make a few key changes to it, so it would be even better for the American people. Obamacare was essentially an expansion of the Medicaid program, so allowing Medicaid to expand for several more years didn’t make sense,” Gaetz said. “Commonsense, conservative solutions — stopping the runaway expansion of Medicaid, and allowing states to implement work requirements for able-bodied, childless adults — help keep costs down for the American people. The 2016 elections showed that people wanted real, substantial reform, and we heard that message loud and clear. With the new changes, the bill is even better for the American people, and doing right by the people is my highest priority.”

Rutherford DHS spending reform bill passes House – When Rep. John Rutherford campaigned for his Jacksonville-based seat, the former Jacksonville sheriff’s own unique value add was his understanding of security issues – including handling the sheriff’s office budget for a dozen years.

In that capacity, he learned about the danger of cost overruns – and he brought that knowledge to bear with a bill that passed the Congress without objection last week.

HR 1294, the Reducing Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acquisition Cost Growth Act, seeks to stop wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars by agencies like the Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Congressman Rutherford said the bill’s passage is “great news for preventing wasteful spending at the Department of Homeland Security. Department of Homeland Security’s acquisition programs represent hundreds of billions of dollars in spending, but they repeatedly face cost overruns and schedule delays.”

Lawson talks roundball with Roll Call – Rep. Al Lawson has a unique value add among Congressmen. He’s the first one since Sen. Bill Bradley to play professional basketball, and so it was that Roll Call took advantage of the March Madness hook to talk hoops with the North Florida Democrat this week.

A highlight: the subtle jab at Wilt the Stilt.

“I went to the Indiana Pacers in the [American Basketball Association] and when I got hurt, I got released. I went to the San Diego Conquistadors, at that time, in the ABA. Unfortunately, I was cut by [former San Diego coach] Wilt Chamberlain who only came to practice one day a week,” Lawson said.

From there, another team and another issue emerged.

“I signed a contract with Atlanta and trained for about a year with Atlanta and we ended up in a contract dispute. I filed a lawsuit for a million dollars. It went about three years before the lawsuit was settled and we won the lawsuit and Atlanta offered me a chance to go back, but at the time, I had started coaching basketball at Florida State as an assistant coach.”

Lawson punted on picking a national champion this year – since his original pick, Florida State, was bounced from the tourney last weekend.

However, he did give his favorite song: the soul classic “La-La Means I Love You,” by the inimitable Delfonics.

Murphy, Soto senior staffers take overseas trip to Israel — At least two chiefs of staff from the Florida delegation have taken their first overseas trip to Israel. Brad Howard, chief of staff to Stephanie Murphy and Christine Biron, chief of staff to Darren Soto, traveled to Israel.

The travel sponsor was the American Israel Education Foundation, who funds the trips to “help educate political leaders and influentials about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship through first hand experience in Israel” according the group’s mission statement.

The group spent $636,000 on such travel in 2016. Soto and Murphy did not travel with their staffers and both offices reported the trips.

Gus Bilirakis questions officials on opioid crisis – During a Tuesday congressional hearing, CD 12 Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis questioned officials about the growing threat of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is orders of magnitude more potent than morphine or heroin.

“Opioid abuse in Florida and across the nation has taken a toll on our families and our communities. While most people know about the risk of drugs like OxyContin and heroin, as we discussed at today’s hearing, fentanyl is a lesser known, but extremely potent danger. I will continue to work in Congress to see that local communities and law enforcement have the tools they need to tackle this crisis head on so we can prevent addiction and save lives,” Bilirakis said in a statement.

According to Florida Department of Law Enforcement data, fentanyl-related deaths have doubled since 2015, and Tampa Bay-area counties have seen a similar spike.

Bilirakis has supported measures to combat the opioid epidemic, including supporting the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the Jason Simcackoski PROMISE Act, which ensures safer opioid prescribing practices for veterans.

Crist files first bill in Congress; seeks tax cuts for seniors — The St. Petersburg Democrat this week filed his first piece of legislation with the bill targeted toward “protecting seniors’ earned benefits and strengthening Social Security.” The 11-page Save Social Security Act would provide tax relief to “nearly 80 percent” of seniors while “increasing the solvency” of the 72-year-old Social Security program.

“I came to Congress to fight for the over 170,000 Pinellas seniors I am honored to represent,” Crist said in a news release. “This legislation is fully paid for many times over.”

