Trump Iran deal announcement looms; how Nelson, Rubio, Palm Beach County reps voted in 2015

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (left) and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson disagreed on the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

President Donald Trump announced Monday on Twitter that he’ll reveal his decision on whether the U.S. should remain in the Iran nuclear deal this afternoon at 2 p.m.

The Iran deal was a landmark of former President Barack Obama‘s administration, but three Democrats in Palm Beach County’s U.S. House delegation — Reps. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach —  opposed it in 2015. Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who crossed the aisle to vote with Republicans on several issues, supported the Iran deal.

The House voted against the deal by a 269-to-162 margin in September 2015. No Republicans supported the agreement and 25 Democrats joined them in opposing the president.

A majority of the U.S. Senate, including Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, opposed the deal as well. But under Senate procedural rules, Republicans needed 60 votes for a resolution opposing the deal to go forward. They fell short as Florida Democratic  Sen. Bill Nelson and 41 other Democrats voted to block consideration of the resolution.

In a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches appearance two weeks before the Senate vote, Nelson called the Iran deal flawed but better than the alternative.
“Right now, if we walk away from the agreement, Iran can develop a nuclear weapon in two to three months,” Nelson said. “If we agree to this agreement, which has its flaws, at the very least they will not produce a nuclear weapon until after 10 years and probably after 15 years.”
Nelson also said that he was satisfied that if Iran tried to secretly develop a nuclear weapon “we would find it.”


Putnam, DeSantis weigh in on guns, transgender bathrooms, each other at Orlando dinner

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (top) and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis — rival Republican candidates for governor — campaigning at Saturday’s Florida Family Policy Council dinner in Orlando. (Photos by George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

ORLANDO — After taking some long-distance shots at each other over the past week, Republican Florida gubernatorial rivals Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis kept it cordial on Saturday night when they appeared together in the same room for the first time.

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam and U.S. Rep. DeSantis didn’t actually share the stage at the conservative Florida Family Policy Council dinner. But first DeSantis and then Putnam each spent half an hour answering questions from Republican focus-group impresario and messaging maven Frank Luntz in front of about 450 members of the evangelical Christian group.

Luntz, who was applauded when he pledged not to ask any “gotcha” questions, urged the candidates to keep it civil during the primary and urged the crowd to be “referees of decency” in the GOP race.

But as dinner attendees left the ballroom at the Rosen Centre Hotel, they got to see a less-civil brand of primary politics in the hallway. Representatives of a Palm Beach County-based group, the National Liberty Federation, handed out anti-DeSantis material, including a depiction of the congressman with two faces and a collection of quotes suggesting he’s been inconsistent in supporting President Donald Trump.

DeSantis campaign manager Brad Herold called the material “false attacks.”

Putnam’s campaign said it had nothing to do with the literature and spokeswoman Amanda Bevis criticized “such repulsive attacks at what should have been a family-friendly event.”
During the event, Luntz asked each candidate to differentiate himself from his rival.

“He’s a good guy, I respect him,” DeSantis said of Putnam. As for a difference, he said, “I think the fact that I’ve done things like served in the military and served our country…I thought it was important that I be willing to put my money where my mouth was.”

DeSantis, who has a Harvard law degree, was a U.S. Navy JAG officer who was deployed to Iraq as an adviser to Navy SEALs and to the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

DeSantis drew the contrast with Putnam in more forceful terms a few days ago.

“He’s been in office since he was 22 years old and has been a career politician. When he was in his 20s, he was in elective office, when I was in my 20s I was serving in Iraq, in Guantanamo Bay, and our military. So, it’s a much different approach,” DeSantis said in a radio interview with conservative syndicated host John Fredericks. He also called Putnam a supporter of “amnesty” and generally weak on curbing illegal immigration in the radio interview.

Putnam, at a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches appearance last Monday, criticized DeSantis for skipping that event and said the frequent Fox News guest “can’t run for governor from a D.C.-based studio. You better be willing to get out amongst the people whose votes you’re asking for and look them in the eye and tell them your vision for Florida.”

Speaking after DeSantis on Saturday night, Putnam said he’s “grateful” for his rival’s military service and used subtler terms than he did at the Forum Club to describe their differences.

