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No matter the issue, Donald Trump knows a guy

President Donald Trump knows a guy.

No matter what issue Trump is addressing, he seems either to know somebody with a relevant personal experience or he’s got a firsthand tale to recount.

When he met airline CEOs on Thursday, Trump said his own pilot — “who’s a real expert” — had told him about problems with obsolete equipment.

When he met business and economic experts a week earlier, Trump cited the difficulties his friends in business were having borrowing money from banks as he spoke about the need to reduce financial regulations.

When he approvingly sized up Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Trump said last month that he’d had a “very bad experience” in his own businesses when dealing with the EU bureaucracy.

“Getting the approvals from Europe,” he said, “was very, very tough.”

Call him the anecdotal president: For good or ill, Trump processes policy proposals through his own personal frame of reference.

“It’s all about him,” says Jeff Shesol, who wrote speeches for President Bill Clinton. “His frame for Europe, his frame for the airlines, his frame for the banking system … is himself.”

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to draw on real-world experiences in developing or justifying policy.

Plenty of presidents and politicians have recognized the value of anecdotal storytelling in advancing their agendas.

President Barack Obama offered his own improbable life story as a metaphor for the wide-open possibilities available to all Americans. And he frequently drew on the concerns that came up in the 10 letters a day that he read from people who wrote to the White House.

Clinton was famous for sketching his encounters with ordinary Americans.

President Lyndon Johnson drew on his early experiences teaching disadvantaged Mexican-Americans in stressing the importance of education and economic opportunity for all Americans.

“I think it was then that I made up my mind that this nation could never rest while the door to knowledge remained closed to any American,” Johnson said after signing the Higher Education Act of 1965.

“Great Communicator” Ronald Reagan related the story of a woman who falsely collected welfare payments — then parlayed it into a stereotype of “welfare queens” cheating the system.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania professor specializing in political communication, says that in his first three weeks in office, Trump has surpassed even Reagan in his reliance on the use of “argument by anecdote.”

“Given the extemporaneous nature of Trump’s presidency,” she says, “we can reasonably assume that these individual moments are playing a more important role for him” in developing policy than they did for presidents past.

The risk, she adds, is that an overreliance on personal experiences “can lead to the assumption that something is typical when it’s atypical.”

With Trump, it’s hard to tell exactly what goes into his policymaking. But the billionaire businessman-turned-politician cites experiences from his own, very rarefied world that wouldn’t necessarily track those of ordinary Americans.

When he complained about onerous EU regulations, Trump appeared to be alluding to his failure to get approval for a sea wall at the Trump Organization’s golf resort in Ireland.

When he talked during the campaign about crumbling airport infrastructure, he mentioned the potholes at New York’s LaGuardia Airport — where Trump would have landed in his gilded private jet.

When he talked about the dangers of nuclear weaponry during the campaign, he would often invoke the expertise of his “brilliant” late Uncle John, a scientist at MIT.

In some cases, Trump may be drawing lessons from somewhat scrambled tales.

In calling for an investigation into alleged wide-scale voter fraud, for example, Trump has privately related a story about a pro golfer who either told Trump he had trouble voting himself or who had a friend who wasn’t allowed to vote even as others who somehow looked like they should be eligible to vote cast ballots, according to The New York Times.

Golfer Bernard Langer, a German citizen who is not eligible to vote in the U.S., later issued a statement to Golf Digest saying that elements of the story had gotten lost in translation. Langer said he’d told a friend the story of someone who couldn’t vote, and that tale had made its way to someone with ties to the White House and “from there, this was misconstrued.”

As for Trump’s difficulties with the EU, he did run into regulatory problems with the proposed sea wall at his Irish golf course, but he also encountered local opposition to that project.

In an interview in December, Trump said he’d also sought approval for a “massive, beautiful expansion” of the course but had dropped the idea after getting the OK from Ireland because it would have taken years to get EU clearance. However, there’s no record of him seeking approval for such an expansion.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

At heated town hall, Gus Bilirakis once again hears overwhelming sentiment to improve — not repeal — the Affordable Care Act

For the second consecutive Saturday, Tampa Bay U.S. Representative Gus Bilirakis waded into a lion’s den of sorts, hosting a town hall meeting that was dominated by those pleading with him to vote to improve – but not replace – the Affordable Care Act.

As hundreds crammed into the West Pasco Government Center in Florida’s 12th Congressional District (with at least another hundred listening to the meeting via an audio transmission outside the chambers), the atmosphere was at times raucous and rude, although the audience was overwhelmingly dominated by Democrats and supporters of the health care law.