One of the key components of Crist’s proposal would “scrap the cap,” of income subject to Social Security taxes. Currently, those earning more than $127,200 are not taxed for amounts above that figure. Crist claims lifting the cap would bring in more revenue than the tax cut would return to seniors.

Happening Friday:

Castor worried Trump budget will hurt USF, Moffit – When asked what might be the worst part of Trump’s proposed federal budget, Castor said it might just be the proposed $5.8 billion reductions in funding to the National Institutes of Health (18 percent of its total budget).

Most of the NIH’s budget goes to funding research in health care in universities across the country.

“It’s hard to pick out the worst part,” the Tampa Democrat told’s Mitch Perry. “For this community, I would hate to see us take a step backward at Moffitt Cancer Center and USF on medical research, because they’re finding the treatments and cures for the future.”

Florida seeks to relocate military planes to MacDill AFB — A bipartisan group from the Florida delegation is asking the Air Force to relocate a dozen KC-135 air tankers to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. In a letter led by Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor and Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney, the group is asking Acting Secretary of the Air Force Lisa Disbrow to shift the aging tanker fleet from McConnell Air Force Base in Nebraska to MacDill in.

“MacDill Air Force Base is a natural and strategic location for an expanded Air Mobility mission because it serves critical Air Force missions along the eastern seaboard with a vital orientation toward the Central Command area of operation (“AOC”) in the Middle East, and toward the Western Hemisphere,” the letter said.

 McConnell is set to receive newer KC-46 tankers later this year, setting the stage for phasing out the KC-135.

Also signing the letter were both U.S. Senators from Florida along with Congressional Republicans Vern Buchanan, Dennis Ross and Gus Bilirakis, as well as Democrat Charlie Crist.

ABC applauds Ross for introduction of construction bill —The national construction trade association is congratulating Ross for his decision to sponsor a proposal (HR 1552) that ensures controversial project labor agreements can’t be mandated on taxpayer-funded projects.

“The Fair and Open Competition Act will create more construction jobs and help taxpayers get the best possible construction project at the best possible price by increasing competition, reducing waste, and eliminating favoritism in the procurement process,” said Ben Brubeck, the vice president of labor, regulatory and state affairs in a statement. “This important bill will create a level playing field where more qualified contractors will compete for public construction contracts because the government cannot encourage or prohibit project labor agreements.”

Ross introduced the Fair and Open Competition Act on March 15. The bill, which has been referred to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is the House companion of a bill (S. 622) introduced by Sen. Jeff Flake on March 14.

U.S. Chamber presents award to Buchanan – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce presented the Sarasota Republican with a “Spirit of Enterprise Award” for his legislative record of creating jobs and growing the economy, the CD 16 Republican announced Tuesday.

“The Spirit of Enterprise Award recognizes those members of Congress who have done what’s right for our friends, family, and neighbors running businesses across the country,” said Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Rep. Buchanan accepts the Spirit of Enterprise Award from Suzanne Clark, senior executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The group said Buchanan earned a 92 rating last year based on his votes “to grow jobs, rein in abusive regulations and support American manufacturing.”

“As a businessman myself, I know how critical our local businesses and employers are to sustaining a successful and thriving economy,” Buchanan said. “When small businesses succeed, the American people succeed. I look forward to championing pro-growth legislation this year.”

T. Rooney, Ros-Lehtinen take different approaches during Intel Committee hearings — The Okeechobee Republican used his 15 minutes to focus questioning on national security during Monday’s hearing of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. Rooney’s concern about leaks and re-authorizing an important intelligence tool (called Section 702) were ultimately dwarfed by revelation of an ongoing FBI investigation on the “Russia connection.”

While Rooney did not defend former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, he had both FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers state that leaks releasing Flynn’s name as part of foreign surveillance was both dangerous and a crime.

Rooney fumed at whomever in the intelligence community leaked classified documents surrounding Flynn saying “we’re all going to be hurt by that.“

Ros-Lehtinen’s questioning centered on the possible Russian involvement with the 2016 elections. The Miami Republican, while noting bipartisan agreement on the damage leaks can do, said “there’s also bipartisan agreement on getting to the bottom of the Russian meddling in our election, which must remain the focus of this investigation and yours.”

F. Rooney gives California congressman bird’s eye view of Everglades — The Naples Republican took Rep. Ken Calvert, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment, on a tour of the Everglades and several appropriations projects over the weekend.

