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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

State Department removes promotion of Trump's Mar-a-Lago

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. State Department has removed its promotional posting about President Donald Trump's Florida resort, after a storm of ethics criticism Monday.

In an April 4 blog post that was republished by several U.S. embassies abroad, Mar-a-Lago was described as "Trump's Florida estate," where he has hosted foreign leaders. "By visiting this 'winter White House,' Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago's original owner and designer," the post said.

Left unsaid: Mar-a-Lago is part of Trump's business empire. After his election, the resort doubled its membership fee to $200,000. As president, Trump has visited the property seven times, and its restaurant fills up when he's in town.

The State Department said late Monday that its intention was "to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders" and that it regrets "any misperception." That statement now appears in place of the original blog post.

The White House did not respond to questions about whether it had any involvement in the original posting or the decision to take it down.

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'The House is prepared to walk away,' K-12 education budget chairman says

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, addresses a luncheon audience at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. on Jan. 26, 2017 with Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, left.

Kristen M. Clark / Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, addresses a luncheon audience at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. on Jan. 26, 2017 with Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, left.

If House Republicans follow through this week on plans to vote on a budget for 2017-18 that simply mirrors this year's, they will have to scrap a slew of top education priorities they had sought this year and worked for months to craft -- including their $200 million "schools of hope" plan to provide incentives for specialized, high-performing charter schools to set up in predominantly low-income areas.

"Our responsibility, constitutionally, is to pass a budget, so if it means that's what we have to do and walk away, then that's what we have to do," House pre-K-12 education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, told the Herald/Times mid-afternoon on Monday. "We come back next session -- which, September starts committee [weeks] -- and we go back at it again."

The House's backroom offer over the weekend of what its calling a "continuation budget" was rebuffed by Senate leaders, leaving the two chambers deadlocked. The House isn't backing down, though.

MORE: "Stalemate in the Florida Capitol as budget talks collapse" …

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After years of impasse, legislators seem to be conceding courts are now driving gambling train

Slot machines

Miami Herald files

Slot machines

House and Senate leaders conceded Monday that years of Legislative stalemate over the future of slot machine expansion in Florida -- including whether Miami-Dade will be home to additional casinos -- may come to an end not because of their actions but because the courts have forced their hand.

Lawmakers convened a conference committee Monday to work out the differences between their vastly different gambling bills aimed at renewing the gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe. But, in the process they concluded that no matter what they do, a series of court rulings may be driving the train.

“There’s too many lawsuits out there. We have to act,’’ said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, the House's chief gambling negotiator. He noted  that numerous court rulings over the last few years have been nipping away at the compact with the Seminole Tribe by allowing gambling to expand in violation of the compact without legislative approval. …

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Lack of enthusiasm for Jeb Bush prompted John Kasich to run, according to new book

John Kasich's new book contains "little digs" toward Jeb Bush, per the Cincinnati Enquirer:

They respected his money, all right, and the fact that he was theoretically competing with Kasich for people who were drawn to an establishment governor. But the book has little digs toward Bush.

On Kasich's first trip to New Hampshire, early in 2015, former New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu told him: "Bush can't win here in New Hampshire."

"For whatever reason," Kasich explains, "people weren't excited about Jeb's candidacy." That helped push Kasich into the race.

When Bush dropped out, after the South Carolina primary, Kasich says: "Voters just hadn't responded to his message." It's clear Kasich views his campaign differently.

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Trump's oil drilling talk concerns Florida politicians

As President Trump moves on an executive order reviewing oil regulations, bipartisan concern is flowing from Florida.

"For years, politicians in Washington have tried to force drilling off Florida's beaches — and now President Trump is joining their club. I wonder how he'd like an oil rig off the coast of Mar-a-Lago?" Democrat Gwen Graham said in a Facebook post Monday, touting her role as a U.S. representative on legislation to ban drilling. "Democrats must stand up to Trump and fight to permanently ban drilling off our beaches."

But it's not just Democrats. Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan recently joined an effort to warn the administration.

"As you begin your service as Secretary of the Interior, we are writing to convey our strong opposition to offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico," reads the letter to Ryan Zinke. "Drilling in this area threatens Florida’s multi-billion-dollar, tourism-driven economy and is incompatible with the military training and weapons testing that occurs there."

