Donald Trump Archives - Florida Politics

Steve Schale: Dear Dems, one 2018 project — Caribbean voters

In my earliest days on the Barack Obama campaign in 2008, one of our first statewide polls showed a weakness with Black voters, at least compared to other states.

It wasn’t necessarily that John McCain was doing better than elsewhere, just that there were more voters on the sidelines. It didn’t take long to figure out the initial weakness was among Caribbean voters, which over time, we were able to address.

A couple of days ago, an old Obamaland friend who was a big part of those 2008 Caribbean conversations, texted me a quick question about the Haitian vote in Florida, and specifically if there was any truth to the chatter, and/or anecdotal evidence that Hillary Clinton underperformed among Haitians.

I had sensed some of the same but honestly hadn’t taken a look at the data yet.

Before starting, it is important to consider there are three significant challenges when thinking about the Haitian, and in a larger sense, Caribbean Black vote in Florida.

First, unlike the vast majority of other states, the Black vote in Florida is not monolithically African-American. Here, a significant share is either Caribbean and/or Hispanic.

The same challenge exists when analyzing the Hispanic vote. On other battleground states, Hispanics tend to be nearly universally Mexican, while here in Florida, both Hispanic and Black voters come from a large mosaic of nationalities.

Secondly, along these same lines, Florida’s voter registration data is woefully overly-generic about the population. When it comes to Caribbean and African-American voters, the voter registration form provides actually just three options: Black, Multiracial or Other. Therefore, it is impossible to solely pull out voters of Caribbean descent. There are some analytic tools, but that is generally built on a model, and as such, isn’t exact (nor available to the public as a whole).

Third, and finally, the census data isn’t a ton better.

The generic census form does not drill down for information on “Black or African-American” residents (it does with certain Hispanics and Asian populations). There are census tools that dig into a nation of origin, but again are sampled and not individual specific.

So, in answering my friend’s query, I came up with what was a (granted, inexact) performance model, yet one I think provides some insight — and in this case, caution for Democrats — or at least cause for more research.

The model: Florida House District 108, the home of “Little Haiti.”

The question — how did Clinton/Donald Trump play both in this district and specifically in the Little Haiti precincts, versus Obama/Romney? For the sake of adding more data, I also looked at Rick Scott in 2010 and 2014.

Understanding the limitations laid out above, here is what the data says.

Obama won the district in 2012 by 90-10, and Clinton won it 87-11 (Interestingly, this shift matches the 2-point margin shift from Obama to Clinton). Also, voter turnout in the seat at large was about the same, at least among Black voters (70 percent in 2012, 70.5 percent in 2016).

On the surface, these are not insignificant changes, but in no way, are the kind of massive shifts we saw in places like Pasco County, north of Tampa, where the change among Republican support was almost 10 points.

But looking deeper, there is more than the story.

First, there were actually 6,000 fewer registered voters in the district in 16 than 12, which a combination of two things: purges of “inactive voters” and at a certain level, some voters not being interested enough to care to keep registration up to date.

As a result, Clinton got 6,000 fewer votes than Obama in the district — while Trump got about the same as Mitt Romney. In other words, Clinton carried the district by 6,000 fewer votes than Obama’s 2012 margin.

The total shift in the vote margin statewide was roughly 180K votes — so just over 3 percent of the full shift from Obama to Trump happened just in this one state House seat — a seat that by comparison only made up 0.6 percent of the entire statewide vote in the presidential election.

Secondly, it gets even more interesting in just the Little Haiti precincts.

So, inside House District 108, during the Obama re-election, voters in the Little Haiti precincts made up just over 17 percent of registered voters, and in the election, just over 16 percent of the actual 2012 voters.

Looking at it another way, turnout among all Black voters in the district was roughly 70 percent in 2012, but within the Little Haiti precincts, was about 63 percent.

My guy won Little Haiti by 92 percent (96-4). Clinton won it by 85 percent (91-6 percent). Honestly, this data point actually surprised me. My hunch going in was Trump might have done better in these precincts than he did districtwide (10 percent).

But here is where the huge red flag shows up. Little Haiti residents in 2016 actually made up a bigger share of registered voters than 2016 — almost 19 percent but saw their share of the district’s actual vote drop to 16 percent. Why? Black turnout was right at 71 percent in the district in 2016, but inside Little Haiti, it fell to 58 percent.

