Pod Save America: “Impeachment: We’re In It.”

In this episode:

Trump says he’s open to background check legislation, House Democrats announce they’re in the middle of an impeachment inquiry, Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide is investigated, and the media focuses on Joe Biden’s latest gaffes. Then Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell talks to Jon L. about impeachment, immigration, and more.

CBS Miami: “Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell Visits South Miami-Dade Facility For Unaccompanied Migrant Children”

SOUTH MIAMI-DADE (CBSMiami) – The Department of Health and Human Services announced Saturday, that it is keeping a temporary emergency migrant shelter in Oklahoma ready to open at a moments notice and has no plans to send children there, but the department still has no update on the future status of the South Miami-Dade facility for unaccompanied migrant children.

As the announcement was sent out nationwide, Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell returned to the South Miami-Dade facility as an oversight visit and member of the judiciary committee.

Saturday was her seventh visit.

“Every time, I leave as disturbed as my first visit,” Mucarsel-Powell said.

The congresswoman said there were just more than 600 children at the facility and many are 17-years-old.

“I met a young woman today who pleaded with me because she knows what’s going to happen. She has been told she will be sent to ICE on her 18th birthday,” Mucarsel-Powell said.

The numbers Saturday show a large decrease from numbers released Monday. HHS said there were close to a 1,000 children at the facility.

“It’s surprising to me since I’ve been asking for these kids to be reunified with their families since February. Apparently, in two weeks they found the will to do this,” said Mucarsel-Powell.

HHS said, on average, children are at the facility for less than two months. Department leaders say new policy shortened the stay, the number of people crossing the border is down and additional unaccompanied children are going to permanent facilities instead of temporary ones like the South Miami-Dade facility.

“I still have not received a clear outline where these kids have gone. I want to make sure they are with their appropriate family members and sponsors,” Mucarsel-Powell said.

Caliburn, the company running day-to-day operations said sponsors are being vetted for the safety of children.

As for one of the children inside, the congresswoman said she met one who didn’t come alone and her father is in New York.

“She has been separated from her grandmother at the border, she hasn’t heard from her grandmother since,” Mucarsel-Powell said.

HHS describes an unaccompanied minor as one who doesn’t have a legal guardian or parent in the United States or the parent/guardian can’t care for the child or have physical custody.

In a statement on the status of the facility in Oklahoma, a spokesperson said,

“Over the last several weeks HHS has experienced a decrease in Department of Homeland Security referrals of unaccompanied alien children (UAC). Additionally, HHS has been placing UAC with sponsors at a historically high rate. As such, the UAC Program does not have an immediate need to place children in influx facilities.  For this reason HHS operations at Fort Sill will be placed in warm status, retaining site access to ensure continuity of operations in the event of an increase in UAC referrals or an emergency situation.  Please note, no UAC have been placed at Fort Sill since its current activation. DoD has been an exemplary partner in this humanitarian response to ensure temporary shelter is available in a time of potential need. DoD facilities are activated as a last resort to shelter UAC. We appreciate and look forward to DoD’s continued partnership as we develop efficient, cost-effective strategies to address variations in border crossings by UAC. As HHS continuously states, migration patterns are unpredictable and we are likely to see an uptick in the number of referrals made to HHS this fall, based on historical trends. Therefore it is prudent to continue coordination and site preparation with DoD should full activation be required in the future. We will continue to keep Congress, local officials, and stakeholders informed of future actions pertaining to the Fort Sill site.”

ABOUT THE FACILITY 

The South Miami-Dade shelter, which is the only for-profit child detention center in the country, houses children ages 13 to 17 years old.

It is the largest child detention center in the United States for unaccompanied minors.

The facility is run by Caliburn International, a Virginia based company awarded a government contract to manage the center.

President Donald Trump’s former Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, is on the company’s board.

Caliburn International operates the facility under a no-bid contract that is worth more than $350 million.

They are waiting to be reunited with their families or paired with sponsors once they are screened by the U.S. government.

