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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.

An angry weekend follows on heels of frustrations for Donald Trump

President Donald Trump started his weekend in Florida in a fit of anger over his young administration getting sidetracked just days after his most successful moment in office. He returned to the White House late Sunday derailed — again.

Trump’s frustration appeared to be both the symptom and the cause of his recent woes. Angry about leaks, errant messaging and his attorney general landing in hot water, he fired off a series of tweets that only ensured more distractions.

His staff had hoped to build on the momentum generated by his speech to Congress by rolling out his revamped travel ban and, potentially, unveiling his health care plan. Those efforts rapidly unraveled, sparking more staff infighting and enraging a president loath to publicly admit a mistake and eager to shift the blame onto others.

And now, as Trump begins one of the most pivotal weeks yet for his presidency, his staff is facing the fallout from another allegation of close ties to Russia and the president’s unsubstantiated claims that his predecessor ordered him wiretapped during the campaign.

Trump simmered all weekend in Florida before returning to Washington ahead of signing new immigration restrictions, according to associates who spoke to the president and, like others interviewed, requested anonymity to discuss private conversations. Those close to Trump said it was the angriest he’s been as president, his rage bursting to the surface at his senior staff Friday afternoon in the Oval Office.

Trump was furious about the negative impact of the flap over Attorney General Jeff Sessions‘ meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. He told one person he personally felt let down that his senior staff were unable to fight back against the story. He also suggested he felt that Sessions’ move to recuse himself from any investigation into administration links to Russia felt like an admission of defeat, said the person who spoke to the president over the weekend but declined to be named discussing private conversations.

Sessions’ decision particularly infuriated a president who promised repeatedly during the campaign that he’d “win so much the American people would be tired of winning” and he felt that it was a sign of weakness, the person said.

White House chief of staff Reince Preibus, scheduled to travel with Trump to his coastal Palm Beach estate, was told to stay behind. White House chief strategist Steve Bannon also remained in Washington but later flew to Mar-a-Lago.

Those close to Trump have said he has had his happiest days as president at Mar-a-Lago. He didn’t cool off there this weekend.

Many West Wing staffers who stayed behind in Washington awoke Saturday morning to the chiming of their cell phones. The president was tweeting just after dawn to hurl the extraordinary accusation that President Barack Obama had ordered Trump Tower to be wiretapped, a charge for which Trump provided no evidence.

Trump had stayed disciplined on Twitter for days surrounding his congressional speech, but no more. Staffers planning to spend the weekend preparing for the president’s new executive orders were instead sent scrambling to deal with the incendiary tweetstorm, their carefully laid plans again wrecked 140 characters at a time.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, an honored guest at Saturday night’s annual white-tie Gridiron Dinner, a night of witticisms delivered by reporters and politicos alike, spent most of the night with his head buried in his phone, missing many of the jokes, several at his expense. Sessions had been slated to attend the event but canceled after the revelations about his meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The first travel ban, which was hastily written with little outside consultation, was struck down by a federal court. Weeks of planning and delays have gone into the second order, one that is also sure to face legal challenges and, were it to suffer a second legal defeat, could have a devastating political impact.

Some Trump allies have been frustrated by his conspiracy-mongering about the inauguration crowd size and claims of widespread voter fraud, believing those accusations had become distractions to their agenda. Afraid to upset the mercurial president, they scrambled to fulfill his request to probe the alleged wiretapping.

On Sunday, the White House asked Republicans in Congress to search for evidence. Obama’s intelligence chief would soon say no such action was ever carried out, and a U.S. official would confirm that the FBI had asked the Justice Department to dispute the allegation.

“I think the bigger thing is, let’s find out. Let’s have an investigation,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders on ABC. “If they’re going to investigate Russia ties, let’s include this as part of it. And so that’s what we’re asking.”

Other Republicans seemed baffled by the charges, which could prove a distraction in the week ahead.

“The president put that out there, and now the White House will have to answer as to exactly what he was referring to,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on CNN.

