Barack Obama Archives - Page 7 of 95 - Florida Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

How communities shaped by refugees became Donald Trump country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

No one invited the Somali refugees to Lewiston.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

Politicians have seized on the discontent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

So Mohamed Ibrahim now knocks on doors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Rick Scott optimistic about partnership with White House on Zika

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____

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

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

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

Hence, the importance of a collaborative response.

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

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

Florida economists join national letter urging embrace of immigration

Economists from Florida, Florida State, Miami, and Florida International universities are among nearly 1,500 nationally that sent a letter to President Donald Trump and congressional leaders Wednesday urging immigration reform and embrace of immigration.

In addition to the Florida economists, the 1,470 signatories include six Nobel Laureates and members of the presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama Administrations, as well as leading economists from across the country, according to organizers, the New American Economy and Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum.

“The undersigned economists represent a broad swath of political and economic views. Among us are Republicans and Democrats alike. Some of us favor free markets while others have championed for a larger role for government in the economy. But on some issues there is near universal agreement. One such issue concerns the broad economic benefit that immigrants to this country bring,” the letter opens.

The letter, also sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“Immigration undoubtedly has economic costs as well, particularly for Americans in certain industries and Americans with lower levels of educational attainment. But the benefits that immigration brings to society far outweigh their costs, and smart immigration policy could better maximize the benefits of immigration while reducing the costs,” it continues.

“We urge Congress to modernize our immigration system in a way that maximizes the opportunity immigration can bring, and reaffirms continuing the rich history of welcoming immigrants to the United States,” the economists letter concludes.

Among the signatories are Joseph Calhoun of Florida State University; Hugo J. Faria, University of Miami; Mark Flannery, University of Florida; and Cem Karayalcin, Florida International University.

Among nationally prominent signatories are Nobel Laureates Vernon Smith of Chapman University; 2002; Oliver Hart, Harvard University; Alvin E. Roth, Stanford University; Angus Deaton, Princeton University; Lars Peter Hansen,  University of Chicago; and Roger Myerson, University of Chicago; George P. Schultz, former secretary of state for Reagan; James C. Miller III, former Office of Management and Budget director for Reagan; Holtz-Eakin, of George H.W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors; Alice Rivlin, OMB director for Clinton; Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors for George W. Bush; and Austan Goolsbee and Jason Furman, who each served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors for Obama.

The letter cites four key advantages of immigration:

– Immigration brings entrepreneurs who start new businesses that hire American workers.

– Immigration brings young workers who help offset the large-scale retirement of baby boomers.

– Immigration brings diverse skill sets that keep our workforce flexible, help companies grow, and increase the productivity of American workers.

– And mmigrants are far more likely to work in innovative, job-creating fields such as science, technology, engineering, and math that create life-improving products and drive economic growth.

 

Carlos Frontela chastened by 2016 mistakes, is fired up for House District 62 bid

In declaring his candidacy early for the Tampa-based House District 62 seat, Carlos Frontela already demonstrates he’s learned from rookie mistakes made last year in his bid for the Hillsborough County School Board.

“I jumped in really late, two months before the primary,” he says, reminiscing about his ill-fated run for the District 7 seat ultimately captured by Lynn Gray last November.

“No time to really organize, no time to really gain any campaign contributions,” he says which is why he’s working on qualifying by petition to get on the ballot next year in the seat that will be vacated by a term-limited Janet Cruz.

The 42-year-old Frontela was born in Cuba and grew up in New Jersey before moving to Tampa in 2004. He owns his own small business, a document preparation service based in an office located near Raymond James Stadium in West Tampa.

“I think the Legislature could use somebody like me with business experience,” he said Tuesday. “I’m not necessarily a career politician. I can bring some sense of normalcy where I can reach across the aisle and do things a bipartisan process.”

Frontela looks forward to campaigning next year in earnest, acknowledging that with a full-time business and five children, it won’t be easy.

Frontela often speaks about working to find common ground with Republicans in Tallahassee to pass bills helping his constituents.

“That’s very important,” he says. “If you’re going to just go up there and play partisan politics, it’s not going to work.”

The subject prompts a riff on what Frontela calls a mistake by Senate Democrats in Washington opposing Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump‘s first nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. Gorsuch was sworn onto the court Monday.

