U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio once called Vladimir Putin a gangster, but a Miami congressional candidate has a very different word to describe the Russian president.
Souraya Faas, a Republican who has filed to run against Rep. Carlos Curbelo in the August primary, says Putin and Syrian President Bashar Assad are "heroes" for fighting terrorism in Syria. She says chemical attacks in 2017 and 2018 that the U.S. government and the UN said were orchestrated by Assad's government never happened.
"All those attacks are staged by the White Helmets," Faas said in an interview, referring to a group of 3,000 volunteer rescuers who have saved thousands of lives since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. There is no evidence to suggest that the White Helmets faked chemical attacks in Syria. Pictures purporting to confirm Faas' argument on the internet are in fact from the set of a Syrian film.
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Faas, 36, was so upset with the U.S response to the chemical attacks that the lifelong Republican called on Trump to resign last year.
U.N. ambassador "Nikki Haley is the worst thing that has happened to the United States, the worst thing that Trump did was appoint her," Faas said. "Trump was spot on with fake news until he started believing the fake news himself."
And Faas is a frequent guest on Russian state-sponsored television. She penned a recent op-ed for Russian television titled "Divide & conquer: America's blueprint for 'world peace' simply a roadmap for disaster," and praised Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, an opponent of U.S. military involvement in Syria and the first sitting member of Congress to meet with Assad since the start of the Syrian conflict.
But her reasons for running against Curbelo sound like those of many primary challengers across the country. Faas said Curbelo "hasn't put one bill on the table" (he has sponsored 47 bills since entering Congress in 2015) and that she grew up in the district.
"I feel like somebody has to do something. This is something that’s ongoing for years. Nothing is changing. Once somebody presents one bill another bill shuts it down," Faas said, adding that she supports Curbelo's effort to force several immigration votes in Congress, but that he's only undertaking the effort because it's an election year.
Her social media accounts are full of pictures with elected officials like Gov. Rick Scott and Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, along with personalities like Lara Trump, the president's daughter-in-law, and Syrian U.N. ambassador Bashar Jaafari.
Faas hasn't filed financial documents with the Federal Election Commission, and she's not favored to unseat Curbelo in August. The likely race between Curbelo and Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will be one of the key races that will determine which party controls the House of Representatives after the 2018 elections. Curbelo is trying to win reelection in a district that supported Hillary Clinton over Trump by over 16 percentage points in 2016, and Democrats are prepared to spend millions to flip the seat.
This isn't Faas' first experience running for office. She ran for president as a write-in candidate in 2016 and unsuccessfully sued to get on the ballot in Texas.
But she's confident that 2018 will be different.
"I feel like people have lost the perception of what it's like to be a politician," Faas said.