Barack Obama Archives - Page 3 of 93 - Florida Politics

Fact check: Donald Trump keeps much of Barack Obama’s Cuba policy

President Donald Trump’s announcement that he’s “cancelling” his predecessor’s policy toward Cuba is a good deal less than meets the ear.

Trump’s move, announced Friday in Miami, actually leaves in place most of the important elements of President Barack Obama’s moves to open relations with the island.

And while his policy has the stated aim of helping the country’s nascent private sector, it contains a measure that could damage thousands of small-business people who host, feed and transport independent American travelers to Cuba.

Trump’s policy keeps a U.S. Embassy open in Havana and allows U.S. airlines and cruise ships to continue service to Cuba. Cuban-Americans can still send money to relatives and travel to the island without restriction. U.S. farmers can continue selling their crops to the Cuban government.

The new policy aims to starve military-linked businesses of cash by banning any U.S. payments to them. It pledges to help the entrepreneurial class that has grown since President Raul Castro enacted changes after taking office a decade ago.

“Effective immediately, I am canceling the previous administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Trump said. “We will very strongly restrict American dollars flowing to the military, security and intelligence services that are the core of the Castro regime.” He promised, “concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people so they can open private businesses and begin to build their country’s great, great future.”

The policy will undoubtedly reduce the flow of cash to GAESA, the military-linked conglomerate that operates dozens of hotels and other tourism-related businesses. But those businesses host hundreds of thousands of Canadian, European and Latin American tourists a year, and do unfettered business with corporations from around the world, reducing the impact of any U.S. cutoff.

Weakening the impact further, Trump’s policy carves out exceptions in the military ban for airlines, cruise ships, agricultural sales and remittances.

The policy also allows Americans to continue patronizing state-run hotels and other businesses that are not directly linked with Cuba’s military and state security services. And, of course, nothing prevents the Cuban government from simply moving revenue over to the military or state security, a vulnerability in the policy that the White House has not addressed.

The policy risks harming independent business people by restoring a requirement for most American travelers to visit Cuba as part of tightly regulated tour groups. The Cuban government has traditionally steered those tour groups to state-run business, meaning the majority of American travelers to Cuba will probably no longer be able to patronize private restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts and taxi drivers.

Private entrepreneurs say Americans represent a disproportionate share of their revenue because they spend more than other travelers for high-end services that badly run state-operated business typically cannot provide.

Trump also demanded the return of U.S. fugitives including Joanne Chesimard, a black militant convicted in 1977 of the murder of a New Jersey state trooper.

“The harboring of criminals and fugitives will end,” Trump said. “You have no choice. It will end.”

Many of the high-profile fugitives in Cuba are black or Puerto Rican militants who were offered political asylum by Fidel Castro during the 1970s and 1980s.

Cuba has repeatedly said it will not renege on the promise of the former president, who died in November.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

At Florida Democrats Leadership Gala, Joe Biden argues progressives can still win working class vote

In the immediate aftermath of Hillary Clinton‘s stunning Electoral College loss to Donald Trump last November, Democrats took to writing think pieces and conducting heated arguments about how they lost working-class white voters.

Questions like: Was it too much of “identity politics”? Were they too elitist?

Joe Biden has heard and read about those discussions, and he’s sick of them.

“This phony debate going on in the Democratic Party, the Hobbesian choice that we’re given — we either become less progressive, and focus on working folks, or forget about working folk and become more progressive,” he said while giving the keynote speech to more than 1,200 Democrats at the party’s Leadership Blue Gala at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood.

“There is no need to choose, they are not inconsistent,” he said to a cheering crowd.

That’s easy for Biden to say. Biden’s unique political persona as a longtime member of the U.S. Senate representing Delaware has been one of representing the working class whites that Clinton lost to Trump last fall.

Biden himself thought hard about running for president, but with no clear daylight and so much of the Democratic Party establishment supporting Clinton (including President Barack Obama), he opted to stand down, but made the case on Saturday that the party could win back those voters, with an obvious inference being that he could be that candidate to do so in 2020.

