On the day of his peak embrace by the Trump administration, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued his first formal criticism of Donald Trump as president, slamming him for “ambiguity” toward a white-power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Hours before a scheduled appearance with Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Miami — and a public celebration of Gimenez’s decision to reverse county policy on immigration detentions at the president’s request — Gimenez released a statement calling on Trump to “unequivocally condemn white supremacists and their actions.”
“It was very disappointing to hear President Trump essentially take back his comments from Monday condemning white supremacists and their actions in Charlottesville,” Gimenez said in the statement, the first issued by his office with explicit criticism of the president. “There should be no ambiguity about what took place in Charlottesville.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
On Tuesday, Trump condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but also noted there was “blame on both sides” for last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville. The conflict centered on whether to keep a statue of Confederacy icon Robert E. Lee. It led to the death of a woman there to demonstrate against the “Unite the Right” rally when an alleged Nazi sympathizer rammed his car into a crowd. Two police officers also died while monitoring the event from a helicopter, which crashed.
During impromptu remarks to reporters in New York, Trump noted there was violence from groups there to protest the white-nationalist organizers of the event, and maintained some demonstrators were there as part of a legitimate debate over the Lee statue’s fate. “Not all of these people were neo-Nazis, believe me,” he said. “Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”
Gimenez, a Republican leading a heavily Democratic county, broke with Trump during the fall campaign, when Gimenez was running for reelection. Gimenez announced he was voting for Hillary Clinton and urged Trump to withdraw after the release of a tape that captured the future presidential candidate reveling in the groping of women.
After Clinton lost, Gimenez said he would work with Trump, who owns a Doral resort, employed Gimenez’s son C.J. as a local lobbyist and was negotiating a potential takeover of a Miami-Dade golf course with the mayor’s administration before Trump ran for president.
Trump, then president-elect, called Gimenez after the November death of Fidel Castro, and Gimenez, first elected mayor in 2011, went to Washington in January to attend his first presidential inauguration when Trump took office.
The most high-profile connection came early in Trump’s tenure, when the president issued an executive order instructing agencies to withhold funds from local governments offering “sanctuary” to immigration offenders. The Obama administration labeled Miami-Dade a “sanctuary” community over a 2013 county policy that had jails refusing to extend the detentions of people booked on local charges while being sought for possible deportation.
On Jan. 26, Gimenez issued his own directive that instructed jails to honor all detention requests, which keep someone in jail up to five extra days in order to give federal immigration officers time to apprehend the deportation suspect. The move sparked the 45th president to issue his highest form of praise: a complimentary tweet, posting a message that night calling Gimenez’s action “Strong!”
The decision marked the most heated controversy of Gimenez’s young second term, with Democratic leaders and other activists accusing the Cuban-born mayor of betraying Miami’s history of embracing immigrants.
Gimenez insisted the change amounted to a tweak of past policy, which allowed Miami-Dade to accept detention requests for serious offenders and only then if Washington broke precedent and agreed to reimburse the county for the extra detention costs (which Immigration and Customs Enforcement never did).
The county commission ratified Gimenez’s decision in February, and Miami-Dade remains the only large government known to have reversed a sanctuary policy after Trump’s presidential order. Chicago, San Francisco and other cities are suing the Trump administration to protect their federal funds, while the Justice Department recently notified Miami-Dade it was in compliance with immigration-enforcement requirements and would continue receiving a $500,000 police grant.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced a public celebration of Miami-Dade’s change on detention policies for immigration offenders, with Attorney General Sessions flying to Miami Wednesday for a speech on “sanctuary policies.” The department said: “While some jurisdictions are committing themselves to protecting lawlessness instead of protecting their citizens, others like Miami-Dade have realized there is far greater benefit to working together with federal authorities to combat the violent crime in our communities.”
After releasing the statement from Gimenez criticizing Trump, a spokesman for the mayor said Gimenez still planned to appear with Sessions at PortMiami on Wednesday afternoon. The spokesman, Michael Hernández, said Gimenez hoped to address two issues with Sessions: the need for comprehensive immigration reform, and maintaining deferred enforcement action for people who came to the United States illegally as children — a group referred to as “dreamers” by immigration advocates.
On the Jimmy Cefalo radio show this morning, Gimenez said Sessions would be “welcome” in Miami-Dade but did not sound enthusiastic about the visit.
“The attorney general can do what they want. I learned he was coming last week for this event. You know, he’s the attorney general of the United States,” Gimenez said. “If he decides to come to Miami-Dade County, like any other elected official before now, they will be welcome here because we are a welcoming community.”