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DCCC puts Vern Buchanan and Mario Diaz-Ballart near the top of its ‘2018 Retirement Watch List’

Emboldened by the news that South Florida Republican Illeana Ros-Lehtinen will not run for re-election next year, the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee (DCCC) released its “2018 Republican Retirement Watchlist.”

While Alaska’s Don Young tops the list, Sarasota’s Vern Buchanan and Miami-Dade’s Mario Diaz Balart are listed second and third, respectively.

“Given the negative national environment for the Republican Party, the DCCC knows that there are more retirements to come, particularly in districts that tend to vote for Democrats in other elected positions,” says Tyler Law, national press secretary at the DCCC.

While Buchanan barely survived to win his very first run for his seat in 2006 against Democrat Christine Jennings, he has not since faced a serious challenge. He crushed Democrat Jan Schneider last fall, winning by almost 20 percentage points.

In response to the DCCC, Buchanan spokesperson Gretchen Anderson quipped, “Good to see they still have a sense of humor over there.”

Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate in the GOP House Caucus who has disagreed sharply with Donald Trump, insisted in her announcement that she would not run for re-election that Trump had nothing to do with her decision, which when she steps down next year will mark 30 years in Congress. But the DCCC isn’t buying that, saying that the likely motivating factors in her retirement was her “inability to defend House Republicans’ misplaced priorities and dysfunction in this very Democratic leaning district and the daunting prospect of running for reelection in the shadow of President Trump.”

While it’s true that Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in Ros-Lehtinen’s CD 27 seat last November, it should be noted that she dusted off her Democratic opponent, Scott Fuhrman, by 10 percent points.

Here is the DCCC’s 2018 retirement watch list:

  1. Don Young (AK-AL)
  2. Vern Buchanan (FL-16)
  3. Mario Diaz-Ballart (FL-25)
  4. Fred Upton (MI-06)
  5. Frank Lobiondo (NJ-02)             
  6. Leonard Lance (NJ-07)
  7. Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11)
  8. Pete King (NY-02)
  9. Patrick Meehan (PA-07)
  10. Charlie Dent (PA-15)
  11. Jaime Herrera-Beutler (WA-03)
  12. Dave Reichert (WA-08)

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will not run for re-election in 2018

Democratic hopes to retake the House in 2018 received a boost Sunday, with the announcement that longtime South Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will not run for re-election.

“There was no epiphany. There was no moment, nothing that has happened that I’ve said, “I’ve got to move on,’” Ros-Lehtinen, who represents Florida’s 27th Congressional District, told the Miami Herald’s Patricia Mazzei in an exclusive interview. “It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected — but it’s not about getting elected.”

Ros-Lehtinen served in Congress for 29 years, first elected in 1988. Last November, she defeated Democrat Scott Fuhrman, a first-time candidate, by 10 percentage points — the closest margin in years. But Ros-Lehtinen — the first Hispanic woman and first Cuban-American ever elected to Congress — said she had no concerns about being re-elected in 2018 if she chose to retain the seat.

“There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I would not only win in this election, but I would win by a greater percentage,” Ros-Lehtinen said confidently.

Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 20 percentage points in Ros-Lehtinen’s district last year, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already boldly declaring that they’ll now take the seat next year. C

“As one of the most Democratic districts held by a Republican Representative, this district was always going to be competitive, ” said Cole Leiter, a spokesman for the DCCC. “Now it is all but guaranteed to be won by a Democrat who will finally provide the hard working people who live there the representation they deserve. As more vulnerable Republicans recognized the distance between their party and their districts, this retirement could well be the first of many.”

In January, the DCCC listed her, along with three other Florida Republicans, as part of a group of lawmakers targeted nationally in a midterm memo circulated to various Democratic allies.

“Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is simply a force of nature,” said NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers. “Her tireless work ethic was only matched by her charismatic personality. She represented her South Florida district well and she will be dearly missed in Washington. I wish her and her family the best. I am confident we will keep this seat red in 2018.”

