Donald Trump Archives - Page 2 of 204 - SaintPetersBlog

Tampa City Council members went to National League of Cities meeting last week. It didn’t go well

Last week, a group of Tampa City Council members flew to Washington for the National League of Cities’ annual Congressional City Conference, the first held in the Donald Trump administration.

It was not very encouraging, at least for the three Democrats.

“The consensus of the participants was fear, primarily of the unknown,” said Council Chair Mike Suarez.

The meetings took place concurrently to the unveiling of Trump’s proposed federal budget, which eliminates funding for the HOME Investment Partnership Program, which provides grants for low-income people to buy or rehabilitate homes, and the Choice Neighborhoods program, which provides grants to organizations attempting to revitalize neighborhoods.

It also would get rid of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which Suarez says “will severely hamper the city’s ability to provide help to our citizens.”

The proposed budget cuts also include removing the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, set up by the Obama administration’s 2009 economic stimulus package to provide an extra injection of cash for surface transportation projects. That program has distributed more than $5 billion for more than 400 projects, including Tampa’s Riverwalk.

Councilwoman Yolie Capin said the trip was expensive and what she mostly got out of “was all pretty bad news.”

“We’re pretty much on our own, the cities are, that’s what I got from it,” she said, adding that “it was my first League of Cities National Convention, and probably my last.”

Suarez says he served on a panel at the conference on the deductibility of Municipal Bonds, which, if eliminated, “would reduce the number of projects cities could fund and make our borrowing more expensive.”

Councilman Harry Cohen has also attended the conference during Obama’s term. He says it was a lot different last week.

“During the Obama years, the administration sent many top officials to speak to and interact with the elected officials from cities across the country,” he wrote in a text. “We heard from Vice President [JoeBiden, the head of the EPA, cabinet secretaries, etc. They were interested in and engaged with what was happening in America’s cities. This year, the only confirmed speaker from the administration was Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who ultimately canceled (EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt did speak at the event). Other than a few holdovers, we were totally ignored. They had nothing to say to us and they made no effort to pretend otherwise.”

Suarez says he remains hopeful that the Trump administration will give a boost to the cities when he releases his promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan. But there are some concerns now that with the President and the congress fixated on health care currently and a major tax overhaul later this year, that infrastructure plan may not happen as intended.

“Here’s a president who talks one thing — ‘oh, we’re going to have a huge rebuilding plan in America,’ and then the first budget comes out, and there’s nothing there,” Tampa Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor told FloridaPolitics.com this week. “So his rhetoric is not matching what he promised.”

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the White House is targeting “inefficient programs” and will shift funds into “more efficient infrastructure programs later on.”

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Paul Manafort had plan to benefit Vladamir Putin government

President Donald Trump‘s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

Manafort’s plans were laid out in documents obtained by the AP that included strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. How much work Manafort performed under the contract was unclear.

The disclosure comes as Trump campaign advisers are the subject of an FBI probe and two congressional investigations. Investigators are reviewing whether the Trump campaign and its associates coordinated with Moscow to meddle in the 2016 campaign. Manafort has dismissed the investigations as politically motivated and misguided, and said he never worked for Russian interests. The documents obtained by AP show Manafort’s ties to Russia were closer than previously revealed.

In a statement to the AP, Manafort confirmed that he worked for Deripaska in various countries but said the work was being unfairly cast as “inappropriate or nefarious” as part of a “smear campaign.”

“I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments,” Manafort said. “My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russia’s political interests.”

Deripaska became one of Russia’s wealthiest men under Putin, buying assets abroad in ways widely perceived to benefit the Kremlin’s interests. U.S. diplomatic cables from 2006 described Deripaska as “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis” and “a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin’s trips abroad.” In response to questions about Manafort’s consulting firm, a spokesman for Deripaska in 2008 — at least three years after they began working together — said Deripaska had never hired the firm. Another Deripaska spokesman in Moscow last week declined to answer AP’s questions.

Manafort worked as Trump’s unpaid campaign chairman last year from March until August. Trump asked Manafort to resign after AP revealed that Manafort had orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation until 2014 on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling pro-Russian political party.

The newly obtained business records link Manafort more directly to Putin’s interests in the region. According to those records and people with direct knowledge of Manafort’s work for Deripaska, Manafort made plans to open an office in Moscow, and at least some of Manafort’s work in Ukraine was directed by Deripaska, not local political interests there. The Moscow office never opened.

Manafort has been a leading focus of the U.S. intelligence investigation of Trump’s associates and Russia, according to a U.S. official. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the investigation were confidential. Meanwhile, federal criminal prosecutors became interested in Manafort’s activities years ago as part of a broad investigation to recover stolen Ukraine assets after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych there in early 2014. No U.S. criminal charges have ever been filed in the case.

