A Miami Republican may run for Congress in 2020 after being snubbed by Democrats

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo lost to Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell used a barrage of TV ads and a campaign focused on healthcare, Democrats’ single-most important issue, to defeat Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo on November 6, 2018.
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Debbie Mucarsel-Powell used a barrage of TV ads and a campaign focused on healthcare, Democrats’ single-most important issue, to defeat Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo on November 6, 2018.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell won one of the most expensive U.S. House races in the country last year, but the back-and-forth between the Miami Democrat and the man she defeated, Republican Carlos Curbelo, isn’t over.

Curbelo, who was mocked by President Donald Trump after losing reelection, has spent the past few months as a Harvard politics fellow, advising various interest groups on issues like climate change and marijuana and mulling a bid for Miami-Dade mayor in 2020.

But he injected himself back into Washington politics last week.

Curbelo was set to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee, the congressional body responsible for tax policy, over his proposal to tax carbon emissions. But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer objected to his testimony, and committee chair Richard Neal canceled Curbelo’s invitation.

“Mr. Hoyer felt it would be inappropriate for Mr. Curbelo to testify given he has been unclear about his 2020 electoral plans and has a long track record of being unable to persuade his Republican colleagues that climate change is real and needs to be addressed,” Mariel Saez, a Hoyer spokesperson, told Politico.

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Instead, Curbelo showed up at the hearing as a private citizen and sat a few rows behind the formal witnesses, live tweeting the proceedings. Columbia University published his rejected testimony, which touted the virtues of a tax on carbon instead of the Green New Deal, a sweeping set of policy goals to combat the effects of climate change.

Mucarsel-Powell is one of two House members from Florida backing the Green New Deal, and a spokesperson for Mucarsel-Powell said “she did not ask any member of leadership to disinvite anyone.” Mucarsel-Powell doesn’t sit on the Ways and Means Committee herself.

“It makes no sense at all to me if your goal is to address the greatest threat to humanity right now,” Curbelo told the Miami Herald in reference to the snub. “Chairman Neal had come up with the idea of having a Republican who was recently on the committee come back and make the case that it’s important for Congress to act on this urgent matter.”

Now Curbelo says he’s considering a run for Congress.

He said the incident “obviously brought the idea of running for public office to the forefront,” but he isn’t deciding his 2020 plans until the summer. He’s also working as a political pundit for NBC, a role that gives him more exposure than a relatively routine congressional hearing broadcast on C-SPAN.

“To usurp a chairman’s power and authority because in the future someone might vote for me based on testimony at a Ways and Means hearing when there are hours of footage of me speaking on that committee already is absurd,” Curbelo said. “If anything, this episode reminded me how much Washington needs sincerity and thoughtful leadership.”

Some Democrats publicly protested the decision to block Curbelo, including Central Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy, and Curbelo said he received calls and texts from Republicans and Democrats after last week’s hearing urging him to run for Congress again. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee blasted Curbelo, saying he “earned an awful reputation for abandoning his constituents and voting against the interests of South Florida.”

“I’d be remiss not to thank Leader Hoyer, who I’ve always had a good relationship with, for all he has done to draw attention to my testimony,” Curbelo tweeted.

Taking out Mucarsel-Powell would be challenging in a year in which Trump is on the ballot. The president lost Mucarsel-Powell’s district by more than 16 percentage points in 2016, and Curbelo lost in 2018 despite outperforming other Republicans on the ballot.

Irina Vilariño, co-owner of Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine restaurants, has already announced a bid for Mucarsel-Powell’s District 26 seat in 2020. Curbelo said her pro-Trump candidacy is a liability in a district that stretches from West Dade to Key West, though national Republicans have touted her candidacy as part of a larger effort to diversify the party.

“The president is a polarizing figure with a very strong base of support, but at the same time he’s a figure that independent and moderate voters came out to oppose in the 2018 election,” Curbelo said. “I don’t see the president winning back those voters with his style. Anyone who thinks they can win with a base strategy in Florida 26 is probably in for an unpleasant surprise.”

Curbelo remains opposed to the president. Over the weekend he retweeted Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian-leaning lawmaker who laid out a case for impeaching Trump. Curbelo said he doesn’t have a “firm opinion” on impeachment, but praised Amash for standing up for what he believes in, even though his comments drew the ire of Republican leaders and generated a primary challenge.

“I just wanted to highlight that Justin Amash is an example of everything that’s right with Washington,” Curbelo said. “I think we need to hear from [Robert] Mueller and others, but I do admire his courage and willingness to lead.”