With Supreme Court vacancy, Trump’s 2016 Mar-a-Lago pledge again looms large

Then-candidate Donald Trump pledging to list potential Supreme Court nominees to assuage conservatives at the 2016 Palm Beach County GOP Lincoln Day dinner at Mar-a-Lago. (Daniel Owen / The Palm Beach Post)

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy‘s retirement gives President Donald Trump another high-court nomination and underscores the importance of a pledge Trump made at Mar-a-Lago as a candidate in 2016.

Trump was the clear front runner for the Republican presidential nomination when the Palm Beach County GOP rented Mar-a-Lago’s Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom for its March 20, 2016 Lincoln Day dinner. But Trump still faced significant skepticism from many conservatives, particularly over his apparent lack of a coherent judicial philosophy.  That fueled Republican concerns that some portion of the right might vote for minor-party candidates or sit out the 2016 election.

So Trump, speaking to local Republicans but with the national media watching, acknowledged his doubters and promised that he would release a list of “great conservative judges” that he would appoint to the Supreme Court as president.

“I am going to give a list of either 5 or 10 judges that I will pick — 100 percent pick — that I will put in for nomination. Because some of the people that are against me say, ‘We don’t know if he’s going to pick the right judges,’ ‘Supposing he picks a liberal judge’ or ‘Supposing he picks a pro-choice judge,’ ” Trump said at the time.

Collaborating with the conservative Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation, Trump’s campaign eventually listed 21 potential court picks — including eventual Trump nominee and Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Trump reaffirmed the importance of the Mar-a-Lago pledge today, telling reporters in the Oval Office that his choice to replace Kennedy “will be somebody from that list.”

Two years ago, the list was crucial in preventing massive conservative defections from Trump, who often brought up the Supreme Court when the GOP coalition appeared restless.

“We have a war to win against a very crooked politician named Hillary Clinton, OK?” Trump pleaded at a June 2016 rally in Tampa.  “The Republican Party really should get their act together, they have to come together. We’ve got to win. And if for no other reason, the Supreme Court, remember that.”

Leading “Never Trump” figure Rick Wilson, who tried in 2016 to get conservatives to support independent candidate Evan McMullin for president, conceded in a 2017 interview that Trump’s Supreme Court pledge hampered his efforts

“The Supreme Court was a value-added for Donald Trump that turned skeptical Republicans into at least tolerant Republicans of Trump. It was something we saw turn up in focus groups over and over and over again,” Wilson said shortly after Trump took office. “The Supreme Court was the unspoken and spoken selling proposition for Donald Trump well beyond any other factor for base Republican voters.”


NBC, CBS polls differ on Scott-Nelson Senate race; Putnam tops DeSantis in GOP governor primary

Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. (Photos by George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

An NBC News/Marist poll released late Tuesday shows Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson edging Republican Gov. Rick Scott in their U.S. Senate race a day after a CBS/YouGov poll gave Scott a slight edge.

The NBC poll gives Nelson a 49-to-45 percent lead over Scott among registered –not likely — voters in a survey with a 3.9 percent margin of error. CBS had Scott leading by a 46-to-41 percent margin among likely voters, but by only 2 points among registered voters. The CBS poll had a 3.5 percent margin of error.

In other words, considering the margins of error and the more than four months until election day, the Nelson-Scott contest looks close — like Florida’s 2012 and 2016 presidential races and 2010 and 2014 governor’s races, all of which were decided by between 0.9 and 1.2 percentage points.

Not as close, according to NBC, is the Republican primary for governor. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam holds a 38-to-21 percent lead over U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

NBC’s take on the Putnam-DeSantis is similar to the results of a Fox News poll last week that showed Putnam holding a 32-to-17 percent lead.

Both polls offer some hope for DeSantis, who was praised by President Donald Trump on Twitter in December and got the president’s “full endorsement” on Friday. NBC and Fox both found 39 percent of Republican primary voters are undecided ahead of the Aug. 28 primary.

In the five-candidate Democratic primary for governor, NBC finds the race up for grabs. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine tops the field at 19 percent and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham gets 17 percent in a sample that has a 6.5 percent margin of error. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (8 percent), billionaire Palm Beach real estate investor Jeff Greene (4 percent) and Winter Park businessman Chris King (3 percent) round out the Democratic field with 47 percent of voters undecided.

Five Dem governor candidates heading to Broward County this weekend

Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo, who’s also chair of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, outside state party headquarters in Tallahassee in January. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

All five Florida Democratic candidates for governor — Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Chris King and Philip Levine — are scheduled to appear in Broward County this weekend for the Florida Democratic Party’s annual Leadership Blue Gala, but no debate is scheduled.

