After Criticizing Trump, Miami GOP Congressman Prepares To Work With Him

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Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo prepares to speak at a Miami-Dade County school board meeting. Curbelo began his political career on the school board.

Some congressional Republicans won their districts this year by distancing themselves from Donald Trump. So when the new Congress convenes in January, they'll have to figure out how to work with a president they didn't support.

Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo is in that group. He's a Republican who won big in a district that also went for Hillary Clinton. Now he faces some challenges in balancing the interests of his constituents while working with a Trump administration.

Curbelo was elected to Congress two years ago. His district includes part of Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys, and he won re-election by a double-digit margin.

His win came despite significant headwinds. Redistricting a year ago added more Democratic voters. And Curbelo was struggling to overcome not just his Democratic opponent, but also a candidate at the top of the ticket who was decidedly unpopular in this largely Hispanic district — Donald Trump.

"It was a very ugly campaign," Curbelo says. "I heard some of the things that were [being said]. And I instinctively said, 'I'm not going to support this person.' "

As part of his re-election campaign, Curbelo ran an ad that showed a clip from the Access Hollywood video in which Trump brags about forcing himself on women.

In the end, Curbelo didn't vote for Trump. He cast his presidential ballot for a third-party candidate, but he won't say who. Now that the election is over, he's ready to work with the new Republican president. But Curbelo says Trump has a challenge.

"It's up to the president-elect, Mr. Trump, to earn the trust not just of the 47 percent of people who voted for him in this country, but of everyone," Curbelo says.

That includes the more than 60 percent of voters in Miami who voted against Trump and for Hillary Clinton. In a district that's nearly 70 percent Hispanic, there's a lot of concern about the president-elect, particularly on the issue of immigration.

Curbelo's most immediate concern is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, an executive order signed by President Obama that Trump promised he would undo. It protects hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents as children.

"Many of them went to our schools," Curbelo says. "They speak perfect English. A lot of them don't even speak another language such as Spanish or any other foreign language. These kids are Americans. Let's give them the full benefits of American citizenship."

Curbelo is also concerned about Trump's stance on climate change. In the past, Trump called it a "hoax," but this week he softened that position, saying there may be "some connectivity" between human activity and climate change.

Curbelo says he's ready to fight the president on this issue if necessary.

"When it comes to climate change and specifically sea level rise, which is a direct consequence, we are the tip of the spear," he says. "Most people in my district live near sea level and near the sea. So we cannot backtrack on any of this."

On these issues, there's little question that Curbelo is in step with voters in his Miami district. But opposing the president of your own party always carries a risk.

Fernand Amandi of the polling firm Bendixen & Amandi says while it helped him win re-election, Curbelo's independent position could hurt him down the road.

"If you think about the long-term play here," Amandi says, "especially if Donald Trump continues to grow in popularity amongst Republican Party circles and grows in popularity with the American people, it may come back to bite Carlos Curbelo, that position."

As he prepares to begin his second term in Congress, Curbelo says he won't be either a cheerleader for President-elect Trump or a permanent critic. He says Congress' role is to work with the president and hold him accountable — even if he's a member of the same party.

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