“The next governor of Florida needs to know Florida, needs to know every corner of our state, the diversity of our state, the challenges of our state…I believe that some of us really have a passion for state issues and some of us really have a passion for federal issues. I left Washington with my soul and my sanity still intact because I was more convinced than ever before that our founders had it right, that the states are the laboratories of democracy,” said Putnam, who served five U.S. House terms before returning to Florida in 2010 to run for agriculture commissioner.

Shortly before the dinner began, Putnam unveiled a “Florida Families First Agenda” that includes a pledge to “Fight for the life of the unborn by expanding services that help mothers successfully carry their pregnancy to term” and to “Remove activist judges who seek to protect abortions by legislating from the bench.”

Putnam also said he’d create an Office of Faith-Based and Community-Based Initiatives to empower churches and community organizations who provide disaster relief and other public assistance. And he promised to create an ombudsman in the Florida Department of Education to focus solely on helping families who opt to home school their children.

In response to a question from Luntz, Putnam said he’d sign a “heartbeat bill” banning abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is generally six weeks after conception.

That drew condemnation from the Florida Democratic Party.

“Adam Putnam showed us who he was tonight: an anti-choice extremist hell-bent with taking away women’s health freedom. Putnam went full Trump tonight, promising to wage war on the judiciary and do everything he can to undermine women’s health,” said FDP spokesman Kevin Donohoe.

Luntz asked both Putnam and DeSantis how they’d respond to a hypothetical bill allowing transgender people to use the restroom of their choice.

“I would leave it as it is and stay out of that,” DeSantis said. When pressed about a hypothetical bill, DeSantis said he’d veto it, adding “Getting into the bathroom wars, I don’t think that’s a good use of our time.”

When Putnam was asked about such a bill, he said: “As a father…I am not going to sign a bill that allows men into my daughters’ restrooms.”

Both Putnam and DeSantis criticized a bill passed after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland and signed by Gov. Rick Scott that, in addition to a variety of school safety and mental health measures, raises the age to buy a gun in Florida to 21 instead of 18 and imposes a three-day waiting period on most firearm purchases.

DeSantis applauded the school safety and mental health provisions in the bill, but said “I would have approached it differently because I think it scapegoated law-abiding citizens in terms of their Second Amendment rights.”

DeSantis also said that if he were governor he would have removed Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel over his agency’s handling of warning signs prior to the shooting.

Putnam also said he supported much of the post-Parkland bill, but would not have signed it because of its gun provisions.

“I don’t think it’s right to say to someone who’s 20 years that it’s OK to go to Iraq and Afghanistan and defend freedom and defend liberty with your life but you can’t go to the sporting goods store and buy a shotgun to go to a dove-shoot down the street,” Putnam said.




‘The most patriotic speech in all of American history?’ asks Mast GOP challenger

Republican congressional candidate Mark Freeman in his campaign video.

Mark Freeman, a physician who spent $1.6 million of his own money on a losing 2016 GOP primary bid in Palm Beach-Treasure Coast U.S. House District 18, is making another try for the seat against fellow Republican Rep. Brian Mast.

Freeman filed candidate papers with the Federal Election Commission last month and launched a campaign website last week that, so far, consists mainly of an eight-minute video of Freeman speaking.

“The most patriotic speech in all of American history? You be the judge,” says a message on Freeman’s website encouraging visitors to watch his video.

“When darkness casts its many shadows pent upon our civil land divided, let blood for blood defend these principles,” begins Freeman in an oration that touches on America’s founding principles and makes no allusion to Mast or Freeman’s campaign.

“We the American people affirm to all peoples that America must be first among the nations so that the nations shall be led in justice…We must now dedicate ourselves anew to the ascendant glory of American preordination, by which the world will ever be atoned,” Freeman says in the video.

In 2016, Freeman finished third in a six-candidate GOP primary for the District 18 nomination, garnering 15.8 percent of the vote. Mast won the primary with 38 percent and went on to win the general election.

Mast has angered some Second Amendment advocates by calling for a ban on “assault weapons” in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Gold Star mother Karen Vaughn considered challenging Mast in the primary but decided against.