It’s a scene that’s playing out throughout the country, as Republicans are being met with fervent Democratic activism, a level at which has not been seen in decades. The energy has been compared to the Tea Party rebellion that flared up during the town hall meetings that Democrats held eight years ago when rolling out the ACA, with one of the most infamous being a Kathy Castor town hall in Ybor City that made national headlines.

Bilirakis is on record as voting to repeal the Affordable Act Act, but he expressed sympathy with those who are worried about the uncertainty of what comes next, now that the Republicans control all branches of the federal government and are charging full ahead of doing something different with the health care system.

“We do have some bills that are filed. However, the replacement bill has not been filed,” the Tarpon Springs Republican admitted in his opening remarks to the crowd. “There is a blueprint. But that’s why were here to add to that blueprint, and that’s why I want to hear your personal stories — how Obamacare has affected you.”

But using the “O” word was a mistake to many of the Democrats in the room, who began shouting at him.

“Okay, excuse me, the ACA,” he corrected himself, while noting that Nancy Pelosi (and Barack Obama himself) has referred to the 2010 law as Obamacare.

Bill Akins, the secretary of the Pasco County Republican Executive Committee further inflamed the crowd when he brought up one of the issues that ignited Tea Party activists at town hall meetings back in 2009 – the famed “death panels.”

“There is a provision in there, that anyone over the age of 74, has to go before, what is effectively, a death panel-“

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

“OK, children. Alright, children,” Akins stated, mocking the crowd (The segment was shown throughout the day on CNN).

A few moments later, 77-year-old Pat Seeley told Akins he was full of it.

“I think it is unconscionable for this politician to tell me at 74, I will be facing death panels.”

It should be noted that PolitiFact judged the death panels argument as the “Lie of the Year” in 2009.

Immediately following Akins to the mic was Beverly Ledbetter, the secretary for the Pasco County Democratic Executive Committee. She thanked Bilirakis for “having the courage” to host a town hall, which “so many of your compatriots are cancelling.” But she said it wasn’t enough for the six-term congressman to listen to his constituents. No, she said, it was incumbent on him to act on what the voters were saying.

“I’m asking that you make a commitment to us and you act the way that we, the people who elected you and sent you to Washington D.C. to be our voice, and to vote according to the directions that we have, and not the line of the Republican Party,” Ledbetter said.

Although there were plenty of speakers who sang the praises of Obama’s signature domestic achievement, there were several others who acknowledged that improvements were essential to improving the ACA, though the underlying message to Bilirakis was not to dismantle it without something similar in scope.

Like President Trump and many other Republicans, Bilirakis said he wants to retain the bill’s most popular provisions: no more discriminating against pre-existing conditions; no more lifetime caps; and keeping people under 26 years of age on their parents policy.

The chief nemesis called out by the ACA supporters at the meeting wasn’t Republicans, but the health care industry, followed by the pharmaceutical industry.

Sitting in a wheelchair, Ellen Floriani said that she was hit with a hospital bill of $98,000, but because of Medicare, it was negotiated down to $6,000, with her co-pay only $1,000. “Those of you under 65, don’t you wish you had that kind of coverage?” she asked, adding that everybody could get that type of coverage if a Medicare-for-all (i.e., single payer) system was implemented, a sentiment several other people suggested as well.

It wasn’t all nastiness. One speaker said Congress should look at adding an excise tax on marijuana purchases. “There’s a lot of states now selling marijuana for recreational use, and this is an excise tax to plug the hole and subsidize the deductibles that people have.”

The crowd wasn’t devoid of Republicans who proudly said they supported Donald Trump for president.

“My request to you is to rip the Obamacare bill, the way it is now, to shreds,” asked Pete Franco to Bilirakis. “There’s plenty of people obviously who like Obamacare, but there’s a massive amount who don’t.”

“Alternative news,” yelled an ACA fan from the back.

And so it went. Bilirakis promised to hold a third town hall meeting soon, at a place to be determined.

While he was earning plaudits from even his sternest critics for facing the heat on the issue, countless Democrats managed to sneak in a diss to another prominent Florida Republican not in attendance.

“Where’s Marco?” was a refrain heard throughout the morning. Democrats contend Senator Marco Rubio has been AWOL in even having staffers answer calls in his Washington or local district offices over the past couple of weeks.

Being a White House kid comes with pluses and minuses

If it’s tough being a kid, try being a “first kid” — the child of an American president.