“Neil Gorsuch was confirmed unanimously via voice vote to the 10th Judicial Circuit (of Appeals),” he recounts about that 2006 vote in which Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein and other Senate Democrats — those who opposed him last week — supported him 11 years beforehand.

“People can see clearly that was a show. It was partisan politics,” he says, criticizing his own party. The Democratic wall of opposition in the Senate led Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to break out the “nuclear option,” allowing just a bare minimum approval of 51 senators to confirm Gorsuch, versus the filibuster-proof 60 votes previously required to confirm Supreme Court no.

“Next time when a real, right-leaning conservative judge gets appointed, you’d have faith with the general public,” he says. “Now you don’t. You got the nuclear option. God knows a way right-wing justice will get through (next time) with just 51 votes.”

Regarding the battle between Republican Richard Corcoran and Rick Scott over Enterprise Florida, Frontela takes Scott’s side in believing tax incentives help businesses and communities.

He not only supports medical marijuana (though not the way the GOP-led Legislature is debating how to implement the matter) but the legalization of recreational marijuana as well. “We have two other drugs on the market that are completely legal and completely taxes, and they kill countless individuals every year,” says Frontela. “And those are alcohol and tobacco.”

“We have two other drugs on the market that are completely legal and completely taxes, and they kill countless individuals every year,” says Frontela. “And those are alcohol and tobacco.”

He considers raising the state’s minimum wage to at least $10 an hour his top issue, as well as restoring the civil and voting rights of ex-felons.

About last year’s presidential contest, Frontela is of the opinion that the Democratic National Committee “rigged” the primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Clinton’s favor.

“That turned off a lot of people,” he says of fellow Democrats, “and a lot of people didn’t turn out.”

Frontera had a lifelong interest in politics, going back to when he was 13 and volunteered for the campaign of New Jersey Democratic Albio Sires, who in 1986 was running for Congress for the first time.

As a Cuban-American, Frontela supports the diplomatic breakthrough with the communist island led by Barack Obama in 2014.

Learn more about Frontela’s platform by going to his website: CharlieFor62.com.

Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor want Congress consulted on military force in Syria

The two Tampa Bay-area Democratic members of Congress — Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist — say they support President Donald Trump‘s military action in Syria Thursday night. both say that the House of Representatives should immediately reconvene so that members can debate the use of military force there.

But both say the House of Representatives should reconvene immediately so members can debate the use of military force there.

That seems doubtful, perhaps, as the House is breaking Thursday for a two-week Easter recess.

“The Tomahawk missile strike on the Syrian air base was an important and targeted response to Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons,” Castor said. “Russia and Iran should be held accountable as well for their support of Assad and his war on the Syrian people.”

“The continued atrocities committed by Bashar al-Assad against innocent men, women, and most horrifyingly, children and infants, are an assault on humanity and must be stopped,” said Crist. “Last night’s targeted airstrikes were a proportional and appropriate response, making clear that these war crimes will not go unanswered.”

Both Democratic lawmakers say that the Constitution puts the responsibility to declare war with the Congress, and that the President should make his case before them if he is prepared to engage further in Syria.

‎”Congressional leaders, the Trump Administration and Obama Administration have been derelict in following the requirements of the Constitution and law for a formal Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF),” said Castor. “The military strike on Syria and ongoing war on ISIS should prod policymakers to return to Washington and adopt a new AUMF.”

“Congress must also do its part and return immediately from recess to debate an Authorization for Use of Military Force to determine a comprehensive strategy for the United States and our allies,” said Crist. “We need clear objectives to end this crisis to protect our troops and the Syrian people.”

Castor has previously criticized Barack Obama for not getting an Authorization for Use of Military Force in engaging in battle with the Islamic State, criticism that some other Democrats made as well, none more loudly than Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

Congressional Democrats as a whole seem to be parroting a consistent line Friday, praising Trump for the cruise missile attacks on a Syrian military base, but insisting he go before the Congress to get authorization before any further action.

Analysis: For Donald Trump, the weight of world’s problems sink in

For Donald Trump, the reality of the world’s problems may be starting to sink in.

