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Donald Trump takes aim at Barack Obama’s efforts to curb global warming

Moving forward with a campaign pledge to unravel former President Barack Obama‘s sweeping plan to curb global warming, President Donald Trump will sign an executive order Tuesday that will suspend, rescind or flag for review more than a half-dozen measures in an effort to boost domestic energy production in the form of fossil fuels.

As part of the roll-back, Trump will initiate a review of the Clean Power Plan, which restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants. The regulation, which was the former president’s signature effort to curb carbon emissions, has been the subject of long-running legal challenges by Republican-led states and those who profit from burning oil, coal and gas.

Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax” invented by the Chinese, has repeatedly criticized the power-plant rule and others as an attack on American workers and the struggling U.S. coal industry. The contents of the order were outlined to reporters in a sometimes tense briefing with a senior White House official, whom aides insisted speak without attribution despite President Trump’s criticism of the use of unnamed sources in the news media.

The official at one point appeared to break with mainstream climate science, denying familiarity with widely publicized concerns about the potential adverse economic impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels and more extreme weather.

In addition to pulling back from the Clean Power Plan, the administration will also lift a 14-month-old moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands.

The Obama administration had imposed a three-year moratorium on new federal coal leases in January 2016, arguing that the $1 billion-a-year program must be modernized to ensure a fair financial return to taxpayers and address climate change.

Trump accused his predecessor of waging a “war on coal” and boasted in a speech to Congress that he has made “a historic effort to massively reduce job-crushing regulations,” including some that threaten “the future and livelihoods of our great coal miners.”

The order will also chip away at other regulations, including scrapping language on the “social cost” of greenhouse gases. It will initiate a review of efforts to reduce the emission of methane in oil and natural gas production as well as a Bureau of Land Management hydraulic fracturing rule, to determine whether those reflect the president’s policy priorities.

It will also rescind Obama-era executive orders and memoranda, including one that addressed climate change and national security and one that sought to prepare the country for the impacts of climate change.

The administration is still in discussion about whether it intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. But the moves to be announced Tuesday will undoubtedly make it more difficult for the U.S. to achieve its goals.

Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt, alarmed environmental groups and scientists earlier this month when he said he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. The statement is at odds with mainstream scientific consensus and Pruitt’s own agency.

The overwhelming majority of peer-reviewed studies and climate scientists agree the planet is warming, mostly due to man-made sources, including carbon dioxide, methane, halocarbons and nitrogen oxide.

The official who briefed reporters said the president does believe in man-made climate change.

The power-plant rule Trump is set to address in his order has been on hold since last year as a federal appeals court considers a challenge by coal-friendly states and more than 100 companies who call the plan an unconstitutional power grab.

Opponents say the plan will kill coal-mining jobs and drive up electricity costs. The Obama administration, some Democratic-led states and environmental groups countered that it would spur thousands of clean-energy jobs and help the U.S. meet ambitious goals to reduce carbon pollution set by the international agreement signed in Paris.

Trump’s order on coal-fired power plants follows an executive order he signed last month mandating a review of an Obama-era rule aimed at protecting small streams and wetlands from development and pollution. The order instructs the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review a rule that redefined “waters of the United States” protected under the Clean Water Act to include smaller creeks and wetlands.

While Republicans have blamed Obama-era environmental regulations for the loss of coal jobs, federal data shows that U.S. mines have been shedding jobs for decades under presidents from both parties as a result of increasing automation and competition from cheaper natural gas. Another factor is the plummeting cost of solar panels and wind turbines, which now can produce emissions-free electricity cheaper than burning coal.

According to an Energy Department analysis released in January, coal mining now accounts for fewer than 70,000 U.S. jobs. By contrast, renewable energy — including wind, solar and biofuels — now accounts for more than 650,000 U.S. jobs.

The Trump administration’s plans drew praise from business groups and condemnation from environmental groups.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue praised the president for taking “bold steps to make regulatory relief and energy security a top priority.”

“These executive actions are a welcome departure from the previous administration’s strategy of making energy more expensive through costly, job-killing regulations that choked our economy,” he said.

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy accused the Trump administration of wanting “us to travel back to when smokestacks damaged our health and polluted our air, instead of taking every opportunity to support clean jobs of the future.”

“This is not just dangerous; it’s embarrassing to us and our businesses on a global scale to be dismissing opportunities for new technologies, economic growth, and U.S. leadership,” she said in a statement.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press

Two months out of office, Barack Obama is having a post-presidency like no other

The first cocktail party at Barack Obama‘s new office last month was certainly more casual than any he had hosted in recent years. The wine bore a random assortment of labels, as if assembled potluck-style. The self-serve appetizers were set out in the narrow hallway. The host, tieless, eschewed formal remarks, as a few dozen of his old administration officials – Joe Biden and former chief of staff Denis McDonough, as well as more junior ones – mingled in a minimalist wood-paneled suite that could be mistaken for a boutique law firm.

“It was a bit of a shock to the system,” said Peter Velz, who used to work in the White House communications office. “You’re bumping up right against the vice president as he’s getting cheese from the cheese plate.”

As the dinner hour drew near, the former president exited with a familiar excuse, Velz recalled: “He was joking if he doesn’t get back to Michelle, he’s going to be in trouble.”