But Trump told friends that he was certain he’d be vindicated.

“I spoke with the president twice yesterday about the wiretap story. I haven’t seen him this pissed off in a long time,” wrote Christopher Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend and head of NewsMax. “When I mentioned Obama ‘denials’ about the wiretaps, he shot back: ‘This will be investigated, it will all come out. I will be proven right.'”

The president, accustomed to a culture of corporate loyalty enforced by iron-clad nondisclosure agreements, also continued to rage about the leaks that have plagued his White House. He blames the leaks, rather than any of his own decisions, for his administration’s shaky start and is threatening to make changes if they continue, according to one person who spoke to him. That could include making the administration’s public case for policies, as he did in a lengthy news conference and his congressional speech, both performances praised by his backers.

Trump has been particularly incensed over the leaks about Russia ties, which have dogged him since his election. During the transition, he ripped the intelligence community for being behind the leaks and even compared them to Nazi propaganda. Lately, he has blamed Democrats, suggesting that they were using them as an excuse for Hillary Clinton‘s defeat.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump claims Barack Obama had phones wiretapped; Obama denies it

President Donald Trump on Saturday accused former President Barack Obama of having Trump Tower telephones “wire tapped” during last year’s election, a startling claim that Obama’s spokesman said was false.

Trump did not offer any evidence or details, or say what prompted him to make the allegation.

Trump, whose administration has been under siege over campaign contacts with Russian officials, said in a series of early morning tweets that he “just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!’

Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said a “cardinal rule” of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered in any Justice Department investigations, which are supposed to be conducted free of political influence.

“As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen,” Lewis said, adding that “any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”

The White House did not immediately reply to inquiries about what prompted the president’s tweets.

Trump, who used to speak of having a warm relationship with Obama, compared the alleged activity by his predecessor to behavior involving President Richard Nixon and the bugging of his political opponents.

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” he tweeted, misspelling ‘tap.’

Trump said the wiretapping occurred in October. He ran the presidential transition largely out of Trump Tower in New York, where he also maintains a residence.

Trump’s tweets came days after revelations that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, during his Senate confirmation hearing, didn’t disclose his own campaign-season contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Sessions, a U.S. senator at the time, was Trump’s earliest Senate supporter.

Trump’s opening tweet Saturday mentioned Sessions and claimed the first meeting Sessions had with the Russian diplomat was “set up by the Obama Administration under education program for 100 Ambs …”

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the campaign with the goal of helping elect Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton — findings that Trump has dismissed. The FBI has investigated Trump associates’ ties to Russian officials. Congress is also investigating.

Trump has blamed Democrats for leaks of information about the investigation and the contacts.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that Trump was making “the most outlandish and destructive claims without providing a scintilla of evidence to support them.”

Schiff added: “No matter how much we hope and pray that this president will grow into one who respects and understands the Constitution, separation of powers, role of a free press, responsibilities as the leader of the free world, or demonstrates even the most basic regard for the truth, we must now accept that President Trump will never become that man.”

It was unclear what prompted Trump’s new charge. The president often tweets about reports he reads on blogs and conservative-leaning websites.

The allegations may be related to anonymously sourced reports in British media and blogs, and on conservative-leaning U.S. websites, including Breitbart News. Those reports claimed that U.S. officials had obtained a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to review contacts between computers at a Russian bank and Trump’s New York headquarters.

The AP has not confirmed these contacts or the investigation into them. Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist in the White House, is a former executive chairman of Breitbart News.

FISA is a 1978 law that created a system to hear requests to surveil foreign intelligence agents. It differs from a regular criminal warrant because it does not require the government to provide probable cause that a crime has occurred. Instead, under FISA, the government must simply provide evidence that the target of an investigation is an agent of a foreign power.

Such targetable agents would include Russian diplomats such as Sergei Kislyak, the ambassador who spoke with a number of Trump aides. But a FISA warrant could also include others for whom investigators could muster probable cause, potentially including entities directly connected to Trump.

