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How to counter Donald Trump? Democrats still searching

Nine months into the Donald Trump era, Democrats are still searching for a standard-bearer and a crisp message to corral widespread opposition to an unpopular president and a Republican-led Congress.

The minority party has put that struggle on vivid display this week in Nevada, site of Democrats’ first national party gathering since a contentious chairman’s election in February. The party’s congressional leaders and potential presidential candidates mostly stayed away, with the exception of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose name has surfaced among possible 2020 hopefuls.

The activists and party leaders who did attend expressed optimism over their rebuilding efforts, but also lingering resentments from the 2016 presidential primary, confirming that the battle between liberals and establishment Democrats continues long after Hillary Clinton dispatched Bernie Sanders but lost to Trump.

The months since the election have brought plenty of frank public assessments about how far the Democratic National Committee has to go to catch up to Republicans on fundraising and technology — twin pillars of how a national party helps its candidates win elections across the country.

The lingering debate was enough for party Chairman Tom Perez, still putting his stamp on the party, to warn that the discord distracts from laying the groundwork for the 2018 midterm elections and 2020 presidential contest.

“This is a Rome-is-burning moment,” he said Friday, his summation of Trump’s presidency so far. “We may be playing different instruments, but we are all in the same orchestra. We need more people in that orchestra.”

Democrats need to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats next November to reclaim the House. Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 Senate advantage, but Democrats must defend 10 incumbents in states Trump won. In statehouses, Democrats have just 15 governors, and Republicans control about two-thirds of legislatures.

Democrats hope to hold the Virginia governorship and pick up New Jersey’s next month. The party is tantalized by an Alabama Senate race pitting the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones, against former jurist Roy Moore, a controversial figure who wasn’t the GOP establishment’s first choice.

Perez is selling confidence. “We’ve got game,” he roared to an exuberant audience at one reception.

Behind that hope, there are plenty of reasons for caution, mostly rooted in an uncomfortable reality: No Democrat has emerged as a leader and top rival to Trump in 2020, with a line-up of previous candidates like Joe Biden and Sanders and little-known House and Senate lawmakers.

Rep. Keith Ellison, Perez’s deputy who hails from the party’s left flank, pushed back against any notion that the Democrats don’t have a clear leader.

“We are not a leaderless party. We are a leader-full party. We have Tom Perez. We have Keith Ellison. We have Leader Pelosi. We have Leader Schumer,” he said.

Still, that reliance on Capitol Hill means the party is touting a leadership core much older than the electorate. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 77. Sanders is 76. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is 66. Other national figures, Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are in the same generation.

“You will see a new generation out there — good messengers with the right message,” said Henry Munoz, the party’s finance chairman, though he declined to speculate about individual names.

A prominent DNC member who backed Clinton in 2016 tried to convince Democrats on Friday to call on Sanders to join the party. “The first word in DNC is ’Democratic,’” quipped Bob Mulholland. But the party’s Resolution Committee, led by Sanders backer James Zobgy, jettisoned the idea. Zogby said taking a shot at Sanders would “feed a Twitter debate that will not be helpful in bringing together” voters on the left.

Trump’s approval ratings are mired in the 30s, levels that history says should spell scores of lost Republican House seats next year. Yet Trump has never had consistent majority public support. Democrats also face an uphill path because Republican state lawmakers drew a majority of congressional districts to the GOP’s advantage.

Trump’s election has sparked an outpouring of volunteer energy and cash on the political left, but the money hasn’t flowed to the national party. Munoz, who helped former President Barack Obama haul in record-setting sums, says the DNC has taken in $51.5 million this year, compared with $93.3 million for Republicans.

Party treasurer Bill Derrough acknowledged that he’s found frustrated Democratic boosters asking about “a damaged brand, what are we doing, what do we stand for.”

The party’s “Better Deal” rollout earlier this year — a package of proposals intended to serve as the economic message to counter Trump’s populist nationalism — hasn’t been an obvious feature at Democrats’ national meeting at all.