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After private talks crash, Corcoran wants 'continuation budget'

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

Tampa Bay Times

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Legislature, still getting over the shock of former Miami Sen. Frank Artiles' resignation after a racist tirade, faced a new problem Monday as backroom talks on a new state budget suddenly collapsed.

That led to a flurry of insults and brought negative comparisons of the Legislature to the perpetually gridlocked Congress, along with talk of extending the 60-day session by at least one week.

If the House carries out its threat to send the Senate a "take it or leave it" budget Tuesday, it could cause a chain reaction and ruin negotiations on major policy issues, all of which are related to the budget, including:

* A $200 million "Schools of Hope" program to expand charter schools, a House priority;

* A new water reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce toxic discharges, a Senate priority;

* A compromise on paying for a modest boost in per-pupil public school spending without requiring higher property taxes.

* The House's support for a statewide referendum to increase the homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000. …

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House's testing bill set to expand, setting up negotiations with Senate

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah

Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah

Lawmakers in the Florida House plan to take a priority proposal aimed at reforming the standardized testing schedule in K-12 public schools and transform it into a broader education policy bill — a move intended to set up negotiations with the Senate with less than two weeks left in the 2017 session.

Members of the House Education Committee will vote Monday afternoon to expand HB 773 through a 76-page amendment — filed late Sunday by bill sponsor Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. The amendment would replace the bill so it incorporates language not only from Diaz’s original measure but also from at least five other education bills lawmakers have considered to varying degrees.

Such a strategic move is typical at this point in session but often draws criticism over a lack of transparency. Individual policy bills that stalled in committee can find new life through omnibus bills lawmakers create by attaching those smaller proposals on to a single, expanded bill that’s still on track to reach the floor.

Senators last week similarly expanded their testing proposal (SB 926), although the tangential education policies being added to each chamber’s testing bill don’t yet align.

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Jeff Miller joins lobbying shop in Washington

WASHINGTON - Former Rep. Jeff Miller has joined the Washington lobbying firm McDermott Will & Emery.

A news release noted he was "an early supporter of President Trump" and has gotten to know Washington well over eight House terms.

“Jeff’s knowledge of the Administration will be of great value to clients,” said Steve Ryan, partner and head of McDermott’s Government Strategies practice. “His congressional experience will enhance our ability to serve clients in the health care, defense and intelligence industries, and he will provide our government contracting clients with valuable insights and comprehensive solutions to a wide range of complex issues.”

Miller joins a host of former Florida lawmakers who have joined lobbying practices, including Daniel Mica, Robert Wexler, Connie Mack IV, Allen Boyd, Karen Thurman, Cliff Stearns, Jim Davis, Ron Klein, Lincoln Diaz-Balart. (who are we missing?) …

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SBA leader Linda McMahon to travel to Orlando for Hispanic business event

WASHINGTON - Small Business Administration head Linda McMahon will travel to Orlando on Tuesday for a roundtable with Hispanic business owners.

McMahon, of WWE fame, was confirmed by the Senate in February.

From a news release:

"The day will start with a tour of the National Entrepreneur Center (NEC) at the Orlando Fashion Square Mall and she will host a round table with Hispanic small business owners from across Central Florida. The round table is co-hosted by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando and Prospera (both entities lease space at the NEC). Adm. McMahon will dine at Cork and Fork, a local Orlando restaurant after the round table."

Correction: The post has been updated to reflect the meeting is Tuesday.

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Jury selection starts for former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown's fraud trial

Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla. talks with the press in Tallahassee in 2015.

Associated Press

Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla. talks with the press in Tallahassee in 2015.

JACKSONVILLE — Jury selection is starting in the trial of a former Florida congresswoman facing fraud charges.

The jury selection process is expected to last two days, starting Monday, in the trial of former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown.

The Florida Times-Union reports that prosecutors and defense attorneys hope to seat 12 jurors by Wednesday when opening arguments are set to begin in federal court in Jacksonville.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Rep. Corrine Brown indicted after fraud investigation

Brown's indictment states that she and others raised $800,000 through the charity One Door for Education. The indictment said the organization only gave out two scholarships for $1,200, and that the money was instead used for the congresswoman's personal expenses.

Brown's former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, and former One Door president Carla Wiley already have pleaded guilty.

Brown has pleaded not guilty.