Obama could not order a FISA warrant. Obtaining one would require officials at the Justice Department to seek permission from the FISA court, which is shrouded in secrecy. Judges could order prosecutors to share FISA information with defendants if they deem it necessary for challenging a search’s legality, but courts have consistently agreed with the government that disclosing the material could expose sensitive intelligence secrets.

One exception to this practice is the president himself, who has the authority to declassify records. In Trump’s case, he could confirm any such surveillance of his campaign or business undertaken before he took office in January.

Trump is spending the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, his waterfront estate in Palm Beach, and he spent several hours at his golf club in nearby West Palm Beach on Saturday.

Trump also tweeted about Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s decision to leave “The New Celebrity Apprentice.” Schwarzenegger replaced Trump as host of the show while the president remained its executive producer.

Trump was scheduled to have dinner Saturday at Mar-a-Lago with Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has a home in Palm Beach, Bannon and other White House advisers.

The president planned to return to the White House late Sunday.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Tampa Bay Times’ Paul Tash says a priority for him is to ‘reconnect’ with Donald Trump supporters

Although the Tampa Bay Times has a national presence, its greatest impact is, arguably, its reporting on what’s going on in the Tampa Bay area and the state of Florida. Yet when Paul Tash, the paper’s president and CEO, came before the usually aggressive members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, most of those who got the chance to ask him a question focused on their concerns about the phenomenon known as “fake news” and other related aspects to the emergence of Donald Trump as the country’s 45th President.

“Fake news – that is, fake news that has been entirely made up, has been with us for a long time,” Tash said in his prepared remarks, as images of famed covers of the Weekly World News were displayed behind him. “But nobody really expected you to believe this,” he said of such over the top stories.

But he said fake news took a dark turn last year when a detailed conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate” happened. That was the story about the perception by a North Carolina man that a pedophile ring run by Hillary Clinton was operating out of Washington D.C. pizzeria. It ultimately resulted with that man terrifying customers and workers with his ­assault-style rifle as he searched the establishment.

Tash said the way the Times answers fake news and truth from fiction is with PolitFact, its ten-year-old journalism project that captured a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and has since spread to other news organizations across the globe.

If there was a central theme to the CEO’s remarks, it’s that it was up to the public to care about quality journalism.

“It’s up to news organizations to help figure out what’s true, what’s fact and what’s fake. But that won’t matter unless we care.”

The Times financial situation has been well documented in the media. The paper took out a $28 million loan in 2013, and borrowed another $13.3 million just before purchasing the Tampa Tribune last year. When asked about how the paper’s finances are doing in 2017, Tash said “we are cash flow positive,” and said that the acquisition of the Tribune last May has helped expand its circulation.

Nobody’s cash flow is better at the Times than Tash’s, who made $487,000 in 2015.

He acknowledged that print journalism is “not an easy business,” and said the fact that retailers like J.C. Penney’s and Macy’s are closing stores could also constitute a problem for the paper, since that could reduce the money that those retailers will spend on print advertising.

After the Times purchased the Tribune last year, the paper announced that it would expand its editorial pages, and include more right-of-center voices. Tash said one of his priorities for this year is to “continue to connect, or reconnect, with the good people who voted for Donald Trump.”

“That was not the editorial position, that the newspapers took,” he said regarding nearly every paper in the country’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president (only six major papers around the country endorsed Trump). Trump won Pinellas County last fall.

“I want to make sure that we stay in touch, and stay connected,” he added.

There were a few questions that came from Tiger Bay members about the Times coverage of local issues.

Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Susan McGrath questioned the Times endorsement of Philip Garett over incumbent Steve Kornell in the 2015 St. Pete City Council District 6 race. It was a a recommendation, McGrath asserted, that “many believe was motivated by interests to keep the baseball team in the Bay area.”