So far, Obama is trying to approach his post-presidency in the same way as his cocktail-hosting duties – keeping things low-key, despite clamoring from Democrats for him to do more. “He is enjoying a lower profile where he can relax, reflect and enjoy his family and friends,” said his former senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

But the unprecedented nature of this particular post-presidency means his respite could be brief. Even while taking some downtime at a luxurious resort in the South Pacific last week, Obama put out a statement urging Republicans not to unilaterally dismantle his signature health care law.

Not only are the Obamas still young and unusually popular for a post-White House couple, their decision to stay in Washington while their younger daughter finishes high school has combined with the compulsion of the new Trump administration to keep pulling them back into the spotlight.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly invoked his predecessor to blame him for the “mess” he says he inherited: “jobs pouring out of the country,” “major problems” in the Middle East and North Korea. A post-election show of camaraderie has ended; the two have not spoken since Trump took office.

Trump dropped any remaining veneer of politeness this month with a series of tweets accusing Obama – without offering evidence – of illegally surveilling Trump Tower during the campaign. Obama was privately irritated at the allegation, which the director of the FBI and lawmakers from both parties dismissed as unfounded.

He has attempted to stay above the fray, watching from the sidelines as Republicans have pressed to unravel a slew of his initiatives – and emphasizing the need for a new generation of political leaders to step up in his place.

And yet, while other recent ex-presidents have devoted their retirement years to apolitical, do-gooder causes, Obama is gearing up to throw himself into the wonky and highly partisan issue of redistricting, with the goal of reversing the electoral declines Democrats experienced under his watch.

Both the continued interest in Obama and his desire to remain engaged in civic life place him in an unusual position for a former president. George W. Bush left office with low approval rates, retreating to Dallas to write a memoir and take up painting. Bill Clinton decamped for New York on a somewhat higher note politically but downshifted to a mission of building his family’s foundation and supporting his wife’s political career.

Can the Obamas put their heads down and build their ambitious presidential center while living only blocks from the White House? Or is it inevitable that he will get pulled back into the political swamp?

In February, Obama attended a Broadway performance of Arthur Miller‘s “The Price” along with his older daughter, Malia, and Jarrett. They slipped into the theater after the lights went down and left before they came up, most of the audience unaware of his presence – until a New York Times reporter sitting in front of him tweeted about it. By the time Obama left, a crowd had gathered outside.

Paparazzi wait outside of the D.C. SoulCycle exercise studio that Michelle Obama frequents, though she clearly does not appear interested in being photographed.

“They are still decompressing from an extremely intense period. It actually started not just eight years ago but really since his 2004 convention speech – and it never let up,” said a former senior West Wing staffer. “It’s like 12 years of extremely intense stress, political activity, scrutiny, responsibility as a national leader, and for the first lady as the surrogate in chief. … That’s been a big load for the both of them.”

To escape the spotlight, the Obamas have taken multiple vacations since leaving the White House – to Palm Springs, the Caribbean and Hawaii. After meeting with tech executives about his presidential center recently, Obama headed to Oahu, where he golfed with friends and dined at Buzz’s Lanikai steakhouse in Kailua.

Three days later he jetted off in a Gulfstream G550 to Tetiaroa, a South Pacific island once owned by Marlon Brando. He plans an extended stay there to start writing his White House memoir, according to a person familiar with his plans who asked for anonymity to discuss them.

His whereabouts have been obsessively scrutinized. The conservative Independent Journal Review hinted at some murky connection between Obama’s Oahu visit and a Hawaii federal court ruling putting a temporary stay on Trump’s latest travel ban; the conspiratorial story was later retracted. At a GOP dinner, Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., declared that Obama stayed in Washington “to run the shadow government that is going to totally upset the new agenda.” (Kelly later played down his claim.)

Trump, meanwhile, has kept his distance. Before he took office, the new president said he intended to seek Obama’s counsel in the future, but he has not. Trump called once to thank Obama for the letter left in his desk, a pleasant tradition among presidents, but Obama was traveling at the time, according to an individual familiar with the exchange. When Obama returned the call, Trump conveyed his thanks through an aide but said there was no need to get Obama on the phone.

Few believe the Obamas plan to stay in Washington beyond their daughter Sasha‘s 2019 graduation from Sidwell Friends School. “People admire and respect the decision that Barack and Michelle Obama made as parents to minimize the disruption to their children,” former vice president Al Gore told The Washington Post. “When I left my job in the White House, my kids were out of high school. If they had still been in grade school or high school, I might have well made the decision to stay in the city.”

When Obama has been in town, he has not been much of a public presence. Both he and the former first lady have entertained friends in their Kalorama home, newly redecorated to suit their modern style; and both frequently go into in their new West End office space.

About 15 staffers work there, with the framed flag that the Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden presented to the former president displayed in the entryway. One floor of the new office houses aides, including Jarrett, who are helping to build Obama’s foundation, which is headquartered in Chicago.

For now, Obama is delegating political work to associates – notably former attorney general Eric Holder, whom he has tapped to lead the redistricting project that aims to help Democrats redraw legislative maps that many see as tilted toward the GOP. He also endorsed Tom Perez, his former secretary of labor, in a successful bid to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee. His first major speech as a private citizen will come in May, where he will be awarded a Medal of Courage as part of a celebration of President John F. Kennedy‘s centennial.

Michelle Obama, who has a team of four staffers in the office, is spending more time than her husband in Washington, working on her own post-White House book while remaining focused on the home front.

“She’s got one daughter to get off to college, another is a (sophomore) in high school. All of that comes first,” said Tina Tchen, her White House chief of staff. “Now she will also be working on the book and still keeping up her engagement with the community as she always has.”