Perez is seeking to inject younger blood into the party leadership structure with his 75 at-large appointments to the DNC. But his appointments meant ousting some older DNC members, including Babs Siperstein. The New York at-large member whom Perez did not reappoint warned her fellow Democrats not to underestimate the fellow New Yorker in the White House — Trump.

“He may be weird. He may be narcissistic. But he’s not stupid,” Siperstein said. “He’s smart enough to get elected. He’s smart enough to get away with everything. … So we have to stay united.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Former presidents call for unity at hurricane aid concert

The five living former presidents put aside politics and appeared together for the first time since 2013 at a concert on Saturday to raise money for victims of devastating hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Democrats Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and Republicans George H.W. and George W. Bush gathered in College Station, Texas, home of Texas A&M University, to try to unite the country after the storms.

Texas A&M is home to the presidential library of the elder Bush. At 93, he has a form of Parkinson’s disease and appeared in a wheelchair at the event. His wife, Barbara, and George W. Bush’s wife, Laura, were in the audience.

Grammy award winner Lady Gaga made a surprise appearance at the concert that also featured country music band Alabama, Rock & Roll Hall of Famer ‘Soul Man’ Sam Moore, gospel legend Yolanda Adams and Texas musicians Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen.

The appeal backed by the ex-presidents has raised $31 million since it began on Sept. 7, said Jim McGrath, spokesman for George H.W. Bush.

President Donald Trump offered a video greeting that avoided his past criticism of the former presidents and called them “some of America’s finest public servants.”

“This wonderful effort reminds us that we truly are one nation under God, all unified by our values and devotion to one another,” Trump said in the greeting, played during the concert.

Four of the five former presidents — Obama, George W. Bush, Carter and Clinton — made brief remarks that did not mention Trump. The elder Bush did not speak but smiled and waved to the crowd. They appealed for national unity to help those hurt by the hurricanes.

“The heart of America, without regard to race or religion or political party, is greater than our problems,” said Clinton.

The last time the five were together was in 2013, when Obama was still in office, at the dedication of George W. Bush’s presidential library in Dallas.

There is precedent for former presidents joining forces for post-disaster fundraising. George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton raised money together after the 2004 South Asia tsunami and Hurricane Katrina the next year. Clinton and George W. Bush combined to seek donations after Haiti’s 2011 earthquake.

“It’s certainly a triple, if not a home run, every time,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “Presidents have the most powerful and prolific fundraising base of any politician in the world. When they send out a call for help, especially on something that’s not political, they can rake in big money.”

Amid criticism that his administration was initially slow to aid ravaged Puerto Rico, Trump accused island leaders of “poor leadership,” and later tweeted that, “Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes” while saying that Federal Emergency Management Agency, first-responders and military personnel wouldn’t be able to stay there forever.

But Rottinghaus said ex-presidents are seen as less polarizing than the current president.

“They can’t get away from the politics of the moment,” he said of current White House occupants. “Ex-presidents are able to step back and be seen as the nation’s grandfather.”

Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25, unleashing historic flooding in Houston and killing more than 80 people. Shortly thereafter, all five ex-presidents appeared in a commercial for a fundraising effort known as “One America Appeal.” In it, George W. Bush says, “People are hurting down here.” His father, George H.W. Bush, then replies, “We love you, Texas.”

Hurricane Irma subsequently hit Florida and Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, while both devastated the U.S. Virgin Islands.

A website accepting donations, OneAmericaAppeal.org, was created with 100 percent of proceeds pledged to hurricane relief.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

Donald Trump issues warning to John McCain after senator’s tough speech

President Donald Trump on Tuesday issued a warning shot after Republican Sen. John McCain questioned “half-baked, spurious nationalism” in America’s foreign policy, saying “people have to be careful because at some point I fight back.”

McCain, a former Navy pilot who spent 5½ years in a Vietnam prisoner of war camp and is battling brain cancer, offered a simple response to Trump: “I have faced tougher adversaries.”

Trump said in a radio interview with WMAL in Washington, “I’m being very, very nice but at some point, I fight back and it won’t be pretty.” He bemoaned McCain’s decisive vote this past summer in opposition to a GOP bill to dismantle Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a move that caused the failure of GOP efforts to repeal and replace “Obamacare.”