On Saturday, Rooney took Calvert, a California Republican, on a helicopter tour of several Everglades projects, including the C-43 reservoir near LaBelle, culvert replacements, and de-channelization projects near the Kissimmee River. The two men also flew over conservation areas south of Lake Okeechobee.

Rep. Rooney and Rep. Calvert took a helicopter tour of CERP projects on Saturday.

The freshman congressman made the environment and water quality a priority during his campaign, and has been advocating for the Everglades since taking office. He was among those who called on President Donald Trump to support Everglades Restoration projects earlier this year, and has been meeting with members of Congress about funding for future projects.

Calvert told the Naples Daily News on Saturday he was “willing to work with Congressman Rooney to find out how effective we can be and to find out the best way we can get these projects done.”

Rooney, who served former ambassador to the Holy See and was a top Republican donor prior to running for Congress, said bringing Calvert down to South Florida was a good first step in generating interest among his colleagues in Everglades restoration.

“I think the trip was successful,” said Rooney. “It’s hard to comprehend. If you haven’t seen (the Everglades), it’s like a wet wheat field.”

Hastings hosts event to bring attention to consumption of dogs and cats — On Tuesday, the veteran Palm Beach Democrat shared a dais with former 90120 actress Shannen Doherty and other panelists to talk about an event near and dear his heart. The topic was the consumption of cats and dogs by humans.

The event highlighted the legislation Hastings and Republican Vern Buchanan are co-sponsoring to eliminate the practice.  “It is long overdue for Congress to unify animal cruelty laws across our country to explicitly ban the killing and consumption of these animals.”

Doherty is well known in the entertainment industry as a strong advocate for animal rights and protections. Buchanan dropped by the Tuesday event to support Hastings’ efforts saying the issue “is one of the things we agree on.”

Hastings has urged President Trump to raise the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping when the latter visits Trump in south Florida next month. China is well known as a large consumer of dog meat and actually has a “Dog Meat Festival” in one area of the country.

Deutch blasts Trump budget in op-ed – Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch penned an op-ed for The Hill Monday calling out President Donald Trump’s budget for betraying “fundamental American values that have propelled our leadership in the world and enhanced our safety within our borders.”

Deutch, who represents Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, said Trumps proposed slashing of the international affairs budget “would compromise American safety and security and handicap us economically.”

“It’s important to remember that we are not talking about hundreds of billions of dollars, or even 5 percent of the federal budget,” he writes. “The international affairs budget makes up just one percent of the government budget. The dollars we spend in these capacities are not handouts or blank checks to any country that asks; they are essential complements to a robust defense strategy.”

The congressman follows up by invoking the sentiment of 121 retired American generals who argued that “many of the crises our nation faces do not have military solutions alone.”

Deutch closed out his piece by calling on members of both parties to come together to support international affairs funding.

Diaz-Balart says he didn’t trade AHCA vote for Cuba policy reversal — South Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said a New York Times report claiming he agreed to vote for the American Health Care Act in exchange for President Donald Trump’s promise to reverse policies toward Cuba is false.

“Once again, the New York Times is categorically and factually incorrect in their reporting,” he told POLITICO Florida in an email. “If they had done their basic journalistic duty and placed a simple, 30 second call to my office, they would have known their facts were wrong.”

The Times said a White House official told them Diaz-Balart wanted to ensure Trump would keep his campaign promise to reverse former President Barack Obama’s foreign policy toward Cuba.

Earlier this year, the congressman slammed the Obama administration for ending the wet-foot/dry-foot policy for Cubans looking to come to the United States.

Diaz-Balart voted for the AHCA when it came through the House Budget Committee, though he said that doesn’t mean he will vote for it in the when it comes to the House floor Thursday.

Curbelo invites EPA Administrator to Florida to see effects of climate change — The second term Republican has admonished EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for recent comments on the effects of carbon dioxide on climate change. Curbelo reacted to Pruitt’s recent comments minimizing CO2’s role and thinks the administrator should see for himself.

In a recent letter, Curbelo told Pruitt “your statements contradict the conclusions not only of our best scientists, but of your own agency.” He wrote the administrator should “reevaluate your comments.”

This week he invited Pruitt to come to south Florida to “see the effects of sea level rise, first hand.”