As a result, Clinton carried these 10 precincts by 1,300 votes less than Obama did, or roughly 0.7 percent of the total shift from Obama to Trump — 10 precincts that by the way, make up less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the 2016 statewide vote. Why? Simply, Little Haiti voter participation was 13 percent lower than Black turnout districtwide.

While Trump got better margins than Romney did four years earlier, but it had almost nothing to do with more support for him, and almost everything to do with lower participation from people who in 2012 voted for Barack Obama.

It is interesting when comparing Democratic performance in Little Haiti between 2010 and 2014, Charlie Crist did better than Alex Sink, both regarding turnout and performance.

But I suspect, just as we saw overall Black turnout prove to be robust in 14, a lot of that was a factor of voters showing up to protect President Obama. Interestingly enough, Rick Scott put a lot more emphasis on Caribbean voters in 2014 than 2010 so it would be useful to look outside of this one neighborhood to see if the 2014 results hold up elsewhere.

Moreover, Crist’s 2014 strength in Little Haiti doesn’t mean, as 2016 shows, that one can expect 2018 to be the same without work.

Granted, there are lots of reasons to be cautious about reading much of anything into a 10-precinct sample of one state House seat in a state like Florida. However, I do think there is enough to take a longer look at this, overlaying census data with precinct maps throughout South Florida, and comparing the presidential election in precincts with a significant Caribbean population.

My hunch is we would see a lot of the same.

 

Shhhh! Stephanie Murphy seeks to stop presidential leaks to enemies

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy wants to make sure that if a president or any other high official in the administration casually passes along classified intelligence to a country the United States is not happy with, he’ll have to tell Congress about it.

Murphy, from Winter Park, announced Wednesday afternoon she has introduced the Prevention Oversight of Intelligence Sharing with Enemies Act.

It would require the president to promptly notify the House and Senate Intelligence Committees if someone in the administration “intentionally or inadvertently discloses Top Secret information to government officials of nations that sponsor terrorism or, like Russia, are subject to U.S. economic sanctions.”

The bill and a press release announcing it make no specific mention of reports of President Donald Trump seemingly casually shared ISIS intelligence with Russian officials during a meeting earlier this month.

Yet Murphy, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee and who has intelligence analysis background as a former U.S. Department of Defense analyst, made her ire clear.

“As a former national security specialist in the Pentagon, I’ve seen the damage our adversaries can inflict when they gain access to our classified information,” she stated in a news release. “When U.S. intelligence falls into the wrong hands, it puts our service members, intelligence operatives, and diplomats at risk and undermines our national security interests around the world.

“Additionally, our allies are unlikely to share highly-sensitive intelligence if they lose confidence in our ability to protect such information,” she continued. “My bill will enable Congress to assess any damage, conduct appropriate oversight, and keep our country safe whenever classified information is intentionally or inadvertently disclosed.”

It’s not the first time Murphy has introduced a bill taking a swipe at Trump’s national security and intelligence handling, nor is it the first time the freshman congresswoman has taken on those issues outside of trump.

Earlier she introduced the Protect the National Security Council from Political Interference Act, gained 183 cosponsors and helped generated a groundswell of public support for Steve Bannon’s removal from the National Security Council.

She also introduced a bill to create an inter-agency unit to oversee intelligence about North Korea, and another that would create a defense commission to deal with security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

In Donald Trump’s private moments, it’s small talk and compliments

What do world leaders talk about when they are alone? Not much, it seems.

President Donald Trump spent part of his two-day visit to Israel with open microphones nearby, giving the world a small glimpse into his private banter with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu between official appearances.

They chatted about paint on the walls, their wives and where to stand during a ceremony. And they exchanged compliments — lots of compliments.

This presidential small talk provided just some of the memorable moments of Trump’s swing through the Middle East, the first stop on his first overseas trip as president. There was an awkward Saudi sword dance, an airport selfie with a pushy Israeli lawmaker and a possible snub by Melania Trump.

With Trump now in Rome to meet the pope, here is a look at some of the highlights:

SAUDI ARABIA

—The Orb: While Trump’s speech before Muslim leaders grabbed headlines, the buzz on social media was the image of him, Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi with their hands on a lighted sphere to mark the opening of state-of-the-art counterterrorism center in the capital, Riyadh. Some joked it looked like the orb from Woody Allen’s 1973 film “Sleeper.”

