Democratic congressional candidate April Freeman dies suddenly

Democrat April Freeman was running for Florida’s open District 17 congressional seat.

April Freeman, the Democratic nominee for Florida’s open 17th congressional district seat, died suddenly on Sunday night, the Florida Democratic Party announced this afternoon.

Freeman won the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for the seat held by retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, and was facing Republican Greg Steube in the general election. She also ran for the seat in 2016, getting 34.2 percent of the vote against Rooney.

“We are incredibly saddened by the sudden death of April Freeman. April put her heart and soul into her community – and was dedicated to making a better future for all Floridians,” said a statement from Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said. “Just last night she was in the office, making calls and working to get out the vote. Her work ethic and passion was an inspiration to all of us. It is a tremendous loss to the Democratic Party and to all who knew her. Our hearts break for her family and love ones, who are grieving her loss.”

District 17 includes portions of Sarasota and Charlotte counties on Florida’s west coast and all or part of seven other counties north and west of Lake Okeechobee.

How your member of Congress voted on latest budget deal…

Palm Beach County’s U.S. House delegation for the 115th Congress, clockwise from top left: Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City; Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach; Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton; Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, broke with most House Democrats early this morning and voted for a spending bill that keeps the government open through March 23 but doesn’t address DACA — the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shields from deportation young non-citizens who were brought to the U.S. by their parents.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (left) and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

The Senate passed its version of the bill at 1:31 a.m. on a 71-28 vote with both Florida’s senators — Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson — in support.

The House passed the spending bill at 5:32 a.m. on a 240-to-186 vote. There were 167 Republicans and 73 Democrats in favor, with 67 Republicans and 119 Democrats opposed.

In Palm Beach County’s House delegation, Deutch joined U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, in support. Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, and Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, were opposed.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, a candidate for governor, voted for the spending bill. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, a Palm Beach County native who now represents a Central Florida district, also voted in favor of the bill.

Nunes memo: Trump, Florida politicians weigh in

President Donald Trump greets supporters as first lady Melania Trump looks on at Palm Beach International Airport in November. (Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post)

Shocker: Florida Republicans and Democrats disagree on the release of a GOP memo criticizing the FBI’s application for a 2016 warrant to spy on an adviser to President Donald Trump‘s campaign.

Some reactions so far:

• U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, a member of the House Intelligence Committee: “As part of this Committee’s responsibility to conduct oversight over the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), we must ensure that individuals in the IC are not using political work product as a means to obtain warrants to conduct surveillance on American citizens. We feel that the so-called dossier was just that – a political document – and the American people need to know that. The intent of this memo is to shed light on past abuses in order to effectively prevent future abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and similar laws governing the activities of the IC. It is not, in any way, intended to influence or undermine FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

• President and part-time Palm Beach resident Donald Trump (from a White House pool report): “I think it’s a disgrace what’s happening in this country.. When you look at that and see that…A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that…So I sent it over to Congress, and they will do what they’re going to do, whatever they do is fine…It was de-classified and let’s see what happens. A lot of people should be ashamed. Thank you very much.”

• Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson: “By releasing this memo, the President of the United States is undermining the credibility of our intelligence community and serving a huge victory to Vladimir Putin, the Russian government, and many other intelligence services.”

• U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach: “This is a deliberate and desperate effort by Donald Trump and the Republicans to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s interference with our election and possible obstruction of justice by White House officials. Not only has the FBI expressed grave concerns about the memo’s accuracy, but Justice Department officials believe its release endangers our national security. Republican efforts hands yet another win to Vladimir Putin. The Democrat’s memo must be released so that the public can get to the truth.”

• U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach: “As the Former Vice Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I am outraged that Republicans wrote a classified memo and then voted to make it public in order to undermine the Mueller investigation. The partisan memo is rife with misrepresentations and inaccuracies, and it was released for purely political reasons against the advice of the FBI and the Justice Department.  Even more shocking is the fact that House Republicans on the Committee blocked a counter-memo on the same subject from being released, preventing any refutation of their partisan smear-campaign. Their decision to politicize the intelligence and selectively release information to drive a political narrative is extraordinarily reckless, and does a grave disservice to the brave men and women in our Intelligence Community. For weeks, social media accounts linked to Russian networks have saturated the airwaves calling for a release of the memo. I am stunned that Republicans actually fell for it.”

• U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, in a joint statement with other Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee: “President Trump’s decision to allow the release of Chairman Nunes’ Republican talking points is part of a coordinated propaganda effort to discredit, disable and defeat the Russia investigation. House Republicans are now accomplices to a shocking campaign to obstruct the work of the Special Counsel, to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the Justice Department and the FBI, and to bury the fact that a foreign adversary interfered with our last election.

Today: Ag Sec meets Putnam, Rubio in Florida to assess Hurricane Irma crop damage

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, shown campaigning for governor in Riviera Beach this year, will meet with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today to discuss Hurricane Irma crop damage. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue will be in Clewiston and Orlando today to meet Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and other Florida officials to assess crop damage from Hurricane Irma.

