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The ‘Jeb Bush Doctrine’ Makes Debut

By Marc Caputo, Miami Herald (TNS)

The Bush Doctrine is on the verge of making a comeback.

As Jeb Bush weighs a presidential bid, the former Florida governor on Tuesday laid out his foreign policy precepts, which closely mirror that of his brother, former President George W. Bush.

Bush detailed seven points in all during a speech to the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, where he told the crowd that the United States shouldn’t back away from engaging its friends or enemies anywhere in the world.

For Bush, that starts 90 miles from U.S. shores, with the Cuban embargo and travel policy.

“I would argue that, instead of lifting the embargo, we should consider strengthening it,” Bush said, calling for free elections, free trade and the release of political prisoners on the communist island.

The crowd of donors, the backbone of Cuba’s exiled elite, applauded loudly.

Bush called for more military and cybersecurity spending, strengthening international alliances, robustly criticizing enemies and expanding free trade. He sounded notes of concern with nearly every quarter of the world: Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel.

Bush’s speech doubled as a campaign trial balloon and as payback against President Obama, who successfully campaigned in 2008 against George W. Bush’s foreign policy. Obama promised to withdraw from Iraq and generally called for a less muscular overseas engagement.

Jeb Bush inverted those criticisms of Obama, pointing to the chaos in Syria and the rise of the terrorist group ISIS there and in Iraq.

“In this unstable and uncertain world, the United States has actually played a part in creating greater instability and greater unraveling,” Bush said, adding that the United States, “because we’ve retrenched,” now has “worse relations than what we had before.”

Bush’s foreign-policy speech came a day after he outlined domestic policy points at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council gathering in Washington. Many of those who attended Tuesday’s event said Bush’s back-to-back policy addresses were the clearest sign yet that he intends to run for president.

Bush’s remarks drew a rebuke from Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a fellow South Floridian, who accused the former governor of trying to “put America down.”

“I’ll put the Obama record of foreign policy leadership against the Bush record any day of the week,” she said in a written statement. “Under President Obama’s leadership, the U.S. has prioritized combating climate change by working with China and other partners, keeping America safe by killing Osama bin Laden and leading a coalition to defeat ISIS, and restoring our standing with our allies after the disastrous foreign policy blunders of the George W. Bush administration.”

Wasserman Schultz’s criticisms highlight what will likely be a recurring theme on the campaign trail if Bush announces his candidacy. Democrats plan to tie him as closely as possible to his unpopular brother.

But Republicans believe Obama will be even less well-liked in 2016 and that the Democrats’ frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, will have a tough time criticizing the Bush Doctrine when she voted to authorize the Iraq War when she served in the U.S. Senate.

Bush said relatively little about his brother or his father in the speech. He spent far more time talking about President Obama. Bush said the current president violated his first foreign-policy precept: to lead both the United States and the world.

“We are not an equal partner in this so-called community of nations. We are a leader among equals,” Bush said. “First, I think the United States needs to lead. Lead with humility. Lead with respect. But lead.”

In calling for a foreign policy laced with “humility,” Bush echoed his brother’s call in 2000 to have a “humble” foreign policy. A year later, the United States became far more interventionist after the 9/11 attacks, which ultimately helped lead the nation into invading Afghanistan and Iraq.

To those who listened to the speech, Bush spoke with his own voice and not his brother’s. Jeb Bush has more of a reputation as a cerebral, technocratic politician. George W. Bush was known as warmer, more hands-on and prone to making personal connections.

“I don’t think this was George W. Bush’s foreign policy,” said Carlos Curbelo, a Miami-Dade School Board member and incoming Republican congressman who was backed by Jeb Bush in the November elections. “This is Jeb Bush’s foreign policy. So it’s the Jeb Bush Doctrine, or the Jeb Doctrine.”

The phrase “Bush Doctrine” was likely coined in 2001 by conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer and morphed over the years to describe George W. Bush’s aggressive and sometimes unilateral foreign policy moves.

Curbelo pointed out that the points Jeb Bush made Tuesday are well within the Republican mainstream and echo many of the ideas advanced by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. Romney, for instance, voiced concerns with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which Obama mocked as a Cold War relic.

But after Russia invaded Crimea and Ukraine, Republicans cast Obama as too naive about Putin.

One of Bush’s precepts was more of a slogan: “Words matter.” He said that time and again, Obama has made threats or promises and then failed to act.