Many of the children are fleeing gang and domestic violence and will end up seeking asylum.

Children sleep up to 12 per room in steel-framed bunk beds, and warehouse-sized, air-conditioned white tents where minors attend classes and watch movies.

The facility has a command center. Inside are cameras, computers, and staff members who watch over the kids. They keep track of how many kids are in the shelter and how many are moved.

The children have school six hours a day and there are recreational activities.

At night, lights go out in the rooms at 10 p.m. but are left on in the hallways. The children are awakened each day at 6:30 a.m. for a full day’s program of activities and classes.

During the day, the kids are provided breakfast, lunch, dinner, and three snacks.

The children meet with their attorneys once a week. They also have access to clinicians and social workers.

On their arrival, they are given a five day supply of clothes, laundry is done every other day.

The facility, contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services, is surrounded by chain-link fence, but there is no barbed wire. There are guards, but they are not armed. Doors have been removed from the dormitory bedrooms.

View the original article here.

Sunshine State News: “Rubio, Mucarsel-Powell Team Up on Coast Guard Infrastructure Bill”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is pairing up with a South Florida Democrat on a proposal to help the Coast Guard clear its infrastructure backlog.

Rubio and U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, brought out the “Coast Guard Shore Infrastructure Improvement Act” this week.

Pairing up with U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., brought out the “Coast Guard Shore Infrastructure Improvement Act” last month.  Pointing to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report which showed a project backlog of $2.6 billion and which found that 45 percent of shoreside assets have exceeded their service lives, the two representatives insisted the bill would help alleviate those problems. The bill would have the Coast Guard commandant create a plan to “standardize Coast Guard facility assessments, establish baseline measurements to track effectiveness of maintenance and repair investments, and implement the GAO’s recommendations to better manage its maintenance projects.

Rubio brought out the Senate of the bill on Tuesday.

“Florida is home to four Coast Guard Sectors and multiple units, including stations, equipped with shore infrastructure assets that are vital to executing Coast Guard missions,” Rubio said. “This legislation seeks to address the Coast Guard’s maintenance backlog, which includes construction and improvements to facilities damaged by recent hurricanes. We must ensure that this critical infrastructure is up to par to support our servicemen and women who are always ready to protect our nation.”

“The brave men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard do an amazing job protecting the homeland day in and day out and often on a moment’s notice, in some of the toughest conditions,” Sullivan said. “By implementing the GAO’s recommendations proposed in this bill, we can ensure that our Coast Guard’s shore side infrastructure is up to the standards these men and women deserve and need to effectively serve our nation.”

“I am proud to introduce this bipartisan bill to standardize maintenance of Coast Guard installations as we prepare to bring our national defense to the 21st century and combat the effects of climate change at home,” said Mucarsel-Powell when she introduced her bill last month. “At U.S. Coast Guard stations in my district, Coast Guard members spend off-duty time doing repairs and maintenance on their station – instead of resting and preparing for their next assignment. The infrastructure maintenance backlog is hurting our Coast Guard’s readiness and making us less secure, and I’m pleased that we can tackle this serious issue on a bipartisan basis.”

“America’s prosperity, security and future rely on the global economic advantage of our maritime transportation system – and that system depends on the Coast Guard and its partnership with industry to keep waterborne commerce moving safely and efficiently,” said Graves. “With an aging fleet and facilities that are falling apart, the Coast Guard’s readiness is jeopardized. This solution just makes sense – we can save taxpayers money and keep our Coasties focused on delivering the services our economy and national security depend upon.”

Rubio’s bill was sent to the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

The House passed its version of the bill on a voice vote on Wednesday when it was included into the Coast Guard Authorization Act.

Mucarsel-Powell took to the House floor to urge its passage.

