Barack Obama – Page 5 – Florida Politics

Donald Trump order undermines rebuilding better for future floods

Two weeks before Harvey’s floodwaters engulfed much of Houston, President Donald Trump quietly rolled back an order by his predecessor that would have made it easier for storm-ravaged communities to use federal emergency aid to rebuild bridges, roads and other structures so they can better withstand future disasters.

Now, with much of the nation’s fourth-largest city underwater, Trump’s move has new resonance. Critics note the president’s order could force Houston and other cities to rebuild hospitals and highways in the same way and in the same flood-prone areas.

“Rebuilding while ignoring future flood events is like treating someone for lung cancer and then giving him a carton of cigarettes on the way out the door,” said Michael Gerrard, a professor of environmental and climate change law at Columbia University. “If you’re going to rebuild after a bad event, you don’t want to expose yourself to the same thing all over again.”

Trump’s action is one of several ways the president, who has called climate change a hoax, has tried to wipe away former President Barack Obama’s efforts to make the United States more resilient to threats posed by the changing climate.

President Donald Trump says “all of America” is grieving with those who lost loved ones because of Hurricane Harvey. And he told victims of the storm, the nation will be with them. (Aug. 30)

The order Trump revoked would have permitted the rebuilding to take into account climate scientists’ predictions of stronger storms and more frequent flooding.

Bridges and highways, for example, could be rebuilt higher, or with better drainage. The foundation of a new fire station or hospital might be elevated an extra 3 feet.

While scientists caution against blaming specific weather events like Harvey on climate change, warmer air and warmer water linked to global warming have long been projected to make such storms wetter and more intense. Houston, for example, has experienced three floods in three years that statistically were once considered 1-in-500-year events.

The government was still in the process of implementing Obama’s 2015 order when it was rescinded. That means the old standard — rebuilding storm-ravaged facilities in the same way they had been built before — is still in place.

Trump revoked Obama’s order as part of an executive order of his own that he touted at an Aug. 15 news conference at Trump Tower. That news conference was supposed to focus on infrastructure, but it was dominated by Trump’s comments on the previous weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Trump didn’t specifically mention the revocation, but he said he was making the federal permitting process for the construction of transportation and other infrastructure projects faster and more cost-efficient without harming the environment.

“It’s going to be quick, it’s going to be a very streamlined process,” Trump said.

Asked about the revocation, the White House said in a statement that Obama’s order didn’t consider potential impacts on the economy and was “applied broadly to the whole country, leaving little room or flexibility for designers to exercise professional judgment or incorporate the particular context” of a project’s location.

Obama’s now-defunct order also revamped Federal Flood Risk Management Standards, calling for tighter restrictions on new construction in flood-prone areas. Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, opposed the measure, saying it would impede land development and economic growth.

Revoking that order was only the latest step by Trump to undo Obama’s actions on climate change.

In March, Trump rescinded a 2013 order that directed federal agencies to encourage states and local communities to build new infrastructure and facilities “smarter and stronger” in anticipation of more frequent extreme weather.

Trump revoked a 2015 Obama memo directing agencies developing national security policies to consider the potential impact of climate change.

The president also disbanded two advisory groups created by Obama: the interagency Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.

Obama’s 2015 order was prompted in part by concerns raised by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper after severe flooding in his state two years earlier. Hickenlooper was dismayed to learn that federal disaster aid rules were preventing state officials from rebuilding “better and smarter than what we had built before.”

The “requirements essentially said you had to build it back exactly the way it was, that you couldn’t take into consideration improvements in resiliency,” Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said Tuesday. “We want to be more prepared for the next event, not less prepared.”

Bud Wright, the Federal Highway Administration’s executive director during George W. Bush’s administration, said this has long been a concern of federal officials.

He recalled a South Dakota road that was “almost perpetually flooded” but was repeatedly rebuilt to the same standard using federal aid because the state didn’t have the extra money to pay for enhancements.

“It seemed a little ridiculous that we kept doing that,” said Wright, now the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ executive director.

But Kirk Steudle, director of Michigan’s Department of Transportation, said states can build more resilient infrastructure than what they had before a disaster by using state or non-emergency federal funds to make up the cost difference.

“That makes sense, otherwise FEMA would be the big checkbook,” he said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Everybody would be hoping for some disaster so FEMA could come in and build them a brand-new road to the 2020 standard instead of the 1970 standard.”

Even though Obama’s order has been revoked, federal officials have some wiggle room that might allow them to rebuild to higher standards, said Jessica Grannis, who manages the adaptation program at the Georgetown Climate Center.

If local building codes in place before the storm call for new construction to be more resilient to flooding, then federal money can still be used to pay the additional costs.

For example, in Houston regulations require structures to be rebuilt 1 foot (30 centimeters) above the level designated for a 1-in-100-year storm. And in the wake of prior disasters, FEMA has moved to remap floodplains, setting the line for the 1-in-100-year flood higher than it was before.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump’s turn to face tricky politics of natural disasters

George W. Bush never recovered from his flyover of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. Barack Obama got a bipartisan boost late in his re-election campaign for his handling of Superstorm Sandy.