—Always With the Right: In another widely shared moment on social media, Trump and the Saudi monarch are seen drinking traditional Arabic coffee in small cups. Trump is about to take a sip, holding the cup with his left hand — a taboo in the Muslim world — when Salman explains “with the right hand” in accordance with the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. Trump replies: “Always the right hand, right. Always the right hand.” The video has been viewed more than 184,000 times.

—Sword Dance: Taking part in local customs and traditions is a must for American presidents when they travel the world. On Saturday night, Trump and his entourage were treated to a royal dinner hosted by King Salman. The delegation was greeted to a traditional all-male Saudi sword dance. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Saudi king, Trump swayed side to side and briefly joined the groove.

—Golf Cart View: In another part of town, American country star Toby Keith performed with an Arabian lute player at a free, male-only concert in Riyadh. Keith performed cover songs of American classics and steered clear of performing his ballads “Whiskey Girl” and “Beer for My Horses” since alcohol is banned in the deeply conservative kingdom. In a bizarre moment, Trump caught a glimpse of the concert with first lady Melania Trump when, in a golf cart, they slowly rolled past a screen broadcasting it live.

—Pantsuits and Dresses: Trump’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka, sparked an online sensation when she arrived in Riyadh wearing a long-sleeved, billowy navy dress as her blonde hair blew in the breeze. The hashtag “bint Trump,” meaning Trump’s daughter in Arabic, began trending, with one Twitter user even proposing in an online video. Like other high-level female visitors to Saudi Arabia, Mrs. Trump also did not cover her hair while in the kingdom. For her arrival to Riyadh, she wore a long-sleeved, black pantsuit accented with a wide, gold-colored belt and gold necklace.

—Was It a Bow? Trump accepted Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian honor and ignited a debate over whether he bowed to the king. King Salman placed the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud — a gold medal hanging from a long, gold chain — around Trump’s neck hours after he arrived in the kingdom. Trump had to bend down so the king could put the medal around his neck, and that ignited debate over whether he had bowed to the king.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, have all received the award. Republicans — including Trump — criticized Obama for a move during his 2009 visit to Saudi Arabia, interpreting it as an American president subserviently bowing to a foreign dignitary.

ISRAEL

—The Selfie: Israel is known for its boisterous and informal behavior, and Trump got a first-hand taste of this at his airport arrival ceremony. Just moments after he landed, a hard-line Cabinet minister asked Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, one of the most explosive issues in the conflict with the Palestinians. Then, a backbench lawmaker who had not even been invited to the ceremony pulled Trump aside for a selfie. With Trump waiting patiently after a camera glitch, and Netanyahu unsuccessfully reaching out to block the scene from unfolding, lawmaker Oren Hazan snapped the shot that made him famous. “Thank you, Mr. President – it was my pleasure!” Hazan tweeted alongside the picture.

—Speak to the Hand. The selfie was not the only time that Trump was caught off guard. As he and his wife Melania walked on the red carpet, he turned and reached out to grab her hand. The expressionless Mrs. Trump, wearing dark sunglasses, appeared to brush away his hand, raising speculation in local media of a possible first family fracas. It happened again in Rome on Tuesday: as the couple emerged from the plane, Trump waved to the crowd and seemed to look for her hand. She quickly moved it away, raising it to her head to brush her hair aside.

—Budding Bromance: Netanyahu had a strained relationship with Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. But he appeared to have an easy rapport with Trump, with the two men repeatedly embracing and professing their deep friendship. At the airport ceremony, Netanyahu playfully warned Trump about the confusing protocol. “What is the protocol? Do you have any idea?” Trump asked. “Who knows?” Netanyahu responded with a smile.

—I Share Your Pain: Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, also found common ground with Mrs. Trump. Speaking to the first couple at the airport, Mrs. Netanyahu complained that they were both victims of an unfair press. “The majority of the people of Israel, unlike the media, they love us so we tell them how you are great and they love you,” Mrs. Netanyahu said. “We have very much in common,” Trump said.

—Home Sweet Home. The Netanyahus hosted the Trumps for a private dinner on Monday that began with a brief tour of their official residence. “Welcome to our palace,” Netanyahu said sarcastically. “It’s something very modest,” his wife said.

The two couples sat at a table as the president signed a guest book. “Thanks to you, we could paint the walls. We got the budget to paint the walls,” Netanyahu said. “All the house is painted for you,” Mrs. Netanyahu added.