Ros-Lehtinen was one GOP House moderate who did not support the Paul Ryan led American Health Care Act that was pulled at the last hour back in March. She hasn’t sounded that enthusiastic about the amended health care bill that may be voted on this week, but she says that Trump is not the reason she is stepping down at the age of 64.

“It’s not been part of the calculation of retiring,” she said of Trump, adding, “I would be talking to you even if Hillary Clinton were president.”

Undoubtedly, there will be those announcing their candidacies for the seat over the next few months. Fuhrman already announced he would run again for the seat in 2018, as has Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez.

Fellow Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, who represents the adjoining South Florida’s 25th Congressional District, called Ros-Lehtinen “one of the most respected and admired” members of Congress. For almost four decades, Ileana has served our community with honor and integrity. From her days as an

“For almost four decades, Ileana has served our community with honor and integrity,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement Sunday afternoon. “From her days as an educator to the Florida Legislature, and now ending her tenure in Congress, Ileana truly exemplifies what it means to be a public servant. She never seeks political expediency and always puts the interests of her constituents first. From one corner of the globe to another, she is tireless in her crusade for human rights and democracy.

“To say Ileana is a trusted friend and mentor to me is an understatement; she is a part of my family, and I will dearly miss ‘mi hermana legislativa’ in the halls of Congress. I wish nothing but the best for Ileana, her husband Dexter, their children, and their grandchildren as she begins this next chapter in her life.”

Democrat Ted Deutch, part of the Florida delegation from bit further north in the 22nd Congressional District, called Ros-Lehtinen’s retirement a “tremendous loss” for both South Florida and the entire country.

“As a public servant, she has worked tirelessly for her constituents for over three decades. Hardly a day goes by where Ileana isn’t on the House floor celebrating a remarkable person or event in her district.

Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen after bipartisan delegation visit to Israel in July 2014. (Photo courtesy Ted Deutch)

“Ileana broke barriers as the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress and the first female Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She has been a stalwart champion for human rights around the world, a voice for the oppressed, an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ equality, and one of the most steadfast defenders of Israel. Her legislative contributions have led to some of the toughest international sanctions against Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, and the promotion of democracy worldwide.

“From the moment I arrived in Congress, Ileana has been a friend and a partner. We have worked together countless times from championing equality to strengthening the U.S. — Israel relationship. It has been a pleasure and an honor to serve with her as Ranking Member of the Middle East Subcommittee. Her humor and good nature (see photo!) provides a welcome respite from the partisan challenges we face each day. Every Member of Congress should learn something from the way Ileana has conducted herself over the past 28 years. She has crossed the aisle to stand up for what she believes is right. She has stood firm in her convictions and stood up for those she represents even when it meant making tough political choices.

“As she finishes out her current term, I know that Ileana will work just as hard as she always has for the people of South Florida and on behalf of our country. I look forward to continuing to work alongside her for the next year and a half, and I will miss working with her when she is gone.”

Deutch’s statement included a photo of him and Ros-Lehtinen at a bipartisan delegation visit to Israel in July 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wrote:

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

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

He signed his letter: “With Hope.”

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

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

She wrote:

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

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

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

Read more about Esparza.

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

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

She wrote:

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

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

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

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‘YOUR SIGNATURE CRUSHED MY FAMILY’

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

She wrote:

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

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

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

Read more about Vayghan.

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

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

He wrote:

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

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

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

Read more about McDonald.

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

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

She wrote:

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

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

Read more about Streech.

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REFUGEE PRAYS GOD WILL GIVE THE PRESIDENT WISDOM

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

He wrote:

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

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

Read more about Bandas.

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

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

He wrote:

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

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

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

Read more about Yearick.

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

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

She wrote:

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

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

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

Read more about Young.