“I rise in support of this bill, which incorporates the Coast Guard Shore Infrastructure Improvement Act that I introduced with Representative Garret Graves of Louisiana. It directs the Commandant of the Coast Guard to tackle the maintenance backlog of its shore infrastructure. The Coast Guard currently has a $2.6 billion project backlog, and 45 percent of its assets have exceeded their service lives,” she said. “We must rebuild our Coast Guard in a strategic way – one that accounts for stronger storms that will only worsen with climate change. This bill will ensure that the Coast Guard has the processes in place to carry out crucial shore infrastructure repairs.

“Coasties often spend their personal time working on infrastructure improvements. It is unacceptable that they have to sacrifice their rest and family time to repair crumbling buildings,” she added. “Passing this bill will help ensure America’s security, the success of our Coast Guard, and the well-being of our service members.”

View the original article here.

WATCH: Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s full questioning of Robert Mueller | Mueller testimony

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Miami Herald: “VENEZUELA Democrats will force a House vote on TPS for Venezuelans. They’ll need GOP support”

An urgent push by Democrats to pass a measure in Congress that would give Venezuelans temporary legal status in the U.S. is running up against the clock, with the House of Representatives set to go into summer recess Friday.

To get the measure to a vote, House Democrats are suspending the rules so they can quickly take up a bill to grant Venezuelans Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, sponsored by Florida Reps. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. But suspending the rules, a move normally used for noncontroversial bills like renaming post offices, comes with a catch: To pass, the bill must win support of two-thirds of the House instead of a simple majority.

That means about 55 Republicans — the exact number depends on how many members show up to vote on the bill — will need to side with Democrats on a bill that allows a specific group of undocumented immigrants to live and work legally in the U.S. without winning conservative concessions like funding for a border wall.

Miami-Dade must hold partisan elections for sheriff, court clerk, Supreme Court says

“I wanted to get this done before we went on our August recess,” said Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Miami, the first member of Congress born in South America. “I think that this is a moment when Republicans are going to have to make a decision on whether they truly support Venezuelans or not.”

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Though President Donald Trump has made promoting democracy in Venezuela a key pitch to South Florida voters ahead of the 2020 election, he hasn’t instructed his administration to grant TPS for Venezuelans despite rampant hunger, inflation and political violence in the country. The Department of Homeland Security runs the program with consultation from the State Department. The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t moved forward with TPS for Venezuelans a full seven months after the U.S. recognized Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader even though Nicolás Maduro maintains control of the military and lucrative oil fields.

“President Trump has, with sanctions and other actions that I’ve certainly supported, taken steps to put pressure internally on Venezuela,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who represents one of the largest Venezuelan communities in the country. “The most immediate thing we can do is grant them TPS. It is the morally right thing to grant TPS because it’s what we can do in our control completely. If the bill reaches his desk, would he even sign it? It shows you how committed he is.”

Democrats don’t know if enough Republicans will join them on TPS to pass the bill immediately, with one aide putting the chances of passage at about 30 percent. Soto and Diaz-Balart’s bipartisan bill passed the House Judiciary Committee in May on a 20-9 vote, a threshold that is just over the two-thirds majority needed to pass the entire House of Representatives.

Diaz-Balart, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, urged Democrats to put the bill on the floor back in May.

“I urge the Democratic Leadership to bring this important legislation to the floor, and I commend my dear friend and colleague, Representative Soto, on his hard work in bringing attention to this legislation that would meet the acute need to provide Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan nationals in the United States,” Diaz-Balart, a Republican, said in a statement.

Passing the bill would give Venezuelan citizens currently living in the U.S. the ability to stay and work legally for 18 months, and it would prevent them from being deported.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a key advisor to the White House on Venezuela policy, noted that deporting Venezuelans is not a priority given the political situation and lack of commercial flights. But Venezuelans can still be detained inside the U.S. and 336 Venezuelans were deported in the last fiscal year, according to DHS.

Wasserman Schultz said she anticipates a majority of Florida Republicans will back the fast-tracked bill. But other Republicans who typically balk at voting for immigration bills without conservative provisions could be wary of backing the bill.

Soto said he’s hopeful that more Republicans will back TPS after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Orlando Sentinel “we’re looking at it” in an interview on Sunday.