In Philadelphia on Monday night, the six-term Republican senator from Arizona received an award for a lifetime of service and sacrifice to the country. In addition to recalling his more than two decades of military service and his imprisonment during the war, McCain took a moment to go a step further than the night’s other speakers, who lamented what many described as a fractured political climate.

“To abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems,” he said, “is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

He continued: “We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden presented McCain with the Liberty Medal. Though members of opposing parties, the two men worked together during their time in the Senate. Former President Barack Obama, who defeated McCain in his bid for the presidency in 2008, congratulated the senator on the award in a tweet Monday night.

“I’m grateful to @SenJohnMcCain for his lifetime of service to our country. Congratulations, John, on receiving this year’s Liberty Medal,” Obama wrote.

Another political foe, 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said on Twitter: “Ran against him, sometimes disagree, but proud to be a friend of @SenJohnMcCain: hero, champion of character and last night, Lincolnesque.”

Pressed on Trump’s threat Tuesday morning, McCain told reporters he has had tougher fights, and then smiled.

Trump said in the radio interview that McCain’s vote against Republican efforts to dismantle the 2010 health care law was a “shocker.”

McCain and Trump have long been at odds. During the campaign, Trump suggested McCain was not a war hero because he was captured in Vietnam.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

States that elected Donald Trump, including Florida, most affected by his health care decision

President Donald Trump‘s decision to end a provision of the Affordable Care Act that was benefiting roughly 6 million Americans helps fulfill a campaign promise, but it also risks harming some of the very people who helped him win the presidency.

Nearly 70 percent of those benefiting from the so-called cost-sharing subsidies live in states Trump won last November, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

The subsidies are paid to insurers by the federal government to help lower consumers’ deductibles and co-pays. People who benefit will continue receiving the discounts because insurers are obligated by law to provide them. But to make up for the lost federal funding, health insurers will have to raise premiums substantially, potentially putting coverage out of reach for many consumers.

Some insurers may decide to bail out of markets altogether.

“I woke up, really, in horror,” said Alice Thompson, 62, an environmental consultant from the Milwaukee area who purchases insurance on Wisconsin’s federally run health insurance exchange.

Thompson, who spoke with reporters on a call organized by a health care advocacy group, said she expects to pay 30 percent to 50 percent more per year for her monthly premium, potentially more than her mortgage payment. Officials in Wisconsin, a state that went for a Republican presidential candidate for the first time in decades last fall, assumed the federal subsidy would end when they approved premium rate increases averaging 36 percent for the coming year.

An estimated 4 million people were benefiting from the cost-sharing payments in the 30 states Trump carried, according to an analysis of 2017 enrollment data from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Of the 10 states with the highest percentage of consumers benefiting from cost-sharing, all but one — Massachusetts — went for Trump.

Kentucky embraced former President Barack Obama‘s Affordable Care Act under its last governor, a Democrat, and posted some of the largest gains in getting its residents insured. Its new governor, a Republican, favors the GOP stance to replace it with something else.

Roughly half of the estimated 71,000 Kentuckians buying health insurance on the federal exchange were benefiting from the cost-sharing subsidies Trump just ended. Despite the gains from Obama’s law, the state went for Trump last fall even as he vowed to repeal it.

Consumers such as Marsha Clark fear what will happen in the years ahead, as insurers raise premiums on everyone to make up for the end of the federal money that helped lower deductibles and co-pays.

“I’m stressed out about the insurance, stressed out about the overall economy, and I’m very stressed out about our president,” said Clark, a 61-year-old real estate broker who lives in a small town about an hour’s drive south of Louisville. She pays $1,108 a month for health insurance purchased on the exchange.

While she earns too much to benefit from the cost-sharing subsidy, she is worried that monthly premiums will rise so high in the future that it will make insurance unaffordable.

Sherry Riggs has a similar fear. The Fort Pierce, Florida, barber benefits from the deductible and co-pay discounts, as do more than 1 million other Floridians, the highest number of cost-sharing beneficiaries of any state.

She had bypass surgery following a heart attack last year and pays just $10 a visit to see her cardiologist and only a few dollars for the medications she takes twice a day.