Trump thanked Mrs. Netanyahu for arranging a hospital tour with Mrs. Trump, where both women met with a mixed group of Arab and Jewish children. “We kind of make, bring a smile to the children,” Mrs. Netanyahu said. As they all got up to take a picture, Netanyahu boasted that he is serving his fourth term as prime minister and then presented the first couple a gift: a 150-year-old bible.

“It describes what happened here. It all took place here,” Netanyahu said.

“That is really beautiful,” Trump answered.

“It’s a good book. It’s THE good book,” Netanyahu said.

“It’s THE book,” his wife added.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Blaise Ingoglia calls Oval Office meeting with Donald Trump a ‘humbling experience’

Blaise Ingoglia was part of a small group of state party heads who met with President Donald Trump earlier this month to talk about issues important to their communities.

Ingoglia, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and a state representative, was one of 10 Republican party leaders, primarily from swing states to meet with Trump and Reince Priebus, the president’s chief of staff, during a meeting in Washington, D.C. last week. The Spring Hill Republican said the president was interested in discussing issues that were important to the states, and wanted to know how the government could help states and local communities.

Ingoglia said the chairs of the Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Michigan Republican parties also attended.

Ingoglia said he talked with Priebus about the Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, which the Trump administration announced Monday it would extend for another six months.

Temporary Protected Status was given to Haitians living in the United States after a 2010 earthquake devastated parts of that country. Haitians granted the protection can live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation. Haitian participation in the program has been regularly renewed for 18-month intervals and the latest extension expires in July.

The Associated Press reported Haitians nervously anticipated the Trump administration’s decision given the president’s tough stance on immigration, both legal and illegal. Immigration was a top campaign issue and one that’s important to his political base.

Ingoglia said the group also spoke to Trump about economic issues, and the president and Priebus asked questions about how the federal government could do to help communities within the states. Ingoglia said what was impressive is they didn’t care if the issues were Democratic or Republican issues, they just “wanted to reach out to (as many) community leaders as possible.”

Ingoglia helped deliver Florida, a critical swing state, to Trump during the 2016 election. He said the visit to the Oval Office last week was the first time he had spoken to the president since Trump took office.

“It was a little surreal,” he said of his Oval Office meeting. “If you know the president, he’s very welcoming. He likes to talk; he likes to get feedback. It was a very humbling experience.”

__The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permissions.

GOP mocks national Dems for ‘zero chance’ of beating Vern Buchanan in 2018

Though the 2018 congressional elections are still a year and a half away, the news headlines continue to make Democrats believe that 2018 will be a wave election that could see them take over the House of Representatives.

It won’t be easy, even if the daily revelations from Washington continue to chip away at President Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s ratings.

On Monday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) announced 20 more congressional districts targeted for recruitment and potential investment, bringing the total to 79 GOP-held districts.

The new list includes Florida’s 16th Congressional District, held for the past decade by Sarasota Representative Vern Buchanan.

Buchanan narrowly defeated Democrat Christine Jennings in his first race by just 369 votes under disputed circumstances in 2006 (Jennings claimed that voting machine problems resulted in some 18,000 lost votes). Since then, however, he’s never been seriously challenged by a Democrat, and his supporters say that will remain the case in 2018.

“The only thing more egregious than Hillary not campaigning in Wisconsin would be if the DCCC spent even just $1 attempting to defeat Vern Buchanan,” scoffs Sarasota County Republican Committeeman Christian Ziegler, who worked as a congressional aide for Buchanan for several years in Washington and Sarasota. “Locally, the Democrat Party lacks grassroots & donor excitement, the party registration isn’t there for them and most importantly, they do not have one credible individual on the bench that would be able to serve as anything more than a ‘paper candidate.”

“The Democrats have zero chance at winning this seat,” adds Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters, noting his high re-election margins.

New College of Sarasota political science professor (and Democrat) Keith Fitzgerald says this is the time when the DCCC begins recruiting candidates for the next election cycle. He sees the new list as a sign that they are casting for candidates beyond districts where performance histories would usually suggest they would succeed.

“They want qualified candidates in place in advance of a possible wave election,” he says. “It is too early to say that a wave election is coming, but the early indicators are stronger than they were when the Republicans cleaned house in 2010.”

Fitzgerald is a former state representative who ran and lost a congressional bid to Buchanan in 2012. He says that the new list of DCCC targets (which also includes Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District) are mostly incumbents who normally would be considered safe politically, including Buchanan.