“Time is of the essence … however, seeing Pompeo’s statements just yesterday gives me a sense that they might be reconsidering their position and we welcome it,” Soto said. “Anything immigration-related becomes controversial under the Trump administration. I suspect that many Republicans are caught between general anti-immigrant rhetoric, which has become popular, along with the understanding that Venezuela needs our help.”

Passing the bill with a bipartisan vote would put pressure on the U.S. Senate to act. Rubio and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez have a nearly identical TPS bill, though it hasn’t moved through committees in the GOP-controlled Senate. Senators are in session until Aug. 2, giving them an additional week to consider the bill if the House passes it.

Wasserman Schultz said the bill could move quickly in the U.S. Senate and Trump could sign it into law before the August recess, depending on the priority given to it by Republican leaders.

“If they want to pay more than lip service, they will help us fast-track this legislation and send it to the president’s desk and not put undue pressure on Venezuelans,” Wasserman Schultz said.

View the original article here.

South Dade Newsleader: “Good News for South Florida Funding”

Over the past few weeks, the House has been busy debating how each part of the federal government – including our national defense – will be funded. I’m pleased that in these bills there is good news for South Florida!

We approved funding that invests in South Florida and ensures our priorities – including investments in clean energy, the fight against climate change, critical resources for Everglades Restoration, and water infrastructure – are national priorities. I’m proud we’re funding local health and education programs I fought for, because our economy and wellbeing depend on healthy Everglades and healthy communities. We stood up against President Trump’s proposed extreme cuts to our environment and ensured Florida’s ecosystems are protected. This funding made essential investments in our infrastructure, economy, environment, and communities, so we can all thrive.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a top concern for the Miami area, which has the highest rate of new diagnoses in the country, with racial and ethnic minorities making up three of four new cases. During this process, I led a provision that is critical for Miami-Dade County: an increase in the allocation of funding for the Minority AIDS Initiative Fund by $5 million, bringing the total for the Fund up to $65 million. We can end HIV/AIDS in our lifetimes, but only if we make meaningful investments in research and outreach.=

But there were plenty more wins.

We approved funding for critical community development and housing assistance for South Florida, including our request for $170 million for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, known as NeighborWorks America. NeighborWorks America provides financial support, technical

assistance, leadership development and training for community-based development in the United States. Affordable housing is not easily accessible to many families, so I will keep fighting so everyone in South Florida can have reliable quality housing.

Of all the funding we approved, I am most proud to be supporting our veterans. They have sacrificed immensely for our country, and we must fulfill our promise to take care of them and their families after their service is over. The House approved $222 million for veteran suicide prevention and outreach and included a provision to ensure the veteran crisis line provides an immediate response. The House also stressed the importance of hurricane-resistant buildings that serve our veterans. We cannot allow a hurricane to keep veterans from accessing life-saving services.

We also passed this year’s National Defense Authorization Act – funding that we need to build a strong, smart national defense strategy that prioritizes the fight against one of our biggest threats:

climate change. We cut down on wasteful spending while advocating for our men and women in uniform. I’m proud to have fought and voted for a 3.1 percent raise for men and women serving our great country.

We included important measures to help servicemembers and their

families transition back to civilian life when they choose to do so. If you serve your country, you should feel confident your government will have your back.

Our focus is working for the people – but that also means, especially in South Florida, fighting the devastating attacks of climate change. 97% of climate scientists, NASA, and the Department of Defense agree that climate change is real and a threat, yet some big corporations and the politicians they’ve bought in Washington deny the problem exists and risk leaving the real threat of climate change unaddressed.

We need to keep pushing forward legislation to reach our carbon emissions

reduction goals. We need to be ambitious, and we need to think big, but we need to do so thoughtfully. If we act now, we can protect our kids’ health while spurring innovation, making our economy stronger, and eventually saving Americans thousands of dollars a year in energy and health care costs.