FBI Director James Comey, in confirming to Congress the federal intelligence investigation this week, declined to say whether Manafort was a target. Manafort’s name was mentioned 28 times during the hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, mostly about his work in Ukraine. No one mentioned Deripaska.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time” in the campaign, even though as Trump’s presidential campaign chairman he led it during the crucial run-up to the Republican National Convention.

Manafort and his associates remain in Trump’s orbit. Manafort told a colleague this year that he continues to speak with Trump by telephone. Manafort’s former business partner in eastern Europe, Rick Gates, has been seen inside the White House on a number of occasions. Gates has since helped plan Trump’s inauguration and now runs a nonprofit organization, America First Policies, to back the White House agenda.

Gates, whose name does not appear in the documents, told the AP that he joined Manafort’s firm in 2006 and was aware Manafort had a relationship with Deripaska, but he was not aware of the work described in the memos. Gates said his work was focused on domestic U.S. lobbying and political consulting in Ukraine at the time. He said he stopped working for Manafort’s firm in March 2016 when he joined Trump’s presidential campaign.

Manafort told Deripaska in 2005 that he was pushing policies as part of his work in Ukraine “at the highest levels of the U.S. government — the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department,” according to the documents. He also said he had hired a “leading international law firm with close ties to President Bush to support our client’s interests,” but he did not identify the firm. Manafort also said he was employing unidentified legal experts for the effort at leading universities and think tanks, including Duke University, New York University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Manafort did not disclose details about the lobbying work to the Justice Department during the period the contract was in place.

Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, people who lobby in the U.S. on behalf of foreign political leaders or political parties must provide detailed reports about their actions to the department. Willfully failing to register is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, though the government rarely files criminal charges.

Deripaska owns Basic Element Co., which employs 200,000 people worldwide in the agriculture, aviation, construction, energy, financial services, insurance and manufacturing industries, and he runs one of the world’s largest aluminum companies. Forbes estimated his net worth at $5.2 billion. How much Deripaska paid Manafort in total is not clear, but people familiar with the relationship said money transfers to Manafort amounted to tens of millions of dollars and continued through at least 2009. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the secret payments publicly.

In strategy memos, Manafort proposed that Deripaska and Putin would benefit from lobbying Western governments, especially the U.S., to allow oligarchs to keep possession of formerly state-owned assets in Ukraine. He proposed building “long-term relationships” with Western journalists and a variety of measures to improve recruitment, communications and financial planning by pro-Russian parties in the region.

Manafort proposed extending his existing work in eastern Europe to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Georgia, where he pledged to bolster the legitimacy of governments friendly to Putin and undercut anti-Russian figures through political campaigns, nonprofit front groups and media operations.

For the $10 million contract, Manafort did not use his public-facing consulting firm, Davis Manafort. Instead, he used a company, LOAV Ltd., that he had registered in Delaware in 1992. He listed LOAV as having the same address of his lobbying and consulting firms in Alexandria, Virginia. In other records, LOAV’s address was listed as Manafort’s home, also in Alexandria. Manafort sold the home in July 2015 for $1.4 million. He now owns an apartment in Trump Tower in New York, as well as other properties in Florida and New York.

One strategy memo to Deripaska was written by Manafort and Rick Davis, his business partner at the time. In written responses to the AP, Davis said he did not know that his firm had proposed a plan to covertly promote the interests of the Russian government.

Davis said he believes Manafort used his name without his permission on the strategy memo. “My name was on every piece of stationery used by the company and in every memo prior to 2006. It does not mean I had anything to do with the memo described,” Davis said. He took a leave of absence from the firm in late 2006 to work on John McCain‘s 2008 presidential campaign.

Manafort’s work with Deripaska continued for years, though they had a falling out laid bare in 2014 in a Cayman Islands bankruptcy court. The billionaire gave Manafort nearly $19 million to invest in a Ukrainian TV company called Black Sea Cable, according to legal filings by Deripaska’s representatives. It said that after taking the money, Manafort and his associates stopped responding to Deripaska’s queries about how the funds had been used.

Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, Deripaska’s representatives openly accused Manafort of fraud and pledged to recover the money from him. After Trump earned the nomination, Deripaska’s representatives said they would no longer discuss the case.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Darryl Paulson: Do universities discriminate? The assault on conservative speakers at American universities

Free speech is an essential element for vibrant intellectual discourse and discovery at American universities. Part of that speech requires the students and faculty to be exposed to competing ideas. Too often, one side, the conservative side is missing in action not by choice, but by exclusion.

Since 2000, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has found over 300 cases where speakers were disinvited or shouted down on college campuses. The vast majority of these were conservatives.

Increasingly on university campuses, the prevailing view is that you are free to share your views as long as they do not offend or challenge existing orthodoxy. We do not want to give a platform to those who do not share our views on race, gender, ethnicity or political issues. In other words, the “not welcome” sign applies to conservative speakers, as well as those whose politics offends the sensibilities of students.

The list of rejected speakers is far too long to detail, but I will provide a listing of a small percentage of individuals who were deemed persona non grata at universities.

