Fighting for Florida

Today, we mark the 53rd anniversary of the Brigade 2506’s efforts to liberate Cuba from the clutches of a communist dictatorship that had just taken hold at the time. The men that formed the Brigade represented a cross section of the Cuban population. They were rich and poor, of African and European descent and politically diverse, but all of them were united by their belief in democracy and freedom. Even after all these years, their proud legacy lives and stands as a symbol to all those who yearn and struggle to be free.

Sadly, Cuba continues to suffer at the hands of a dictatorship that has enslaved millions of innocent people and ravaged Cuba’s natural resources to help entrench them in power. There hasn’t been a free and fair election in Cuba in 54 years. The independent press there is non-existent. Cubans can’t freely access the Internet. And the systematic violation of human rights by the Castro regime has meant more political prisoners in their gulags. Furthermore, during that long stretch of time, the Cuban government has consistently stood against human rights, sponsored terrorism, actively undermined democratically elected governments and institutions, and just last year, was caught violating United Nations sanctions by transferring weapons to North Korea.

These are all the things the men of the Brigade 2506 set out to stop. These are the things they have dedicated their lives to, so that one day Cuba can be free again.

These are reminders of how much was at stake fifty-four years ago, when the brave men of the Brigade fought against overwhelming odds. Today, we pause to honor their sacrifice, and recommit ourselves to the universal right of every man, woman and child to be free – in Cuba and elsewhere around the world.

Apr 14 2014

Happy Passover

With the Festival of Passover upon us, I would like to express my best wishes to the Jewish community in Florida and around the world.

This eight-day celebration, rich in history and tradition, commemorates the emancipation of Israelites from centuries of slavery in ancient Egypt. Often referred to as the Festival of Freedom, Passover celebrates the values of every free society.

I share your love for freedom, and celebrate the Festival of Passover by educating our youth to value tradition and follow in the footsteps of their families.

In the midst of a crucial moment in Israel’s history, I will continue to defend the values of freedom and liberty for all. I pray for a peaceful and prosperous future for Israel and that our friends in the Jewish state may have a safe and meaningful celebration.

On behalf of my wife Jeanette and our entire family, we wish you a Happy Passover and Chag Sameach.

People’s qualifications, performance and honesty are the most important qualities by which they should be judged in the workplace. If you’re a woman and your work merits it, you should be paid as an equal to your male counterparts. By the same token, if someone does a better job and has more responsibilities, that person should naturally get paid more, female or male.

Offering this legislation as some kind of meaningful solution entirely misses the point about the challenges we face in the 21st century economy. The fundamental challenge we face as a society today is helping young people obtain high quality education and skills throughout their lives.

What Senate Democrats are proposing today will make it easier for trial lawyers to file more lawsuits and collect more legal fees in the name of pay equity, but it won’t actually help create more well-paying jobs and it won’t do anything to help anyone develop the skills they need to do these jobs and get paid more. The American people understand that hard work and sacrifice are the ways to achieve the American Dream, and that our higher education system has to be more flexible and better account for the kinds of challenges people face, whether that means paying for their education or making the time to provide for their family. The American people deserve real solutions to help them earn better paychecks.

Today we mark the 40th anniversary of a legendary American achievement: when Hank Aaron slammed a record-breaking 715th career home run over the wall in left-center field. I was too young to remember when it happened, but I was raised by a father and grandfather who treasured the sport of baseball, and I remember the stories they told about this moment and the way it filled them with pride for their country.

Of course, athletic records are never meant to stand forever, but Aaron’s milestone that April day in 1974 still holds a special place in the American memory. We will always remember the iconic image of him shaking an opposing player’s hand as he rounded the bases, while hometown and opposing fans alike went wild in celebration. But more importantly, we’ll remember the barriers he overcame as an athlete and as a man, and the example he set for all who strive to achieve great things in their craft. So today, whether you are a fan of America’s favorite pastime like I am or not, we can all join together in tipping our caps to a true American hero.