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Talks stall as Senate blasts House's 'continuation budget' offer

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart

Tampa Bay Times

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart

Negotiations between the Florida House and Senate on a state budget are at a stalemate after the House on Sunday proposed a "continuation budget" for the fiscal year that begins July 1, meaning that current spending levels would remain flat with no cuts, no new initiatives and no hometown projects for legislators.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, made his offer in response to what he said was a liberal, free-spending Senate obsessed with higher spending and a lack of respect for the House. Corcoran viewed that as a serious offer, in part because it would keep in place the current spending levels for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida for another 12 months.

But Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, didn't take it seriously.

"That's not an offer. That's the equivalent of packing your suitcase and moving out," Negron told the Times/Herald. "It's a reflexive and lazy response to our responsibility for budgeting."

Negron's chief budget-writer, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said: "We laughed and went home." …

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Rubio says government shutdown would be 'catastrophic'

Sen. Marco Rubio on Face the Nation said a government shutdown would have a "catastrophic impact" across the globe.

[Times files]

Sen. Marco Rubio on Face the Nation said a government shutdown would have a "catastrophic impact" across the globe.

Sen. Marco Rubio on Face the Nation said a government shutdown would have a “catastrophic impact” across the globe.

“The fight from the White House perspective is over funding for the border wall,” host John Dickerson said. “Is that an issue worth fighting over right now, if a government shutdown is a possible -- is a possibility?”


"Well, first, understand, we’re just trying to finish out the current cycle, the current budget year. And so I think that’s a fight worth having and a conversation and a debate worth having for 2018. And if we can do some of that now, that would be great. But we cannot shut down the government right now. We have a potential crisis brewing with North Korea. We have seen what’s going on, the ongoing crisis in Syria. …

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Rubio denies involvement in Colombian meeting at Mar-a-Lago

Sen. Marco Rubio on Sunday denied a role in setting up a meeting at Mar-a-Lago between former Colombian presidents opposed to a peace deal.

Appearing on Meet The Press, Rubio also expressed understanding for President Trump's shifting positions.

"I think when you're running for president, especially someone that's never held elected office, there's one set of things that you may view the world through-- a lens that you may view the world through. Then, you get elected and you get good people. And those good people bring you the facts. And they bring you, "Here's what's going on. Here are our options. Here's what happens if you do this. Here's what happens when you do that." And that reality begins to assert itself. And you have to react to that. You're now the president. You're no longer a candidate. You're not a pundit. You have to actually make decisions that have real impact and consequence. And I think that's what you're seeing here. I think you're seeing a president--


Do you think he's moving away from maybe the isolationist rhetoric and tendencies that he had as a candidate?


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Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics

Loser of the week

Frank Artiles. The Miami Republican who resigned Friday after a tirade of racial slurs was a patsy for utility companies he was supposed to help regulate, paid hot calendar girls as campaign "consultants" and was once accused of sucker-punching a college kid in a Tallahassee bar. Don't let the door hit you where the good Lord split you on your way out of the Legislature, Frank.

Loser of the week II

Miami-Dade. Former Sen. Artiles, R-Miami, said his racist slurs were common words in Hialeah. Let's hope not, although the Miami-Dade community saw another legislator, Ralph Arza, resign over racist language in 2006. On the same day Artiles resigned, news came that former state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, will plead guilty to failing to file a tax return on income of $270,000 in 2011. Wonder why so many Floridians mistrust Miami-Dade politicians.

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How Frank Artiles went from exposed to ousted

Frank Artiles.

Times files

Frank Artiles.

The Times/Herald team of Patricia Mazzei, Steve Bousquet and Mary Ellen Klas bring us an extraordinary tick-tock of a memorable week in the Florida Capitol:

Last Monday afternoon, at the start of the state Legislature’s seventh week of session, Sen. Audrey Gibson raced up three floors to present one of her bills to the Florida Senate’s Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.

Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, stood behind the lectern and tried to catch her breath as she told colleagues about a 6-year-old from back home who had been involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility for three days for a “temper tantrum.” She filed legislation to require such facilities to speed up their evaluation of the about 30,000 admitted each year under the state’s Baker Act.

But a Miami Republican on the committee had questions. Wouldn’t it cost more money for the facilities to work faster? Sen. Frank Artiles asked. Only for more transportation, Gibson said. Artiles continued: If a child is released before 72 hours have gone by and has a psychotic break, won’t lawmakers just be forced to change the law again? …

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