But after a cacophonous two weeks of political news, even some Republicans have invoked the word “impeachment” about Trump’s problems, which led the Justice Dept. to select former FBI Director Robert Mueller last week as a special counsel to oversee the investigation into ties between the campaign and Russian officials.

“Rep. Buchanan, supported legislation that would devastate many of his constituents,” says Fitzgerald. If the tsunami comes, there is no telling how far it will roll ashore,” he says. “Representatives who have placed extreme ideology ahead of the health and security of their voters could be swept away.”

Buchanan supported the American Health Care Act earlier this month, which remains extremely unpopular with the American public. The controversial bill, which would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, is already being considered dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate, with a Quinnipiac poll showing only 21 percent support in the country.

The Democrats need to flip 24 seats to retake the House.

Florida CD 27 Republican incumbent Illeana Ros-Lehtinen announced earlier this month that after since serving in Congress representing her constituents in Miami-Dade County since 1988, she will not run for reelection next year. The DCCC is hoping to flip that seat, and are hoping that other Republican incumbents will follow suit.

Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in the CD 27 by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016.

Small sinkhole opens outside Donald Trump’s Florida getaway club

A small sinkhole has opened on the road just outside President Donald Trump‘s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

The Palm Beach Post reports that the 4-foot-by-4-foot hole was discovered Monday in Palm Beach County just west of one the resort’s entrances. It is near a new water main and isn’t a threat to the president’s property in Palm Beach.

The president has spent seven weekends at Mar-a-Lago since taking office, but it is now closed for the summer. Trump is on a nine-day trip that began in the Middle East and will end in Italy.

Trump bought the club for $10 million in 1985 and has spent tens of millions on improvements. Each of the 500 members pays $14,000 annually in dues. The initiation fee was recently doubled to $200,000.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Martin Dyckman: It’s always about the money

The Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts wrote a powerful case for Donald Trump‘s impeachment, in the style of an open letter to the “Dear Republicans in Congress,” that I was reading to my wife as she prepared breakfast the other morning.

At the part where Pitts asked, “Have you no loyalties deeper than party?” Ivy broke in.

“The money,” she exclaimed.

That nailed it. It is always about the money.

It’s about the campaign money they expect to continue bagging from the Kochs and other oligarchs who embrace the Trump agenda even as they despise the man.

It’s about the money, the great gobs of money that would befall the wealthier classes, the true constituency for most of them, from the sort of tax “reform” they are counting on Trump to sign.

It’s about the money they would gain for themselves from the Trump tax scheme. While the outlines he proposed are strikingly thin, they are enough to show that Congress members themselves would make out better than bank robbers.

The middle class and poor would get essentially nothing. The foregone revenue would take America back to where the oligarchs want it — a sociopolitical stone age, with the new robber barons doing what they want and getting what they want, with only minimal interference, if any, from taxes, regulations or labor unions.

The Congress does not simply represent the Republican Party’s true constituency. It is part of it.

The most recent available figures estimated the average Congressional net worth at around $1 million. To be one of the richest 50 members required a minimum of $7.28 million in net worth. Of those 50, 32 were Republicans.

There are Democrats, no doubt, who would vote for the outrageous Trump tax scheme if they thought their voters would forgive them. Most of the Republicans act as if they don’t have that particular worry.

For the Democrats and the few Republicans who do care to put their country first, the question may well be whether it would be best to be rid of the guttersnipe in the White House sooner or later.

From an exclusively partisan standpoint, it would suit the Democrats to have him still twisting in the ill winds of own making as the 2018 midterm elections approach. This would be better for policy as well, since every Republican Congress member who isn’t totally insulated by gerrymandering would have to worry about casting his or her vote with the extremely unpopular president. And the fact that Trump still refuses to release his tax returns, despite all the promises, raises profound suspicions about any tax legislation bearing his label.

If Trump were dethroned now, whether by his Cabinet or by a late-awakening congressional conscience, the Democrats would be confronting in President Mike Pence someone who has a long-standing and genuine commitment to all the hideously anti-social policies that Trump never shared until he saw them as keys to the Republican nomination. Lacking Trump’s offensive personality, Pence could take America backward even faster and farther than Trump.

The more important issues, though, are the clear and present danger of keeping an uneducated, uneducable and wildly impetuous man-child in proximity to the nuclear codes, the forfeiting of American influence and prestige for which he is responsible, and the disgust that sickens most of us with every new disclosure of his abuses of power and of the foreign influences in his campaign.

Whatever happens in the short term, both political parties should be planning how to never again nominate someone so singularly unfit and dangerous as Trump.