Citing congressional ratings that showed him to be among the top ten liberal senators in the nation in his 36-year career, Biden said he has been a progressive and someone who could capture the working class vote, so Democrats should know that they could get those votes as well.

“These folks we’re talking about who left us — they voted for a black man named Barack Obama!” 

In fact, exit polls show that approximately 12 percent of voters who supported Obama turned around and chose Trump in 2012.

The former Vice President talked about the working class voters that the Democratic lost in the crucial Rust Belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. He said it was things like digitalization and automation that are putting people out of work, in what he called “this fourth industrial revolution” which is causing real anxiety and fear among many Americans.

“They’re worried that they won’t be able to keep up,” he said. “So we saw of playing to their fears, their lesser angels, their basic instincts, rather than their better angels can still have a powerful impact as a political tool.”

He then dug deep into what he said was the “hopelessness” of some of these Americans, mentioning the statistic that white men aged 45-54 who are dying at a quicker rate than any other demographic right now.

“Highest rate of drug abuse. Not the ‘hood. There,” he barked.

And Biden talked about how that anxiety can play out by lashing out at “the others,” such as undocumented immigrants, Muslims and the transgendered. “Anyone not like you can become the scapegoat.”

It was a compelling speech, marred only by a detour into how cutting tax loopholes could free up money to pay for the community college being the only soft spots in the 51-minute address.

He also chastised Democrats for failing to think big, going for an incremental change instead.

“What the hell is happening?!” he asked. “We build new things by breaking old things.”

“No, no. I’m being deadly earnest,” he followed up, one of half-dozen times he would point out his previous comment, making sure everyone knew he wasn’t joking.

While his intensity came close to yelling at the audience at points, a few times he dropped down to a whisper, where the audience had to literally lean in to hear him, such as when he described a conversation with his father, who once told him: “Joey, I don’t expect government to be able to solve our problems, but I do expect them to understand them. Just understand them.”

Remaining sotto voce, Biden admitted: “That slice of people that Barack and I had, Democrats have always had, that don’t think we understand them anymore. It’s not a lot, but it was the difference in the election.”

The former VP also asked for more civility in our politics, without mentioning the current president’s name. “We have to treat the opposition with more dignity,” he said, then boasted that there wasn’t a single Republican on Capitol Hill who doesn’t trust him or won’t talk to him.

The 74-year-old Biden recently launched “American Possibilities PAC,” a political-action committee that will keep him engaged to help other Democrats, but immediately sparked more discussion about a possible 2020 run, when he would be 77.

Then again, Donald Trump is already the oldest president in our history, having turned 71 last week.

Though there will be plenty of other Democrats in the mix, two of the leading lights — Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — will also be in their 70s in three years. Sanders would be 78; Warren would be 71.

Rick Scott: hope for a free Cuba better for Florida than current thaw

Readying to join President Donald Trump in Miami Friday for the president’s expected reinstitution of economic sanctions on Cuba, Florida Gov. Rick Scott indicated in Orlando Friday morning that he is ready to support such a move.

At a jobs announcement in Orlando, Scott said he’s convinced the long-term economic advantage of democracy and economic freedom in Cuba is preferable for Florida to any business opportunities and other relationships opening due to the thaw and lifting of economic sanctions that President Barack Obama initiated.

“I’m going to fight for Cuban families to have freedom,” Scott said. “Long-term, that’s good for every Cuban family that’s come here.”

Scott would not respond to press inquiries allowing that Cuba’s regime had survived more than 50 years of strict U.S. sanctions without moving to democracy, and wondering Trump’s vision might be different from that long-standing U.S. policy. Scott said he was looking forward to hearing what the president proposes.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with President Trump to let him know about the importance of democracy and freedom in Cuba. He’s known that all along,” Scott said. “I look forward to hearing exactly what he’s going to say today. I believe it is something that is going to push democracy and freedom.”

Scott insisted Obama’s policy didn’t work. He cited Cuban President Raul Castro‘s human rights crackdowns over the past two years, including almost daily arrests and detainments of the “Ladies in White” protesters. Scott did not directly respond to questions about whether he thought the Obama policy had helped Florida businesses, or improved situations in which Cuba was cooperating on such matters as human trafficking.

