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Experts: Long road ahead for Donald Trump offshore drilling order

President Donald Trump‘s executive order seeking to find new ocean expanses in the Atlantic and the Arctic for offshore drilling isn’t likely to reach its goals anytime soon, but instead will kick off a yearslong review and legal battle.

Trump signed the order Friday aimed at dismantling a key part of former President Barack Obama‘s environmental legacy.

“This executive order starts the process of opening offshore areas to job-creating energy exploration,” he said. “It reverses the previous administration’s Arctic leasing ban and directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to allow responsible development of offshore areas that will bring revenue to our treasury and jobs to our workers.”

Despite Trump’s assertion that the nation needs to wean itself of foreign oil, U.S. oil imports have declined in recent years as domestic production boomed amid improved drilling techniques opening up once unreachable areas.

And environmental law and policy experts questioned Trump’s authority to reverse Obama’s withdrawal of certain areas in the Arctic or Atlantic to drilling, a question likely to be decided in the courts.

“It’s not quite as simple as the president signs something and it undoes the past,” said Sean Hecht, a University of California, Los Angeles environmental law professor.

For instance, Obama used his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to protect Arctic areas from oil drilling late last year, a move Trump’s order seeks to undo. At the time, Obama administration lawyers said they were confident that move would be upheld in court.

Legal experts say the law has never been used by a president to remove protections, just to create them.

Trump’s order also directed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to conduct a review of marine monuments and sanctuaries designated this past decade. Obama issued monument proclamations under the Antiquities Act, including the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in the Atlantic, which protected that swath of sea from drilling.

Legal scholars said Trump would enter uncharted waters if he seeks to undo a national monument proclamation in an effort to remove environmental protections.

Under Trump’s order, Interior Secretary Zinke will start to review the government’s plan that dictates which federal locations are open to offshore drilling, known as the 5-year plan.

The administration can redo the 5-year-plan, but it’s a long process. Zinke said the leases scheduled under the existing plan would remain in effect during the review, which he estimated would take years before any new leases are possible.

Still, Pam Giblin, an Austin, Texas-based environmental attorney who represents energy companies said Trump’s order is welcome to her clients despite the limitations they see.

“Every one of these orders is primarily aspirational. But it is starting to change the lens through which government is talking about fossil fuels,” she said.

The new 5-year plan could indeed open new areas of oil and gas exploration in waters off Virginia, Georgia and North and South Carolina, where drilling has been blocked for decades. Many lawmakers in those states support offshore drilling, and Alaska’s governor and its Washington delegation all supported the order.

But the plan faces opposition from the fishing industry, tourism groups and even the U.S. military, which has said Atlantic offshore drilling could hurt military maneuvers and interfere with missile tests needed to help protect the East Coast.

More than 120 coastal communities from New Jersey to Florida have passed resolutions opposing any Atlantic drilling.

“Allowing offshore drilling is a forever decision that will forever change our way of life for the worse,” said Frank Knapp, president of Columbia, South Carolina-based Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast.

Environmental groups are preparing for the fight to come, saying that opening up vast areas to drilling harms whales, walruses and other wildlife and exacerbates global warming.

“We will go to court to enforce the law and ensure President Obama’s protections remain in place,” Trip Van Noppen, president of the environmental legal organization Earthjustice, said in a statement.

Re[published with permission of The Associated Press.

Americans offer hope, prayer in assessing Donald Trump’s 100 days

They are young and old: a high school student who can’t yet vote, a Vietnam vet who did so proudly. They hail from all corners of the United States and very different walks of life: a “downhome boy” from Kentucky, a third-generation Mexican-American from Texas, a stay-at-home mom in Pennsylvania, an Iranian immigrant in Los Angeles.

Some oppose Donald Trump and all that he stands for, while others voted enthusiastically for him. Now, they are critiquing him.

One hundred days into Trump’s presidency, The Associated Press returned to some of the everyday people interviewed these past months to ask them to write a letter to the president, evaluating the job he’s done so far and looking ahead to the months to come.

One supporter tells the president he “might have fallen a little short” — on Obamacare, in particular — but he signs off “with hope.” A refugee implores Trump to “make America more friendly,” but finds optimism in the president’s reaction to this month’s chemical attack in Syria: “I hope this is a turning point.” A Trump objector calls his biggest accomplishment “waking up the public to fight.” She offers this advice: “Make decisions with your heart. It will give you wisdom.”

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FROM RURAL AMERICA, A SUPPORTER SEES HOPE IN TRUMP’S PRESIDENCY

Alan Halsey, 31, is a self-described “downhome boy” from Campton, Kentucky, who along with his wife owns and operates The Swift Creek Courier, a weekly newspaper, and Halsey’s Country Store, “a small business that is a chunk of 1950 set down in 2017.” He says he works seven days a week to try to provide for his family, but is struggling and tired of government regulation and red tape.

He wrote:

” … I supported you quite strongly in the 2016 election, even to the point of hanging one of your signs on the front door of my business. I particularly related to your foreign policy of ‘America First,’ and your promise to bring business back to the United States. So far, I believe you’re heading in the right direction on that front, and I find a glimmer of hope in the future of the American economy.

“Overall, I think you might have fallen a little short on your first 100 days, but I don’t put a lot of weight into a time frame that small. Provided you serve two terms, 100 days is about 4 percent of that. I still feel that something needs to be done with the Affordable Care Act, although I’m not certain exactly what. … I know many ACA recipients that visit a doctor more than once a week, while those that purchase their own insurance wait until a visit to a doctor is imperative to their survival. There must be a middle to that scenario. …”

He signed his letter: “With Hope.”

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CANCER SURVIVOR WORRIES OVER TRUMP’S PROPOSED BUDGET CUTS, BUT PRAYS FOR HIM

Rebecca Esparza, 45, is a freelance writer in Corpus Christi, Texas, who didn’t vote for Trump. A cancer survivor, Esparza fears proposed budget cuts targeting the nation’s premier medical research institution, the National Institutes of Health, will hurt Americans who battle illness.

She wrote:

“. I cannot say I’m proud of your work so far. However, I have respect for the Office of the President, even if I disagree with your political aspirations. … I could write a dissertation on the many ways I disagree with your political ideals. I’m a third-generation Mexican-American, born and raised in South Texas. Your disdain for Mexico, its descendants and immigrants in general troubles me. Your plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, leaving millions of Americans with no other health insurance options, leaves me anguished.

“But what distresses me most is your plan to cut nearly $6 billion in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). On Thanksgiving Day in 2001, at age 30, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. … Cancer research saved my life. … The cuts you are proposing are disconcerting not only for cancer survivors, but for millions of Americans suffering from many types of chronic and rare diseases. …

“I’ll be praying for you, President Trump. … I pray you will carefully consider how your decisions have life or death consequences for hard-working Americans.”

Read more about Esparza.

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ONE-TIME OBAMA VOTER FEELS PRIDE IN TRUMP’S WORK

Laverne Jones Gore, 60, owns an executive leadership development company in Cleveland and voted for Trump after previously supporting Barack Obama. Gore calls herself a “middle-class American who happens to be black” and says she felt uncomfortable voicing her opinion during the Obama years, but Trump has “made me proud to be an American again.” Part of a military family — her deceased husband was a Marine and a son graduated from West Point — Gore’s one hesitation these past 100 days is over Trump’s airstrike in Syria.

She wrote:

” … Mr. President you have absolutely met my expectations. I actually believe you have shown a strength that I had not given to you, and I am surprised by your willingness to meet head on the challenges and resistance within your governing bodies. I don’t believe you have been afforded an opportunity to really show us what you have to offer in the form of leadership of our nation.

“I have no issue with you as it relates to ‘Russians.’ I personally believe most of it was contrived. I have no issue with you as it relates to immigration. I think the issues were in need of control. … I have some reservations about your use of Twitter, but I understand the difficulty you have getting your intended message out.

“Yes, you surprised me with the Syria strike and I am not certain how I feel about another war or thought of war. I am still contemplating your action and observing the responses to come from the world theatre as they absorb your full intent.”