Standing in the sunny White House Rose Garden, the president said Wednesday that the gruesome chemical weapons attack in Syria had changed his views on the quagmire of a conflict that he’d previously indicated he wanted to steer clear of. He mourned the deaths of the youngest victims — “innocent children, innocent babies” — and said brutality had “crossed a lot of lines for me.”

“It is now my responsibility,” he declared.

The president’s words were far from a declaration that he intends to act, and he notably avoided discussing what retaliatory options he would be willing to consider. Ultimately, his rhetoric may well land among the litany of harsh condemnations of Syrian President Bashar Assad by Barack Obama and other world leaders that did little to quell the six-year civil war.

Yet Trump’s willingness to accept that he now bears some responsibility for a far-away conflict marked a significant moment for an “America First” president who has vowed to focus narrowly on U.S. interests. His comments also suggested a growing awareness that an American president — even an unconventional one like him — is looked to as defender of human rights and a barometer of when nations have violated international norms.

The bloodshed in Syria is just one of the intractable international problems piling up around Trump. North Korea appears intent on building up its nuclear program, despite vague threats from his administration. The Islamic State group is still wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria, while a Pentagon review of U.S. strategy sits on his desk.

Trump conceded Wednesday that of all the world’s problems, the Middle East is one area he would rather avoid. His decision to at least rhetorically take a measure of responsibility was all the more striking given his frequent shoveling of blame for problems big and small onto anyone but himself.

In public, he faults Obama for leaving him “a mess” and says his campaign opponent Hillary Clinton is behind the flood of revelations possibly linking his campaign to Russia. In private, he berates his staff for failing to fix the self-made crises that have battered the White House, including his pair of travel bans blocked by the courts and the failure to pass health care legislation.

Trump initially took the same blame-shifting approach in addressing the deadly attack in Syria. In a short written statement Tuesday, he said the carnage was “a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution.”

In 2013, Obama pulled back from planned airstrikes against Syria following a chemical weapons attack, despite having declared that the deployment of deadly gases would cross a “red line” for him. Obama’s decision was widely criticized in the U.S. and by Middle Eastern allies, and undermined later attempts to compel Assad to leave office.

“The regrettable failure to take military action in 2013 to prevent Assad’s use of chemical weapons remains a blight on the Western world,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Still, foreign policy officials within the Trump administration were irritated by the president’s eagerness to focus on his predecessor in his first reaction. Some wanted him to focus more on condemning Assad and highlighting U.S. resolve.

Their objections did little to sway the president at the time. But just a day later, Trump appeared more willing to embrace the gravity of the situation and his new role in it.

His posture may well have been impacted by the fact that his remarks in the Rose Garden came after meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, whose country has borne the brunt of the refugee crisis spurred by the Syrian war. Jordan is among Washington’s most important partners in the region and is significantly dependent on the United States.

Abdullah, who worked closely with Obama, enthusiastically embraced Trump’s condemnation of the chemical weapons attack. During a joint news conference, he said to Trump, “I believe under your leadership we will be able to unravel this very complicated situation.”

Eliot Cohen, a Trump critic who served in the State Department under President George W. Bush, said that whether Trump intended to or not, he now has put himself in the same position as Obama, raising the stakes for action in Syria, perhaps without having thought out whether he plans to follow through.

“The deep irony here is you may see a lot of the same failures that the Obama administration had except delivered with a different style,” Cohen said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump steps up effort to dispute and distract on Russia

After weeks on the defensive, President Donald Trump has stepped up his efforts to dispute, downplay and distract from revelations stemming from the investigations into the Kremlin’s interference in last year’s election and possible Russian ties to his campaign associates.

The White House says the real story is not about Russia — it’s about how Obama administration officials allegedly leaked and mishandled classified material about Americans. Trump and his aides have accused former officials of inappropriately disclosing — or “unmasking” — the names of Trump associates whose conversations were picked up by U.S. intelligences agencies.

“Such amazing reporting on unmasking and the crooked scheme against us by @foxandfriends,” Trump tweeted Monday. ‘Spied on before nomination.’ The real story.”

The White House has not pointed to any hard evidence to support such allegations, and instead has relied on media reports from some of the same publications Trump derides as “fake news.”