“Barack Obama capitulated. Raul Castro hasn’t changed. He’s gotten worse,” Scott said.

“The reality in this: more democracy in Latin America means more jobs in Florida, whether that’s through our ports, or whether that’s through people doing business here… we need more democracy,” he added.

 

Cuba hardliners, U.S. defenders battle over new Donald Trump policy

Cuba’s best friends in the U.S. used to be a smattering of Washington policy wonks and leftists who sent donated school buses and computers to the communist-led island.

Five months into the Trump administration, Cuba has a new set of American defenders: a coalition of high-tech firms, farming interests, travel companies and young Cuban-Americans thrown into action by the looming announcement of a new Cuba policy. On the opposite side, hardline members of Miami’s Cuban exile community who suddenly have a direct line to the White House through Cuban-American Republican members of Congress and the administration.

President Donald Trump planned to announce the new policy on Friday in Miami but had not yet decided all the details, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations.

The U.S. Embassy in Havana will remain open, but Americans can expect actions by the Departments of State, Treasury and Homeland Security to ban U.S. trade with any Cuban entity linked to the military. Also planned: a reduction in the number of categories for which Americans do not need U.S. government licenses to go to Cuba. The U.S. will demand greater internet access and the release of prisoners and return of American fugitives in Cuba. President Barack Obama’s repeal of the special Cuban immigration privileges known as wet-foot/dry-foot will not change, the official said.

“If this were a traditional policy environment, we’d be having great success,” said Collin Laverty, head of one of the biggest Cuba travel companies and a consultant for U.S. corporations seeking business in Cuba. “We’re certainly winning the debate for public opinion and in foreign policy circles, but unfortunately it appears that it’ll come down to a backroom political deal between the president and Cuban-American members of Congress.”

The most prominent figures still seeking a reversal in the opening are Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both Cuban-Americans. The Trump government wants to maintain good relations with both Rubio, who sits on the Senate committee investigating Trump’s relations with Russia, and Diaz-Balart, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Laverty is one of the most prominent figures in the new pro-Cuba lobby, which has been furiously tweeting and writing letters to the White House in a last-minute rush to sell the Trump administration on the benefits of the friendly relations established by President Barack Obama on Dec. 17, 2014. A particular focus is saving Obama’s easing of U.S. travel to Cuba, which tripled the number of American travelers to the island and pumped tens of millions of dollars into the island’s private hospitality sector.

“Thousands of Americans are visiting Cuba and fueling the fastest growth in its private sector since 1959,” CubaOne, a group of young pro-engagement Cuban-Americans, wrote in an open letter to Trump Monday.

After months of public silence, Airbnb last week released a report on its activities in Cuba, which have put $40 million into the hands of private bed-and-breakfast owners since the online lodging giant became the first major U.S. company into Cuba in the wake of Obama’s declaration of detente. Google, which installed servers on the island to speed Cuban internet service last year, spoke out for the first time Monday in favor of maintaining relations.

“Google has played a formative role in the first chapter of Cuba’s connectivity story, but this is just the beginning,” Brett Perlmutter, head of strategy and operations for Google Cuba, said at a conference in Miami on Monday. “Connecting Cuba will require an entire ecosystem of players … It will also require the US maintaining a policy that allows telecommunications firms work in Cuba.”

Even the Cuban government is getting into the game, with high-ranking diplomats tweeting pro-engagement articles and foreign correspondents given a series of interviews with officials from the powerful, secretive Interior Ministry about the new era of U.S-Cuban cooperation in areas such as human trafficking, drug smuggling and the prosecution of fugitives.

Two officials told The Associated Press that they were now in regular contact with the FBI, DEA and other U.S. law-enforcement agencies, sharing information about investigations that cross jurisdictions.

“The start of direct relations between the agencies has already shown results,” Lt. Col. Yoandrys Gonzalez Garcia, head of the Cuban National Police, told the AP. “Going back now would send a bad message to delinquents and criminals that there can be impunity.”