The electoral system was supposed to prevent that — “a moral certainty,” as Alexander Hamilton put it, “that the office of President will seldom fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

When Hamilton wrote “seldom,” he was not thinking “forever.”

But the Founders provided for a day when their precautions would fail.

At the outset, the party factions in Congress caucused to nominate their candidates for president. There was never a doubt as to their qualifications. No outsider cracked the system until Andrew Jackson came along, and he was much like Trump, who admires him, in being ill-informed, reckless and ruthless.

Congress, for all its enormous faults, could be an inherently better judge of presidential timber than the present primary election system. But to try to give Congress control of who runs would be a fool’s errand, not to mention unwise.

What Congress should do — what it must do — is to accept the constitutional responsibility the Founders assigned to it in the event of a rogue presidency. It is the fail-safe they wrote into the Constitution.

As Pitts described it to the Republicans, “Your course of action, if you have even a molecule of courage, integrity or country love, should be obvious. Impeach him now.”

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

In Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump seeks to move past domestic troubles

President Donald Trump arrived in the Middle East on Saturday, touching down in Saudi Arabia to begin his first trip abroad, a visit aimed at forging stronger alliances to combat terrorism while seeking to push past the series of controversies threatening to engulf his young administration.

Trump flew to Riyadh overnight on Air Force One and was welcomed during an elaborate ceremony at the airport, punctuated by a military flyover and a handshake from Saudi King Salman. Trump is the only American president to make Saudi Arabia, or any majority Muslim country, his first stop overseas as president — a scheduling choice designed in part to show respect to the region after more than a year of harsh anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric.

The president’s stop in Saudi Arabia kicks off an ambitious international debut. After two days of meetings in Riyadh, Trump will travel to Israel, have an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, and meet with allies at a NATO summit in Brussels and the Group of 7 wealthy nations in Sicily.

As he arrived, the president waved from the doorway of Air Force One and then descended the steps, joined by first lady Melania Trump. The 81-year-old King Salman, who used a cane for support, was brought to the steps of the plane on a golf cart. The two leaders exchanged pleasantries and Trump said it was “a great honor” to be there.

Several jets then flew overhead leaving a red, white and blue trail.

A few hours later, Trump tweeted for the first time on international soil as president, writing “Great to be in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Looking forward to the afternoon and evening ahead.”

White House officials hope the trip gives Trump the opportunity to recalibrate after one of the most difficult stretches of his young presidency. The White House badly bungled the president’s stunning firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the federal investigation into possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. On Wednesday, the Justice Department relented to calls from Democrats to name a special counsel, tapping former FBI chief Robert Mueller to lead the probe.

Moments after Trump lifted off for Saudi Arabia, fresh reports stemming from the Russia investigation surfaced and threatened to overshadow the trip. The New York Times reported that Trump called Comey “a real nut job” while discussing the ongoing investigation with two Russian officials visiting the Oval Office earlier this month. He also told them that firing Comey had “taken off” the “great pressure” he was feeling from the investigation, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that an unidentified senior Trump adviser was being considered a “person of interest” in the law enforcement investigation. In addition, Comey agreed to testify at an open hearing of the Senate intelligence committee in the near future, the panel said.

Despite his domestic troubles, Trump was expected to get a warm reception in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom’s ruling family grew deeply frustrated with former President Barack Obama’s detente with Iran and his restrained approach to the conflict in Syria. The king did not greet Obama at the airport during his final visit to the nation last year.

Saudi Arabia offered Trump an elaborate welcome ahead of his two-day stay. Billboards featuring images of Trump and the king dotted the highways of Riyadh, emblazoned with the motto “Together we prevail.” Trump’s luxury hotel was bathed in red, white and blue lights and, at times, an image of the president’s face.

Trump and the king met briefly in the airport terminal for a coffee ceremony before the president headed to his hotel before the day’s other meetings. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told reporters on Air Force One that Trump spent the flight meeting with staff, working on his upcoming speech to the Muslim world and getting a little sleep.

Melania Trump wore a black pantsuit with a golden belt and did not cover her head for the arrival, consistent with custom for foreign dignitaries visiting Saudi Arabia. In 2015, her husband had, in a tweet, criticized former first lady Michelle Obama for not wearing a headscarf during a visit to the kingdom.

For a president who campaigned on an “America First” platform, the trip is a crucial moment for U.S. allies to size up his commitment to decades-long partnerships while trying to move behind his previous controversial statements.