Curbelo is the co-chair of the House’s Climate Solutions Caucus. On Tuesday, he was named to a list of 50 Emerging Green Leaders.

Democrats targeting Ros-Lehtinen ahead of 2018 – Democrats may be eyeing the Miami Republican’s seat for a potential flip in 2018, after the longtime lawmaker came out against the Republican bill that would replace the Affordable Care Act.

“After voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act at least sixty times without a replacement plan – including as recently as January – it’s clear that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen makes her decisions in Washington D.C. based on political calculation and self-preservation, not what is best for the people of South Florida,” said Javier Gamboa, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The statement was in response to Ros-Lehtinen’s announcement she wouldn’t back the Republican health care bill last week.

The South Florida lawmaker is also under attack from the left-leaning American Bridge PAC, which has put out a digital ad urging the congresswoman’s constituents to demand she back an investigation into Russian campaign interference.

Ros-Lehtinen pushed back against that ad, saying the Intelligence Committee, which she chairs, has been investigating Russian activities since before the Trump administration took office.

Trump lost Ros-Lehtinen’s district 39-59 in November, while the congresswoman found herself in a more competitive race than she is used to. She won with 54.9 percent while Democrat Scott Fuhrman claimed 45.1 percent. In 2014, she won re-election with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Club for Growth running digital ad in Ros-Lehtinen’s district — Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is one of 10 lawmakers being targeted by conservative group Club for Growth in a new digital ad series against the American Health Care Act.

 The “Reject RyanCare” ads say the Republican health care plan is “doubling down on disaster” and urges lawmakers to vote against the bill, which is expected to be on the House floor Thursday.

“Republicans promised a bill that would stop Obamacare’s taxes and mandates, and replace them with free-market reforms that will increase health insurance competition and drive down costs,” said Club for Growth President David McIntosh. “RyanCare fails on those counts, and that’s why the Club is letting millions of constituents know that their Representative should reject RyanCare.”

Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement to the Miami Herald last week that she was against the AHCA because “too many of my constituents will lose insurance, and there will be less funds to help the poor and elderly with their health care.”

Other GOP lawmakers targeted by the group include New Jersey’s Leonard Lance and Tom MacArthur, New York’s Peter King and John Katko, Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick and Charlie Dent, Virginia’s Rob Wittman, Nebraska’s Don Bacon and California’s Darrell Issa.

Republican group launching digital ads in two Florida congressional districts – Republican U.S. Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo have some positive digital ads coming their way, courtesy of right-leaning group American Action Network.

The South Florida representatives are two of 29 incumbents targeted by American Action Network’s $10 million ad buy, which is in support of the GOP health care bill.

“Republicans are keeping their promise with a new plan for better health care, more choices and lower costs,” the ad narrator states. “No more big government penalties or job-killing mandates. New tax credits to make insurance cheaper and real protections for people with pre-existing conditions.”

Curbelo’s version of the ad then urges viewers to call his office to thank him for supporting the American Health Care Act.

Ros-Lehtinen’s version of the ad has not yet been uploaded by the American Action Network, though last week she came out against the Republican health care bill, saying it would leave too many in her district uninsured.

Marty Fiorentino, the president of The Fiorentino Group in Jacksonville, spent the past few weeks shuttling back-and-forth to Washington, D.C. to help Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, a longtime friend, get things up and running at the federal agency. A transportation expert in his own regard, we caught up with Fiorentino to talk about his relationship with Chao and transportation issues on the horizon.

FP: Tell me a little bit about your history with Secretary Chao.

MF: During the Administration of President George H.W. Bush, I served as counselor to the Deputy Secretary of Transportation, who was Elaine Chao. After moving back to Florida, we remained friends over the years. She later became head of the Peace Corps, President of the United Way and Secretary of Labor for 8 years under President George W. Bush. She was named Secretary of Transportation by President Trump. She asked me to come up to Washington to assist her as things got up and running at the Department of Transportation and I was honored to help.

FP: From an outsider’s perspective, the Cabinet confirmation process seemed to be tumultuous. As someone on the inside, what was it like working with Secretary Chao through the transition?

MF: Actually, Secretary Chao’s confirmation process was relatively uneventful. She is well known by the Senate and has had a distinguished career of public service. In fact, she was one of the first cabinet members confirmed by the Senate.

FP: How do you think the Secretary will work to implement the president’s campaign promise for massive infrastructure spending?