Those messages are scoffed at by many members of South Florida’s Cuban-American exile community, who call for starving Cuba of funds in order to topple its communist government and bring capitalism and multi-party democracy to the island. While most Americans support closer relations with Cuba, Cuban-Americans’ ability to influence Florida’s 29 electoral has long given them heavy influence over American policy.

“We’re confident that the president has listened to us. We’re confident that it will be a step in the right direction,” said Marcell Felipe, president of the Inspire America Foundation, an anti-Castro group that has been running ads on Spanish-language stations in Miami urging Cuban-Americans to demand a hardline policy from Trump.

He said he agreed with pro-engagement forces that their efforts were likely in vain.

“The real question to them there is, ‘Why is it that we have an inside line to the White House?” Felipe said. “It’s because we have the votes.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Darryl Paulson: In defense of politics

Some readers may be incapable of getting beyond the title of this article. How in the world can anyone defend politicians and politics? It’s easy and, I would argue, necessary.

One recent study found that Americans rank politicians lower than cockroaches. I hope Americans are expressing their frustration with politicians, but not their actual sentiments. Would you really prefer a houseful of cockroaches to a few politicians?

For 35 years I would introduce my students to politics by claiming politics came from the Greek word “poly” meaning “many many,” and “tics” meaning “ugly bloodsucking parasites.” It was always good for a laugh, and no one ever disagreed.

Americans probably hold politicians and politics in lower esteem than at any point in American history, but it was not always that way. Politics was once a noble endeavor and held in high esteem.

One of President John F. Kennedy‘s favorite books was “Pilgrims Way” by John Buchan. Buchan, a member of Parliament, wrote that “Public life is regarded as the crown of a career, and to young men, it is the worthiest ambition. Politics is still the greatest and most honorable adventure.”

How did politics fall from “the greatest and most honorable adventure,” to ranking below cockroaches? Polarization, hypocrisy and corruption are three primary factors associated with the decline of politics.

Where politicians used to work together to solve the nation’s most pressing problems, the growing polarization means that compromise has been discarded as a political principle. Compromise is seen as weakness and an evil. Anyone willing to work with the other party is viewed as a traitor and will face opposition within his own party in the next election.

For over a half-century, the Gallup Poll has conducted a Partisan Polarization Index to measure the degree of polarization. From the Eisenhower to Carter administration, the index averaged 34 points. That meant that Republicans and Democrats rated their party’s president 34 points higher than the president of the other party.

From the Reagan to the George W. Bush Administration, the polarization index climbed to 55 points. More Republicans and Democrats saw their party’s president as better than that of the other party.

During the Obama administration, the Index skyrocketed to 82 points. Almost all Democrats viewed Obama positively and almost all Republicans viewed Obama negatively. The Gallup Poll has not had sufficient time to release an index for President Trump, but I think no one expects that the polarization index will decline.

Hypocrisy is a second factor in the declining view of politics. Every Republican in the House and all but three Republicans in the Senate opposed Obama‘s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but over 100 Republicans sought funds from that stimulus program.

President Obama and the Democrats attacked the George W. Bush administration for its secrecy and they promised the most transparent administration in history. According to Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, the Obama administration was “the most secretive White House” she had covered.

A third factor in the declining view of politics is corruption. While corruption and politics often go hand in hand, it seems to many that corruption has completely dominated contemporary politics. Most Americans see corruption as the standard operating procedure of politics.

It is easy to blame everything on politicians, but the American public most share the blame. It is the public who has elected and re-elected these polarizing, hypocritical and corrupt politicians to office.

For over a quarter of a century, Florida voters have elected Alcee Hastings as their member of Congress despite the fact that he was impeached and removed from his position as a U.S. District Court judge for accepting bribes and committing perjury. We reap what we sow.

Politics has made important contributions to our nation. In fact, our nation would not exist if it was not for the political efforts of those who opposed the tyranny of the Crown.

Without politics, we would not have our constitution, over which they were great divisions. We would not have ended slavery and kept the nation united without politics. We would not have triumphed over the horrors of fascism in World War II or communism in the Cold War without a united political effort.