“Presidents need to set United States aspirations and intentions where there is little gap between words and deeds,” Bush said. “Think of the ‘Russian reset.’ Think of the ‘Syrian red line.’ Think of the ‘pivot to Asia.’ Think of taking out ISIS.”

Bush said Obama failed to accomplish any of these goals.

“It undermines our credibility in the world. Our allies don’t trust us. And our enemies don’t fear us. There is no situation worse for stability and peace than that,” Bush said. “The iron rule of superpower deterrent is ‘mean it when you say it.’ And it has been broken by this president.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Former Rep. David Rivera’s Ally Sentenced To 6 Months Of House Arrest

By Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — The federal investigation into former Congressman David Rivera took another major step Wednesday when his close friend and political ally was sentenced for her role in allegedly helping him break campaign finance laws.

“I took responsibility,” Ana Alliegro said in court before she was sentenced to six months of house arrest and two years of probation after serving six months in jail.

“I owe the voters of Florida … a huge apology,” she said.

U.S. District Judge Robert Scola indicated he would have sentenced Alliegro to more time in prison — at least 18 months total and as much as five years — if she had gone “rogue” and not coordinated with Rivera.

Scola suggested Rivera wasn’t acting like a man.

“Some might call it sexism, (but) the man should come forward and not let the woman do time,” Scola said.

Scola pointedly insisted that Rivera be named in open court.

Alliegro last month made a surprise admission of guilt in open court and named Rivera as the mastermind of the 2012 scheme to steer more than $81,000 to a political unknown to help fund fliers and other items to campaign against the Republican’s rival, current U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

“Those fliers were designed by Ana Alliegro (and) David Rivera,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Mulvihill said in court, implicitly citing prior statements Alliegro had made to prosecutors. Before that disclosure in court, Rivera had denied wrongdoing and falsely claimed he was never under investigation. Rivera couldn’t be reached.

Court records and testimony indicate that Alliegro has told authorities that Rivera not only set the conspiracy in motion, but he also helped her flee the United States to Nicaragua when she was supposed to cooperate with prosecutors instead.

Alliegro was informally extradited to the United States in March and has been in jail ever since.

Her father, Anselmo Alliegro, said Rivera has been calling him. But, he said, Rivera needs to take responsibility.

“He says he’s concerned about her well-being,” Alliegro said of Rivera’s calls to him.

Alliegro is the second person convicted in the case. Her co-conspirator, no-name former Democratic candidate Justin Lamar Sternad, pleaded guilty in 2013 for accepting the illegal campaign contributions and making false statements about them when he ran as a Democrat in the 2012 primary against Garcia and others.

Garcia won that race and went on to wallop the scandal-plagued Rivera in the general election. In this election, however, federal investigators are now examining whether Garcia’s former top consultant and chief of staff, Jeffrey Garcia (no relation to the congressman), helped prop up yet another ringer candidate two years before in what appears to be a precursor to Sternad’s case.

Garcia has denied wrongdoing or knowledge of the crime and said he’d cooperate with prosecutors, and no witnesses have said he’s culpable — a stark contrast to Rivera’s case in which two campaign vendors told The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald that the Republican was involved in the 2012 campaign finance scheme from the start.

Rivera tried to mount a comeback to run against Garcia this year. But the onetime political power broker, nagged by scandal and his repeated misstatements reported in the press, came in fourth place in a five-way GOP primary on Aug. 26.

Rivera received just 2,209 votes — which is 647 less than the no-name Sternad received just two years before when his campaign was propped up by illegal money.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Slugfest Of Florida Governor’s Race Promises To Intensify

By Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald

In Florida’s bareknuckle governor’s race, it’s as if the 2010 campaign season never ended.

The Florida Democratic Party on Thursday announced a digital media effort to highlight a sealed deposition that damaged Rick Scott on the campaign trail four years ago.

At the same time, the Republican Party of Florida took to Twitter and mockingly marked Charlie Crist’s birthday by featuring a photo of the Democrat blowing out birthday candles with convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein — a relationship that haunted the then-governor in his unsuccessful 2010 U.S. Senate bid.

The state GOP also filed elections complaints Thursday that accused Crist of using the recent tour promoting his book — which revolves around his 2010 race — to help circumvent campaign-finance laws. Earlier this week, a batch of election-year complaints against Crist and Scott were rejected as baseless.