Her monthly premium is heavily subsidized by the federal government, but she worries about the cost soaring in the future. Florida, another state that swung for Trump, has approved rate increases averaging 45 percent.

“Probably for some people it would be a death sentence,” she said. “I think it’s kind of a tragic decision on the president’s part. It scares me because I don’t think I’ll be able to afford it next year.”

Rates already were rising in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s decision. Insurance regulators in Arkansas, another state that went for Trump, approved premium increases on Friday ranging from 14 percent to nearly 25 percent for plans offered through the insurance marketplace. Had federal cost-sharing been retained, the premiums would have risen by no more than 10 percent.

In Mississippi, another state Trump won, an estimated 80 percent of consumers who buy coverage on the insurance exchange benefit from the deductible and co-pay discounts, the highest percentage of any state. Premiums there will increase by 47 percent next year, after regulators assumed Trump would end the cost-sharing payments.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has estimated the loss of the subsidies would result in a 12 percent to 15 percent increase in premiums, while the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has put the figure at 20 percent. Experts say the political instability over Trump’s effort to undermine Obama’s health care law could prompt more insurers to leave markets, reducing competition and driving up prices.

In announcing his decision, Trump argued the subsidies were payouts to insurance companies, and the government could not legally continue to make them. The subsidies have been the subject of an ongoing legal battle because the health care law failed to include a congressional appropriation, which is required before federal money can be spent.

The subsidies will cost about $7 billion this year.

Many Republicans praised Trump’s action, saying Obama’s law has led to a spike in insurance costs for those who have to buy policies on the individual market.

Among them is Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, a state Trump won. An estimated 78,000 Arizonans were benefiting from the federal subsidies for deductibles and co-pays.

“While his actions do not take the place of real legislative repeal and revitalization of free-market health care, he is doing everything possible to save Americans from crippling health care costs and decreasing quality of care,” Biggs said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Pam Keith gets backing from NOW in bid for congressional seat

Pam Keith, the former Navy JAG officer who finished third in 2016 ifor the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, is getting the backing of the National Organization of Women in her bid to defeat Republican Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

“Florida NOW considers Pam Keith a champion for women’s rights.  She will not let women or children fall to the wayside with bad legislation on healthcare or equal opportunity for women,” said Terry Sanders, Florida NOW President.

“Pam has long been an advocate for women’s rights.  Her legal background as judge advocate in the U.S. Navy and private practice in both Washington, D.C. and Chicago, as well as her experience in diplomatic arenas around the world, make her an excellent candidate for Congress,” added Joanne Sterner, Florida NOW political action director.

Keith is one of two Democratic challengers to emerge so far against Mast, an Army veteran who took back the Treasure Coast area seat for the Republicans in 2016. It had been held the previous four years by Democrat Patrick Murphy.

Palm Beach Gardens attorney Lauren Baer announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination earlier this month. She served as a senior policy advisor to former U.S. Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, as well as to Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador the United Nations under Barack Obama.

“Women are the majority of our nation, women are the future of our nation, and I am gratified that NOW believes I am the best woman to lead our nation toward that future,” said Keith in a statement. “Brian Mast and Donald Trump have fought against the interests of women, from stealing our healthcare to endorsing sexist, hateful language in the workplace. Women are being undervalued at work, the system pays us less for the same work, ignores harassment and gave us a government that doesn’t even allow women to help write the legislation that affects so many of us. I’m going to Washington to put a stop to all that, to make women’s lives better. I joined this race to take my passion and skill to unite people of all genders, orientation, and color to fight this administration’s continual assault on women’s reproductive health. I’m glad that NOW recognizes that I am a strong ally and best advocate.”
Rick Kriseman, Kerry Kriseman, GOTV Oct. 9, 2017

Rick Kriseman pounds the pavement as ballots hit the streets

Mail ballots have started to hit the streets in St. Pete cend incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman has started to pound the pavement again ahead of the second round of his re-election battle against former two-term Mayor Rick Baker.

Kriseman and his wife, Kerry, joined their corps of volunteers and staffers kicking off their get-out-the-vote efforts ahead of the Nov. 7 election.