Democrats Lauren Baer and Pam Keith have opened campaigns for the District 18 seat.

On Pompeo nomination, Bill Nelson and Rick Scott find common ground

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

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted against most of President Donald Trump‘s Cabinet picks in early 2017, including a No vote on Mike Pompeo for CIA director.

But Nelson will vote for Pompeo to be secretary of state, the senator’s office announced late Wednesday.

Nelson hinted at a change of heart last week, telling The Tampa Bay Times that he saw Pompeo in “a better light” after learning of his secret trip to North Korea to discuss denuclearization with Kim Jong Un.

Facing a re-election challenge this year from Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Nelson took a pounding from Scott and the GOP this week before finally announcing his position on Pompeo.

“This position is critical to our national security interests and Senator Nelson needs to do what is right and stop playing politics in an election year. I am hopeful he will take a break from being a rubber stamp for the Democratic leadership in Washington,” Scott said Wednesday morning before Nelson announced his position.

After Nelson announced he’ll vote for Pompeo, Scott expressed barbed gratitude.

“Glad @SenBillNelson came to his senses after voting against Mike Pompeo last year. Maybe if every year was an election year Nelson wouldn’t be such a party line politician,” said a Wednesday night tweet on Scott’s campaign Twitter account.


Rival Democrats Pam Keith, Lauren Baer spar over clip in campaign video

Democrat Pam Keith’s congressional District 18 primary foe, Lauren Baer, appears briefly in a new Keith campaign video.

Democrat Lauren Baer‘s congressional campaign isn’t pleased that Baer shows up briefly in a new campaign video by her Democratic primary rival, Pam Keith.

Keith’s campaign says the concern over the video suggests Baer might not be ready for the rough-and-tumble of a general election in Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18, where Baer and Keith are vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge freshman U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City.

The two Democrats spoke at a Jan. 28 “Progressive Pep Rally” in Stuart sponsored by the anti-Donald Trump group Indivisibles. Keith came to the event with a professional videographers, who shot footage and put together a two-minute video that mixes interviews and speech excerpts with music and a montage of slow-motion crowd shots.

Baer appears for about one second in one of the clips, seated and expressionless while others around her applaud.

“No one informed Lauren Baer for Congress that a political advertisement for Pam Keith was being shot nor was Lauren Baer asked for her consent to participate,” said Baer campaign manager Rebecca Lipson. “To our knowledge, none of the attendees were informed or asked for their consent either. From my understanding, when filming an advertisement of any kind, people should be notified and consent provided to have their image used.”

The Baer campaign response was “unfortunate,” said Keith campaign manager Rummi Khan.

“The response to Pam’s video, filmed at a public event, has been tremendous. This 100 percent positive video focuses on the passionate leadership of Pam Keith, and her incredible ability to connect with voters throughout the 18th Congressional District,” Khan said. “The response of Lauren Baer’s campaign is unfortunate. If Lauren can’t handle a positive video showing progressive values, how on Earth would she handle the negative ads from Washington Republicans this fall? Pam Keith is a proud progressive who is not afraid to take on Brian Mast and Donald Trump.”


Rep. Brian Mast among top Republicans for co-sponsoring Democratic bills

Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City.. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Freshman U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, crosses the aisle to co-sponsor Democratic legislation at a higher rate than all but three of his Republican colleagues in the House, according to figures from Quorum Analytics, a Washington firm that tracks federal legislation for trade associations, lobbyists and others.

Mast has been a co-sponsor on 123 bills in the 115th Congress, including 37 — or 30 percent — that were sponsored by Democrats, according to Quorum’s research.

Among House Republicans, only Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami (38 percent), Walter Jones of North Carolina (35 percent) and Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania (31 percent) were co-sponsors on a higher percentage of Democratic bills.

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to sign on as co-sponsors of bills sponsored by the other party because of their status as the minority party. More than two-thirds of the bills that Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has co-sponsored have Republicans as the lead sponsor, and five other House Democrats are above 50 percent.

Palm Beach County Democratic U.S. Reps. (from left) Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings and Lois Frankel.