Christian LaGarde, head of the International Monetary Fund and one of the most influential persons in the world, was rejected by Smith College after students accused her of being connected to “global capitalism.” How could one of the leading women’s university’s reject LaGarde, one of the most powerful woman in the world. Being too close to capitalism overrode any gender sympathy. If only she had been a Marxist, or at least a socialist.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a leading academic as well as Bill Clinton‘s Secretary of State, was rejected by Scripps College because she was a “genocide enabler.”

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, was booed off the stage at Brown University primarily for being the police commissioner of New York City. Students and faculty protested his aggressive policing and racial and ethnic insensitivities.

Condoleeza Rice, one of the leading Soviet scholars in the world, former provost at Stanford University, the national security adviser to George W. Bush (2001-05) and Bush’s Secretary of State (2005-09), was deemed unfit to speak at Rutger’s after students attacked her role in the Iraq War.

Human rights advocate Ayana Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Muslim, has become a leading critic of female genital mutilation in Africa, as well as a critic of the oppression of women under Islam. The author of three best-selling books, Hirsi Ali was named by Time as one of the 100 most influential women in the world.

It would seem that students and faculty would welcome the opportunity to hear the views of Hirsi Ali. Not so. Brandeis rejected Hirsi Ali because of her association with the conservative American Enterprise Institute and her criticism of radical Islam.

The most recent conservative to be booed and assaulted by students was Charles Murray. No one denies that Murray’s views are controversial, but does that mean his views should not be heard. It does on college campuses.

Murray was invited to speak at Middlebury College in March 2017 by the schools American Enterprise Club, a conservative student organization. Murray was to discuss his latest book, The State of White America, 1960-2010.

Murray’s book explored the growing cultural gap between the white elite and the white middle-class, an issue of growing significance in light of the 2016 presidential election and Donald Trump‘s victory.

When his appearance was announced, 450 Middlebury alumni protested his talk and criticized the university for giving him a platform. Better to remain in the darkness then open up anyone’s views to the light. Opponents argued their opposition had nothing to do with “free speech.” It seems to me it had everything to do with free speech.

Although most conservative speakers are automatically suspect on American campuses, Murray is hardly a provocateur. His views may be controversial, but they have stimulated intellectual debate for decades. Murray is a prolific writer and social critic and he currently is The Bradley Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Before facing the packed audience, Middlebury’s vice president for communication, opened the forum by telling students “You’re going to love this part.” He then proceeded to tell students about respecting Middlebury’s policy of respecting the rights of speakers.

University president Laurie Patton began her remarks by declaring: “Let me state the obvious. We are a left-leaning campus.” She then made it abundantly clear that no one should interpret her presence as an endorsement of Murray’s views. I wonder how many liberal speakers receive the same warm welcome.

As soon as Murray began to talk, the students turned their backs to him and then spent the next 20 minutes chanting slogans. No one asked the students to stop disrupting Murray or asked the students to leave as Middlebury policy requires.

After chanting such catchy slogans for 20 minutes, including “Who is the enemy. White Supremacy,” and “Your message is hatred. We cannot tol-er-ate it.” Never mind they had not heard one word from Murray because of their great intolerance.

The university announced that Murray and Middlebury professor Allison Stanger, who was selected to pose questions to Murray, would be taken to an undisclosed location where their discussion would be live-streamed.

On their way to the undisclosed facility, Murray and Stanger were assaulted by the mob. Stranger’s hair was pulled in one direction by a protester, as another protester pulled her in the opposite direction. Stanger was taken to a hospital and fitted with a neck brace.

Did Middlebury students feel remorse for their actions? Absolutely not. In fact, they blamed the university security personnel for the disruption and said that Stanger’s hair was “inadvertently caught” during the chaos. This is a little like children telling their parents, “It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t do it'”

The student newspaper was filled with comments justifying what transpired. To many of the students, some ideas are so illegitimate that they should not be heard. So much for free speech.

One student, Nic Valenti, wrote that allowing Murray’s views to be heard was “grossly disrespectful,” “a waste of time,” and an insult to “young people with their perceptiveness of realizing that this whole situation is f—ing bull—-.”

Universities have failed in their responsibility to allow alternative viewpoints to be heard. Murray never spoke to the hundreds of students, faculty and general community who attended his talk and hoped to be informed. Not a single student was disciplined, even though university policy stipulates it should be done.

The real loser in the Middlebury fiasco? Students, faculty, Middlebury College and, most importantly, free speech.

Look for Part 4 of “Do universities discriminate” Friday, March 24. The closing piece will focus on promoting ideological diversity and free speech on college campuses.

___

Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.

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Ben Pollara: Medical marijuana implementation for the 29, 48 … or 71 percent?

Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues claims to have polled Floridians on whether they want marijuana legalized.

They do not.

Undisclosed interests hired a political consultant, who then hired Donald Trump‘s pollster to ask the same question.

