With Charlie Crist as guest, President Obama raises cash in Miami, chats with Cuban dissidents

President Barack Obama waves as he arrives at Miami International Airport, Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, in Miami. President Obama will be participating in fund raising events during his visit to Miami.
President Barack Obama waves as he arrives at Miami International Airport, Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, in Miami. President Obama will be participating in fund raising events during his visit to Miami.


President Obama arrived in Miami Friday afternoon to headline three Democratic Party fundraisers hosted by the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and, in a surprise move met with Cuban dissidents.

Florida’s newest high-profile Democrat, former Gov. Charlie Crist, was spotted at the Segovia Tower in Coral Gables at a $32,000-a-head fundraiser hosted by personal injury attorney Ralph G. Patino.

Obama moved next to a fundraiser hosted by Jorge Mas Santos, a Cuban American National Foundation leader and CEO of MasTec. There, the president thanked Mas Santos, who stood next to him, and singled out Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

Obama told two of Cuba’s leading dissidents in South Florida that he admires their sacrifices, a rare White House recognition of the peaceful opposition on the communist-ruled island.

“The most important thing here was the recognition by the president of the United States, the most powerful democracy in the world,” dissident Guillermo Farinas said minutes after the meeting.

Obama also referred to his administration’s decision to relax travel restrictions on Cuba and said, "we’ve started to see changes on the island," adding the U.S. needs to be "creative and thoughtful" and continue to update out Cuba policies.

Obama noted that former President George W. Bush once backed the immigration overhaul, but "it’s being held up by a small faction in the Republican Party that says ‘we don’t want to do anything. Our main goal is obstruction.’"

He said the faction needs to learn "there’s a price to pay when you don’t act."

At the last fundraiser, hosted by Leslie Miller Saiontz, a philanthropist/real-estate and building businesswoman, the president said he has "never been more optimistic" about the country and he said he’s "confident there’s going to be an adjustment process for Republicans "if they’re rewarded for cooperation."

The president began the day in New Orleans, where he focused on the economy but also addressed the error-riddled Affordable Care Act website, HealthCare.gov.

"I promise you, nobody’s been more frustrated," he said. "I wanna go fix it myself, but I don’t write [computer] code."

At the Saiontz fundraiser, he lamented the fact that "more people could have health care via Medicaid" in Florida "but that’s not happening because of politics."

He admitted he’s biased but said if you look "objectively at the Democratic Party," it’s a "lot more aligned with what the American people believe and what they care about."

The Florida Republican Party used the president’s arrival to seize on the health care snafus and the president’s apology to the American people that they wouldn’t have to give up their health insurance when the Affordable Care Act took effect. The RPOF web video also underscored the previous flip-flop on taxes by Crist.

The president is scheduled to remain in Miami through Saturday.

El Nuevo Herald reporter Juan Tamayo contributed to this report.

Mary Ellen Klas is the Herald’s Tallahassee Bureau Chief. Lesley Clark, who covers the White House for McClatchy Newspapers, can be reached at Lclark@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @lesleyclark.

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