The cost of inaction is becoming too great – we see it in South Florida every day. We can’t delay investments in environmentally-friendly infrastructure, so we can create the good-paying jobs of the future that South Florida needs.

Despite what you may see in the news, there is significant bipartisan

support for a lot of the measures I mentioned above. I have been working with Republicans to fully fund Everglades Restoration for the first time in years; protecting our coral reefs has been a priority for Congressman Francis Rooney and me; and the increased funding for the Minority AIDS Initiative Fund was approved with overwhelming bipartisan support.

My colleagues and I will continue to put pressure on the Senate to move these important initiatives forward, and we need you to make your voice heard, too.

I always want to hear from you, so I best advocate for you in Congress. So please contact me via my website and I promise to keep working so our government works for you.

View the original article here.

Florida Politics: “Debbie Mucarsel-Powell crosses $1 million raised for the year”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell says she’s added another $600,000 in fundraising in the second quarter of 2019. Combined with her first quarter numbers, the freshman congresswoman has now raised more than $1 million this year.

“We’re seeing incredible support and energy across South Florida for Debbie’s reelection campaign,” said spokesperson Blake Davis.

“We hear it in every corner of the district; South Floridians are energized by her fight to expand health care, lower prescription drug prices, make our schools safer, and protect the Everglades and coral reefs. She’s delivering on her election promises to deliver results for working families, and it’s reflected in this overwhelming grassroots support.”

Mucarsel-Powell earned more than $450,000 in the first quarter of 2019. With another $600,000 added in the second quarter, Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign said she has nearly $950,000 on hand, after expenses.

The campaign said 90 percent of individuals contributions were small donations, at $50 or less. Zooming in even more, 76 percent of donations were at $10 or below.

Muracsel-Powell defeated incumbent GOP U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo in 2018 by fewer than 2 percentage points. That gave her the seat in Florida’s 26th Congressional District.

Because of that margin, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has identified Mucarsel-Powell as a potentially vulnerable 2020 incumbent. The group added her to its Frontline Program, which aims to funnel resources to those tightly-contested seats.

But fundraising numbers like these will go a long way to securing Mucarsel-Powell’s position representing the Miami-Dade County district.

View the original article here.

Florida Politics: “As ACA court challenge resumes, Florida Dems blast Donald Trump health care stance”

Florida Democrats are hammering away at President Donald Trump as a federal appeals court readies to consider a lawsuit that could invalidate the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The Trump administration has declined to defend the ACA in court. Several Republican attorneys general filed the suit in 2018, arguing that the law is invalid after the Republican Congress eliminated the ACA’s tax penalty.

A lower court agreed. Now, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is readying to weigh in. Regardless of the outcome, the case will almost surely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This lawsuit would raise out-of-pocket costs for premiums and for prescription drugs,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said.

“That would be devastating for our senior population in Florida.”

Schultz was joined by fellow Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo in a conference call to reporters Tuesday. The trio discussed the impact of the lawsuit, should the ACA be invalidated, as well as Trump’s decision to decline to defend the law.

“This President is one of the cruelest politicians I’ve ever come across,” Wasserman Schultz added.

“President Trump is a con man and his health care plan is his cruelest scam yet.”

“The health care of millions of Floridians is on the line,” Mucarsel-Powell said.

“Trump and the Republicans are trying to do in the courts what they failed to do in Congress, which is to repeal our entire health care law.”

Those seeking to invalidate the ACA argue that the law cannot stand without the penalty. In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act as a proper exercise of Congress’ taxing authority. That “tax” is levied on Americans who refuse to purchase health care, under the law as originally passed.

But the GOP tax bill passed at the end of 2017 removed the penalty for individuals who decline to purchase health care. No tax, Republicans argue, means the entire law should be struck down.

This method of eliminating the ACA comes after Congress failed to approve a replacementdespite a push from President Trump.

“When Donald Trump campaigned for President, he promised the American people that we’re going to have great health care and it would be for a fraction of the price,” Rizzo said.

“But he certainly has not lived up to that promise.”