People in this country are hurting – and they expect solutions from their leaders that get Americans back to work and lift them from poverty, not measures that only cover the symptoms of joblessness. This proposal does nothing to address the problem at the source of long-term unemployment, which is why I could not support it. Instead of focusing on incentivizing work, creating jobs, or reducing job-killing regulations, this proposal relies on short-term budget gimmicks to postpone the debate another few months. We need transformative solutions that bring our economy into the 21st century. It’s why I have spent this year outlining a series of reforms that would bring millions of higher paying jobs into the American economy, along with the skills to do these jobs. These reforms included a wage enhancement to promote work, and a flex fund to provide states the flexibility to design reemployment programs that achieve results. I will continue fighting for these ideas because they are critical to people striving to achieve the American Dream.

As we reflect back on the trial of Kermit Gosnell, which began one year ago this week, let us redouble our commitment to ensuring that the horrors committed in that Philadelphia clinic are never possible in America again. Kermit Gosnell violated nearly every law limiting abortion on the books today, yet his crimes transcended legal debate and touched millions of Americans — of all political persuasions — on a personal and moral level. His evil indifference to the lives of both women and the unborn awoke our nation's conscience on the issue of the sanctity of life. It made us search for solutions that would guarantee that no unborn child developed enough to feel pain could ever be intentionally hurt again.

Last year, I called for a thorough investigation into the practices of late-term abortions in America. I also cosponsored the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks. When it comes to the moral clarity that Kermit Gosnell's atrocities created in the hearts of the American people, we cannot let the passage of time put a blindfold over our eyes. Let's take action now to end late-term abortions once and for all.

On this third anniversary of the start of the conflict in Syria, we remember the 140,000 Syrians who have lost their lives, and we pray for those still living through this ongoing nightmare. 

Three years ago this week, the Syrian people took to the streets to demand the ouster of Bashar al-Assad. Those men, women and children demonstrated peacefully against the Assad regime’s brutality. Their demands for accountability and the freedoms others enjoy were met with beatings and bullets. 

Since those early days, the Assad regime has turned to snipers, indiscriminate shelling, barrel bombs, and even chemical weapons in its efforts to destroy the will of the Syrian people and cling to power.

Years ago, when the moderate opposition was appealing for American support, I urged President Obama to weigh in on the side of those who favored freedom to the intolerance and repression of Assad’s rule. Many of us advocated for sanctions and tougher measures against Russian and Iranian entities that are bolstering the regime.

Yet President Obama failed to act. He was hesitant in his support for the moderate secular opposition. Unbelievably, President Obama and Secretary Kerry placed their hope for a solution to the conflict in negotiations that hinged on diplomatic dialogue with “partners” like Vladimir Putin, the Iranian regime and Bashar al-Assad. And, when the Administration did propose military action, they said it would be “unbelievably small” and did not offer a clear strategy for how it would result in Assad being replaced by a moderate, secular government. Further, this military action was not designed to help empower the opposition in our shared goal of seeing Assad go, but was intended to be a retaliatory slap on the wrist for Assad crossing Obama’s “red line.” 

Today, the Syrian people are paying the high costs of this delay, inaction, and lack of focus. 

Millions of Syrians have fled their homes and are now refugees, creating what some have called the greatest humanitarian catastrophe in modern times. An entire “lost generation” of Syrians is growing up without permanent homes, consistent education, or much hope for the future. 

Syria’s neighbors are under strain, with instability spreading as the conflict now enters its fourth year. Meanwhile, Syria’s allies - including Iran, Hezbollah and Russia - have been emboldened by their success in bolstering the Assad regime. Assad is more secure than he has been at any time throughout this sectarian conflict and Syria is now becoming the premier operational area for jihadists in the world, who are already threatening Europe and the United States.

We don’t have the luxury of looking away. We can’t continue to ignore the Syrian people in their time of need. The strategic consequences to U.S. security are too great. 

We need to renew our efforts to identify and work with moderate members of the opposition. I've called for this to be done overtly so we can be clear about who we are supporting and with what capabilities. Additionally, we need to ensure that the growing extremist threat that is spreading across the Levant does not lead to attacks against Europe or the U.S. homeland. We need to immediately impose tough sanctions on Russian and Iranian entities and individuals supporting Assad’s war machine. We need to ensure that our allies in the region have adequate support to deal with the pressures of the conflict next door. Senator Reid can do his part by allowing a vote on a Bill (S960) approved by the Foreign Relations Committee in July 2013, which gives the President additional tools to accomplish these goals.