Kriseman and co. knocked on doors across the city and talked one-on-one with voters to plead their case for another four years. The mayor also pitched in at the phone bank to give voters a heads up that the first mail ballots are on the way.

“We’ve come a long way in 4 years. Crime is down, big projects are moving forward, and our city is preparing for climate change,” Kriseman said in a Monday press release. “This November’s election is going to come down to conversations between neighbors in their front yards and living rooms. August turnout was record high, and we’re here to earn every vote to keep St. Pete moving forward.”

Despite polls showing him behind by as much as 7 points three days before the election, Kriseman edged out Baker by a hair in the August primary, which saw the field whittled from six candidates down to two. The slim win wasn’t lost on Kriseman, whose campaign acknowledged it was indeed a “come-from-behind” victory.

That doesn’t mean they see it as a meaningless win, either.

Even though both candidates had to turn around and fund raise their hearts out to reload for the what’s become the most expensive mayoral election in city history, the mayor’s campaign said Monday that the primary win brought forth “a surge in grassroots enthusiasm with volunteers from all over the bay area committing their time and energy to re-electing Mayor Kriseman.”

While the St. Petersburg mayor position is officially non-partisan, Kriseman was a Democrat in the Florida House before becoming mayor. He has picked up endorsements from top elected Dems, including U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Congressman Charlie Crist.

The Florida Democratic Party has also been in his corner and treated the city election as a bellwether for 2018, while multiple left-leaning groups such as the Sierra Club have also flocked to his side.

One of the deciders in the August election was undoubtedly the 11th hour endorsement he received from former President Barack Obama.

Kriseman is historically an underachiever with black voters, who make up 15 percent of the city’s electorate. Baker, on the other hand, is one of the rare Republicans who excells at making inroads with the community. The Obama nod put a thumb on the scales, though, and may have been what shunted Baker’s chances of winning it all in the primary.

The Kriseman camp also pointed out Monday that the mayor bested every pre-primary poll in his 69-vote August win, and he may have to do it again in the general election. A St. Pete Polls survey released last week showed Baker with a 1-point advantage over Kriseman, 46-45 with about 9 percent undecided.

All St. Petersburg voters will get a chance to pick one of the Ricks on Election Day, set for Nov. 7, but voters in City Council District 2 and District 6 will also pick the replacements for Jim Kennedy and Karl Nurse, respectively, while District 4 voters will decide whether to give Darden Rice another term.

Gwen Graham vows to enact clean power plan

With President Donald Trump‘s announcement Monday he would be ending the federal clean-power plan initiated by his predecessor, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham vowed she would enact a “Florida clean power plan” to continue to seek carbon reductions and increase renewable energy.

Graham and her Democratic rivals, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King all have previously vowed to resist attempts to role back carbon emissions plans, and to pursue clean energy in Florida, and in particular to support and promote expansion of solar power in the Sunshine State.

Now Graham says she’ll specifically stick to the goals former President Barack Obama had set with his federal order, to work toward a 32 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, compared with what Florida was producing in 2005. That would require significant decreases in coal-fired power. She said that would save the average consumer $85 a year in power bills.

“Donald Trump and the politicians in Tallahassee have their heads in the sand. Our state is already feeling the effects of climate change and sea level rise — a single hurricane just destroyed countless homes, took dozens of lives and knocked out power across our entire state,” Graham stated in a news release issued by her campaign. “I was proud to support President Obama’s Clean Power Plan in Congress, and, as governor, I will fight for Florida to enact a clean power plan to meet those goals.”

Arguing that an aggressive and comprehensive renewable energy policy would combat climate change, protect clean air, create jobs, and lower energy prices, she added, “Florida can’t afford to wait for the federal government to act. As governor, I will implement a renewable energy standard, cut carbon emissions and create clean energy jobs.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, renewable energy accounts for less than 2.5 of Florida’s energy portfolio, the news release stated.

“As governor, I will work with Democrats and Republicans to cut the regulatory red tape that prevents homeowners from purchasing solar energy and I will appoint PSC commissioners who understand the threat of climate change and the need to support clean energy,” Graham said. “It’s not just crucial to combating climate change, it makes economic sense. We can protect our beaches from oil drilling, our water from fracking and make the Sunshine State the Solar State, all while creating good paying jobs.”