Now, President Donald Trump confronts the political risks and potential gains that come with leading the federal government’s response to a deadly and destructive natural disaster. Hurricane Harvey, the massive storm that has dumped torrents of rain across Texas — flooding Houston and other cities — is the first major natural disaster of Trump’s presidency, and the yet-to-be-determined scope of the damage appears likely to require a years-long federal project.

Trump, who is suffering through a long stretch of low approval ratings, has been particularly eager to seize the moment. He will visit Texas Tuesday — and may return to the region again on Saturday. The White House announced the first visit even before Harvey made landfall. On Monday, Trump promised Texans will “have what you need” and that federal funding would come “fast.”

“We will come out stronger and believe me, we will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before,” Trump said Monday during a White House news conference. Trump was scheduled to be briefed on relief efforts with local leaders and relief organizations during a stop in Corpus Christi, then touring the state emergency operations center in Austin and receiving a briefing on the storm before returning to Washington.

The president’s unconventional style has still oozed out. Trump sent about two dozen tweets about the storm since Friday, marveling at the size of the hurricane and cheering on emergency responders: “You are doing a great job — the world is watching!”

Indeed, he argued Monday he specifically timed his controversial pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio to capitalize on all the viewers tuned into storm coverage. The Friday night pardon wasn’t an attempt to hide the news, he said: “I assumed the ratings would be higher.”

Trump advisers are well-aware that the hurricane poses a significant test for the White House, which has largely been mired in crises of its own making during Trump’s first seven months in office, including the president’s widely criticized response to white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump, who ran a real estate business and starred in a reality show before taking office, has no experience in the kinds of recovery efforts that will be required in Texas and has struggled at times to show competency in governing.

Administrations often tread carefully in planning visits to disaster-ravaged areas. Mobilizing a president, his staff and his security is an enormous logistical undertaking and can pull local law enforcement resources away from the disaster recovery efforts. But Trump hasn’t been cowed.

Aides said it was Trump who pushed for the White House to make his desire to travel to Texas known early. He won’t be visiting Houston, where flooding has wreaked havoc on the nation’s fourth-largest city. Instead, he is meeting with local leadership and relief organizations in Corpus Christi, then visiting the state’s emergency operations center in Austin.

“Conditions haven’t cleared in Houston yet so probably not appropriate for him to go up there, probably not safe for him to go up there,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. “But I do think having your own eyes on the devastation that I have seen is important.”

The optics of a president’s initial response to a natural disaster can be long-lasting.

Bush was haunted by his now-infamous declaration that then-FEMA Director Michael Brown was doing “a heckuva job” — a statement that appeared wildly off base after the full scope of the devastation became clear. Images of Bush peering down at the flooding in New Orleans from Air Force One also furthered the impression that he was detached from the horrific conditions on the ground.

“He understands why that picture became a metaphor,” said Dana Perino, who was serving as deputy White House spokeswoman at the time.

Trump has played storm politics before. During his campaign, he rushed to Louisiana, in his signature “Make America Great Again” hat, to view damage from massive flooding. Trump made it to the battered neighborhoods before Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and while President Barack Obama was vacationing.

“We’re glad you’re not playing golf at Martha’s Vineyard,” one woman told him, a jab at Obama.

“Somebody is, somebody is that shouldn’t be,” Trump replied.

Over the weekend, Trump offered a sunny assessment of the response efforts while the rain was still pouring down on Houston and other Texas towns. He cited the “great coordination between agencies at all levels of government” and declared, “We have an all-out effort going, and going well!”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has so far praised the federal response to Hurricane Harvey, which has been blamed for at least three confirmed deaths. But with nearly 2 more feet of rain expected, authorities worried whether the worst was yet to come.

On its own, a successful federal response to Hurricane Harvey is unlikely to reshape Trump’s presidency. But with his approval rating perilously low, it could help Trump convince some Americans that he has the capability to lead the nation through difficult moments.

Trump’s predecessors have also benefited from the political opportunities that can arise after natural disasters.

When Superstorm Sandy barreled across the East Coast days before the 2012 election, Obama paused his campaign to monitor the federal response from Washington. He traveled to hard-hit New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a strong supporter of the president’s rival, lavished praise on Obama.

Obama advisers said then that while they didn’t believe the president’s Sandy efforts were a deciding factor in the election, the praise he received from Republicans was helpful in the midst of a highly partisan campaign.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Barack Obama endorses Rick Kriseman’s re-election

Former President Barack Obama is throwing his support behind St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Obama’s rare intervention in a Florida nonpartisan municipal race is an effort to boost Democratic turnout days before a primary that will likely force a runoff in November.

In the late summer contest, Kriseman’s support has wavered among African-Americans, a group that helped propel him to victory in 2013. By putting his thumb on the scales, Obama will likely help Kriseman among blacks and ensure the incumbent will survive to a runoff.