Each of the candidates is hosting a welcome reception Friday night at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood and will be available to interact with party activists at a “meet the candidates” event Saturday afternoon. Each candidate also gets a three-minute speaking slot at a dinner Saturday night.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee — chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, which hasn’t had a Florida representative in this millennium — will be the keynote speaker. U.S. House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn and Sen. Bill Nelson are also featured attractions.

Three-term incumbent Nelson faces the re-election fight of his life this year against Republican Gov. Rick Scott. And Democrats are hoping to win a Florida governor’s race for the first time since 1994, when Lawton Chiles squeaked to a second term against Republican Jeb Bush.

The Leadership Blue weekend is the state party’s main fundraising event. This is the first one under Terrie Rizzo, the Palm Beach County Democratic chair who was elected state chairwoman in December.


Florida poll: Scott leads Nelson; Trump approval 53%; most oppose family separations

Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. (Photos by George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Likely Florida voters favor Gov. Rick Scott over Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by a 46-to-41 percent margin in their nationally watched U.S. Senate contest, according to a new online poll for CBS by YouGov.

The poll also finds 53 percent of likely Florida voters approve of President Donald Trump‘s job performance in a state Trump won by 1.2 percentage points over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Fifty-five percent of likely Florida voters disapprove of separating children from parents who try to enter the U.S. illegally, with 47 percent calling the policy “immoral.” The issue matters “a lot” to 45 percent of likely voters and matters “some” to another 28 percent.

But while Democrats have slammed Trump for the separations policy, Florida voters spread the blame around and the issue appears to have limited potential as an election-changer.

One-third of likely voters say the issue makes them more likely to consider voting for Democrats in November, 23 percent say they’re more likely to vote Republican and 44 say it won’t change the way they vote. Among independents, 53 say the issue won’t change how they think about voting.

Fifty-two percent of likely voters, including the same percentage of independents, say parents are mostly to blame for bringing their children into the country illegally. Another 23 percent say parents are partly but not entirely to blame.

Asked who has the responsibility for changing the separations policy, likely Florida voters point to Trump (69 percent), Republicans in Congress (80 percent) and Democrats in Congress (73 percent).

Among likely independent voters, 68 percent say Trump has responsibility to change the policy, 79 percent point to congressional Republicans and 80 percent point to congressional Democrats.

In the Scott-Nelson race, Scott has 62 percent approval among likely voters while Nelson’s approval rating is 54 percent. Scott leads among independent voters by a 41-to-32 percent margin.

The poll of 1,002 registered voters was conducted last Tuesday through Friday and has a 3.5 percent margin of error. Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said they definitely or probably plan to vote in the 2018 elections.

Ron DeSantis opens $12 million TV ad campaign, highlights Trump support

New TV ad for Republican Ron DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign highlights his support from President Donald Trump.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has launched the TV phase of his Republican campaign for Florida governor with a 30-second spot that touts his biography and conservative credentials and, in a mild surprise, waits a full 20 seconds before mentioning his endorsement by “the big man himself” — President Donald Trump.

The DeSantis camp will be airing the spot statewide as part of a $12 million buy over the next nine weeks before the Aug. 28 primary.

The ad notes DeSantis served as a U.S. Navy JAG officer in Iraq and “dealt with terrorists” at Guantanamo Bay.



GOP primary rival Adam Putnam isn’t mentioned, but the narrator says DeSantis has “the guts to fight establishment politicians in both parties, to drain the swamp.” The DeSantis camp has made much of the fact that Putnam, 43, has held elected office since he was 22 years old (Florida state House, U.S. House, Agriculture commissioner).

Trump tweeted his praise for DeSantis in December, before DeSantis formally entered the race for governor.

Last week, the president followed up with another tweet lauding DeSantis and saying the congressman “has my full Endorsement!”

Democrats could grab 6-1 advantage on Palm Beach County commission

Boca Raton City Councilman Bob Weinroth (left) chats with Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner in Tallahassee in January. Democrat Weinroth is well-positioned to join Kerner on the commission.(George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Democrats are well-positioned to claim a 6-1 advantage on the Palm Beach County commission after Republicans failed to field candidates for two seats and were left with only a political unknown to run in a seat the GOP has held for more than a quarter century.

Democrats hold five of seven commission seats now.

As the candidate filing deadline passed at noon Friday, no Republican filed in commission District 2 or District 6 — seats that are already held by Democrats and where Democrats have strong registration advantages.