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‘YOUR SIGNATURE CRUSHED MY FAMILY’

Marjan Vayghan, 32, an artist and writer in Los Angeles, parses no words in her evaluation of Trump. An Iranian immigrant who came to the U.S. with her family in the 1990s, Vayghan’s uncle was caught up in the chaos that erupted after Trump signed his first travel ban order in January. Ali Vayeghan was detained at the Los Angeles airport and put back on a plane back to Iran, even though he had an immigrant visa. He returned nearly a week later, after a federal judge blocked the order.

She wrote:

” … We appreciate the greatness of our country and our freedoms, because we’ve consciously fled other places with the hopes of making a better life here. We’ve undergone ‘extreme vetting’ and left behind our loved ones for a chance to be free and follow our dreams.

“On January 27th, everything changed as your signature made my uncle disappear … The following day I saw my father cry for the first time in my life. My mom got sick. I felt afraid and alone. My parents started plans with the expectation we were all about to be rounded up and sent to internment camps. Later that day, we realized our family wasn’t alone in LAX. Countless people showed up, chanting supportive messages and singing songs of love like “this land was made for you and me. …

“As your executive orders crush the immigrants and native-born people of this country together, I have hope that the pressure will forge us into a stronger union. … Seven days into this ‘un-presidented’ adventure, your signature crushed my family. The next day we were embraced by the country’s love and support.”

Read more about Vayghan.

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A BANKER IN COAL COUNTRY TELLS TRUMP TO ‘PROVE THEM WRONG’

James McDonald, 57, of Tazewell, Virginia, is a Trump supporter who believes the president has “brought integrity and honor back to the White House, our country and the way the world views our country.” An assistant vice president at a bank in a small mining community, McDonald’s priorities include reviving the economy and replacing the Affordable Care Act. He sums up his advice for Trump in three words: “Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.”

He wrote:

“The fact that you mean what you say and say what you mean is what we have needed in our president for the last eight years. This is one of the few elections that the way I voted was for what was in the best interest of my local community. The war on coal that was waged by the former administration devastated our area. …

” … Since the inauguration my only concern was the handling of the repeal and replace of the Affordable Health Care Act. I felt like you comprised too much, and came close to signing a bad bill. I commend you on your continued efforts to enact this change, however if it’s not a good bill please don’t compromise too much.

” … Of course, keeping America safe is your No. 1 priority, after that in my opinion it is putting people back to work. One quote from the Republican convention that was impressive was when Donald Trump Jr. said that ‘when people tell him it can’t be done, that guarantees that he gets it done.’ They say you can’t make America Great Again. Prove them wrong. …”

Read more about McDonald.

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A FINANCIAL PLANNER URGES TRUMP TO ‘READ. LISTEN. LEARN. PREPARE.’

Brooke Streech, 44, runs a nonprofit in Phoenix that provides financial planning and education for those who cannot afford an adviser. She voted for Hillary Clinton because she believes she was “more qualified, smarter and cared more about people.” The mother of two boys, 10 and 12, Streech urges Trump going forward to “Read. Listen. Learn. Prepare. Work hard to understand the complex issues you are required to face.”

She wrote:

“Your lack of experience and intelligence has certainly shown itself to be an issue so far in your presidency. It might be OK to go into office with your incredible ignorance if you were to surround yourself with smart and talented people. Unfortunately, you have done the opposite. Your administration appears to be run less efficiently and with more chaos than any other in history.

” … I would implore you to spend some time reflecting on how you get your information. Find advisers and spokespeople who are smart, good at what they do, and might disagree with you once in a while with the aim to create dialogue and make decisions with all of the information available..”

Read more about Streech.

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REFUGEE PRAYS GOD WILL GIVE THE PRESIDENT WISDOM

Suliman Bandas, 37, is a refugee from Sudan who could not vote in the election because he is a legal permanent resident and not a citizen. He teaches English as a Second Language to other immigrants in Lincoln, Nebraska. He advises Trump to “make America more friendly, beautiful and strong — by caring for others and defending the weak.”

He wrote:

“I grew up in southern Sudan, which was engaged in a long civil war with the north. In 1986, my uncle … took my father, a teacher, and other civilians in a helicopter to areas that needed aid. I watched from our backyard as that helicopter was shot down. … In 2005, I was accepted to come to the U.S., a place where I can be safe and call home. …

“In my job I help teach refugees, and every day they express to me their worries that this country may reject refugees in the months to come. I have heard you express concern about the Syrian people and I hope this is a turning point. Please, Mr. President, let America continue to treat refugees the same way God wanted them to be treated. That is what made America what it is — strong and different from any other country on the face of the planet. The Bible says: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. …” (Leviticus 19:33-34) Dear Mr. President, may God guide you, give you wisdom and spirit of understanding in these very challenging moments.”

Read more about Bandas.

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A KANSAN FEELS ‘AMERICAN PRIDE AGAIN’ OVER A LEADER WHO ‘BELIEVES IN ALL OF US’

Rick Yearick, 50, is an ad salesman at the local paper in Liberal, Kansas. An avid Trump supporter, he praises the president for a number of things, including flexing his muscles with “decisive action against those who perform badly on the world stage.” He says the president’s biggest failure so far is not successfully uniting Republicans behind him.

He wrote:

“Keep fighting for a secure America with your travel ban for those who seek to do us harm, building a wall to secure a sound immigration policy, and by serving Americans and not trying to be President of the World. …

“I commend you on the selection of (Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch) for his commitment to the Constitution rather than a revisionist who interprets it to fit their political needs. I am sure that given a chance at more appointments, you will do the same.

“I feel American pride again knowing that our president believes in all of us. For the past several years, I could not relate to the direction we were headed as we were divided and at each other’s throats. Now, we are uniting behind the common man with the leadership of a president who honors us all. …”

Read more about Yearick.

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‘LUCKILY, I DON’T HAVE TO FIGHT YOU ALONE’

Kate Young, 43, is a stay-at-home mother in West Chester, Pennsylvania, who says she couldn’t sit idly by after Trump’s election. So she and her neighbors began holding rallies every week to fight to keep the Affordable Care Act, which helped her family after her husband lost his job.

She wrote:

” … When you won the election, I worried that you would put business profits ahead of the environment, and that you would involve the United States in a new, possibly nuclear, war. Today, much sooner than I feared, both dire predictions have come true. Congress rolled back environmental protections … You bombed Syria, and as I write this letter, the news reports that you dropped the ‘Mother of all Bombs’ on Afghanistan. Please don’t go nuclear!

“Every Friday, starting January 20th, I rally with my neighbors in front of Congressman Ryan Costello‘s office. We fight to protect the Affordable Care Act. Claire’s son needs the ACA to manage Type 1 diabetes. Lisa needed the ACA to cover prenatal care and delivery of a healthy baby after her husband left her, uninsured and 10 weeks pregnant. Dr. Jack’s infant patients need the ACA to cover life-saving treatment and eliminate the lifetime caps that they otherwise might exceed before ever being discharged from the NICU. …

“Luckily, I don’t have to fight you alone. Most Americans did not vote for you. We won’t stop holding you accountable for every infraction of American laws, values, or norms.”

Read more about Young.

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INSURANCE AGENT SAYS TRUMP’S LOVE OF COUNTRY ‘IS REFRESHINGLY OBVIOUS’

Carolee Upshur, 60, a life insurance agent in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, says she voted for Trump because he seemed like the only candidate who “had the backbone to withstand the attacks that would come as a result of any attempt to ‘drain the swamp.'” She encourages him to “please move forward with the building of the wall, and do not compromise with the Republican establishment.” As for any failure? “Obamacare. He was elected to get rid of Obamacare.”