They got the same answer: 48 percent oppose legalization, while 46 percent support it.

I have two questions that don’t necessitate public opinion research to answer:

– Who cares?

– Why are we even talking about this?

Medical marijuana has now twice been before Florida voters. In 2014, it garnered a substantial majority of 58 percent, albeit not enough to pass.

Two years later, 71 percent of Floridians voted “yes,” placing Article X, Section 29, “Use of marijuana for debilitating medical conditions,” in our state’s constitution.

In both campaigns, opponents argued that medical marijuana was merely a ruse – “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” was a favorite metaphor – for recreational marijuana.

That cynical argument – that voters tricked into something they didn’t want – ultimately lost, and badly. Voters were smarter than opponents gave them credit for, and In November overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana.

So why is the Majority Leader still parroting the talking points of Mel and Betty Sembler? Why is his implementing legislation seemingly written for the less than 29 percent who voted “no,” rather than the super-majority who put this law into our Constitution?

Florida for Care, which I lead, has been for almost three years educating and advocating Floridians your Wednesday thread for reasonable, responsible medical marijuana legislation in Tallahassee. That is and has always been our only scope.

As such, it is extraordinarily frustrating, and more than a little insulting, to even be engaging in these conversations about legalization. But I’m just an advocate. It is exponentially more hair-pullingly vexing for sick and suffering patients, who have been waiting desperately for medical marijuana, to see their concerns cast aside for a debate that is neither here nor there.

Legislators talk from both sides of their mouth when they claim in one breath not to be able to adjudicate voters’ intent when implementing medical marijuana, and in the next cite polling data on legalization to interpret that same purpose.

Here’s what I believe the voters’ intent was in passing Amendment 2: they wanted to legalize medical marijuana in Florida like had been done in two dozen states prior, and unlike the existing, overly restrictive, low-THC cannabis statute that had been on the books for nearly two years before the election.

It doesn’t take a psychic or a statewide poll to determine that the 71 percent vote was a vote for a broader medical marijuana law, or that it was a message that the existing laws were simply not good enough.

All the Senate proposals have built upon existing law (except for Jeff Brandes‘ “repeal and replace” bill, which starts anew), in an attempt to fulfill that voter mandate and respect the Constitution. Rodrigues’ House bill restricts medical marijuana even further than the existing statute.

It is both a truism and cliche in politics that, “the only poll that matters is Election Day.”

We had an election on medical marijuana. Two, actually.

The “only poll that matters” came down firmly for medical marijuana.

Almost every week since December, I’ve left my wife and two young children in Miami so I could be in Tallahassee, advocating for the implementation of this law.

I only wish the House actually wanted to talk about it, instead of debating an issue that has neither a popular, nor constitutional, imperative.

___

Ben Pollara is the executive director of Florida for Care. He managed the 2014 and 2016 campaigns for Amendment 2 and was one of the primary authors of both amendments.

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Donald Trump signs NASA bill, ponders sending Congress to space

President Donald Trump signed legislation Tuesday adding human exploration of Mars to NASA’s mission. Could sending Congress into space be next?

Flanked at an Oval Office bill-signing ceremony by astronauts and lawmakers, Trump observed that being an astronaut is a “pretty tough job.” He said he wasn’t sure he’d want it and, among lawmakers he put the question to, Sen. Ted Cruz said he wouldn’t want to be a space traveler, either.

But Cruz, R-Texas, offered up a tantalizing suggestion. “You could send Congress to space,” he said to laughter, including from the president.

Trump, who faces a crucial House vote later this week on legislation long promised by Republicans to overhaul the Obama-era Affordable Care Act health law, readily agreed. The health care bill is facing resistance from some conservative members of the party.

“What a great idea that could be,” Trump said, before turning back to the space exploration measure sponsored by Cruz and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

The new law authorizes $19.5 billion in spending for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for the budget year that began Oct. 1. Cruz said the authorization bill is the first for the space agency in seven years, and he called it a “terrific” achievement.

Trump last week sent Congress a budget proposal that seeks $19.1 billion in spending authorization for the agency next year.

“For almost six decades, NASA’s work has inspired millions and millions of Americans to imagine distant worlds and a better future right here on earth,” Trump said. “I’m delighted to sign this bill. It’s been a long time since a bill like this has been signed, reaffirming our commitment to the core mission of NASA: human space exploration, space science and technology.”

The measure amends current law to add human exploration of the red planet as a goal for the agency. It supports use of the International Space Station through at least 2024, along with private sector companies partnering with NASA to deliver cargo and experiments, among other steps.

After signing the bill, Trump invited several lawmakers to comment, starting with Cruz. When Trump invited Vice President Mike Pence to speak, he suggested that Nelson be allowed to say a few words. Nelson traveled into space when he was in the House.