“President Trump understands that America First does not mean America alone,” said H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser. “Prioritizing American interests means strengthening alliances and partnerships that help us extend our influence and improve the security of the American people.”

In a sweetener for Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said the Trump administration plans to announce $110 billion in advanced military equipment sales and training to the kingdom during the trip. The package includes tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, radar and communications and cybersecurity technology.

After spending much of Saturday meeting with King Salman and other members of the royal family, Trump was to end the day at a banquet dinner at the Murabba Palace. On Sunday, he’ll hold meetings with more than 50 Arab and Muslim leaders converging on Riyadh for a regional summit focused largely on combating the Islamic State and other extremist groups.

Trump dodged one potential land mine when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted on war crime and genocide charges, announced that he would not attend the summit for personal reasons.

The centerpiece of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia will be a speech Sunday at the Arab-Islamic-American summit. White House aides view the address as a counter to Obama’s 2009 speech to the Muslim world, which Trump criticized as too apologetic for U.S. actions in the region.

Trump will call for unity in the fight against radicalism in the Muslim world, casting the challenge as a “battle between good and evil” and urging Arab leaders to “drive out the terrorists from your places of worship,” according to a draft of the speech obtained by The Associated Press. The draft notably refrains from mentioning democracy and human rights — topics Arab leaders often view as U.S. moralizing — in favor of the more limited goals of peace and stability.

It also abandons some of the harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric that defined Trump’s presidential campaign and does not contain the words “radical Islamic terror,” a phrase Trump repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton for not using during last year’s campaign.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Marco Rubio has little to say about Donald Trump, but a lot about the media

For anyone following national politics, it’s been a dizzying week.

Marco Rubio isn’t sure what to make of it all.

The Florida Senator, who turns 46 next weekend, was considered a possible nominee for President of the United States less than 15 months ago, but he’s now just a sideshow in the circus that is the Donald Trump presidency, and he’s getting frustrated about it.

Speaking at the Pinellas County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner, Rubio touted his bill to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is being co-sponsored by Montana Democrat Jon Tester and Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson and gaining some momentum in the Senate. The bill would reform the VA by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees, and “ensure appropriate due process protections for whistleblowers.”

“That’s an important law. How many of you read about that in the newspaper?” Rubio asked the hundreds of Republicans who gathered at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park.

He said it simply wasn’t sexy enough, without mentioning why the national press is so focused on what Trump has been saying and tweeting, and what his staff is telling the press every day.

“It’s not being posted because nobody clicks on those stories, because the stories that get all the clicks are the stories about something controversial and explosive,” he said, adding that, “I’m not here to beat up the press but just because somebody told you something doesn’t mean that’s what happened.”

“Maybe it did? And maybe it did, and if it did then we need to find out, but if it didn’t, that would be unjust, would it not? So before you ask me to give you a hard opinion on something, let me find out the truth first, let you find out the truth first?”

Rubio made the same complaints while interviewed on Fox and Friends on Thursday when asked about Trump’s possible connections with Russia and Comeygate. So if you’re looking for Rubio to bash Trump when he seems to be in free fall, Rubio is not your man. Instead, he sounds like a man who isn’t sure what to think about all of the news coverage.

Other than he doesn’t like it, labeling the way politics is covered these days as “entertainment.”

Referring to the seemingly daily bombshell stories about Trump and Comey, Rubio asked if it wouldn’t be better for everyone involved if everyone knew the facts and didn’t have to “take concrete positions one way or another. “

“Isn’t that what you deserve? Isn’t that what the president deserves? Isn’t that what our nation deserves? Isn’t that what everyone deserves?,” as the crowd of partisan Pinellas Republican cheered lustily.

But before you think that Rubio thinks that Trump is getting a raw deal from the mainstream media, he was there to tell us that he spends 10 hours a week in the Senate Intelligence Committee looking at threats to the nation, including “looking at the specific threats to the 2016 campaign and what Russia did, and what they’re beginning to do in Europe and other places.”

Rubio said mournfully that the campaign last year was about getting people back to work and reminding people about the American dream, but “we don’t talk about these things.”

But the tone of his speech seemed like it was more of the media’s fault for not focusing on incremental policy changes — but how can it compare to a president who can’t stop contradicting his own press spokespeople?