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

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

She wrote:

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

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

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

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LA TEEN: FOCUS ON HELPING PEOPLE, NOT MAKING MONEY

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

She wrote:

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

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

Read more about Sones.

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

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

He wrote:

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

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

Read more about Harry.

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

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

She wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

As Frank Artiles departs, Dwight Bullard contemplates return to Senate

Dwight Bullard, the Senate Democrat unseated by Frank Artiles last year, may be looking to return.

Jessica Bakeman of POLITICO Florida reports that former Sen. Bullard is “seriously considering” a run after Artiles resigned Friday morning after the fallout from a racist and sexist tirade he made Monday at Tallahassee’s Governors Club.

“I’d be lying if I said interest wasn’t there,” Bullard said, “but I still need time to process it all and make a final decision.”

In 2016, Bullard had lost re-election in Senate District 40, a district that went 57-40 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Although Bullard had support from the Florida Education Association, which gave $825,000 to his campaign, Artiles won 50-41 percent.

Bullard said his loss to Artiles came after the Cuban-American Republican catered to the Latino majority in the newly redrawn (and Democratic-leaning) district, while “patently ignoring” black voters.

It was “ironic” that pressure from black Senate colleagues caused Artiles to step down for using a slang form of the “N-word” about white GOP senators, he added.

“That same community that he chose to ignore are the ones who led to his demise,” Bullard told POLITICO. “That should resonate with anyone thinking about running for the seat, whether they’re a Democrat or a Republican.”

If Bullard, a Miami public school teacher, should run again, he hopes the Republican Party doesn’t spend “almost a million dollars … to tell everyone that I was a terrorist sympathizer, since that was the approach they took in that campaign.”

“They painted me out to be the boogeyman to a group of people who didn’t know who I was, to begin with,” he explained. “And so that was the narrative that won.”

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.

Darryl Paulson: The Era of Bad Feelings

The Era of Good Feelings is the term used to describe the aftermath of the War of 1812 where the American nation sought to establish national unity during a period of one-party dominance. The Federalist Party, representing the urban and aristocratic citizens, disappeared after the disastrous Hartford Convention in 1814, leaving only the Jeffersonian Republicans as the sole political party. The Jeffersonian Republicans so dominated the political landscape that President James Monroe ran unopposed in 1820 and would have won a unanimous vote in the electoral college except for the vote of a few rouge electors.

With the death of the Federalist Party, Monroe went on a national goodwill tour in 1817. While in Boston, the former Federalist stronghold, the term Era of Good Feeling was first used in a local paper.

I am coining a new term to describe the current state of affairs of American politics: the Era of Bad Feelings.

We have two political parties and each one hates the other. While political parties, by nature, are competitive, they have had a history of working together until the 1980s. After about a half-century of Democratic Party dominance in Congress from the 1930s to the 1980s, the Republican Party decided to stop working with the Democrats and, instead, oppose them on virtually every issue. Compromise was replaced by conflict.

The end of compromise led to the collapse of ideological diversity in both political parties. Entering the 1980s, both the Republican and Democratic Parties had a mix of moderates, liberals and conservatives. Today, the Republicans have a few moderates among the mostly conservative ranks, and the Democrats have a few moderates among its liberal base. The political center is gone and the political extremes dominate both parties.

Political hatred of the other party has grown so strong, that it affects what we read, what we watch, where we live and even who we marry. A Pew Research study of 10,000 Americans found that partisans prefer living in communities of like-minded individuals. Fifty percent of conservatives and 35 percent of liberals think it is “important to live in a place where people share my political views.”

Liberals watch MSNBC and read American Prospect, the Progressive and the Daily Kos. Conservatives have Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to listen to, and they read the Drudge Report, Weekly Standard, National Review and Breitbart.

As Americans increasingly live in communities of like-minded individuals and limit their viewing and reading only to sources that support their political views, it has led to a hardening of the political arteries. They constantly have their own political views reinforced instead of challenged.