For Red Cross, hurricanes bring both donations and criticism

Confronted with back-to-back major hurricanes, the American Red Cross has received a huge outpouring of financial support — and a simultaneous barrage of criticism based on its struggles to respond to several past disasters.

To date, combined donations to the Red Cross for hurricanes Harvey and Irma have topped $300 million. Former President Barack Obama tweeted a link to a Red Cross fundraising site. Many pro sports teams, celebrities and major corporations have announced large donations.

Yet even in the early stages of the response to Harvey in Texas, a #NoRedCross hashtag circulated widely on Twitter. Some prominent journalists wrote articles suggesting that people should not donate to the organization. The New York Times, in an editorial, urged prospective donors to be skeptical.

“Its record on large-scale operations is spotty,” said the editorial, asserting that “there has been less accountability than Americans might expect emanating from its grand marble headquarters in Washington.”

The criticism has been stinging to Red Cross volunteers, many of whom have taken to social media to rebut the negative commentary.

“I worry that our volunteers need to feel appreciated,” Red Cross President Gail McGovern said in a telephone interview. “After 12-hour shifts, they come back to their hotel really exhausted. They don’t want to read this stuff.”

Some local officials in Texas and Florida have complained about glitches in the Red Cross response to Harvey and Irma, while others have expressed thanks. But much of the current mistrust of the Red Cross arises from the aftermath of other major disasters over the past 16 years.

After the 2001 terror attacks, the Red Cross irked many donors by earmarking some 9/11 gifts for unrelated purposes, including future needs. It was widely criticized for its response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and afterward acknowledged problems that included overwhelmed volunteers, inadequate anti-fraud measures and too few strong partnerships with local charities and civic groups.

More recently, investigative reporting by Pro Publica and National Public Radio made the case that the Red Cross responses to the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 were flawed in multiple ways. One key allegation was that the Red Cross failed to adequately document how it was spending the $488 million it raised for its work in Haiti.

Last year, the Red Cross posted a detailed breakdown of its spending in Haiti. But that did not deter some critics from using social media as the new hurricanes arrived to post Haiti-related headlines like this: “How Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars and Built Only Six Homes.”

“People are repeating and retweeting this stuff instead of taking time to research,” said McGovern, a former professor of marketing at Harvard who took over as Red Cross president in 2008 after years of rapid leadership turnover.

McGovern said she took solace in evidence of continued public support — the strong flow of donations and the signing up of about 40,000 new volunteers during the hurricanes. The organization ran scores of emergency shelters in Texas and the Southeast and says it already has provided more than $45 million in financial assistance to more than 100,000 hurricane-stricken households in Texas.

For both Harvey and Irma, the Red Cross is among the hurricane-response groups recommended by Charity Navigator, a watchdog group that rates charities on their finances and transparency. On the Charity Navigator website, several hundred comments about the Red Cross were posted, including visceral exchanges between supporters and critics.

Charity Navigator’s president, Michael Thatcher, says the Red Cross “is under pretty intense scrutiny” and he hopes the result is improved accountability.

“It’s a hard job to be able to ramp up quickly and deploy volunteer resources and expert resources at the drop of a hat,” he said. “Are they perfect? No. I would love to see them do better, but I definitely want them to hang around.”

Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, urged the Red Cross to be as specific as possible in explaining how emergency donations will be spent, both short-term and long-term.

“Part of why the Red Cross got in difficulty is they’re raising money in such large quantities they can’t use it all for the reasons people gave it,” he said.

Another source of concern to some critics is McGovern’s salary of just over $500,000. The Red Cross defends it as being in the normal range for leaders of major national nonprofits.

In the wake of various past controversies, the Government Accountability Office issued a detailed report about the Red Cross in 2015, recommending that Congress establish some sort of federally overseen process for regular, independent evaluations of Red Cross disaster services. The Red Cross contended that existing evaluation mechanisms were adequate, and the GAO’s proposal has not been implemented.