In Republican-held District 4, which includes coastal Delray Beach and Boca Raton, the only GOP candidate to file was William “Billy” Vale, who through May 31 had raised a mere $5,522 for his campaign. Boca Raton City Councilman Robert Weinroth, a Democrat, opened a campaign for the District 4 seat earlier this year and had raised more than $112,000 by the end of May.

District 4 is divided nearly evenly between Republican and Democratic voters and has elected only Republicans — Mary McCarty and Steven Abrams — since the commission went to a district-by-district election format in 1990.

Palm Beach County Commission District 4 includes southern coastal communities and all of Boca Raton.

With Abrams facing term limits this year, many expected former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie to keep the seat in GOP hands. But Haynie withdrew from the race after being charged with official misconduct in April.

County GOP Chairman Michael Barnett announced plans to run for the seat, as did former Delray Beach City Commissioner Christina Morrison. Barnett backed out last week and Morrison, after holding a campaign kickoff event Wednesday, said Friday she concluded she couldn’t win.

“I just didn’t see a clear path to victory. I got in way too late,” Morrison said.

Barnett said it’s too soon to write off the seat.

“There will be a race,” Barnett said. Asked about Vale, the party chairman said, “I don’t know much about him. I’d like to talk to him, like to meet him.”

DeSantis trails Putnam in Fox News poll but gets full Trump endorsement this morning

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, at the kickoff of his campaign for governor in Boca Raton in January. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

President Donald Trump this morning gave his “full endorsement” to U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in Florida’s Republican primary for governor after a Fox News poll showed DeSantis trailing Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam by a 32-to-17 percent margin among GOP voters.

“Congressman Ron DeSantis, a top student at Yale and Harvard Law School, is running for Governor of the Great State of Florida. Ron is strong on Borders, tough on Crime & big on Cutting Taxes – Loves our Military & our Vets. He will be a Great Governor & has my full Endorsement!” Trump tweeted at 7:58 a.m.

Trump praised DeSantis on Twitter in December, but stopped short of formally endorsing him and hasn’t committed to appear with him on the campaign trail.

With Fox News televising a Putnam-DeSantis debate at next week’s Republican Party of Florida Sunshine Summit, the president’s favorite network released a poll Thursday showing Putnam with a big lead over DeSantis, but 39 percent of Republican voters undecided.

The poll found 86 percent approval for Trump’s job performance among Florida Republicans, including 88 percent among Republican men and 84 percent among Republican women, 97 percent among “very conservative” Republicans and 96 percent among white evangelicals. Sixty-two percent “strongly” approve of the job Trump is doing and another 24 percent are “somewhat” supportive. Florid

Gov. Rick Scott‘s approval rating is 80 percent among Florida Republican voters in the poll.

The Fox poll of 901 likely Republican voters, conducted June 15-19, has a 3 percent margin of error.

Trump has only waded into a dozen or fewer Republican primary battles. He famously backed Luther Strange over Roy Moore in a special Alabama U.S. Senate primary last year; Moore won the GOP primary but lost the general election after being accused of child molestation and pursuing relationships with teenage girls. Trump endorsed Katie Arrington on the afternoon of South Carolina’s June 12 GOP primary; she defeated U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford.

Trump also endorsed South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster in that primary; he won a plurality but faces John Warren in a runoff next week.

Trump endorsed Mitt Romney‘s Utah Senate bid if February. Romney didn’t win the GOP nomination outright at an April convention of delegates but is favored in a primary election next week.

Philip Levine talks opioid crisis, marijuana legalization, race in Boynton Beach

Democratic candidate for governor Philip Levine joins others in a prayer led by Pastor Tommy Brown of New Disciples Worship Center before a discussion on opioids in Boynton Beach. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

BOYNTON BEACH — Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine listened to local clergy and others talk about the opioid crisis this morning in a conversation that also included a lively debate on marijuana legalization and a plea to address racial disparities in drug enforcement.

Levine spent about an hour at a meeting with 15 people organized by local activist Rae Whitely of the Boynton Beach Coalition of Clergy and a group called Black Votes Matter.

Levine recently announced his support for legalizing, regulating and taxing the recreational use of marijuana for people 21 and older, which he said would generate $600 million a year in tax revenue. Levine wants to use $300 million of that for opioid addiction treatment programs.

Much of the room seemed to agree with the idea, but there was some dissent.

“If you’re going to give our children something that’s going to destroy their brain cells and legalize it, how is that helping? Just because you’re going to get financial gain from it – it’s not helping our children,” said Cheryl Grimes, a nurse who is director of health and wellness at an assisted living center.

Levine said he supports legalization because a criminal conviction for marijuana can ruin a person’s life. He also said arrests and prosecutions for marijuana use fall disproportionately on the black community.