Those who denigrate politics and politicians do so at their own peril. There are still many problems that need to be overcome, and all of them will require political solutions.

As Bernard Crick wrote in his book over 50 years ago, “politics does not claim to solve every problem or to make every sad heart be glad,” but where politics is strong, ” it can prevent the vast cruelties and deceits of ideological rule.”

___

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

GOP running out of time for legislative achievements

President Donald Trump and his GOP allies on Capitol Hill have made it through nearly half their first year in power without a single major legislative achievement. If that’s going to change, it will have to start soon, a reality that Republican lawmakers will confront when they return to the Capitol on Monday from a weeklong break.

“We just need to work harder,” the second-ranking Republican senator, John Cornyn of Texas, said in an interview with KFYO radio in Lubbock, Texas, over the recess.

For now, the party’s marquee agenda items remain undone, their fate uncertain. The long-promised effort to overturn former President Barack Obama‘s health law hangs in limbo in the Senate after barely passing the House. A tax overhaul that’s a top Trump priority is unwritten and in dispute, despite his recent claim on Twitter that it’s ahead of schedule.

“The president keeps saying the tax bill is moving through Congress. It doesn’t exist,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said mockingly on Friday. “It doesn’t exist. There is no tax bill moving through Congress.”

Lawmakers will deal with those issues and more as Congress comes back into session, and realistically the window for action is closing fast. Seven legislative weeks are left before Congress scatters for a five-week August recess, a period when lawmakers are likely to lose momentum if they have failed to act on health care or taxes, and face GOP voters frustrated that they haven’t delivered.

Both issues are enormously difficult challenges, and the tax legislation must follow, for procedural reasons, passage of a budget, no small task on its own.

On top of it all, lawmakers are way behind on the annual spending legislation needed to keep the lights on in government. They were recently informed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that they will have to raise the federal government’s borrowing limit before August, a daunting task ripe for brinkmanship.

Looming over everything is the investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and connections with the Trump campaign. That investigation is in the hands of a special prosecutor and Congress’ intelligence committees. Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump, is scheduled to testify before the Senate committee on Thursday.

“The Russia investigation takes a lot of oxygen, it takes a lot of attention,” said Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a veteran lawmaker.

Cole argued that Republicans have not gotten the credit they deserve to date for what they have accomplished: voting to overturn a series of Obama regulations, as well as reaching compromise last month on spending legislation for the remainder of the 2017 budget year that included a big increase for defense. The biggest bright spot for the party and for Trump remains Senate confirmation in early April of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, whose elevation goes far to placate conservatives frustrated with inaction on other fronts.

“I think we’ve done more than we’ve gotten credit for, but the big ones are ahead,” Cole said. “It’s certainly an ambitious agenda we’ve got, there’s no question about it, it has been all along and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Historically, Capitol Hill has been at its busiest and most productive in the early days of a new president’s administration, during the traditional honeymoon. But with his approval ratings hovering around 40 percent, Trump never got that grace period, and although his core supporters show no signs of abandoning him, he is not providing the focused leadership usually essential to helping pass major legislation.

Within Obama’s first 100 days in office, he had signed a large stimulus package as well as equal pay legislation and other bills. An active Congress under President George W. Bush had made progress on campaign finance legislation and bankruptcy changes, among other issues.

In the Senate, Republicans’ slim 52-48 majority gives them little room for error on health care and taxes, issues where they are using complicated procedural rules to move ahead with simple majorities and no Democratic support. Trump’s apparent disengagement from the legislative process was evident this past week when he demanded on Twitter that the Senate “should switch to 51 votes, immediately, and get Healthcare and TAX CUTS approved, fast and easy.”

In fact, that’s exactly how Republicans are already moving. But the trouble is within their own ranks as Senate Republicans disagree over how quickly to unwind the Medicaid expansion under Obama’s health law, as well as other elements of the GOP bill.

Addressing the health legislation, Cornyn pledged on KFYO, “We’ll get it done by the end of July at the latest.” Despite that show of optimism, there’s uncertainty aplenty over whether the Senate will be able to pass a health bill, and whether a complicated tax overhaul or even a simple set of tax cuts will advance.