Tash punted on the response, saying he couldn’t recall the particulars of that editorial decision, quickly segueing to affirming how valuable the Times recommendations are, particularly in local judicial races.

And Tash wasn’t about to take the heat for Big Journalism everywhere when it came to the reporting on Clinton. When Pinellas County Democratic activist Bill Bucolo asked if there was “selective enforcement” of the press making a large issue out of certain things such as the  Whitewater  scandal of the 1990’s, he said most definitely not.

“There were questions being raised and they deserved answers and I would say the one of the problems that Mrs. Clinton has is the basic tendency to try to coverup,” he said, adding that it was one of the things that “diminished her candidacy. This steady, incremental, by degree kind of grudging recognition of what was later revealed to be true.”

“The Republicans think the selected enforcement works against them, and not the Democrats,” he said, adding, “We do our best to be even handed.”

James Comey in middle of political fray over Donald Trump and Russians

FBI Director James Comey is again in a familiar spot these days – the middle of political tumult.

As a high-ranking Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration, he clashed with the White House over a secret surveillance program. Years later as head of the FBI, he incurred the ire of Hillary Clinton supporters for public statements on an investigation into her emails. Now, Comey is facing new political pressure as White House officials are encouraging him to follow their lead by publicly recounting private FBI conversations in an attempt to dispute reports about connections between the Trump administration and Russia.

It’s an unusual position for a crime-fighting organization with a vaunted reputation for independence and political neutrality. Yet Comey, the former top federal prosecutor in Manhattan who later became deputy attorney general of the United States, is known for an unshaking faith in his own moral compass.

“I’m not detecting a loss of confidence in him, a loss of confidence in him by him,” said retired FBI assistant director Ron Hosko, noting the broad recognition that “these are very tumultuous, polarized, angry, angry times.”

The latest flare-up occurred Friday, when White House officials told reporters that chief of staff Reince Priebus had asked top FBI officials to dispute media reports that Donald Trump‘s campaign advisers were frequently in touch with Russian intelligence agents during the election. The officials said the FBI first raised concerns about New York Times reporting but told Priebus the bureau could not weigh in publicly on the matter. The officials said Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Comey instead gave Priebus the go-ahead to discredit the story publicly, something the FBI has not confirmed.

As the FBI declined to discuss the matter, pressure mounted on Comey to either counter or affirm the White House’s account. Even the Trump administration urged him to come forward, which as of Friday was not happening.

“Politicized assertions by White House chief of staff Priebus about what may or may not be the findings of an FBI investigation are exactly the wrong way for the public to hear about an issue that is of grave consequence to our democracy,” Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “The American people deserve real transparency, which means Director Comey needs to come forward, in an open hearing, and answer questions.”

The push on Comey to publicly discuss the bureau’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is especially acute given his statements in the run-up to Nov. 8 that many Democrats believe cost Clinton the election. He detailed the results of the FBI’s investigation at an unusual July news conference, testified on it for hours on Capitol Hill and alerted Congress less than two weeks before Election Day that the FBI would be reviewing new emails potentially connected to the case.

But it’s not clear that Comey, now in the fourth year of a 10-year term, will be swayed by any public hand-wringing. People who have worked with the FBI director describe him as holding strong personal convictions.

As deputy attorney general, he confronted White House officials in the hospital room of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in an effort to quash the reauthorization of a counterterrorism surveillance program.

When nominating Comey for FBI director in 2013, President Barack Obama praised him for his “fierce independence and deep integrity.” Comey stood apart from the administration on a few occasions after that, including when he floated the possibility that police concerns over being recorded on video were causing officers to pull back and contributing to an uptick in homicides, a viewpoint the White House refused to endorse.

His decision to announce the FBI’s recommendation against criminal charges in the Clinton email case was made without any notice to the Justice Department, and his notification to Congress about the new emails was not supported by department leaders, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Decisions that reach the desk of the top leadership of the FBI are generally not easy, said Robert Anderson, a retired FBI executive assistant director.

