When it comes to discussing who might be the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2014, Bill Nelson has acted a bit curiously over the past year. He has been coy about Charlie Crist, sometimes flirting with the possibility that he'd insert himself into the race, as unlikely as that might seem for the 71-year-old, 13-year U.S. Senator.
With a few weeks to go before the qualification period for the August primary ends, Nelson was again asked today outside his district office in Tampa if he might still throw his hat into the ring.
"I have no intention of running for governor," he repeated. But when pressed if he had completely extinguished the idea he said, "What is it, June?" before being interrupted and told that there are still several more weeks before the qualifying period ends. "I have told you all consistently: I have no plans to run. I have no intention of running," before adding that he's in place to become the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and number two on the Armed Services Committee.
CL asked Nelson about his previously stated reticence regarding a Crist candidacy. When asked how he was feeling about Crist today, Nelson would only say, "I will support the Democratic nominee and I will support that person enthusiastically."
When asked his thoughts about Crist's announced plans to travel to Cuba, Nelson said it was "interesting" that the Cuban government denied his attempt recently to travel there after he let it be known he was hoping to secure the release of American Alan Gross from prison. Nelson said it was because he had been so "critical of the Castro brothers."
Gross was convicted by Cuban authorities in 2011 for bringing satellite communications equipment into the country as part of his work as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. He and his supporters say he was simply trying to help Cubans bypass their government’s stringent restrictions on Internet access.
Nelson also weighed in on the continuing VA scandal. Even though he's been quoted over the past week as saying that "heads should roll" at the Dept. of Veterans Affairs over reports of secret waiting lists of vets needing medical care, Nelson said the idea of sacking VA Secretary Eric Shinseki "isn't going to do any good right now if General Shinseki is the one who needs to get his hands around the problem. Don't make him a sacrificial lamb," adding, however, that there may be a time when he should step down.
Pinellas Congressman David Jolly has been calling on Congress to allow the VA to outsource those patients with the greatest needs into private healthcare facilities. Nelson says that's happening right now. He said if a specialist isn't available for an ailing veteran at a VA hospital, he or she is sent into the private sector to get care.
Nelson said he agreed with President Obama's announcement earlier week that all troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2016, saying, "It's time that we get out of Afghanistan after over 10 years." He also bashed former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who appeared Wednesday night on American prime time television in an interview with NBC's Brian Williams. The Florida Democrat is no fan of the man who finished second in Time
magazine's choice of Man of Year in 2013.
"He can put lipstick on it, but did he betray the interests of the United States? The fact is, he did, and we don't even know all of our agents and others in foreign lands who have been betrayed."