For some Republicans, their sights are set on the more immediate and necessary tasks of completing the annual spending bills that are needed to avert a government shutdown when the budget year ends Sept. 30, and on raising the debt ceiling to avert a first-ever default.

“It’ll be more difficult than it should be,” said GOP Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Because Congress is what it is.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Joe Henderson: Sunshine law should remind leaders that people of Florida are citizens, not serfs

The irony of the state Constitutional Revision Commission trying to avoid sunshine laws is almost too rich to describe.

If allowed to happen, that would be a dark day indeed.

But that’s exactly what CRC Chair Carlos Beruff is proposing, even as the commission continues a series of town hall meetings designed to take public input into the process.

Beruff, who ran a bare-knuckles campaign for the Republican nomination in the 2016 U.S. Senate race but ultimately crashed when Marco Rubio decided to get back in the game, proposes to allow two or more members to discuss the commission’s official business in private.

Not only that, Beruff — appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to chair the committee — is pushing for authority to be the sole decision-maker about what measures the 37-member board puts on the ballot in 2018.

That would gut a requirement that a supermajority of 22 members approves all ballot initiatives.

The commission has been frosty to his proposals.

“What is called for is a presider — not a decider,” Commission member and former Senate President Don Gaetz told the Miami Herald.

So, let’s review: Florida has been noted for its landmark Sunshine Law that requires all government and related meetings to be open and with adequate advance public notice. The head of the Constitutional Revision Commission wants to ignore a bedrock principle of Florida law.

Good start, eh?

It’s worth noting that Beruff was a controversial choice to lead the commission.

A little over a year ago, he drew wide criticism last year for remarks at St. John’s County Republican Executive Committee, where he said of President Barack Obama: “Unfortunately, for seven and a half years this animal we call president — because he’s an animal, OK? … has surgically and with thought and very smart, intelligent manner, destroyed this country and dismantled the military under not one, not two, but three secretaries of defenses.”

That doesn’t exactly have the ring of someone interested in building consensus.

Beruff’s current ploy is just continuing an assault on openness that has been taking place for years. There are more than 1,000 exemptions to the law as legislators find increasingly inventive ways to avoid the annoying public scrutiny.

Three members of the South Florida Water Management District were criticized for discussing official business in Facebook chats. Barbara Petersen, head of the nonprofit First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, told TCPalm.com “this definitely appears to be a violation.”

Yes, it’s much easier to govern in secret, but that’s not how we do it here. You can’t just work things out in private and then inform the masses (maybe) what you have planned for them before you break for lunch. The people of Florida are citizens, not serfs. They have a right to know how decisions affecting their lives are being made. They have a right for input.

What part of that escapes Carlos Beruff?

Then again, why should anyone be surprised? He doesn’t seem like someone much interested in what other people think.

Donald Trump’s cellphone diplomacy raises security concerns

President Donald Trump has been handing out his cellphone number to world leaders and urging them to call him directly, an unusual invitation that breaks diplomatic protocol and is raising concerns about the security and secrecy of the U.S. commander in chief’s communications.

Trump has urged leaders of Canada and Mexico to reach him on his cellphone, according to former and current U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the practice. Of the two, only Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken advantage of the offer so far, the officials said.

Trump also exchanged numbers with French President Emmanuel Macron when the two spoke immediately following Macron’s victory earlier this month, according to a French official, who would not comment on whether Macron intended to use the line.

All the officials demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal the conversations. Neither the White House nor Trudeau’s office responded to requests for comment.

The notion of world leaders calling each other up via cellphone may seem unremarkable in the modern, mobile world. But in the diplomatic arena, where leader-to-leader calls are highly orchestrated affairs, it is another notable breach of protocol for a president who has expressed distrust of official channels. The formalities and discipline of diplomacy have been a rough fit for Trump — who, before taking office, was long easily accessible by cellphone and viewed himself as freewheeling, impulsive dealmaker.

Presidents generally place calls on one of several secure phone lines, including those in the White House Situation Room, the Oval Office or the presidential limousine. Even if Trump uses his government-issued cellphone, his calls are vulnerable to eavesdropping, particularly from foreign governments, national security experts say.