Congress chartered the Red Cross in 1900 to play a central role in responding to domestic and international disasters, though it does not receive federal funding for this purpose on a regular basis.

McGovern says the Red Cross wants to be as transparent as possible about its handling of donations. It’s too early now to outline long-term plans for the Harvey and Irma donations, but that issue will be broached in a one-month-later report, she said.

In Houston, more than 50 groups, local and national, are raising money for recovery from Harvey. The distrust of established organizations like the Red Cross has driven many donors to new initiatives. Notably, Houston Texans star J.J. Watt has raised more than $30 million for his foundation, largely through appeals on his social media accounts.

The Red Cross remains dominant, raising more than $200 million on its own for Harvey relief. About $40 million has gone to a local fund set up by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County’s top official, Judge Ed Emmett. They openly urge donors to forego contributions to the Red Cross.

Emmett blames the Red Cross for problems that arose with setting up and running the emergency shelters used by tens of thousands of people flooded out of their homes.

The major shelter for several days was the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. Originally setting a capacity of 5,000 people, the Red Cross ended up with double that number in three days. It ran out of cots. Some people slept on strips of cardboard or the floor until more cots arrived. Others said they were not getting enough food.

David Brady, CEO of the Red Cross for the Texas Gulf Coast region, said the group’s volunteers and staff were doing the best they could during a chaotic and unprecedented storm. Many Red Cross volunteers slept on cots at the shelter themselves.

“There are challenges that we and everyone else faced during the storm,” Brady said. “We always look at how we can serve better.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

`Dreamers’ decision creates dilemma for Republicans

President Donald Trump‘s decision to do away with his predecessor’s policy that benefited hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” has put Florida Republicans in a bind.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the Trump administration intends to do away with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a policy implemented by former President Barack Obama in 2012 that shields from deportation young people who were brought to the country by their parents as children.

Trump gave Congress six months to come up with an alternative solution before his administration begins phasing out the policy, which affects about 800,000 people.

“To have a lawful system of immigration … we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. It’s just that simple,” Sessions told reporters.

The announcement from the Trump administration coincided with a deadline in a lawsuit from 10 attorneys general challenging Obama’s executive order that was the basis for the program. Florida is not among those states.

But the Trump administration announcement poses a dilemma for Republican politicians in the Sunshine State, which is home to At  least 30,000 people who could be affected and is the base for exponentially more Hispanic voters who could be critical to next year’s elections.

Gov. Rick Scott, a close ally of Trump who is widely expected to run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson next year, on Friday issued a statement indicating his support for “dreamers” that stopped short of condemning the president.

Scott said Obama was “wrong to address the dreamers issue by executive order.” But, the governor added, “I do not favor punishing children for the actions of their parents.”

Republicans running for governor were split on the issue, with state Sen. Jack Latvala, who has a long history of supporting “dreamers,” decrying Trump’s policy decision in anticipation of the president’s announcement.

“We must lead with a compassionate heart, not by punishing children. Florida is a diverse state and our economic success depends on a strong diverse workforce. If DACA ends in 6 months, it will have a disastrous impact not only on hundreds of thousands of bright, promising young people but also on our business climate,” Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, said Monday.

Latvala was a sponsor of a 2014 measure that allowed “dreamers” to pay in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican who is considering a run for governor, took a more hardline approach in a statement released shortly after Session’s Tuesday’ morning press conference, saying Trump “made the right decision.”

“The rule of law is the rule of law and no one should be above it. Anything less would have been a tacit acceptance of President Obama’s backdoor amnesty plan for illegal immigrants,” Corcoran said. “Yes, this is a difficult decision given those who are involved. But make no mistake, two wrongs do not make a right. This illegal immigration mess we are in today is because of apologists consistently opposing every sensible idea to secure the border and constantly demanding we reward illegal behavior with citizenship. The American people are left with no choice but to enforce the law to its fullest extent.”

In advance of Tuesday’s announcement, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Palm Coast Republican who is also mulling a bid for governor, said in a Facebook post: “DACA is unconstitutional and the president is duty-bound to rescind it.”

The issue could force Florida GOP candidates, trying to appeal to base voters in advance of next year’s elections, to walk a tightrope in a state where Trump handily won the Republican primary and defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in November’s general election.