Within Palm Beach County’s House delegation, according to Quorum, Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, is the 69th most bipartisan Democrat out of 193 House Democrats,  with 32 percent of the bills she has co-sponsored having a Republican as lead sponsor. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, ranks 102nd in the Democratic caucus at 27 percent and Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, ranks 111th at 26 percent.

The Democratic legislation Mast has co-sponsored includes a few ceremonial and post office-naming bills, but also a bill sponsored by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., to limit President Donald Trump‘s ability to waive sanctions against Russia, a measure to establish a Climate Solutions Commission, the Marine Oil Spill Prevention Act, the U.S.-Israel Common Defense Authorization Act, the U.S.-Israel Joint Missile Defense Act, a Frankel bill to ease the sale of foreign-flagged yachts in the U.S. and several defense and veteran-related bills. Mast is a decorated Army veteran who lost both his legs after a bomb blast in Afghanistan.

In an October analysis, Quorum Analytics said Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio were among the most bipartisan members of their parties with regard to co-sponsoring bills. For Nelson, 52 percent of the bills he co-sponsored had Republicans as lead sponsor. For Rubio, 35 percent of co-sponsored bills had Democratic sponsors.

Trump’s first year: JFK comparisons, golf, missiles, the 561 Cabinet, other Palm Beach highlights

Presidents in Palm Beach: JFK and Jackie with kids on Easter in 1963; Donald and Melania Trump at Easter last year. (Kennedy photo from JFK Library; Trump photo by Melanie Bell/Palm Beach Daily News)

PALM BEACH — John F. Kennedy was America’s first Palm Beach president, but Donald Trump is redefining the role.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Trump taking the oath of office to become the 45th president. About 10 percent of Trump’s presidency has been spent in Palm Beach County — mostly at his Mar-a-Lago estate or the Trump International Golf Club in unincorporated West Palm Beach.

President Donald Trump teeing off at Trump International Golf Club, from a video shot by golfer Taylor Funk.

Trump has played an estimated 32 rounds of golf during his South Florida trips, but also conducted consequential national and international business.

Click here to read the full story — including the al fresco situation room, the 561 Cabinet, the missiles of Mar-a-Lago and other highlights — and find out how Trump’s Palm Beach visits compare to JFK’s.

‘I’m not a racist,’ Trump declares; his Palm Beach weekend ends today

President Donald Trump and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speak to reporter before dinner at Trump International Golf Club on Sunday Night. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

President Donald Trump pushed back Sunday night against accusations that his disparagement of Haiti and African nations during recent immigration talks reflects racism.

The president wraps up a three-day weekend at Mar-a-Lago today with a planned return to Washington aboard Air Force One this afternoon.

“What do you say to people who say you’re a racist?” Trump was asked by a reporter as he visited his Trump International Golf Club in unincorporated West Palm Beach for dinner Sunday night with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.


“No, no, I’m not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed, that I can tell you,” Trump responded.

The president also denied reports he used the term “shithole countries” during a Thursday discussion of immigration policy in the Oval Office.

“Well, did you see what various senators in the room said about my comments? They weren’t made,” Trump told reporters.

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who played golf with Trump at Trump International on Dec. 26, attended the Thursday meeting and said Sunday the president did not use the vulgarism widely attributed to him over the last few days. Sen. Dick Durbin,

An alternate vulgarity theory emerged Sunday, with conservative National Review editor Rich Lowry suggesting on ABC’s “This Week” that Trump might have used the term “shithouse” instead of “shithole.” The pro-Trump Breitbart News was among those running an account of Lowry’s remarks.


Women urge changes, ‘soul-searching’ in Florida Democratic Party after chairman’s resignation

Candidates for Florida Democratic Party chairwoman, from left: Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo, Hillsborough County Democratic State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez, Service Employees International Union Florida President Monica Russo and Brevard County Democratic Chairwoman Stacey Patel. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

MIAMI — At a “watershed moment” for dealing with sexual harassment, four women seeking to lead the Florida Democratic Party pledged Thursday to bring changes after former party chairman Stephen Bittel abruptly resigned amid accusations of inappropriate behavior toward women.

The candidates vying to replace Bittel — Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo, Brevard County Democratic Chairwoman Stacey Patel, Hillsborough County Democratic State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez and Service Employees International Union Florida President Monica Russo of Miami — appeared together for about 2½ hours at a forum sponsored by the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.

>>RELATED: Palm Beach County’s Terrie Rizzo Claims She’s Nearly Half-way to Florida Democratic Chair Win

A vote on party chair is scheduled for Dec. 9 in Orlando. Other candidates could emerge before the vote and Russo might not be eligible unless she succeeds in getting a rules change to open up the process to people who aren’t county party officials.

Bittel apologized and stepped down last month after six women told Politico Florida that he often made demeaning remarks to women, leered at them and kept a breast-shaped stress ball in his desk.

Bittel’s downfall comes as a variety of men in politics and media have been confronted with accusations of harassing and abusive behavior toward women. Democrats, who used to routinely accuse Republicans of waging a “war on women,” have been stung by accusations against Hollywood mogul and liberal donor Harvey Weinstein and two prominent members of Congress: liberal Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and longtime U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan.

“Let’s take a moment to realize that we are in a cathartic moment in our society, that this is our opportunity to do some soul searching, including at the Florida Democratic Party, and to identify the deficiencies that we have,” said Gonzalez, who is an employment lawyer and said she’s the only candidate for chair who has filed a sexual harassment complaint. She said she’d order a full investigation of the Bittel matter if she’s elected.

“I know that sexual harassment is real and that we ought not immediately jump to a conclusion that some woman is making it up. We believe you. For every woman who has told her ‘Me, too’ story and for those of us who have not had the courage to come forward, let me say now, unequivocally, I believe you,” Gonzalez said.

Said Rizzo: “This is a watershed moment in our culture, in society…Finally women are coming forward and we are being believed and it’s about time.”

If she becomes party chairwoman, Rizzo said she would implement policies and procedures to combat harassment and require party employees and members of county Democratic executive committees to undergo sexual harassment training.

SEIU President Russo said that when she became pregnant as a young labor organizer, a boss “told me I had to abort the child to stay employed. FYI, my child is alive and well in Gainesville, Fla….These are the sorts of things that we need to share so that folks know that’s not acceptable.”

Patel said new policies and procedures aren’t enough.
“The fundamental thing that we have to figure out is a change in our culture,” Patel said. “How do we exert feminine power in a way that transforms our power structures, such that we’re not using wealth, privilege, class and other things to dictate power?”

>>RELATED: Hastings, Deutch, Frankel endorse Terrie Rizzo for Florida Democratic Chair


Palm Beach County’s Terrie Rizzo claims she’s nearly half-way to Florida Dem chair win

Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo claims she’s lined up “nearly” half the votes needed to become chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party.

But one of Rizzo’s rivals, Hillsborough County Democratic State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez, says she expects a “very fluid process” between now and the party’s scheduled Dec. 9 election.

So far Rizzo, Gonzalez, Brevard County Democratic Chairwoman Stacey Patel and Service Employees International Union Florida President Monica Russo have said they want to replace former chairman Stephen Bittel, who abruptly resigned this month amid accusations of inappropriate behavior toward women.

Russo isn’t eligible to be state chair under current party rules, but will seek a bylaws change before the vote.

There are 1,204 possible votes for state chair, meaning a candidate would need 603 to win in the highly unlikely event that every eligible voter showed up for the Dec. 9 election.

Most votes are weighted by population (Miami-Dade County’s committeeman and committeewoman control 62 votes apiece, for example, while Palm Beach County Committeewoman Deidre Newton and Committeeman John Ramos get 41 each and tiny Hendry County’s representatives get only 1 apiece). There are also 178 votes controlled by elected officials. Sen. Bill Nelson gets 42 votes — 21 for himself or his proxy and 21 for his designee, former FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant. Nelson, who backed Bittel last year, hasn’t announced a preference.

Rizzo, who lives west of Boynton Beach and has chaired the county party since 2012, today announced 11 more endorsements. In all, she has been endorsed by 33 people who account for about 250 votes.