“If you are speaking on an open line, then it’s an open line, meaning those who have the ability to monitor those conversations are doing so,” said Derek Chollet, a former Pentagon adviser and National Security Council official now at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

A president “doesn’t carry with him a secure phone,” Chollet said. “If someone is trying to spy on you, then everything you’re saying, you have to presume that others are listening to it.”

The caution is warranted even when dealing with allies. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s learned in 2013, when a dump of American secrets leaked by Edward Snowden revealed the U.S. was monitoring her cellphone, good relations don’t prevent some spycraft between friends.

“If you are Macron or the leader of any country and you get the cellphone number of the president of the United States, it’s reasonable to assume that they’d hand it right over to their intel service,” said Ashley Deeks, a law professor at the University of Virginia who formerly served as the assistant legal adviser for political-military affairs in the U.S. State Department.

The practice opens Trump up to charges of hypocrisy. Throughout last year’s presidential campaign, he lambasted Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for using a private email server while she was secretary of state, insisting she should not be given access to classified information because she would leave it vulnerable to foreign foes.

Presidents’ phone calls with world leaders often involve considerable advance planning. State Department and National Security Council officials typically prepare scripted talking points and background on the leader on the other end of the line. Often an informal transcript of the call is made and circulated among a select group — sometimes a small clutch of aides, sometimes a broader group of foreign policy officials. Those records are preserved and archived.

The White House did not respond to questions on whether the president is keeping records of any less-formal calls with world leaders.

Trump’s White House is already facing scrutiny for apparent efforts to work outside usual diplomatic channels.

The administration has been fending off questions about a senior aide’s alleged attempt to set up a secret back channel of communication with Moscow in the weeks before Trump took office. White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, met in December with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. and discussed whether a secret line of communication could be used to facilitate sensitive policy discussions about the conflict in Syria, according to a person familiar with the talks. The person demanded anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the sensitive conversation by name.

The White House has said such back-channel communications are useful and discreet.

Trump has struggled more than most recent presidents to keep his conversations with world leaders private. His remarks to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Russian diplomats have all leaked, presumably after notes of the conversations were circulated by national security officials.

It was unclear whether an impromptu, informal call with a foreign leader would be logged and archived. The Presidential Records Act of 1981, passed in response to the Watergate scandal, requires that the president and his staff to preserve all records related to the office. In 2014, the act was amended to include personal emails.

But the law contains “blind spots” — namely, record-keeping for direct cellphone communications, said Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, who specializes in public interest and national security law.

Under Barack Obama, the first cellphone-toting president, worries about cyber intrusions — particularly by foreign governments — pulled the president’s devices deep into the security bubble. Many of the functions on Obama’s BlackBerry were blocked, and a very small handful of people had his phone number or email address, according to former aides.

“Government sometimes looks like a big bureaucracy that has stupid rules, but a lot of these things are in place for very good reasons and they’ve been around for a while and determine the most effective way to do business in the foreign policy sphere,” said Deeks. “Sometimes it takes presidents longer to figure that out.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Darryl Paulson: Will 2018 bring no change or a political tsunami?

Sometimes political change comes slowly, one drop at a time. That was the 2016 Florida congressional election where Democrats gained a single seat, although the opportunities were everywhere.

Sometimes elections result in a political tsunami, where the political landscape is fundamentally altered, and one party replaces the other party as the dominant political force.

The 2010 and 2014 midterm elections created a tsunami where Republicans wiped out a substantial Democratic majority and won political control of the House.

What will 2018 bring?

Republican gains in 2010 and 2014 were due to Democrat Barack Obama in the White House and the negative public reaction to Obamacare. Now, with a Republican in the White House who has far lower approval ratings than Obama and with the Republican House voting to repeal and replace Obamacare with something that has little public support, will it be the Republicans who get washed away?

Charlie Cook just released his Partisan Voting Index (PVI) which found that only 72 of the 435 congressional districts were really competitive, with a PVI of less than +5 Democrat or Republican. In other words, most districts are safe.

