His­pan­ics’ views on Sen. Scott tested

For­mer gover­nor faces ul­ti­mate test with Trump

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Front Page - By Sean Sul­li­van

After eight years as gover­nor of Flor­ida and a win­ning cam­paign for the Se­nate, Repub­li­can Rick Scott has plenty to say about his blue­print for ap­peal­ing to His­panic vot­ers in the na­tion’s largest swing state.

But when it comes to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric, his con­tro­ver­sial push for bor­der wall fund­ing and his sharply panned re­sponse to Hur­ri­cane Maria, Scott prefers to change the sub­ject.

“I think I got elected to get things done. I didn’t get elected be­cause I’m go­ing to be, you know, giv­ing the fiery speeches and be­ing in the news ev­ery day,” he said

in an in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Scott’s pos­ture con­trasts with Sen. Mitt Rom­ney, RU­tah, who served no­tice on the eve of join­ing Con­gress that he would call out Trump as he sees fit. But Scott won’t be able to de­flect ques­tions about the pres­i­dent for long. As a new se­na­tor, he will face votes that will force him to side with or against Trump.

For years, Scott sought to chart his own path with His­panic vot­ers. But soon, he will be at the epi­cen­ter of an ex­plo­sive na­tional fight over bor­der se­cu­rity that could re­shape their views of him. Ac­cord­ing to Scott’s own polling, most Latino vot­ers in Flor­ida have an un­fa­vor­able view of Trump.

Scott will join the Se­nate to­day, after serv­ing his full term as gover­nor. He ar­rives at a mo­ment when the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down en­ters its third week, as Trump has re­fused to sign a spend­ing bill that does not fund a wall that he re­peat­edly vowed would be fi­nanced by Mex­ico.

Dur­ing the in­ter­view Fri­day in a tem­po­rary of­fice, Scott said the shut­down was re­gret­table. But he of­fered no spe­cific so­lu­tion for break­ing the im­passe and would not say whether he agreed with Trump’s po­si­tion.

“I don’t see any rea­son why we can’t get gov­ern­ment open and fund bor­der se­cu­rity,” Scott said. He blamed Trump, the House and the Se­nate for the shut­down.

When asked whether he thought a wall on the U.S.Mex­ico bor­der was a good idea, Scott replied, “The way I would think about it is you have to have a se­cure bor­der. Whether it’s a wall, or whether it’s a fence, or whether it’s tech­nol­ogy, whether it’s peo­ple, what­ever it is, we ought to be do­ing it.”

Pressed again on whether a se­cure bor­der means a wall, Scott said it was best to rely on Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials to de­ter­mine what was nec­es­sary to se­cure the bor­der. DHS Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen said last week, “Now more than ever we need the wall.”

Scott de­feated Demo­cratic Sen. Bill Nel­son in an ex­pen­sive and com­pet­i­tive con­test that came down to a re­count in a pur­ple state that fig­ures to be cru­cial in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Latino voter reg­is­tra­tion has grown in Flor­ida in re­cent years, ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter — putting a premium on GOP out­reach.

Scott in­vested in Span­ish-lan­guage tele­vi­sion ads in the midterm cam­paign, made eight trips to Puerto Rico after the hur­ri­cane, opened re­lief cen­ters at air­ports in Flor­ida last year and dis­tanced him­self from Trump.

Nel­son won 54 per­cent of His­panic votes, and Scott had 45 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to exit poll data. Scott com­mis­sioned his own post­elec­tion polling in De­cem­ber that showed com­pa­ra­ble num­bers and in­di­cated that his stand­ing in the state among Latino vot­ers was much stronger than Trump’s.

“We showed up,” Scott said, re­flect­ing on his strat­egy with Latino com­mu­ni­ties. “His­pan­ics have the same is­sues as ev­ery­body else has. And so I showed up and tried to solve their prob­lems.”

Scott said jobs, ed­u­ca­tion, health care and pub­lic safety were the top is­sues. As for bor­der se­cu­rity, “you hear it, but it’s not the No. 1 is­sue,” he said.

Flor­ida has a large Cuban-Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion, which has been em­braced Repub­li­can can­di­dates more warmly than other His­panic vot­ers. But in a sign of frus­tra­tion with the GOP dur­ing Trump’s pres­i­dency, Democrats flipped two House dis­tricts in South Flor­ida with large Cuban pop­u­la­tions.

As he cam­paigned for Repub­li­cans in the midterm elec­tions, Trump por­trayed the mi­grant car­a­van mov­ing through Mex­ico as a dan­ger­ous “in­va­sion,” though it mostly con­sisted of fam­i­lies trav­el­ing on foot. When he launched his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Trump de­scribed Mex­i­can im­mi­grants as crim­i­nals and “rapists.”

Scott would not say whether he was both­ered by Trump’s words.

“Ev­ery­body’s got a dif­fer­ent way of get­ting their stuff done. I can tell you how I am. My ap­proach is be very re­sults-ori­ented,” Scott said. His record of achieve­ments in Flor­ida dur­ing Trump’s pres­i­dency was “pretty good,” Scott said, and that’s where his fo­cus has been.

He said that in ad­di­tion to se­cur­ing the bor­der, Con­gress should find a way to take care of young un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants pro­tected un­der a pro­gram the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has sought to end.

Some as­so­ciates have pre­dicted that Scott, who has spent his ca­reer as a pub­lic- and pri­vate-sec­tor ex­ec­u­tive, will not en­joy the Se­nate, where he will have lit­tle power as a new ju­nior se­na­tor and will have to learn to ne­go­ti­ate on im­mi­gra­tion and other mat­ters.

“He’ll find out very quickly he’s play­ing a very dif­fer­ent role now,” said Ed­uardo Ga­marra, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Flor­ida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity. Though Flor­ida is not a bor­der state, how Scott nav­i­gates his re­la­tion­ship with Trump and his plans on bor­der se­cu­rity and im­mi­gra­tion present sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal risks to the se­na­tor’s stand­ing in the His­panic com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly among Colom­bian, Venezue­lan and Mex­i­can Amer­i­cans in the state, Ga­marra said.

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