Just ask President Bill Clinton‘s daughter, Chelsea. Or President George W. Bush‘s twins, Jenna and Barbara. And now, President Donald Trump‘s youngest child, Barron, is finding out.

Ten-year-old Barron was the target of a poorly received joke tweeted by a “Saturday Night Live” writer on Jan. 20 as the new first family reveled in Inauguration Day events. Separately in Chicago, comedian Shannon Noll played the title character in “Barron Trump: Up Past Bedtime,” which had a recent run at a theater in Hyde Park.

Both instances have revived age-old questions about the sometimes less-than-kid-glove treatment of presidential kids.

“I think the children are off-limits,” said Lisa Caputo, who was White House press secretary when “Saturday Night Live” made fun of then-13-year-old Chelsea Clinton. “They didn’t run for public office, they don’t hold an official role.”

“SNL” cast member Mike Meyers sent the Clintons a letter of apology after the incident.

The teenage Chelsea Clinton also was mocked by talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who called her a dog.

Katie Rich, the “SNL” writer who tweeted about Barron, was suspended indefinitely. After deleting the tweet and deactivating her Twitter account, she reactivated the account, saying she wanted to “sincerely apologize” for the “insensitive” tweet and that she deeply regretted her actions.

“It was inexcusable & I’m so sorry,” Rich said. Fellow comedians have risen to her defense, but Noll told the Chicago Reader that she has been the subject of a social media backlash, including death threats, as well as homophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic and racist comments directed at her. The theater also has been harassed.

All presidents and first ladies seek a life outside the spotlight for minor children who live in the 132-room mansion, except when they themselves put their kids in the spotlight.

Days after the incident involving Rich, the White House appealed for respect for Barron’s privacy.

“It is a longstanding tradition that the children of presidents are afforded the opportunity to grow up outside of the political spotlight,” the White House press office said in a brief statement. “The White House fully expects this tradition to continue.”

That same week, Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News that it was “a disgrace” for NBC “to attack my 10-year-old son.” Trump also suggested the dustup may have bothered Barron, who has only been seen publicly during big moments of the past year, such as the night Trump addressed the Republican National Convention and election night. He continues to live full-time in New York City with his mother, first lady Melania Trump.

“It’s not an easy thing for him. Believe me,” Trump said of his son.

In contrast, Trump’s adult children, Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka and Tiffany, are sharing the limelight with their famous father. Don Jr. and Eric are running the family business, and Ivanka could end up joining the administration. All three Trump children sat in on meetings their father conducted before and after he took office.

Doug Wead, who wrote a book about the children of presidents, said it’s the “ultimate hurt” when the offspring become the vehicle for the ire that some grown-ups wish they could direct toward the president. He said kids become targets because they’re seen as weak.

“Barron can’t fight back,” Wead said.

Anita McBride, who worked for three Republican presidents and was first lady Laura Bush‘s chief of staff, said President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, did a good job shielding their daughters from most public scrutiny. Bush’s daughters were college-bound when he was elected in 2000, so they didn’t live in the White House. But their underage drinking made headlines.

“Why in a matter of 24 hours should it be different for this child?” McBride said of Barron.

And Chelsea Clinton said on Twitter that “Barron Trump deserves the chance every child does — to be a kid.” But she also added that standing up for kids means opposing Trump policies that hurt them.

The supportive tweet from the former first daughter — who is good friends with Barron’s sister Ivanka — shed light on the exclusive club of “first children,” who seem to be looking out for one another.

Jenna and Barbara Bush recently applauded Malia and Sasha Obama for surviving the “unbelievable pressure of the White House” and enduring “harsh criticism of your parents by people” who don’t know them.

“Take all that you have seen, the people you have met, the lessons you have learned, and let that help guide you in making positive change. We have no doubt you will,” they encouraged the Obama girls in a letter. The Bush sisters also wrote a letter to the Obama girls when they moved into the White House in 2009 at ages 10 and 7.

Wead said few tears should be shed over the fact that these children sometimes get rough treatment from the public.

As children of privilege, they are steps ahead of so many of their peers.

“Two of them became presidents themselves,” Wead said, referring to George W. Bush, son of President George H.W. Bush, and John Quincy Adams, son of President John Adams.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Ted Deutch co-sponsors two bills to protect immigrants

South Florida Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch has introduced two bills this week that would protect immigrants from fraud schemes and ensure that they are informed of their legal rights.