The back-and-forth slugfest, which has led to $22 million in TV ads so far and a neck-and-neck race, promises only to intensify as each side tries to make the other guy look like a secretive crook.

Democrats said they’ll reinforce the narrative with the launch of a new anti-Scott website, releasethedeposition.com. A video, featured on the website, would play as commercials on YouTube.

“What is so damning that Rick Scott won’t release it, no matter what the price?” the Democrats’ party chairwoman, Allison Tant, said in a conference call with reporters about Scott’s deposition.

Scott, who refused to release the deposition in 2010 because it was a “private matter,” said he won’t change his mind.

“I’m not going to do anything else, release any more information. It just gives Charlie Crist more opportunity to mudsling,” Scott said after talking about high job growth and educational improvements on his watch.

Scott gave the testimony in a lawsuit just six days before first running for governor. Soon after, the document was sealed and the lawsuit was settled against Scott’s health care company, Solantic, which was accused by a doctor of unlawfully using his name in a regulatory matter.

The Democratic attack has a one-two-punch against Scott because it leads to mention of: his former health care company, Columbia/HCA, which had paid a record Medicare fraud; and how Scott once pleaded the Fifth Amendment 75 times (due to pending criminal investigations) in yet another deposition in a later healthcare lawsuit.

Scott’s refusal to release the Solantic deposition badly hurt him in the 2010 GOP Republican primary, where internal campaign tracking polls showed his lead over then-Attorney General Bill McCollum dropped precipitously in the wake of the controversy.

McCollum allies funded TV ads about the issue. They also paid two young men — one dressed in hospital scrubs called “Dr. Dave” and another one dressed in a black-and-white-striped jail outfit named “Inmate 2010” — to follow Scott around in an SUV wrapped with a grainy image of Scott’s face and the message “Rick Scott: Release the Deposition.”

A similar message — “RICK SCOTT, RELEASE YOUR DEPOSITION” — was trailed behind a biplane at a Jacksonville Jaguars game that Scott visited.

Scott won that race and went on to beat Democrat Alex Sink, who also put millions of dollars behind release-the-deposition TV ads. Scott barely won in what was then a Republican-red year. He received fewer votes than any of the other four Republicans on the statewide ballot.

Crist, however, fared even worse in 2010.

Chased from the GOP by Marco Rubio, Crist switched his party affiliation to independent and still lost his Senate bid. Among the troubles weighing on Crist was his Senate campaign’s support by top contributor Scott Rothstein, who later admitted to masterminding a Ponzi scheme out of his Fort Lauderdale law firm.

Rothstein in 2009 contributed $52,000 to the state GOP to sponsor a birthday party cake for Crist. The cake was festooned with candles, each bearing the name of major special interests doing business with the state that had paid $5,200 for the privilege of a mention.

Rothstein, tapped by Crist to sit on a judge-picking panel, had said he essentially bought judgeships from Crist, which Crist denies as the lies of a felon and serial deceiver.

“Thanks for the judgeships! When I get out of jail I’ll buy you another birthday cake!” a mock Twitter message from a phony Rothstein account said. The Tweet, along with a snapshot of other sarcastic messages from a phony Fidel Castro account, was photographed and disseminated on Twitter by Juston Johnson, the state GOP’s executive director.

Meantime, Scott has tried to blunt the Democratic attacks against him for his secrecy by calling on Crist to release his wife’s tax filings. Crist won’t, saying they’re Carole Crist’s private business.

As governor, Scott refused to disclose his and his wife’s tax documents and individual details of all their investments. He reversed course this campaign season, but has yet to release his 2013 tax forms, which Crist has disclosed.

Tant refused to say whether Charlie Crist should disclose Carole Crist’s tax information.

“This is something you can ask Mr. Crist about,” she said.

Tant also denied that the Democrats’ newest push against Scott was an effort to anticipate a lawsuit, announced this week by the Scott administration, to recoup $20 million in lost tax-incentive money approved in 2009 when Crist was governor for a now-bankrupt firm known as Digital Domain Florida.

Crist allies, noting the suit is being pursued by Scott donor William R. Scherer, suspect it was filed this campaign season in an effort to embarrass Crist and put Crist under — drumroll — deposition.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Despite Administration Denials, Lawmaker Thinks Obama Wants Cuba Spy-Swap

By Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — After news broke about President Barack Obama’s prisoner swap involving five Taliban Guantanamo Bay detainees, many wondered about the fate of another person, this one locked away in Cuba: Alan Gross, the U.S. government contractor believed by many to have been railroaded on trumped-up spy charges.