The Florida Democratic Party is also desperate for a win in St. Petersburg, after a streak of losses in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the Sunshine State last year, where he edged Hillary Clinton by a single percentage point. Florida represented a crucial win for Trump on the path to the presidency.

Trump has historic unfavorability among St. Peterburg voters, with just 37 percent approving and 61 percent disapproving of the president. In contrast, Obama is well-liked, with 61 percent approval, with 35 percent disapproving.

Among African-American voters, Obama’s approval is solid at 92-8 percent.

Kriseman has become a top priority of the FDP, with Democrats linking the unpopular Trump to Republican candidate Rick Baker, the former two-term St. Petersburg mayor who has led the race since entering in May. Recent polling puts Baker within reach of 50 percent in the primary, giving him the seat outright.

During the campaign, Baker has been coy about his support of Trump, refusing to discuss whether he voted for the real estate mogul. Democrats have latched onto Baker’s reticence, pointing out Kriseman’s history of blasting Trump — most famously by “barring” the president-elect from St. Petersburg in a December tweet.

“Mayor Rick Kriseman stands up to Donald Trump,” a new Democratic mailer this week proclaims. “When Donald Trump speaks out … Rick Baker’s silence speaks volumes.”

In backing Kriseman, Obama said it was over policy: “From raising the minimum wage and fighting for equality, to bold leadership on climate change, Rick was a great ally on the priorities of my administration. I strongly endorse Rick Kriseman as the only choice for continued progress for St. Petersburg” applauding Kriseman for working on the “big challenges to move St. Pete forward.”

In the lead-up to Tuesday’s primary, Kriseman has bolstered his support among black voters, according to the FDP. Internal polls show Kriseman narrowing the gap with Baker to 3 percent, up from a double-digit deficit last month.

“The reality is Obama is popular in this district, and Trump is toxic,” one Democratic source told POLITICO Florida. “All we have to do is get this to a runoff. We need this win.”

“I am incredibly honored to have the support of President Barack Obama as we continue our work of moving St. Pete forward,” Kriseman responded in a statement Friday. “President Obama’s leadership had a positive impact on our city. His historic election inspired us. His governance helped us to rebound from a Great Recession, made health care more available and affordable, and expanded opportunity and equality for countless Americans. From ending veteran homelessness to combating climate change, it has been my privilege to champion his priorities and apply them at the local level.”

Kriseman noted that, as a state Representative, he was one of the first elected officials in Florida to endorse then-Senator Obama for president in 2007. As a long shot at the time, Obama lost to Clinton in Florida the following year.

As mayor, Kriseman worked on several priorities of the White House, including veteran homelessness, increased minimum wage and offering paid parental leave for city workers. He also vowed to uphold the standards of the Paris climate accord after Trump pulled out of the agreement earlier this year.

Obama has made only one other mayoral endorsement, in Los Angeles for incumbent Eric Garcetti, who was already comfortably ahead at the time. Obama’s other notable post-presidency support was for Emmanuel Macron in France’s presidential race. While there are no plans for the former president to stump for Kriseman in the general election, it is certain Obama’s support will be a major talking point on the campaign trail.

On Friday, the FDP highly praised Obama’s endorsement, calling it “more grassroots energy to a campaign on the rise,” adding it comes along with a “significant investment” of Party resources. “With the President behind us, Florida Democrats will continue organizing and redouble their efforts to ensure that bold progressives like Mayor Kriseman are elected.”

From a release:

With Democrats around the country energized and ready to resist the Trump White House, the former President’s endorsement will galvanize the fired-up grassroots movement growing across the state. Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman is currently running for reelection against a former two-term Republican mayor being backed by major Trump and GOP donors. An endorsement by the Democratic Party’s most recognizable standard-bearer will serve to energize the Democratic base.

Democrats from around the country are organizing and rising up against the harmful Trump administration. Grassroots enthusiasm is growing and the Rick Kriseman re-election campaign has seen a wave of Democratic activism from residents determined to continue moving their community forward.

For Democratic activists who have been on the ground campaigning for Kriseman since early April, the president’s endorsement offers fresh vitality and a renewed sense of mission.

“President Obama’s endorsement affirms Mayor Kriseman’s strong record of progressive accomplishments that have helped move St. Pete forward. On climate change, criminal justice reform and building an economy that works for everyone — Mayor Kriseman has been at the forefront. With the President behind us, Florida Democrats will continue organizing and redouble their efforts to ensure that bold progressives like Mayor Kriseman are elected. Every single voter counts and we have the power to change our country, one conversation, and one election at a time.” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel.

President Obama’s support comes in addition to a significant investment of resources by the Florida Democratic Party as well as endorsements from other top Democrats including U.S. Senator Bill NelsonCongressman Charlie Crist and State House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz.

This endorsement in Florida’s fourth largest city, signals a party on the rise and a serious commitment to electing Democrats up and down the ballot.