He said that everyone was to blame for our current situation. Looking for an example of how the press doesn’t always get it right always, he chided an Associated Press story this week that initially reported that North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis needed CPR after exerting himself too strenuously this week proved to be incorrect.

“I’m not saying it was malicious,” he said about the AP report (who he praised as generally being straight up in its reporting), “but imagine if it was public policy or decisions of national magnitude. Should we not know the facts?”

Rubio didn’t leave himself out of his critique. Remember when he began attacking the size of Trump’s hands on the campaign trail last year and got live coverage from the cable news networks?

“I know that I spend all my time working on the VA bill and so forth — we will get very little coverage that doesn’t get a lot of clicks and a lot of attention, but if I spend time saying something outrageous, I’ll get a lot of coverage, so I’m incentivized to do that,” he admitted.

The media critique was the highlight of what was one of Rubio’s less inspired speeches seen in some time. Then again, he’s part of the Republican dominance of Washington D.C. that doesn’t appear to be getting much done. Well, there is that VA bill that’s gaining some momentum.

Before the event, a crowd of over 200 protestors gathered at the entrance to the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park. Activists have been demanding that Rubio hold a town hall meeting, something that he has yet to do in 2017.

There were layers of security both outside and inside the hotel.

UPDATE: On Saturday on Twitter, Rubio criticized the Tampa Bay Times coverage of the story, which highlighted his critiques on the media, tweeting, “They actually ran the exact headline I predicted they would run to get clicks!”

That supposition neglects the fact that very else in his speech was newsworthy.

(Photos courtesy of Kim DeFalco).

Donald Trump attorney didn’t want him to sign financial disclosure

President Donald Trump’s attorneys initially wanted him to submit an updated financial disclosure without certifying the information as true, according to correspondence with the Office of Government Ethics.

Attorney Sheri Dillon said she saw no need for Trump to sign his 2016 personal financial disclosure because he is filing voluntarily this year. But OGE director Walter Shaub said his office would only work with Dillon if she agreed to follow the typical process of having Trump make the certification.

The Associated Press obtained the letters under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Trump led his family’s private company until becoming president, and even now maintains financial ties to it. He has avoided full transparency about his finances by breaking the long tradition of major party political candidates making their tax returns public.

His attorney’s effort to sidestep certification of his personal financial disclosure marks another departure from the norm. Each year, the OGE processes thousands of those forms, all of which are certified.

“This is not at all typical; in fact I’ve never heard of anyone trying this,” said Marilyn Glynn, an OGE employee for 17 years before retiring in 2008. Her positions included acting director and general counsel. “It would be as unusual as not signing your taxes.”

The certification means that if a person knowingly included incorrect financial information, the OGE can seek a civil penalty such as a fine, or even make a referral to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

Glynn said OGE has indeed used those tools to enforce the integrity of certification.

The letters indicate Shaub and Dillon talked through the importance of Trump presenting true information and signing off on it as such. OGE typically works with federal employees and their representatives and also certifies the financial disclosures.

“As we discussed, OGE will provide this assistance on the condition that the President is committed to certifying that the contents of his report are true, complete and correct,” Shaub wrote in a May 10 letter. “When we met on April 27, 2017, you requested that he be excused from providing this certification.”

In her letter to Shaub, Dillon says the president will “sign and file” documents regarding his 2016 financials by mid-June — an indication that she agreed to the requirement.

Dillon also stressed in her letter, dated May 9, that Trump is under no obligation to file a financial disclosure this year and is doing so voluntarily. “President Trump welcomes the opportunity to provide this optional disclosure to the public, and hopes to file it shortly,” she wrote.

Personal financial disclosures include an accounting of a person’s personal income, assets and liabilities. Trump’s 2016 form will span his general election candidacy, election and transition to power — potentially shedding light on the immediate impact his Republican nomination and election had on his Trump Organization.

Last May, then-candidate Trump’s disclosure form showed his business empire had grown in value while he was running for office. However, the information is no substitute for tax returns, which Trump has chosen not to release. Tax documents would show his effective rate of income tax and detail the extent of his charitable giving.

Trump’s decision to file a personal financial disclosure puts him in the company of past Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and others. The law gives presidents a reprieve from filing financial disclosures in their first year, but citing transparency, they typically file anyway on or before May 15.

Shaub references that history in the first line of his letter to Dillon: “Thank you for your letter dated May 9, 2017, regarding the President’s decision to adhere to the longstanding tradition of voluntarily filing a public financial disclosure report in the first year after taking office.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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