The Protecting Immigrants from Legal Exploitation Act (H.R. 912) would impose a fine and possible jail sentence for offering fraudulent immigration legal services. The Immigrant Detainee Legal Rights Act (H.R. 913) would require immigration detention centers to inform immigrant detainees of their legal rights within five days of their arrival at the facilities.

“Immigrant communities are extremely vulnerable to fraudulent legal services schemes,” said Deutch. “These scams are financially costly, can derail complex cases, and can result in people being deported. Also, many immigrants are unaware of their rights as they are processed through high stakes deportation proceedings. These bills will help crack down on fraudulent legal services schemes and ensure that people know their rights as they navigate complex deportation proceedings.”

Deutch is co-sponsring the two bills with Illinois Democratic Representative Bill Foster.

“It may be easy for anyone to fall prey to deceptive practices. Even worse, many immigrants are unable to stay in this country or legally return due to fraudulent or negligent legal services,” said Foster. “We need to make sure these individuals are aware of their legal rights in this country and are not defrauded when they seek to enter this country legally. I am proud to work with Congressman Deutch so that everyone is aware of their rights in this country.”

The legislation is being introduced less than two weeks after President Trump signed an executive order dubbed “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”  It’s a dramatic reversal of the policies on immigration set forth by Barack Obama.

The order specifically names “aliens who have been convicted of any criminal offense; have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved; have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense; have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency; have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits; are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.”

Deutch and Foster’s bills have been endorsed by the National Immigration Forum and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

 

Donald Trump’s assertions echo site filled with tales of dark plots

President Donald Trump‘s assertion that the media often fails to cover terrorist attacks is false, but he’s hardly alone in making the claim. The statement is just the latest by Trump to echo a website known for trafficking in dubious allegations of plots and cover-ups.

“You’ve seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that,” Trump said in a speech to military commanders at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base Monday.

That allegation was quickly disproven by numerous articles and broadcast clips detailing many of the very attacks the White House said had been overlooked or underreported. But versions of the same accusation have long gone unquestioned on Infowars, a website run by former public access cable host Alex Jones.

“Scandal: Mass media covers up terrorism to protect Islam,” a headline on Jones’ site alleged last July. “Fake news: Mainstream media whitewashes Islamic terror in Berlin,” proclaimed another, last December.

There’s no evidence that Trump gets his information from the site. But Trump voiced his admiration for Jones when the Infowars host interviewed him in December 2015.

“Your reputation is amazing,” then-candidate Trump told Jones. “I will not let you down. You will be very impressed, I hope, and I think we’ll be speaking a lot.”

Jones responded: “I hope you can uncripple America…”

Days after the election, Jones said that Trump had called him to “thank your viewers, thank your listeners for standing up for this republic.”

Jones, whose site has alleged that the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting was a hoax and that the September 11, 2001, terror attacks involved the federal government, is “America’s leading conspiracy theorist,” said Mark Fenster, author of “Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in America.”

Such allegations have always had their believers, but those who traded in the tales mostly existed on the fringes, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania professor specializing in political communication.

“You weren’t watching it. I wasn’t watching it. Certainly our political leaders weren’t watching it,” she said. But the internet has given organs devoted to such claims more visibility and acceptability. Jones’ YouTube channel has nearly 2 million subscribers.

With Trump, the country has a leader who repeats such allegations as if they are plausible, said Fenster, a professor of law at the University of Florida. Political campaigns sometimes see candidates make vague references to dark forces, but for a sitting president to regularly engage in an “unfiltered set of allegations” is well beyond the norm, Fenster said.

Trump’s allegations about the media and those made on Infowars are just the latest to echo one another. Their shared assertions include:

— President Barack Obama may not have been born in the United States.

It’s hard to know where these allegations originated, but Infowars has been making the “birther” argument for years, alleging that documents showing Obama was born in Hawaii were fake.

“Shocking new birth certificate proof Obama born in Kenya?” asked an Infowars headline in August 2009. “New Obama birth certificate is a forgery,” said another, in April 2011.

The latter was shortly after Trump appeared on the television show “The View,” in March 2011, during which he falsely said that nobody from Obama’s childhood remembered him, and that he was obligated to prove his birth in Hawaii. “Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate?” Trump said. Last September, Trump said he accepted that Obama was born in the U.S.

— Thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11.

Trump was criticized after a November 2015 political rally in which he said that “thousands and thousands of people were cheering” in New Jersey when the World Trade Center came down. Questioned afterward, Trump insisted that he had seen the celebrations on television that day.

There’s no evidence such celebrations took place. But accounts of Muslims cheering terrorist attacks have been a repeated theme on Infowars.