She wrote:

” … I have been utterly amazed at your ability to accomplish anything in the environment as it exists in Washington. … You jumped in feet first and set out to do everything you promised during your campaign. …

“I applaud your move to curtail the illegal immigration and build the wall, and continue to be frustrated at the attempts of the progressives to use the judicial system to try and block your attempts to fulfill your duties as president. … I was absolutely thrilled to see the decisiveness with which you acted in Syria and Afghanistan, which sent a strong message to the world that there ‘is a new sheriff in town.’ It is wonderful to have a ‘man’s man’ leading this country from a position of love of country and peace through strength. …

“Please know that I continue to pray for you daily, that God will hold your family together and protect you all.”

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LA TEEN: FOCUS ON HELPING PEOPLE, NOT MAKING MONEY

Amellia Sones, 15, is a high school student in Los Angeles who was spurred to help organize a protest against Trump after his election. Sones says in her letter that even though she’s not yet old enough to vote, she has opinions about the job Trump has done. For one, she worries the younger generation is watching him “act inappropriately and out of line” and will conclude that it’s acceptable behavior.

She wrote:

“. One major thing I do not like is putting a ban on immigrants from entering the United States. I know you were trying to keep terrorists from entering our country, but I do not believe banning immigrants from certain countries is an effective way of doing this. And, after all, the United States is called the melting pot of many nations. …

“Your biggest failure (and there have already been so many) is NOT making an effort to bring our country together. To me, that’s a big part of a president’s job. … I only ask that you start watching the way you speak and try listening to what your people are asking of you. Stop arguing with celebrities over Twitter and start acting like an actual president.”

Read more about Sones.

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EX-DEMOCRAT CALLS TRUMP THE ‘LAST CHANCE TO TURN OUR COUNTRY AROUND’

Ed Harry, 70, of Plymouth, Pennsylvania, is a retired union official and ex-Democratic activist who became a Trump voter. A Vietnam veteran who recalls being spit on and called a baby-killer, Harry encourages Trump to “stay away from any wars.” His biggest failure, he says, is “not having his house in order; all the turmoil in the White House from the staff.”

He wrote:

“I laughed when I heard you were running for president. I didn’t think you had a chance. As the campaign went along, I found out that the Democrats, Republicans … China, India, Mexico, all were opposed to you. At that moment I knew I had my candidate. .

“Considering all the opposition you have had against you, I think you deserve a C+ rating. You’ve accomplished quite a lot: Neil Gorsuch appointment … get rid of a lot of Obama executive orders … “The WALL,” or at least some immigration enforcement I would like to see take place this year. Finally, most of all, do NOT let the neocons or both political parties corrupt your administration. I do, in fact, believe YOU are OUR last chance to turn OUR COUNTRY around!!!”

Read more about Harry.

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‘MAKE DECISIONS WITH YOUR HEART. IT WILL GIVE YOU WISDOM’

Susan McClain, 52, works in customer service for a tech company in Aurora, Colorado. She was a Clinton supporter, and says the greatest thing to come from Trump’s presidency so far is “waking up the public to fight … and stand up for American lives, values, and aspirations.” Still, she has some advice for the president as his term goes on: “Make decisions with your heart. It will give you wisdom.”

She wrote:

“Are you meeting my expectations so far? Sadly, yes. Your first 100 days as president was tragic for Americans and the globe. … Regardless, I would like to thank you. As you rampaged all over America’s values, we understood more deeply what we love and cherish. And, we woke up.

“In you, we see that wealth is not success.

“In you, we see that unchecked ego is dangerous.

“In you, we see the mighty power of words.

“In you, we see that winning must include all of us, not just the rich and powerful.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Christian Ulvert says he is ‘seriously considering’ run for SD 40 seat

Democratic political consultant Christian Ulvert says is seriously considering a run the Senate District 40 seat left vacant with the resignation of Frank Artiles.

“I’ve had a greater calling to serve in public office just because of the issues and the work that I do,” Ulvert told FloridaPolitics Thursday morning, just before he was scheduled to get on a plane to attend a family wedding out of state.

Ulvert says since Artiles announced he was stepping down last Friday, there’s been a chain of events of friends, colleagues and his husband asking him why doesn’t he step up and run for the seat.

It would be a new role for the man recently named one of the best political campaign professionals under 40.

The 35-year-old Miami-Dade native has been working most recently with Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is still in the ‘testing the waters’ phase of a potential run for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

Ulvert served as political director for the Florida Democratic Party from 2013 until last fall, and is the founder and president of EDGE Communications, a political consulting firm.

Prior to his launch as a political and media consultant, Ulvert served the Florida House of Representatives Democratic Caucus as communications director and policy advisor to House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber during his two-year leadership term, and worked with Gelber during his campaign against Pam Bondi for Attorney General in 2010.

Ulvert said that if he is to run, he would center his campaign on three main issues – public education, health care and affordable housing. “Those are three things that I’ve faced personally and I can present a strong narrative to and talk to voters and really empathize and bring authenticity to the message because I’m living it,” he says. “I have lived it.”

If he pulls the trigger, Ulvert certainly won’t be the only Democrat to enter the race. House District 114’s Daisy Baez is also reportedly considering a run, and may rely on Florida Democratic Party staffer Dan Newman to launch candidacy, although Newman told FP that he will not be leaving the party.

Ulvert says he’ll contemplate his decision over the weekend, then meet with Democratic officials in Tallahassee next week (he says he’s already conferred with Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon).  “The most important thing is to have a Democrat represent the district,” he says.

Governor Rick Scott has yet to announce a special election to fill the Senate District 40 seat, a majority Hispanic district that covers part of inland Miami-Dade County. Scott could announce a primary for the election as soon as June with the general election taking place in August.

Or he could go another route. Local elections in Hialeah, Miami and Miami Beach, the three largest municipalities in Miami-Dade, are taking place this August and September. Though none of those cities are in SD 40, it could make some sense to hold the primary and general at the same time as those cities. However, with the Legislature meeting in January of next year, committee meetings would be starting in the fall, well in advance of a November election.

Although Artiles defeated Democrat Dwight Bullard by ten percentage points last fall, it’s also a district that voted plus-10 in favor of Barack Obama in 2012 and carries a slight edge for Democrats in voter registrations.

Artiles stepped down from his seat last Friday morning, less than 72 hours after the Miami Herald first reported that he invoked the N-word to two black colleagues of the Legislature in a private conversation earlier in the week. The resignation came after the Herald then began asking questions later in the week about why his political committee had hired a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience as consultants.

Donald Trump tax cut: Huge, vague and likely mild boost for economy

President Donald Trump‘s team boasted Wednesday that its tax-cut plan would lighten Americans’ financial burdens, ignite economic growth and vastly simplify tax filing.

Yet the proposal so far remains short of vital details, including how it would be paid for. And based on the few specifics spelled out so far, most experts suggest that it would add little to growth while swelling the budget deficit and potentially handing large windfalls to wealthier taxpayers.

Trump’s plan would replace the current seven income tax brackets with three, and the top bracket would drop from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. It would also slash the corporate rate from 35 percent all the way to 15 percent, a boon to most companies even though many don’t pay the full tax now. With tax credits and other loopholes, most corporations pay closer to 20 percent, according to calculations by JPMorgan.

Perhaps the most contentious plank would enable taxpayers with business income — including those wealthy enough to pay the top tax rate — to instead pay the new 15 percent corporate rate. That’s because Trump would apply the corporate rate to “pass through” businesses. Pass-throughs include partnerships such as law firms and hedge funds as well as most small businesses — from the local florist to the family-owned restaurant on Main Street.

What’s more, some privately held large companies — including Trump’s own real estate empire — are structured as pass-throughs and would benefit, too.

Here’s a closer look at Trump’s proposal and its likely impact:

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WHO BENEFITS?

It’s hard to say because the administration has released so few details. The three new income tax rates would be 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent. But Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, weren’t ready Wednesday to say at what income levels these new rates would kick in.

Tax experts said far more details were needed to determine how average Americans would be affected.

“The impact on Joe Taxpayer is unknown,” said Marc Gerson, vice chair of the tax department of law firm Miller & Chevalier in Washington. “There’s not enough specificity. It’s hard for taxpayers to determine where they’ll come out.”