Wasserman Schultz agreed.

“The President promised better health coverage and he’s clearly, repeatedly lied to us all,” she said.

Mucarsel-Powell, who ran on protecting Americans coverage under the ACA, called Trump’s move “completely unacceptable.” And Rizzo argued the case could have repercussions for the 2020 election.

“This is another example of why Trump isn’t going to win in Florida,” Rizzo said.

“Because when voters ask themselves the question, ‘What has Donald Trump done for me?’ the answer is clear: nothing.

View the original article here.

The Wall Street Journal: “After Debates, Democrats Reunite at Florida Detention Facility Holding Migrant Children”

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — A half-dozen Democratic presidential candidates traveled to a detention center for unaccompanied minors Friday, highlighting party unity as they pledged to reverse the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

“You see here a lot of people who may have been competing for the last couple of days, but are absolutely on the same side” on the treatment of young asylum seekers, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg told reporters.

Joining Mr. Buttigieg were Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro. The group — accompanied by Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, whose district includes Homestead — attempted to use Mses. Harris, Gillibrand and Mucarsel-Powell’s positions in Congress to be allowed into the facility. As expected, they were denied. Self-help guru Marianne Williamson later joined the huddle outside.

The Department of Health and Human Services said the site wasn’t closed to visits, but that they needed to be pre-scheduled. The agency, which oversees the care of unaccompanied children while they await immigration proceedings, has contracted with a non-government company to run the Homestead facility. HHS denied accusations of mistreatment of minors at the facility and said children received health care, education and daily recreation.

The Trump administration has been scrambling to deal with a surge in Central American families and children seeking asylum at the southern border, and says resources have been stretched to the breaking point. But Democrats have criticized current migrant policy as overly harsh and inhumane, and a graphic photograph published this week of a Salvadoran father and toddler daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande ignited public outrage.

On Thursday, Congress sent a $4.6 billion bill funding humanitarian aid for migrants at the southern border to President Trump, of which nearly $2.9 billion will go towards care of unaccompanied children.

The visit to Homestead came the day after the second of two Democratic presidential debates in Miami, in which candidates attacked President Trump’s handling of the humanitarian crisis at the border but also took shots at others on stage.

Mr. Castro spoke emotionally about the drowned father and child, and attacked former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke at Wednesday night’s debate for not supporting the repeal of a provision in U.S. law making it a crime to enter the country without authorization. On Thursday night, all 10 candidates on stage said their health care proposals would cover undocumented immigrants, and instead clashed on other issues.

But the candidates’ anger over the Trump administration’s handling of undocumented immigrant children has banded the candidates together.

“Let’s be clear about what’s going on here, there are people who are literally profiting off the incarceration of children, reflect on that for a moment,” said Ms. Harris on Friday. She vowed that if she were elected president, one of her first actions would be to shut down for-profit detention facilities.

Marleine Bastien, the executive director of the pro-immigrant Family Action Network Movement, applauded the presidential candidates’s visit, butsaid she wanted action immediately. “They need to pressure Trump,” Ms. Bastien said as she stood atop a ladder looking over the fence at the children walking between buildings.

Ms. Bastien and other activists held up heart-shaped signs and shouted and waved at the children in the yard.

At various points Friday, most of the candidates walked down the road to the cluster of ladders to look over the fence.

Mr. Castro was visibly emotional as he waved a heart-shaped sign and described the children he was seeing on the other side, some of them in orange hats “the color of prison uniforms.” After being urged by the activists to say something to the children, Mr. Castro said — in Spanish — “We’re here for you. You’re not alone.”

— Chad Day Contributed to this article.

View the original article here.

CNN: “Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is an immigrant who lost her father to gun violence. Now she’s in Congress”

On a cold afternoon in January, newly elected Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida made her way to a demonstration in support of stricter gun control on the grounds of the US Capitol.

“Oh my god. This is powerful,” she said in a quiet voice as she approached and saw a crowd gathering. “I’m going to cry.”
At the center of the crowd was a life-sized sculpture of Joaquin Oliver, a teenager killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, nearly a year ago..

For Mucarsel-Powell, gun violence is a personal issue.

More than two decades ago, her father, Guido, was shot and killed outside of his home in Ecuador, the country where she was born and grew up before immigrating to the United States as a teenager.
Mucarsel-Powell was 24 years old when one of her sisters called to tell her what had happened.

“It was a very traumatic experience. It changed all of us,” she said, reflecting on the loss of her father. “You never forget. You learn to live with it, but you don’t forget.”

When she won her election in the 2018 midterms, Mucarsel-Powell made history as the first Ecuadorian-American and the first South American immigrant elected to Congress.

Her life story and the district she represents in South Florida — a community on the front lines of rising sea levels — give her a unique set of first-hand experiences with a set of issues the new House Democratic majority is on track to spotlight: gun violence, immigration and climate change.

Mucarsel-Powell hopes that adding her voice to the contentious debate over those issues — and talking about policy through a lens of personal experience — she may be able to chip away at or help break the gridlock and partisan battle lines drawn around them.

The congresswoman was recently appointed to the powerful House Judiciary Committee and has said that she plans to use her post to work on gun violence prevention as well as immigration issues. She will have one of her first opportunities to do that this week when the committee holds a hearing on gun violence in America.

Moving from Ecuador to the United States: ‘If you look at my story … only in this country that happens’

Mucarsel-Powell’s parents divorced when she was very young, and she, her mother and her three sisters left Ecuador to move to the United States when she was 14.

Her mother, Himelda, didn’t speak English when she first arrived, so she worked during the day and took classes at night and on weekends to learn. Mucarsel-Powell lived with her mother and sisters in a one-room apartment. At the age of 15, she started working at a doughnut shop while her sisters worked a variety of jobs to help support the family.

“Even though at the beginning it was very difficult, we were welcomed in a way that I think we didn’t expect — and we called this place our home quickly after that,” she said.

“If you look at my story and the things that I was able to achieve … only in this country that happens,” she said. “Only in the United States of America, does an immigrant like myself get that chance.”

Mucarsel-Powell calls President Donald Trump’s attacks on immigrants “offensive” and plans to use her platform to counter the anti-immigrant message coming from the White House.

“He loves to talk about us as criminals and people that commit crimes, and it’s just not true,” she said, referring to the President. “Here I am, a member of Congress and an immigrant.”

“It’s highly offensive, to me, to my mom, to my sisters, to my kids because their mother is an immigrant,” she said. “We need to bring a different conversation to the table, and I’m glad that I am now here to talk about that. I am an immigrant and how dare you call us criminals.”

As a member of Congress, Mucarsel-Powell hopes to focus attention on what’s happening in Central and South American countries that prompts people to leave their homes and immigrate to the United States. And she wants to push Congress to come up with ways that the US can address that underlying situation in those countries through channels like diplomacy and humanitarian assistance.

“We can’t tackle immigration issues here if we are not looking at what is causing these problems in our neighboring countries in South America,” she said, adding that she wants to see the US invest “resources, energy and our diplomatic efforts into working closely with governments in Central and South America.”

Mucarsel-Powell has called for increased humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people as the country confronts political and economic crisis and has introduced legislation to deliver direct humanitarian aid.

A focus on preventing gun violence: ‘Congress talks and then they take no action’

Mucarsel-Powell says that she wasn’t initially planning to make gun violence a centerpiece of her run for Congress. But that changed about a month after she launched her campaign when a gunman killed more than 50 people at a music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.

“Once again, I was reminded that Congress talks and then they take no action,” she said, recalling the aftermath of the shooting. “That’s when I decided that I had to share with everyone my personal story and to make the commitment that I was going to take action.”

She added, “When you meet others that have lost loved ones, that drives you to take action to do what you can so that no one has to go through what you went through.”