“The director of the FBI is a hard job, even when it’s an easy day or nothing’s in the newspaper,” Anderson said. “By the time it makes it up to Jim, it’s all hard at that point.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump embraces legacy of Andrew Jackson

It was an ugly, highly personal presidential election.

An unvarnished celebrity outsider who pledged to represent the forgotten laborer took on an intellectual member of the Washington establishment looking to extend a political dynasty in the White House.

Andrew Jackson‘s triumph in 1828 over President John Quincy Adams bears striking similarities to Donald Trump‘s victory over Hillary Clinton last year, and some of those most eager to point that out are in the Trump White House.

Trump’s team has seized upon the parallels between the current president and the long-dead Tennessee war hero. Trump has hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office and Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, who has pushed the comparison, told reporters after Trump’s inaugural address that “I don’t think we’ve had a speech like that since Andrew Jackson came to the White House.”

Trump himself mused during his first days in Washington that “there hasn’t been anything like this since Andrew Jackson.”

It’s a remarkable moment of rehabilitation for a figure whose populist credentials and anti-establishment streak has been tempered by harsher elements of his legacy, chiefly his forced removal of Native Americans that caused disease and the death of thousands.

“Both were elected presidents as a national celebrity; Jackson due to prowess on battlefield and Trump from making billions in his business empire,” said Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University. “And it’s a conscious move for Trump to embrace Jackson. In American political lore, Jackson represents the forgotten rural America while Trump won by bringing out that rural vote and the blue collar vote.”

The seventh president, known as “Old Hickory” for his toughness on the battlefield, gained fame when he led American forces to a victory in the Battle of New Orleans in the final throes of the War of 1812. He did serve a term representing Tennessee in the Senate, but he has long been imagined as a rough and tumble American folk hero, an anti-intellectual who believed in settling scores against political opponents and even killed a man in a duel for insulting the honor of Jackson’s wife.

Jackson also raged against what he deemed “a corrupt bargain” that prevented him from winning the 1824 election against Adams when the race was thrown to the House of Representatives after no candidate received a majority in the Electoral College. Even before the vote in November, Trump railed against a “rigged” election and has repeatedly asserted, without evidence, widespread voter fraud prevented his own popular vote triumph.

Jackson’s ascension came at a time when the right to vote was expanded to all white men — and not just property-owners — and he fashioned himself into a populist, bringing new groups of voters into the electoral system. Remarkably, the popular vote tripled between Jackson’s loss in 1824 and his victory four years later, and he used the nation’s growing newspaper industry — like Trump on social media — to spread his message.

Many of those new voters descended on Washington for Jackson’s 1829 inauguration and the crowd of thousands that mobbed the Capitol and the White House forced Jackson to spend his first night as president in a hotel.

Once in office, he continued his crusade as a champion for the common man by opposing the Second Bank of the United States, which he declared to be a symptom of a political system that favored the rich and ignored “the humble members of society — the farmers, mechanics, and laborers — who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves.”

Jackson, as Trump hopes to do, expanded the powers of the presidency, and a new political party, the new Democratic party, coalesced around him in the 1820s. He was the first non-Virginia wealthy farmer or member of the Adams dynasty in Massachusetts to be elected president.

“The American public wanted a different kind of president. And there’s no question Donald Trump is a different kind of president,” Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said this past week. “He’s now comparing himself to Andrew Jackson. I think it’s a pretty good, a pretty good comparison. That’s how big a change Jackson was from the Virginia and Massachusetts gentlemen who had been president of the United States for the first 40 years.”

But there are also limits to the comparison, historians say.

Unlike Jackson, who won in 1828 in a landslide, Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots. Jon Meacham, who wrote a 2008 biography of Jackson, “American Lion,” said Jackson was “an outsider in style but not in substance” and his outlandish public pronouncements would often be followed by hours of deep conversations and letter-writing hashing out political calculations.

