Now in his second term in Congress, South Florida Republican Carlos Curbelo continues to move up the ladder, even as he shows no hesitation on breaking with President Donald Trump and his policies.
Curbelo has drawn some national attention despite being on the national stage for barely two years. At the start of the year, with the support of U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., Curbelo was named to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and he has gotten some attention from the national GOP, offering the Republican response in Spanish to then President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
In last year’s presidential election, Curbelo stayed on the sidelines refusing to back Trump, citing the Republican presidential candidate’s immigration policies as one reasons he did not support him.
Curbelo returned to immigration this week as he brought out a bill updating much of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program giving younger illegal immigrants, often called DREAMers--those who entered the country before 2012 and who were 16 or younger when they entered--a path to citizenship. Speaking with the Miami Herald, Curbelo noted that President Donald Trump preserved DACA in his executive actions on immigration.
“This White House has sent a very strong message by preserving the executive order that protects these young people,” Curbelo told the Miami Herald. “We know that they’ve been very aggressive when it comes to immigration policy, so it certainly stands out that they have left the DACA executive order untouched.”
Curbelo brought out the “Recognizing America’s Children” (RAC) Act on Friday with the support of fellow South Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
“Over the years many immigrant children have arrived in our country – brought by their parents who either illegally crossed one of our borders or overstayed their visas,” Curbelo said. “For most of these young people, the United States is the only country they have ever called home. They attended school with our own children, graduated high school and today they are seeking to serve in our military, pursue a college degree or certificate and contribute to our economy by working.
“These are America’s children, and that is why I’m proud to lead this group of representatives from all over the country to introduce legislation to simply recognize them as such and provide them an earned path to legal status,” Curbelo continued. “I hope Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate can get behind this legislation and that it can soon be sent to the president’s desk for his signature.”
That‘s not the only area where Curbelo is going in a different direction than the White House. With reports out that Trump will cut the Coast Guard‘s budget to pay for his border wall, Curbelo, who served as vice chairman of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, pushed back.
Curbelo appeared with Bill Becker on “Morning Magazine” on 104.1 FM in South Florida on Wednesday to make the case for keeping the Coast Guard’s budget intact.
“You wanted to talk a little bit about what’s being proposed by the Trump administration regarding Coast Guard units, and this could affect us here in the keys,” Becker said. “What’s the word?”
“Yes,” Curbelo replied. “Look, the administration wants to plus up defense funding, and I support that. That’s very important. We know that our military has struggled in recent years under the sequestration, and I have always been one of the members of the House that have signed a letter to mandate full and adequate funding for our military. However, this should not be done at the cost of agencies like the Coast Guard for districts like Florida 26, for areas like the Florida Keys, Miami, really all of the state of Florida. The Coast Guard is absolutely fundamental — not just for drug interdiction and protecting us — but also for taking care of our citizens who are out enjoying our beautiful waters.
“We are going to be passing a budget resolution here soon for FY18, and we’re also going to finish funding FY17, and one of my priorities is to make sure we maintain a healthy funding level for the Coast Guard," Curbelo noted later in the interview. “As a matter of fact, I think the Coast Guard is under-funded today. So I’m going to work hard to make sure that is a priority and that we reject the notion that we should cut funds from our Coasties.”
“This is kind of ironic,” Becker said. “The administration has made a big deal of protecting our borders. You got to think, ‘The Coast Guard’s right there, aren’t they?’”
“Right,” Curbelo replied. “There’s a little cognitive dissonance there. Obviously when it comes to drug trafficking and human trafficking and illegal immigration the Coast Guard is the front line of defense, so it really makes no sense. Again, these budgets that sometimes get sent up here, they leave much to be desired and members of both parties end up just kind of setting the executive’s budget aside and figuring it out up here amongst ourselves.”
Curbelo kept on the attack on Thursday, ripping into Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s assertion that carbon dioxide is not a “primary contributor to the global warming.”
“Rising carbon emissions have been a contributing factor to climate change for decades,” Curbelo said. “That is a scientific fact and the reality facing communities like my district. The EPA is tasked with the very responsibility of helping to lower the impact of carbon emissions, and for Mr. Pruitt to assert otherwise without scientific evidence is reckless and unacceptable.”
Curbelo teamed up with U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., to form the Climate Change Solutions Caucus in Congress.
Still, there are some issues where Curbelo has worked with Trump. From his seat on the Ways and Means Committee, Curbelo has supported Ryan’s effort to repeal Obama’s healthcare law and offer an alternative to it.
On Thursday, Curbelo made the case for the Ryan’s alternative which Trump praised on Twitter as “wonderful.”
“For years, the healthcare debate has been raging in our country as candidates and officials offer different perspectives on the best way forward,” Curbelo said. “The truth is that despite recent reforms in the ACA, many Americans remain discouraged and disappointed in our healthcare system. I’ve continually heard from constituents frustrated about the lack of access to quality care and the ever-increasing costs. Many counties are left with only a single insurance provider and premiums that continue to rise. Simply stated, the current system is failing.
“That’s why this week, the House Ways and Means Committee on which I serve and the Energy and Commerce Committee have begun considering legislation that seeks to expand healthcare choices, improve quality, lower costs, and empower low- and middle-income Americans who do not have access to employee or government sponsored healthcare,” Curbelo continued. “It is our goal to empower individuals and families, so they can choose the best healthcare plan for themselves. For me, this is simply about providing a better healthcare system for our country – especially for working Americans who struggle to find access to quality healthcare.
“Unlike the Affordable Care Act which punishes Americans if they fail to purchase health insurance, our plan will provide advanceable, refundable tax credits to those seeking plans on the individual market on a monthly basis, helping them to pay their healthcare premiums,” Curbelo added. “The tax credit phases out with rising income and will increase as people age, allowing it to focus on helping the people who really need it. Americans will choose the plan that best suits them – not the plan the government dictates.
“We’re keeping the things that work, like guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions, allowing young people to remain on their parents’ plans until the age of 26, and prohibiting discrimination against women. We’ve also built in a multi-year transition period in order to avoid sudden disruptions for individuals currently receiving coverage through ACA plans," Curbelo said. “And we’ve eliminated taxes that have increased the cost of healthcare in our country and inhibited investment and economic growth, restored funding for hospitals that treat the most vulnerable in our communities, and created a Patient and State Stability Fund that will be available to states, lowering patient costs and stabilizing state markets
“Unlike the ACA, this law was not written by powerful health insurance companies, big hospital chains, or pharmaceutical companies seeking to protect their profits. It was written for the American people by their representatives in a transparent manner to lower costs, give patients and doctors more decision making power, and establish a true healthcare market where people can make informed choices,” Curbelo concluded. “The fact that the far left and the far right have come together to viciously attack this proposal is likely a good indicator that it is sound, sensible policy. The consideration of this legislation in our committee this week is only the first step in finding a better healthcare solution for our country. There will be opportunities to amend this bill and make it stronger in the weeks ahead, so I invite you to share your thoughts and views as this BetterCare proposal makes its way through the legislative process because it's so important we get this right.”
Curbelo represents a swing district but, so far, Democrats do not have him listed as top target in 2018. In a rematch of their 2014 matchup, Curbelo routed former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., in November taking 53 percent while the Democrat pulled 41 percent. But Curbelo represents a district which Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton carried by more than 15 percent, ensuring Democrats have a chance to beat the congressman.