Mucarsel-Powell isn’t the only member of the House Democratic freshman class with a personal story about gun violence. Lucy McBath, who represents Georgia’s sixth congressional district, was a prominent gun control activist before she was elected to Congress. She lost her son Jordan Davis when he was shot and killed in 2012 at the age of 17.

“We’re becoming very close friends,” Mucarsel-Powell said of McBath, adding that “it was an emotional day” for both of them when former congresswoman and shooting survivor Gabby Giffords joined House Democrats in early January for the introduction of a universal background checks bill.

Mucarsel-Powell believes that the debate over gun violence changed in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, which led to a wave of youth activism in support of stricter gun control.

“I think that really changed the conversation. People started listening. They created a movement,” she said. “These kids, young adults, are holding all of us accountable and they don’t care whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican.”

There is no indication that the Republican-controlled Senate will take up a background checks bill or other gun control legislation, but Mucarsel-Powell still believes that the new House Democratic majority — working alongside activists — can be effective in pressuring the Senate to take up legislation like the background checks bill and other measures.

“There are Republicans in the Senate that are paying attention to public sentiment,” she said, pointing out that public opinion polling shows that a majority of Americans support expanded background checks. “That’s the way that we’re going to get something passed in the Senate.”

“I am optimistic that it’s a different time for us as we talk about gun reform,” she added.

Pushing for action on climate change: ‘We have to be aggressive. There is no other way.’

Mucarsel-Powell flipped a congressional seat from red to blue, defeating incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

But the fact that she represents a swing district hasn’t stopped her from signing on in support of the “Green New Deal,” an ambitious policy proposal to tackle climate change championed by liberal activists and progressive freshman Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Florida’s 26th congressional district is surrounded by water with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other and includes low-lying areas like the Everglades that are on the frontlines of rising sea levels.

When asked if she believes her district is ready to embrace something that critics have described as radical, Mucarsel-Powell answers in a very matter-of-fact way.
“We are ground zero for the effects of climate change in my district,” she said, “We only have about 10 to 12 years to change the direction that we’re taking as it relates to climate change. We have to be bold. We have to be aggressive. There is no other way.”

Adjusting to life in Washington and raising a family while serving in Congress

Now, Mucarsel-Powell has to divide her time between South Florida, where her husband and children live, and Washington, DC.

The congresswoman said she considers herself “very lucky” to have found a furnished apartment that was less expensive than many of the apartments she saw on the market. But added, “It’s a basement. It’s dark and cold, and it’s hard to be here without my family.”

“I think the hardest thing is to be without the kids and my husband,” she said.

Mucarsel-Powell wants to talk about what it’s like to be a newly elected member of Congress with young kids and hopes that speaking openly about it will encourage more women to run for office.

She hopes that mothers who are a part of the new freshman class will “show other women who are mothers that there’s a way that we can do it.”

“We’re figuring it out for ourselves. We don’t know yet. We’re all trying to figure out what’s going to be the best schedule for each of us that works for our kids,” she said. “My kids are in elementary and middle school and they need me.”

Later in the afternoon on the day that she attended the gun control demonstration, Mucarsel-Powell was walking through the hallways of the Capitol and talking to an aide when her phone started to ring.

She stopped walking and stepped to the side to answer a FaceTime call from her 13-year-old son.

When the call ended, she walked back over and resumed an earlier conversation on how she planned to vote later in the day.

Mucarsel-Powell says that she has asked veteran lawmakers like Kathy Castor and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Grace Meng of New York for advice on serving in Congress while also raising kids.

She also says that the diverse class of newly elected women lawmakers are a support network for one another as they all get used to the realities of living in Washington and serving in Congress.

“We share lipstick. We talk about shoes. We share coats. There’s definitely a sense of sisterhood,” she said while sitting in front of a desk in her congressional office with a nameplate on it that spells out in all capital letters, “the future is female.”

“I’m the youngest of four sisters, and I have always had a lot of strong women around me. So this for me is very comforting,” she said, adding, “A lot of us are becoming good friends and helping each other and supporting each other — even when we disagree.”