“He was a wild man during the day but a careful diplomat at night,” said Meacham, who said it was too early to know whether Trump, like Jackson, “had a strategy behind his theatrics,” and whether Trump had the ability to harness the wave of populism that has swept the globe as it did in the 1820s.

“The moment is Jacksoninan but do we have a Jackson in the Oval Office?” Meacham asked.

Trump’s appropriation of Jackson came after his victory. Trump never mentioned Jackson during the campaign or discussed Jackson during a series of conversations with Meacham last spring

But it is hardly unique for a president to adopt a previous one as a historical role model.

Barack Obama frequently invoked Abraham Lincoln. Dwight Eisenhower venerated George Washington. Jackson himself had been claimed by Franklin Roosevelt and his successor, Harry Truman, both of whom — unlike Trump — interpreted Jackson’s populism as a call for expanded government, in part to help the working class.

There could be other comparisons for Trump. A favorable one would be Eisenhower, also a nonpolitician who governed like a hands-off CEO. A less favorable one would be Andrew Johnson, a tool of his party whose erratic behavior helped bring about his impeachment.

Trump’s embrace could signal an about-face for Jackson’s legacy. Historians have recently soured on the slave-owning president whose Indian Removal Act of 1830 commissioned the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands in the southeastern United States. More than 4,000 died along their journey west, a brutal march that became known as the “Trail of Tears.”

Jackson’s standing had fallen so much that in 2015, when the U.S. Treasury announced plans to replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with Harriet S. Tubman, the outcry in defense of the Founding Father — in part due to the success of the Broadway musical that tells his story — was so loud that the government changed course and opted to remove Jackson from the $20 instead.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Top Bernie Sanders surrogate Nina Turner to speak in St. Pete next month

Former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner, who became a national cable news star as a top surrogate for Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign, will be speaking in St. Petersburg in March.

The 49-year-old Cleveland native served on the Cleveland City Council from 2005-2008. She resigned her seat that year to accept an appointment to the Ohio Senate in 2008. She won a full term in 2010, before losing a contest for Ohio Secretary of State in 2014.

Recently there has been a movement to draft her to run for Governor of Ohio in 2018.

Last year Turner became a prominent supporter of Sanders campaign. After he lost the Democratic nomination for president to Hillary Clinton, Turner admitted that she was considering an offer to run for vice president on the Green Party’s national ticket, but ultimately opted to stay within the Democratic Party.

Turner will speak at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7 at the United Methodist Church Allendale at 3803 Haines Rd. N. St. Petersburg. To purchase tickets, go to movetobuild.us.

For GOP, a dimmed zeal for investigations in Donald Trump era

The Republicans’ ardor for investigations and oversight, on display throughout the Obama administration, has cooled off considerably with Donald Trump in the White House.

Each day seems to bring a new headache or near-crisis from Trump, the latest being the departure of his national security adviser under questionable circumstances involving Russia.

Yet if there is a line too far, at which point Republicans will feel duty-bound to call for an independent investigation of their president or his administration, Trump hasn’t crossed it yet.

Democrats are clamoring for a full-scale probe of the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, including demanding to know what Trump knew, and when, about Flynn’s pre-inauguration conversations with a Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions. White House press secretary Sean Spicer disclosed that Trump was told in late January that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about those conversations.

Rather than go along with Democrats’ call for an independent outside investigation, Senate Republicans insisted Tuesday that the Intelligence Committee could look at the circumstances as part of an existing probe into Russia’s interference in the presidential election.

“The Intelligence Committee is already looking at Russian involvement in our election and they have broad jurisdiction over the intel community writ large and they can look at whatever they choose to,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., adding that “it’s highly likely they’d want to take a look at this episode as well.”

The intelligence panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, told reporters that “aggressive” oversight would continue “privately. We don’t do that in public.”

House Republicans were even less interested, with some shrugging off Democrats’ calls for an investigation entirely. Rep. Devin Nunes of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that the “real crime” is how Flynn’s phone conversations were leaked, echoing a complaint Trump himself made over Twitter.