Perdue, Putnam, Rubio and U.S. Reps. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami will meet with agriculture industry officials for a roundtable discussion at Southern Garden Citrus in Clewiston late this morning.

The officials are expected to take an aerial tour to inspect damage.

Perdue, Putnam and Rubio are also scheduled to discuss their findings this afternoon in Orlando.

Representatives of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative and Florida Crystals said last week they had not yet determined how much damage Irma inflicted on this year’s sugar cane crop, which is scheduled for harvest beginning next month.




Close call: Rep. Tom Rooney on shooting at GOP baseball practice

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, left today’s GOP baseball practice moments before a gunman opened fire.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, practiced with other members of a Republican congressional baseball team this morning but left a few minutes before a gunman opened fire in Alexandria, Va.

Rooney said he left the practice about 7:05 a.m. to take his kids to school. Police said the shooting began at 7:09 a.m.

The GOP team is scheduled to play a Democratic squad in the annual congressional game Thursday night in Washington to raise money for charity.

Rooney, who had the game-winning hit in last year’s game, said the Republican team has used the same field for practice for several years. For roughly six weeks before the game, the team practices from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. on days Congress is in session, Rooney said.

“It’s not a secret that we’re there,” Rooney said.

» OPINION: Alexandria shooting shows ‘there’s too much hate’ in our politics, GOP congressman says

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., was among the injured. Because Scalise is a member of House leadership, a security detail accompanies him to practice. Rooney said a black SUV with at least two officers parks to block a gate on the first base side of the field. The gunman apparently began firing from behind the third base side of the field, injuring Scalise and others.

“Thank God his detail was there…It could have been a lot worse,” Rooney said.

Rooney plays first base and Scalise plays second. Rooney said he was standing near Scalise in the infield to work on double plays during this morning’s practice.


Another Florida House member on the team, Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, said he also left the practice moments before the shooting and may have spoken to the gunman.

“There was a guy that walked up to us that was asking whether it was Republicans or Democrats out there and it was just a little odd and then he kind of walked toward the area where all this happened. So we told the police that,” DeSantis said in an interview with Fox News.

Tom Rooney rips Bill Nelson on Gorsuch; ‘weighing all his options for 2018’

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee.

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson‘s announcement Monday that he opposes President Donald Trump‘s nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court drew immediate fire from Republicans.


Sen. Bill Nelson says he’ll vote against Judge Neil Gorsuch. (Nelson photo by Rich Graulich/Palm Beach Post; Gorsuch vote by Susan Walsh/AP)

One interesting Nelson critic: U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, who briefly considered a 2016 Senate run.


Rooney put out a statement through his House office saying he is “extremely disappointed, though utterly unsurprised, that Senator Nelson would put political posturing above the needs of the American people…He should be ashamed of himself and I hope Florida voters replace him next year in the 2018 election.”


Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott is widely expected to run for Nelson’s seat in 2018. In 2015, Rooney considered entering the 2016 Senate race if Sen. Marco Rubio didn’t seek re-election. Part of the reason he entertained a 2016 run, Rooney said, was his belief that it would be “bad timing” to run in 2018 if Scott was in the race.


Asked today about his 2018 plans, Rooney spokeswoman Meghan Rodgers said: “He is weighing all his options for 2018 and doesn’t know for sure what he is doing yet. Yesterday’s press release had nothing to do with 2018 and simply was in response to Nelson’s statement on Gorsuch.”


After un-endorsing Donald Trump, Rep. Tom Rooney ‘very heartened’ by transition

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney (right), with U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller at a Republican Party of Florida event in Orlando in 2015. Miller has been mentioned as a potential secretary of Veterans Affairs in a Trump administration; Rooney says he's "very, very heartened" by Trump's personnel moves so far.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney (right), with U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller at a Republican Party of Florida event in Orlando in 2015. Miller has been mentioned as a potential secretary of Veterans Affairs in a Trump administration; Rooney says he’s “very, very heartened” by Trump’s personnel moves so far.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, is upbeat about President-elect Donald Trump‘s incoming administration after rescinding his endorsement of Trump in October.


“I’m very, very heartened by a lot of his picks,” Rooney said in a Wednesday interview.


Rooney specifically mentioned his House Intelligence Committee colleague, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, who was tapped by Trump for CIA director. He also pointed to Trump picking retired Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis for Defense secretary, retired Gen. Mike Flynn for national security adviser and retired Gen. John Kelly to run Homeland Security.


With Republicans controlling the House and Senate, Rooney said, “I’m very optimistic about what we possibly could do in the first 100 days.”


Rooney grew up in Palm Beach County and was a captain in the Army JAG Corps and a constitutional and criminal law instructor at West Point. Originally a state co-chairman of Marco Rubio‘s presidential bid, Rooney became an early Republican voice for uniting behind Trump in May when some in the GOP were still reluctant.


But Rooney withdrew his endorsement in October after a 2005 tape surfaced in which Trump bragged in vulgar terms about groping women.


“As the father of three young sons, I don’t want my boys growing up in a world where the President of the United States is allowed to speak or treat women the way Donald Trump has,” Rooney said in an Oct. 8 statement in which he also said he would not vote for Hillary Clinton.