The truth is buried somewhere in classified material that is illegal to disclose. Here’s a look at what the White House believes is the real story.

__

THE FLYNN AFFAIR

Trump fired national security adviser Michael Flynn following news reports that Flynn misled the White House about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. But the White House says the problem is that Flynn’s conversations were in the news at all.

“The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?” Trump tweeted after firing Flynn in February.

The White House has called for investigations into the disclosure of multiple intercepted conversations that Flynn had with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the inauguration. The government routinely monitors the communications of foreign officials in the U.S. It’s illegal to publicly disclose such classified information.

Officially, the White House said Flynn was forced to resign because he had given inaccurate descriptions of the discussions to Vice President Mike Pence and others in the White House. But Trump has continued to defend Flynn, suggesting he was only fired because information about his contacts came out in the media.

“Michael Flynn, Gen. Flynn is a wonderful man,” Trump said. “I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media.”

___

THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

White House officials say some Obama holdovers are part of a so-called deep state out to tear Trump down.

Last week, the White House latched onto a month-old television interview from an Obama administration official who said she encouraged congressional aides to gather as much information on Russia as possible before the inauguration.

Evelyn Farkas, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense, said she feared that information “would disappear” after President Barack Obama left office. She was no longer in government at the time, having left the Pentagon about a year before the election.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer called Farkas’ comments “devastating” and said they “raised serious concerns on whether or not there was an organized and widespread effort by the Obama administration to use and leak highly sensitive intelligence information for political purposes.”

On Monday, Spicer suggested there should be more interest in a Bloomberg report in which anonymous U.S. officials said that Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, asked for the identities of people related to Trump’s campaign and transition dozens of times.

Spicer remarked that he was “somewhat intrigued by the lack of interest” in the Rice revelations. But he added: “I do think that it’s interesting, the level, or lack thereof, of interest in this subject.”

As national security adviser, Rice would have regularly received intelligence reports and been able to request the identities of Americans whose communications were intercepted.

___

THE HILL WEIGHS IN

The White House has embraced a top Republican’s assertion that information about Trump associates were improperly spread around the government in the final days of the Obama administration. It appears the White House played a role in helping House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., acquire some of that information.

Nunes announced last week that he had seen intelligence reports showing that Trump aides’ communications were picked up through routine surveillance. But he said their identities may have been improperly revealed. The California congressman later said he viewed the reports at the White House.

The White House contends that Nunes’ information — which has not been made public — validates Trump’s explosive claim that his predecessor wiretapped his New York skyscraper. Nunes has disputed that but still says he found the reports “troubling.”

The White House’s apparent involvement in helping Nunes access the information has overshadowed what Trump officials contend are real concerns about how much information about Americans is disseminated in intelligence reports. Trump has asked the House and Senate intelligence committees to include the matter in their Russia investigations.

___

CAMPAIGN MODE

Trump won the election, but thinks it’s his vanquished opponent whose ties to Russia should be investigated.

Some of the White House’s allegations against Clinton stem from her four years as secretary of state, a role that gave her ample reasons to have frequent contacts with Russia.

To deflect questions about Trump’s friendly rhetoric toward Russia, the White House points to the fact that Clinton was a central figure in the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” relations with Moscow — an effort that crumbled after Vladimir Putin took back the presidency.

“When you compare the two sides in terms of who’s actually engaging with Russia, trying to strengthen them, trying to act with them, trying to interact with them, it is night and day between our actions and her actions,” Spicer said.

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s secretary of state, has deep ties to Russia from his time running ExxonMobil and cutting oil deals with Moscow.

The White House has also tried to link Clinton to Russia’s purchase of a controlling stake in a mining company with operations in the U.S., arguing that she was responsible for “selling off one-fifth of our country’s uranium.”

The Clinton-led State Department was among nine U.S. government agencies that had to approve the purchase of Uranium One. According to Politifact, some investors in the company had relationships with former President Bill Clinton and donated to the Clinton Foundation. However, the fact checking site says most of those donations occurred well before Clinton became secretary of state and was in position to have a say in the agreement.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Congress seen as not likely to pass tax overhaul quickly

After their humiliating loss on health care, Republicans in Congress could use a quick victory on a big issue. It won’t be an overhaul of the tax code.