Major parts of the business community – a powerful interest group for Republican candidates – support DACA, while Trump’s base voters back the president’s tougher immigration approach, said Florida Atlantic University political science professor Kevin Wagner.

“That’s a difficult chasm for Republicans statewide to navigate, to draw those Republican portions of the electorate together,” Wagner said.

Political consultant Wayne Bertsch, who specializes in GOP state legislative races, predicted that some Republican candidates “are going to have to do a tap dance” in response to Trump’s recall of the policy.

Bertsch pointed out that the GOP-dominated Legislature has already approved the measure that allowed “dreamers” to pay in-state tuition.

“While it was a lengthy debate, they passed it and the governor signed it,” Bertsch said. “I think Florida Republicans have defined themselves as, `We’re compassionate. We don’t need to be deporting these children … back to a country where their parents came from but they have no relationship to.’ ”

While Trump’s policy “is going to make some of them cringe,” Bertsch said he doesn’t believe Trump’s policy shift regarding DACA will harm Florida Republicans, regardless of their positions.

“We didn’t see any Republicans in the last primary or general elections lose because they supported dreamers,” Bertsch said.

But for Jack Oliver, the founder of Floridians for E-verify Now and the legislative director of Floridians for Immigration Enforcement, there’s no wiggle-room for GOP candidates.

“A lot of these candidates run on being hardliners on immigration and then they get in and then they forget what they said, or they get influenced by the Chamber of Commerce or others,” Oliver, a 67-year-old who lives in North Palm Beach, told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday. “It’s just been a big disappointment for a lot of voters.”

While he and his cohorts recognize that the DACA situation “is a complicated one,” Oliver said that “our immigration laws were made to protect Americans,” who are now suffering from “the unintended consequences of leaving our borders open.”

Trump’s decision gives Congress six months to come up with a new DACA plan, effectively buying time not only for the president but also for incumbent GOP representatives as well as candidates who may be loath to criticize a president who remains popular with the Republican base, the voters who show up en masse in mid-term elections like Florida’s governor’s race next year.

“I think all that happened today is you may get a barometer for those who are extra-extreme to the right on immigration as opposed to those who are more right of center. For everyone else, the president did what he promised,” said David Custin, a Miami-based Republican strategist.

But Custin warned of problems if Congress doesn’t act.

“If they don’t do something on DACA, lives are going to get ruined,” Custin said. “People are going to suffer or risk being deported.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

 

Rick Scott on DACA: ‘Congress has got to start to act’

Rick Scott let it be known late last Friday he is not supporting his friend Donald Trump‘s decision to rescind the immigration order of former President Barack Obama that shields some children of undocumented immigrants from deportation.

But now that it’s happened, the Florida governor says it’s time for Congress to act.

“These were individuals who came here; they were brought here by somebody else. They all need to have the opportunity to pursue the American dream,” Scott told reporters after FloridaPolitics.com asked him about his reaction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions announcement that the Trump administration was ending what is known as DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created by Obama in 2012.

In the five years since DACA was enacted, the nearly 800,000 individuals who have received the protections have started families, pursued careers and studied in schools and universities across the United States. The business and education communities at large have joined Democrats and many moderate Republicans in supporting the program, including Gov. Scott.

Scott noted that he is a stickler against illegal immigration, but said this was different.

“Look, I believe in enforcing our immigration laws,” he said. “I believe we have to secure our borders; I believe that we shouldn’t have sanctuary cities. But these are individuals who came here not on their own.”

As he said in his news release issued Friday night, Scott said he supports legislation sponsored by Miami Dade Republican Carlos Curbelo in the House and North Carolina’s Tom Tillis in the Senate that would provide a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

“I want these individuals to have the chance to pursue their dreams,” Scott said of those who could be deported with DACA being rescinded. He said the Curbelo/Tillis bill “makes some sense” but said it needs to go through Congress, not the White House as the original DACA policy was called for by Obama.

“Congress has got to start acting,” Scott said.” They’ve got to secure our borders. They’ve got to come up with an immigration policy that works.”

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