“I live in Jersey and Trump is right: Muslims did celebrate on 9/11 in NJ… We saw it!” headlined an article in November 2015. Soon afterward, the site ran another story, “Exclusive: Radical U.S. Muslims celebrate, shoot fireworks after terrorist attack,” featuring an anonymous man who said that on the night of the Paris attacks he heard people celebrating four or five blocks away from his home outside Detroit.

— Millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton.

Trump won the presidency with an Electoral College victory despite losing to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. He has said he was cheated out of a rightful win in the popular vote.

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” the president said on Twitter on November 27. Numerous state elections officials, many of them Republicans, said there is no evidence of widespread voting fraud. But Trump ordered an investigation.

His allegations have been echoed, if not preceded, on Infowars, which alleged widespread voter fraud well before Election Day.

“Dead people and illegal immigrants are being registered to vote all over America,” the site headlined in early October.

In mid-November, Infowars posted a story headlined: “Report: Three million votes in presidential election cast by illegal aliens.” The story cited a Texas businessman, Greg Phillips, who claimed to have compiled a list of 3 million illegal votes by non-citizens. On January 27, Trump Tweeted that he was looking forward to seeing Phillips’ evidence. “We must do better!” Trump wrote.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Darryl Paulson: We are not the same; the immoral equivalency of President Donald Trump

Voters who supported Donald Trump for president did so because they liked his free-speaking ideas, his attacks on the political establishment and his promise to “make America great again.”

President Trump has repeatedly stated that he would have won the popular vote for president if not for massive vote fraud. Does Trump believe that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin won his office in free and fair elections?  I hope Trump cannot be that deluded.

Republicans raised strong criticisms when President Barack Obama conducted what many Americans viewed as an “apology tour,” criticizing America for all its failures. Americans prefer their presidents defend the nation and its values, and not constantly criticize the nation for its shortcomings.

Obama told a European audience in 2009 that “there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.” He also criticized the notion of American exceptionalism that all presidents have defended.

When Jihadists burned a Jordanian pilot alive, then showing the video online as a recruiting tool, President Obama cautioned a national prayer breakfast audience not to “get on our high horse” and “remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

Many Americans were sickened and highly critical of Obama’s efforts to apologize for America’s shortcomings. Instead of defending American exceptionalism, the president seemed to delight in pointing out our deficiencies.

If President Obama’s “apology tour” disgusted many Americans and most Republicans, President Trump’s defense of Putin and the Soviets should strike a similar response from the electorate. To cast America and the Soviets as “one and the same” should thoroughly repulse Republicans, in particular. Republican Ronald Reagan must be retching.

President Trump turned in one of the most disgusting performances of any American president when he placed America and the Soviets on the same moral plateau. In a Fox News interview with Bill O’Reilly before the Super Bowl, Trump defended Putin against O’Reilly’s charge that “Putin’s a killer.”

Trump responded that “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?” If Obama had made that statement, Republicans would be calling for his impeachment.

But, weak-kneed Republicans, who have no problem praising Trump, have a far more difficult time criticizing him when he becomes ill with “foot and mouth” disease. In their silence, supporters of Trump are neither doing him, or the nation, favors anyway.

Do you remember when one of our political leaders ordered the assassination of a political opponent?  Neither do I. But, Putin did that to Boris Nemtsov in 2015.

Anti-corruption reporter Sergei Magnitsky was killed in prison in 2009. Respected journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot and killed the same year, and fellow reporter Yuri Schekechikhin was poisoned in 2013. The list of reporter and political opponent deaths is a long one.

The United States does not purposely bomb civilian neighborhoods as did the Soviets in Syria. The United States does not shoot down unarmed civilian aircraft as the Soviets did in the Ukraine. The United States does not invade independent neighboring countries as the Soviets did to the Ukraine.

Does President Trump really believe that murders of political opponents could happen in America?  I hope that Trump sees America in a different light than Putin and the Soviets.

Some Republicans have objected to President Trump’s abhorrent remarks about the moral equivalency between the Soviets and the United States. Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who called Putin a “thug,” and rejected any attempt at moral equivalency.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted:  “When has a Democratic political activist been poisoned by the GOP or vice versa?  We are not the same as #Putin.”

Republicans, in particular, and all Americans must support the president when he is right and must criticize him just as vigorously when he is wrong. To not do so will embolden both Trump and dictator Putin to continue a reckless path.

___

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

GOP pushes 2 top Cabinet picks through to full Senate

Republicans jammed two of President Donald Trump‘s top Cabinet picks through the Senate Finance Committee with no Democrats in the room Wednesday after suspending a rule that would have otherwise barred them from taking the vote. The tactic seemed a warning shot that they might deploy brute political muscle in the upcoming fight over the Supreme Court vacancy.

With a near-toxic vapor of divisiveness between the two parties across Capitol Hill, nasty showdowns broke out elsewhere as well. One Senate panel signed off on Trump’s choice for attorney general only after senators exchanged heated words, and another committee postponed a vote on the would-be chief of the Environmental Protection Agency after Democrats refused to show up.

Busting through a Democratic boycott of the Finance panel, all 14 Republicans took advantage of Democrats’ absence to temporarily disable a committee rule requiring at least one Democrat to be present for votes.

They then used two 14-0 roll calls to approve financier Steve Mnuchin for Treasury secretary and Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to be health secretary, ignoring Democrats’ demands that the two nominees provide more information about their financial backgrounds.

All the nominations will need full Senate approval.

Underscoring Congress’ foul mood, Finance panel Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Democrats should be “ashamed” for staying away from his committee’s meeting.

“I don’t feel a bit sorry for them,” he told reporters, adding later, “I don’t care what they want at this point.”

Trump won one major victory, as the Senate confirmed Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. The mostly party-line 56-43 vote came with Democrats critical of Tillerson’s close ties to Russia as former Exxon Mobil CEO.

But the prospects that GOP donor Betsy DeVos would win approval as education secretary were jarred when two GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, said they opposed her. Both challenged her support for public education, and their defections meant Vice President Mike Pence might need to break a tie in a Senate that Republicans control 52-48.

Congress’ day was dominated by confrontation, even as lawmakers braced for an even more ferocious battle over Trump’s nomination of conservative federal judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.

Democrats were already furious over Republicans’ refusal to even consider last year President Barack Obama‘s pick for the slot, Judge Merrick Garland. Trump fueled the fire by urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to “go nuclear” — shorthand for a unilateral change in the chamber’s rules so Democrats can’t block Gorsuch with a filibuster.

Without a rules change, Republicans will need at least eight Democrats to reach the 60-votes necessary to halt filibusters, or endless procedural delays.

Democrats boycotted Wednesday’s abruptly called Finance Committee meeting, as they’d done for a session a day earlier. They say Price and Mnuchin have lied about their financial backgrounds and must answer more questions.

“It’s deeply troubling to me that Republicans on the Finance Committee chose to break the rules in the face of strong evidence of two nominees’ serious ethical problems,” said the panel’s top Democrat, Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Democrats say Price had special access to low-priced shares in an Australian biomed firm, even though he testified the offer was available to all investors. They say Mnuchin ran a bank that processed home foreclosures with a process critics say invites fraud.

The two men have denied wrongdoing and have solid Republican backing.

The Senate Judiciary Committee used a party-line 11-9 vote to sign off on Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., for attorney general. That came after Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had misrepresented remarks he’d made about Sessions weeks ago.

Cruz wasn’t present as Franken spoke. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, interrupted Franken twice, calling it “untoward and inappropriate” to disparage the absent Cruz.

Franken said Cruz “personally went after me, he personally impugned my integrity.” Angrily pointing at Cornyn, he asked, “You didn’t object then, did you?”

Cornyn said he wasn’t sure he was there when Cruz spoke.

At the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Democrats boycotted a planned vote on Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s state attorney general in line to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. The vote was postponed.

Pruitt has questioned the scientific consensus that human activities are contributing to global warming and joined lawsuits against the agency’s emission curbs.

Another panel postponed a vote on Trump’s pick to head the White House Budget Office, tea party Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., as Democrats asked for more time to read the nominee’s FBI file.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Amid Donald Trump’s shake-up, many wondering ‘what’s coming next’

Days into an administration that promised to govern by upheaval, Donald Trump‘s White House has been the target of massive protests, defied reporters who questioned fact-challenged statements and issued a blur of lightning-rod executive actions. The speed and depth of it all have left many Americans apprehensive: Even some who longed for a shake-up are unsettled by a sense of chaos it has unleashed.

“We’re in a very fragile state right now,” said Margaret Johnson of Germantown, Maryland, who runs a small translation business. “We don’t know what’s coming next. The country’s divided. There’s a lot of fear. And I think we’re kind of at that point where things can go any kind of way, and it’s really hard to say which way they’re going to go.”

That uncertainty finds an echo in Pastor Mike Bergman‘s church in Adrian, Missouri, 40 miles south of Kansas City, where many congregants count themselves as conservatives and embrace the new administration’s order cutting off funding to international groups that provide abortions. But as church members consider another order — restricting refugees and pausing entry to the U.S. from several Muslim-majority countries — worries about security are tempered by concern about the needs of refugees and whether Trump’s rhetoric is widening the gulf between Americans, Bergman said.

“There is worry about how deep the divide is going to run. There is worry about some of the political rhetoric … about how all that is going to cause the divide in the community to deepen and more bitterness to spring up between the people of our country. I wouldn’t say we’re really optimistic right now,” he said.

Trump is hardly the first president to take office promising wholesale change in the face of substantial skepticism. But Kevin Boyle, a professor of American history at Northwestern University, said the new administration has put itself at the center of an extraordinary political moment.

Boyle hears echoes of the Ronald Reagan era in Trump’s attempts to alter the role of government; this administration’s willingness to play on division rather than serve as a calming influence is reminiscent of Richard Nixon. The mass protests since inauguration day are reminiscent of some of the upheaval of the 1960s. Still, Boyle said, the tensions swirling around Trump’s administration are unique.

“I cannot in my adult life think of a moment that compares to this,” he said. “The level of tension between these two competing visions of the country needs to be resolved in some way or another.”

Trump’s actions have unsettled Suzanne Kawamleh, 24, a graduate student born in Chicago to parents who emigrated from Syria. On Saturday night, Kawamleh said, she joined protesters outside the terminal at O’Hare International Airport to protest the executive order stopping Syrian refugees from entering the country. The next day, she told a crowd gathered at the county courthouse in Bloomington, Indiana, about how her relatives had fled Syria by boat and ended up in a refugee camp before finding refuge in Germany.

Last year, Kawamleh said, she and her father were taken off a flight for questioning when they returned from Lebanon to do relief work in a refugee camp. But that scrutiny, she said, pales with Trump’s executive order, which forced a family friend from Syria who had flown to the U.S. to visit a sick relative to return to the Middle East on Saturday.

“Immediately after the order, everything changed. There wasn’t a chance to plead your case,” she said. “It seems like everything is very in flux. People don’t know what’s going on.”

Over the last week, teacher Dee Burek has led discussions with the seventh- and eighth-graders in her debate and journalism classes about Trump’s first days as president. Students were dismayed when they read about false statements by White House press secretary Sean Spicer and by an interview with Trump adviser Steve Bannon in which he compared himself to Darth Vader.

When one girl compared Trump to Dolores Umbridge — a character from the Harry Potter series who provokes a student revolt after issuing a series of harsh decrees — classmates nodded in agreement, Burek said.

“As a teacher I’m trying to present both sides, as I always have to, and when I deal with the children and I’m reading articles to them (about the Trump administration), their faces are in shock,” said Burek, who teaches in Allentown, New Jersey. “They just keep coming back to, ‘We’re America. How could this happen?’ And I say I just don’t have the answers.”

Many Americans say that Trump’s moves since taking office are exactly what the country needs. Nonetheless, they are taking note of the pushback.

Juan Villamizar, a 52-year-old flooring business owner in West Hartford, Connecticut, said he supports Trump’s executive order restricting refugees and immigration from seven countries as a way to protect Americans from terrorism. But while he believes the country is headed in the right direction, he is disheartened to see a negative response to Trump’s actions.

“I just think that the people of this country, the citizens of this country, need to take a really deep breath and read the Constitution,” he said.

During the presidential campaign, Brenda Horvath strapped a giant “Hillary for Prison” sign to her Logan, West Virginia, front porch, and another that read “Make America Great Again” beside it. She isn’t opposed to Trump’s plans, but thinks the new president could do a better job at presenting his plans with compassion, in a way that doesn’t alienate and offend so many. She believes Trump is off to a rocky start, but believes he deserves more time to get on track.

“You can listen to the wrong people and do the job wrong. I’m hoping and praying that he’ll start listening to the right people,” she said.

Yatziri Tovar, a 24-year-old college student in New York who emigrated from Mexico as a toddler, saw the response to Trump in a different light. Though troubled by the initial days of the new administration, she was encouraged to see the activism it has spurred and the people of many backgrounds who have spoken in protest. She felt a duty to speak, too, addressing a weekend rally that she helped organize as a member of an immigrant advocacy group, Make the Road New York, which drew an estimated 30,000 people.