“He’s a Democrat. I wasn’t going to let him speak,” Trump quipped, to laughter. Nelson ultimately got a chance to briefly praise his bill.

Pence also announced that Trump plans to re-launch the National Space Council, with Pence as chairman, to coordinate U.S. space policy. The council was authorized by law in 1988, near the end of the Reagan administration, but ceased to operate soon after Bill Clinton took office in January 1993.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay politics — the ‘this place is the best’ edition

Besides, maybe, New York City or Washington, D.C., there really is no better place from which to write about politics than Tampa Bay.

One reason is that there are so many competitive congressional and legislative seats in the region. And what’s spent to win those seats is oftentimes as much as the amount spent to win other state’s U.S. Senate seats. These seats are competitive because Hillsborough and Pinellas remain “purple” seats in an era when more and more counties throughout the country move to becoming single-party geographic enclaves.

According to a must-read article from FiveThirtyEight.com which was highlighted by the Tampa Bay Times John Romano, “of the 50 counties that had the most voters at the polls in November, Pinellas had the closest election results in America. It was 48.6 percent for Trump and 47.5 for Clinton. That’s a 1.1 percent swing. Hillsborough County was 51.5 for Clinton and 44.7 for Trump, a 6.8 percent swing.”

It’s razor-thin margins like this that have made and will make Tampa Bay the center of the universe during the 2018 election cycle.

It’s also why a Democrat like Bob Buesing is considering a rematch against Dana Young, even though Republicans traditionally turn out at a better clip than they do during presidential election cycles.

It’s why there’s no battleground more interesting to write about than Tampa Bay. Here’s where sh*t stands.

Hillsborough County teacher Jessica Harrington, a self-described progressive Democrat, is exploring a run in 2018 against Tampa Republican James “Jamie” Grant in House District 64.

In an announcement Tuesday on WFLA News Radio 970, Harrington said she is turning her attention toward Tallahassee. As a member of the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus, Harrington initially considered running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Florida’s 12th Congressional District.

Harrington changed her mind after a trip to Tallahassee to drop off letters to lawmakers on education funding.

“I realized that no one really knows me … nationally,” Harrington told WFLA’s AM Tampa Bay. “But a lot of people know me locally.”

Harrington’s primary focus will be public schools, which he says are inadequately funded and overcrowded, something she blames on budget cuts in the early years of Gov. Scott. She is also “greatly offended” by the selection of Betsy DeVos as President Donald Trump’s secretary of education.

Something you rarely see in Pinellas politics is a genuinely competitive Republican primary for a state legislative seat. Even when there is a primary, it’s typically a David-and-Goliath situation, i.e. Jim Frishe vs. Jeff Brandes, where the eventual winner was never in doubt.

However, the scrum shaping up in House District 66, where Rep. Larry Ahern is term-limited from running again, is already developing into an elbows-out contest.

Former state prosecutor Berny Jacques jumped into the race first and has already earned an the endorsement of the young Republicans organization he recently led. Not soon afterwards Pinellas GOP chairman Nick DiCeglie made it clear he intends to run for the seat.

Now this internecine battle threatens to split the local party.

On one side, backing Jacques, is former U.S. Rep. David Jolly. On the other is, well, pretty much the rest of the establishment.

Well, except for the host of young lawyers who agreed to be on the host committee for Jacques’ kickoff party this Thursday.

Of particular note are the names of Jim Holton and Paul Jallo on the host committee. Those are two of the heaviest hitters in local fundraising circles.

Patrick Manteiga notes that Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White raised $55,750 from his re-election kickoff campaign event held last week at the Columbia Restaurant.

Rick Kriseman‘s re-election campaign will be managed by Jacob Smith, a South Florida native who began his political career as a volunteer for Barack Obama‘s first campaign in 2008. In 2012, he joined Obama’s re-election campaign in Southwest Florida.

Smith was the field director for Kriseman’s 2013 campaign.

Look for an announcement from the Kriseman camp soon.

Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford and Treasure Island City Manager Reid Silverboard could be looking at pink slips after voters elected five new commissioners in their towns last week.

Crawford, whose city elected three new commissioners, said he believes he will be terminated, while Silverboard said he is ready to offer his resignation.

Candidates running against major redevelopment projects won big last week, leaving both men wondering if they will have a job in the near future.

“From what I’ve learned is they’re going to terminate my employment when they’re sworn in on April 11,” Crawford said. “I’m a little miffed. I gave a lot to the city.”

Silverboard said he was going to offer his resignation when commissioners take the oath Tuesday.

“I believe that the City Commission is ready for a change in the Administration of the City to lead the organization,” Silverboard said. “It will be in both of our best interest to reach a mutually agreeable severance agreement.”

Anthony Weiss, a backer of the “Stop Tall Buildings” group, said he thinks “it’s an appropriate time for to find other opportunities. I don’t think that if he voluntarily resigns that he’s entitled to a severance package.“

Despite her incumbency, interim Mayor Deborah Schechner didn’t fare too well in the St. Pete Beach municipal elections.