MF: The President has made infrastructure funding one of his highest priorities. An interagency group has been established at the White House led by the National Economic Council to develop a national infrastructure plan. Transportation issues cut across numerous departments and involve everything from pipelines and broadband to the energy grid, roads, bridges, ports, airports, permitting and public-private partnerships and finance. It involves Treasury, Energy, EPA, DOD, OMB, Interior, Commerce and, of course, USDOT. The Secretary has a working group that meets internally and weekly with the White House to develop this plan and DOT will have a big part in implementing it.

FP: As a Floridian, what infrastructure projects do you think should be a top priority for Secretary Chao and President Trump?

MF: Florida of course! Actually, the time it takes to permit transportation projects is a terrible economic burden and job killer. If we can shorten that process it will unlock a lot of economic prosperity and expedite long needed transportation projects that are under design and development. Governor Scott has been to Washington and Secretary Chao and I had lunch with him. He was a strong advocate for Florida’s highway, rail, port and airport projects. Personally, I think the Governor has been spot on with his early support of Florida’s seaports and willingness to put the state’s money behind them.

Former Trump campaign manager’s lobbying firm signs Florida clientCorey Lewandowski, President Donald Trump’s first campaign manager during the 2016 cycle, has picked up a few more clients for his lobbying firm Avenue Strategies.

Among the new clients is Big Cat Rescue, a Tampa-based sanctuary that rescues abused an abandoned big cats.

The sanctuary has more than “80+ lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars and other species most of whom have been abandoned, abused, orphaned, saved from being turned into fur coats, or retired from performing acts.”

The group also advocates for ending the abuse of big cats in captivity and preventing extinction of big cats in the wild.

Avenue Strategies picked up the new client through its recent firm addition and fellow Trump campaign veteran Jason Osbourne, who also brought along Community Choice Financial Inc. and Red Horse Corporation.

Tampa City Council members went to Washington last week. It wasn’t a great time — Last week, three members of the Tampa City Council attended the annual Congressional City Conference hosted by the National League of Cities in Washington, the first to be held in the Trump administration.

It was not a rollicking time.

“The consensus of the participants was fear, primarily of the unknown,” says Council Chair Mike Suarez. 

The sessions took place as President Trump was unveiling his “hard-power” budget, which includes sizable cuts in domestic spending, featuring reductions that would target transportation funding, community development, and public housing.

“The President’s budget and direction is an assault on Community Block Grants program which will severely hamper the City’s ability to provide help to our citizens,” says Suarez, who adds that the proposed budget would also seek a half-billion reduction in TIGER grants, the economic recovery infrastructure program launched by President Obama that has provided more than $5 billion for more than 400 road, rail, port, and transit projects in the U.S., including Tampa’s signature Riverwalk.

Like Suarez, Councilman Harry Cohen has attended previous League of Cities events in D.C. He says this was one was demonstrably different than in the previous administration.

“During the Obama years, the administration spent many top officials to speak to and interact with the elected officials across the country,” he says. “We heard from Vice President Joe Biden, the head of the EPA, cabinet secretaries, They were interested in and engaged with what was happening in America’s cities. This year, the only confirmed speaker was Attorney General  Jeff Sessions – who ultimately canceled. Other than a few holdovers, we were totally ignored. They had nothing to say to us and they made no effort to pretend otherwise.”

Councilwoman Yolie Capin was attending her first League of Cities event. She says it might be her last.

“It was expensive and what I got out if it is that it was all pretty bad news,” she says.

Capin says the fact that Sessions was the only cabinet official scheduled to appear and ultimately cancelled reflected what Trump thinks of city governments.

“It let me know that we don’t mean a whole lot to this administration,” she said. “We’re pretty much on our own. That’s what I got from it.”

Suarez sat on a panel that discussed the deductibility of Municipal Bonds, which, if eliminated, would reduce the number of projects cities could fund and make our borrowing more expensive.

The Council Chair says he still holds out on the president’s touted $1 trillion infrastructure plan. But with health care on the agenda and tax reform coming up later this year, many analysts say that it’s doubtful to happen this year.

“Here’s a president who talks one thing — ‘oh, we’re going to have a huge rebuilding plan in America,’ and then the first budget comes out, and there’s nothing there,” Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor told SPB earlier this week.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, said the White House will uphold Trump’s pledge for $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending through an unspecified “infrastructure package” to be released later this year.



Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.