Rooney said his announcement led to a “rough patch” with some constituents in his heavily Republican district. But Rooney ended up winning re-election with 61.8 percent in a district that also voted heavily for Trump.


Rooney said he believes he and Trump will be able to work together.


“We both won, so we can move forward, I think,” Rooney said.

Scott on the road to learn more about Zika fight

Gov. Rick Scott
Gov. Rick Scott

With Congress stepping up efforts to reach agreement on dollars to combat the spreading Zika virus, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is spending much of Thursday getting updates from local officials in the fight.

Scott met with Hillsborough County health officials this morning and is slated to huddle this afternoon with their counterparts in Miami-Dade County, which has the state’s largest outbreak with 51 travel-related cases.

Scott’s also scheduled to end his day with a call to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Syvlia Burwell and Centers for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden.

Palm Beach County has eight cases, all involving people who came to the county after contracting the virus outside the continental U.S.

All told, Florida has 172 cases of the Zika virus, including 38 involving pregnant women. The virus is linked to severe birth defects.

In Washington, Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson filed legislation Thursday aimed at steering an additional $130 million annually to local mosquito control boards to eliminate the the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry the virus.

The mosquitoes are common in Florida.

“Until we find a cure, the best way to curb the spread of this virus is to eliminate the insects known to carry it,” Nelson said. “As we head into these warmer summer months, Florida’s mosquito population is going to rise, and we need to make sure local mosquito-control units have the resources they need to protect their communities.”

House and Senate negotiators, including U.S. Reps. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, began work this week on settling differences between the two chambers on Zika funding.

The House agreed to $622 million and the Senate $1.1 billion, still short of the $1.9 billion sought in February by the Obama administration.

But the two sides now seem intent on working off the Senate’s funding figure.

The more than 600 Zika cases reported in the continental U.S. are believed all to have been contracted in Central and South American and the Caribbean. Experts, though, have said mosquito transmission in the U.S. is expected to occur at least in southern states this summer.



N.C. Sen. Richard Burr endorses Rick Kozell in crowded Florida GOP congressional race

Republican District 18 congressional candidates (from left) Carl Domino, Rick Kozell, Brian Mast, Mark Freeman and Rebecca Negron at a forum in Stuart . Three other Republicans, three Democrats and an independent are also running. (George Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)
Republican District 18 congressional candidates (from left) Carl Domino, Rick Kozell, Brian Mast, Mark Freeman and Rebecca Negron at a forum in Stuart . Three other Republicans, three Democrats and an independent are also running. (George Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

Republican North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr has endorsed Rick Kozell in the crowded GOP primary for the nationally watched Palm Beach-Treasure Coast congressional District 18 seat.


A Burr endorsement might not sway many voters in District 18, but it helps Kozell’s efforts to impress national donors eyeing what is expected to be one of this year’s most competitive House races. Eight Republicans, three Democrats and an independent are running in the swing district to replace Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, who’s running for Senate.


Burr, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, recently hosted a fundraising dinner in Washington for Kozell that was co-hosted by U.S. Reps. Lou Barletta, R-Pa.; Mike Rogers, R-Ala.; and Todd Rokita, R-Ind. as well as former Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Miami.


Burr called Kozell, an attorney and former small business owner from Jupiter, “a conservative leader who will stand up for our principles in Washington D.C. He will fight to repeal and replace Obamacare, cut taxes, and rein in big government spending. In these troubled times I am confident we can count on Rick Kozell to help keep America safe and strong.”


One of Kozell’s rivals, decorated Army combat veteran Brian Mast, has lined up several Republican congressional endorsements: Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and U.S. Reps. Pete Sessions, R-Tex.; Ryan Zinke, R-Mont; and Steve Russell, R-Okla.


Another District 18 Republican, Martin County school board member Rebecca Negron, has been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee.



Congress to consider measure stemming from missing Tequesta teens

A memorial last summer to missing Tequesta teens
A memorial last summer to missing Tequesta teens

Days after state lawmakers approved legislation inspired by last summer’s tragic loss at  sea of two Tequesta teenagers, a measure has been proposed in Congress also aimed at enhancing boating safety.

U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy, a Jupiter Democrat, and Tom Rooney, a Republican from Okeechobee, have filed the Austin and Perry Safe Boating Incentive Act, a proposal to offer a tax credit to boaters buying safety beacons for themselves or their water craft.

In Tallahassee, Gov. Rick Scott has until March 26 to act on a bill approved last week by the Legislature which would give boaters a slight reduction in the annual vessel registration fees if they have emergency position indicator radio beacon (EPIRB) or personal locator beacon for their boats.

Lawmakers portray their effort  as a legacy for the 14-year-old friends, Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, missing since sailing out of Jupiter Inlet last July.

“Last summer, our community was shaken by the loss of Austin and Perry. Like them, I grew up on the water, and it has always been a major part of my life. But unfortunately, tragedy can strike anyone at anytime,” Murphy said.

Rooney said, ““This bill is a concrete step in attempting to prevent future tragedies and to help save lives.”