Just 35 percent of the 2,941 voters in St. Pete Beach’s municipal elections chose Scherer, while challenger Alan Johnson is the mayor-elect with 61 percent of the vote.

An additional 4 percent picked John-Michael Fleig.

Schechner was appointed interim mayor after the job became available June 30 when former Mayor Maria Lowe stepped down to accompany her husband to France after he was named deputy director of cemetery operations for the American Battle Monuments Commission.

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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

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Martin Dyckman: Before Donald Trump, there was Florida’s Claude Kirk

The home office pulled me out of a meeting at the Florida Capitol. Former Gov. Claude R. Kirk Jr., was on their line, insisting that I be told right now (!) how much he liked an antibusing provision that the Legislature was considering tacking on the budget. He liked it so much, he told the state editor, that he had signed an appropriations bill with the same rider although he would have preferred to veto the bill.

That didn’t sound right, so I checked the House Journal. Kirk had vetoed that bill. The editor was perplexed.

“The governor wouldn’t lie, would he?” he asked.

Like most people of his time, and still many today, the editor assumed that a high public official might very well stretch or shade the truth from time to time but would never stoop to a flat-out falsehood.

Yes, Kirk would, although he was known to hit the sauce in a way that could have clouded his memory.

Kirk didn’t lie with the almost hourly frequency of the Donald Trump White House, but the underlying cynical assumption was the same: The public would be more disposed to believe a governor than to believe his critics. They had believed his campaign promises and elected him, hadn’t they?

In 1967, his first year as Florida’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction, Kirk had proposed a budget in keeping with his primary campaign promise of “No new taxes.” It was seriously unbalanced, relied on accounting tricks and assumed that Florida voters would approve a bond issue, no sure thing.

When the Senate appropriations chairman, Reubin Askew, and other Democratic leaders tried to tell him that, Kirk was scornful. What mattered was not what they thought but what some ordinary citizen might think.

“‘Well, now, senator,'” Askew recalled Kirk saying, “‘you say it’s unbalanced. I say it isn’t. Who do you think that truck driver is going to believe, me or you?'”

Before there was Donald Trump, there was Claude Kirk.

It must be said that the man widely derided as Claudius Rex was a statesman compared to our so-called president. (In politics, everything is relative.) Among other things, Kirk did a better job of hiring good people for sensitive jobs and was strong for the environment, thanks to the influence of adviser Nathaniel P. Reed.

Like Trump, Kirk, the frontman for a successful Jacksonville-based insurance company, had never held any public office. Such inexperience always shows.

“He didn’t even know how many members there were in the legislature, he didn’t even know what Cabinet officers there were, he didn’t know anything about state government. And he didn’t bother to learn a whole hell of a lot about it while he was governor. He spent a lot of time enjoying being governor,” remarked Don Reed, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives at the time.

Kirk’s first budget exposed his ignorance as well as his irresponsibility. To call his bluff, the majority Democrats passed exactly what he had proposed. The Republicans, who knew that Kirk’s “budget” was no more than propaganda, tried unsuccessfully to block the bill. Kirk had to veto it.

Before a second year was out, the man who had vowed “No New Taxes!” signed what was then the largest tax increase in Florida history.

Like Trump, Kirk wasn’t shy about spending money for personal benefit. My colleague Don Pride, the St. Petersburg Times bureau chief, caught him charging a state agency, the Florida Development Commission — precursor to the present-day Enterprise Florida — some $1,600 for Kirk’s European honeymoon. Unlike Trump, Kirk reimbursed the public, blaming the charge on a clerical error.

But he never did repay the $90,000 that the same agency had paid to William Safire, a publicist who later became The New York Times’ resident conservative columnist, to promote Kirk for the vice-presidency in 1968.

Like Trump, Pride recalls, Kirk kept his financial affairs hidden. He relied on a secret slush fund to fund his travels and other personal expenses. When the Legislature cracked down on his “Governor’s Club,” he made the Republican Party pay for his leased private jets. Kirk thought nothing of flying to New Orleans just for lunch.

When Jack Eckerd, an opponent in the 1970 GOP primary, released five years of income tax returns and challenged Kirk to do the same, Kirk refused.

Like Trump, Kirk was a demagogue whenever there was a headline to be had. He staged a tense verbal confrontation at Jacksonville with the black activist H. Rap Brown. He suspended the entire Manatee County School board and its superintendent to keep them from complying with a federal-district court busing order. Kirk’s defiance evaporated when the judge fined him $10,000 a day.

And, like Trump, Kirk was frequently vexed with the press, “haranguing them at campaign stops and barring them from his airplane,” Pride recalls.

Unlike Trump, however, Kirk had a sense of humor and was engaging at times. But by 1970, the voters had seen through his antics and were keen to replace Kirk with a serious-minded, experienced legislator with a progressive platform and a reputation for speaking the truth. The worst that Kirk could say about him was that he was a “Momma’s boy.”

The new governor was Reubin Askew.

Let Florida’s past be the nation’s prologue.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He is the author of “Reubin Askew and the Golden Age of Florida Politics,” published by the University Press of Florida. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

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First daughter Ivanka Trump gets West Wing office

Cementing her role as a powerful White House influence, Ivanka Trump is working out of a West Wing office and will get access to classified information, though she is not technically serving as a government employee, according to an attorney for the first daughter.

Since President Donald Trump took office, his eldest daughter has been a visible presence in the White House, where her husband, Jared Kushner, already serves as a senior adviser. On Friday, she participated in a meeting on vocational training with the president and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Jamie Gorelick, an attorney and ethics adviser for Ivanka Trump, said Monday that the first daughter will not have an official title, but will get a West Wing office, government-issued communications devices and security clearance to access classified information. Gorelick said Ivanka Trump would follow the ethics rules that apply to government employees.

“Our view is that the conservative approach is for Ivanka to voluntarily comply with the rules that would apply if she were a government employee, even though she is not,” said Gorelick, who also helped Kushner with the legal strategy that led to his White House appointment. “The White House Counsel’s Office agrees with that approach.”

Ivanka Trump’s role has already come under scrutiny because there is little precedent for a member of the first family with this kind of influence. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A person with knowledge of Ivanka Trump’s thinking, who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations, said she believes she can offer more independent perspective to her father by not serving as a White House staffer.

A popular surrogate for her father on the campaign trail, Ivanka Trump moved her young family to Washington at the start of the administration and signaled plans to work on economic issues, like maternity leave and child care. In a statement, she said: “I will continue to offer my father my candid advice and counsel, as I have for my entire life.”

Federal anti-nepotism laws prevent relatives from being appointed to government positions. But the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel recently said the president’s “special hiring authority” allowed him to appoint Kushner to the West Wing staff. Gorelick noted the office also made clear that the president could consult family members as private citizens, arguing that this is what Ivanka Trump will be doing.

The first daughter has sought to distance herself from the Trump Organization and her lifestyle brand, which offers shoes, clothing and jewelry. She has removed herself from executive roles and will have a more hands-off approach to the brand — though she will still get certain information and will have the power to veto new deals if they raise ethical red flags.

Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor who served as President George W. Bush‘s chief White House lawyer on ethics, said that Ivanka Trump is effectively working as a White House employee. He said that “means that she, like her husband, has to follow the rules. It’s not a huge deal if she stays out of things that affect her financial interests.”

Painter said that means Trump should avoid anything to do with foreign trade with countries where her products are made, as well as recuse herself from real estate matters, given Kushner’s family real estate business.

Trump says she will follow ethics rules and some of her financial information will be included in Kushner’s official disclosures. She would have to disclose additional financial information if she were in a senior White House role, said Painter. That could include more details about her lifestyle brand, including her contracts and income.

Attorney Andrew Herman, who has advised lawmakers on ethics issues, said he thought the administration should make her role official. He said: “I think the right way to do that is to make her a special government employee. But that implicates all kind of formal and disclosure issues.”

Ivanka Trump continues to own her brand. But she has handed daily management to the company president and has set up a trust to provide further oversight. The business cannot make deals with any foreign state, and the trustees will confer with Gorelick over any new agreements. Ivanka Trump will also be able to veto proposed new transactions.

Ivanka Trump has also barred the business from using her image to promote the products in advertising or marketing.

To be sure, the trustees are in the family — her husband’s siblings Joshua Kushner and Nicole Meyer. But Gorelick said the goal of the trust wasn’t to shield Trump from everything, but to remove her from the day-to-day operations. She also acknowledged that the arrangement did not eliminate conflicts, but she said Trump is trying to minimize them and will recuse herself from any administration decision-making that affects her business.

With the Trump Organization, Ivanka Trump has stepped down from a leadership role and will receive fixed payments rather than a share of the profits.

Ivanka Trump has also written a book, “Women Who Work,” that will be released in May. The proceeds and royalties will be donated to charity, Gorelick said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Donald Trump tweets video clip of James Comey testimony

The Latest on a congressional inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election (all times local):

2:25 p.m. — The White House is distancing itself from two former senior members of Donald Trump‘s team, amid an FBI investigation into possible connections between Trump “associates” and Russia.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday referred to Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, as a “volunteer of the campaign.” And he said Paul Manafort, who ran Trump’s campaign leading up to the Republican National Convention, “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”

Flynn resigned from the White House last month after he was found to have misled senior members of the administration about his contacts with Russia’s top diplomat to the U.S.

Manafort resigned from Trump’s campaign last summer following allegations of contacts with Russian intelligence officials.

1:35 p.m. — Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi says an independent investigative commission should be created to look into possible links and coordination between associates of President Donald Trump and Russian officials seeking to undermine Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign.

Pelosi’s comments came after FBI Director James Comey confirmed in congressional testimony that the agency has been investigating the matter since last July. He also told the panel that he has no evidence that former President Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower.

California Democrat Pelosi said that “the American people deserve answers.”

She said that the possibility of Trump officials and Russian officials conspiring to influence the election “represents a grave threat to our national security and our democracy.”

Pelosi says Trump should apologize over his extraordinary wiretapping claim.

1 p.m. — President Donald Trump is highlighting FBI Director James’ Comey‘s refusal to say whether he briefed President Barack Obama on a Trump adviser’s contacts with Russia.

Trump tweeted a video clip of Comey being asked if he informed Obama about calls made by Michael Flynn, who was fired as White House national security adviser. Comey says he won’t discuss that case or any other discussions he had with Obama.

The tweet appears to suggest that the Obama administration was behind leaks about Flynn’s contacts with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Flynn was fired after news reports revealed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his discussions with the envoy.

11:25 a.m. —  Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, is denying that the British intelligence community was ever asked to conduct electronic surveillance on President Donald Trump at the behest of former President Barack Obama.

Earlier this month, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer referred to unsubstantiated allegations made by a Fox News analyst that GCHQ, the British electronic intelligence agency, had helped Obama wiretap Trump. The British intelligence agency flatly denied it happened.

The ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, asked Rogers if he thought it was “utterly ridiculous” that anyone in the U.S. would ask British spies to do surveillance on a presidential candidate. Rogers said it was and added that he had seen nothing at the NSA that would indicate that happened.

11:25 a.m. — The Senate’s top Democrat says that President Donald Trump “severely damaged his credibility” with Twitter postings claiming that former President Barack Obama ordered wiretaps of him.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer issued the statement after FBI Director James Comey told a House panel that there was no information that supports Trump’s allegation.

Schumer said Trump “needs to retract his claim immediately.”

He added that Trump “should admit he was wrong, stop the outlandish tweets.”

11:10 a.m. —FBI Director James Comey says the FBI and Justice Department have no information to substantiate President Donald Trump‘s claims that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him before the election.

Comey says no individual can order surveillance of an American. He says courts grant this permission after a rigorous application process.

Comey was testifying before the House intelligence committee. Comey said the Justice Department also asked him to share with the committee that the answer also applies to the Justice Department and its various components. The Justice Department oversees the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

10:48 a.m. —FBI Director James Comey and Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, say they have no evidence or intelligence that Russian cyber actors changed vote tallies in key states during last year’s presidential election.

Testifying at a highly politically charged congressional hearing in the House, both said they had no evidence that any vote tallies were changed in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina or Ohio.

The House intelligence committee is holding a hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

10:45 a.m. — National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers says the intelligence community stands behind its January assessment that it is highly confident Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the goal of electing Donald Trump.

In a Monday morning tweet, Trump blamed Democrats for the investigation into his contacts and said the House intelligence committee should be focus on investigating leaks.

Rogers said that his agency is working to provide Congress the material it needs to investigate the intelligence agencies’ findings.

Rogers was testifying before the House intelligence committee alongside FBI Director James Comey.

10:35 a.m. — FBI Director James Comey is publicly confirming for the first time that the FBI is investigating Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including any potential coordination between Trump campaign associates and Russia’s government.

Comey is testifying before Congress. He says he’s authorized by the Justice Department to make the disclosure. Typically, the FBI does not discuss or even confirm the existence of ongoing investigations.

Comey says the probe is part of the FBI’s counter-intelligence mission. He says the investigation includes the nature of any links between individuals associated with Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between Russia’s efforts and the campaign.

Comey says the investigation will also look at whether crimes were committed. He says he can’t provide details about the investigation.

10:25 a.m — The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee says he hopes FBI Director James Comey will put questions about whether Trump Tower was wiretapped by President Barack Obama “permanently to rest.”

Rep. Adam Schiff is speaking at the start of the committee’s hearing on Russia’s interference in the presidential election. Comey is testifying at the hearing, along with National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers.

Schiff says Democrats on the committee will be focused in part on whether Americans helped Russia with its hacking of Democratic groups and individuals.

Trump has said he has no knowledge of his associates coordinating with Russia during the election. He’s refused to back down from his assertion that Obama wiretapped his New York City skyscraper during the campaign, despite there being no evidence.

10:10 a.m. — The chairman of the House intelligence committee says there was no physical wiretap on Trump Tower, but it’s possible that “other surveillance activities” were used against President Donald Trump and his associates.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is speaking at the opening of the committee’s first public hearing on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. He says the committee has seen no evidence to date that officials from any campaign conspired with Russian agents, but will continue to investigate that question.

He also says the committee will investigate who has been leaking classified information about investigations into Russia’s interference.

Nunes says he hopes the committee’s hearings will result in a “definitive report” on Russia’s involvement in the presidential election.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press

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