“I think the situation has taken care of itself” in light of Flynn’s resignation, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told reporters. That’s a far different stance toward potential wrongdoing by the executive branch than Chaffetz took last year, when House Republicans issued more than 70 letters and subpoenas aimed at investigating Democrat Hillary Clinton over a period of less than three months after the FBI announced criminal charges weren’t warranted related to her use of a private email server as secretary of state.

Chaffetz did turn his attention to a different Trump administration matter later Tuesday, sending a letter to the White House seeking information about Trump’s discussion of a North Korea missile launch while dining al fresco with the Japanese prime minister at a resort in Florida.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., went so far as to counsel publicly against spending too much time investigating the White House, saying that doing so could only be counterproductive at a moment when the GOP faces a daunting legislative agenda on Capitol Hill.

“I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,” Paul said in an appearance on Fox News Radio’s “Kilmeade and Friends.” ”We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do like repealing Obamacare if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.”

The relatively hands-off stance of the GOP toward the Trump White House angers Democrats, who are powerless to do much except fume from the minority in both chambers of Congress.

“Do you hear the silence? This is the sound of House Republicans conducting no oversight of President Trump. Zero,” Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, complained at a news conference Tuesday. “That is what it sounds like when they abdicate their duty under the Constitution. We’ve been asking for months for basic oversight.”

The GOP’s lack of enthusiasm about investigating the Trump White House comes as Capitol Hill Republicans struggle to come to terms with a new administration that has been engulfed in upheaval after upheaval. Republicans are trying to focus on their agenda despite the distractions. And for now, they appear to have concluded, going easy on Trump is the best way to achieve their goals, including confirming a Supreme Court justice and passing a new health care law and other legislation they want the president to sign.

“We know full well that there are issues that are going to come up on a daily basis that we’re going to get asked about and have to respond to,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Senate Republican, “but we’re interested in repealing and replacing Obamacare, reforming the tax code, reducing the regulatory burden on businesses, confirming a Supreme Court justice, getting these Cabinet nominees through — that’s what our agenda is right now.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

The new civics course in schools: How to avoid fake news

Teachers from elementary school through college are telling students how to distinguish between factual and fictional news — and why they should care that there’s a difference.

As Facebook works with The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and other organizations to curb the spread of fake and misleading news on its influential network, teachers say classroom instruction can play a role in deflating the kind of “Pope endorses Trump” headlines that muddied the waters during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I think only education can solve this problem,” said Pat Winters Lauro, a professor at Kean University in New Jersey who began teaching a course on news literacy this semester.

Like others, Lauro has found discussions of fake news can lead to politically sensitive territory. Some critics believe fake stories targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton helped Donald Trump overcome a large deficit in public opinion polls, and President Trump himself has attached the label to various media outlets and unfavorable reports and polls in the first weeks of his presidency.

“It hasn’t been a difficult topic to teach in terms of material because there’s so much going on out there,” Lauro said, “but it’s difficult in terms of politics because we have such a divided country and the students are divided, too, on their beliefs. I’m afraid sometimes that they think I’m being political when really I’m just talking about journalistic standards for facts and verification, and they look at it like ‘Oh, you’re anti-this or -that.'”

Judging what to trust was easier when the sources were clearer — magazines, newspapers or something else, said Kean senior Mike Roche, who is taking Lauro’s class. Now “it all comes through the same medium of your cellphone or your computer, so it’s very easy to blur the lines and not have a clear distinction of what’s real and what’s fake,” he said.

A California lawmaker last month introduced a bill to require the state to add lessons on how to distinguish between real and fake news to the grade 7-12 curriculum.

High school government and politics teacher Lesley Battaglia added fake news to the usual election-season lessons on primaries and presidential debates, discussing credible sites and sources and running stories through fact-checking sites like Snopes. There were also lessons about anonymous sources and satire. (They got a kick out of China’s dissemination of a 2012 satirical story from The Onion naming Kim Jong Un as the sexiest man alive.)