Political hatred is becoming so ingrained in Americans that parents increasingly object to their children marrying outside their faith. I’m not talking about religious faith, but their political faith. A half-century ago, only 5 percent of Americans objected if their child married a member of the opposite party. Today, that number has increased to 40 percent.

As part of the growing intolerance of those who hold opposing political views, we increasingly engage in stereotyping to justify our hatred. Instead of dealing with individuals, it is easier to ascribe negative traits to everyone who belongs to the “wrong party.”

Republicans stereotype Democrats as socialists intent on destroying the free enterprise system and encouraging individuals to go on welfare rather than work. Remember Mitt Romney‘s statement to Republican donors that he could not win the vote of 47 percent of the American voters because they were dependent on government handouts?

Democrats attack Republicans as homophobic Neanderthals who hate women and minorities, and they have no compassion for the less fortunate in society.

Stereotyping is the lazy person’s way to stop dealing with people as individuals and instead lump everyone together as a bad person. It is so much easier to dismiss the ideas of an entire group, than it is to sit down and talk about an issue and how to resolve it.

The most recent manifestation of the Era of Bad Feelings is the 2016 presidential election. Many Republicans hated Hillary Clinton. They would argue that they disliked her because of her policies, but most could not envision any circumstance under which they could support her.

Democrats hated Donald Trump because they viewed him as a racist and a womanizer, and they also believed he was unprepared to be president. To many Democrats, the billionaire Trump could never understand the burdens of poor Americans.

Sixty-three million Americans voted for Trump and, yet, somehow Democrats are convinced all of them were crazy. Clinton received 3 million more votes than Trump, but Republicans saw this as a sign of Democratic insanity.

If we spent a fraction of the time trying to understand and empathize with members of the other party, we may actually find that most of them are decent, honest people who have the same concerns that we have. We might even discover that they may have a better idea than we have.

We cannot expect more of politicians than we expect of ourselves. It is time to end the irrational hatred that is counter to our real values and is impeding our ability to solve the problems that desperately need to be solved.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics, political parties and elections.

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.

Kathy Castor agrees with Hillary Clinton; misogyny played a role in her loss

In her first interview since she lost the race for president in November, Hillary Clinton said last week that “Certainly, misogyny played a role.”

“I mean, that just has to be admitted,” she told New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff last Thursday night. “And why and what the underlying reasons were is what I’m trying to parse out myself.”

Congresswoman Kathy Castor agrees.

“What struck me is some interviews on TV during the campaign folks out in Pennsylvania where young people would say, ‘I don’t believe in having a female president.’ I was taken aback,” the Tampa Democrat said Monday “I don’t hear a lot of young women saying that ever.”

Castor believes “there is something that permeates this opposition to female as executives. You see it especially in corporate boardrooms.”

Castor has served in Congress for 10 years. Before that, she served on the Hillsborough County of Commission for one four-year term. When asked if she herself has had to deal with sexism in Washington or Tampa, she says, “a little bit.”

Castor serves on the Energy and Power Subcommittee in Congress, the only female on the thirty-three member large board. When she was recently called upon to ask a question, she says was addressed as “Mr. Castor.”

Meanwhile, as with most congressional Democrats, Castor came out last Friday in support of the President’s cruise missile attacks on Syria, two days after President Bashar al-Assad unleashed chemical weapons on his own people. In a statement, Castor added that she wants the president to confer with Congress on any other possible military action.

When asked what she would like to happen on dealing with Assad, Castor said a plan of action with our allies would be a good start.

“The Obama administration did a pretty good job of building that coalition to squeeze ISIS and now the pressure has to be brought to bear against Russia and Iran, who are supporting this brutal dictator in Assad,” she said. “It’s not our place to promote regime change on our own, but working with our allies in the Middle East and all across the world, really bringing pressure to bear on Assad and Iran and Russia.”

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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