Donald Trump to skip Kennedy Center Honors awards program

In a break with tradition, President Donald Trump and the first lady have decided not to participate in events for this year’s Kennedy Center Honors arts awards so honorees can celebrate “without any political distraction,” the White House announced Saturday.

The Kennedy Center said it respected Trump’s decision and the show will go on.

Past presidents and first ladies traditionally host a White House reception in the hours before the Kennedy Center gala, which they would then watch from seats high above the stage. This year’s honors are to be awarded Dec. 3.

The Trumps reached their decision Friday, said a White House official who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

It was made the same day that the entire membership of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned to protest Trump’s comments about last weekend’s demonstrations by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. The president has blamed “many sides” for the violence that left an anti-racism activist dead.

Trump has had a long and contentious relationship with the arts world and some Kennedy Center honorees, who are being recognized for lifetime achievement in their fields, already had said they would not attend the White House reception.

One honoree, television writer and producer Norman Lear, had also questioned whether Trump would want to attend the gala, “given his indifference or worse regarding the arts and humanities.”

Trump has recommended defunding the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Dancer Carmen de Lavallade said on her website this week she was honored to be recognized, but would not go to Trump’s White House.

“In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our existing leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House,” she said.

Singer Gloria Estefan earlier had said that she would set her personal politics aside to accept the honor, now in its 40th year. She said the image of a Cuban immigrant, like herself, being honored is important when Latino immigrants in particular have “taken a beating in the recent past.”

Estefan once hosted a Democratic fundraiser attended by President Barack Obama. She said she and her husband, Emilio, are not affiliated with a political party.

The other honorees are hip-hop artist LL Cool J, who had yet to say whether he would attend the White House reception, and singer Lionel Richie, who described himself as a maybe. Representatives for both celebrities did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday.

Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein and President Deborah F. Rutter said they respect Trump’s decision.

“In choosing not to participate in this year’s Honors activities, the administration has graciously signaled its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the Honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the honorees. We are grateful for this gesture” they said in a joint statement.

The honorees, announced earlier this month, will be celebrated at a Kennedy Center gala in December, featuring performances and tributes from top entertainers that will be nationally televised. A traditional State Department reception and awards dinner Dec. 2 will be held as planned.

Rubenstein and Rutter said all five honorees were expected at both events.

The White House said Trump and first lady Melania Trump “extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year’s award recipients for their many accomplishments.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

Senate Republicans’ Spanish ad says Bill Nelson ‘supports murderers’

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is being targeted in a new Spanish-language radio commercial accusing him of being soft on Cuba and for expressing admiration for former Venezuela dictator Hugo Chávez, and charging he supports murderers.

The 30-second spot from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, playing in the Miami market, also contends that Nelson’s actions offer encouragement to current Venezuelan Dictator Nicolas Maduro, who took over after Chavez’ death in 2013.

As Maduro oversaw an election marked by violence and deaths of protesters while international and opposition observers decried the vote as a sham in recent weeks, Nelson has issued several strong statements condemning Maduro.

Nelson’s campaign spokesman Ryan Brown called the ads “untrue” and “thinly-veiled attempt to distract from Gov. Rick Scott‘s record. Scott is raising money for a presumed challenge of Nelson in the 2018 election.

“These ads are untrue. Sen. Nelson is one of the strongest opponents of the Maduro and Castro regimes. In fact, the Miami Herald has called Nelson one of Chavez’s fiercest critics. And earlier this month Nelson called on President Trump to ban at least some imports of Venezuelan oil until constitutional order has been restored in Venezuela,” Brown said in a written statement. “These attacks against Nelson’s anti-Castro, anti-Maduro record are false and nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to try to distract people from Rick Scott’s decision to flip-flop on doing business with Goldman Sachs, which is currently doing business with an arm of the Maduro regime.”

Yet the radio ad, which plays like a radio news report, notes that Florida’s senior senator has taken other steps that suggest support.

“In the past, he has aligned himself with communists and dictators. Look at him with Cuba. He supported [President Barack] Obama when he negotiated with the other terrorists, the Castro brothers,” the narrator states in Spanish, with a sound effect that sounds like him flipping pages of notes on a desk.

“When Nelson supports the Castros, that only reinforces and encourages others, like it did with Chavez and now with Maduro. In 2005, Bill Nelson even visited Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Here it says Nelson went to Venezuela to admire Chavez’s revolution,” the narrator continues.

“If Bill Nelson supports murderers, I can’t support Bill Nelson,” the ad concludes.

Beyond bluster, U.S., N. Korea in regular contact

Beyond the bluster, the Trump administration has been quietly engaged in back channel diplomacy with North Korea for several months, addressing Americans imprisoned in the communist country and deteriorating relations between the longtime foes, The Associated Press has learned.

It had been known the two sides had discussions to secure the June release of an American university student. But it wasn’t known until now that the contacts have continued, or that they have broached matters other than U.S. detainees.

People familiar with the contacts say the interactions have done nothing thus far to quell tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile advances, which are now fueling fears of military confrontation. But they say the behind-the-scenes discussions could still be a foundation for more serious negotiation, including on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, should President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un put aside the bellicose rhetoric of recent days and endorse a dialogue.

Trump refused to discuss the diplomatic contacts. “We don’t want to talk about progress, we don’t want to talk about back channels,” Trump told reporters Friday.

The diplomatic contacts are occurring regularly between Joseph Yun, the U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, and Pak Song Il, a senior North Korean diplomat at the country’s U.N. mission, according to U.S. officials and others briefed on the process. They weren’t authorized to discuss the confidential exchanges and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Officials call it the “New York channel.” Yun is the only U.S. diplomat in contact with any North Korean counterpart. The communications largely serve as a way to exchange messages, allowing Washington and Pyongyang to relay information.

Drowned out by the furor over Trump’s warning to North Korea of “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has expressed a willingness to entertain negotiations. His condition: Pyongyang stopping tests of missiles that can now potentially reach the U.S. mainland.

Tillerson has even hinted at an ongoing back channel. “We have other means of communication open to them, to certainly hear from them if they have a desire to want to talk,” he said at an Asian security meeting in the Philippines this week.

The interactions could point to a level of pragmatism in the Trump administration’s approach to the North Korean threat, despite the president’s dire warnings.

On Friday, he tweeted: “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely.” But on Thursday, he said, “we’ll always consider negotiations,” even if they haven’t worked in the last quarter-century.

The contacts suggest Pyongyang, too, may be open to a negotiation even as it talks of launching missiles near the U.S. territory of Guam. The North regularly threatens nuclear strikes on the United States and its allies.

The State Department and the White House declined to comment on Yun’s diplomacy. A diplomat at North Korea’s U.N. mission only confirmed use of diplomatic channel up to the release of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier two months ago.

Trump, in some ways, has been more flexible in his approach to North Korea than President Barack Obama. While variations of the New York channel have been used on-and-off for years by past administrations, there were no discussions over the last seven months of Obama’s presidency after Pyongyang broke them off in anger over U.S. sanctions imposed on its leader, Kim. Obama made little effort to reopen lines of communication.

The contacts quickly restarted after Trump’s inauguration, other people familiar with the discussions say.

“Contrary to the public vitriol of the moment, the North Koreans were willing to reopen the New York channel following the election of President Trump and his administration signaled an openness to engage and ‘talk about talks,’” said Keith Luse, executive director of the National Committee on North Korea, a U.S.-based group that promotes U.S.-North Korean engagement.

“However, the massive trust deficit in Pyongyang and in Washington toward each other has impeded the confidence-building process necessary to have constructive dialogue,” he said.

The early U.S. focus was on securing the release of several Americans held in North Korea.

They included Warmbier, who was imprisoned for stealing a propaganda poster and only allowed to return to the U.S. in June — in an unconscious state. He died days later. Yun traveled on the widely publicized mission to Pyongyang to bring Warmbier home.

Despite outrage in the U.S. with Warmbier’s treatment and sharp condemnation by Trump, the U.S.-North Korean interactions in New York continued.

Yun and his counterpart have discussed the other Americans still being held. They include Kim Hak Song, a university employee detained in May accused of unspecified “hostile” acts; Tony Kim, a teacher at the same school, accused of trying to overthrow the government; and Kim Dong Chul, sentenced last year to a decade in prison with hard labor for supposed espionage.

But the American and North Korean diplomats also have discussed the overall U.S.-North Korean relationship. The two countries have no diplomatic ties and are still enemies, having only reached an armistice — not a peace treaty — to end the 1950-1953 Korean War. Twenty-eight thousand U.S. troops are still stationed in South Korea.

In its own convoluted way, North Korea has indicated openness to talks in recent weeks, even as it has accelerated the tempo of weapons tests.

On July 4, after the North test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially strike the continental U.S., leader Kim added a new caveat to his refusal to negotiate over its nukes or missiles. Instead of a blanket rejection, he ruled out such concessions “unless the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat to the DPRK are definitely terminated.”

That message has been repeated by other North Korean officials, without greater specification. Nor have they offered an indication as to whether Pyongyang would accept denuclearization as the goal of talks.

Still, advocates for diplomacy, including some voices in the U.S. government, view the addendum as a potential opening.

“North Korea is assessing its options,” said Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the New America think tank who participated in unofficial talks with North Korean officials in Oslo in May, where Yun also met with the North Koreans. “They recognize that at some point they have to return to the table to address what’s becoming a crisis. That’s what they are weighing right now: the timing of engagement.”

Any negotiation would face huge skepticism in Washington given North Korea’s long record of broken promises. The last serious U.S.-North Korea negotiations collapsed in 2012 when Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket that derailed an agreement of a North Korean nuclear freeze in exchange for U.S. food aid.

North Korea’s weapons program has developed significantly since then. As a result, its price in any such negotiation is now likely to be far higher. At a minimum, Pyongyang would renew its long-standing demands for an end to joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises — which are set to resume this month — and an eventual peace treaty with Washington.

To date, the Trump administration has heavily concentrated its diplomatic energy on cranking up international pressure on North Korea’s government, in particular pressing China to lean on its wayward ally. Last weekend, the U.N. adopted its strongest economic sanctions on Pyongyang.

Trump has been widely accused of injecting a new element of unpredictability and even chaos into U.S. policy toward North Korea, especially with his tweets and proclamations this week. It’s unclear what effect they may have on the back-channel contacts being maintained by Yun.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Jack Latvala hires prominent GOP ad maker Fred Davis

While not yet official a candidate for Florida governor, state Sen. Jack Latvala has made a major hire: Fred Davis, who was once described as the “GOP’s most notorious ad man.”

Latvala tells Florida Politics that Davis has been retained by his Florida Leadership Committee.

Latvala has said he will announce his 2018 plans on August 16.

Hiring Davis is the clearest indication yet that the Pinellas Republican will enter the gubernatorial race. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is the only other declared major GOP candidate, although House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis are considering running.

Davis, formerly chief media strategist for 2008 Republican Party presidential nominee John McCain, heads Hollywood-based Strategic Perception Inc. and is considered a guru of attention-grabbing political videos. He is also one of the most sought-after media consultants for conservative candidates, having worked with top GOP names such as George W. Bush, Jon Huntsman, Jeff Flake, Chuck Grassley, Ben Sasse, Rick Snyder and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

One stat about Davis you’ll hear coming from Latvala’s camp is that the ad man’s clients went 12-for-12 in the previous non-presidential election cycle.

With a long resume, Davis is perhaps best known for producing McCain’s outrageous “Celebrity” ad – which compared Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton – as well as the “demon sheep” spot for U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, credited for helping her win the 2010 California Republican primary.

McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt called Davis as the “most creative person in the business – period.” NPR also described him as “the closest thing political advertising has to an auteur. Unlike just about any political media guru out there, Davis embraces weirdness.”

Although he is very good at the positive ad, as he did for Elizabeth Dole in 2002, Davis is at his best when running negative. Strategic perception spots have included giant rats running loose in Atlanta, a massive hairpiece on the Illinois statehouse and even a “full-length Western cowboy song.”

Always courting controversy, Davis faced a strong backlash in 2012 after The New York Times published a 57-page document (commissioned by billionaire Joe Ricketts) for a $10 million campaign against Obama’s re-election.

“The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good,” tried to portray the president as “a metrosexual, black Abraham Lincoln,” suggesting Obama would respond to the ads by playing “the race card.”

Despite being initially approved by Ricketts’ Ending Spending Action Fund, the ads were later disavowed after the strategy leaked out to the press; the spots were never aired.

Nevertheless, the Ricketts incident only cemented Davis’ reputation as hard-hitting and unconventional.

“If every other ad is yellow, you do your ad red,” David once said. “If every ad is loud, you do yours soft.”

In other words, bringing on Davis would be the perfect move for a Republican gubernatorial candidate looking to enter a brutal, no-holes-barred Florida primary.

Donald Trump’s unprecedented hands-on messaging carries risks

For the third time in six months, President Donald Trump is on the hunt for a new communications director. But in practice, the job is filled.

It’s Trump who’s the White House’s leading expert and the final word on what and how he communicates with the public. Despite decrying most negative media coverage as “fake news” and personally insulting members of the media, he has inserted himself into the White House’s press operations in an unprecedented fashion for a president.

Trump has dictated news releases and pushed those who speak for him to bend the facts to bolster his claims. He has ignored the advice of his legal team and thrown out carefully planned legislative strategies with a single 140-character tweet.

His direct, hands-on style helped him win the White House and still thrills his supporters. It also, however, poses increasing political and potentially legal risks. The clearest example is his involvement in crafting a statement for son Donald Jr. about a meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer. That declaration was quickly proven erroneous and raised questions about whether the president was trying to cover for his son.

Trump has struggled to find a communications adviser that meets his approval.

His first, Mike Dubke, stayed behind the scenes and never clicked with Trump, leaving after three months. Then Sean Spicer, Trump’s oft-beleaguered press secretary, took on the communications director job as well. He resigned both posts last month when Trump brought in hard-charging New York financier Anthony Scaramucci. Scaramucci lasted only 11 days before being fired in the aftermath of an expletive-filled interview.

A fourth candidate for the post, campaign spokesman Jason Miller, was named to the job during the transition but turned it down days later, citing a need to spend time with his family.

More recently there have been some informal internal conversations about an increased communications role for White House aide Stephen Miller, according to an administration official who was not authorized to discuss private talks by name and requested anonymity. Those talks are still seen as preliminary. Miller recently clashed with some reporters over immigration policy at a contentious press briefing.

This past week, as White House staffers readied a statement accompanying Trump’s signature on legislation approving toughened sanctions on Russia — a bill Trump criticized — word came down that the president wanted to add some off-topic language into the statement. That’s according to two officials familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly talk about internal discussions.

“I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars,” the new section read. “That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”

That personal and boastful rhetoric is a far cry from the formal language normally found in presidential statements. It also appeared aimed at angering the same lawmakers he will need if he wants to pass any major legislation.

“All presidents are their own best messengers,” said Ari Fleischer, press secretary for President George W. Bush. Fleischer said that Bush, too, would at times get involved with the White House press shop.

Fleischer noted there was always a safety net of advisers at work. That does not appear to exist around the current president — particular around his Twitter account.

“The lesson for this president is that it’s perfectly fine to be involved and to, at times, go around the mainstream media with Twitter,” Fleischer said. “But he needs to tweet smarter.”

Corralling the president’s impulses is a challenge that now falls to new White House chief of staff John Kelly, a four-star Marine general tasked with straightening out an unruly West Wing. But many Trump allies don’t believe he’ll alter his ways.

“The reality is President Trump is sitting in the Oval Office,” said Sam Nunberg, a former campaign staffer. “And before that, he was a mogul with a business that spanned continents. He did it his way. He’s not going to change. It got him where he is and it will keep him where he is.”

Trump has long considered himself his own best spokesman and cares deeply about his public perception.

While a budding real estate magnate in New York in the 1980s and 1990s, he was known to call reporters to plant anonymously sourced scoops about himself. He vaulted to national stardom with “The Apprentice” and micromanaged aspects of his appearances, including his hair and lighting.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump was known to obsess over single images in a commercial or the font for an ad.

As president, he frequently has raged about his communications staff, blaming them for White House’s stumbles while almost never taking responsibility himself.

An avid consumer of cable news, Trump scolds surrogates when he thinks they are not adequately defending him on television. His frequently shifting positions also challenge his staffers, who have grown to be fearful of answering basic questions about the president’s beliefs for fear of later being contradicted, according to more than a half dozen White House officials and outside advisers speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

And the president has pushed staff to defend untruths, including when he ordered Spicer, in Spicer’s first White House briefing, to claim that the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd was larger than his predecessor’s, according to three White House officials and outside advisers familiar with the encounter.

More untruths have followed. In March, Trump tweeted without evidence that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. And soon after firing FBI Director James Comey, Trump tweeted a warning that Comey had better hope there were no tapes of their White House conversations. There weren’t.

Another statement has received bipartisan condemnation and could face scrutiny from investigators probing possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.

As news broke last month that Trump Jr. had met with Russians in June 2016, the president’s eldest son released a statement — which was in part crafted on Air Force One by the president and a small group of aides while flying home from a summit in Europe — that claimed the meeting was about adoptions. But within days, Trump Jr. had to revise his story several times before eventually acknowledging that he was trying to procure damaging, Russia-produced information about Hillary Clinton.

“This was a bad decision by the president,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “When you get caught in a lie about one thing, it makes it hard to just say let the other stuff go.”

Press secretary Sarah Sanders said last week that Trump “weighed in as any father would, based on the limited information that he had.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump’s fundraising prowess keeps Republican Party close

Republican senators are bucking President Donald Trump’s calls to revive the health care debate. And Trump just ousted his only top White House aide with deep links to the Republican Party.

But the president and his party won’t be calling it quits anytime soon. They remain tightly linked by a force more powerful than politics or personal ties: cash.

Trump’s fundraising prowess is the engine of the Republican National Committee and a lifeline for every Republican planning to rely on the party for financial help during next year’s congressional races. Leaning heavily on Trump’s appeal among small donors, the party has raised $75 million in the first six months of the year, more than double what the Democratic National Committee had raised by the same point in President Barack Obama’s first year.

“The president is somebody who absolutely is an asset when it comes to fundraising,” RNC chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said. Trump resonates with a base of Republicans who have been more willing this year than ever before to chip in. The party says it collected more cash online in the first six months of the year than in all of 2016.

In late June, Trump played star and host of a fundraiser for his re-election campaign and the RNC. The event at the Trump International Hotel, just down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, raised $10 million to be divided between Trump and the party, the kind of bounty usually reserved for the final months before an election.

The fundraising numbers help explain why more Republicans — particularly those facing re-election next year — aren’t openly distancing themselves from a president whose approval rating hovers below 40 percent and whose White House has been wracked by public back-biting and legislative stumbles.

And while Trump hasn’t hesitated to call out Republicans who defy him, he’s largely come to appreciate the permanence the RNC offers a White House that has had to quickly staff up from nothing — a task that hasn’t always gone smoothly.

Trump’s dismissal last week of chief of staff Reince Priebus prompted a rush of concern from Republican lawmakers who’d gotten to know Priebus during his nearly six years as party chairman. Some wondered if Trump was losing his only link to the Republican Party.

Yet the well-funded RNC has been reformatted for the Trump era.

“The president likes the fact that the party is structured to help his agenda, and there’s not a question that this RNC is 100 percent loyal to him,” said Brian Ballard, one of the party’s lead fundraisers. “It’s not like the RNC he inherited as the party’s nominee; it’s his now.”

Party employees have led communication at key points of the investigations into whether the Trump campaign had anything to do with Russian interference in the presidential election.

And the RNC, realizing how important television is to this particular White House, has added employees to help book Trump proponents on cable shows.

There are awkward GOP moments, to be sure. Just this week, Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, in his new book, called out Trump for his “seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians.” Trump over the weekend on Twitter ridiculed Senate Republicans for not passing a health care bill, saying Democrats were laughing at them and they “look like fools.”

McDaniel said the president has “every right” to engage with Republicans however he sees fit. “The American people put him in office to accomplish his agenda,” she said. She’s backed him up on Twitter: “I run into people every day who are hurting across the country under Obamacare,” she wrote recently. “Giving up is not an option.”

Priebus and others at the RNC were squeamish about their presidential nominee at various points during the 2016 campaign, but few if any detractors remain at its headquarters on Capitol Hill, where the hallways are lined with portraits of Trump and blown-up snapshots of him.

The RNC voted McDaniel in as party chair on Trump’s recommendation. As the Michigan GOP head, she’d been a staunch Trump supporter even as her uncle, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, expressed his own reservations about Trump during the campaign.

Trump also tapped Bob Paduchik, his campaign’s Ohio director, to serve as a deputy to McDaniel. The two remain close, and Paduchik traveled with Trump last month for a rally in Youngstown.

Trump’s family, including son Donald Trump Jr. and daughter-in-law Lara Trump, Eric Trump’s wife, are involved in the RNC’s strategy and fundraising and have grown close to McDaniel. Longtime Trump friend Steve Wynn, a fellow billionaire businessman, is the party’s chief fundraiser; the president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is among the RNC’s principal fundraisers.

His campaign’s trusted data and digital director, Brad Parscale, joined the board of Data Trust, the party’s data vendor, which keeps its voter files up to date.

Trump heaped praise on the RNC’s leadership team during the June fundraiser, calling them stars and winners. Bill Stepien, the White House’s political director, said relations between the party and the president are as good now as they were in the mid-2000s, when he worked at the RNC while George W. Bush was president.

Stepien said the White House and the party have “a strong relationship” and that Trump’s aides view the RNC as an “essential component” of his success.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Hillary Clinton lost, but Republicans still want to investigate her

Democrat Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election to President Donald Trump, but some Republicans in Congress are intensifying their calls to investigate her and other Obama administration officials.

As investigations into Russian meddling and possible links to Trump’s campaign have escalated on both sides of the Capitol, some Republicans argue that the investigations should have a greater focus on Democrats.

Democrats who have pushed the election probes “have started a war of investigative attrition,” said GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Several officials from former President Barack Obama’s administration and Clinton’s campaign have appeared before or been interviewed by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees as part of the Russia investigation, along with Trump campaign officials. The GOP-led committees are investigating whether Trump’s campaign had any links to Russian interference in last year’s election.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., has continued a separate investigation into whether Obama administration officials inappropriately made requests to “unmask” identities of Trump campaign officials in intelligence reports.

The House Judiciary Committee, which has declined to investigate the Russian meddling, approved a resolution this past week to request documents related to the FBI’s now-closed investigation of Clinton’s emails. In addition, Republican on that committee wrote the Justice Department on Thursday and asked for a second special counsel, in addition to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, to investigate “unaddressed matters, some connected to the 2016 election and others, including many actions taken by Obama administration.”

“The American public has a right to know the facts — all of them — surrounding the election and its aftermath,” the lawmakers wrote.

Republicans want to investigate the unmasking issue and also Clinton’s email scandal that figured prominently in the campaign. They also frequently bring up former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony that she told him to call the Clinton email investigation a “matter” instead of an investigation during the campaign.

Nunes wrote his own letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats last week, saying that his committee has learned that one Obama administration official had made “hundreds” of the unmasking requests.

Even though he remains committee chairman, Nunes stepped back from the Russia investigation earlier this year after he was criticized for being too close to the White House. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, took over the leading role.

The committee has conducted bipartisan interviews of witnesses; Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner appeared on Tuesday, a day after talking to Senate staff. But partisan tensions have been evident.

GOP Rep. Pete King of New York, who’s on the House Intelligence Committee, said after the Kushner interview that the committee investigation into Russian meddling is a “sham.”

“To me there is nothing to this from the beginning,” he said of his committee’s own probe. “There is no collusion … it’s the phoniest investigation ever.”

Both the Senate and House committees have interviewed or expressed interest in interviewing a series of Democratic witnesses, including Obama’s former national security adviser, Susan Rice, and former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power — both of whom Republicans have said may be linked to the unmasking. Rice met with staff on the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month, and Power met with the panel Friday.

“Ambassador Power strongly supports any bipartisan effort to address the serious threat to our national security posed by Russia’s interference in our electoral process, and is eager to engage with the Senate and House committees on the timeline they have requested,” Power’s lawyer, David Pressman, said in a statement.

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