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Republicans in immigrant-rich Florida scramble in wake of Trump’s “shithole” remark – The Denver Post

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – President Donald Trump’s vulgar comments disparaging Haiti, El Salvador and African countries reverberated across the country Friday – including one immigrant-rich state central to the GOP’s political fortunes where the party was already facing head winds: Florida.

Trump’s description of “shithole countries” in an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers Thursday sent Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a close ally the president is courting to run for Senate, scrambling to distance himself from the controversy. Republican lawmakers issued strongly-worded statements condemning what the leader of their party said. And GOP strategists and activists worried about the fallout in a battleground that is home to one of the country’s largest populations of Latin Americans.

Trump’s presidential victory hinged heavily on his surprise win in Florida, which Republicans are trying to build on in this year’s midterm elections. But the drag of Trump’s polarizing actions and words can be felt acutely in some quarters of this state, where marquee elections for Senate and governor will play out this year, and which is expected to be as pivotal in the 2020 presidential contest as it was in 2016.

“It’s not helping,” said Michael Barnett, the vice chairman of the Florida Republican Party. Barnett, an African-American attorney in Palm Beach County who is close to the Haitian community there, added, “As far as making our job harder, we’ve been through a lot already with him.”

Some Florida Republicans quickly condemned the president’s remarks. Sen. Marco Rubio issued a series of tweets Friday praising Haitian Americans for their contributions to the country. Hours before that started, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., who is running for reelection in a battleground south Florida district, tweeted “Under no circumstances is it acceptable to degrade, denigrate, or dehumanize” immigrants in the United States under what is known as temporary protected status.

The president’s Oval Office insult, during a discussion about negotiations over immigration policy, followed months of other behavior that has similarly threatened to undercut Republicans in Florida.

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September, Trump told local officials they should feel “very proud” they hadn’t lost hundreds of lives like in “a real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina. Later, he gave the federal response “a 10,” even as the island territory was struggling to recover.

In 2016, Florida’s nearly 1.1 million Puerto Ricans was second only to New York as the largest population of island transplants. By one estimate after last year’s storm, at least 100,000 Puerto Ricans were expected to relocate to Florida, at least on a temporary basis.

More recently, the Trump administration announced plans to expand oil-drilling in most U.S. continental-shelf waters, a move opposed by governors from New Jersey to Florida. A few days later, officials announced an exemption for Florida – an apparent recognition of the political peril of the expansion in a crucial state, but a move that Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., called it a “political stunt.” The White House declined to say whether Trump was personally involved in the decision to exempt Florida, where the president owns Mar-a-Lago, an oceanfront club in Palm Beach.

On Friday, Florida Democrats remained focused on Trump’s “shithole” remark.

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