Cohn asserted that the plan would cut taxes “especially for low and middle income families.” It purports to do so in part by doubling the standard deduction, which is used by taxpayers who don’t itemize their tax deductions.

At the same time, the Trump plan would eliminate the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax, thereby benefiting some of the richest taxpayers. And that’s on top of shrinking the corporate tax rate that many affluent individuals could likely capitalize on.

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WHY CUT CORPORATE TAXES?

By making corporations more profitable, the Trump administration hopes to encourage more business spending on equipment — from computers to factories and machinery.

Doing so, in turn, could make the economy more efficient and accelerate growth and hiring. Economic growth has been stuck at about 2 percent a year since the recession ended in 2009. Mnuchin says the administration wants to accelerate it above 3 percent, a pace it hasn’t touched since 2005.

The corporate tax cuts are also intended to encourage more businesses to stay in the United States, which now has the highest corporate rate among advanced economies.

Many large corporations are enthusiastic about lower rates and say they support the elimination of loopholes, which both reduce revenue and make taxes more complicated.

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WHO’D BENEFIT FROM THE CORPORATE RATE CUT?

Aside from most large companies, many partnerships and small businesses would benefit because they’re structured as pass-throughs, which derives from the fact that they pass on their profits to their owners.

Those owners now pay individual income tax rates, which top out at 39.6 percent. With the pass-through rate dropped to 15 percent, those taxpayers could enjoy an enormous tax cut.

The Trump team stressed the benefits that might flow to small businesses. But the richest windfalls would flow to the wealthy — lawyers, hedge fund managers, consultants and other big earners. Nearly 75 percent of pass-through income flows to the 10 percent wealthiest taxpayers, according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“It would tremendously help high earners,” says Brian Thompson, a certified public accountant in Chicago.

In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback eliminated state taxes on pass-throughs, which turned out to be a boon for Bill Self, the coach of the University of Kansas’ men’s basketball team. He had previously set up his own company, according to state media reports. As a result, he paid little state income tax despite earning nearly $3 million a year.

Many people, particularly wealthy Americans, could set up companies and reclassify their paychecks as “business income” and have it taxed at 15 percent, experts say. In Kansas, the number of pass-through businesses jumped to more than double the level the state expected, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. That cost the state revenue without spurring more job creation.

Mnuchin said the Treasury would issue rules to prevent wealthy people from capitalizing on the lower rate. But many experts are skeptical.

“Good luck with that,” said Mark Mazur, director of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center and a former Treasury official under President Barack Obama. “The tax agencies tend to be at least a couple of steps behind the businesses.”

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HOW ELSE WOULD BIG BUSINESSES BENEFIT?

The administration is also proposing to tax only corporate income earned in the United States. This is known as a “territorial” system. It would replace the current worldwide system, under which corporations pay tax on income earned in the U.S. and overseas.

Yet companies can avoid the tax if they keep their foreign earnings overseas. Many businesses have kept hundreds of billions of dollars outside the United States.

Mnuchin said Trump’s plan would encourage corporations to return the money to the United States and invest it in plants and equipment. Some analysts counter that corporations might instead use the money to pay dividends to shareholders.

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WHAT ABOUT THE DEFICIT AND GROWTH?

The government’s budget deficit could explode under the plan, offsetting many of the benefits for the economy, economists say. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s rough estimate puts the loss of revenue at $5.5 trillion over 10 years.

Mnuchin argued that the tax cuts would spur faster growth, which, in turn, would produce more tax revenue. And the elimination of tax deductions and other loopholes would raise revenue as well, he contended.

But the Trump team offered few details on which deductions would be dropped — a move that would likely spark ferocious opposition from the beneficiaries of those deductions. And most economists don’t accept the notion that growth would accelerate enough to offset the lost revenue.

Alan Cole, an economist at the right-leaning Tax Foundation, calculates that the corporate tax cuts alone would reduce government revenue by $2 trillion over 10 years. That would require growth to accelerate nearly a full percentage point, to 2.8 percent a year, from its current level. Yet Cole forecasts that growth would increase only 0.4 percent annually.

Other economists say that if the cuts balloon the deficit, the resulting jump in government borrowing would swell interest rates and make it harder for businesses and households to borrow and spend.

Ethan Harris, chief global economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, says such a “crowding out” effect can cancel out any benefits to the economy.

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SO WILL THE ECONOMY BENEFIT AT ALL?

Most economists forecast that a modest tax-cut package — smaller than Trump’s — is far more likely to become law. With the deficit rising by less, a smaller cut could raise growth to 2.5 percent a year, from its roughly 2 percent pace now, Harris said.

If Trump’s proposals became law, depending on the details, growth could accelerate more quickly, Harris added. But the Federal Reserve would likely counter such acceleration with more short-term rate hikes, to forestall rapid inflation. And that move, in turn, would likely slow the economy.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump’s 100-days promises: Fewer than half carried out

Sure enough, the big trans-Pacific trade deal is toast, climate change action is on the ropes and various regulations from the Obama era have been scrapped. It’s also a safe bet President Donald Trump hasn’t raced a bicycle since Jan. 20, keeping that vow.

Add a Supreme Court justice — no small feat — and call these promises kept.

But where’s that wall? Or the promised trade punishment against China — will the Chinese get off scot-free from “the greatest theft in the history of the world”? What about that “easy” replacement for Obamacare? How about the trillion-dollar infrastructure plan and huge tax cut that were supposed to be in motion by now?

Trump’s road to the White House, paved in big, sometimes impossible pledges, has detoured onto a byway of promises deferred or left behind, an AP analysis found.

Of 38 specific promises Trump made in his 100-day “contract” with voters — “This is my pledge to you” — he’s accomplished 10, mostly through executive orders that don’t require legislation, such as withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

He’s abandoned several and failed to deliver quickly on others, stymied at times by a divided Republican Party and resistant federal judges. Of 10 promises that require Congress to act, none has been achieved and most have not been introduced.

“I’ve done more than any other president in the first 100 days,” the president bragged in a recent interview with AP, even as he criticized the marker as an “artificial barrier.”

In truth, his 100-day plan remains mostly a to-do list that will spill over well beyond Saturday, his 100th day.

Some of Trump’s promises were obviously hyperbole to begin with. Don’t hold your breath waiting for alleged Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl to be dropped out of an airplane without a parachute, as Trump vowed he’d do at many of his campaign rallies. China’s leader got a fancy dinner, complete with “beautiful” chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago this month, not the promised “McDonald’s hamburger” and humble pie.

But many promises were meant to be taken seriously. Trump clearly owes his supporters a Mexico border wall, even if it doesn’t end up being a foot taller than the Great Wall of China.

One page of his 100-day manifesto is devoted to legislation he would fight to pass in 100 days. None of it has been achieved.

The other page lists 18 executive actions and intentions he promised to pursue — many on Day One. He has followed through on fewer than a dozen, largely through the use of executive orders, and the White House is boasting that he will set a post-World War II record when he signs more this week.

That’s a change in tune.

“We need people in Washington that don’t go around signing executive orders because they can’t get people into a room and get some kind of a deal that’s negotiated,” he declared in New Hampshire in March 2015. “We need people that know how to lead, and we don’t have that. We have amateurs.”

Efforts to provide affordable child care and paid maternity leave, to make college more affordable and to invest in urban areas have been all but forgotten. That’s despite the advantage of a Republican-controlled Congress, which the White House failed to pull together behind Trump’s first attempt to repeal and replace “Obamacare.”

An AP reporter who followed Trump throughout the presidential campaign collected scores of promises he made along the way, from the consequential to the fanciful. Here are some of them, and his progress so far:

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ENERGY and the ENVIRONMENT:

— Lift President Barack Obama‘s roadblocks on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

Done. Keystone XL is revived and construction of the Dakota Access is completed.

— Lift restrictions on mining coal and drilling for oil and natural gas.

Done. Trump has unraveled a number of Obama-era restrictions and initiated a review of the Clean Power Plan, which aimed to restrict greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants.

— Cancel payments to U.N. climate change programs and pull out of the Paris climate accord

Nope. Trump has yet to make a decision on Paris. His aides are torn.

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ECONOMY and TRADE:

— Pass a tax overhaul. “Just think about what can be accomplished in the first 100 days of a Trump administration,” he told his supporters again and again in the final weeks of the campaign. “We are going to have the biggest tax cut since Ronald Reagan.” He promised a plan that would reduce rates dramatically both for corporations and the middle class.

Nowhere close. Trump has scrapped the tax plan he campaigned on, and his administration’s new package is in its early stages, not only missing the first 100 days but likely to miss a new August deadline set by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Some details may emerge this week.

—Designate China a currency manipulator, setting the stage for possible trade penalties because “we’re like the piggy bank that’s being robbed. We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country, and that’s what they’re doing.”

Abandoned. Trump says he doesn’t want to punish China when it is cooperating in a response to North Korean provocations. He also says China has stopped manipulating its currency for unfair trade advantage. But China was moving away from that behavior well before he took office. Also set aside: repeated vows to slap high tariffs on Chinese imports.

—Announce his intention to renegotiate or withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Backtracked, in essence. A draft of his administration’s plan for NAFTA proposes only a mild rewrite. But in his AP interview, he threatened anew to terminate the deal if his goals are not met in a renegotiation.

— Direct his commerce secretary and trade representative to identify all foreign trading abuses that unfairly hurt American workers.

Done. Trump has initiated plenty of studies over the past 100 days.

— Slap a 35 percent tariff on goods from companies that ship production abroad. Force companies like Apple and Nabisco to make their products in the U.S.

Nope.

—Embark on a massive $1 trillion effort to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, including airports, roads and bridges.

Not yet.

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SECURITY, DEFENSE and IMMIGRATION:

— Immediately suspend the Syrian refugee program.

Trump tried, but the first version of his travel ban was blocked by the courts. A revised version dropped references to Syrian refugees entirely. That was blocked, too. And he has yet to mention another campaign pledge: to deport Syrian refugees already settled in the U.S.

— Inform his generals they have 30 days to submit a new plan for defeating the Islamic State group.

Trump did indeed order up a plan. It’s unclear what it is since it has yet to be made public.

— Suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” where he says vetting is too difficult.

Trump’s effort to bar immigration temporarily from some Muslim-majority countries has been stymied by courts.

— Implement “extreme” immigration vetting techniques.

In progress. The Homeland Security Department is considering a number of measures, like asking for visitors’ phone contacts and social media passwords.

—Build an “impenetrable physical wall” along the length of the southern border, and make Mexico pay for it.

The government has been soliciting bids and test sections could be built as soon as this summer. Mexico is not paying for this work.

—End federal funding to “sanctuary cities” — places where local officials are considered by Washington to be insufficiently cooperative in arresting or detaining people in the country illegally.

The Justice Department has threatened to do so, but there are legal limits.

— Immediately deport the estimated 2 million “criminal aliens” living in the country, including gang members, in joint operations with local, state and federal law enforcement.

Deportations have not increased. Arrests of people in the U.S. illegally are up and illegal border crossings are significantly down.

—Cancel visas for foreign countries that won’t take back criminals deported by the U.S.

There’s been no discussion of this yet.

—”Immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties,” one of which allows young people brought into the country as children to stay and work.

Trump has made no effort to end the program, even though it would take a single phone call. In fact, he told AP these young people can “rest easy” and not fear deportation.

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GOVERNMENT and the SWAMP:

— Ask agency and department heads to identify job-killing regulations for elimination.

Done.

— Propose a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress.

Nope.

— “Drain the swamp.”

On his pledge to curb the power of special interests, Trump has so far used an executive order to prohibit political appointees from lobbying the government for five years after serving in his administration and to ban outgoing officials from representing foreign governments. But he’s discontinuing the Obama-era practice of releasing White House visitor logs, restoring a shroud over what special interests are getting in his gates. He’s also issued at least one waiver to his lobbying ban, allowing a White House budget adviser to go advocate for a business trade group

— Impose a hiring freeze on federal employees, excluding military and public safety staffers.

This was one of Trump’s first actions. But the freeze has since been lifted.

—Require that two regulations be eliminated for each new one imposed.

Trump signed an order requiring agencies to identify two existing regulations for every new one imposed — though there is nothing in the order that requires the two to be eliminated.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS:

— End the strategy of nation-building and regime change.

Trump’s foreign policy posture is still in its early stages, though he has already intervened in Syria and has escalated rhetoric against North Korea.

— Move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

The administration says it is studying the issue.

— Negotiate the release of all U.S. prisoners held in Iran, even before taking office. Renegotiate or leave the Iran nuclear deal.

No prisoners have been released. The administration is studying the nuclear deal and Trump told AP “it’s possible” the U.S. will withdraw.

— Create a safe zone in Syria for refugees, paid for by the Gulf states.

Not yet.

___

HEALTH CARE, COURTS and GUNS:

—”My first day in office, I’m going to ask Congress to put a bill on my desk getting rid of this disastrous law and replacing it with reforms that expand choice, freedom, affordability. You’re going to have such great health care at a tiny fraction of the cost. It’s going to be so easy.”

The bill to replace “Obamacare” was pulled from Congress because it lacked enough support. He will try again with a revised plan.

— Begin selecting a new Supreme Court judge to fill the court’s vacancy.

Done. Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch and the Senate approved him.

— Eliminate gun-free zones in schools and on military bases.

Nope.

___

REALLY?

— “I promise I will never be in a bicycle race.”

So far, so good. Trump’s vow came after John Kerry, then secretary of state, broke his femur in May 2015 while riding a bicycle. He was not in a bicycle race.

—Bar his generals from being interviewed on television.

Never mind that. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, as Trump’s national security adviser, recently appeared on a Sunday news show. Several senior military officers have done Pentagon news conferences in the past few months that are taped by the networks. Gen. John Nicholson, the top general in Afghanistan, appeared at a news conference Monday.

—No time for play.

Most weekends as president, Trump has broken his pledge to avoid the golf course, after years of criticizing his predecessor for playing the game. “Because I’m going to be working for you, I’m not going to have time to go play golf,” he told a Virginia rally in August. “Believe me.”

—Season’s greetings.

“If I become president, we’re gonna be saying Merry Christmas at every store. … You can leave ‘happy holidays’ at the corner.”

As president-elect over the holidays, he sent a “Merry Christmas” tweet. So did President Obama. And both sent Happy Hanukkah wishes.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago loses State Department promotion posting

The State Department has removed its promotional posting about President Donald Trump‘s Florida resort, after a storm of ethics criticism.

In an April 4 blog post that was republished by several U.S. embassies abroad, Mar-a-Lago was described as “Trump’s Florida estate,” where he has hosted foreign leaders. “By visiting this ‘winter White House,’ Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer,” the post said.

Left unsaid: Mar-a-Lago is part of Trump’s business empire. After his election, the resort doubled its membership fee to $200,000. As president, Trump has visited the property seven times, and its restaurant fills up when he’s in town.

The State Department said late Monday that its intention was “to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders” and that it regrets “any misperception.” That statement now appears in place of the original blog post.

The White House did not respond to questions about whether it had any involvement in the original posting or the decision to take it down.

The post originated on “Share America,” a State Department project. Its website describes its mission as “sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”

Other topics on the Share America page include a new U.S. coin honoring Frederick Douglass, debate over the Confederate flag and news about first lady Melania Trump’s participation in the State Department’s International Women of Courage award ceremony.

The Mar-a-Lago post was nearly three weeks old but gained traction Monday when several people noticed the U.S. embassy to the United Kingdom was featuring it. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, asked on Twitter why taxpayers are “promoting the president’s private country club” and referred to the incident as “kleptocratic.”

Norman Eisen, who was President Barack Obama‘s chief ethics attorney, said the promotion is “exploitation.”

Eisen compared it to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway‘s promotion of Ivanka Trump‘s clothing business, for which she was “counseled” but not otherwise reprimanded by the White House.

“This idea of using government for private gain is metastasizing,” Eisen said. “It must be stopped.”

On Twitter, Richard Painter, who served in an ethics role for President George W. Bush, called the State Department post “Use of public office for private gain pure and simple.”

Eisen, Painter and other attorneys have sued Trump, alleging violation of the “emoluments clause” of the U.S. Constitution. That provision says the president may not accept foreign gifts or payments without the consent of Congress.

The Trump Organization argues that this prohibition wasn’t intended to cover fair-market exchanges.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump names Floridian Heather MacDougall to OSHA Review Commission

Heather MacDougall

President Donald Trump has named employer relations expert Heather MacDougall of Melbourne to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Since January, MacDougall has been acting chair of the Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission. In 2014, then-President Barack Obama nominated her to the Commission in 2014, unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

MacDougall brings 20 years of experience in labor, employment, occupational safety and health law, most recently with Akerman LLP law firm based in West Palm Beach.  In addition, she served as Chief Counsel to OSHRC Chair W. Scott Railton in 2002-2003 under the George W. Bush administration. OSHRC is the independent federal agency as an administrative court deciding contested OSHA citations. MacDougall also served as associate general counsel of a Washington, D.C. trade association standing for human resources executives of Fortune 500 corporations.

Earlier in her career, MacDougall was Associate General Counsel to the HR Policy Association, a public policy organization that advocates for human resource officers of major employers, where she stood for the association as amicus curiae in U.S. Courts of Appeals and Supreme Court cases. As a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), MacDougall also gave expert guidance to employers on all aspects of the employer-employee relationship.

She received her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin and a J.D. from Marquette University Law School.

Once critical of global deals, Donald Trump slow to pull out of any

The “America First” president who vowed to extricate America from onerous overseas commitments appears to be warming up to the view that when it comes to global agreements, a deal’s a deal.

From NAFTA to the Iran nuclear agreement to the Paris climate accord, President Donald Trump‘s campaign rhetoric is colliding with the reality of governing. Despite repeated pledges to rip up, renegotiate or otherwise alter them, the U.S. has yet to withdraw from any of these economic, environmental or national security deals, as Trump’s past criticism turns to tacit embrace of several key elements of U.S. foreign policy.

The administration says it is reviewing these accords and could still pull out of them. A day after certifying Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attacked the accord and listed examples of Iran’s bad behavior. His tone suggested that even if Iran is fulfilling the letter of its nuclear commitments, the deal remains on unsure footing.

Yet with one exception — an Asia-Pacific trade deal that already had stalled in Congress — Trump’s administration quietly has laid the groundwork to honor the international architecture of deals it has inherited. It’s a sharp shift from the days when Trump was declaring the end of a global-minded America that negotiates away its interests and subsidizes foreigners’ security and prosperity.

Trump had called the Iran deal the “worst” ever, and claimed climate change was a hoax. But in place of action, the Trump administration is only reviewing these agreements, as it is doing with much of American foreign policy.

Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University, said Trump may be allowing himself to argue in the future that existing deals can be improved without being totally discarded. “That allows him to tell his base that he’s getting a better deal than Bush or Obama got, and yet reassure these institutions that it’s really all being done with a nod and a wink, that Trump doesn’t mean what he says,” Brinkley said.

So far, there’s been no major revolt from Trump supporters, despite their expectation he would be an agent of disruption. This week’s reaffirmations of the status quo came via Tillerson’s certification of Iran upholding its nuclear deal obligations and the administration delaying a decision on whether to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

The president had previously spoken about dismantling or withdrawing from both agreements as part of his vision, explained in his inaugural address, that “every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

The Iran certification, made 90 minutes before a midnight Tuesday deadline, means Tehran will continue to enjoy relief from U.S. nuclear sanctions. Among the anti-deal crowd Trump wooed in his presidential bid, the administration’s decision is fueling concerns that Trump may let the 2015 accord stand.

Tillerson on Wednesday sought to head off any criticism that the administration was being easy on Iran, describing a broad administration review of Iran policy that includes the nuclear deal and examines if sanctions relief serves U.S. interests. The seven-nation nuclear deal, he said, “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran” and “only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state.”

On the climate agreement, the White House postponed a meeting Tuesday where top aides were to have hashed out differences on what to do about the non-binding international deal forged in Paris in December 2015. The agreement allowed rich and poor countries to set their own goals to reduce carbon dioxide and went into effect last November, after the U.S., China and other countries ratified it. Not all of Trump’s advisers share his skeptical views on climate change — or the Paris pact.

Trump’s position on trade deals also has evolved. He had promised to jettison the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada unless he could substantially renegotiate it in America’s favor, blaming NAFTA for devastating the U.S. manufacturing industry by incentivizing the use of cheap labor in Mexico.

Now his administration is only focused on marginal changes that would preserve much of the existing agreement, according to draft guidelines that Trump’s trade envoy sent to Congress. The proposal included a controversial provision that lets companies challenge national trade laws through private tribunals.

Trump has followed through with a pledge to pull the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping free trade deal President Barack Obama negotiated. The agreement was effectively dead before Trump took office after Congress refused to ratify it. Even Trump’s Democratic opponent in the presidential race, Hillary Clinton, opposed the accord.

But on NATO, Trump has completely backed off his assertions that the treaty organization is “obsolete.” His Cabinet members have fanned out to foreign capitals to show America’s support for the alliance and his administration now describes the 28-nation body as a pillar of Western security.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

How communities shaped by refugees became Donald Trump country

Richard Rodrigue stood in the back of a banquet hall, watching his blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter mingle among her high school classmates. These teenagers speak dozens of languages, and hail from a dozen African nations.

They fled brutal civil war, famine, oppressive regimes to find themselves here, at an ordinary high school pre-prom fete in this once-dying New England mill town, revived by an influx of some 7,500 immigrants over the last 16 years. Rodrigue smiled and waved at his daughter, proud she is a part of it: “It will help her in life,” he said. “The world is not all white.”

Richard Rodrigue
Richard Rodrigue embraces his daughter Stephanie, 17, after she walked the runway in her high school’s pre-prom fashion show in Lewiston, Maine. [Photo Credit: AP Photo]

Rodrigue believes the refugees resuscitated his town — plugging the population drain that had threatened to cripple it, opening shops and restaurants in boarded-up storefronts. But he also agrees with Donald Trump that there should be no more of them, at least not now. America is struggling, he says, and needs to take care of its own before it takes care of anyone else.

His working-class community, built along the banks of the Androscoggin River in the whitest state in America, is a place that some point to as proof that refugee integration can work. And yet for the first time in 30 years, voters in Androscoggin County chose a Republican for president, endorsing Trump’s nativist zeal against the very sort of immigrants who share their streets and their schools.

[Photo Credit: AP Graphic | Kevin S. Vineys]

Rodrigue knows he was born on the winning end of the American dream. His grandfather fled poverty in Quebec and moved to Maine to toil his whole life in the textile mills. He never learned English, faced hate and discrimination. Two generations later, Rodrigue owns a successful security company, lives in a tidy house in a quiet neighborhood and makes plans to send his daughter to college.

Immigration worked for him. But it feels different today, as the county of 107,000 people tries to find its footing. The sprawling brick mills that line the river sit mostly shuttered. A quarter of children grow up poor. Taxpayers pick up the welfare tab. So Trump’s supporters here tie their embrace of his immigration clampdown to their economic anxieties, and their belief that the newcomers are taking more than they have earned.

Lewiston Maine
The sun rises over billowing smokestacks in Lewiston, Maine. [Photo Credit: AP Photo]

“There’s got to be a point in time when you have to say, ‘Whoa, let’s get the working people back up. Let’s bring the money in.’ But they keep coming, keep coming,” Rodrigue said.

His community has been an experiment in immigration and all that comes with it — friendships, fear, triumphs, setbacks — and he knows that Trump’s presidency marks another chapter in that struggle for the American soul.

“I guess it just boils down to: What’s enough? Is that wrong? Am I wrong? Am I bad? That’s how I feel.”

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No one invited the Somali refugees to Lewiston.

They fled bullets and warlords to eventually be chosen for resettlement in big American cities, where they were unnerved by the crime and drugs and noise.

In early 2001, a few refugee families struggling to afford housing in Portland ventured 30 miles north and found a city in retreat. Empty downtown stores were ringed by sagging apartment buildings no longer needed to house workers because so few workers remained.

Khimar woman refugee
A woman wearing a khimar leaves after shopping at one of the many stores owned by Somali immigrants who have settled in Lewiston, Maine. [Photo Credit: AP Photo]

The refugees saw possibility in Lewiston’s decay. Word spread quickly, and friends and families followed. The town morphed in a matter of months into a laboratory for what happens when culture suddenly shifts. Maine’s population is 94 percent white, and its citizens were abruptly confronted with hundreds of black Muslims, traumatized by war and barely able to speak English.

Ardo Mohamed came to Lewiston in 2001. She fled Mogadishu in the 1990s, when militiamen burst into the home she shared with her parents and nine siblings, and started shooting. She watched her father die, as the rest of the family escaped into the woods. They wound up in overcrowded refugee camps, separated for years, then finally Atlanta, then Lewiston. Now she fries sambusas with her sister at a shop she owns downtown.

“We wanted to be safe,” said the mother of five, “just like you do.”

When the refugees began arriving, Tabitha Beauchesne was a student at Lewiston High School. Her new classmates were poor, but Beauchesne was poor, too. She grew up in a struggling family in housing projects downtown. It felt to her then, and it still feels to her now, that the refugees got more help than her family.

Auburn Maine woman
Tabitha Beauchesne stands in her living room in Auburn, Maine. [Photo Credit: AP Photo]

“They just seemed to take over,” she said. She doesn’t consider herself racist, though acknowledges that race and religion likely play a role in her sense that the refugees overwhelmed her community. The African Muslims, many of whom wear hijabs, stand out far more than her French-Canadian ancestors did when they arrived generations ago, she said.

That perception — one of being inundated by a culture so different from her own — ingrained in her a sense of injustice so deep it persists to this day. She’s now a stay-at-home mother of two, and she left Lewiston to move to another school district in the county because she believes the refugee students monopolize teachers’ attention.

Once a Barack Obama supporter, Beauchesne turned to Trump — and she cheers his efforts to curb the flow of refugees into the United States. She wants Trump to design a tax system that funnels less of her money to aiding those from other countries.

“I just don’t like giving money away that’s not benefiting me and, not to sound selfish, but then seeing it benefit other people,” she said. “As a business owner, my husband wouldn’t donate $500 to the Salvation Army if we couldn’t afford it. Our country needs to do the same thing.”

Taxpayers do help refugee families. Maine offers a welfare program called General Assistance, a combination of state and city funds, which provides impoverished people with vouchers for rent, utilities and food.

In 2002, at the beginning of the immigrant influx, the city handed out about $343,000 in General Assistance funds, split almost evenly between native-born Mainers and refugees, according to city records. But rumors, largely unfounded, spread that the refugees were given free cars and apartments. Locals began calling City Hall to demand answers.

Then-Mayor Laurier T. Raymond Jr. penned an open letter to the Somali community, asking that they divert friends and family away from a city he described as “maxed-out financially, physically and emotionally.”

The letter plunged Lewiston overnight into the global political cauldron. A white-supremacist group from out of state planned a rally against the Somali “invasion.” Just a few people showed up. But across town 4,000 gathered in a gymnasium to support the Somalis and try to combat the reputation of Lewiston as a racist, xenophobic city that was rocketing around the world.

And in that moment, the tide seemed to turn, deputy city administrator Phil Nadeau said. Even more immigrants came. Somali refugees gave way to those seeking asylum, from Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, a dozen nations in all. The immigrant population exploded from a handful of families to more than 7,000 people today, according to a tally by the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine. But the anxieties of old rarely seemed to resurface.

Two years ago, immigrant children led the high school soccer team to win the state championship — a moment heralded as a triumph of cultural cooperation. Outside news crews still come from time to time, Nadeau said, and “they’re always amazed that there’s nothing bad to print.”

But around the edges of the city, in the suburbs and small towns that fill out the rest of Androscoggin County, many quietly stewed. It’s there that Trump’s “America First” message took root.

homeless
Androscoggin County, Maine, hadn’t voted majority Republican for president since the Reagan era, until November. Now the county, which has seen a big influx of African refugees, is part of Trump Country. (April 19) [Photo Credit: AP Photo]

Thirty miles up the highway, Joyce Badeau greets customers by name at the hardware store where she works. She lives just outside Livermore Falls, population 3,187 — 3,035 of whom are white. She has little occasion to interact with immigrants, but her political views have been shaped by the idea of them.

Badeau voted for Obama but backs Trump now, and points to his promise to rein in immigration as one reason why.

“We’re becoming a poor country because we’re overloaded,” she said. “We can’t fix the system so long as we keep adding more broken pieces.”

She has watched the paper mills close and her neighbors lose good-paying jobs. But Badeau isn’t naive; she doesn’t believe Trump can make the mills roar back to life. That was a bygone era, replaced by email and iPhones. And his arrogance grates on her. But she hopes one day to turn on the news and not hear about crime and homelessness and terrorism — and she worries that someone who wants to hurt Americans might slip through porous borders. Trump promised to fix it all. If he can’t, she’s not sure what more America can offer immigrants.

“Because they’re leaving one country of problems and coming into another country of problems,” she said.

David Lovewell used to work at a paper mill just outside of Livermore Falls that has shed hundreds of jobs. Now he runs a logging company with his sons, but he sees a dim future for them. A few months ago, business got so bad he laid off eight employees and fell behind on his $5,500 monthly payments on the machines he uses to cut down trees.

man in snow
David Lovewell walks through the land he’s logging with his sons in Farmington, Maine. [Photo Credit: AP Photo]

He looked down at his sneakers, bought for $25 at Wal-Mart. There used to be two shoe factories nearby. He wants Trump to stop his town’s slow slip toward irrelevancy.

Lovewell doesn’t like to talk about immigration. He sighs and rubs his head, afraid to seem racist or indifferent to pain and poverty around the world. He went on a cruise to Belize with his wife several years ago, when he still worked at the mill and could afford a vacation. He stopped to buy a carving from an old man whose hands were so worn from years of whittling they looked like leather. He remembers those hands still, and the man’s dirt-floor shack with no doors and his skinny, starving dog and the kids riding around on broken bicycles.

“I struggled with it, when he did the travel ban,” Lovewell said of Trump. “At the same time, I’m seeing … people losing their jobs. Why are we so worried about immigrants coming into our country when we can’t really take care of our own people?”

So he’s looking to Trump to strike a better balance — to build an economy where his sons don’t have to battle to barely get by, and only after that design an immigration system that keeps America’s promise of open arms.

“I guess it could sound like bigotry,” he said. “But we’re hurting. Americans are hurting.”

___

Politicians have seized on the discontent.

Last August, candidate Trump stood on a stage in Portland and singled out the Somali community as causing a crime wave. The Lewiston police chief quickly refuted the charge — crime has decreased dramatically since the refugees arrived — but it stuck in the minds of many.

Maine’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, has called asylum-seekers “the biggest problem in our state,” and suggested they bring danger and disease.

And in Androscoggin County, Republican leaders hammer the issue of refugee resettlement on their Facebook page, with post after post about the injustice they see in taxpayers helping them with assistance. They’ve dubbed it “the refugee racket,” and complain that the school system is forced to accommodate 34 languages.

Lewiston schools
[Photo Credit: AP Graphic | Kevin S. Vineys]

Several years ago, Webster and his wife sold their home in the suburbs and rented an apartment in downtown Lewiston, across the street from a mosque. They can stroll to dinner, past a yoga studio and a shop that sells artisan olive oil. There are also dozens of immigrant-owned businesses, like the Mogadishu Business Center — with two flags hanging in the window, one American and one Somali. Remaining vacant storefronts have signs in the windows, promising prospective buyers an opportunity to “be part of Lewiston’s great rebirth.”

“We never have the opportunity to redo time under a different set of assumptions,” Webster said. “But if the immigrant population hadn’t happened, Lewiston would be a community that was contracting, and potentially in a downward death spiral.”

Organizations that work with immigrants nevertheless must fight on to combat deep-seated distrust. Catholic Charities publishes a fact sheet called “The Top Ten Myths about Somalis and Why They Are Wrong.” It lists untruths like, “Somalis are draining the welfare coffers,” ”Somalis get free apartments,” even “Somalis keep live chickens in their kitchen cupboards.”

Maine’s immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa made $136.6 million in income in 2014, and paid $40 million in taxes, according to one report from a bipartisan think tank. But they largely work in invisible jobs, said Catherine Besteman, a professor of anthropology at Maine’s Colby College. They take out trash at hotels, do the laundry at the hospital. People don’t see them working, she said, so when they see them driving a car, or shopping for groceries, it becomes easy to assume they got it for free.

That leaves some here still feeling that the immigrants take more than they deserve.

Tabitha Beauchesne pulled a bag of bargain-brand cereal out of her kitchen cabinet to demonstrate that point. At the grocery store, she said, she sees immigrant mothers with carts piled high with name-brand food.

“I guess I’m jealous of that. I would love to buy my kids the real Fruit Roll-Ups,” she said. “But, no, sorry kids, you get the fruit packets from Wal-Mart.”

celebrate diversity at school
A mural celebrating diversity decorates a hallway in Lewiston High School. [Photo Credit: AP Photo]

Several years ago, Webster and his wife sold their home in the suburbs and rented an apartment in downtown Lewiston, across the street from a mosque. They can stroll to dinner, past a yoga studio and a shop that sells artisan olive oil. There are also dozens of immigrant-owned businesses, like the Mogadishu Business Center — with two flags hanging in the window, one American and one Somali. Remaining vacant storefronts have signs in the windows, promising prospective buyers an opportunity to “be part of Lewiston’s great rebirth.”

“We never have the opportunity to redo time under a different set of assumptions,” Webster said. “But if the immigrant population hadn’t happened, Lewiston would be a community that was contracting, and potentially in a downward death spiral.”

Organizations that work with immigrants nevertheless must fight on to combat deep-seated distrust. Catholic Charities publishes a fact sheet called “The Top Ten Myths about Somalis and Why They Are Wrong.” It lists untruths like, “Somalis are draining the welfare coffers,” ”Somalis get free apartments,” even “Somalis keep live chickens in their kitchen cupboards.”

Maine’s immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa made $136.6 million in income in 2014, and paid $40 million in taxes, according to one report from a bipartisan think tank. But they largely work in invisible jobs, said Catherine Besteman, a professor of anthropology at Maine’s Colby College. They take out trash at hotels, do the laundry at the hospital. People don’t see them working, she said, so when they see them driving a car, or shopping for groceries, it becomes easy to assume they got it for free.

That leaves some here still feeling that the immigrants take more than they deserve.

Tabitha Beauchesne pulled a bag of bargain-brand cereal out of her kitchen cabinet to demonstrate that point. At the grocery store, she said, she sees immigrant mothers with carts piled high with name-brand food.

“I guess I’m jealous of that. I would love to buy my kids the real Fruit Roll-Ups,” she said. “But, no, sorry kids, you get the fruit packets from Wal-Mart.”

Muslim women
Women wearing traditional Muslim head coverings walk past one of the many stores downtown owned by African refugees who have settled in Lewiston, Maine. [Photo Credit: AP Photo]

___

So Mohamed Ibrahim now knocks on doors.

“Hello,” he says to strangers across Androscoggin County. “I am a Muslim. I was welcomed by America. I was helped by General Assistance, and that was coming from your pockets and I am grateful. I became a taxpayer. I’m not taking anything. Now I am giving.”

He wants his neighbors to know him, to know that he is normal. Trump’s election here taught him he has a lot more work to do.

“We thought, ‘Yay, it’s perfect.’ But everything was slipping.”

Ibrahim came in 2012 from Djibouti, where he risked imprisonment for opposing his government. He is one of the thousands who have flooded into Lewiston in recent years because they are seeking asylum from oppression.

With them came a spike in the amount of taxpayer assistance going to immigrants. Asylum-seekers, unlike resettled refugees, are barred from getting work permits for at least six months and many, like Ibrahim, must rely on government assistance to get by when they first arrive. The amount paid to immigrants jumped recently to nearly a half-million dollars.

And there seems to be more tension in town since Trump took office. One woman reported she was nearly run down by a screaming driver; another said someone jerked her hijab and told her to go back where she came from.

Ardo Mohamed, the Somali who cooks sambusas with her sister, is an American citizen now. Her children were born in the United States. But they worry the government will come to send her away.

“We are scared,” she said. “They say every night, ‘Mom, if they take you, where we do live?'”

Ibrahim does not blame his neighbors for supporting Trump, because he’s seen the pull of populism before. When his friends complain about the policies on immigration, he reminds them of the day, more than a decade ago, that the interior minister of their country ordered all illegal immigrants to leave or face mass arrest. He asks them how they felt, and they respond: patriotic – like their government was looking out for them.

Ibrahim has his own hopes for the president. He hopes Trump will build an immigration system that gives people confidence that those coming are good and hardworking – so that, one day, people like him will be called Americans, not refugees. But he worries it will come at a cost.

Islamic Center
A worshipper takes his shoes off before entering the Lewiston Auburn Islamic Center for prayers. [Photo Credit: AP Photo]

In 50 years, he thinks, the descendants of his fellow African immigrants will be suspicious of whoever comes next.

“That’s how it’s been through history. The Irish were discriminated against, and then they discriminated against the French. The French were discriminated against, now they discriminate against us, at the bottom of the ladder,” he said, laughing uncomfortably.

“I don’t hope for that, it is not my wish. We can change. But still, we are stuck being human beings.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Rick Scott optimistic about partnership with White House on Zika

Zika season is all but upon us, and to that end Gov. Rick Scott visited Jacksonville Tuesday to discuss Florida’s ongoing struggles with Zika.

Scott found himself messaging heavily around Zika in 2016, frustrated with President Barack Obama not doing as much as he could to fund Zika-related costs.

In 2017, Scott has an ally in the White House — which, combined with a dry season so far and ample lead time, is helping Florida to get ahead of the virus early in the season.

In the gaggle Tuesday, Gov. Scott confirmed the expectation that D.C. would be a better partner for him in the Zika fight with the current President on the job.

“The positive is I’ve known [HHS] Secretary Price a long time. We were asking for support last year. Sometimes we felt it was hard to get support. We’ve gotten more support so far,” Scott said.

“I’ve talked to Sec. Price about Zika, and the importance of staying ahead of this,” Scott added, “and I believe like we’re going to have a good partner in the White House.”

“Specifically, the things that were important to us last year — as you know, we fought for federal funding, the $1.1B. What’s going to be important long-term is a vaccine,” Scott said.

“I believe that HHS is going to be a good partner. I think we’re going to have somebody who’s going to be responsive to the extent they can.

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Scott also discussed the state’s response to Zika — but not before lauding the “wonderful” job that Duval County’s Department of Health and the city are doing in that regard.

“You should have a slogan — Northeast Florida works, and Jacksonville works together,” Scott said. “The city has been an unbelievable partnet,” Scott added, citing the city’s mosquito control efforts.

“Right now, we’ve got the issue of fires,” Scott said, “but at some point we’re going to get some rain. And that’s when we’re going to get mosquitoes.”

Hence, the importance of a collaborative response.

“We don’t have active zones this year … actually, we’re seeing less Zika cases because it’s dry. But it’s still early,” Scott noted.

The local Department of Health is testing pregnant women currently, despite the earliness in the season. And the technology is in state now, cutting a long wait time that has now been resolved.

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