“I’m making you guys do the hard stuff that not everybody always does. They see it in a tweet and that’s enough for them,” Battaglia told her students at Williamsville South High School in suburban Buffalo.

“It’s kind of crazy,” 17-year-old student Hannah Mercer said, “to think about how much it’s affecting people and swaying their opinions.”

Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy pioneered the idea of educating future news consumers, and not just journalists, a decade ago with the rise of online news. About four in 10 Americans often get news online, a 2016 Pew Research Center report found. Stony Brook last month partnered with the University of Hong Kong to launch a free online course.

“To me, it’s the new civics course,” said Tom Boll, after wrapping up his own course on real and fake news at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. With everyone now able to post and share, gone are the days of the network news and newspaper editors serving as the primary gatekeepers of information, Boll, an adjunct professor, said.

“The gates are wide open,” he said, “and it’s up to us to figure out what to believe.”

That’s not easy, said Raleigh, North Carolina-area teacher Bill Ferriter, who encourages students to first use common sense to question whether a story could be true, to look at web addresses and authors for hints, and to be skeptical of articles that seem aimed at riling them up.

He pointed to an authentic-looking site reporting that President Barack Obama signed an order in December banning the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. A “.co” at the end of an impostor news site web address should have been a red flag, he said.

“The biggest challenge that I have whenever I try to teach kids about questionable content on the web,” said Ferriter, who teaches sixth grade, “is convincing them that there is such a thing as questionable content on the web.”

Some of Battaglia’s students fear fake news will chip away at the trust of even credible news sources and give public figures license to dismiss as fake news anything unfavorable.

“When people start to distrust all news sources is when people in power are just allowed to do whatever they want, said Katie Peter, “and that’s very scary.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Pasco GOP official in trouble after social media posts go national

Pasco County Republican Executive Committee Secretary Bill Akins is under fire  after a story about his history of pushing out racist jokes and conspiracy theories on social media was published Sunday by the Washington Post.

The reason that the previously little-known local Republican even earned the interest of the Post was because of what happened on Saturday at Congressman Gus Bilirakis raucous town hall meeting in New Port Richey. That’s where Akins told a crowd of mostly supporters of the Affordable Care Act that it was a fact that they would face “death panels” at the age of 74 under the legislation.

“Death Panels” were often mentioned by Tea Party activists at town hall meetings back in 2009 when the ACA was initially being discussed. PolitFact called the term the “Lie of the Year” in 2009.

As soon as Akins finished pronouncing “panel,” the crowd erupted into arguably the loudest amount of jeering from the two hour meeting.

“OK, children. Alright, children,” Akins stated, mocking the crowd in an exchange that was repeatedly by CNN and MSNBC on Saturday.

Akins apparently deleted all of his posts on his Facebook page on Saturday night, after the story by the Post’s Dave Weigel went live. The earliest posts now available to see on his page go back to 2011.

Among the controversial statements that Akins made included comparing black protesters to monkeys, accusing former President Barack Obama of being a foreign-born Muslim, and that Bill and Hillary Clinton had potential trial witnesses against them murdered.

He claimed that former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia might have been murdered, that “Climate Change” is a globalist hoax, and that Nancy Pelosi is mentally handicapped.

The Pasco County GOP Facebook page was filled with angry responses on Sunday.

“Rep Bilirakis SR was a truthful and honorable man,” wrote Chris Perfusion Clay. “The present Representative (who used to be my Representative until they gerrymandered again) makes a fool of himself by agreeing with a delusional Bill Akins. Mr Akins Facebook page is an example of why Republicans are seen as seriously problematic.”

Pasco County State Committeeman Bill Bunting said the revelation about Akins social media history was a definite “black eye for us, no question about it.”

At the town hall, Akins identified himself as being the Secretary of the Pasco REC. He was only recently elected to that post.

Akins did not return our request for comment on Sunday afternoon. Nor did Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia.

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