“It’s a moment that has a lot of confusion, it has some scary times, but at the same time it has become a time of unity,” said Tovar, a part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which President Barack Obama instituted to allow young people brought into the country illegally as children to stay and obtain work permits.

Others hold the protesters, not Trump, responsible for the discord.

John Fusaro, an immigration officer in Dallas who voted for Trump, said the media and protesters should ease up.

“They’re trying to sow seeds of doubt and keep stirring the pot,” he said. “They’re just not giving him a chance.”

Fusaro said the upheaval represents a “new normal” of constant protests. While he’s dubious of the protesters’ message, the presence of a niece in their ranks reminds him of the wide gulf in Americans’ political views.

“She’s standing against Trump, out there yelling and stuff, and I’m honestly thinking you don’t know the whole picture. I sent her a message: Give it time. It’ll sort itself out.”

So far, he said, she hasn’t responded.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Marco Rubio says Senate Democrats should confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court

Marco Rubio has come out solidly in support of President Trump’s selection of Neil Gorsuch to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Judge Gorsuch is a highly qualified, mainstream jurist, which is why he was unanimously confirmed to the circuit court by the Senate in 2006,” Rubio said in a statement shortly after the announcement was made in the East Room of the White House in prime time on Tuesday.

“By all accounts he has the right temperament and experience for the job, and I’m pleased to see him nominated to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Rubio. “Most importantly, he is committed to the principles of original intent and judicial restraint. This is critical, because too many in the federal judiciary today believe it is appropriate for judges to invent new policies and rights instead of interpreting and defending the Constitution as it is written.”

Original intent, or “originalism,” was the focus of the late Antonin Scalia, the longtime Supreme Court justice who Gorsuch would be replacing on the high court. Original intent theory hold that the interpretation of a written constitution is (or should be) consistent with what was meant by the Founding Fathers.

The question now remains is how much of a fight will Senate Democrats pose to the Gorsuch pick. Many are still hopping mad that GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell never put Merrick Garland up for a vote in 2016. Garland was Barack Obama’s choice to replace Scalia when he died nearly a year ago

“Unfortunately, Senate Democrats already announced they would oppose any Supreme Court nominee no matter who it is,” said Rubio, who says “this objection  is neither principled nor reasonable, considering we just had an election where the future of the Supreme Court was a central issue not only at the presidential level but in every Senate contest.

“On the issue of this Supreme Court nomination specifically, the American people gave the president and the Republican-controlled Senate a mandate to choose a successor to Antonin Scalia,” Rubio continued. “Senate Democrats should accept the results of the election and allow the process to move forward with a vote. I look forward to a fair and thorough confirmation process, and I am confident Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed by the Senate once again, this time to serve on the Supreme Court.”

Several Senate Democrats have already announced their opposition to Gorsuch, but not Rubio’s Florida colleague, Bill Nelson. Nelson said he’ll base his decision on a full examination of Gorsuch’s judicial record and his responses to senators questions.

 

 

Debbie Wasserman Schultz tells Fox Business that Donald Trump ‘believes he was elected dictator’

Debbie Wasserman Schultz blasted President Trump Tuesday morning, a day after he fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates for what the White House called “refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.”

“I think it’s important to note that she did exactly what she said she would do if she was given an order by the President of the United States, which she believed violated the law,” the former Democratic National Committee chair said on Fox Business Network’s “Mornings with Maria.”

“Her answer to Jeff Sessions was that she would make sure that the Department of Justice followed the law,” Wasserman Schultz added.

Wasserman Schultz was referring to Yates’ 2015 Senate confirmation hearing as deputy attorney general, when she was grilled about being able to challenge Barack Obama if she disagreed with him. That’s when Sessions was Senator from Alabama. Now he’s poised to become the next U.S. Attorney General for Donald Trump.

“And frankly, because President Trump did absolutely nothing to consult the Department of Justice, his Secretary of Homeland Security, any members of Congress, the leadership of Congress, since they basically slapped this policy together in which they were barring immigrants and refugees for a period of time from countries, by the way, none of which had the 9/11 attackers come from,” the South Florida Democrat continued.

“When will the Democrats give us our Attorney General and rest of Cabinet! They should be ashamed of themselves! No wonder D.C. doesn’t work!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

Wasserman Schultz reprimanded Trump for that tweet, saying: “The President’s tweet this morning was very interesting and telling because it shows that he believes he was elected as a dictator. There is an ‘advise and consent’ role in the United States Senate, and that is what they are doing. He doesn’t just get to have his nominations rubber stamped, and he has nominated some very disturbing individuals.”

 

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