The President should prepare and submit to Congress a strategy to deal with the humanitarian toll of the conflict, as Senator Tim Kaine and I, along with 17 of our colleagues, recently requested him to do.

It is not certain that these actions will bring an end to the pain and suffering in Syria anytime soon. Because of the administration's delay at every stage of this conflict, our challenge has only become greater. But we cannot give up, both because of our own security interests as well as our values. 

For months, I’ve closely studied the issue of how to address and stop sexual assaults in the military. My office and I have held dozens of formal meetings and calls with active duty service women and men, victims and military leaders, among others. When I’ve crossed paths with service women and men at home in Florida, at airports or during my official travels abroad, I’ve sought their opinions on this matter. I especially appreciate the time Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Claire McCaskill, Kelly Ayotte and Deb Fischer have spent with me discussing this issue and walking me through the impact their proposals would have.

Sexual assaults in any setting are unacceptable. But sexual assaults in our military bring the additional consequences of endangering our troops, diminishing morale, undermining our national defense, and tarnishing the uniform that so many who have come before have worn with honor.

On this issue, my goal has been to find the best way to prevent sexual assaults in our armed forces, punish those who commit these crimes, and ensure that the discipline and order our military’s chain of command instills is safeguarded – for it is the foundation of the greatest military in the history of the world.

At this time, I believe we need to allow the multiple reforms enacted in the last two National Defense Authorization Acts to be  fully implemented and studied. I also support the proposal by Senators McCaskill, Ayotte and Fischer to build on these earlier reforms and supported their legislation today.  Ultimately, I did not support Sen. Gillibrand’s legislation today because I believe we should allow these other reforms to take root before we significantly alter the chain of command structure and military justice system that governs the way our armed forces operate.

In considering this issue, I thought of all the men and women who serve in harm’s way and in military installations throughout Florida. I thought about the service men and women I’ve met during my official travels abroad. I thought about the young men and women I’ve been privileged to nominate to our service academies and who now attend those prestigious institutions.  I thought about all their parents, who share the universal concern of parents everywhere about their kids’ safety – but experience it on a whole other level given the nature of their sacrifices.

Nothing is more important to me than protecting them and their God-given dignity, and ensuring that our military remains not only an enduring symbol of our strength but also of our national character.

I believe the reforms included in the recent NDAA and those that passed today can effectively punish and deter sexual assault crimes within our military. If these reforms fail to do this, I believe we should revisit this issue.

I voted for the Military Retirement Pay Bill because, while not perfect, it does restore a promise made long ago to millions of veterans and active duty personnel regarding pensions for retirees.  But I think it is really shameful how Senate Democrats keep manipulating veterans to advance their own political goals.  Washington needs to stop the practice of funding benefits and other programs through obscure budgetary gimmicks.

It is unforgivable that instead of focusing on the real drivers of our debt when it comes to spending reductions, Washington chose to take aim at our veterans’ pensions. We need to stop beating around the bush when it comes to our debt and start dealing with saving Medicare and Social Security before they bankrupt themselves and our country.

Today, I voted no on the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill.

Florida’s economy and the livelihoods of many family-owned businesses and workers rely on a vibrant agricultural industry. Unfortunately, this farm bill goes far beyond agricultural programs and includes anti-poverty programs and renewable energy programs, among other spending measures that total nearly $1 trillion.

With Washington facing a $17 trillion debt and another debt ceiling increase in a few weeks, this bill does not undertake any fundamental reforms to ensure every taxpayer dollar is being properly spent to secure our nation’s food supply instead of needlessly growing government or continuing the status quo on programs that need reform.

For example, food stamp programs are an important part of our safety net, but we should have a separate debate on these and other anti-poverty programs with the goal of empowering states to better design these programs to help their people escape poverty.

And while energy innovation is an important debate and will be a key economic growth driver in the 21st century, we should be discussing renewable energy and biofuels programs in the context of energy policy, not lumping them in to this bill that’s supposed to be about securing our nation’s food supply.