Larry Sabato estimates that 141 congressional districts are safe for Republicans, and 135 are safe for Democrats. That means that 276 of the 435 districts, or 63 percent, are safe. Only 159 districts are competitive, and Republicans hold 100 of those seats and Democrats hold 59.

The following is a quick rundown of Democratic opportunities in Florida in 2018. The seat offers retiring Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is the top priority for Democrats. The seat has a +5 Democratic advantage, and Clinton defeated Trump by 19 percent. The district has trended Democrat by 6.2 percent over the past four years, the sixth greatest swing nationally.

Quite frankly, the seat is a Democratic seat held by Republicans.

The next target is Carlos Curbelo in neighboring Congressional District 26. Curbelo represents a district which has a +6 Democratic PVI and one that Clinton carried by 15 percent. Curbelo’ district has trended Democrat by 4.5 percent over the past four years.

Fellow Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart in Florida’s 25th Congressional District does have a narrow Republican PVI of +4, but it has trended Democrat by 5.6 percent over the past four years, the 10th greatest swing in the nation.

Other Republicans on the Democratic target list include Republican newcomer Brian Mast in District 18, who won the seat previously held by Democrat Patrick Murphy. Murphy gave up the seat in his unsuccessful bid to win the U.S. Senate seat held by Marco Rubio. The district has a +5 Republican PVI.

Republican Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District is another Democratic target. The district has a PVI of +7 Republican, but DeSantis narrowly won in 2016.

Finally, Democrats have made Republican Vern Buchanan in Florida’s 16th Congressional District as their second highest priority on the hit list. Buchanan has had only one serious challenge, and that was in his first race against Christine Jennings. Buchanan won by 369 votes.

Sarasota Republican Party Chair Joe Gruters claims that “the Democrats have zero chance of winning this seat.” Keith Fitzgerald, a former challenger of Buchanan, argues that the Democratic Party wants “qualified candidates in place in advance of a wave election.”

Will 2018 bring a tidal wave to the Florida political landscape, or will it be another status quo election?  Stay tuned.

Vern Buchanan wants Donald Trump to keep U.S. in Paris climate accord

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan

Sarasota Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan wants President Donald Trump to keep the United States in the Paris Agreement, the landmark climate change document officially ratified last year by the U.S. and 194 other signatories.

Although Trump said this past weekend that he was still considering whether to remain in the pact, Axios reported this weekend that it’s already a done deal. The website said that according to three sources with direct knowledge, Trump privately told multiple people, including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, that he plans to leave the Paris agreement.

Should Trump exit the pact, the U.S. would be the first country to exit, which would also be the second time that America has signed onto a global climate deal under a Democratic president only to walk away from the same agreement under a Republican predecessor. President George W. Bush had ultimately reneged on the Kyoto Protocol agreed to by President Bill Clinton in 1997.

“I strongly encourage the president to remain in the Paris climate accord,” Buchanan said in a statement. “Climate change is a serious issue, especially for a state like Florida that has two coastlines vulnerable to rising waters. Only Syria and Nicaragua are not part of the 197-country agreement, which lays out voluntary goals for reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.”

Scientists say that U.S. withdrawal from the pact would worsen an already bad problem, and make it far more difficult to prevent crossing a dangerous global temperature threshold.

Calculations suggest it could result in emissions of up to 3 billion tonnes of additional carbon dioxide in the air a year, according to more than two dozen scientists who consulted with The Associated Press. When it adds up year after year, scientists said that is enough to melt ice sheets faster, raise seas higher and trigger more extreme weather.

Last week 22 GOP Senators wrote to Trump calling for him to withdraw the U.S. from the international agreement. While that may sound like a lot, it’s less than half the GOP Senate caucus. No Democrats have requested withdrawal from the agreement.

“Our withdrawal would send the wrong message to the world,” Buchanan says. “Protecting the environment and growing the economy are not mutually exclusive. We should be doing everything we can to accomplish both.”

Buchanan is now in his 11th year in Congress. Last week the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added his district to a list of 79 specific Republican seats in Congress they are targeting in 2018.

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