Her first forays back into public have been visits to D.C. public schools in predominantly minority neighborhoods. These visits have drawn extra attention, perhaps because Melania Trump has held very few public events so far.

Michelle Obama marked International Women’s Day this month by visiting the Cardozo Education Campus and praising its program for recent immigrants. Without mentioning Trump by name, it seemed to be a swipe at his immigration policies.

“She’s deliberate. She likes to be strategic,” said Jocelyn Frye, who attended Harvard Law with the former first lady and served as her first White House policy director. “She doesn’t just do stuff by the seat of her pants.”

Unlike other former first couples, the Obamas do not necessarily have to take to a podium to make a statement. They know their every public movement is plumbed for meaning.

Caught in glimpses over the past few weeks, they appeared relatively rested and refreshed, even as they continue to decompress.

They joined their close friends Anita Blanchard and Marty Nesbitt at the National Gallery of Art to see an exhibit of Chicago artist Theaster Gates‘s unique work – installations constructed from pieces of demolished buildings from African American communities.

Gallery director Earl “Rusty” Powell described it as a “casual Sunday afternoon visit” – but someone alerted the Associated Press, which stationed a photographer outside to capture them as they emerged. The former president’s leather jacket and dark-washed blue jeans drew much approval from outlets that had showered the Obamas with attention for years: “Chic and serene,” opined a Vogue writer.

Obama was similarly “relaxed and calm” when he dropped in on a Chicago meeting with community organizers planning his future presidential library, according to participant Torrey Barrett.

“When he saw me, it wasn’t a traditional handshake,” said Barrett, founder and CEO of the KLEO Community Family Life Center, which sits near the library site. “It was actually a dap, where we shook hands and patted on the back at the same time. … He said he and Michelle’s main priority now is to make sure the library happens.”

When the group posed for a photo with Obama, the Rev. Richard Tolliver, who has known him since his days in the Illinois legislature, stood to his old friend’s right.

“I had my arm around his back and he had his arm around mine,” Tolliver recalled. “I reminded him that the last time I tried to hug him, the Secret Service snatched my arm away. We laughed. He didn’t come off as stiff and formal, projecting the authority of his former office.”

But even in retirement, Obama was in a hurry. After 15 minutes, he rushed off to another engagement.

Republished with permission of The Washington Post.

White House, in gamble, demands make-or-break health vote

Abandoning negotiations, President Donald Trump demanded a make-or-break vote on health care legislation in the House, threatening to leave “Obamacare” in place and move on to other issues if Friday’s vote fails.

The risky move, part gamble and part threat, was presented to GOP lawmakers behind closed doors Thursday night after a long and intense day that saw a planned vote on the health care bill scrapped as the legislation remained short of votes amid cascading negotiations among conservative lawmakers, moderates and others.

At the end of it the president had had enough and was ready to vote and move on, whatever the result, Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney told lawmakers.

“‘Negotiations are over, we’d like to vote tomorrow and let’s get this done for the American people.’ That was it,” Rep. Duncan Hunter of California said as he left the meeting, summarizing Mulvaney’s message to lawmakers.

“Let’s vote,” White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said as he walked out.

“For seven and a half years we have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it’s collapsing and it’s failing families, and tomorrow we’re proceeding,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said, then walked off without answering as reporters demanded to know whether the bill had the votes to pass.

The outcome of Friday’s vote was impossible to predict. Both conservative and moderate lawmakers had claimed the bill lacked votes after a long day of talks. But the White House appeared ready to gamble that the prospect of failing to repeal former President Barack Obama‘s health law, after seven years of promising to do exactly that, would force lawmakers into the “yes” column.

“It’s done tomorrow. Or ‘Obamacare’ stays,” said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a top Trump ally in the House.

Collins was among those predicting success Friday, but others didn’t hide their anxiety about the outcome.

Asked whether Republicans would be unified on Friday’s vote, freshman Rep Matt Gaetz of Florida said, “I sure hope so, or we’ll have the opportunity to watch a unified Democratic caucus impeach Donald Trump in two years when we lose the majority.”

Thursday’s maneuvers added up to high drama on Capitol Hill, but Friday promised even more suspense with the prospect of leadership putting a major bill on the floor uncertain about whether it would pass or fail.

The Republican legislation would halt Obama’s tax penalties against people who don’t buy coverage and cut the federal-state Medicaid program for low earners, which the Obama statute had expanded. It would provide tax credits to help people pay medical bills, though generally skimpier than Obama’s statute provides. It also would allow insurers to charge older Americans more and repeal tax boosts the law imposed on high-income people and health industry companies.

The measure would also block federal payments to Planned Parenthood for a year, another stumbling block for GOP moderates.

In a concession to the conservative House Freedom Caucus, many of whose members have withheld support, the legislation would repeal requirements for insurers to cover “essential health benefits” such as maternity care and substance abuse treatment.

The drama unfolded seven years to the day after Obama signed his landmark law, an anniversary GOP leaders meant to celebrate with a vote to undo the divisive legislation. “Obamacare” gave birth to the tea party movement and helped Republicans win and keep control of Congress and then take the White House.

Instead, as GOP leaders were forced to delay the vote Thursday, C-SPAN filled up the time playing footage of Obama signing the Affordable Care Act.

“In the final analysis, this bill falls short,” GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state said in a statement Thursday as she became the latest rank-and-file Republican, normally loyal to leadership, to declare her opposition. “The difficulties this bill would create for millions of children were left unaddressed,” she said, citing the unraveling of Medicaid.

In a danger sign for Republicans, a Quinnipiac University poll found that people disapprove of the GOP legislation by 56 percent to 17 percent, with 26 percent undecided. Trump’s handling of health care was viewed unfavorably by 6 in 10.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who as speaker was Obama’s crucial lieutenant in passing the Democratic bill in the first place, couldn’t resist a dig at the GOP disarray.

“You may be a great negotiator,” she said of Trump. “Rookie’s error for bringing this up on a day when clearly you’re not ready.”

Obama declared in a statement that “America is stronger” because of the current law and said Democrats must make sure “any changes will make our health care system better, not worse for hardworking Americans.” Trump tweeted to supporters, “Go with our plan! Call your Rep & let them know.”

Unlike Obama and Pelosi when they passed Obamacare, the Republicans had failed to build an outside constituency or coalition to support their bill. Instead, medical professionals, doctors and hospitals — major employers in some districts — as well as the AARP and other influential consumer groups were nearly unanimously opposed. So were outside conservative groups who argued the bill didn’t go far enough. The Chamber of Commerce was in favor.

Moderates were given pause by projections of 24 million Americans losing coverage in a decade and higher out-of-pocket costs for many low-income and older people, as predicted by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. In an updated analysis Thursday, the CBO said late changes to the bill meant to win over reluctant lawmakers would cut beneficial deficit reduction in half, while failing to cover more people.

And, House members were mindful that the bill, even if passed by the House, faces a tough climb in the Senate.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

House Freedom Caucus chairman says there’s ‘no deal’ on the GOP health care legislation after White House meeting

The Latest on the upcoming health care vote in the House (all times local):

1:35 p.m.

The chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus says there’s “no deal” on the GOP health care legislation after a meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump.

The assertion from Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina throws plans for a vote on the bill later Thursday into doubt.

Two dozen or so Freedom Caucus members have opposed the legislation pushed by GOP leaders, saying it doesn’t go far enough to repeal “Obamacare.”

But the group had been negotiating directly with the White House in hopes of reaching agreement to eliminate additional requirements on insurers.

Without a deal with the Freedom Caucus, and with moderate-leaning members defecting, it seems unlikely GOP leaders will have the votes they need to go forward with a vote later Thursday as they had planned.

___

10:06 a.m.

Former President Barack Obama is celebrating the seventh anniversary of his landmark health care law, saying in a statement on Thursday that “America is stronger because of the Affordable Care Act.”

Obama does not directly address GOP efforts to repeal his law, which are coming to a head Thursday as House leaders push toward a vote on their repeal legislation. Republicans remain short of votes.

The former president does say that if Republicans are serious about lowering costs and expanding coverage, and are prepared to work with Democrats, “That’s something we all should welcome.”

But, Obama says, “we should start from the baseline that any changes will make our health care system better, not worse for hardworking Americans.”

He notes 20 million Americans gained coverage under his law.

___

9:40 a.m.

President Donald Trump is urging people to call their lawmakers to express support for the Republican legislation to repeal and replace “Obamacare.”

Trump posted a video on Twitter Thursday asking people to get behind the plan. He says that people were “given many lies” about the Affordable Care Act.

Trump added that the legislation was “terrific” and “you’re going to be very, very happy.”

The GOP legislation was on the brink hours before Republican leaders planned to put it on the House floor for a showdown vote. Trump was spending the final hours trying to close the deal with conservatives who have opposed the plan.

___

9:00 a.m.

The GOP’s long-promised legislation to repeal and replace “Obamacare” stands on the brink, just hours before Republican leaders planned to put it on the House floor for a showdown vote.

The stakes are high, and Republicans are staring at the possibility of a failure that would throw prospects for their other legislative goals into uncertainty. Speaking to members of the conservative Freedom Caucus mid-day Thursday, Trump is pitching concessions to representatives who want to limit the requirement for health plans to include benefits including substance abuse and maternity care. But those changes appear to be scaring off at least some moderate Republicans.

In a count by The Associated Press, at least 26 Republicans say they opposed the bill, enough to narrowly defeat the measure.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump to Capitol in last-ditch lobbying for health care bill

President Donald Trump is rallying support for the Republican health care overhaul by taking his case directly to GOP lawmakers at the Capitol, two days before the House plans a climactic vote that poses an important early test for his presidency. Top House Republicans unveiled revisions to their bill in hopes of nailing down support.

At a rally Monday night in Louisville, Kentucky, Trump underscored what he called “the crucial House vote.”

“This is our long-awaited chance to finally get rid of Obamacare,” he said of repealing former President Barack Obama‘s landmark law, a GOP goal since its 2010 enactment. “We’re going to do it.”

 Trump’s closed-door meeting with House Republicans was coming as party leaders released 43 pages worth of changes to a bill whose prospects remain dicey. Their proposals were largely aimed at addressing dissent that their measure would leave many older people with higher costs.

Included was an unusual approach: language paving the way for the Senate, if it chooses, to make the bill’s tax credit more generous for people age 50-64. Details in the documents released were initially unclear, but one GOP lawmaker and an aide said the plan sets aside $85 billion over 10 years for that purpose.

The leaders’ proposals would accelerate the repeal of tax increases Obama imposed on higher earners, the medical industry and others to this year instead of 2018. It would be easier for some people to deduct medical expenses from their taxes.

Older and disabled Medicaid beneficiaries would get larger benefits. But it would also curb future growth of the overall Medicaid program, which helps low earners afford medical coverage, and let states impose work requirements on some recipients. Additional states could not join the 31 that opted to expand Medicaid to more beneficiaries under Obama’s law, the Affordable Care Act.

In a bid to cement support from upstate New Yorkers, the revisions would also stop that state from passing on over $2 billion a year in Medicaid costs to counties. The change was pushed by Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., one of Trump’s first congressional supporters. Local officials have complained the practice overburdens their budgets.

Republican support teetered last week when a nonpartisan congressional analysis projected the measure would strip 24 million people of coverage in a decade. The Congressional Budget Office also said the bill would cause huge out-of-pocket increases for many lower earners and people aged 50 to 64.

Democrats have opposed the GOP repeal effort. They tout Obama’s expansion of coverage to 20 million additional people and consumer-friendly coverage requirements it imposed on insurers, including abolishing annual and lifetime coverage limits and forcing them to insure seriously ill people.

The GOP bill would dismantle Obama’s requirements that most people buy policies and that larger companies cover workers. Federal subsidies based largely on peoples’ incomes and insurance premiums would end, and a Medicaid expansion to 11 million more low-income people would disappear.

The Republican legislation would provide tax credits to help people pay medical bills based chiefly on age, and open-ended federal payments to help states cover Medicaid costs would be cut. Insurers could charge older consumers five times the premiums they charge younger people instead of Obama’s 3-1 limit, and would boost premiums 30 percent for those who let coverage lapse.

House approval would give the legislation much-needed momentum as it moves to the Senate, which Republicans control 52-48 but where five Republicans have expressed opposition. Trump used Monday’s trip to single out perhaps the measure’s most vociferous foe — Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul.

“He’s a good guy,” Trump said of one 2016 rival for the GOP presidential nomination. “And I look forward to working with him so we can get this bill passed, in some form, so that we can pass massive tax reform, which we can’t do till this happens.”

Enactment of the health care bill would clear the way for Congress to move to revamping the tax code and other GOP priorities. Defeat would wound Trump two months into his administration and raise questions about his ability to win support from his own party moving forward.

Among the disgruntled were GOP lawmakers in the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, though the strength of their opposition was unclear. The group has seemed to have around 40 members, but that number may be lower now and some have expressed support or an open mind for the bill.

Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., an outspoken opponent, said the group was not taking a formal position on the measure. That could indicate that a significant fraction of its members were not willing to vow “no” votes.

Meadows said he believes the House will reject the bill without major changes.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press

Rick Kriseman taps Jacob Smith to lead re-election campaign

Jacob Smith will serve as campaign manager for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s re-election campaign.

Smith worked in Democratic politics going back to his freshman year at the University of Florida in 2008 when he volunteered for Barack Obama‘s effort in Florida. He also worked on Obama’s 2012 campaign in Southwest Florida.

His most recent job was working as the Michigan organizing director for the Hillary Clinton campaign last year. He began working for the Clinton campaign in April of 2015 as a regional organizing director in New Hampshire, then moved on to Maine and Illinois. He later was selected as organizing director in Indiana and Northern California.

This isn’t Smith’s time working with Kriseman. He served as the field director for Kriseman’s successful 2013 campaign for mayor in St. Pete and then moved on to serve as the field director for Alex Sink’s bid for Florida’s 13th Congressional District seat against David Jolly in early 2014. He then went on to work as field director for Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial campaign in 2014.

“Being a part of the team that elected Mayor Kriseman was an incredible experience,” Smith said. “I’m honored that the mayor asked me to be a part of it again. The mayor has accomplished a lot over the last 3 years. We’re excited to talk about how far St. Petersburg has come under Mayor Kriseman’s leadership.”

Winners and losers in Donald Trump’s first budget plan

Military spending would get the biggest boost in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget. Environmental programs, medical research, Amtrak and an array of international and cultural programs — from Africa to Appalachia — would take big hits, among the many parts of the government he’d put on a crash diet.

The budget proposal out Thursday is a White House wish list; it’ll be up to Congress to decide where money goes. If Trump gets his way, there will be more losers than winners among government departments and programs.

Some programs would tread water: WIC grants — money to states for health care and nutrition for low-income women, infants and children — are one example. Monday for states grants for water infrastructure projects would be held level as well.

Some others would lose everything: Trump proposes to eliminate money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the national endowments for the arts and the humanities and more than a dozen other independent agencies financed by the government.

A sampling:

WINNERS

—The Pentagon. Trump proposes a 10 percent increase in the massive defense budget, adding $52 billion in military spending in one year top expand personnel, equipment and capability. Another $2 billion would go to nuclear weapons.

—Veterans Affairs. Up 5.9 percent. That’s an additional $4.4 billion, driven by ever-growing health care costs.

—Homeland Security. Up 6.8 percent. That’s $2.8 billion more. Most of the increase, $2.6 billion, would be to help kick-start Trump’s promised border wall. The president has repeatedly said Mexico would pay for the wall; Mexican officials are adamant that they won’t. Trump also wants an extra $1.5 billion for more immigration jails and deportations, and $314 million to hire 1,500 immigration enforcement and border patrol agents.

—The National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the maintenance and safety of the nuclear arsenal and its research labs. The agency would grow by 11.3 percent, or $1.4 billion, so that it takes up more than half the Energy Department’s budget, which would shrink overall.

—Opioid prevention and treatment: a proposed $500 million increase in the Health and Human Services Department to counter the epidemic and more money for the Justice Department to combat the problem.

—School choice: $1.4 billion more to expand school choice programs, bringing spending in that area to $20 billion, even as the Education Department’s overall budget would be cut by $9 billion, or 13 percent.

LOSERS:

—EPA, facing a 31.4 percent cut, or $2.6 billion. The plan would cut 3,200 jobs at the agency, eliminate a new plan for tighter regulations on power plants, and “zero out” programs to clean up the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay.

—Health and Human Services, facing the largest cut in dollar terms: $12.6 billion, or 16.2 percent. The plan would cut $5.8 billion from the nearly $32 billion National Institutes of Health, the nation’s premier medical research agency, bringing its total to $25.9 billion. It’s not clear what research on diseases or disorders would lose the most money, although the budget plan specifically calls for elimination of a division that focuses on global health. Already, the NIH’s budget hasn’t kept pace with inflation over the last decade, making it dramatically harder for scientists around the country to win money for research projects into potential new treatments or better understanding of disease.

—State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. Down 28 percent, or $10 billion. Foreign aid would be reduced, as would money to the U.N. and to multilateral development banks including the World Bank. Some foreign military grants would be shifted to loans.

—Labor Department. A more than 20 percent cut, or $2.5 billion. To be eliminated: a $434 million program that has helped more than 1 million people 55 and older find jobs, according to the department. The blueprint says the Senior Community Service Employment Program is inefficient and unproven.

—Agriculture Department. A nearly 21 percent cut, or $4.7 billion, achieved in part by cutting land acquisition in the National Forest System, rural water infrastructure and statistical capabilities at the department. Trump also proposes reduced staff in county USDA offices, an idea that fell flat in Congress when President Barack Obama proposed a similar reduction.

—Transportation Department. Trump proposes a cut of nearly 13 percent, or $2.4 billion. Amtrak, local transit agencies, and rural communities that depend on federal subsidies to obtain scheduled airline service would take the brunt. Trump would eliminate subsidies for Amtrak long-distance train routes, which would most likely mean the end of those routes since they are generally not profitable. Money for the Federal Transit Administration grant program for new light rail and subway construction would be eliminated except for multi-year projects the government has already committed to help fund.

—Internal Revenue Service: After years of cuts, the IRS budget would be cut again — by $239 million from this year’s spending levels. The IRS budget is down about $1 billion from its height in 2010. Since then, the agency has lost more than 17,000 employees. As a result, the chances of getting audited have rarely been so low.

—Commerce Department. A 16 percent or $1.5 billion cut. The plan would eliminate more than $250 million in National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grants, including a program that helps coastal communities adapt to climate change, deal with invasive species and maintain healthy water and fisheries. Also on the chopping block: the Economic Development Administration, which provides federal dollars to foster job creation and attract private investment; and the Minority Business Development Agency, which is dedicated to helping minority-owned business get off the ground and grow. The Trump administration says the two agencies duplicate work done elsewhere.

—School programs: The plan would eliminate a $1.2 billion initiative that supports before- and after-school programs as well as summer programs.

—Independent agencies supported by tax dollars. If Trump prevails, a hefty contingent of entities would lose all federal money and be shut. Among them, the public broadcasting corporation, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Chemical Safety Board, the United States Institute of Peace, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for National Community Service and the African Development Foundation. That foundation was established by Congress and provides seed money and other support to enterprises in some 20 countries on that continent.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

House GOP health bill facing fresh House committee test

The White House and Republican leaders are talking to rank-and-file lawmakers about revising the GOP health care overhaul, hoping to keep a rebellion by conservatives and moderates from snowballing and imperiling the party’s showpiece legislation.

Four days after a congressional report projected the bill would pry coverage from millions of voters, signs of fraying GOP support for the legislation were showing. The measure would strike down much of former President Barack Obama‘s 2010 overhaul and reduce the federal role, including financing, for health care consumers and is opposed uniformly by Democrats.

In a fresh test of Republicans’ willingness to embrace the legislation, the House Budget Committee was considering the measure Thursday. Republicans expressed confidence the bill would be approved, but the vote could be tight. The panel can’t make significant changes but was expected to endorse non-binding, suggested changes to nail down votes.

The bill would eliminate the tax penalty that pressures people to buy coverage and the federal subsidies that let millions afford it, replacing them with tax credits that are bigger for older people. It would cut Medicaid, repeal the law’s tax increases on higher earning Americans and require 30 percent higher premiums for consumers who let coverage lapse.

Overt GOP opposition grew after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected Monday that the legislation would push 24 million Americans off coverage in a decade and shift out-of-pocket costs toward lower income, older people. Obama’s law has provided coverage to around 20 million additional people

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Wednesday that leaders could now make “some necessary improvements and refinements” to the legislation. But he declined to commit to bringing the measure to the House floor next week, a schedule Republican leaders have repeatedly said they intended to keep.

At a late rally in Nashville Wednesday, President Donald Trump said: “We’re going to arbitrate, we’re all going to get together, we’re going to get something done.”

Vice President Mike Pence met with House GOP lawmakers and pressed them to unite behind the legislation.

“‘It’s our job to get it out of here and get it to the Senate,'” Pence told Republicans, according to Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla. That would let Trump pressure “Democrats in these red states to come on board,'” Ross said, referring to Republican-leaning states where Democratic senators face re-election next year.

But insurgents still abound.

Conservatives want to end Obama’s expansion of Medicaid to 11 million additional low-income people next year, not 2020 as the bill proposes. They say a GOP proposed tax credit to help people pay medical costs is too generous, and they want to terminate all of Obama’s insurance requirements, including mandatory coverage of specified services like drug counseling.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., head of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus, continued pushing for changes. He claimed at least 21 members of his group would oppose the measure as written; the bill would fail if 22 Republicans join all Democrats in opposing it.

But underscoring the push-pull problem GOP leaders face in winning votes, moderates feel the tax credits are too stingy, especially for low earners and older people. They oppose accelerating the phase-out of the Medicaid expansion and are unhappy with long-term cuts the measure would inflict on the entire program.

Terminating the Medicaid expansion in 2020 and not 2018 “is sacrosanct to me,” said moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J.

In a new complication, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the measure lacked the votes to pass in the Senate, where Republicans hold a precarious 52-48 majority. That left House members angry over being asked to take a politically risky vote for legislation likely to be altered.

Moderates “don’t like the idea of taking a vote in the House that may go nowhere in the Senate,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.

Amid the maneuvering, a federal report said more than 12 million people have signed up for coverage this year under the very statute that Republicans want to repeal. That figure underscored the potential political impact of the GOP’s next move.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump looking to Sarah Huckabee Sanders in tough moments

Faced with aggressive on-air questioning about the president’s wiretapping claims, Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t flinch, she went folksy.

Speaking to George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America,” she pulled out a version of an old line from President Lyndon Johnson: “If the president walked across the Potomac, the media would be reporting that he could not swim.”

The 34-year-old spokeswoman for President Donald Trump was schooled in hardscrabble politics — and down-home rhetoric — from a young age by her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Her way with a zinger — and her unshakable loyalty to an often unpredictable boss — are big reasons why the deputy press secretary is a rising star in Trump’s orbit.

In recent weeks, Sanders has taken on a notably more prominent role in selling Trump’s agenda, including on television and at White House press briefings. As White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s public profile has fluctuated in recent weeks amid criticism of his performance, Sanders has increasingly become a chief defender of Trump in some of his toughest moments.

Sanders’ rise has fueled speculation that she’s becoming the president’s favored articulator, a notion she disputes. “It’s hard for any one person to maintain a schedule of being the singular face all day every day,” she said. She argued that more than one press aide spoke for President Barack Obama.

“When Eric Schultz went on TV did anybody say Josh Earnest is getting fired?” Sanders asked. “Was that story ever written?”

Spicer echoed that message: “My goal is to use other key folks in the administration and the White House to do the shows.”

Indeed, speaking on behalf of this president is a challenging and consuming job.

Trump often presents his own thoughts directly on Twitter in the early hours of the morning and is known to closely follow his surrogates on television, assessing their performances. He has been happy with Sanders’ advocacy, said Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president.

“She understands America. She understands the president. And she understands how to connect the two,” said Conway, who noted that Sanders had appeared on television throughout the campaign as well. “The president has a great deal of trust in Sarah.”

On some days recently Sanders has been the administration’s messenger of choice, even when news outlets aren’t thrilled. Last Sunday, NBC’s Chuck Todd said on-air that “Meet the Press” had sought a “senior administration official or a Cabinet secretary,” but that the “White House offered a deputy press secretary. And so we declined.”

Sanders credits her larger-than-life dad with helping her learn how to deliver a message. Huckabee, a frequent political commentator, has long been famed for his pithy rhetoric. The two speak most mornings before 6 a.m.

“I’ll call and say, ‘What do you think if I say this?’ He’ll say, ‘That’s really good. You might try to say it a little bit more like X,'” she said.

On advocating for the unconventional Trump, Sanders admits that even in the press office, they don’t always get a heads up before Trump tweets. But she says part of Trump’s appeal is that he “directly communicates with the American people on a regular basis.”

Arkansas-raised, Sanders moved her young family to Washington to be part of the administration. She is married to a Republican consultant and they have three young children. She joined the Trump campaign not long after her father’s second presidential bid — which she managed — fizzled out in the 2016 Iowa caucuses. She said she was drawn to Trump’s message of economic populism and his outsider attitude.

“One of the big things my dad was running on was changing Washington, breaking that cycle,” Sanders said. “I felt like the outsider component was important and I thought he had the ability to actually win and defeat Hillary.”

She also said she was drawn to the Trump family’s close involvement in the campaign, “having kind of been in the same scenario for my dad’s campaign.”

Being part of an effort to defeat Hillary Clinton had extra significance for Sanders, whose father entered the Arkansas governor’s mansion just a few years after Bill Clinton exited and who shared advisers and friends in the state. Sanders said at times it was difficult to be aggressive, but she “so disagreed” with Hillary Clinton’s policies, that she kept on.

Sanders entered politics young, helping with her father’s campaigns as a child and then working her way up the ranks until she had the top job in 2016. In 2007, she moved to Iowa to run her father’s operation in the leadoff caucus state, where he was the surprise winner. She has also served in the Education Department under President George W. Bush and worked on a number of Senate and presidential campaigns.

Mike Huckabee said his daughter was always a natural.

“When most kids at 7 or 8 are jumping rope, she’s sitting at the kitchen table listening to Dick Morris doing cross tabs on statewide polls,” said Huckabee, referring to the adviser-turned-adversary to President Bill Clinton.

Those Arkansas ties continue to hold strong. Sanders has consulted with friends from the state about her new role, including Mack McLarty, the former Clinton chief of staff, who she said counseled her to appreciate the “historic opportunity” to work in the White House.

Her rising profile has come with ups and downs. Sanders says she is turning off social media alerts because she has been flooded with criticism. For now, she has not been treated to a portrayal on “Saturday Night Live” — like Spicer and Conway. But her dad says that if that comes next, she should roll with it.

“One of the great honors of life is to be parodied,” Huckabee said. “It’s kind of an indication that you’ve arrived at a place of real power.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

After 2 months, Jim Mattis is only Donald Trump pick at Pentagon

Jim Mattis is not lonely in the Pentagon, but two months into his tenure as secretary of defense not a single political appointee has joined him.

The retired Marine general, who took office just hours after President Donald Trump was sworn in, has sparred with the White House over choices for high-priority civilian positions that, while rarely visible to the public, are key to developing and implementing defense policy at home and abroad.

When the Obama administration closed shop in January, only one of its top-tier Pentagon political appointees stayed in place — Robert Work, the deputy defense secretary. He agreed to remain until his successor is sworn in. So far, no nominee for deputy has been announced, let alone confirmed by the Senate.

The administration has announced four nominees for senior Pentagon civilian jobs, and two of those later withdrew. Trump’s nominee to lead the Army, Vincent Viola, withdrew in early February because of financial entanglements, and about three weeks later Philip B. Bilden, the Navy secretary nominee, withdrew for similar reasons.

On Tuesday, the White House announced it intends to nominate John J. Sullivan to be the Pentagon’s chief lawyer. In January, Trump announced former congresswoman Heather Wilson of New Mexico as his nominee to be Air Force secretary, but he has not submitted the nomination to the Senate.

“The process has definitely slowed,” said Dov Zakheim, who served as the Pentagon budget chief during the George W. Bush administration. He said he would be surprised if Mattis gets any senior appointees confirmed before mid-April.

“The delays are already causing much consternation among allies, especially in Europe and Southeast Asia, as their most senior working level day-to-day contacts – the deputy assistant secretaries — may not come onboard until the summer,” Zakheim said in an email exchange. “Lots of mayhem could take place before then.”

This is not an issue at the Pentagon alone. While most of Trump’s choices for Cabinet and Cabinet-level posts have won Senate confirmation, 500-plus government-wide sub-Cabinet level positions requiring Senate confirmation remain unfilled.

There are few visible signs that the absence of Trump appointments in the Pentagon has affected its management of the counter-Islamic State campaign or military operations in Afghanistan. But the president has ordered a number of major policy reviews that require senior-level Pentagon attention, including counter-IS strategy, nuclear and missile defense plans and a blueprint for building up and improving the combat-readiness of the military.

Even Republicans are taking note. Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said at a hearing Wednesday that when lawmakers have nuclear policy questions, “we do not have people in place in the new administration to answer some of those questions.”

Pentagon insiders say the appointment process, while contentious at times, has not produced significantly more friction than previous transitions in which the White House changed political parties. Democrat Barack Obama had fewer issues at the Pentagon when he took office in January 2009 because he kept in place Bush’s defense chief, Robert Gates, and Obama’s transition team quickly settled on nominees for key senior defense policy jobs.

When Bush made Donald H. Rumsfeld his defense chief in January 2001, Rumsfeld did not get his policy chief, Douglas Feith, in place until July. Rumsfeld, however, had an advantage that Mattis does not: some of his predecessor’s senior staff agreed to remain for months. By Rumsfeld’s count, it took the Bush White House 70 days on average to approve a recommended nominee, plus 52 more days for Senate confirmation.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said Mattis is committed to getting the right people in key jobs.

“He and his staff are actively conducting interviews and working collaboratively with the White House to nominate people to the Senate for confirmation,” Davis said. “We are in the final stages of vetting on several of these, and expect they will be announced soon.”

Walter Slocombe, who served as policy chief at the Pentagon during Bill Clinton‘s presidency, said the appointments process is unavoidably sluggish because of extensive political and security vetting. “Having said that, it’s a very bad idea that it takes so long,” he said. Career civil servants can fill the void for a time, but their power is limited.

“They’ll do enough to keep the engine turning over and be a big help in a crisis, but they’re not able to take the lead on policy formation,” he added.

Mattis has said little publicly about the pace of getting a new team installed, but officials familiar with the process say he and the White House have been at loggerheads on some picks. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Mattis may be about to prevail in one important appointment — Anne W. Patterson, a career diplomat and former ambassador to Egypt and Pakistan who recently retired after serving as the State Department’s assistant secretary for near eastern affairs.

Officials expect her to be announced soon as Trump’s nominee to serve as undersecretary of defense for policy, a position of broad responsibility for steering policy. Critics, including some Republicans, opposed her selection on grounds that as ambassador in Cairo she was too accommodating to former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Among other key Pentagon offices still without a presidentially appointed leader: intelligence, budget chief, weapons buyer, technology chief and personnel policy. These and other top positions were vacated by Obama appointees at the end of his term or earlier last year; they are now run by holdover officials in what the Pentagon calls a “performing the duties” status, meaning they can do the work unless it involves a duty that by law can be performed only by a Senate-confirmed appointee.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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