Overhauling the tax code could prove harder to accomplish than repealing and replacing Barack Obama‘s health law. Congressional Republicans are divided on significant issues, especially a new tax on imports embraced by House Speaker Paul Ryan. And the White House is sending contradicting signals on the new tax, adding to the uncertainty.

House Republicans also can’t decide whether to move on from health care. Ryan canceled a scheduled vote on a House GOP plan after it became obvious that Republicans didn’t have the votes. He said he will continue to work on the issue but one of his top lieutenants on health care, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, says he is now “100 percent” focused on a tax overhaul.

Ryan says Congress can work on both at the same time. It won’t be easy. Here’s why:

___

REPUBLICAN DIVIDE

House and Senate Republicans largely agree on the broad outlines of a tax overhaul. They want to lower tax rates for individuals and corporations, and make up the lost revenue by scaling back tax breaks.

But they are sharply divided on a key tenet of the House Republican plan.

The new “border adjustment tax” would be applied to profits from goods and services consumed in the U.S., whether they are domestically produced or imported. Exports would be exempt.

House GOP leaders say the tax is key to lowering the top corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent.

But good luck finding a single Republican senator who will publicly support the tax. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is the latest in a long line of Republican senators to come out against the tax.

___

ABSENT DEMOCRATS

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says he wants to work with Democrats to overhaul the tax code.

“A bipartisan bill would allow us to put in place more lasting reforms and give the overall effort additional credibility,” Hatch said.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said it is bad policy to pass major legislation without bipartisan support.

“Without some meaningful buy-in, you guarantee a food fight,” McConnell wrote in his memoir last year. “You guarantee instability and strife.”

But in the House, Republicans haven’t reached out to Democrats in any meaningful way.

___

WHERE’S THE WHITE HOUSE?

“Obviously we’re driving the train on this,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.

But President Donald Trump‘s administration has been all over the map on tax reform. Trump at one point said the House border tax is too complicated, then said it’s in the mix.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told a Senate panel that “there would be no absolute tax cut for the upper class” in Trump’s tax plan.

However, the plan Trump unveiled during his presidential campaign would provide big tax breaks to high-income households.

Since taking office, Trump has promised “massive” tax cuts for the middle class.

A former Treasury official under President Barack Obama says the White House needs to stake out clear goals on tax overhaul to guide the debate in Congress.

“I think it’s important for the administration to signal early the general shape” of what they would like to accomplish so that there are fewer proposals vying for attention, said Michael Mundaca, a former assistant Treasury secretary now at Ernst & Young.

___

TAX CHANGE IS DIFFICULT

There is a reason it’s been 31 years since the last time Congress rewrote the tax code. Since then, the number of exemptions, deductions and credits has mushroomed. Taxpayers enjoyed $1.6 trillion in tax breaks in 2016 — more than the federal government collected in individual income taxes.

That huge number could provide plenty of tax breaks that lawmakers can scale back so they can lower tax rates significantly. There is just one problem — all of the biggest tax breaks are very popular and have powerful constituencies.

Nearly 34 million families claimed the mortgage interest deduction in 2016. That same year more than 43 million families took advantage of a deduction of state and local taxes.

The House Republicans’ tax plan would retain the mortgage deduction and eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes.

___

HEALTH CARE

Both Trump and Republicans in Congress made big campaign promises to repeal and replace Obama’s health law, so the issue won’t go away.

However, several players say negotiations on a way forward are non-existent. In the meantime, Trump is stoking animosity among a key voting bloc by criticizing them on Twitter.

Two factions in the House GOP had members oppose the health plan: the hard-right Freedom Caucus and the moderate Tuesday Group.

Ryan has suggested that they get together to sort out their differences, but it’s not happening, according to one key lawmaker.

“We are not currently negotiating with the Freedom Caucus. There was never a meeting scheduled with the Freedom Caucus. We will never meet with the Freedom Caucus,” said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a member of the Tuesday Group.

Trump tweeted: “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!”

To quote a favorite saying of the president, Not nice.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Poll: Most disapprove of Donald Trump, except on economy

Most Americans disapprove of Donald Trump‘s overall performance two months into his presidency. But they’re more upbeat about at least one critical area: his handling of the economy.