The Obama administration says it is not negotiating for Gross.

Yet U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican Cuban exile leader, doesn’t think the administration is being honest.

“I seriously believe the administration is considering a swap,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “The administration has shown itself not to be faithful to the law and is not to be trusted.”

For instance, Ros-Lehtinen said, the administration two years ago briefed her and other members of Congress in a closed-door intelligence briefing on the proposed swap of the five Taliban for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, a likely deserter during his tour in Afghanistan.

Ros-Lehtinen, House Speaker John Boehner and others objected to negotiating with terrorists.

“They said: ‘We hear you loud and clear.’ And two years later, what do we have?” she asked. “A prisoner swap.”

In between, Congress passed a bill that would require notification of any Guantanamo prisoner transfers 30 days in advance. Obama, in signing the law, issued a signing statement to essentially give him wiggle room to ignore that under unique circumstances.

Obama, as a candidate in 2007, criticized the prior administration’s use of signing statements, saying, “I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law.”

In the case of Gross, Ros-Lehtinen issued press releases earlier this week in English and Spanish mischaracterizing news reports about Gross, who was arrested in Cuba in 2009 after Cuban authorities said he possessed satellite telephones and other banned communications equipment. Gross said the equipment was intended for the Jewish community on the island.

Ros-Lehtinen’s press release said that “news reports” indicated the administration “may be considering” a swap with Cuba: Gross in return for the three remaining “Cuban Five” espionage convicts imprisoned in the United States.

The news reports at the time said Obama wasn’t considering it.

Ros-Lehtinen’s Spanish-language press release was more off the mark, saying that Obama “is considering” a swap.

Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged the error, but she said it doesn’t matter. She believes the administration is talking quietly with Cuba.

She pointed to a Tuesday back-and-forth between a reporter and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki , who was asked repeatedly about Gross. In a final question, a reporter asked whether “the administration is still opposed to any deal with the Cubans for Alan Gross that involves the three remaining Cuban Five?”

Psaki: “Nothing has changed in that case, no.”

So, in public, Obama and Ros-Lehtinen have the same position.

Ros-Lehtinen said Psaki’s prior “evasions” — before the reporter asked about “any deal with the Cubans” — suggested that something else was going on.

So who’s right?

“We’ll see in two years,” Ros-Lehtinen said, referring to the end of Obama’s term.

AFP Photo/Jim Watson

Former Florida Governor Charlie Christ Says Bigots A ‘Big Reason’ He Left GOP

By Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald

Democrat Charlie Crist is offering up a new and inflammatory reason he left the GOP: Too many Republicans oppose President Barack Obama because he’s black.

Crist made the remarks Tuesday in an interview with Fusion’s Jorge Ramos that instantly drew rebukes from Republicans who said the party-switching former governor was playing the race card.

But Crist said the bigotry against Obama was a “big reason” for his decision to leave the party.

“I couldn’t be consistent with myself and my core beliefs, and stay with a party that was so unfriendly toward the African-American president, I’ll just go there,” Crist said. “I was a Republican and I saw the activists and what they were doing, it was intolerable to me.”

Ramos said Crist left the GOP to run as an independent because he was losing the 2010 Senate Republican primary to Marco Rubio. But Crist denied it.

Crist has made race an on-again and off-again theme as he campaigns for his old job back as a Democrat, his third party affiliation. When he left the GOP four years ago, he didn’t mention race.

“Being a flip-flopper is bad enough, but playing the race card to win over voters is pitiful,” said Izzy Santa, Republican National Committee spokeswoman.

Crist, saying he was “liberated as a Democrat,” also bashed the GOP for being too inflexible and for appearing to be “anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-minority, (and) anti-gay.”

Black voters are particularly important to Crist. They comprise 28 percent of the 4.1 million active registered Democrats in Florida, and he still has to beat former state Sen. Nan Rich in a party primary before facing Gov. Rick Scott.

In a general election, black voters are key for Democrats. Along with Hispanics, African-American voters have disproportionately stayed home during midterm elections, allowing more Republican-leaning white voters to dominate and elect GOP office holders. Black and Hispanic voters each account for about 14 percent of all active registered voters.

Crist has generally good relationships with black voters and leaders. He probably had the highest proportion of African-American support of any Republican when he won the governor’s office in 2006 as a Republican. As governor, Crist championed civil rights causes, opposed racial language in the official state song and was called Florida’s “first black governor” by some African-American lawmakers.

In standing with Obama to support the stimulus package in 2009, Crist won a measure of support from black voters but also earned the enmity of the GOP. In 2012, Crist campaign for Obama and boosted his profile further with black voters.

But Crist’s decision to run as an independent, which cost Democrat Kendrick Meek votes in the 2010 Senate race, left some African-American leaders upset with the former governor.

Crist’s comments to Fusion weren’t the first time he used racial imagery.

In February, while plugging his new book The Party’s Over on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, Crist said some Republicans opposed Obama’s stimulus act in 2009 because he was “not just a Democrat, an African-American.”

“Oh, you’re not going to play the race card,” host Stephen Colbert replied.

“I’m not going to play it, no,” Crist responded.

“You just did,” Colbert said. “Would you like to pick it up again and put it in your pocket? Because you just played the race card.”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Medical Marijuana Poised For Ad-War In Florida

By Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — Medical marijuana is so popular in Florida that 78 percent of likely voters in Republican-controlled state Senate districts back the idea, according to a recent state GOP poll obtained by The Miami Herald.

The survey echoes two others last month that found medical marijuana support ranging from 64 percent to 70 percent — results consistent with every major Florida public poll released in the past year.

And the favorable political environment for a proposed medical marijuana constitutional amendment isn’t just limited to public opinion.

Well-funded organized opposition is lacking right now. And, in an ironic twist, the most high-profile opponent of medical marijuana — Gov. Rick Scott — could indirectly and unintentionally help the proposed amendment, strategists say.

To win re-election, Scott’s campaign is likely to trigger a mammoth $150 million TV ad war, which could reduce the supply of available commercial advertising time, drive up the price of commercials and therefore make it tougher for outgunned anti-drug crusaders to get out their message.

“In an environment such as that, message-penetration can be challenging for anyone who doesn’t have a lot of money,” said Kyle Roberts, president of Virginia-based Smart Media Group, one of the nation’s premier political ad-buying firms.

The estimated $150 million that could be spent — $100 million from Scott and Republicans, $50 million from Democrat Charlie Crist — “can cause a lot of voter confusion when it comes to other issues on the ballot,” Roberts said.

Medical marijuana opponents have one major advantage, however: It takes 60 percent voter approval — a high bar — to pass a constitutional amendment in Florida. That means just a minority of voters can defeat the proposal at the Nov. 4 polls.

Opponents say the amendment would lead to pot legalization. Proponents, pointing to the amendment’s text, say it legalizes medical marijuana for those who have “debilitating” ailments as determined by a physician.

So far, 20 states and Washington, D.C., have decriminalized marijuana, most for medical reasons.

Florida attitudes have been changing along with the nation’s. In November, a Quinnipiac University survey found that 48 percent of registered voters favored legalization for adults and 46 percent were opposed.

The Republican state Senate district poll, conducted last month by the Tarrance Group, found that 47 percent of likely voters favored outright legalization and 48 percent opposed legalization. And voters strongly backed lighter prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

A major difference between the two polls: The Tarrance poll was in selected Republican-held state Senate districts where voters are more conservative; the Quinnipiac survey was a statewide survey that polled all types of voters.

Pollsters and pundits are at pains to say what’s causing the shift in attitudes, but they note that it’s happening with same-sex marriage, as well.

The Tarrance poll, for instance, showed that likely voters in the GOP Senate districts favored same-sex marriage by 54-39 percent — a cumulative 14 percentage-point shift since its last poll in April. And by 67-27 percent, voters said they supported giving homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to health care, emergency situations and property rights.

But the favorable sentiment concerning gay marriage is eclipsed by the change in perceptions over marijuana.

Despite the trends in favor of marijuana decriminalization in one form or other, some surveys show, the argument that medical marijuana leads to complete legalization can be a potent tool to defeat the proposed amendment.

But getting their message out will be expensive. It can cost a political candidate nearly $2 million a week to run enough statewide ads so that the average viewer sees them 10 times. For political committees, the cost of such a media buy can cost about double what it costs candidates, who get the lowest rates.

Also, because of the broad array of TV choices and channels, voters are tougher to reach and persuade nowadays, requiring ever-more sophisticated efforts to identify the right way and time to reach them.

Burning so much money in an ad campaign puts an emphasis on fundraising for political groups. And polls drive fundraising.

Add it all together — the lack of ad time, the higher costs and the popular polling _ and anti-drug crusaders know they face a tough campaign.

But they’re still going to try, said Lana Beck, spokeswoman for the St. Petersburg-based Drug Free America Foundation and Save Our Society From Drugs, the lead organizations opposed to the amendment along with law-enforcement agencies.

“We will be educating at the grass-roots level,” Beck said.

John Morgan, an Orlando trial lawyer funding and leading the effort through his group People United for Medical Marijuana, hopes the opposition stays that way.

“If this is a word-of-mouth campaign, a grass-roots effort, we win,” Morgan said.

AFP Photo/Desiree Martin

Clinton Speaks At University Of Miami, Sidestepping Questions About Possible Bid

By Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — Hillary Clinton, the once and current Democratic front-runner for president, spoke Wednesday at the University of Miami, in an appearance where she touched on the chaos in Venezuela, climate change and the traps of partisanship.

One topic she conspicuously avoided: whether she’ll officially run for president in 2016.

When asked about her future plans — noted in her Twitter bio as “TBD,” or to be determined — Clinton slipped the question.

“Well, I’d really like to. But I have no characters left,” Clinton said with a laugh, referencing the 140-character limits of Twitter.

“I will certainly ponder that.”

But earlier, in addressing the 6,000 or so students and guests, Clinton might have given a hint about her future plans.

“No one can or should sit on the sidelines,” said Clinton, who also noted the need to “get beyond the partisanship … beyond all the political dead ends and decide that that’s just not who we are.”

As with a September speech Clinton gave in Miami, her appearance was highly stage-managed and had trappings of a campaign event. There were no questions from, or nearness to, the press.

The main difference between Clinton’s address at the BankUnited Center and those given at the venue by President Barack Obama in the 2012 election cycle: Clinton stayed for a question-and-answer session.

The questions from students were pre-screened and asked by UM President Donna Shalala, who worked in Bill Clinton’s administration as health secretary. Shalala called Clinton her “friend and colleague in too many adventures to count.”

In a nod to the sizable number of Venezuelan students and residents in Miami-Dade, Shalala made sure to ask Clinton, the former secretary of state under Obama, about the chaos in Caracas under President Nicolas Maduro’s regime.

Clinton acknowledged longstanding problems with Venezuela and Cuba and expressed a measure of regret that their respective leaders had no interest in truly normalizing relations and democratizing.

“We saw Venezuela, which is such a rich country — a beautiful country — going backward. First under President (Hugo) Chavez’s rule, now in the present day, with President Maduro,” she said.

“We tried. We tried to engage with President Chavez at that very first meeting,” Clinton said.

Clinton said Obama had hopes for a change.

“If I meet him, I will be cordial. I will shake his hand,” Obama said of Chavez, according to Clinton.

“It happened. Lots of pictures,” Clinton said. “And then unfortunately, rather than it being an opening to find ways to work together — unfortunately, it went backwards instead of forward.”

Clinton also fielded a question from Shalala about Syrian President Bashar Assad’s murderous regime and its still-unfulfilled promise to remove chemical weapons.

“We have to stay focused on getting the chemical weapons stocks out of Syria,” Clinton said.

Clinton was never asked about a major foreign-policy controversy that occurred while she served as secretary of state: the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomats and agents in Benghazi, Libya.

Clinton “will have to answer for Benghazi,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a likely candidate for president, told CNN Tuesday.

“I think she’s going to be asked to account for her time as secretary of state and I don’t think it’s the sterling success people think it is,” Rubio said. “Quite frankly, much of the foreign policy failures we see in place today began when she ran the Department of State.”

Clinton’s speech in Coral Gables is just a few miles from Rubio’s West Miami home and the Coral Gables residence of another potential Republican contender, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Like Clinton, Bush has ducked the topic of running for president, saying he’ll decide later this year or next.

On Monday, in a speech in Long Island, N.Y., Bush acknowledged that his last name might be a problem. But so would Clinton’s. Bush’s brother and father were both president. In between, Bill Clinton served.

So there might be Bush and Clinton fatigue.

“It’s an issue for sure,” Bush said.

Right now, early national and Florida polls show Clinton’s a clear favorite for Democrats and would beat Bush or Rubio — even in their home state. In a Quinnipiac University survey last month, she led Bush by 6 percentage points and Rubio by 10 points.

Clinton never mentioned any of her potential rivals by name. She did recall her amazement at how, after she traveled a broad as secretary of state, foreigners were amazed that she was offered her post by Obama after a hard-fought campaign.

Shalala said Clinton came to UM at her invitation and gave the school a “highly discounted” rate for her appearance, for which Clinton sometimes charges upward of $200,000. The speaking fee was reimbursed by an anonymous donor, Shalala said.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

‘Cocaine Congressman’ Trey Radel Resigns; Bitter GOP Primary Ahead

by Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — In the fallout from his cocaine bust last year, Fort Myers, Florida, Congressman Trey Radel (R-FL) submitted his resignation Monday because, he said, he couldn’t escape the “serious consequences” of his actions.

“While I have dealt with those issues on a personal level,” Radel wrote to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, “it is my belief that professionally I cannot fully and effectively serve as a United States Representative to the place I love and call home, Southwest Florida.”

Radel, who will officially leave office at 6:30 p.m., announced he was quitting just as a House inquiry into his cocaine use started to get under way. Governor Rick Scott will call a special election to fill the vacancy.

In a sign of a looming and acrimonious intra-Republican Party squabble, candidates and potential candidates had already started jockeying to run for the seat. And they and their surrogates are already attacking each other.

Since last week, a Republican political committee and the state GOP have been feuding over rival ads involving announced candidate Paige Kreegel and Florida Senate Republican leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, who is expected to run for District 19.

Benacquisto is spending about $500,000 in her state Senate campaign money on ads.

That prompted a political committee called Values are Vital, which backs Kreegel, to counter with its own ads attacking her as “bait-and-switch Benacquisto.” The committee accuses her of trying to boost her name ID and get around a federal ban on spending corporate donations, which fill her Senate account, for congressional campaigns.

Last week, the Republican Party of Florida weighed in on Benacquisto’s behalf and told local TV stations to pull the “patently false” ads from Values are Vital, which is a so-called “SuperPAC.”

The committee, in turn, defended the spots and attacked the state party for trying “to chill the First Amendment Rights of Values Are Vital … regarding the motivations underlying Senator Benacquisto’s recent advertising campaign.”

Former Congressman Connie Mack has talked to others about potentially running for the Fort Myers-based seat he used to have and former candidate Chauncey Goss hasn’t ruled out a bid, either. Both Goss and Kreegel, a former state representative, ran against Radel and lost in 2012.

The congressional seat is solidly Republican. Mitt Romney won it with 61 percent of the vote in 2012, when the GOP presidential candidate lost statewide to President Obama by about a point.

Radel’s resignation comes months after he was arrested for buying more than 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover cop in Washington in October.

Nicknamed the “cocaine congressman” thereafter, the 37-year-old political newcomer had planned to stay in his seat and rebuffed calls for him to step down from Scott, the state and local GOP and local newspapers.

By quitting, Radel effectively ends the House investigation into his drug use.

A group that filed a congressional complaint against Radel, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, issued a press statement noting the “suspicious timing” of his resignation. It called on Congress to investigate more.

“Who introduced the first-term lawmaker — who lived in Washington less than 10 months — to his drug dealer?” the group’s executive director, Melanie Sloan, said in a written statement.

“Further, we know Rep. Radel shared his cocaine with others,” she said. “Who, exactly? Given his short tenure in D.C., Rep. Radel most likely spent his free time with other members of Congress and Hill staff.”

But Republicans in Washington and Florida, are focused for now on replacing Radel, not investigating.

From the district to Tallahassee to Washington, Benacquisto’s potential candidacy has garnered a significant amount of buzz compared to Kreegel and the other potential candidates.

She plans to fly this week to Washington to meet this week with Republican strategists and financiers.

Relatively well-known in the area and telegenic, Benacquisto represents much of the congressional district already and is the only well-known potential female candidate in a party that is struggling to attract more women to its male-dominated ranks.

Kreegel, a physician, said he wanted to represent the district to tackle “Obamacare, to Washington’s out-of-control spending, to the breaches of national security.”

Both Kreegel and Benacquisto said Radel made the right call.

“I will consider the best way I can be of service to Florida and our region,” Benacquisto said. “This includes talking to my neighbors, my friends, and my family to seek their guidance moving forward.”

AFP Photo/Drew Angerer