James W. Rorie, a minister at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church, said he’s fine with legalizing medicinal marijuana, but not recreational pot.

“Marijuana in the smokable form? I disagree with that because it’s for the high. We have alcohol, you can drink alcohol, that’s a problem in itself. But to legalize something else for a high? Absolutely not,” Rorie said.

“Yes, marijuana is bad,” said another man who didn’t want to give his name. “But it has some benefit as an alternative, as a public policy, to hard-core drugs.”

Whitely said that while the opioid crisis has captured national attention, he’s worried that other types of drug abuse won’t get needed attention.

“When crack was dominant, we never had this conversation at all. And I’m afraid that the crack epidemic will be lost in the opioid conversation. We will just stop talking about it. There are still people that smoke crack. They’re still here,” Whitely said.

“The national conversation is opiates. How do we have an inclusive conversation and really, really set different policies to make sure that black and brown people are not treated as criminals when they truly have an addiction?” Whitely said.

Levine said afterward that the meeting underscored the importance of educating the public on the opioid crisis and “making sure the police force is educated in how to deal with these issues because they’re different from normal crimes.”

He also emphasized the need to create a “bridge” from recovering addicts to return to society.

Levine said he understood the opposition to marijuana legalization, but, “the bottom line is, I believe, and I think a lot of people in the room believe, that legalization, properly regulated, is the right thing to do. And the reason being is that it will stop locking people up for the wrong reasons and it will stop ruining people’s lives and careers for the wrong reason.”



Bill Nelson says Florida is housing 174 minors separated from families

Sen. Bill Nelson speaking on the Senate floor this morning.

A day after being denied access to a facility in Homestead that houses some children who were separated from their families by immigration enforcement officials, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said in a Senate floor speech that a total of 174 such minors are being housed across Florida.

Nelson said the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the facilities, told him that 94 of the approximately 1,000 minors at Homestead were separated from family members accused of trying to enter the U.S. illegally.

“I have subsequently found that in addition to those 94 children, there are 174 children being held in my state of Florida that have been separated from their families,” Nelson said. His office later clarified that the 174 figure includes the 94 at Homestead.

The Homestead facility opened under President Barack Obama in 2014 to house unaccompanied minors picked up at the border while trying to enter the U.S. The facility later closed, but was reopened in February.

Nelson said he was told he’d have to wait two weeks to visit the center in Homestead to check on the conditions there. He accused President Donald Trump of being behind the shutout.

“It must be that not only is this department policy, this is being directed from the White House, and they don’t want me to see it because they don’t want us to know what is going on in there,” Nelson said.


Rick Scott links child separations to Trump policy, says: ‘This practice needs to stop now’

President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott at the Broward Sheriff’s Office in February. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has sharpened his opposition to the federal government’s separation of children from adults who attempt to illegally enter the U.S., specifically linking the policy to President Donald Trump and declaring in a letter late Tuesday that “This practice needs to stop now.”

Scott expressed his position in a letter to Health and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar seeking information about an HHS-run facility in Homestead that is housing 94 minors who were separated from their parents.

A spokesman for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said Scott should have taken his concerns directly to Trump, a political ally who publicly urged Scott to challenge Nelson this year.

“President Trump could end this policy with the stroke of a pen. If Gov. Scott really cared about these kids, he would have written this letter to Trump asking him to end this policy instead of asking HHS to confirm what we all already know,” said Nelson spokesman Ryan Brown. Nelson and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, were denied access to the Homestead facility earlier Tuesday.

On Monday, Scott said he did not favor separating families and blamed the practice generally on the failures of “Washington.” The governor’s position wasn’t significantly different from that of Trump, who called the separations “so sad” but blamed them on congressional Democrats for not supporting a border wall and other Trump immigration priorities.

In his letter to Azar on Tuesday, Scott began by citing “decades of failed immigration policies from Washington.” But in discussing the current controversy over family separations, he attributed the policy specifically to the president and the crackdown on illegal immigration ordered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April.

“Recently, we received unconfirmed reports that this (Homestead) facility is now potentially holding children who have been forcibly removed from their families as a result of President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy toward illegal entry into the United States,” Scott’s letter says.

“I have been very clear that I absolutely do not agree with the practice of separating children from their families. This practice needs to stop now.”

Scott’s letter concludes: “Reunifying the children who have been separated from their families is very important and the State of Florida stands ready to assist in this process. Please inform me on any measures the state can facilitate to help the reunification process. It is extremely frustrating that, after decades of inaction by the federal government, many innocent children are now paying the price for the failures of Washington. Congress must address our immigration system immediately.”