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans disapprove of Trump’s overall performance, and about the same percentage say the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. It was conducted amid the collapse of the GOP’s health care overhaul.

But the poll also found a brighter spot for the businessman-politician on the economy, often a major driver of presidential success or failure. There, Americans split about evenly, with 50 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving of Trump’s efforts.

“He’s driving the car off the cliff in every other kind of policy and executive action he’s trying to push through, but (not) the economy,” said Ryan Mills, a 27-year-old tobacco company chemist from Greensboro, North Carolina.

Overall, just 42 percent of Americans approve and 58 percent disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president. That’s an unusually poor rating by historical standards for a still-young administration.

By contrast, at this point in their presidencies, Barack Obama‘s approval rating was above 60 percent in Gallup polling and George W. Bush‘s was above 50 percent. Gallup’s own measure of Trump’s approval has dipped below 40 percent.

Trump has suffered defeats in the federal courts, which twice temporarily halted his travel ban on some foreigners, and in Congress, where discord among Republicans has stymied legislation to up-end Obama’s signature health care law. The FBI, along with Congress, is probing Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and any possible coordination with the Trump campaign.

The president has responded in public with belligerent tweets often blaming the media, Democrats, conservative Republicans and others.

The AP-NORC poll did show Republicans still far more likely to approve than disapprove of Trump, a fifth of GOP respondents said they don’t approve of his performance. Among independents, six in 10 disapprove.

Notably, whites — who formed an important chunk of Trump’s political base during the election — divide about evenly on the approval question, 53 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving.

But there are signs in the poll that Trump’s base is holding and that people are willing to give him a chance on the still-strong economy.

Fifty-eight percent of whites without a college degree — who were especially likely to vote for Trump — approve of the job he’s doing overall.

Nearly 20 percent of those who disapprove of Trump’s overall performance still approve of how he’s handling the economy. And most Americans — 56 percent — describe the national economy as good, while 43 percent describe it as poor. About a year ago, in April of 2016, just 42 percent of Americans described the economy as good in another AP-NORC poll.

The current majority extends across party lines, with 63 percent of Republicans, 54 percent of independents and 53 percent of Democrats describing the national economy as good.

Trump voter Joshlyn Smith, a Riverside County, California, law enforcement officer, said the president needs to move past “the Twitter stuff” that often mires him in social media spats — and focus instead on the nation’s policy.

“I feel like I want to give him a fair shot, especially in terms of helping on taxes and the economy,” said Smith, 38. “On a personal level, I think he’s too involved with how he’s portrayed in the media. I want him to have a little bit tougher skin.”

The approval ratings of many presidents through history are linked to the economy, with several — including Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama — suffering politically for downturns during their first year in the White House, according to a project by the Miller Center at The University of Virginia.

Trump inherited a strong economy, which might be leading people to give him a chance to maintain it, said Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the Miller Center.

“It starts with how they’re feeling about their pocketbooks and their family budget,” Perry said. For presidents, “if you can keep the economy going well and having people feel good about (it), good about their lives and therefore good about the country, that can cover a multitude of sins.”

The poll, conducted over five days preceding and following last Friday’s collapse of the GOP health care bill, suggests the political damage could be hard for Trump to leave behind even if the economy stays strong.

It was a galling setback for the president and the Republicans who control Congress. Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin canceled a House vote that would have spelled defeat for the legislation because too many Republicans opposed it.

In other findings:

— More than 6 in 10 Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of health care, the worst of seven issues tested in the poll. Three in 10 Republicans feel that way, as do 6 in 10 independents and 90 percent of Democrats.

— Eighty-six percent call health care a very or extremely important issue to them personally, nearly as many as the 87 percent who say the same about the economy.

— Along with health care, majorities of Americans also disapprove of Trump’s handling of foreign policy, immigration, the budget deficit and taxes. Half approve of how he is handling Supreme Court appointments.

— Most Americans — 62 percent — say the country is headed in the wrong direction, while just 37 percent say it’s headed in the right direction. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans say the country is headed in the right direction, while just a third of independents and less than a fifth of Democrats say the same.

___

The AP-NORC poll of 1,110 adults was conducted March 23-27 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.

Interviews were conducted online and using landlines and cellphones.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons