Politics – Press Herald https://www.pressherald.com Mon, 19 Feb 2018 03:58:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 Trump’s tweets admit Russian interference https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/18/trump-tweets-admit-russian-interference/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/18/trump-tweets-admit-russian-interference/#respond Mon, 19 Feb 2018 00:51:34 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/18/trump-tweets-admit-russian-interference/ WASHINGTON — Before Friday, when special counsel Robert Mueller delivered a damning grand jury indictment against Russians for 2016 election meddling, it was much easier for President Trump to dismiss the entire inquiry as a Democratic hoax and witch hunt.

Trump had long sought to discredit claims of Russian interference, suggesting that email hacks of the Democratic National Committee might instead have been the Chinese, North Korea or a even a hacker sitting in his bedroom.

But Mueller’s steady, relentless investigation is complicating Trump’s efforts to spin the Russia debate, cutting off some of his favorite lines of defense and forcing him to adjust his attacks.

Those difficulties were apparent in a series of 15 Twitter posts over 19 hours late Saturday and early Sunday – an unusual outburst even for Trump. In one, he tried to conflate the Mueller investigation with the FBI’s failure to act on warnings about the man accused of being the Florida school massacre gunman.

Trump wrote that the FBI missed clues about Nikolas Cruz because, in the president’s view, the agency was preoccupied with the Russia investigation. He provided no evidence to back up the assertion and critics said it was baseless.

“This is not acceptable,” Trump posted from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. “They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”

REWRITING PAST ASSERTIONS

In other posts, Trump seemed to be scrambling to rewrite his past statements and parse his positions – acknowledging Russian meddling, but insisting, without evidence, that it didn’t affect the outcome of the presidential race or include any collusion with his campaign.

“I never said Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump said, ignoring his repeated past assertions.

Later, he wrote that Russians “are laughing their asses off in Moscow” because they had “succeeded beyond their wildest dreams” in sowing discord in the U.S.

In doing do, Trump seemed to again acknowledge Russian interference, but suggested that U.S. actions to investigate the activity were weakening the nation.

The indictment Friday accused 13 Russians and three Russian companies of orchestrating an elaborate, secret campaign using social media to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy while promoting Trump.

In addition to forcing Trump into some untenable positions, the indictment also makes it much more difficult for Trump to shut down the investigation as a waste of time or money, by firing Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as some reporting has suggested the president has wanted to do.

And it raises new questions about Trump’s steadfast refusal to take any action against Russia as a result of the meddling. Since before taking office, he has refused to criticize President Vladimir Putin or fully enact sanctions against Russia that were approved almost unanimously by Congress as punishment for its interference. All major U.S. intelligence agencies are warning that Russians will interfere in the upcoming midterm elections.

Instead of focusing on Mueller’s findings about how Russians interfered in the election, Trump has emphasized that the indictment Friday did not specifically target his campaign for criminal wrongdoing.

“This is a president who claims vindication anytime someone sneezes,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating Russian activities.

REPLIES TO SECURITY ADVISER

Trump also took a swipe at his own national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who said Saturday that the indictment proved that Russian meddling was beyond dispute.

“General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians,” Trump wrote, before launching into his familiar accusation that it was Clinton who colluded with the Russians.

McMaster spoke at an international security conference in Munich, Germany, which was also attended by senior Russian officials who scoffed at the Mueller indictment as “blabber” and fantasy.

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, a frequent critic of Trump, said Sunday that although the FBI made a “terrible mistake” in dropping the ball on Cruz, it was “absurd” to link that to the Russian investigation. He spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Numerous Republican and Democratic lawmakers spoke out Sunday to criticize Trump for mixing the issues and for continuing to fail to address the core problem of Russian meddling.

“They’re going to try it again,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, R.S.C., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” referring to Russian operatives. “Russia is not our friend,” he said.

Putin’s government is “trying to subvert our democracy,” Gowdy said. “Americans – not Democrats or Republicans – are the victims.”

SENATORS REACT

Putin “is not going to stop until we stop him,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said on the same program.

Coons called for a wider offensive against Russian meddling that would involve not only Congress but also European allies who have found Moscow trying to tamper with their elections. He lamented a lack of leadership at the top.

“Why is President Trump failing to act to protect our democracy?” he said.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., was more supportive of Trump, suggesting that the still-incomplete Mueller investigation has not revealed evidence that the outcome of the 2016 election was changed by the Russian efforts.

But, Scott said, “there’s no question Russians have done all they can to meddle in our elections.”

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/18/trump-tweets-admit-russian-interference/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1334415_Russia_Trump_Probe_48626.jp_.jpgA view of a Buisness center, believed to be the location of the new "troll factory" in St.Petersburg, Russia, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. The U.S. government allege the Internet Research Agency started interfering as early as 2014 in U.S. politics, extending to the 2016 presidential election, saying the agency was funded by a St. Petersburg businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)Sun, 18 Feb 2018 20:05:31 +0000
Trump vents frustration over Russia probe https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/18/trump-vents-frustration-over-russia-probe/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/18/trump-vents-frustration-over-russia-probe/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 14:20:00 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/18/trump-vents-frustration-over-russia-probe/ WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump vented his fury over the Russia probe on Sunday, arguing that the Obama administration bears some of the blame, insisting that he never denied the election meddling and declaring that “they are laughing their asses off in Moscow.”

In a rapid-fire series of tweets from his Palm Beach estate, the president unloaded over the Russia investigation, days after an indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians with a plot to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

While the nearby town of Parkland, Florida, continues to mourn a deadly school shooting that left 17 dead, Russia was clearly top of mind for the president. The administration has focused on the fact that the Russian effort began in 2014, before Trump announced his White House run, and Trump continued that argument Sunday.

He said the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, California Rep. Adam Schiff – calling him “Liddle’ Adam Schiff, the leakin’ monster of no control” – “is now blaming the Obama Administration for Russian meddling in the 2016 Election.”

Trump appeared to be referring to an interview Schiff did with NBC in which he said the previous administration should have set up a “more forceful deterrent” against foreign adversaries considering cyberattacks.

Obama in late 2016 defended his administration’s response to the Russian meddling, also saying he had confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin that September, telling him to “cut it out.”

Trump also argued that he “never said Russia did not meddle in the election,” adding: “The Russian ‘hoax’ was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!”

The president has repeatedly expressed skepticism over the Russian election meddling. In November, he said he believed the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that there had been meddling. But Trump also said he believed Putin is sincere when he says Russia didn’t interfere.

Trump also argued Sunday that the ongoing investigations are just what the Russians want, saying: “Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!”

Trump also raged against law enforcement over an Obama-era payment to Iran. He tweeted that he’s “never gotten over the fact that Obama was able to send $1.7 Billion Dollars in CASH to Iran and nobody in Congress, the FBI or Justice called for an investigation!”

The Obama administration transferred the money to Iran in 2016, using non-U.S. currency. The administration said it was the settlement of a decades-old arbitration claim between the countries. An initial payment was delivered the same day Tehran agreed to release four American prisoners.

The Obama administration eventually acknowledged the cash was used as leverage until the Americans were allowed to leave Iran. Congressional Republicans decried the payment as ransom, which the Obama administration denied.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/18/trump-vents-frustration-over-russia-probe/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1334282_APTOPIX_Trump_56871.jpg-8ac.jpgPresident Trump gestures as he walks as he leaves the White House on Friday for a trip to his private Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.Sun, 18 Feb 2018 18:00:15 +0000
Relentless assault sank immigration bill https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/relentless-assault-sank-immigration-bill/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/relentless-assault-sank-immigration-bill/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 02:11:49 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/relentless-assault-sank-immigration-bill/ WASHINGTON — As much of the country was gripped Wednesday by horrific images from the mass shooting at a Florida high school, two dozen senior Trump administration officials worked frantically into the night to thwart what they considered a different national security threat.

The looming danger on the minds of the officials was a piece of legislation scheduled for a vote the next day in the Senate. It was designed to spare hundreds of thousands of young immigrants known as “dreamers” from deportation – but to the men and women huddled in a makeshift war room in a Department of Homeland Security facility, the measure would blow open U.S. borders to lawless intruders.

“We’re going to bury it,” one senior administration official told a reporter about 10:30 that evening.

The assault was relentless – a flurry of attacks on the bill from DHS officials and the Justice Department, and a veto threat from the White House – and hours later, the measure died on the Senate floor.

The Trump administration’s extraordinary 11th-hour strategy to sabotage the bill showed how, after weeks of intense bipartisan negotiations on Capitol Hill, it was the White House that emerged as a key obstacle preventing a deal to help the dreamers.

QUESTIONING TRUMP

The episode reflected President Donald Trump’s inability – or lack of desire – to cut a deal with his adversaries even when doing so could have yielded a signature domestic policy achievement and delivered the U.S.-Mexico border wall he repeatedly promised during the campaign.

Along the way, Trump demonstrated the sort of unpredictable behavior that has come to define his topsy-turvy tenure, frequently sending mixed signals that kept leaders in both parties guessing.

Trump told lawmakers last month he would sign any immigration bill that made it to his desk. At one point in the fall, to the chagrin of some in the GOP, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., thought they had a deal, giving Trump billions of dollars for the wall in exchange for a “dreamer” fix. Immigration advocates recalled that Trump, last year, had told the dreamers they could “rest easy.”

In the end, Trump remained loyal to restrictionist advisers and allies, who have pressed the president to be true to his hard-line rhetoric on the issue. And Democrats and some GOP centrists are asking whether Trump ever really wanted to reach a deal in the fall when he terminated the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“People will begin to question the president’s credibility over his statements that he feels empathy for these young people,” said Enrique Gonzalez, a Miami-based immigration attorney who previously served as a policy adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Up against legislation that was gaining steam in the Senate, the administration executed its attack with military precision.

‘WE KNEW THEY WOULD NOT GO FOR IT’

Shortly before 1 a.m. Thursday, DHS blasted out a blistering three-page statement warning that the bipartisan bill would create “a Sanctuary Nation where ignoring the rule of law is encouraged.” Hours later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared the bill would “invite a mad rush of illegality across our borders.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a veto threat.

The plan did not stand a chance.

The bill’s demise, along with the failure of three alternative immigration measures, has left the Senate talks in tatters and convinced many on Capitol Hill that nothing will be done in an election year.

A Democratic Senate aide involved in the negotiations said Trump “allowed himself to be pulled 20 times” by his senior advisers after he had tiptoed toward a deal with Democrats. A number of Senate Republicans were on the fence, and “as soon as the president came out against it, we knew they would not go for it,” said the aide, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “To his credit, he leveraged his DACA position to get Democrats to vote for his wall – and yet he still turned it down. He’s not going to get another shot this clean to get a wall. He tossed that away for good.”

Some on Capitol Hill pointed to Trump’s rejection of a different bipartisan proposal last month from Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and to the president’s use of a vulgar term to describe African countries, Haiti and El Salvador during a bipartisan immigration meeting – an outburst that made it politically impossible for Democrats to accede to Trump’s demands to terminate a diversity visa lottery program.

In the end, a president who promised to build a border wall paid for by Mexico balked over an immigration deal that would have given him a $25 billion down payment from U.S. taxpayers. A president who last year advised dreamers to “rest easy” and told lawmakers last month at the White House that he wanted a “bill of love” torpedoed an effort backed by 16 senators on Valentine’s Day.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/relentless-assault-sank-immigration-bill/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1334208_Congress_Immigration_33565..jpgOn Thursday, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was joined by other members of the "common sense coalition," from left, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, to discuss a bipartisan immigration deal, even as President Trump was already moving against it.Sat, 17 Feb 2018 21:31:30 +0000
Russian plot touched even minor Trump supporters https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/russian-plot-touched-even-minor-trump-supporters/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/russian-plot-touched-even-minor-trump-supporters/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 00:27:58 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/russian-plot-touched-even-minor-trump-supporters/ WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The request was simple: organize or attend a sign-waving rally supporting Donald Trump. But some of the Florida Republicans on the receiving end of those requests now know that they didn’t come from Republican allies, but from Russian adversaries.

Caught up in an elaborate Russian plot without their knowledge, a handful of these small-time Trump supporters said their votes were not swayed and they didn’t do anything they weren’t happy to do. Still, their interactions with the Russians highlight the ways, both big and small, that the nation’s campaign process was infiltrated.

“I was going to do what I was going to do anyway. I was a Trump supporter, they didn’t convince me,” said Jim Frishe, a real estate development consultant and candidate for county office, who organized a sign-waving event in Clearwater that was part of a statewide series of rallies promoted by the Russians.

The Florida rallies are one small facet of the indictment issued Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller charging 13 Russians and three Russian companies with interfering in the 2016 election. The most detailed allegation of illegal Russian meddling to date, it says they assumed U.S. identities, sowed discord on social media, communicated with “unwitting” Americans and even set up political rallies from afar.

As part of that, the indictment says the Russians used a Facebook group, a Twitter account and other “false U.S. personas” to organize coordinated “Florida Goes Trump” rallies on Aug. 20, 2016. They reached out to campaign staff, grassroots groups supporting Trump, and specific individuals to participate.

Frishe, 68, said he was called by someone identifying themselves as with a group called “Florida for Trump” and asked to organize a sign-waving rally. He said between 15 and 18 people showed up and that he didn’t receive any signs or money or other support. He never heard from them again.

He said he was not overly concerned about the indictment, or his minor role in the drama, and that Russian interference is “nothing new.”

The indictment details a sizable effort to disrupt the 2016 presidential election, aimed in part at helping Republican Donald Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. It involved creating internet postings in the names of Americans whose identities had been stolen; staging political rallies while posing as American political activists; and paying people in the U.S. to promote or disparage candidates.

Lilia Morraz was another person who put together an event. She said she got involved after she encountered the @March–for–Trump account on Twitter, one of the accounts the Russians used.

“I am really active on Twitter. They were saying Trump was not going to be elected. I happened to write to them and say it’s not true,” said Morraz, 60, of Miami.

Morraz said that from there, she was asked about good places to hold a rally in Miami and then “they told me, yes, go ahead and do it.” So she organized an event outside a restaurant that both she and @March–for–Trump promoted. She said hundreds attended and she made signs herself and received no money.

Morraz was skeptical about a Russian plot.

“I just don’t believe it. It’s like everything you see on TV. I don’t believe 90 percent of it,” she said.

Another Florida Republican, Betty Trigueiro, says she didn’t attend the Florida Goes Trump rallies. But her name and phone number were included in a Facebook post promoting the event without her permission.

Trigueiro, 62, of Bradenton, said that in August 2016 she started getting some Twitter messages from people she did not know with details on pro-Trump events. She thinks they may have gotten her contact information from her time as secretary of a local Republican club. She said she never attended any of the events.

While she was troubled that there appeared to efforts to “infiltrate and cause chaos,” Trigueiro wasn’t convinced the outcome was impacted.

“There was too many people that wanted him elected,” she said.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/russian-plot-touched-even-minor-trump-supporters/feed/ 0 Sat, 17 Feb 2018 19:50:58 +0000
Bill would make it harder to get citizen questions on Maine ballot https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/bill-would-make-it-harder-to-get-citizen-questions-on-maine-ballot/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/bill-would-make-it-harder-to-get-citizen-questions-on-maine-ballot/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 22:53:49 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/bill-would-make-it-harder-to-get-citizen-questions-on-maine-ballot/ AUGUSTA — Maine lawmakers may make it tougher for citizens to get questions on ballots after Gov. Paul LePage this past week renewed his call to reform a system he’s called too representative of liberal-leaning Mainers.

In his final State of the State address Tuesday, the governor chastised out-of-state special interests for pushing Maine ballot campaigns, and urged that lawmakers require the campaigns to get equal support across the state.

“Referendum is pure democracy and it has not worked for 15,000 years,” the Republican governor said.

But critics call one Republican lawmaker’s proposal to require signatures from each congressional district a short-sighted move that doesn’t solve the underlying issue of rural voters wanting bigger voices. Paul McCarrier, who ran the successful marijuana legalization campaign in 2016, said it could make it more costly and time-consuming for grassroots campaigns and in turn, make them more reliant on big, out-of-state contributions.

“I think it disenfranchises the voters of the state in that it essentially says some signatures are going to count more than others,” said Rep. Barbara Cardone, D-Bangor.

Maine joins states like South Dakota, which is considering a Republican’s bill to require signatures from a majority of the state’s Senate districts. Two dozen states allow citizens to place issues on the ballot, and several, such as Mississippi, Alaska and Wyoming, require signatures to come from certain counties or congressional districts.

Courts have struck down such county-based requirements in Idaho, Nevada and Montana, while at times upholding efforts based on congressional districts. States with concerns about equal representation could also allow more time for signatures or reduce how many are required, said John Matsusaka, executive director of The University of Southern California’s Initiative and Referendum Institute.

Maine Republicans sponsored a number of bills to reform the referendum process following the 2016 election, when voters approved five out of six ballot questions and rejected a measure to require background checks for private firearm sales.

Lawmakers have since spent months dealing with the aftermath of the initiatives, and repealed a voter-approved tax on the wealthy.

But a number of Democrats have voiced support for Republican Rep. Ellie Espling’s proposed constitutional amendment to require signatures for ballot questions to come from each congressional district starting in 2019. A constitutional amendment would require two-thirds approval from lawmakers and the public in a statewide vote.

“I think it’s fairly easy to get something on the ballot if you can pay for the process,” Espling said, adding that the amendment won’t fix everything wrong with the citizen initiative process.

The Maine Secretary of State’s Office has said it hasn’t found constitutional issues with the proposed amendment. Under Espling’s bill, such campaigns would need 31,942 signatures from the 1st District and 29,181 signatures from the 2nd District.

The National Rifle Association, Nestle Waters North America and Planned Parenthood have reported lobbying for and against the constitutional amendment. The NRA’s advocacy arm is urging residents to get their lawmakers to support Espling’s initiative, which has received resistance in the Senate and from Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon.

The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee voted 12-1 last month in support of Espling’s bill, which awaits rounds of votes in the House and Senate. Rep. John Schneck, D-Bangor, voted against the bill and said it could decrease voter turnout, while it received support from Democrats such as committee House chairman Louis Luchini, Rep. Craig Hickman, Rep. Thomas Longstaff and former Attorney General Michael Carpenter.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/bill-would-make-it-harder-to-get-citizen-questions-on-maine-ballot/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/04/1186726_letters_0227-e1498253472859.jpgVoters make their way in and out of voting booths at Kennebunk Town Hall on Election Day in 2002.Sat, 17 Feb 2018 21:51:45 +0000
Joe Biden keeps options open on 2020 run https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/biden-keeps-options-open-on-2020-run/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/biden-keeps-options-open-on-2020-run/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 22:17:48 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/biden-keeps-options-open-on-2020-run/ WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden is tiptoeing toward a potential run in 2020, even broaching the possibility during a recent gathering of longtime foreign policy aides.

Huddled in his newly opened office only steps from the U.S. Capitol, Biden began a planning meeting for his new diplomacy center by addressing the elephant in the room. He said he was keeping his 2020 options open, considering it a real possibility. He insisted he had made no decision, and didn’t need to yet, according to five people who either attended the meeting or were briefed on it by those who did.

Biden also expressed interest in bringing those in the room onto his team if he decides to launch a campaign. At the same time, he gave them an out: There would be no hard feelings if they decided they were content in their current roles outside of government, the people said.

The political world has long tried to game out Biden’s plans for 2020. After all, he came close to running last time only to see President Trump pull off a victory that many Democrats openly suggest wouldn’t have happened had he, not Hillary Clinton, been their nominee. Several people came away from the meeting with the impression that if no strong Democratic candidate emerges in the next year or so, Biden would feel strongly compelled to run.

A presidential candidate twice before, Biden would be 78 on Inauguration Day if elected in 2020, a concerning prospect for some Democrats even though he’s only a few years older than Trump.

One possibility that Biden’s longtime advisers have discussed privately is that he could announce his intention to serve only one term, clearing the path for his running mate to take over in 2024 and potentially setting up Democrats for a 12-year White House stretch.

Biden’s brief discussion about his 2020 deliberations came as he brought foreign policy staffers together to set the 2018 agenda for the newly opened Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement – where many of them are now working, including Colin Kahl, his vice presidential national security adviser, and Steve Ricchetti, his former chief of staff.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/biden-keeps-options-open-on-2020-run/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1333964_Biden_62001.jpg-6444e.jpgFormer Vice President Joe Biden is hinting at a potential run in 2020, even raising the possibility during a recent gathering.Sat, 17 Feb 2018 17:47:22 +0000
How Maine’s members of Congress voted last week https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/how-maines-members-of-congress-voted-last-week-45/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/how-maines-members-of-congress-voted-last-week-45/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 19:38:06 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/how-maines-members-of-congress-voted-last-week-45/ Along with roll call votes last week, the House also passed the Low-Dose Radiation Research Act (H.R. 4675), to provide for a low-dose radiation basic research program; and the Nuclear Energy Research Infrastructure Act (H.R. 4378), to direct the Secretary of Energy to carry out the construction of a versatile reactor-based fast neutron source.

The Senate also passed the Veterans Care Financial Protection Act (H.R. 3122), to require the Department of Veterans Affairs to put on its website a warning regarding dishonest, predatory, or otherwise unlawful practices targeting individuals who are eligible for increased pension payments from the VA.

HOUSE VOTES

HAMAS AND HUMAN SHIELDS: The House has passed the Hamas Human Shields Prevention Act (H.R. 3542), sponsored by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., to condemn Hamas, the Palestinian political group, for its use of civilians as human shields against Israeli military action, and advocate for a United Nations resolution to impose multilateral sanctions against Hamas tied to its use of human shields. Wilson said Hamas has consistently violated human rights and international law by using innocent civilians as human shields, and sanctions against this practice would help protect the citizens of Gaza. The vote, on Feb. 14, was unanimous with 415 yeas.

YEAS: Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District

INVESTIGATING POWS AND MIAS: The House has passed a resolution (H. Res. 129), sponsored by Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, calling on the Defense Department and rest of the federal government, as well as foreign governments, to work to identify and account for the status of U.S. prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. Johnson said the fate of the tens of thousands of American servicemembers missing in action from past wars needed to be learned so that faithful soldiers can be properly honored, and closure can be provided for the families. The vote, on Feb. 14, was unanimous with 411 yeas.

YEAS: Pingree, Poliquin

MORTGAGE TITLE CHARGES: The House has passed the TRID Improvement Act (H.R. 3978), sponsored by Rep. J. French Hill, R-Ark. The bill would change federal requirements for mortgage loan disclosures by stating that charges for a given title insurance premium shall be equal to the charges for title insurance policy. Hill said the change, by replacing a current rule that results in complicated determinations of title insurance charges, makes it easier for both lenders and homeowners to work out the details of a given mortgage. An opponent, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., criticized other legislation inserted into the bill by House Republicans, which Waters said would weaken transparency and fairness on the country’s stock exchanges. The vote, on Feb. 14, was 271 yeas to 145 nays.

NAYS: Pingree

YEAS: Poliquin

INTEREST RATES FOR CONSUMER LOANS: The House has passed the Protecting Consumers’ Access to Credit Act (H.R. 3299), sponsored by Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C. The bill would modify federal law by stating that loans issued at a given interest rate can retain that rate if the loan is later assumed by another company. McHenry said the bill was necessary to end the harm to credit availability done by a federal appeals court when it found that high interest loans assumed by so-called fintech firms were not legally protected. An opponent, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said the bill would clear the way for the fintech firms to avoid state caps on interest rates and charge up to 400 percent interest on loans that consumers cannot financially manage. The vote, on Feb. 14, was 245 yeas to 171 nays.

NAYS: Pingree

YEAS: Poliquin

ACCESS FOR THE DISABLED: The House has passed the Americans with Disabilities Act Education and Reform Act (H.R. 620), sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas. The bill would require the Justice Department to promote strategies to increase access to public accommodations for the disabled, and establish limits on the basis for civil lawsuits that assert a failure to improve access for the disabled. Poe said that by giving businesses six months after a lawsuit has been filed to remedy an alleged failure to provide adequate accommodation for the disabled, the bill would discourage frivolous and costly litigation for small businesses that now have no choice but to pay to settle the suits. A bill opponent, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., called it “an attack on the civil rights of Americans with disabilities” because it would hamper their ability to end discrimination. The vote, on Feb. 15, was 225 yeas to 192 nays.

NAYS: Pingree

YEAS: Poliquin

SENATE VOTES

IMMIGRATION AND BORDER SECURITY: The Senate has rejected a cloture motion to end debate on an amendment sponsored by Sen. Christopher A. Coons, D-Del., to a bill (H.R. 2579) that would have established a process for granting citizenship to the so-called DREAMers without citizenship who arrived in the U.S. as children, and provided increased funding for border security and for the federal government’s immigration courts. Coons called the amendment a bipartisan effort to “give legal certainty to 1.8 million Dreamers who are American in every way but the paperwork” while also helping secure the border. The vote, on Feb. 15, was 52 yeas to 47 nays, with a three-fifths majority needed to end debate.

NAYS: Susan Collins, R-Maine

YEAS: Angus King, I-Maine

IMMIGRATION AND BORDER WALL: The Senate has rejected a cloture motion to end debate on an amendment sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to a bill (H.R. 2579) that would have provided $25 billion to fund a wall and other efforts to secure the U.S. border with Mexico, as well as provided a process for some illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens over the next decade. Schumer said the Senate owed “Dreamers” a measure that resolves their uncertain residency status and recognizes their effort “to make a successful life in this country, which they love.” The vote, on Feb. 15, was 54 yeas to 45 nays, with a three-fifths majority needed to end debate.

YEAS: Collins, King

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/how-maines-members-of-congress-voted-last-week-45/feed/ 0 Sat, 17 Feb 2018 20:41:20 +0000
Trump’s security adviser says FBI indictments prove Russian meddling in election https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/trump-official-says-fbi-indictments-prove-russian-meddling-in-election/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/trump-official-says-fbi-indictments-prove-russian-meddling-in-election/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 12:48:48 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/trump-official-says-fbi-indictments-prove-russian-meddling-in-election/ MUNICH – President Trump’s national security adviser said Saturday there was “incontrovertible” evidence of a Russian plot to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election, a blunt statement that shows how significantly the new criminal charges leveled by an American investigator have upended the political debate over his inquiry.

The statement by H.R. McMaster at the Munich Security Conference stood in stark contrast to Trump’s oft repeated claim that Russian interference in his election victory was a hoax.

“As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain,” McMaster told a Russian delegate to the conference.

The detailed document presented the most compelling public evidence to date that the Russian operation was elaborate, expensive and real. Citing emails and conversations by the perpetrators of the plot, it also demonstrated that the ongoing probe may have access to explosive intelligence material gathered on the Russian operations.

McMaster also noted that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team had shown that the U.S. was becoming “more and more adept at tracing the origins of this espionage and subversion.”

Just minutes before, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had dismissed the indictment as “just blabber.”

“I have no response,” Lavrov said when asked for comment on the allegations. “You can publish anything, and we see those indictments multiplying, the statements multiplying.”

But Lavrov did not say what he specifically disputed in the indictment.

McMaster and Lavrov addressed the annual conference of world leaders, defense officials and diplomats, giving more general back-to-back opening remarks. But both were immediately hit with questions about the U.S. indictment and the broader issue of cyberattacks.

In Russia, news of the indictment was met with more scorn.

“There are no official claims, there is no proof for this. That’s why they are just children’s statements,” Andrei Kutskikh, the presidential envoy for international information security, told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

McMaster also scoffed at the suggestion that the U.S. would work with Russia on cyber security issues.

“I’m surprised there are any Russian cyber experts available based on how active most of them have been undermining our democracies in the West,” he said to laughter. “So I would just say that we would love to have a cyber dialogue when Russia is sincere.”

Lavrov argued that U.S. officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, have said no country influenced the U.S. election results.

“Until we see the facts, everything else is just blabber. I’m sorry for this not very diplomatic expression,” Lavrov said.

The indictment charged 13 Russians with running a huge but hidden social media trolling campaign combined with on-the-ground politicking aimed in part at helping Trump defeat his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

It outlined the first criminal charges against Russians believed to have secretly worked to influence the U.S. election’s outcome.

According to the indictment, the Russian organization was funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy St. Petersburg businessman with ties to the Russian government and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Lavrov denounced “this irrational myth about this global Russian threat, traces of which are found everywhere – from Brexit to the Catalan referendum.”

Russia’s former ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, similarly dismissed the detailed allegations contained in the indictment as “simply fantasies.” Kislyak’s name has come up in the FBI and congressional investigations of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Pressed on the election interference that is alleged to have occurred while he was Russia’s envoy to Washington, Kislyak said, “I’m not sure I can trust American law enforcement to be the most precise and truthful source of information about what Russians know.”

“I have never done anything of this sort, no one in my embassy did,” he said during a panel discussion at the Munich conference. “So whatever allegations are being mounted against us are simply fantasies that are being used for political reasons inside the United States in the fight between different sides of the political divide.”

Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty in December to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak before Trump’s inauguration.

In Russia, one of the 13 people indicted said the U.S. justice system is unfair.

Mikhail Burchik was quoted Saturday by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda as saying that “I am very surprised that, in the opinion of the Washington court, several Russian people interfered in the elections in the United States. I do not know how the Americans came to this decision.”

Burchik was identified in the indictment as executive director of an organization accused of sowing propaganda on social media to try to interfere with the 2016 election.

He was quoted as saying the Amercians “have one-sided justice, and it turns out that you can hang the blame on anyone.”

Butler reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Lolita Baldor in Munich, Jim Heintz in Moscow and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/trump-official-says-fbi-indictments-prove-russian-meddling-in-election/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1333828_Germany_Security_Confere12.jpgH.R. McMaster, U.S. national secutity adviser, speaks at the Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on Saturday.Sat, 17 Feb 2018 20:29:10 +0000
Voter-approved law says Mainers can grow 6 pot plants each, but lawmakers want to make it 3 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/legislative-panel-urges-three-pot-plants-per-person-instead-of-six/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/legislative-panel-urges-three-pot-plants-per-person-instead-of-six/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/?p=1333755 State lawmakers want to cut by half the amount of recreational marijuana that a Mainer can legally grow.

The law adopted by citizen referendum in 2016 allowed each person up to six flowering plants, but the committee tasked with overhauling the referendum language and launching the adult-use market voted Friday to cut the maximum number of flowering plants that an adult can grow in Maine to three. Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland, said the reduction is a compromise that makes the bill more attractive to opponents and more likely to pass.

“I have colleagues that are very uncomfortable with the image of these little marijuana farms in everybody’s backyards,” Dion said Friday. “Six plants may not sound like that much until you live next door to a house with four adults. Now you’re talking 24 plants, and that’s a lot. … I think sometimes referendum activists forget we didn’t carry the day with an 80 percent majority. We barely won. We have to remember almost half the state didn’t want this at all.”

GROW SIZE A NEW FLASHPOINT

Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, spoke out against the reduction, saying that those who asked “How much pot do you really need?” didn’t understand the local growing cycles.

When it comes to cannabis, a recreational user might spend one summer on a really good crop and not have to grow again for three years. On the other hand, a bad year might force a recreational user to double-up on his next grow to make up for losses.

Hickman reminded the committee that it had told constituents that the “home grow” part of the initiative was safe at the outset of its overhaul efforts.

“No one has come to us to say we need this piece of emergency legislation to regulate home grow,” Hickman said. “Why are we doing this?”

The committee tried to pass a major overhaul of the referendum last fall, but Gov. Paul LePage vetoed its bill and LePage’s allies in the House sustained it. LePage and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, gave a number of reasons for their opposition, ranging from worries about a potential spike in impaired driving to a lack of coordination with the medical cannabis program, but the size of an adult’s personal grow was not among them.

Last year, Colorado’s former marijuana czar, Andrew Freedman, testified about the problems of unchecked personal grows in Colorado, which he said had led to supply overages that ended up being sold on the black market and several deadly robberies. But Colorado’s personal-grow plant limit had been much higher than even Maine’s referendum activists had ever dreamed about – 99 plants per household. Last year, Colorado dropped its adult-use count plant down to 12.

AVOIDING FEDERAL ATTENTION

Sen. Roger Katz, the Senate chairman of Maine’s marijuana committee, said the committee was concerned about seeing home-grown marijuana ending up on the black market and attracting the attention of federal regulators, especially now, when legalization states like Maine are waiting to see what anti-cannabis U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his network of U.S. attorneys, including Maine’s Halsey Frank, will do about state-licensed marijuana operations.

“We want to respect the privilege the law grants for people to grow their own while doing everything we can to avoid diversion,” Katz said.

He said the six plants allowed under the voter-approved Marijuana Legalization Act was the most generous personal grow allotment in the nation now that Colorado had implemented its new home-grow rules. Generally, the committee doesn’t want to do anything that would make Maine a cannabis trailblazer, he said. The committee said much the same thing when it voted last month to postpone consideration of social club licenses until 2023.

SIX PLANTS FOR MEDICAL GROWERS

Activists decried the personal grow changes. While many parts of the initiative language have been on hold, because of a legislative moratorium and a lack of licensing rules, Mainers have been able to grow up to six plants for recreational use since January 2016. If this reduction were to go into effect, the state will rip the heart out of the law, said Legalize Maine President Paul McCarrier, whose group wrote the referendum initiative.

“It was the one thing that everybody asked – can I grow my own and how much can I grow?” McCarrier said. “We set it at six because that is exactly how many plants the state allows a medical patient to grow. It makes it easy for enforcement. It makes it easy for Joe Six Plant to understand. Why change it? It makes no sense. If they really are worried about home grow leading to diversion, then they should put a limit on the number of commercial licenses. That’s what’s really going to flood the market.”

The committee is voting on aspects of the implementation bill as it goes along, but it will not take a final vote on the entire bill until next week.

Once it takes that final vote, the bill will go to the full Legislature, which could take up the bill before the end of the month. The committee has said it would try to work with LePage on the bill to make good policy that is still palatable to him, and they are also openly talking about building enough support to override another veto.

The proposal would allow people who are certified by a doctor to grow marijuana for an approved medical condition to grow their three adult-use plants in addition to the six medical marijuana plants under the state’s current medical use of marijuana program, Dion said.

It gives rural towns the freedom to allow a property owner to rent his land out to those who want to grow their own adult-use marijuana as long as it is not visible to the public or causes an odor problem.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

poverton@pressherald.com

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/17/legislative-panel-urges-three-pot-plants-per-person-instead-of-six/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/04/1182997_Colorado_Marijuana_Crackdow-e1501753664208.jpgPhoto taken at a grow house shows marijuana plants ready to be harvested. New Hampshire may soon join its New England neighbors in removing criminal penalties for possessing pot, but the measure faces challenges.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 23:54:29 +0000
LePage urges Maine Republicans to work together https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/lepage-urges-maine-republicans-to-work-together/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/lepage-urges-maine-republicans-to-work-together/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 03:55:55 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/lepage-urges-maine-republicans-to-work-together/ LEWISTON — When Gov. Paul LePage took the stage at The Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center on Friday night, he didn’t spend a lot of time offering warm platitudes. Instead, he chastised his Republican brothers and sisters for too frequently working at cross purposes.

“If you’re going to be a Republican in this country – if you’re going to have an R next to your name – you’re not going to get good press,” LePage told them. “That’s why we need to be working together.”

Hundreds of Androscoggin County Republicans filled the lower floor at the Franco Center. There was some campaigning, but for the most part the Lincoln Day Celebration was about supporting the party and preparing for the coming election battles.

The consequences of not working together, LePage stressed, are dire: the possibility of a Democrat in the Blaine House come November.

“The two people I do not want to see as governor of Maine are Adam Cote and Janet Mills,” he said of two of the strongest Democratic candidates. “We better get it together. If we don’t get it together, we lose.”

LePage showed up at the event gravelly voiced, animated and occasionally angry. He offered up a variety of instances where his efforts were thwarted by fellow Republicans, his voice rising in frustration. As he railed on the importance of party unity, the room fell almost completely silent, the audience tense and hanging on his words.

But LePage also listed a number of successes, many of them recent. A $28 million plant planned in Millinocket expected to bring 120 new jobs to the state. A nearly $1 billion transmission line proposed by Central Maine Power to bring hydropower from Quebec. A $1.5 billion investment in Maine infrastructure.

“This week,” LePage said, “has been the best week for economic development. Some great things are happening.”

He also talked about money he has made available for home care services and for people with intellectual disabilities – money he says is presently under threat by the Democrats.

“I will not stand by,” LePage thundered, “and watch it be taken away without a fight.”

LePage’s 20-minute speech was a crowd-stirring mix of frustration, defiance and optimism for the Republican Party in the state of Maine.

“Holy cow,” Lewiston Mayor Shane Bouchard said. “It was a very energetic speech. I think Paul LePage is the first politician I’ve seen going into his last term with more energy than when he started. He’s got a lot of goals he hasn’t met yet and he wants to meet them. He’s working hard to do it.”

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, stuck with the Lincoln Day theme in his remarks, drawing comparisons between the ugly political battles of today to the upheaval of the Civil War period.

“Can you imagine what it was like from 1860 to 1865?” Poliquin asked. “Can you imagine what the discourse was like at that time? Can you imagine what he went through?”

When the Republicans choose their gubernatorial candidate in June, Poliquin advised that the whole party rally around him or her.

Whoever it is, Poliquin said, “I’m all in. Period.”

The Franco Center was wall-to-wall with GOP luminaries, some looking to gain support for their own campaigns, most of them just embracing the party and the fights to come.

“All the heavy-hitters are here,” said John A. Pape, who is seeking the House District 75 seat. “It’s a who’s who of the Republican Party, and not just of Androscoggin County. It’s a hotbed. The fact that we draw this size crowd gives credence to the event.”

“I believe this will be our best event ever,” said Patti Gagne, chairwoman of the Androscoggin County Republicans. “I’m just thrilled with the turnout. Everyone’s getting along. It’s so nice.”

Everyone getting along wasn’t a guarantee, considering how many people are competing for the same political positions. In that one space at the Franco Center were five people hoping to become the next Republican governor.

“This is a great opportunity for voters to meet all the candidates,” said Shawn Moody, one of those hoping to secure the Republican nomination for governor. “It’s a chance for them to talk to us; to hear about our backgrounds. This is an important part of the political process.”

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/lepage-urges-maine-republicans-to-work-together/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/lepage.jpegSat, 17 Feb 2018 18:19:33 +0000
Trolls’ work fooled some on Trump team https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/trolls-work-fooled-some-on-trump-team/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/trolls-work-fooled-some-on-trump-team/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 02:32:14 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/trolls-work-fooled-some-on-trump-team/ Based in St. Petersburg, President Vladimir Putin’s hometown, the Russian Internet Research Agency employs bloggers and online commentators to influence public opinion in Russia and abroad.

Friday’s indictment says that the company was funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is close to Putin. The company allegedly purchased internet advertisements in the names of Americans whose identities they had stolen, staged political rallies while posing as American political activists and paid people in the U.S. to promote or disparage candidates. They started out by posting pro-Russian or controversial comments on social media and popular web sites and then developed more sophisticated tactics.

Analysts and journalists found that some of the accounts – such as the now-deleted and rabidly pro-Trump @TEN-GOP – accrued national followings and were retweeted by a range of figures as well as several members of Trump’s team, including ex-National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and one of Trump’s sons, Donald Trump Jr.

Soon enough, they were also organizing flesh-and-blood protests on American soil and being promoted by some of the most senior politicians in the land.

Some Trump campaign officials also helped the Russian meddling – unknowingly, the indictment says, after some of the defendants posed as Americans and communicated with “unwitting individuals” associated with the Trump election team in order to coordinate activities, according to the document. Sometimes the Russians used fake U.S. personas to communicate with Trump officials doing local outreach and those officials would then distribute their materials via social media. There was no immediate comment from the White House on this matter.

The FBI’s indictment carries new tidbits about how its operatives stole Americans’ Social Security numbers and drivers’ licenses to help pull off their fakery.

It appears that the FBI had access to the group’s internal communications. In the case of agency worker Irina Kaverzina, for example, the FBI cites an email she wrote to her family saying: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues.”

– The Associated Press

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/trolls-work-fooled-some-on-trump-team/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1333719_Trump_Russia_Probe_17586.jp_.jpgThese Facebook ads are examples of how a group of Russians tried to steer Americans away from voting for Hillary Clinton. Above, the ad links Clinto with a fake Muslim group. At left, an ad equates Clinton with Satan.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 21:32:14 +0000
Civic groups say new Maine rule on raffles hampers fundraising https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/civic-groups-say-new-maine-rule-on-raffles-hampers-fundraising/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/civic-groups-say-new-maine-rule-on-raffles-hampers-fundraising/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 01:34:29 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/civic-groups-say-new-maine-rule-on-raffles-hampers-fundraising/ Civic organizations that use raffles with substantial cash prizes to raise money say a state rule change hidden in the last state budget bill, capping cash raffle prizes at $1,000, hampers their ability to bring in money to support their efforts to help their communities.

“It impacts us directly. The Elks, in Maine, raise over $5 million a year, some of that through raffles,” said Mike Michaud, exalted ruler of the Augusta Elks Lodge. “Not being able to do this cripples our ability to keep raising money, that’s what we do with these raffles. We’re going to have to find other means to raise these monies for our charities, which is climbing up an even steeper hill.”

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, has sponsored emergency legislation to reverse the rule change made last year, which Katz said was tucked into what he described as the 900-page budget bill of Gov. Paul LePage’s administration. The change apparently escaped the attention of many people, including Katz and Michaud, who didn’t learn about the change until a meeting this winter with other Maine Elks leaders.

“No one, including myself, picked up on it. We collectively dropped the ball,” Katz said of the rule change getting through largely unnoticed. “It’s law. It came to my attention from a couple of representatives of the Calumet Club.”

Dan Doiron, a member of Le Club Calumet involved in organizing the club’s popular Franco-American festival, Le Festival de la Bastille, said a raffle with $20,000 in total prize money and a $10,000 cash prize is part of the biennial festival and helps raise funds that go into the club’s general fund.

“Those funds help support our contributions to the community throughout the year,” Doiron said. “It’s a real shock to the organization. It looks like it slipped in as part of a bigger bill. That’s not a great way to do things.”

Every other year, the Augusta Elks Lodge holds a raffle with $10,000 in total prizes, with a $3,000 top prize. Proceeds from that raffle fund the local fraternal organization’s summer festival, which raised about $15,000 last summer for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program and K9s on the Front Line, a Maine-based nonprofit that provides trained service dogs to military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Michaud and the leaders of other local organizations that raise funds with such raffles said while they could give away prizes other than cash, or smaller cash prizes, those don’t seem to generate nearly as much interest from the raffle-ticket-buying public.

“I think the opportunity or excitement of winning that much money helps sell those tickets,” said Tom Warren, chief executive officer of the Kennebec Valley YMCA, which annually splits the proceeds of a raffle in partnership with the Friends of Lithgow Library that has a $10,000 cash prize and generates $12,000 to $15,000 each for the library and the YMCA. “If we did a raffle and the payout would be a lot less, I think it’d be much more difficult. I’m sure we’ll figure something out, but it certainly makes it more difficult and very well may result in us raising less money and having less money to give back.”

Warren said the YMCA uses its share of the raffle proceeds to fund its Strong Kids Campaign, which provides scholarships so children who wouldn’t be able to afford to join the Y can become members.

Katz hopes his legislation will pass as an emergency measure so organizations across the state that use cash raffles to raise money still may have such events this summer.

The bill, L.D. 1837, “An Act to Allow Cash Prizes for Certain Raffles Conducted by Charitable Organizations,” has been referred to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which Katz anticipates will hold a hearing on the bill within the next couple of weeks. Katz noted it’s an issue across the state, not just in Augusta.

Such fundraisers, he said, “have enabled community groups to do a great deal of good, and the same thing is replicated in communities throughout Maine. I’m unaware of any problems that have come up with this culture of nonprofit raffles.”

Asked for information about why the law change was included in the state budget bill, Julie Rabinowitz, LePage’s spokeswoman, said Friday that questions about that issue were passed along to the state’s Gambling Control Board, where officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

The current law does allow charitable organizations that register with the state’s Gambling Control Unit to give away noncash prizes up to a value of $75,000.

However, Michaud said people don’t seem as interested in winning items as they are in cash.

“We’ve raffled off boats and motors, vacation trips and things like that, and they garner some interest; but the cash raffle is really, really one of the stronger means of raising money for our charitable organizations,” Michaud said. “I don’t think whoever drafted that bill had any idea at all the impact it’d have on fraternal organizations, the Y, the hospitals and others that run these raffles to raise money for their communities.”

Organizations holding raffles are limited, both in the current and proposed legislation, to one raffle a year.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

kedwards@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @kedwardskj

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/civic-groups-say-new-maine-rule-on-raffles-hampers-fundraising/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1333680_548356_20160708_festival_58.jpgLarry Guimond and Rachel Boucher Ellis lead the singing of Le Club Calumet's anthem July 8, 2016, during the opening night of Le Festival de La Bastille in Augusta.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 22:19:34 +0000
Director of Maine Republican Party says he’s responsible for anonymous website https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/maine-republican-party-director-says-hes-responsible-for-anonymous-website/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/maine-republican-party-director-says-hes-responsible-for-anonymous-website/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 22:38:06 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/maine-republican-party-director-says-hes-responsible-for-anonymous-website/ AUGUSTA — The executive director of the Maine Republican Party admitted to a state ethics panel that he is the owner and operator of the secretive Maine Examiner website, which published leaked emails from unsuccessful Lewiston mayoral candidate Ben Chin’s campaign.

Jason Savage’s attorneys said the Republican official runs the site “in his free time and separately and distinctly from his duties as a paid employee of the Maine Republican Party.”

In January, the Maine Democratic Party asked the Maine Ethics Commission to investigate possible campaign violations by the Republican Party and the Maine Examiner. The complaint accused the party of working with the anonymous website to spread bogus claims about Chin during Lewiston’s mayoral runoff.

DEMOCRATS SCOFF

In a letter to the ethics commission Monday, attorneys for Savage argued that because the Examiner “falls squarely within the requirements for the press exemption” and its owner is now known, there shouldn’t be any ethics concerns related to it.

Democrats scoffed at the assertion.

“There aren’t any ifs, ands or buts about it: Jason Savage is the heart of the Maine Republican Party, and he created this misleading content with the singular goal of using his party’s apparatus to amplify it,” said Phil Bartlett, the Maine Democratic Party chairman.

Bartlett said Savage “did so deceitfully, under the cloak of secrecy, and with the intent to mislead Maine people.”

“The argument they’re making now is nothing more than a sad, last-ditch Hail Mary to bail themselves out – but any Mainer will tell you that it just doesn’t pass the straight-face test. What Savage did was wrong, and he owes the people of Maine nothing short of an apology – although his resignation would be more appropriate,” Bartlett said.

Savage’s lawyers, Joshua Tardy and Colton Gross, said that Savage spent only $74 on the site, to register it with GoDaddy.com, and that it was always “a personal project of Jason Savage” unrelated to his work for the state party.

SEPARATE LETTER

The Maine Republicans said in a separate letter that “contrary to the groundless speculation” by Democrats and the media, “there was no orchestrated subterfuge” by the Republicans “to create an anonymous website to skirt campaign finance laws.”

“In fact,” the party said, “the Maine Examiner is not an instrument” of the party, which hasn’t contributed any money to it and “neither operates nor controls the Maine Examiner or its content.”

The Republicans said that until the Democrats filed a complaint, they had no knowledge of the site’s owner or operator. The Lewiston Sun Journal reported that the website’s metadata could be traced to Savage.

After the complaint was filed with the ethics panel, the Republicans said, they learned of Savage’s involvement with the Examiner “in his individual capacity, at his own expense, and outside the scope of his employment” with the party.

CHIN EMAILS

The Examiner, which began publishing in late summer, has covered a wide variety of topics, presenting news with a conservative perspective.

The stories about the Chin emails were particularly explosive because they came out in the days immediately preceding the Dec. 12 runoff election in which Republican-backed candidate Shane Bouchard defeated Chin by 142 votes. The emails were cast by the Examiner as showing that Chin thought many Lewiston residents were racists.

In the 2015 Lewiston mayoral race, the state Republicans created a website devoted to attacking Chin. It cited the party as its creator, a requirement for political campaign material under Maine law.

That site, called The Real Ben Chin, featured a number of harsh posts about Chin’s alleged words and activities over the years.

After remaining dormant for two years, that site’s Facebook page revived shortly before the 2017 election to share three of the Examiner’s stories about Chin’s emails.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/maine-republican-party-director-says-hes-responsible-for-anonymous-website/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1333531_106775_savage-e1518841960861.jpgMaine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage is shown delivering a "Fake News Alert" in 2017 discussing a story his party thought failed to meet the standards of good journalism.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 23:33:25 +0000
Maine supporters of ranked choice voting take their case to court https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/maine-ranked-choice-voting-supporters-take-their-case-to-court/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/maine-ranked-choice-voting-supporters-take-their-case-to-court/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 22:08:41 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/maine-ranked-choice-voting-supporters-take-their-case-to-court/ AUGUSTA – Eight candidates are asking a judge to make sure the state’s ranked-choice voting system is in place in time for the June primary elections.

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting has submitted petitions for a people’s veto referendum aimed nullifying a legislative delay. If there are enough signatures, then the legislative delay would be stayed, allowing the system to be implemented in June.

But committee chairman Dick Woodbury said Friday that there’s still uncertainty, and he hopes a Superior Court judge will “establish some clarity.”

The ranked-choice system lets voters rank ballot choices from first to last in a system that ensures the winner gets a majority. It would apply to primaries and federal races but not gubernatorial or legislative races to avoid a conflict with the Maine Constitution.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/maine-ranked-choice-voting-supporters-take-their-case-to-court/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/01/1311456_983379_20171107_election__2.jpgHollis residents cast their ballots Nov. 7. Maine elections are notable for how well they are run, and Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is overstating the case when he claims that petitioners are disrupting the operation of local polling places.Sat, 17 Feb 2018 00:26:23 +0000
Lots of talk as usual, little action in Congress after shootings https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/lots-of-talk-as-usual-little-action-in-congress-after-shootings/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/lots-of-talk-as-usual-little-action-in-congress-after-shootings/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 15:00:15 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/lots-of-talk-as-usual-little-action-in-congress-after-shootings/ WASHINGTON – For a brief moment after the Las Vegas massacre last fall, Republicans and Democrats in Congress talked about taking a rare step to tighten the nation’s gun laws. Four months later, the only gun legislation that has moved in the House or Senate instead eases restrictions for gun owners.

The October deaths of 58 people in Las Vegas and other mass shootings have sparked debate but have had scant impact on the march toward looser gun laws under the Republican-controlled Congress. There’s little sign that the shooting deaths of 17 people at a Florida high school Wednesday will change that dynamic.

The conversation at the Capitol Thursday followed a familiar pattern. Many Democrats revived calls for tighter gun laws, while Republicans focused on the mental health of the accused shooter.

“As a parent, it scares me to death that this body doesn’t take seriously the safety of my children, and it seems like a lot of parents in South Florida are going to be asking that same question,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a leading advocate of tighter gun control.

In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, Murphy and other lawmakers from both parties pushed to ban bump stocks, the device that allowed the shooter’s semi-automatic rifles to mimic the rapid fire of machine guns.

Those efforts soon fizzled amid opposition from Republican leaders. Instead, the Republican-controlled House approved a bill in December making it easier for gun owners to legally carry concealed weapons across state lines.

The concealed carry measure, a top priority of the National Rifle Association, would allow gun owners with a state-issued concealed-carry permit to carry a handgun in any state that allows concealed weapons.

The bill includes a provision to strengthen the FBI database of prohibited gun buyers – a response to another shooting in which a gunman slaughtered more than two dozen people at a Texas church in November.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that Congress should focus on whether existing laws – including those designed to prevent mentally ill people from getting guns – are working.

“We need to think less about taking sides and fighting each other politically” and should instead pull together, Ryan said in comments that have become familiar. The Florida massacre was the 17th school shooting so far this year.

President Donald Trump, in a solemn address to the nation, promised to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health,” but avoided any mention of guns.

The 19-year-old suspect, Nikolas Cruz, is a troubled teenager who posted disturbing material on social media. He had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, for “disciplinary reasons,” Broward County, Florida, Sheriff Scott Israel said.

The latest deadly shooting prompted Florida Sen. Bill Nelson to declare, “enough is enough.”

Addressing those who say it’s too soon to talk about gun violence, Nelson asked, “When is the right time? How many more times do we want to do this? How many more folks have to die?”

Nelson and other Democrats said Congress must do more than talk about mental illness. “Let’s get to the root cause . let’s get these assault weapons off our streets,” he said.

The accused Florida shooter was armed with his own AR-15 rifle, the same type of weapons used in Las Vegas and Texas last fall, as well as in earlier shootings at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida and a school in Newtown, Connecticut.

In a rare comment that appeared unscripted, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he would speak to Trump and fellow Cabinet members about gun violence.

Testifying on the president’s budget, Mnuchin called the school shooting a tragedy and said, “I urge Congress to look at this issue.”

Mnuchin’s remark seemed at odds with the White House, which has not sought legislation or additional money to curb gun violence.

Other Republicans stuck largely to a now-familiar script.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called for a moment of silence, adding: “To say that such brutal, pointless violence is unconscionable is an understatement.”

Democrats, meanwhile, urged expanded background checks and renewed their call for a special committee to examine gun violence.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., said the nation is in the midst of a crisis. “You can’t turn around without there being a mass shooting,” he said.

Thompson’s criticized Republicans for failing to respond to the spate of mass shootings. “If I was a Republican member I’d be embarrassed that my leadership wouldn’t address this issue,” he said.

Ryan said legislation expanding concealed carry is a good “self-defense” measure, and he blamed the Senate for not acting to address loopholes in the instant background check system.

The House bill would penalize federal agencies that don’t properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences. The measure, which is pending in the Senate, was drafted after the Air Force acknowledged that it failed to report the Texas gunman’s domestic violence conviction to the National Criminal Information Center database.

Asked whether authorities should be able to confiscate guns from mentally ill people, Ryan said, “This is not the time to jump to some conclusion not knowing the full facts.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said it was legitimate for Congress to debate how to respond to the shooting, but said lawmakers must acknowledge their power is limited.

“If someone has decided, ‘I’m going to commit this crime,’ they will find a way to get the gun to do it,” Rubio said Thursday on the Senate floor.

“I think it’s also wrong to say that there is nothing we can do,” Rubio added. “This is hard, but we need to do it.”

Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Andrew Taylor and Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/lots-of-talk-as-usual-little-action-in-congress-after-shootings/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1333308_School_Shooting_Florida_95.jpgMourners gather at a vigil that was held for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Thusday, Feb. 15, 2018, in Parkland, Fla. The teenager accused of using a semi-automatic rifle to kill more than a dozen people and injuring others at a Florida high school confessed to carrying out one of the nation's deadliest school shootings and concealing extra ammunition in his backpack, according to a sheriff's department report released Thursday. (Jim Rassol/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)Fri, 16 Feb 2018 10:02:30 +0000
Mitt Romney makes it official: He’s running for Senate seat from Utah https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/mitt-romney-makes-it-official-hes-running-for-utah-senate-seat/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/mitt-romney-makes-it-official-hes-running-for-utah-senate-seat/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 13:48:29 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/mitt-romney-makes-it-official-hes-running-for-utah-senate-seat/ SALT LAKE CITY – Former presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is running for a Utah Senate seat, officially launching his political comeback attempt Friday by praising his adopted home state as a model for an acrimonious national government in Washington.

Having been one of the Republican Party’s fiercest internal critics of President Trump, Romney didn’t mention the administration or Trump himself in a campaign announcement posted online. The closest allusion to Trump was Romney noting that Utah “welcomes legal immigrants from around the world,” while “Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion.”

Romney, 70, will be the heavy favorite for the Senate seat being opened by Sen. Orrin Hatch’s retirement. Hatch was among the first Republicans to pitch Romney as his potential successor.

Leading up to Romney’s widely anticipated announcement, confidantes said he intends to focus his campaign on Utah, where he moved with his wife, Ann, after losing the 2012 presidential election to incumbent Democrat Barack Obama.

“Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in Washington,” Romney said in his announcement, noting that “on Utah’s Capitol Hill, people treat one another with respect.”

Still, Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and wealthy business executive, would come to Capitol Hill with a higher profile than a typical freshman senator. That reality was made clear by immediate reactions to his announcement from across the political spectrum.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, whom Romney tapped as his vice presidential running mate in 2012, immediately hailed his old partner’s “unparalleled experience, conservative leadership and lifetime of service.”

Democrats, despite not yet offering any credible threat to the Republican dominance in Utah, answered with a scathing rebuke, dismissing Romney’s periodic criticisms of Trump. “Mitt Romney desperately wants to separate himself from the extremism of the current administration,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Vedant Patel in a statement, but “the basis policies of Trump’s GOP … were his before they were Donald Trump’s.”

Romney took a tour of a dairy farm in the northern Utah city of Ogden Friday morning, driving a tractor and posing for pictures with workers and the farm’s owners. He didn’t take questions.

He is scheduled to give a speech Friday night at a Republican county dinner event in Provo, a city south of Salt Lake City.

As he did in two presidential campaigns, Romney’s announcement highlights his stewardship of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Romney is respected in the state for taking over the troubled games amid planning and financial disarray.

Romney supporters describe him as a “favorite son” of Utah. He’s a Brigham Young University graduate who went on to become the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major political party. About 60 percent of Utah’s residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Some Utah Republicans may still question whether the one-time abortion-rights supporter is too much of an outsider or too moderate for their tastes, but he’s not expected to face any serious primary or general election challenge.

Romney attracted headlines in 2016 when he took the extraordinary step of delivering a biting speech denouncing Trump, calling him a “phony” who was unfit for office. Romney muted his criticism for a time when Trump auditioned him as a potential secretary of state.

For his part, Trump has said Romney “choked like a dog” in his failed presidential bids in 2012 and four years earlier, when Romney lost the Republican nomination to Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Romney also would be a compelling addition to the ongoing congressional wrangle over health care. As Massachusetts governor, Romney enacted a sweeping health insurance overhaul that became a model for the insurance exchanges in 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Amid intense conservative opposition to the national law, however, Romney distanced himself during his 2012 campaign from his Massachusetts accomplishments, arguing that he had pursued a state solution that wasn’t appropriate at the federal level.

Barrow reported from Atlanta.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/16/mitt-romney-makes-it-official-hes-running-for-utah-senate-seat/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1333291_Midterms_Romney_Senate_482.jpgFormer Republican presidential candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney launched his campaign for U.S. senator from Utah on Friday.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 14:49:35 +0000
Atheist delivers invocation at Maine State House https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/maine-atheist-delivers-nonreligious-invocation/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/maine-atheist-delivers-nonreligious-invocation/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 04:01:58 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/maine-atheist-delivers-nonreligious-invocation/ AUGUSTA — A year after Thomas Waddell opened a session of the Maine House of Representatives by reading a “secular” invocation, he did the same thing in the opposite chamber.

Just past 10 a.m. Thursday, the Litchfield man read a short set of remarks to the few senators who had made it to their space in the south wing of the State House.

He urged them “to rely on and trust in the collective character, honesty and integrity of your colleagues,” before reading quotations by Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams and thanking the lawmakers for their sacrifice.

BELIEFS ON HIS SLEEVE

More unusual, Waddell made no reference to God or Jesus in his brief remarks, as many of the invocations that open sessions of the Maine Legislature do.

That’s because the 70-year-old doesn’t believe in higher powers.

He’s an atheist, a fact that was practically on his sleeve Thursday.

On the front of his blazer were several gleaming pins, including one in the shape of the letter A, and another that depicted a fish that had grown a pair of legs – a nod to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

“When our state legislators take time out at the beginning of the day to reflect on the solemnness and the importance of the job,” he said in an interview afterward, “I would rather see (them) rely on something a little more tangible than a supernatural being. They can rely on the very real character, honesty and wisdom of their fellow workers. That’s where real inspiration comes from.”

Waddell, whose personal views run to the left on the political spectrum, is a vocal advocate for the separation of church and state that’s outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

Waddell writes columns for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. He also serves as president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Based on his own research, he thinks his remarks Thursday could have been the first secular invocation that’s been read before a session of the Maine Senate.

Besides encouraging lawmakers to find inspiration in their own colleagues, Waddell also hopes that his invocations have staked out a place for different views and beliefs in state and local government, whether they are religious or not.

Prayers have been read in Congress since it was formed more than two centuries ago. The right to do so was affirmed in a 2014 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Town of Greece v. Galloway.

But the court also has indicated that the practice could violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution if it includes a pattern of denigrating other faith systems, whether in the prayers themselves or in the decisions about which prayers to allow.

INVITED BY BELLOWS

Waddell delivered his invocation at the invitation of Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, who said in an interview that she has tried to bring an array of people with religious and nonreligious views into the State House.

“The invocation before the Senate is supposed to be open to all people of all faiths, including no faith,” said Bellows, the former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

“That’s why I have invited folks ranging from Tom to the pastor at Hope Baptist Church in Manchester to the (pastor at the) Episcopal church in Gardiner, because I think that religious liberty is a founding principle in our country.”

Bellows also expressed disappointment that more senators were not able to hear Waddell’s invocation, as Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, convened the daily proceedings more quickly than usual on Thursday.

Because of that, most senators hadn’t arrived by the time Waddell delivered his remarks.

Thibodeau’s chief of staff, Robert Caverly, said the Senate president was trying to move the proceedings along quickly so that the body would have time to vote on legislation funding the Downeast Correctional Facility for another year.

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

ceichacker@centralmaine.com

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/maine-atheist-delivers-nonreligious-invocation/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/Thomas-Waddell.jpgFri, 16 Feb 2018 16:07:14 +0000
Trump inauguration committee paid two companies $50 million for event planning https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/trump-inauguration-committee-paid-two-companies-50-million-for-event-planning/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/trump-inauguration-committee-paid-two-companies-50-million-for-event-planning/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 03:28:24 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/trump-inauguration-committee-paid-two-companies-50-million-for-event-planning/ WASHINGTON — President Trump’s inauguration committee paid two companies more than $50 million for event planning while donating $5 million to charitable causes after the 2017 event, according to new tax documents.

The filings for the Presidential Inaugural Committee show that the organization paid nearly $26 million to an obscure event planning firm based in Southern California. The company, WIS Media Partners, is described in the tax filings as an “event production” firm, but California state incorporation records do not list the firm’s owner.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the firm was started by Stephanie Winston-Wolkoff, a New York event planner who has been an adviser to first lady Melania Trump.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/trump-inauguration-committee-paid-two-companies-50-million-for-event-planning/feed/ 0 Thu, 15 Feb 2018 22:28:24 +0000
Veterans Affairs chief David Shulkin agrees to repay $4,000 in improper travel expenses https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/veterans-affairs-chief-david-shulkin-agrees-to-repay-4000-in-improper-travel-expenses/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/veterans-affairs-chief-david-shulkin-agrees-to-repay-4000-in-improper-travel-expenses/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 03:23:52 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/veterans-affairs-chief-david-shulkin-agrees-to-repay-4000-in-improper-travel-expenses/ WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Thursday pledged to repay more than $4,000 for his wife’s airfare for an 11-day trip to Europe that mixed business and sightseeing.

Testifying at a House hearing, Shulkin said he accepts responsibility for making mistakes after a government investigation found “serious derelictions” in the handling of the trip, including improperly accepting Wimbledon tennis tickets.

The report Wednesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ internal watchdog concluded that Shulkin’s staff had lied that he was getting an award to justify his wife accompanying him at taxpayer expense on the July trip to England and Denmark.

“I do recognize the optics of this are not good,” Shulkin told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, stressing that he wants to “make things right.”

Shulkin said he would pay back the airfare, and heed the inspector general’s recommendation that he cover the cost of the Wimbledon tickets.

His comments came as several lawmakers chided him for apparent misuse of taxpayer money and called on him to better explain his actions in the coming weeks.

One lawmaker, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., has demanded that Shulkin resign. Expressing impatience Thursday with some of Shulkin’s explanations, Coffman said: “It’s not the optics that are not good. It’s the facts that are not good.”

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/veterans-affairs-chief-david-shulkin-agrees-to-repay-4000-in-improper-travel-expenses/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1333155_Veterans_Shulkin_41075.jpg-.jpgDAVID SHULKINThu, 15 Feb 2018 22:23:52 +0000
Mueller interviews Steve Bannon on Russia investigation https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/mueller-interviews-steve-bannon-on-russia-investigation/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/mueller-interviews-steve-bannon-on-russia-investigation/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 03:16:34 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/mueller-interviews-steve-bannon-on-russia-investigation/ WASHINGTON — Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, whose involvement in the Trump White House and the president’s election campaign makes him knowledgeable about matters related to Russian meddling and potential obstruction of an ongoing federal inquiry, was interrogated over two days this week by investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller, according to a person familiar with the process.

The person, who declined to be named because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation, said Bannon answered every question that was put to him.

Bannon’s interview by Mueller’s team came just before he visited Capitol Hill on Thursday to answer questions as part of the House intelligence committee’s own Russia probe.

Like his first visit in January, Bannon declined to answer some questions in the closed-door interview – forcing Republican lawmakers to weigh whether to hold him in contempt of Congress.

He would only answer 25 questions that had been pre-approved by the White House in reference to any events after President Trump’s election. His answer to each question was “no” and he told the committee that he was not authorized to elaborate, according to lawmakers of both parties.

Bannon was already under subpoena as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been critical of the White House’s sweeping interpretation of executive privilege and its contention that pretty much everything is off limits until the president says it’s not.

The escalating fight between Congress and the White House over the privilege issue has centered on Bannon, an outsized figure in President Trump’s campaign and White House and an inspiration to some conservatives as he has publicly battled the Republican establishment. He was fired from the White House last summer, and more recently had a falling out with Trump after the January publication of a book in which he sharply criticized Trump family members.

Despite his fractured relationship with Trump, Bannon has followed White House direction as the House lawmakers have sought to talk to him in its probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign was involved. Because he was one of Trump’s top advisers, lawmakers were expected to question him about key events during his time in the White House, including Trump’s firings of former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey.

At issue is whether Bannon can talk about the presidential transition, his time at the White House and communications with Trump and others since he left last summer. Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, the Republican leading the panel’s Russia probe, said Bannon would only answer the pre-approved questions about any time period past the day Trump was elected in November 2016.

Conaway wouldn’t say whether Republicans would hold Bannon in contempt. He said he’d discuss the issue with House lawyers and with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is likely to have the final say in whether the House votes on contempt.

“That’s an ongoing conversation we’ll have among an awful lot of lawyers,” Conaway said after Bannon’s interview.

At least one Republican on the intelligence panel said before the interview that a contempt vote would be necessary if Bannon were uncooperative. Florida Rep. Tom Rooney said Tuesday that if Bannon didn’t cooperate with the panel and they didn’t hold him in contempt, that would set a bad precedent.

“For not just our committee but every committee, that (subpoenas) don’t mean anything, that it’s just a hollow threat,” Rooney said. “You can’t do that.”

Democrats are pushing for a contempt vote, with the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, saying he believed Bannon’s non-answers were all an attempt to draw out and block the Russia probe.

“That’s not how privilege works, that’s how stonewalling works,” Schiff said. “And we cannot take that kind of stonewalling for an answer.”

This was the second time Bannon appeared before the committee. Republicans and Democrats subpoenaed him after he similarly refused to answer some questions in a January interview. Negotiations between the House and White House have been ongoing since then, and interviews have been scheduled and postponed in recent weeks. Lawmakers headed into the meeting ahead of Bannon’s entrance appeared unsure whether he would arrive.

Bannon is one of the committee’s few remaining witnesses in its Russia probe, which Republicans on the panel have said they want to wrap up early this year.

The Senate intelligence committee is running a separate investigation into the Russian meddling.

The Senate panel hasn’t yet spoken to Bannon, according to a source familiar with the probe. The person declined to be named because the interview schedule isn’t public.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/mueller-interviews-steve-bannon-on-russia-investigation/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1333152_bannon-1stld-writethru-763cf10a-128c-11e8-9570-29c9830535e5.jpgSteve Bannon, former top White House strategist, center, arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Lawmakers warn that he might be held in contempt of Congress if he's uncooperative.Thu, 15 Feb 2018 22:16:34 +0000
After a year, LePage program to treat opioid addicts falling far short of target https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/lepages-opioid-program-struggles-to-get-off-the-ground/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/lepages-opioid-program-struggles-to-get-off-the-ground/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 23:21:06 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/lepages-opioid-program-struggles-to-get-off-the-ground/ The LePage administration’s $4.8 million plan to provide substance abuse treatment to more than 400 Mainers affected by the opioid crisis has so far resulted in five uninsured people and fewer than 50 Medicaid recipients receiving treatment.

Less than $60,000 has been spent so far on the Opioid Health Home program almost a year after it was launched, according to a Feb. 6 memo from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

At the time, the LePage administration touted the program as a major step forward in addressing the opioid crisis, although critics called it a half-measure at best. Other bills that would have expanded access to treatment, including one by Rep. Karen Vachon, R-Scarborough, died in last year’s legislative session.

An average of about one Mainer per day is dying of drug overdoses, mostly fueled by the opioid epidemic. Overdose deaths – 376 in Maine in 2016 and 185 through the first six months of 2017 – now outpace car crashes as a cause of death.

“Here we are a year later and it has not worked. The model they were promoting is not usable,” said Malory Shaughnessy, executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, Maine, a trade group representing providers. “Money is left sitting in a bank someplace instead of people getting the services they need in the real world.”

A DHHS spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.

Shaughnessy said the LePage administration has been weighed down by bureaucracy and is not willing or able to work with the providers that are the experts in delivering care to those needing substance abuse treatment.

“They’ve helped five uninsured people in one year, and Milestone turns away 10 people a day,” Shaughnessy said, referring to Milestone Recovery, a treatment program in Portland that has to turn people down because Maine’s system doesn’t have an effective way of delivering care to the uninsured. “Those are the real numbers.”

The $4.8 million plan, a blend of state and federal money, would have provided for about 170 uninsured Mainers to gain access to treatment, together with some 230 Medicaid recipients.

It’s unclear how many Mainers need opioid treatment but don’t have access to it, but treatment experts say the number is in the thousands. Many people with a substance use disorder lose their jobs and are uninsured as their lives spiral downward. Meanwhile, the LePage administration has tightened Medicaid eligibility for adults – a pathway to treatment because Medicaid reimburses for substance use treatment programs.

Shaughnessy said that in some ways the Opioid Health Home program was duplicative, because Medicaid recipients already have access to opioid treatment, which is typically medication-assisted treatment using Suboxone or methadone. The program would have done some good for the uninsured population, but even that part of the program has been unable to launch.

The DHHS memo says that “the department has sent out for signature an additional nine contracts for (Opioid Health Home) services, which would allow providers to serve up to 144 more uninsured individuals.”

“I don’t see them getting their help anytime soon,” Shaughnessy said.

Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion by a wide margin in November, and once the expansion is implemented, it will open up treatment access to many thousands of Mainers. About 70,000 Mainers will become eligible for Medicaid, although it’s unknown how much of the expansion population will need substance use treatment.

However, Republican Gov. Paul LePage has raised concerns about funding implementation, arguing with Democratic lawmakers over how expansion should be paid for. Shaughnessy said she expects the Medicaid fight will continue, and it will be up to the next administration to implement expansion.

LePage’s term ends in January, and the gubernatorial election will be held this November.

Shaughnessy said reimbursement rates are low for the services that DHHS requires of the providers in Opioid Health Homes, and the administration has not listened to feedback warning that the program wouldn’t work. The memo lists 18 approved Opioid Health Home sites across the state, including locations in Augusta, Bangor, Biddeford, Calais, South Portland, Lewiston, Portland and Waterville.

Dr. Noah Nesin, vice president of medical affairs at the Penobscot Community Health Center in Bangor, said that cumbersome rules, low reimbursement rates and red tape have all contributed to providers so far taking a pass on the program.

“One-quarter of our patients don’t have insurance and could use the Opioid Health Home services if we could ever get it going,” Nesin said. “The demand is certainly there.”

Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York and House chairwoman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said the LePage administration is “overwhelmed” by the opioid epidemic and unable to execute its plans.

“We have a tsunami of a problem with access to treatment and the department’s efforts have been cautious and underwhelming,” Hymanson said, adding that the committee planned to discuss the report at a future meeting.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

jlawlor@pressherald.com

Twitter: joelawlorph

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/lepages-opioid-program-struggles-to-get-off-the-ground/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/lepage.jpegFri, 16 Feb 2018 06:18:56 +0000
Vote in Maine House casts doubt on future of prison that LePage wants to close https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/bill-to-fund-downeast-jail-in-trouble/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/bill-to-fund-downeast-jail-in-trouble/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 19:09:10 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/bill-to-fund-downeast-jail-in-trouble/ AUGUSTA — A bill to fund the Downeast Correctional Facility for another year faltered Thursday after House Republicans largely opposed extending a lifeline to the empty Washington County prison.

The House gave initial approval to the bill, but the 87-59 vote was well short of the two-thirds margin needed to pass it as an “emergency measure” or to override a likely veto from Gov. Paul LePage. While the bill subsequently passed the Senate on a 31-3 vote, the closer House vote raises serious questions about whether backers will be able to peel off enough Republicans to salvage the bill.

“This was a slap in the face of common sense and values,” Sen. Joyce Maker, R-Calais, said on the Senate floor after accusing opponents of spreading misinformation prior to the House vote. “We talk a lot about ethics and values, … but what was said was not true.”

The LePage administration transferred 63 inmates and delivered layoff notices to nearly 40 prison staff members last Friday during an unannounced, pre-dawn operation that sparked a political firestorm.

The bill under consideration, L.D. 1704, would provide $5.5 million in funding to Downeast Correctional during the fiscal year that begins July 1 while studying the impacts of closing the minimum-security facility. But there is also pending litigation in Maine’s Superior Court – brought by Washington County’s commissioners – that seeks to block the LePage administration from closing and dismantling the prison.

The funding bill could become part of that legal case if Washington County’s commissioners as well as Attorney General Janet Mills argue that LePage overstepped his authority by moving to close a facility funded by the Legislature.

The fate of the Machiasport facility appears increasingly enmeshed in the complex political dynamics that have dominated the State House in recent years, however.

While 14 of the 18 Republicans in the Senate voted to fund Downeast Correctional for another year, 58 of the 71 members of the House Republican caucus – a group closely aligned with LePage – voted against the bill. All of the Democrats present Thursday in both chambers supported the bill.

LePage has been pushing to close the 150-bed prison for several years, arguing the aging facility is too costly, inefficient and increasingly unnecessary because of enhanced capacity at other prisons. House Republicans raised those concerns while suggesting bill supporters were merely postponing the inevitable by seeking to keep open a facility that was also eyed for closure during the administrations of Govs. Angus King and John Baldacci.

“Postponing the inevitable year after year is not helping the system over the long term, it is not helping the folks in Washington County and it is not helping the employees who work there,” said Rep. Elsie Espling, R-New Gloucester, the assistant House minority leader. “We need to move past this and we need to improve this. … We need to do the right thing now. I know it’s not easy, but sometimes doing the right thing is difficult.”

Other opponents accused bill supporters of a lack of transparency or trying to rush through the bill, even though it was the subject of a lengthy public hearing on Jan. 29, two work sessions and several committee votes.

But Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias, said LePage has failed to live up to his pledge to build a new work-release facility in Washington County. Tuell was among several supporters who pointed out that the Legislature voted last year on a budget that continues funding the Machiasport prison through June 30. By emptying the prison and laying off employees by March 30, LePage was effectively ignoring the will of the Legislature, Tuell said.

“Do I grant that the chief executive has the right to transfer prisoners? I certainly do and I think that right needs to be preserved,” Tuell said. “But I must say that the way this has happened was an end-run around the entire process that we have.”

Other bill supporters accused opponents of abandoning earlier agreements to build a facility in Washington County.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, said the only reason his district received legislative approval for $100 million in improvements at Maine Correctional Center is because that measure was coupled with the proposed work-release facility Down East.

“We agreed, we shook hands and we became part of it so a lot of us feel morally obliged, ethically obliged to follow through on what we said,” Diamond said. “So for me and, I think, others, there’s no choice. We made the deal.”

Sen. Mark Dion, a Portland Democrat and former Cumberland County sheriff, said staff members at Downeast Correctional were “treated as targets of a police action” when armed state troopers and Department of Corrections officers were sent to clear the low-security prison. Dion called the actions “egregious” and “an insult to everyone else in the system who has taken an oath to uphold the laws of the state.”

The bill faces additional votes in the House, although it was unclear Thursday when that would happen.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/bill-to-fund-downeast-jail-in-trouble/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1332714_804448-20180215_DowneastLob.jpgLaid-off Downeast Correctional Facility workers, along with union representatives and supporters, gather at the Maine State House before lobbying legislators Thursday in Augusta.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 00:25:54 +0000
Trump cites suspect’s mental health, stays silent on guns https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/trump-cites-florida-shooters-mental-health/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/trump-cites-florida-shooters-mental-health/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 18:13:40 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/trump-cites-florida-shooters-mental-health/ WASHINGTON – Declaring the nation united and grieving with “one heavy heart,” President Trump promised Thursday to tackle school safety and “the difficult issue of mental health” in response to the school shooting in Florida. He made no mention of the scourge of gun violence.

Not always a natural in the role of national comforter, Trump spoke deliberately, at one point directly addressing children who may feel “lost, alone, confused or even scared.”

“I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be,” Trump said. “You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you.”

While Trump stressed the importance of mental health and school safety improvements, his latest budget request would slash Medicaid, the major source of federal funding for treating mental health problems, and cut school safety programs by more than a third. Last year, he signed a resolution blocking an Obama-era rule designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people.

The president spoke to the nation from the White House, one day after a former student with an AR-15 rifle opened fire at a high school in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and injuring 14 more. It was the nation’s deadliest school shooting since a gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, more than five years ago.

Trump, who owns a private club in Palm Beach, Florida, about 40 miles away, said he planned to visit the grieving community, but no date was immediately set. He canceled plans to promote his infrastructure plan in Orlando on Friday and to attend a campaign rally in Pennsylvania next week.

Trump’s silence on guns was noted with displeasure by many who are seeking tougher firearm restrictions. But the White House said the president wanted to keep his remarks focused on the victims. Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the point was “to talk about grief and show compassion in unifying the country.”

Before he was a candidate, Trump at one point favored some tighter gun regulations. But he embraced gun rights as a candidate, and the National Rifle Association spent $30 million in support of his campaign

During his brief, televised statement, Trump said he wants to work to “create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life,” a phrase likely to resonate with his conservative base.

He pledged to work with state and local officials to “help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health,” adding that safe schools will be a key focus when he meets with governors and state attorneys general later this month.

Trump made no specific policy recommendations, and he did not answer shouted questions about guns as he left the room.

In contrast, former President Barack Obama tweeted out a call for “long overdue, common-sense gun safety laws.” Obama wrote: “We are grieving with Parkland. But we are not powerless. Caring for our kids is our first job.”

In reacting to previous mass shootings, Trump has largely focused on mental health as a cause, dismissing questions about gun control. After a shooting at a Texas church in November left more than two dozen dead, the president said, “This isn’t a guns situation.”

The 19-year-old suspect in Florida, Nikolas Cruz, is a troubled teenager who posted disturbing material on social media. He had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for “disciplinary reasons,” Broward County, Florida, Sheriff Scott Israel said.

The profile photo on Cruz’s Instagram account showed a masked face wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat like those associated with Trump’s campaign.

The leader of a white nationalist militia called the Republic of Florida said Cruz was a member of his group and had participated in exercises in Tallahassee. But neither the Sheriff’s Office in Tallahassee nor the Southern Poverty Law Center could confirm any link between Cruz and the militia.

Trump was criticized in early August for saying that both white nationalists and counter-protesters were responsible for the violent clashes at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

While Trump has offered somber responses to some tragedies, he has also drawn criticism for other reactions.

After the Orlando shootings at a gay nightclub that left 49 dead in June 2016, then-candidate Trump tweeted, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” In the wake of a deadly terror attack in London last June, he went after Mayor Sadiq Khan on Twitter.

News of Wednesday afternoon’s shooting had come as the White House was embroiled in a weeklong scandal surrounding the handling of domestic abuse allegations against Rob Porter, a top aide who resigned last week.

The typically daily White House press briefing was repeatedly delayed, as aides tried to craft a strategy on that issue. One option was to have chief of staff John Kelly, who has come under intense pressure for his handling of the Porter matter, be part of the briefing, according to two White House officials not authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations.

Once the magnitude of the Florida tragedy became clear, the White House canceled the briefing. The president tweeted his condolences and the White House deliberated its next move.

Kelly was not in the room when Trump addressed the nation on Thursday morning, and his job security remained an open question. But with the West Wing focused on the shooting aftermath, any immediate change seemed unlikely

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/trump-cites-florida-shooters-mental-health/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1332689_School_Shooting_Trump_69668.jpgPresident Trump said of Wednesday's mass shooting at a South Florida high school, "No child, no teacher, should ever be in danger in an American school."Thu, 15 Feb 2018 23:23:01 +0000
Senate rejects 2 immigration bills, including one championed by Collins, King https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/collins-and-king-develop-bipartisan-proposal-to-provide-dreamers-amnesty-and-path-to-citizenship/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/collins-and-king-develop-bipartisan-proposal-to-provide-dreamers-amnesty-and-path-to-citizenship/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:25:55 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/collins-and-king-develop-bipartisan-proposal-to-provide-dreamers-amnesty-and-path-to-citizenship/ Two competing immigration bills failed Thursday in the U.S. Senate, including a bipartisan measure championed by Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King as an alternative approach to addressing the fate of young undocumented immigrants.

The Republican-led Senate was unable to muster enough votes to move ahead on a proposal backed by President Trump or the bipartisan plan crafted by the “Common Sense Coalition” that includes Maine’s senators. Both bills would have granted legal status to 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants, known as “dreamers.”

The Trump-backed plan would have spent at least $25 billion immediately to bolster security along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the bipartisan Senate plan would have appropriated that amount over the next decade. The bipartisan bill also would have curbed family-based immigration programs, but not to the extent Trump is seeking. And the bill said nothing about the diversity visa lottery program, which the Trump-backed plan sought to end.

The White House threatened a veto of the bipartisan plan, and in a tweet shortly before the vote, Trump called it a “total catastrophe.”

King, an independent, and Collins, a Republican, were deeply involved in the bipartisan immigration proposal developed by a group of 16 senators.

The vote was 54-45 in favor of the bipartisan plan, but that was short of the 60 needed for approval. Eight Republicans bucked their party and supported the measure, and three Democrats abandoned their leaders and opposed it.

“Today’s vote was a missed opportunity,” King and Collins said in a joint statement Thursday night. “Our bipartisan immigration proposal, which was the product of countless hours of negotiations and dialogue with our colleagues in the Common Sense Coalition, would have strengthened border security and protected children who were brought to this country illegally through no fault of their own.”

BILL A ‘MISINFORMATION’ TARGET

Maine’s senators noted that their proposal had received broad, bipartisan backing and more support than any other immigration plan, as indicated by the 54 senators from both parties who supported it.

“We are very disappointed by the misinformation that was spread about our legislation,” they said. “The press release that was distributed today by the Department of Homeland Security contained a number of statements that are absolutely false, and it was a real disservice to the brave men and women who work every day to defend our borders.”

The department’s release said the bill “destroys the ability” of the agency to enforce immigration laws and represents an “egregious violation” of the immigration framework that Trump sent to Capitol Hill.

The chamber next rejected Trump’s wide-ranging plan on a vote of 39-60, well short of the 60 needed to move ahead. It faced strong Democratic opposition and had virtually no chance of passage.

Collins and King were listed as primary sponsors of the legislation providing legal status and a path to citizenship to individuals registered under the DACA program – as long as they had arrived in the U.S. by June 15, 2007, and had not engaged in conduct that would make them ineligible. Those not already enrolled in the DACA program would need to take additional steps.

About 95 people in Maine are considered “dreamers” under DACA and could be at risk of deportation if Congress cannot reach a solution by March 5.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York criticized Trump for failing to lead on the issue.

“President Trump created this problem by terminating the DACA program last August,” Schumer said. “Since that decision, President Trump has stood in the way of every single proposal that could become law.”

Schumer said immigration has long been a contentious issue in Congress. “There are intense feelings on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “If there was ever a time for presidential leadership, this was it. President Trump has failed this test of leadership spectacularly.”

trying to satisfy president

Moments before the vote, Trump tweeted out his opposition to an amendment supported by King and Collins, pointing to the Homeland Security media release issued earlier in the day that assailed the amendment.

Collins is a leader and King is a member of the Common Sense Coalition, a group of 25 Republican, Democratic and independent senators convened by Collins and Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat. The coalition has been meeting nearly every day in Collins’ office – dubbed “Little Switzerland” by coalition members – to develop a framework to address DACA and other immigration issues, Collins said.

King said the legislation does what Trump asked for during a meeting and then in a tweet on Jan. 9, in that it deals with the DACA dilemma and allots funding for the wall that Trump has promised to build between the U.S. and Mexico.

King quoted Trump statements made in the media and on Twitter. “He said, ‘I think we have to do DACA first,’ ” King said. “That’s the premise we have worked on. This is a narrow bill designed to confront two issues.”

King then addressed the Homeland Security media release.

“It’s mostly critical of what’s not in the bill,” King said. “Things that aren’t in the bill. They were never intended to be in the bill. But this is an important first step. A critical first step, because the time is ticking for these young people who have been in their country, in this country, in our country, and this is the only country they have known … and also it’s time to step up and address the issue of border security.”

King went on to say that the bill was “the only bill that has a chance to get through the U.S. Senate … so if the votes are not there, then there is no solution for DACA and there is a delayed solution for the border.”

‘THIS IS THE BEST SHOT’ FOR A BILL

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that if the immigration bill came to Trump’s desk with the amendment proposed by Collins, King and the other members of the Common Sense Coalition, his advisers would recommend he veto it.

During the coalition’s news conference, Sen. Lindsay Graham, a South Carolina Republican, urged Trump to reject the extremists on both sides of the immigration debate and accept the amendment as a first step.

“Mr. President, you are being led down a path where we won’t get a result,” Graham said. “Reject this kind of engagement with the Congress. Tell us what you don’t like in a constructive fashion. What’s wrong with Washington? You give (the Department of Homeland Security) $25 billion of the money they asked for and they slam you. You give a pathway to citizenship to 1.8 million DACA recipients and the ‘left’ calls it the worst civil rights abuse in the last 100 years. There are some crazy people around here, just shut them out. This is the best shot you will ever get.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/15/collins-and-king-develop-bipartisan-proposal-to-provide-dreamers-amnesty-and-path-to-citizenship/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1332626_219373-AP180466840093251-1.jpgMaine Republican Sen. Susan Collins was deeply involved in the development of the bipartisan immigration bill.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 00:25:06 +0000
System is broken, says Rhode Island mother released from immigration detention https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/system-is-broken-says-rhode-island-mother-released-from-immigration-detention/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/system-is-broken-says-rhode-island-mother-released-from-immigration-detention/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 02:44:26 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/system-is-broken-says-rhode-island-mother-released-from-immigration-detention/ PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Rhode Island mother of two who was released this week after a month in immigration detention said Wednesday that the system is broken and it’s too easy for people like her to fall into the cracks.

Lilian Calderon, 30, whose parents brought her to the U.S. from Guatemala at age 3, was released Tuesday after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials granted her a three-month stay of deportation until May 12. A federal judge in Boston barred her deportation last week after the American Civil Liberties Union sued.

At a news conference Wednesday, Calderon and her husband, Luis Gordillo, an American citizen, described the circumstances of her detention and the effect it had on their 2-year-old son, Noah, and 4-year-old daughter, Natalie.

Calderon had been ordered removed from the country in 2002, after her father’s bid for asylum failed when she was 15 years old, her lawyer said. She had applied to become a lawful permanent resident, and the couple went for a routine interview at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Johnston on Jan. 17 to discuss their marriage.

Calderon said that at the end of her portion of the interview, she was told everything was in order and her petition would be approved. Then she was told to wait. That’s when two agents came and told her she was being detained.

Calderon said she was shocked and confused at being taken into custody and wasn’t able to say goodbye to her husband. She ended up at the Suffolk County House of Corrections in Massachusetts.

She said her life revolved around trips to the park with her children and going to work.

“All I could think of while I was there was, I can’t believe I’m sitting through a video of how not to get raped in prison, because just the other day, I was picking up our daughter from school and I was thinking, ‘OK, what are we going to do for winter so we can beat cabin fever?’ ” Calderon said.

Gordillo had to juggle work and child care solo and the children began seeing a psychologist to deal with the stress of their mother being away. Their father told them only that their mother was at work.

Her lawyers said she was following the process the government put in place to get her green card and never should have been detained. Spokesmen for the Department of Homeland Security and ICE have said they don’t comment on pending litigation.

“It’s a broken system,” Calderon said. “If you fall into those cracks, you’re going to fall into a detention center.”

The ACLU said Calderon’s case is not over, and they are fighting to keep her in the country and out of detention.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/system-is-broken-says-rhode-island-mother-released-from-immigration-detention/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1332403_Immigration_Guatemalan_Mo2.jpgLilian Calderon, who was brought to the U.S. at age 3 by her parents, with her husband, Luis Gordillo. She was released after a month in immigration detention.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 21:44:26 +0000
Bipartisan bill to expand education program for low-income Mainers draws support https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/bipartisan-bill-to-expand-education-program-for-low-income-mainers-draws-support/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/bipartisan-bill-to-expand-education-program-for-low-income-mainers-draws-support/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 22:20:56 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/bipartisan-bill-to-expand-education-program-for-low-income-mainers-draws-support/ A bipartisan bill that would leverage federal assistance funding to help low-income Mainers obtain higher education and land better jobs drew widespread support during a public hearing Wednesday but was opposed by the LePage administration.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport, would expand the Parents as Scholars program, which is funded through the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant and provides child care and transportation assistance to those enrolled in college. It also would create a new employment and training program for individuals who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, often called food stamps.

Gideon said the bill is an extension of legislation she introduced last year, some elements of which were folded into the state budget, to help lift families out of poverty for good. She said that bill helped provide housing assistance and heating assistance for TANF recipients – but education is the key.

“We all know and we talk about this a lot: Low-wage working parents need education and training to access good-paying jobs and find a way out of poverty,” she said Wednesday while introducing the bill to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

Gideon said she hoped her bill would have strong support because it provides a clear path to long-term employment for families who have struggled to find good-paying jobs that would eliminate their need for public assistance.

But the Department of Health and Human Services testified in opposition.

“The department and the bill’s sponsors absolutely share the same goal of supporting families in need by providing them a pathway to prosperity,” said Bethany Hamm, director of DHHS’ Office of Family Independence. “Our concern is that this bill, though well intentioned, doesn’t take into account the federal regulatory constraints associated with TANF and SNAP funding, and takes too much discretion away from the Department to adapt its programming as client needs and available resources change.”

SKILLS TO EARN A LIVING WAGE

Sen. Amy Volk, a Republican from Scarborough and one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said the bill would have tremendous impact.

“For me, this addresses one of the neediest populations, those struggling to raise families, but who basically don’t have the skills to earn a living wage,” she said.

The bill’s estimated cost is $15 million for the 2018-19 fiscal year, but Gideon called that figure high. She said the bill’s fiscal note assumes that an additional 2,000 people would enroll in these programs, but her estimate is about 300.

Either way, funds would come from federal dollars. And because Gov. Paul LePage’s administration has taken steps to overhaul the state’s welfare system and reduce the number of people who receive TANF, Maine has significant TANF funds that are going unused.

In late 2016, lawmakers learned that the state Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the state’s TANF block grant, had built a surplus of more than $150 million. That surplus was built over a period of several years following the establishment of a 60-month lifetime cap for TANF recipients.

The LePage administration defended the surplus, which is allowed under federal law, saying it puts the state on a better financial footing if the economy takes another downturn.

TANF is best known as a cash benefit awarded monthly to low-income families, but it has other components. Funds are used for job training, education, child care and other services. States have broad discretion under federal law to spend their share as they see fit – or to not spend it at all – and the LePage administration has prioritized giving out less as a cash benefit.

Although the state has reduced its TANF caseload dramatically – from 9,193 cases in December 2012 to 4,236 cases in December 2017 – it still gets the same level of block grant funding every year, about $78 million.

Program Underutilized

The state was criticized in 2016 for attempting to use TANF funds improperly. The state’s auditor, Pola Buckley, ruled that DHHS transferred $13.4 million in TANF funds over two years to another block grant, which is allowed, and used it to provide care for the elderly, which is not.

DHHS officials dismissed the state auditor’s report as politically motivated. In its report, the department said it went ahead with transferring the money because it didn’t have guidance from federal officials and always figured it could transfer the money back, which is ultimately what happened.

In her testimony on Wednesday, Hamm said DHHS has worked hard to allocate TANF funds :in a way that ensures the longevity and stability of the program.”

“This bill has the potential to jeopardize that goal,” she said.

But Gideon said the Parents as Scholars program has been woefully underutilized. Only about 50 people are currently enrolled.

Her bill would open up eligibility to those whose income is at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $37,000 for a family of three.

Moriah Geer, a mother of two who lives in Old Town, testified Wednesday that she benefited from the Parents as Scholars program eight years ago when she found herself homeless with two young children.

“I had to figure out what to do next,” she said before telling the committee how she enrolled at UMaine and the Parents as Scholars program covered her child care costs and transportation. It even helped pay for vehicle repairs when her car broke down. Without the assistance, she doesn’t know what she might have done, but now she’s a college graduate with a job that sustains her family.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/bipartisan-bill-to-expand-education-program-for-low-income-mainers-draws-support/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1217547_252725_20160826_gattine_4-e1518651826368.jpg"It feels embarrassing and unconscionable to me." (D-Freeport)Thu, 15 Feb 2018 10:33:26 +0000
Dozens testify on bill to ban the practice of ‘conversion therapy’ on minors in Maine https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/dozens-testify-on-bill-to-ban-the-practice-of-conversion-therapy-on-minors-in-maine/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/dozens-testify-on-bill-to-ban-the-practice-of-conversion-therapy-on-minors-in-maine/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 21:58:59 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/dozens-testify-on-bill-to-ban-the-practice-of-conversion-therapy-on-minors-in-maine/ AUGUSTA – Maine lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban therapy practices for minors that use shame, pain or coercion in an effort to discourage same-sex attraction and alter a person’s sexual orientation.

Supporters of the ban say so-called “conversion therapy” does more harm than good and that a person’s true sexual orientation isn’t something that needs to be fixed anyway.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, saw dozens of supporters and opponents testify Wednesday before the Legislature’s Labor Commerce Research and Economic Development Committee.

Fecteau said he was sponsoring the legislation because he was pushed toward conversion therapy himself by a university administrator he respected and trusted while in college. He said the notion that there was somehow something wrong with him triggered suicidal thoughts.

“This openly gay young man who was finding his way in life, and who had found the guts to come out to his parents, and the confidence to lead a LGBTQ student organization, become student body president, and work as paid staff on a marriage equality campaign, could not shake the self-hatred, unworthiness and haunting message that he was broken after a trusted university administrator told him, in essence seek ‘reparative therapy’—to be ‘beyond gay’,” Fecteau said.

It’s not clear whether conversion therapy is now being practiced in Maine, but if passed into law, Maine would join nine other states with similar bans. Another 20 states are considering conversion therapy legislation in 2018. Earlier this month a similar bill passed the New Hampshire House of Representatives, on a vote of 179-171, reversing an earlier vote to reject the ban, according to the Associated Press. Other New England states that have passed laws banning the widely discredited therapy include Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island.

“LGBT youth do not have a defect or disorder,” Fecteau said. “They do not need to be repaired.”

Fecteau offered a long list of health and mental health care organizations that have condemned the practice, including the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association and American School Counselor Association.

“These organizations condemn the practice on the premise that it has time and time again been proven to cause tremendous physical and psychological harm to children and fails to achieve its goal of “changing” a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” Fecteau said.

Peter Michaud, a nurse and attorney with the Maine Medical Association, testified in support of the bill, saying conversion therapies had “no scientific basis” and “when practiced on a young person by an adult is not therapy it is abuse.”

The bill, L.D. 912, would prohibit a counselor from trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation with conversion therapy techniques, including those that encourage a patient to shun members of their own family. The bill does allow a therapist to help a patient develop support systems as well as coping and self-acceptance skills.

Opponents to the bill, including the Christian Civic League of Maine, said it could erode the rights of parents, patients or religious counselors, and it may not allow therapies aimed at helping survivors of sexual abuse.

Rep. Richard Pickett, R-Dixfield, testifying in opposition to the bill, said the methodologies the bill seeks to prohibit are already against Maine law and that there have been no known cases of the practices being used in Maine. He said some victims of trauma or child abuse have benefited from patient-driven reparative therapies that could also be prohibited by the bill.

“I don’t believe government should be passing legislation where there are winners and losers,” Pickett said, “where some people can have the therapy they want and others cannot.”

Rep. Jeff Hanley, R-Pittson, also opposed the bill, saying it “attacks the very foundation of our society and families. Should this become law the state and not the parents will control how a child will be talked to, treated for, for what they are thinking and feeling about themselves. It would also remove the rights of the mother and father to choose how to care for the child in a manner that reflects their belief.”

Support for the bill on the labor committee appeared to be divided largely along party lines, with Republicans in opposition and Democrats offering their support. Its outcome in a closely divided Legislature, with the House controlled by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans, is uncertain.

A work session on the bill has not been scheduled.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/dozens-testify-on-bill-to-ban-the-practice-of-conversion-therapy-on-minors-in-maine/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1329289_583591-20180208_LABOR_2662.jpgCo-chairman Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, questions Dale Smith, deputy executive director of the Mississippi Department of Unemployment Security. on Thursday during a Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development work session at the State House in Augusta. Fecteau said many people were put at a disadvantage when they didn't receive an unemployment check because they were having problems filing in the new system.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 19:57:30 +0000
Garrett Mason first to qualify for clean elections funding for governor’s race https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/garrett-mason-first-to-qualify-for-clean-elections-funding-for-governors-race/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/garrett-mason-first-to-qualify-for-clean-elections-funding-for-governors-race/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 19:15:58 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/garrett-mason-first-to-qualify-for-clean-elections-funding-for-governors-race/ AUGUSTA — Proving he has a fair amount of grassroots support for his gubernatorial bid, Sen. Garrett Mason became the first candidate seeking the state’s top job to submit enough signatures to qualify for Maine Clean Elections funding.

The Lisbon Republican submitted the names Wednesday of more than 3,200 Mainers who donated $5 to his campaign, a step that unlocks $400,000 in state funding for his race.

Garrett Mason Photo courtesy of Garrett Mason

Mason is the only Republican candidate taking the clean elections route. His competitors, including businessman Shawn Moody and Senate President Michael Thibodeau, are raising money traditionally through private donations.

Mason was already the first candidate to qualify for a spot on the June 12 primary battle.

“Our campaign has been able to build a large, statewide grassroots organization that continues to reach our goals in record time,” Mason said Wednesday.

Mason said his campaign “has spent the past four months going from one home to another asking voters to place their trust in me with a $5 qualifying contribution.”

Earlier this month, Mason said he opted for “the clean path” rather than the traditional one because he thought it would work best for him.

“I am not in this to make a statement,” Mason said.

He said every candidate has to “consider all the options” for funding and then proceed in the directions that seems most likely to prove successful.

He said one of the reasons he preferred the clean election route is that it “forces you to form an organization” and build a solid, wide base that can help carry a contender through a primary.

Though Mason said he is “limited to a very small fraction” of the money his challengers can raise from a single donor, he is counting on pulling in enough support to be competitive financially while also establishing a broad group of people who can vote for him in June.

Look at his donations, Mason said, and it’s clear that he has backing “from all over the state.”

Among the other candidates, only a handful are seeking clean elections money.

Two of the leading Democrats are seeking to qualify, Betsy Sweet and Sean Faircloth. Independent Terry Hayes, the state treasurer, is also a clean elections candidate.

Faircloth said recently that if he can’t find 3,200 people willing to donate, then “we’re toast” anyway.

In addition to the $5 donations he collected, Mason’s “seed money” report shows he also raised more than $36,000 from more then 500 individual donations of $100 or less.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/garrett-mason-first-to-qualify-for-clean-elections-funding-for-governors-race/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/09/1262159_925991-mason2.jpgState Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, says he is "a lifelong conservative."Thu, 15 Feb 2018 10:37:45 +0000
Stormy Daniels, who alleged Trump affair: I can now tell my story https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/stormy-daniels-who-alleged-trump-affair-i-can-now-tell-my-story/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/stormy-daniels-who-alleged-trump-affair-i-can-now-tell-my-story/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 19:03:44 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/stormy-daniels-who-alleged-trump-affair-i-can-now-tell-my-story/ NEW YORK – Stormy Daniels, the porn star whom President Trump’s personal attorney acknowledged paying $130,000 just before Election Day, believes she is now free to discuss her alleged sexual encounter with Trump, her manager told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, believes that Trump attorney Michael Cohen invalidated a non-disclosure agreement after two news stories were published Tuesday: One, in which Cohen told The New York Times that he made the six-figure payment with his personal funds, and another in the Daily Beast, which reported that Cohen was shopping a book proposal that would touch on Daniels’ story, said the manager, Gina Rodriguez.

“Everything is off now, and Stormy is going to tell her story,” Rodriguez said.

Daniels first detailed her account of an alleged extramarital affair with Trump in 2011, when the celebrity website The Dirty published it but then removed the material under the threat of a lawsuit, according to the site’s founder, Nik Richie.

Her story then remained largely out of public view until a month before the 2016 presidential election, when the website The Smoking Gun published an account that went mostly unnoticed by major news organizations.

In January, The Wall Street Journal reported that a limited liability company in Delaware formed by Cohen made the six-figure payment to Daniels to keep her from discussing the affair during the presidential campaign.

Cohen said Tuesday the payment was made with his own money, and that “neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.”

A campaign finance advocacy group, Common Cause, had complained about the payment to the Federal Election Commission, which is investigating.

A White House spokeswoman referred all questions about the payment to Cohen.

At issue is what transpired inside a Lake Tahoe, Nevada, hotel room in 2006 between the actress and Trump the year after his marriage to his third wife, Melania.

A lawyer for Daniels, Keith Davidson, has previously distributed statements on Daniels’ behalf denying there was any affair.

But in a 2011 interview with the gossip magazine In Touch Weekly, the actress — who the magazine said passed a polygraph exam — said the two had sex and she described a subsequent yearslong relationship. The AP has previously reported that In Touch held off on publishing her account after Cohen threatened to sue the publication. It published the interview last month.

In recent weeks the actress has played coy, declining to elaborate when pressed on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

Rodriguez said her client will soon announce how and when she will tell her story publicly. The celebrity website The Blast first reported the contention that Cohen’s comments freed Clifford from her non-disclosure agreement.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/stormy-daniels-who-alleged-trump-affair-i-can-now-tell-my-story/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1332021_Trump_Porn_Star_62186.jpg-1.jpgWed, 14 Feb 2018 16:06:07 +0000
Bipartisan group led by Sens. Collins, King reaches immigration deal https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/trump-backs-republican-immigration-plan-even-as-sen-collins-group-is-on-verge-of-deal/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/trump-backs-republican-immigration-plan-even-as-sen-collins-group-is-on-verge-of-deal/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 18:49:18 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/trump-backs-republican-immigration-plan-even-as-sen-collins-group-is-on-verge-of-deal/ WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators reached a deal on immigration Wednesday as President Trump attempted to pre-emptively undercut the proposal by delivering an ultimatum: Pass my plan or risk a veto.

The self-dubbed “Common Sense Caucus” of senators late Wednesday circulated legislation that would fulfill Trump’s calls to grant legal status to 1.8 million young immigrants and would appropriate $25 billion for southern border security construction projects over the next decade – not immediately, as Trump wants. The bill also would curb family-based immigration programs, but not to the extent Trump is seeking, and would not end a diversity visa lottery program that he wants eliminated.

Word of an agreement came as formal debate on immigration policy is set to intensify Thursday. The new bipartisan plan is slated for a vote, as is the Republican proposal sought by Trump, another Republican bill that would punish “sanctuary” cities and a bipartisan idea that would significantly water down Trump’s demands.

A growing sense of diminishing urgency also set in as top leaders signaled that ongoing court challenges may give Congress more time than Trump’s deadline of March 5 to replace an Obama-era program shielding hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation.

In a White House statement, Trump urged the Senate to back a proposal unveiled this week by a Republican group led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, saying it accomplishes his vision for immigration. At the same time, the president rejected any limited approach that deals only with “dreamers” – immigrants who have been in the country illegally since they were children – and border security.

His full-throated demand was released by the White House just minutes before a group of Democrats and Republicans gathered to negotiate an agreement.

Democrats were gauging support for the plan in their caucus late Wednesday, with the realization that Trump may reject it.

“He created this problem, and he’s making it clear today he has no intention of solving it,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a leader of the bipartisan group, was more hopeful. “I know that the president wants a result,” she said, “and my experience in the Senate is that you’re more likely to be able to get a result when you have a bipartisan plan – and that’s what we’re seeking.”

By the end of Wednesday, Collins’ group was touting its Immigration Security and Opportunity Act, which they hope could garner the 60 votes needed to pass. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., who has emerged in recent months as an under-the-radar bipartisan broker on several subjects, is lead sponsor of the bill, while its primary co-sponsors are Collins and Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Tim Kaine, D-Va. King, Manchin and Kaine are up for reelection this year.

While the bill authorizes $25 billion in border security spending, as Trump wants, it does not provide the funding all at once. Instead, the bill would dole out approximately $2.5 billion this fiscal year to begin construction of walls and fencing and new access roads, and for the redeployment or hiring of federal immigration and border security agents. Beginning in fiscal 2019, another $2.5 billion could be spent annually on border security construction or personnel as part of the normal appropriations and congressional review process.

Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent

Despite the breakthrough, there was no guarantee late Wednesday that the plan would find sufficient support.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was noncommittal. “Each side has had to give a great deal,” he said, “but we are closer than we have ever been to passing something in the Senate to help the dreamers.”

Aides to Rounds, Collins and other Republican senators did not immediately respond to requests for comment about details of the legislation.

The bipartisan proposal is set for a vote Thursday, as is the Grassley bill. Senators are also poised to vote on a plan by Sens. Christopher Coons, D-Del., and John McCain, R-Ariz., that would grant legal status to dreamers and pay for border security construction – but not the full $25 billion Trump wants. Their plan says nothing about curbing family-based legal migration or making changes to the diversity lottery program.

Finally, senators will cast votes on a plan by Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., that would shield municipalities from any legal liability for helping detain immigration offenders but also punish local governments that refuse to help enforce federal immigration laws. A similar version of the bill failed in 2016, but it is designed to put moderate Democrats on the record as supporting or opposing attempts to punish “sanctuary.”

Trump’s latest warning might deter senators in both parties who are already anxious about debating such an emotionally contentious issue at the start of an election year. The president said in his statement that he is “asking all senators, in both parties, to support the Grassley bill and to oppose any legislation that fails to fulfill these four pillars – that includes opposing any short-term ‘Band-Aid’ approach.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also has backed the Republican plan, and most Republicans were rallying behind the proposal. It fulfills Trump’s calls to provide legal status to 1.8 million dreamers, immediately authorizes spending at least $25 billion to bolster defenses along the U.S.-Mexico border, makes changes to family-based legal immigration programs and ends a diversity lottery system used by immigrants from smaller countries.

But Democrats in the Senate strongly oppose the Grassley plan.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who is gauging support for a House bill that is much more restrictive than Trump’s proposal, told reporters that the White House plan “should be the framework through which we come together to find a solution.”

On a conference call with reporters, senior administration officials said the president had made significant concessions to Senate Democrats. Last fall, Trump moved to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which had provided temporary work permits to about 690,000 dreamers. White House officials emphasized that Trump’s plan allows far more dreamers to pursue the path to citizenship.

But they added that the border security provisions and the cuts to legal immigration channels are required to stem unauthorized immigration, reduce a lengthy backlog in the green-card process and reduce immigration levels that, the White House argues, have harmed American workers.

At the Capitol, the president’s allies also echoed administration officials. “President Trump has crafted a deal that is tough but more than generous,” said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., an ardent Trump defender and sponsor of the Grassley plan. The president “wants this solved,” Perdue added. “And he wants it ended right now.”

At a House Budget Committee hearing, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney stated several times that the administration’s fiscal 2019 budget presumes Congress will strike a deal. “We assume that an agreement is reached on immigration, on DACA, between Republicans and Democrats,” he said.

Lawmakers have been negotiating under the premise that the bulk of DACA work permits will begin to expire March 5 – a deadline Trump set last fall, aimed at giving Congress time to develop a solution for the dreamers. But judges in California and New York have issued temporary injunctions, requiring the Trump administration to restart the program.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/trump-backs-republican-immigration-plan-even-as-sen-collins-group-is-on-verge-of-deal/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1332013_Congress_Immigration_13101..jpgSen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., left, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., walk together outside the chamber during debate in the Senate on immigration, at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. Schumer said on the Senate floor that "the one person who seems most intent on not getting a deal is President Trump."Wed, 14 Feb 2018 21:31:02 +0000
Maine attorney general won’t defend LePage administration in prison closure lawsuit https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/mills-refuses-to-represent-lepage-administration-in-downeast-jail-case/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/mills-refuses-to-represent-lepage-administration-in-downeast-jail-case/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 18:22:44 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/mills-refuses-to-represent-lepage-administration-in-downeast-jail-case/ AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Corrections agreed Wednesday to halt equipment removals from the now-vacant Downeast Correctional Facility while a legal case against the LePage administration proceeds.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, meanwhile, is asking the court to order the administration to transfer prisoners back to Machiasport and halt staff layoffs at the facility on grounds that the prison’s abrupt closure violated the constitutional separation of powers.

“The (corrections) commissioner had no legal authority to close Downeast Correctional Facility,” says a complaint filed Wednesday by Mills’ office in Kennebec County Superior Court. “The facility’s existence, function and purposes are written into statute … (and) an executive-branch agency may not unilaterally dismantle a program established by the Legislature, and certainly not while the program remains funded.”

On Tuesday night, Washington County’s commissioners had requested an injunction to prevent the LePage administration from taking steps to render the minimum-security prison in Machiasport unusable in the future. Corrections staff had reportedly begun removing beds, sewing machines and other equipment from the prison after LePage ordered it emptied in a pre-dawn operation last Friday that infuriated county officials.

Tracy Collins, an attorney representing the county commissioners, told Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy that the Department of Corrections has agreed to a “stand still” at the prison while the case plays out.

“It is essentially preserving the status quo until we can work out the legal issues in this matter,” Collins said during Wednesday’s brief court hearing.

Murphy also rescheduled further hearings on the injunction petition until the LePage administration has hired private legal counsel. That is necessary because Mills – a Democrat running to succeed LePage as governor this year – not only declined to represent the administration in court, but has requested intervenor status on the opposite side. Two assistant attorneys general attended Wednesday’s hearing, seated at a table behind Collins and Chris Gardner, chairman of the Washington County Commission.

SEPARATION OF POWERS CLAUSE

In the request for intervenor status, Mills argued that Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick’s closure of the prison was “unlawful” because it violated the separation-of-powers clause of the Maine Constitution. The Legislature voted last year to fund the Machiasport prison through June 30 of this year, and a legislative committee voted this month to extend that funding an additional year while studying the impacts of a closure.

“Where an executive agency has violated the law resulting in immediate harms to the public welfare, the Attorney General, by virtue of her constitutional and common-law role as chief law officer of the state, has an interest in the subject of the litigation,” reads the intervenor request from Mills’ office.

LePage had more than 60 inmates transferred to other facilities last Friday and placed nearly 40 staff members on administrative leave, following through on his long-standing desire to close a prison he views as costly and unnecessary.

But the decision and the secretive way the prisoner transfer was handled riled Washington County officials, who view the prison as critical to the local economy. County officials and state lawmakers also have asked Mills whether the LePage administration could legally close a facility that is written into statute and was funded by the Legislature.

LePage’s office declined to comment on the pending litigation or Mills’ decision. Brent Davis, LePage’s chief legal counsel, also declined to comment after Wednesday’s court hearing, but told Justice Murphy that the administration was close to hiring a private firm to represent the Department of Corrections.

Maine’s Democratic attorney general has declined to represent the LePage administration on several legal issues, including the governor’s desire to file legal briefs in support of President Trump’s immigration policies. After the inmate transfer from Downeast Correctional last week, Mills said her office was continuing “to explore all possible actions” in response to complaints about the prison’s sudden closure. Mills also said the administration’s action “flies in the face of the clear intent of the Legislature as expressed in the biennial budget, in statute and in the deliberations of the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety.”

‘EVERYONE WAS ACTING WAY TOO FAST’

Gardner, the county commission chairman, said he was pleased that the governor had agreed to the “hands-off order” while the case plays out.

“But it is our hope that if the governor is interested in having this kind of cool-down period, perhaps we can extend that all the way to the end of the legislative session and let the Legislature do its work,” Gardner said after the court hearing.

On Tuesday, the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to endorse a bill that would provide an additional $5.5 million to the Downeast Correctional Facility for the fiscal year that begins July 1. If approved by the full Legislature, the bill would be the second lifeline in less than a year extended to an aging prison that serves as one of the state’s pre-release facilities for low-risk inmates.

The governor maintains that the facility is more expensive to operate, per bed, than Maine’s maximum-security prison, and that newly added capacity elsewhere will allow the prison system to absorb the remaining Downeast inmates. But Washington County officials, as well as staff at Downeast Correctional, accuse the administration of fudging the numbers and note that the prison was built for 150 prisoners, not the 63 that were housed there last week.

“We see this as a good thing for the process,” Gardner said of the pause. “This is that moment, that breathing period. Everyone was acting way too fast. We thought it was not in the spirit of the legislative process, so we are hoping today is a step in that right direction.”

The sudden closure of the prison also affected businesses that had hired and depended on work-release inmates because they were unable to fill positions with local workers. Some officials from those businesses said they were not given any prior notice of the inmate transfers and, as a result, were forced to reduce production while looking to fill the positions vacated by work-release inmates.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/mills-refuses-to-represent-lepage-administration-in-downeast-jail-case/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1332003_457329-20180214_Prison_7683.jpgBrent Davis, Gov. Paul LePage's chief legal counsel, and Tracy Collins, the attorney for Washington County commissioners, confer before a brief court hearing Wednesday.Thu, 15 Feb 2018 00:10:06 +0000
Maine U.S. Senate candidate says he never ran as Democrat, but he did https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/facts-contradict-u-s-senate-contender-max-linns-claims-about-his-past/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/facts-contradict-u-s-senate-contender-max-linns-claims-about-his-past/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 18:08:34 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/?p=1331974 Republican U.S. Senate candidate Max Linn told Republican officials in two towns last Sunday that he hadn’t run as a Democrat for Congress and hadn’t backed Barack Obama’s presidential bid.

Both assertions are untrue.

As an aspiring politician in Florida a decade ago, the wealthy financial planner didn’t merely flirt with the opposition party, he competed in a Democratic congressional primary, wrote a $2,300 check to Obama’s campaign and even wrote a book hailing Obama.

At filmed campaign appearances in Windham and Scarborough, Maine newcomer Linn said his opponent, state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn, had spread “a list of lies” about his political past.

But records show that Brakey’s four charges, cited on a sheet distributed to Republican officials attending the sessions, were true, bolstered by far more than the handful of news articles that Brakey cited. Government websites in Florida and Washington show Linn’s political activity in detail.

Brakey said he handed out the sheet because Linn had been saying “a lot of nasty things about me,” so Brakey’s campaign figured “let’s just put out the facts.”

Linn, a Bar Harbor financial planner who jumped into the June 12 primary last month, specifically denied each of the charges levied by Brakey at the sessions in each town. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.

But Matt McDonald, senior strategist for Linn, said Wednesday that the denial may have been off the mark but the reality is that Linn has been a Republican for nearly his entire life.

He said Linn grew disillusioned with the Republican Party during President George W. Bush’s tenure when promises to end the war, cut spending and practice “compassionate conservatism” never panned out. So Linn flirted with alternatives for, MacDonald said, 11 months.

Still, Linn said in comments caught on videos that he “did not run as a Democrat” in Florida.

But Federal Election Commission reports show Linn registered as a Democratic candidate for Congress in Florida’s 10th District in March 2008.

Linn stayed in the race long enough to lose a three-way primary in August 2008 in which he got a quarter of the vote and came in last. He remained listed as a possible Democratic candidate in 2010 until he terminated his campaign in June 2009.

Linn also said that he did not work to elect Obama. But FEC records show that on Oct. 9, 2007, Linn wrote a $2,300 check to Obama’s campaign. Obama was locked in a tough battle with U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton at the time.

A month earlier, Linn wrote a book titled “2008 America’s Turning Point: Barack Obama – Because America Needs to Believe Again.” It doesn’t appear to be available any longer but remains listed on Google Books along with a photograph of its cover.

In June 2008, Linn suspended his congressional campaign briefly and issued a statement to the press that said, “Max feels strongly that the best action he can take for the people of this community is to throw his full support and energy behind Sen. Barack Obama.”

“With an impact much greater than one additional Democratic Congressman, President Obama will be in a position to deliver on issues like health care, ending the war in Iraq and providing greater security to homeowners here in Florida,” Linn’s statement at the time said.

Linn also told Maine Republican officials that Brakey lied when he said Linn was pro-choice. “I’m not pro-abortion,” Linn said.

Yet when Linn ran for governor of Florida in 2006 on the Reform Party ticket, his campaign website said that he believes “that government should stay out of our citizens’ private lives, as much as possible, in matters of personal freedom. I feel that women have the right to choose whether to bring a life into this world and I would uphold the abortion laws as they now stand.”

He said then that he would adhere to “a strict separation of church and state, as championed by our Founding Fathers.”

McDonald said that Linn, 58, was pro-choice but changed his mind after spending years traveling the world and seeing the vast diversity of life across the globe.

With age and more perspective, he said, Linn came to embrace a pro-life position that goes beyond the issue of abortion to include the need to provide children with quality education and adults with both good jobs and safe communities.

Linn also denied Brakey’s claim that he had only lived in Maine through a single winter. Brakey cited a January 2017 story in the Mount Desert Islander that mentioned Linn was spending his first winter there after coming for many summers.

“These are just provably false statements,” Brakey said. He said candidates have a responsibility to tell the truth and to own up to their past.

Given Linn’s resources, though, Brakey may still face a tough battle in the primary to select the Republican candidate to take on U.S. Sen. Angus King in the Nov. 6 general election. King is a first-term independent and former governor.

Linn said in an online interview with a friendly Republican that he is “diametrically opposed” to both Brakey and King, insisting they support open borders and a “globalist agenda” that’s weak on trade, soft on crime and flimsy on defense.

Linn portrays himself as the candidate of Donald Trump and has sought to zing Brakey for refusing in 2016 to vote for Trump. But Brakey, who favored U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky in the primaries, said he actually did vote for Trump.

“It was him or Hillary Clinton,” Brakey said. “I had misgivings about both.”

“While my vote was primarily motivated by my opposition to Hillary Clinton, I was also very supportive for Trump’s calls for an America First foreign policy and less nation building abroad,” Brakey said.

“In his first year in office,” Brakey said, “I believe President Trump has done a good job under difficult circumstances: passing tax reform, cutting regulations and appointing strong constitutionalists to the courts. I support our president and I look forward to working with him to put America First.”

Still, Linn has claimed that Brakey voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate in 2016. Brakey said that’s not true.

“I’m the only one in this U.S. Senate race who voted for, and supported, Donald Trump. The only one,” Linn said on Twitter recently.

Brakey fired back quickly.

“I’m proud to be the only one in this U.S. Senate race who never voted for and supported, Barack Obama. The only one,” Brakey responded.

McDonald said the thrust of Brakey’s message – that Linn is not really a Republican – is completely wrong.

“It’s fake. It’s fake news,” McDonald said.

He said it shows the desperation Brakey’s “pro-dope and anti-Trump” campaign has as it faces an unexpected Republican opponent who stands with the president and opposes open borders and the drugs they allow to flow in.

McDonald said Linn was attracted to Obama’s message of hope and opposition to the ongoing wars in the Middle East. But he soon realized that the Democrat was no better at keeping his campaign promises than Bush was.

By the time Linn moved to Maine in 2011, he registered as a Republican. It’s not clear exactly when he returned to the fold. But his only campaign donations to Democrats came in 2006 and 2007. Before and after that, he supported Republicans.

Linn’s Florida campaign with the Reform and Democratic parties came at a time when he was at loggerheads with the Florida Republican Party.

When Linn ran for governor of Florida in 2006 as the candidate of the Reform Party, created by Texas billionaire Ross Perot in 1992 as a vehicle for his longshot campaign for the White House, he wound up spending more than $1 million and securing only a tiny fraction of the vote.

That year, Linn wrote on his campaign website that he “had to face the reality that the Republican leadership in Florida and America has totally abandoned its principles and values: fiscal responsibility, limited government, and separation of church and state. Currently, the Republican leadership is fiscally irresponsible, inappropriately intrusive in our personal lives, and encourages the excessive expansion of government itself.”

He didn’t have any use for the Democrats either, calling them “our modern socialist party” that “has done nothing and shown no leadership in addressing the irresponsible spending, abuse of power and ‘good ole boy’ cronyism and corruption of the Republican Party.”

Linn wrote that both parties “have merged into one. Big money, big corporations, lobbyists and special interests now dominate and control politics” in the capitals of both Florida and the country as a whole.

He said people who believe the promises of either party are just like Charlie Brown falling for Lucy’s trick of pulling away the football at the last second and wind up, like the immortal comic strip figure, “flat on our backs again and again and again.”

As the Reform Party’s candidate for governor, Linn called himself “a fiscal conservative” who is “socially progressive.”

Most of Linn’s 2006 campaign website is available in the web archives, including two cartoons that cast him as a superhero fighting against standardized testing in schools and in opposition to insurance companies that refuse to pay hurricane damage claims.

Darryl Paulson, a retired government professor from the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, said Wednesday that Linn is “a political opportunist par excellent.”

“Few people have the distinction of being a candidate of the Reform, Democrat and Republican Party,” Paulson said. “It is not that people are seeking Linn out; he is seeking a political party that presents the best opportunity for his ambition.”

After observing that Linn “is reincarnated as a Republican in the Maine Senate primary,” Paulson said, “Florida’s loss is Maine’s gain. Actually, Florida’s gain is Maine’s loss.”

Linn has been campaigning for the past few weeks, making appearances across the state. He also regularly speaks out on Twitter.

scollins@sunournal.com

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/facts-contradict-u-s-senate-contender-max-linns-claims-about-his-past/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/380956MaxLinn.jpgThu, 15 Feb 2018 10:37:11 +0000
LePage scuttled state’s settlement with Wiscasset in traffic dispute, attorney says https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/lepage-scuttled-dots-settlement-with-wiscasset-in-traffic-dispute-attorney-says-the-governor-rejected-a-compromise-to-allow-some-parking-on-main-street-a-key-concern-of-local-businesses/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/lepage-scuttled-dots-settlement-with-wiscasset-in-traffic-dispute-attorney-says-the-governor-rejected-a-compromise-to-allow-some-parking-on-main-street-a-key-concern-of-local-businesses/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 17:52:52 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/lepage-scuttled-dots-settlement-with-wiscasset-in-traffic-dispute-attorney-says-the-governor-rejected-a-compromise-to-allow-some-parking-on-main-street-a-key-concern-of-local-businesses/ Wiscasset officials have rejected a proposed settlement with the state over a controversial traffic project after a lawyer representing the town told them Gov. Paul LePage intervened to strip out a key concession.

The midcoast town of 3,700 has sued the Maine Department of Transportation over its latest effort to mitigate the notorious summertime traffic bottlenecks in its historic village center after the LePage administration allegedly reneged on key promises and asserted that it did not have to comply with local ordinances. In recent weeks, however, the department and town had been negotiating an agreement to settle the dispute.

But Tuesday night the town selectboard rejected the proposed settlement by a 3-2 vote, with several members expressing concern that it did not include any concessions from the state that would allow some on-street parking to remain on Main Street, a key concern of many local business owners. An earlier draft of the settlement had included eight parallel parking spaces on the street, but an attorney for the town said LePage had personally intervened to strip it out.

“The DOT was willing to go along with that, but they are overseen by the governor,” attorney Peter Murray told the selectboard. “Once the commissioner showed the proposed settlement to the governor … the governor said, ‘No, absolutely not. There won’t be any parking on the street.'”

Largely as a result, the board voted to reject the settlement, in which the department agreed to apply for local permission before demolishing the 1916 Haggett Garage to make way for a new off-street parking lot on a side street, but would proceed with the rest of their traffic project as planned.

“When we talked about having a consent agreement I felt that it would have some resolution on the parking and there was none,” selectman Bob Blagden told the Press Herald on Wednesday morning. “The survival of the businesses and the perception that the town is open for business is at stake.”

LePage’s spokeswoman, Julie Rabinowitz, declined to discuss the governor’s reported intervention, citing the ongoing litigation.

DOT spokesman Ted Talbot also declined to comment. “While we will not comment on the litigation, MaineDOT intends to construct the project based on the concept previously supported by the town, which included the elimination of parking on Main Street,” he said via email.

LePage appears to have taken a personal interest in the project, and has said he’s had enough of the townspeople’s complaints and would like to build a viaduct right over the area. “I have given MDOT full authority to fix this nightmare with or without working with Wiscasset,” LePage wrote a constituent in August. “After 65 years of trying to work with Wiscasset, the time has come to move on.”

In another message, LePage, who often commutes to his Boothbay home from Augusta via Wiscasset, indicated he was fed up with traffic delays.

“Between June and September it takes approximately (give or take a few minutes) 1 hour 20 minutes to go from Augusta to Boothbay. The rest of the year it takes 40 minutes,” he wrote a constituent. “If it were up to me – I would do what was done in Bath. I’d put a bridge from the post office to the middle of the bridge and bypass downtown. U.S. 1 is a state responsibility and not the town.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Murray said that after LePage blocked the Main Street parking concessions, the selectboard had sought a meeting with him to explain their concerns but that the governor declined.

Wiscasset’s village center – a largely intact complex of 18th- and 19th-century buildings that was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 – is the site of notorious summer traffic jams 2 to 3 miles long on Route 1 on the north and south approaches to the Sheepscot River bridge. The state has been trying to solve the problem for more than half a century.

The state’s latest plan – a $5 million state-funded project unveiled in the spring of 2016 that promises to improve traffic flow during the worst traffic jams by 12 percent to 14 percent – would make most of its gains by adding two traffic lights and “bump out” pedestrian crossing waiting areas in the village. The controversial part is the elimination of on-street parking on Main Street – currently 23 spaces – and parts of key side streets – measures that the state’s studies say account for just 2 percent to 4 percent of flow improvement.

Residents and the selectboard initially supported the plan nonetheless, but majorities of both now oppose it because they say the state has not upheld its end of the bargain and has broken key promises. In June 2017, residents revoked their support in a town referendum after the state reneged on commitments to use federal funding and thus abide by the associated historic preservation and environmental reviews and requirements that come with it, and to not take any properties by eminent domain.

The town’s suit, filed Nov. 28, was prompted by the state’s imminent plan to demolish the Haggett Garage, which it had purchased by invoking eminent domain in order to create off-street replacement parking.

Ralph H. Doering III, whose family owns several 19th-century commercial buildings on and near Main Street in the historic village center, in January offered to pay the cash-strapped town’s legal costs to continue its legal action against the department, and a group of citizens calling themselves Citizens for Sensible Solutions on Monday also pledged to raise funds.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the selectboard voted unanimously to put the question of whether to accept such donations before town residents. A special town meeting will be held this month for that purpose, though the date as not been set.

“It is a common legal tactic to attempt to impoverish an opponent in the legal arena and the state would be certainly doing that with most small towns,” said retired resident Bill Sutter, a 30-year veteran of the DOT who opposes the project and attended Tuesday’s meeting. “I’d like to see the town approve accepting donations.”

The state Business and Consumer court in Portland has a hearing scheduled on the case at the end of March.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/14/lepage-scuttled-dots-settlement-with-wiscasset-in-traffic-dispute-attorney-says-the-governor-rejected-a-compromise-to-allow-some-parking-on-main-street-a-key-concern-of-local-businesses/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1331980_407279_wiscasset.jpgTraffic backs up on Route 1 in Wiscasset on a Monday in July 2017. The state has been trying to solve the notorious traffic problem for more than half a century.Thu, 15 Feb 2018 00:03:12 +0000
LePage says he has delivered what he promised to Maine, but some see it differently https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/lepage-says-he-has-delivered-what-he-promised-to-maine-but-some-see-it-differently/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/lepage-says-he-has-delivered-what-he-promised-to-maine-but-some-see-it-differently/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 02:00:44 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/lepage-says-he-has-delivered-what-he-promised-to-maine-but-some-see-it-differently/ AUGUSTA — In his final year as governor, Republican Paul LePage has reflected often on what he has and has not done.

This week, he told the Associated Press, “Of the things I’ve campaigned on, I would say I’m the only governor that’s ever done what he said he’s going to do.”

Not surprisingly, some would disagree, including at times the governor himself. But even some of his foes acknowledge there is some truth to the claim.

Democrat Diane Russell, a former state representative who hopes to succeed LePage, said the governor “has achieved much of what he campaigned on – and that’s the problem.”

Few would argue that LePage has not tried to cut taxes, restore fiscal stability, reduce regulation and generally pare the size and scope of state government. He has done better in some areas than others.

As recently as December, LePage said he “tried so hard” on some key issues – energy, taxes and regulation – but fell short of what he wanted to do.

Sen. Eric Brakey, an Auburn Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate, said LePage “has provided for Maine what is sadly so often lacking in elected official across the country: straight talk and principled leadership.”

“Even his detractors concede that he is man of his word,” Brakey said. “He stands in rare company, and I am proud to call him a friend.”

But others say LePage’s words are just part of the picture.

“Like most politicians, Gov. LePage tends to pick and choose facts carefully. No one knows what many of our past governors have promised, nor what they have succeeded in delivering, so no one can fact check the governor on that,” said L. Sandy Maisel, a government professor at Colby College in Waterville.

Besides, Maisel said, no governor can “do on a whim all that he would like.”

That said, “no one should be surprised by some of the directions he has taken. He promised a socially conservative, pro-business, anti-those-with-needs-that-the-state-is-serving administration, and he has delivered that,” Maisel said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Cote said the governor has not delivered on all of his promises.

“The fundamental promise Gov. LePage made repeatedly to Maine people was, ‘I am a job creator who knows how to grow Maine’s economy.’ ” Cote said. “All personality points aside, the fundamental fact, seven-plus years later, is he has not gotten the job done.

“Maine lags New England and the country when it comes to job, income and economic growth. And rural Maine has been hit the hardest.”

Sen. Mark Dion, a Portland Democrat running for governor, said LePage’s claims that he is the only governor to accomplish what he promised does not stand up to scrutiny.

“As governor, Paul LePage has not kept his word, and has often done the opposite of his own stated goals,” Dion said.

Dion cited LePage issuing bonds that he once challenged, and not delivering on a repeated pledge to oversee “the most-transparent” administration in Maine’s history.

“He routinely denies public information to legislative committees, and refuses to let his commissioners meet with lawmakers to discuss their budget requests,” Dion said. “The people’s representatives don’t have access to the basic information needed to do their jobs.”

Betsy Sweet, another Democrat running for LePage’s job, said that “for the things that the governor believes he has accomplished, he has done so by tearing at the very fabric of democracy,” and eroding the faith people have in democracy.

“He has insisted that it be his way or the highway, and has done so by name-calling, overturning the will of the voters, refusing to allow his commissioners to participate in the democratic process and berating the Legislature,” Sweet said.

Garrett Murch, communications and political director for the Maine Republican Party said LePage has done what he said he’d do.

“Many people don’t like our governor and take cheap shots at him, but that doesn’t change the plain fact he didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk,” Murch said. “Whether it was reforming welfare to spend limited resources on those in need, defending the Second Amendment, reducing Mainers’ tax burdens or eliminating harmful government regulations, Gov. LePage fought hard for the policy platform he ran on and, amazingly, he achieved much of it, even as some of it was obstructed by Democrats.”

“In modern Maine history, which governors have delivered more on their campaign promises?”

Promises kept or not, LePage has not done his job, many Democrats say.

Sweet said that LePage will not talk “about the things he didn’t campaign on,” such as leaving Maine with “increased child poverty and hunger, a stalled economy with the lowest growth rate in New England and more people uninsured than before.”

Russell agreed, saying: “While he’s been busy pushing Mainers into poverty, I’ve been building a cannabis economy that’s created hundreds of new jobs, and working to change the election system to put power back into the hands of the people.

“But, yeah, congratulations to LePage on his legacy of bankrupting the economy.”

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/lepage-says-he-has-delivered-what-he-promised-to-maine-but-some-see-it-differently/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/AP18045022327829.jpgTue, 13 Feb 2018 23:15:40 +0000
Congress plunges into immigration debate https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/congress-plunges-into-immigration-debate/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/congress-plunges-into-immigration-debate/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 01:42:46 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/congress-plunges-into-immigration-debate/ WASHINGTON — A high-stakes Senate debate over immigration got off to a halting start Tuesday, with Republican and Democratic leaders immediately at loggerheads over how to move forward and President Trump warning this was the “last chance” to extend protections to “Dreamer” immigrants.

Trump issued the warning in a morning tweet as the Senate opened what was billed as an unusual and open-ended debate on a host of immigration issues. Democrats had pushed for the debate, hopeful they might be able to craft a piece of legislation in real time on the Senate floor – or at least force Republicans on the record on some difficult issues.

But the experiment in legislating didn’t go very far.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., began the process by throwing his weight behind legislation based on the president’s priorities.

To kick off the debate, McConnell proposed allowing Republicans to bring up an amendment targeting cities that don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities, so-called “sanctuary cities.” Then, Democrats would bring up legislation of their choosing. Amendments gaining 60 votes would become part of the broader immigration bill.

The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, quickly objected.

“To begin the debate as the Republican leader suggests would be getting off on the wrong foot,” Schumer said. “Very partisan.”

Schumer wants McConnell to bring up legislation that incorporates Trump’s priorities and a second, much narrower bill from Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chris Coons, D-Del.

His reasoning: The legislation should address the population of young immigrants that lawmakers from both parties say they want to help, rather than deal with side issues such as punishing sanctuary cities.

McConnell replied: “I’m not trying to dictate to them what they offer. They shouldn’t be trying to dictate to us what we offer. We ought to just get started.”

The disagreement pushed any immigration-related votes into Wednesday. That gives a group of moderate lawmakers more time to come up with a package that could generate 60 votes in the Senate.

“Until we reach an end there, I still hope that’s the vehicle,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of the group’s key participants.

Exiting the Senate floor Tuesday evening, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said “things change by the hour” on immigration, but he felt better as the day went on about the prospects of getting a bill passed. He said lawmakers are meeting privately in search of a compromise.

Trump, in an early-morning tweet, said Congress must act now to provide legal protections to young “Dreamer” immigrants.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle,” he wrote, adding: “This will be our last chance, there will never be another opportunity! March 5th.”

Trump was referring to a deadline he announced last year to end a program protecting young immigrants from deportation, formally known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. But a recent court ruling has rendered that deadline all but meaningless.

In an exchange later Tuesday with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Trump again tried to accuse Democrats of not wanting to fix DACA, but then told the senator he was joking.

“Everybody’s in there working hard on it right now. I think we have a chance to do DACA very bipartisan. I think that can happen,” he said during a meeting on trade issues with lawmakers at the White House. “And I hope we’re going to be able to do that, senator.”

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/congress-plunges-into-immigration-debate/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1331648_Congress_Immigration_48926..jpgSenate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, with other members of his party at the Capitol on Tuesday, discusses prospects for agreement on an immigration bill.Tue, 13 Feb 2018 23:02:32 +0000
Washington County asks court to block Gov. LePage from dismantling prison https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/washington-county-asks-court-to-block-gov-lepage-from-dismantling-downeast-correctional/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/washington-county-asks-court-to-block-gov-lepage-from-dismantling-downeast-correctional/#respond Tue, 13 Feb 2018 23:47:24 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/washington-county-asks-court-to-block-gov-lepage-from-dismantling-downeast-correctional/ AUGUSTA — Washington County commissioners moved Tuesday to block the LePage administration from dismantling the Downeast Correctional Facility while lawmakers decide whether to continue funding the now-empty prison.

In an injunction request filed in Kennebec County Superior Court, the commissioners asked the court to temporarily prevent the LePage administration from removing equipment or other materials from the Machiasport facility in order to give lawmakers time to work on the prison’s future. Downeast Correctional employees, who were placed on administrative leave last week, relayed reports of beds and other equipment being taken out of the minimum-security prison on Tuesday.

While a judge declined to issue an immediate injunction, the court is slated to hear arguments on the request Wednesday in Augusta.

“It is one thing to move the prisoners, but it is another thing to start removing the facility,” Chris Gardner, chairman of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, said in an interview Tuesday evening. “It is our fear that removing equipment . . . from the facility would render it useless to make it more difficult for the Legislature or a future administration to re-open it.”

The court petition comes four days after Gov. Paul LePage had the minimum-security prison emptied and notified more than 30 staff members that their jobs would end on March 3. Arriving before dawn Friday, armed state police troopers loaded the 63 remaining inmates at Downeast Correctional Facility onto buses and transferred them to Mountain View Correctional Facility in Charleston and other jails.

But the decision to abruptly close Downeast Correctional – despite repeated legislative votes to keep it open – infuriated officials in a county that solidly backed LePage in both of his gubernatorial elections.

Rep. Will Tuell, an East Machias Republican, said he is “absolutely” convinced that LePage quickly emptied the facility because a bill to fund the prison for another fiscal year was moving through the Legislature.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to endorse Tuell’s bill to provide $5.5 million to the prison for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Tuell said supporters “have to keep plugging away” at the issue in the Legislature and elsewhere.

“That is why the county filed the injunction today, to stop the place from being ransacked or bulldozed,” Tuell said.

Built in 1955 by the U.S. Air Force, Downeast Correctional Facility is a roughly 150-bed prison that, until Friday, served as one of the state’s pre-release centers for prisoners considered low risk. Many inmates worked at local businesses as part of the prison’s work-release program, and closure of the prison has left some businesses scrambling to find replacement workers.

LePage has been pushing for years to close the Washington County prison, which he views as overly costly, inefficient and increasingly unnecessary given additional capacity at other facilities.

“By March 31, 2018, the Department of Corrections will have enough new beds in other parts of the system that the beds in Downeast will no longer be needed,” LePage spokesman Peter Steele said Friday after news broke of the prisoner transfers. “Governor LePage believes that DOC should manage the prison system efficiently and effectively based on the strategic needs of the system-not based on local political pressure. The Governor has confidence in DOC’s long-term plan to modernize facilities and balance its ability to serve the prison population.”

But the Legislature has repeatedly voted to continue funding the prison, in large part because of the facility’s economic importance rural Washington County.

Also Tuesday, more than 20 employees at Downeast Correctional and some supporters were at the State House urging lawmakers to continue supporting the facility. They met with House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, as well as Attorney General Janet Mills, both of whom have been critical of the LePage administration’s actions to begin closing the prison.

Some of those employees said they planned to stick around to hear the governor address the Legislature during the annual State of the State address, scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

“You can’t give up hope,” said John Mills, who has served as a guard for 19 years at Downeast Correctional. “That’s why we are here today.”

 

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/washington-county-asks-court-to-block-gov-lepage-from-dismantling-downeast-correctional/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/05/1200103_28647-Downeast-correctional.jpgGov. LePage has made clear that he wants to shut down the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport, but he leaves many questions about the staff, inmates and local economy unanswered.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 13:54:00 +0000
New Fed chair Jerome Powell vows to stay alert to economic risks https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/new-fed-chair-vows-to-stay-alert-to-economic-risks/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/new-fed-chair-vows-to-stay-alert-to-economic-risks/#respond Tue, 13 Feb 2018 23:42:37 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/new-fed-chair-vows-to-stay-alert-to-economic-risks/ WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the global economy is recovering strongly for the first time in a decade, but the central bank needs to remain alert to any emerging risks to financial stability.

In brief remarks during a ceremonial swearing-in, Powell said the central bank is in the process of “gradually” raising interest rates and trimming its massive holdings of Treasury bonds.

He said the Fed is seeking to normalize its policies in a way that will extend the recovery and bolster its goals of achieving stable inflation and maximum employment.

“We will remain alert to any developing risks to financial stability,” Powell said in his only reference to the wild swings in the past two weeks in financial markets.

Powell made the comments during a ceremonial swearing-in event witnessed by Fed staffers and members of his family gathered in the giant atrium of its headquarters building in Washington.

Powell took the oath of office the first time on Feb. 5 when he succeeded Janet Yellen as Fed chairman. The Fed released a brief pre-recorded video message at that time in which Powell pledged to remain “vigilant” to any emerging economic risks.

But the video message and Tuesday’s comments made no specific reference to the recent wild market gyrations. Analysts have said the increased volatility could reflect rising fears in markets that inflation will soon become a bigger threat, prompting the Fed to accelerate the pace of its rate hikes.

Powell is certain to face questions on how the Fed plans to deal with the market turmoil when he delivers the central bank’s semi-annual monetary report to Congress on Feb. 28.

In his comments Tuesday, Powell said the central bank had made “great progress” in moving closer to its goals of maximum employment and stable prices, as well as creating a financial system that is “incomparably stronger and safer, with much higher capital and liquidity, better risk management and other improvements” since the 2008 financial crisis.

“Much credit for these results should go to Chairman (Ben) Bernanke and Chair Yellen. I am grateful for their leadership and for their example and advice as colleagues,” Powell said, saluting his two predecessors.

Powell was tapped by President Donald Trump to succeed Yellen, who has said she was disappointed that Trump did not offer her a second term.

In his remarks, Powell said that the Fed has been a leader over the past 25 years in improving transparency to give the public a better understanding of the decisions it has made in managing the economy.

“We will continue to pursue ways to improve transparency both in monetary policy and in regulation,” Powell said.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/new-fed-chair-vows-to-stay-alert-to-economic-risks/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/1293705_Powell_Fed_Confirmation_52.jpgThe Senate Banking Committee has scheduled Federal Reserve board member Jerome Powell's confirmation hearing as next chair of the Federal Reserve for Tuesday.Tue, 13 Feb 2018 20:52:33 +0000
Owners of hybrids, all-electric vehicles fume over proposal to assess annual fee https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/maine-hybrid-electric-car-drivers-fume-about-proposed-tax/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/maine-hybrid-electric-car-drivers-fume-about-proposed-tax/#respond Tue, 13 Feb 2018 23:25:14 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/maine-hybrid-electric-car-drivers-fume-about-proposed-tax/ Outraged vehicle owners piled into a public hearing Tuesday to denounce a bill from Gov. Paul LePage’s administration that would slap hefty annual fees on hybrid and all-electric vehicles.

The Maine Department of Transportation has proposed annual fees of $150 for hybrid vehicles and $250 for electric cars because many owners pay lower gas taxes than drivers of standard vehicles, or no gas tax at all.

But the vast majority of speakers at the transportation committee hearing said the fees proposed under L.D. 1806 – “An Act To Ensure Equity in the Funding of Maine’s Transportation Infrastructure by Imposing an Annual Fee on Hybrid and Electric Vehicles” – were arbitrary, punitive, unfair and would create a disincentive for people who want to buy low- or no-emission vehicles.

“This bill purports to ensure equity. It is in the title,” said Dan Townsend of Whitefield. “That claim is laughable. It selectively penalizes a group of socially conscious Maine consumers for their choice of vehicle. It should be roundly rejected.”

The Department of Transportation, which wrote the bill, argues that fees on hybrid and electric vehicles will ensure that owners pay a fair share of the state’s chronically underfunded budget for road and bridge projects, the primary means of paying for that work.

The bill is supposed to be a starting point for discussion, said Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt. There are more electric and hybrid vehicles on the road every year, a trend that will continue as car companies introduce more all-electric models, including heavy trucks, he said.

“The state needs to be able to collect revenue from these gas-independent vehicles,” Bernhardt said. “This is not meant to be a punishment.”

AVERAGE MAINER’S GAS TAXES: $82 A YEAR

However, vehicle owners and environmentalists argued that the proposed fees were grossly out-of-scale and urged lawmakers to find new ways to fund highway maintenance.

Roughly 20 people spoke against the bill. Several noted that hybrid cars use gasoline at least part of the time, so owners already pay into the highway fund through the gas tax.

The average Mainer pays about $82 in gas tax annually, said Andrea Maker, a lobbyist for the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, a national trade group.

“The most the state should reasonably charge is $80 a year,” she said.

There are about 19,000 hybrid cars and 410 electric vehicles in Maine, or about 3 percent of all passenger vehicles registered in the state, according to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. If a fee was imposed on all those vehicles, it could bring in about $2.9 million a year.

The state’s highway fund is underfunded by about $160 million a year, and the MDOT has borrowed hundreds of millions through state bonds in recent years to make up most of the shortfall.

Arnie Hoffman of Biddeford echoed other drivers when he said he bought his hybrid to reduce vehicle emissions and reduce his reliance on fossil fuels. Adding a heavy tax on the vehicle would create a disincentive for more people to buy fuel-saving cars, he said.

“Why not pass a bill that assesses an additional tax based on miles driven by each vehicle, rather than slapping a regressive tax on energy-conserving vehicles?” he asked.

GETTING TO THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM

Many speakers called for similar changes to the way the state collects revenue for its highways, arguing that fees based on weight and annual mileage were more equitable and effective.

The state’s 30 cents-per-gallon gas tax hasn’t changed since 2011, and is not indexed to the inflation rate. The 18-cent federal gas tax hasn’t increased since 1993.

“I recognize Maine is facing a deficit in transportation funding,” said Emily Green, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “Saddling owners of electric and hybrid vehicles with disproportionate fees that exceed what they would otherwise be paying is unfair and doesn’t get to the root of the problem – stagnant gas taxes while all cars are getting more efficient.”

The LePage administration is adamant that it will not consider increasing the gas tax, Bernhardt said.

Only the Associated General Contractors of Maine and the Maine Better Transportation Association joined Bernhardt and Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel, the bill’s sponsor, to testify in favor of the bill. Both groups hedged their endorsement by asking that it be included as part of a comprehensive highway funding package that included road use fees on fuel-efficient vehicles, a seasonally adjusted gas tax and other solutions.

Another bill, from Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, would increase the state gas tax by 7 cents per gallon, impose fees on electric and hybrid vehicles, raise registration fees and reallocate sales tax to the highway fund.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

pmcguire@pressherald.com

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/maine-hybrid-electric-car-drivers-fume-about-proposed-tax/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1329207_973576-20141125_electric_ca.jpgThe Maine DOT is proposing a $250 annual fee on all-electric cars, like this Nissan Leaf owned by the city of South Portland, and on gas-electric hybrids. A letter writer wonders if the fossil fuel industry is behind the idea.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 13:33:20 +0000
In final State of the State address, LePage stands firm on Medicaid expansion, says ‘our job is not done’ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/lepage-to-delivers-his-final-vision-for-maine-in-state-of-the-state-address/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/lepage-to-delivers-his-final-vision-for-maine-in-state-of-the-state-address/#respond Tue, 13 Feb 2018 22:34:55 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/lepage-to-delivers-his-final-vision-for-maine-in-state-of-the-state-address/

Gov. Paul LePage acknowledges the audience Tuesday during his final State of the State address at the State House in Augusta, where he focused on issues that he has decided to champion in his last months in office. “Put your work boots on,” he said. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

AUGUSTA — A fired-up Gov. Paul LePage delivered his final State of the State address to a joint session of the Maine Legislature on Tuesday night, entering the House chamber after he shook a fist at protesters who were there to challenge his stance against a voter-approved measure to expand Medicaid to about 70,000 low-income Mainers.

LePage went on to speak for nearly 90 minutes in an address that touched on a broad range of subjects, especially homing in on issues that the Republican has decided to champion in his last months in office. They include trying to force nonprofit land trusts to pay fees in place of the property taxes from which they are exempt, and promoting a bill that would protect the elderly from foreclosure on their homes when they cannot pay their property taxes.

LePage repeated the story of Richard and Leonette Sukeforth of Albion, who lost their home to foreclosure in 2015. The Sukeforths were featured in LePage’s 2017 address.

“For the last seven years, my priority has been to make all Mainers prosper,” LePage said.

The governor’s Democratic opponents were swift to react after the speech, saying Maine was still an economic outlier nationally and that LePage is to blame.

“Tonight, Gov. LePage delivered more of the same – praise for himself, blame for others, and little effort to forge compromise and move Maine forward,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said in a prepared statement. “That’s exactly why, despite all of the governor’s rhetoric, Maine largely lags behind New England and the country in economic growth and why Mainers still feel like they can’t get ahead after seven years of his administration.”

Maine’s Republican Party chairwoman, Demi Kouzounas, offered praise for LePage.

“There is no doubt Gov. LePage has strengthened Maine,” she said. “Whether it was cutting taxes and welfare rolls, seeing unemployment drop by over half, or beating a dangerous effort to limit Mainers’ Second Amendment rights, Maine is better off and stronger than it was when our governor first took office.”

Mainers for Health Care rally outside the State House before Gov. Paul LePage’s State of the State address Tuesday in Augusta. Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty

About 150 proponents of a voter-approved expansion of the state’s Medicaid program disagreed, assembling in the State House lobby holding signs and chanting “health care now” as lawmakers and then LePage were escorted to the House chamber. LePage has been reluctant to move forward with the new law, vowing he won’t expand the program until lawmakers figure out how to pay for it. Cost estimates range from $50 million to $100 million a year.

He repeated his demands Tuesday, saying the Legislature must pay for the expansion without raising taxes, taking money from the state’s savings account or using one-time funding gimmicks, and first must fully fund programs for vulnerable Mainers who are waiting for services.

“Show me the money,” LePage declared.

“It would be fiscally irresponsible for the Legislature to demand we implement Medicaid expansion without adequate funding,” he said. “It is simply not too much to ask the Legislature to prioritize our truly needy over those looking for a taxpayer-funded handout.”

A PLEDGE TO SEEK PROGRESS UNTIL END OF TERM

Gov. Paul LePage said in his final State of the State address, “For the last seven years my priority has been to make all Mainers prosper.” Staff photo by Joe Phelan

LePage also took aim at the ballot process in Maine and at lawmakers who are influenced by lobbyists.

“Today, special interests continue to hijack our ballot box and politicians continue to kowtow to wealthy lobbyists and welfare activists,” LePage said.

He focused only briefly on what he sees as his administration’s accomplishments, but said he is far from finished. “Put your work boots on,” he said, “our job is not done.”

The governor’s speech also raised the issues of continued welfare reforms and state tax conformity with new federal law, and included a long broadside against nonprofit land trusts, which recently have become a favorite target of his criticism.

LePage also said lawmakers sent a mixed message on the age of adulthood in Maine when they raised the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, while 18-year-olds can vote and serve in the military. “Young adults should be treated like young adults,” he said, repeating previous concerns that 18-year-olds should be allowed to decide for themselves if they want to use tobacco

Democrats were quick to note that LePage made no mention of Maine’s opioid crisis, which has seen an average of one citizen a day lose their life to a drug overdose. LePage controversially blocked access to the overdose antidote naloxone for more than five months after lawmakers and the Maine Board of Pharmacy approved over-the-counter sales of the antidote in 2017. The pharmacy board finally published the rules for naloxone this month after increasing the legal age to purchase it from 18 to 21.

Donna Wall of Lewiston, right, and Sean Carrier of Calais, second from right, were among the protesters at the State House on Tuesday night before the State of the State address. Wall was among a group calling for Medicaid expansion, while Carrier was one of the protesters from Washington County who were pushing to keep the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machias open. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, described LePage’s speech as “an example of the weak leadership we have seen over the last seven years.”

“I had hoped he would address all of the issues that were in front of us as well as recognizing what is going right and what we can build on in the future,” Gideon said. “But I felt there was a lot of pointing fingers and laying blame, as the governor is often quick to do, and very little accountability for what he has failed to do himself and the issues that are in front of us.”

CRITICISM FOR NOT MENTIONING OPIOID CRISIS

On the topic of Medicaid, Gideon said expansion is now the law and the governor is obligated to follow it. She said the Legislature – not the governor – will decide how and when additional funding is needed for expansion, and that new money may not be needed until 2019.

“There’s just no way the governor is ever going to want to do this, so the Legislature is just going to have to go forward and work together to come up with a plan,” said Sen. Troy Jackson, an Allagash Democrat who serves as minority leader.

Jackson also said the governor’s decision not to address the opioid crisis was a major omission. He also said the governor could have explained the closure of the Downeast Correctional Facility in Washington County, a decision he called “cowardly.”

But Republican Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport, the House minority leader, was more pleased with the governor’s speech.

First lady Ann LePage applauds during the governor’s speech Tuesday night. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

“The reality is, I think this was sort of a little bit of a wrap-up for the governor in terms of talking about the hard work that has been done over the last seven years,” Fredette said. “I think the message was ‘I’m not done until I’m done.’ He said, ‘I’m here until Inauguration Day.’ I expect he’ll be here and he’ll continue to be the very strong chief executive that he’s been for the last seven years.”

Fredette did not specifically criticize LePage for not mentioning the opioid crisis, but said he’s been disappointed that the Legislature had not done more. Fredette said the opioid crisis “really needs to be the top order of the next governor,” but that he doesn’t think the Legislature “will be up to passing anything that is meaningful.”

‘YOUR PROSPERITY IS ABSOLUTELY PARAMOUNT’

Known for speaking off the cuff, LePage frequently strayed from the text of his 16-page speech. He urged the public to “think long and hard” on who they will send to the governor’s mansion to replace him.

“You will be voting on whether to keep our taxes low and to maintain the right size of government, or to let special interests and public-sector unions raise taxes and bloat government,” he said.

Although LePage is serving his eighth year in office, the speech was only his seventh State of the State address. In 2016 he broke with tradition and delivered his remarks by letter after feuding with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the months before the address.

LePage closed his remarks Tuesday by retelling a now-familiar tale of his hard-luck childhood growing up on the streets of Lewiston after he escaped a violent and abusive father.

“Never once did I ever imagine that I would be living at the Blaine House, never did I imagine that I would ever be invited to the Blaine House,” LePage said, speaking more to Maine residents than the Legislature. “Maine people, we absolutely love you. Your prosperity is absolutely paramount to Maine’s success and we will fight for prosperity the rest of the way.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/lepage-to-delivers-his-final-vision-for-maine-in-state-of-the-state-address/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1331484_340959-SOS_lepage1-e1518632817276.jpgRepublican Gov. Paul LePage acknowledges the audience Tuesday during his final State of the State address at the State House in Augusta, where he focused on issues that he has decided to champion in his last months in office. "Put your work boots on," he said.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 00:07:15 +0000
Top intelligence officials say Russia is targeting U.S. midterm elections https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/top-intelligence-officials-say-russia-is-targeting-u-s-midterm-elections/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/top-intelligence-officials-say-russia-is-targeting-u-s-midterm-elections/#respond Tue, 13 Feb 2018 18:48:47 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/top-intelligence-officials-say-russia-is-targeting-u-s-midterm-elections/ WASHINGTON — The nation’s top intelligence chiefs were united Tuesday in declaring that Russia is continuing efforts to disrupt the U.S. political system and is targeting the 2018 midterm election, following its successful operation to sow discord in the most recent presidential campaign.

Their assessment stands in contrast to President Trump, who has repeatedly voiced skepticism of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats, Democrats demanded to know what the intelligence community is doing to counter Russia’s actions and whether Trump has given explicit directions to them to do so.

“We cannot confront this threat, which is a serious one, without a whole-of-government response when the leader of the government continues to deny that it exists,” said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine.

The disconnect between Trump and his senior-most intelligence advisers has raised concerns that the U.S. government will not be able to mount an effective plan to beat back Russian influence operations in the upcoming midterm election. And Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said there is “no single agency in charge” of blocking Russian meddling, an admission that drew the ire of Democrats.

“The fact that we don’t have clarity about who’s in charge means, I believe, we don’t have a full plan,” said Mark Warner, D-Va., the vice chairman of the committee, which is conducting an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

He also said social media companies, whose platforms have been fertile turf for Russian bots seeking to stoke divisions among Americans, have been “slow to recognize the threat” and that “they’ve still got more work to do.”

Coats said that Russia will continue using propaganda, false personas and social media to undermine the upcoming election.

“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts” to disrupt the 2016 presidential campaign “as successful and views the 2018 midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” said Coats, the leader of the U.S. government’s 17 intelligence agencies.

His assessment was echoed by all five other intelligence agency heads present at the hearing, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who two weeks ago stated publicly that he had “every expectation” that Russia will try to influence the coming election.

The intelligence community’s consensus on Russia’s intentions led Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., to press officials on whether Trump has directed them to take “specific actions to confront and to blunt” Russian interference activities.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau is undertaking “a lot of specific activities” to counter Russian meddling but was “not specifically directed by the president.” And Pompeo added that Trump “has made very clear we have an obligation” to make sure policymakers have a deep understanding of the Russia threat.

Coats also said the intelligence agencies “pass onto the policymakers, including the president,” relevant intelligence.

Reed pressed on his question: “Passing on relevant intelligence is not actively disrupting the operations of an opponent. Do you agree?”

Coats said, “We take all kinds of steps to disrupt Russian activities.”

Pompeo added: “Senator Reed, we have a significant effort. I’m happy to talk about it in closed session.”

A visibly frustrated Reed responded: “The simple question I’ve posed is, has the president directed the intelligence community in a coordinated effort, not merely to report but to actively stop this activity, and the answer seems to be that … the reporting is going on, as reporting [goes on] about every threat going into the United States.”

Earlier in the hearing, Pompeo said that the intelligence community has offensive “capabilities” to “raise the costs to adversaries” seeking to hack into election systems to disrupt voting.

He took issue with King’s suggestion that the U.S. government has not taken actions to deter adversaries in cyberspace. “Your statement that we have done nothing does not reflect the responses that, frankly, some of us at this table have engaged in – that the U.S. government has engaged in – both during and before this administration,” Pompeo said.

King, citing the nuclear doomsday movie “Dr. Strangelove,” said “deterrence doesn’t work unless the other side knows” about the weapon.

“It’s true – it’s important that the adversary knows,” Pompeo said. “It’s not a requirement that the world know it.”

Asked whether the adversary knows about U.S. actions, he said, “I’d prefer to leave that for another forum.”

In a hearing that ranged over several subjects, the intelligence chiefs also said that North Korea’s presence at the Olympics in South Korea, which saw a historic visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, had not changed the intelligence community’s assessment that the regime is trying to build nuclear weapons to threaten its neighbors and the United States.

“The decision time is becoming ever closer in terms of how we respond” to North Korea’s weapons development, Coats said.

Pompeo said his agency has completed an analysis of how North Korea would respond to a U.S. military strike, as well as what it would take to bring the regime to the negotiating table. He offered to describe that analysis only in a closed, classified session.

Pompeo also responded to reporting last week by the New York Times and the Intercept about an intelligence operation to retrieve classified National Security Agency information believed to have been stolen by Russia. The Times reported that U.S. spies had been bilked out of $100,000, paid to a shadowy Russian who claimed to be able to deliver the secrets as well as compromising information about Trump.

Pompeo categorically denied that the intelligence agency had paid any such money, directly or indirectly. He claimed that the newspaper had been duped by the same person trying to sell the U.S. government information that turned out to be bogus.

At the end of the hearing, Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said that the panel hoped to release publicly the findings of its Russia investigation “before the primaries begin” in March. Their probe includes a review of the intelligence community’s January 2017 assessment on Russian interference, he said. That assessment concluded that the Russians wanted to help get Trump elected.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/top-intelligence-officials-say-russia-is-targeting-u-s-midterm-elections/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1331324_Congress_Intelligence_Th18-e1518566227150.jpgFrom left, Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., speak together during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats on Tuesday in Washington.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 00:34:06 +0000
FBI says it gave White House information last year on Trump aide accused of abuse https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/fbi-says-white-house-had-information-on-trump-aide-last-year/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/fbi-says-white-house-had-information-on-trump-aide-last-year/#respond Tue, 13 Feb 2018 18:46:16 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/fbi-says-white-house-had-information-on-trump-aide-last-year/ WASHINGTON – FBI Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday that the bureau provided the White House with information twice last year about the top Trump aide who resigned as staff secretary last week after domestic violence allegations from two ex-wives became public.

Wray said the bureau closed its background investigation on Rob Porter in January, weeks before the allegations were published.

That timeline called into question White House assertions that Porter’s “background investigation was ongoing” when he resigned his position, and that the first the White House learned of the detailed allegations against him was last Tuesday.

Porter had been serving with an interim security clearance while his background check was pending, the White House said, a common occurrence for officials in a government facing a backlog of hundreds of thousands of such reviews.

As questions swirled about how Porter kept his access to highly sensitive information and President Donald Trump despite accusations of domestic violence, the administration’s intelligence chief told The Associated Press that the government’s system of security clearances for top officials is “broken” and must be completely overhauled.

Dan Coats’ assessment in a telephone interview came just before he briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill about global threats facing the United States. Coats was immediately confronted Tuesday by a top Democratic senator about continued questions about Porter, who resigned as Trump’s staff secretary after the stories emerged detailing his ex-wives’ accounts of abuse.

“We have a broken system and I think everybody’s come to agree with that now,” Coats told the AP.

As for Porter, Wray said the FBI submitted a “partial report on the investigation in question” in March 2017 and a completed background investigation in late July. Soon after that, the agency received a request for a follow-up inquiry, and it provided that information in November, Wray said.

He did not say who requested the follow-up. “And then we administratively closed the file in January, and then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well,” he added without elaborating further.

Wray said he was “confident” that the bureau followed proper protocol in investigating Porter.

Coats called for a “revolutionary change” in how the U.S. government vets its own people. He said what’s needed is a process that takes advantage of new technologies and information on social media to provide “early awareness of individuals.” He said such an approach would be faster and more effective than an investigation “having to go to 19 different places to talk to people, neighbors and school classmates and so forth.”

“We have to basically start with a clean sheet and say, ‘What can we do better to make sure that we get the correct background info necessary to certify that someone should be working within our community and in the government?”‘ Coats said. “But how can we do it in a way that doesn’t leave us with hundreds of thousands waiting to be looked at and certified, with key slots open in various agencies?”

“We have moved this to a very top priority because it is really undermining our ability to get the right people into the right place at the right time,” the director of national intelligence added.

Talk of reforming security clearances is hardly new. Some 700,000 reviews have stacked up across the government, leading agencies like the Defense Department to inadvertently issue interim passes to criminals – even rapists and killers – prompting calls for better and faster vetting of people with access to the nation’s secrets. It currently takes about four months to acquire a clearance to gain access to “secret” information on a need-to-know basis, and nine to 10 months for “top-secret” clearance.

The questions about Porter’s behavior and ability to secure an interim clearance have only accelerated the demands for a better process. President Trump’s White House has stressed that background checks are handled by the FBI and other intelligence agencies through the same process that administrations have relied on for decades.

Checking federal employees and private contractors is a laborious process that requires an extensive background check and an effort to judge a person’s trustworthiness. Ninety-five percent of all background investigations are conducted by the National Background Investigations Bureau, which does some of the work itself and contracts the rest to private firms.

“We need to do more to reform the broken security clearance system,” Sen. Mark Warner, the Senate intelligence committee’s top Democrat, told Coats at a hearing Tuesday, noting that government auditors had declared the current program as “high risk.” He said the inefficiency was “costing us millions of dollars,” and hurting efforts to recruit and retain intelligence officials.

The government hasn’t said how many interim clearances have been issued, but outside experts say they could total more than 200,000. People being investigated for interim clearances are subject to background checks, too, but quick access to state and local records can be challenging.

Coats told the AP it’s necessary, “particularly in a new administration” or one with turnover, for interim security clearances to be granted.

“But if you do that, it has to be a specific interim with controlled access and limited access, and that has to be clear right from the beginning,” he said. “You can’t just say an interim allows me to do anything.”

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/fbi-says-white-house-had-information-on-trump-aide-last-year/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1331320_Congress_Intelligence_Thr3.jpgFBI Director Christopher Wray, left, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, second from left, arrive for a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats on Tuesday in Washington.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 11:54:23 +0000
LePage unlikely to take his foot off the gas in final months as governor https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/lepage-unlikely-to-take-his-foot-off-the-gas-in-the-final-months-of-his-administration/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/lepage-unlikely-to-take-his-foot-off-the-gas-in-the-final-months-of-his-administration/#respond Tue, 13 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/?p=1331051 AUGUSTA — Fans and critics of Gov. Paul LePage can agree on one thing for certain: The firebrand Republican is unlikely to go quietly as he wraps up his final year as the state’s chief executive.

In the last few months alone, LePage has flexed his executive muscles by shutting down wind power development, unilaterally closing a state prison and stifling the rulemaking process for expanding access to an anti-overdose medication.

On Tuesday, LePage will deliver his final State of the State address to the Legislature, which is near evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. What he says, how he says it and the goals he lays out will be a prelude for what Mainers can expect from their governor – a man who is seldom out of the headlines for long – in the months ahead.

Lance Dutson, a Republican political consultant and longtime LePage critic, said Mainers should expect everything but a subdued and humbled governor who will exit the Blaine House quietly.

“This governor really likes attention, he’s like an ill-behaved child that doesn’t get enough attention from his parents,” Dutson said. “When he is not in the newspapers it bothers him.”

But Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, the House minority leader and a longtime LePage ally who is running for governor this year, expects LePage to continue his trademark efforts to reform welfare, lower taxes and reduce the cost of energy – either in concert with the Legislature or unilaterally, as necessary.

“I think so long as the governor is in office he is going to fully carry out the functions of his job as he sees fit,” Fredette said. “I don’t think you are going to see someone who is going to sort of fade away into the night.”

LePage’s ability to score major policy wins could be diminished in a year when the entire Legislature is up for election and several top lawmakers from his own party are vying to replace him as governor in 2018. Dutson said LePage may resort to dramatic actions to gain attention and appeal to his conservative base.

“The truth is at this point he’s a lame duck and his ability to impact legislation in meaningful ways becomes less and less,” Dutson said. “The Legislature is put in a very interesting position of either getting rolled over by a guy on the backside of his political career or just standing up to him.”

Dutson said a failure of the Legislature to stand up to LePage will put lawmakers in a weaker position in terms of dealing with the next governor, regardless of which party wins the Blaine House.

Paul Mills, a Farmington attorney, author and longtime Maine political historian, points out that LePage, like his predecessors John Baldacci and Angus King, is not running for another office as his second term winds down.

And while LePage will likely make more history in 2018 because of his personal political style, the design of the lawmaking process is such that the second session of the Legislature doesn’t lend itself to major policy initiatives.

“That’s why we have two-year budgets, so the final year is more of a winding-down year in any event.” Mills said in an email.

But LePage seems far from winding down.

Just hours after voters in November gave first-in-the-nation ballot-box approval to Medicaid expansion, LePage vowed to delay, if not derail, the law that would provide health care to as many as 70,000 low-income residents of the state.

“Medicaid expansion will be ruinous to Maine’s budget,” LePage said at the time. “Therefore, my administration will not implement Medicaid expansion until it has been fully funded by the Legislature at the levels DHHS has calculated, and I will not support increasing taxes on Maine families, raiding the rainy day fund or reducing services to our elderly or disabled.”

The governor also has blocked legislation that would implement another voter-approved law to legalize recreational marijuana, and it’s possible that no significant action will happen on that front until Maine has a new governor.

He also stalled implementation of laws meant to increase access to the opioid overdose antidote, naloxone.

In January, LePage, a longtime critic of wind energy, issued an executive order prohibiting state agencies from issuing permits “related to wind turbines” in western and coastal Maine, on coastal islands and along “significant avian migratory pathways.” The moratorium would remain in place until a new Maine Wind Energy Advisory Commission – which will have meetings that are closed to the public and not subject to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act – reports on wind power’s economic impact and recommends potential regulatory changes.

And just days before his last State of the State address, LePage ignited a political firestorm and drew sharp rebukes from many of his fellow Republicans when he emptied Washington County’s Downeast Correctional Facility despite lawmakers’ repeated votes to keep the prison open.

LePage also can be expected to continue his unannounced travels outside the state or even the country. On Monday, a day ahead of his speech, LePage popped up in Washington, D.C., for the second time in as many weeks. A photo on Twitter showed LePage attending a White House meeting with Trump and other governors to discuss the president’s infrastructure plan.

“I am all in for modernized permitting & public-private partnerships to invest for the future, expand broadband, create jobs & grow our economy,” the tweet from LePage’s official account said.

LePage made numerous trips to Washington in 2017, and during one three-month period racked up more than $30,000 in taxpayer-funded travel-related expenses, including stays at plush hotels such as the Trump International. The frequent trips fueled speculation that LePage was angling for a job in Trump’s administration.

It’s unclear whether the governor will return to the talk radio circuit that became a weekly staple of his administration in its first six years. After a hiatus of several months, LePage resurfaced on the airwaves in January but chose a more mainstream venue as a guest on Maine Calling, a call-in show on Maine Public hosted by Jennifer Rooks.

When asked to reflect on what he’s learned about himself over the last seven years, LePage said, “I learned that it’s much easier to run a company than it is to run a government. I’m a much better businessman than I am a politician.”

Garrett Murch, a spokesman for the Maine Republican Party, expects that LePage will highlight what he sees as his achievements in his speech Tuesday night, but he will likely continue to face criticism from the media.

“Some say there are only two certainties – death and taxes – but there are two more,” Murch said. “Tomorrow, Gov. LePage will list his administration’s significant accomplishments and they will be panned by many in the media.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/13/lepage-unlikely-to-take-his-foot-off-the-gas-in-the-final-months-of-his-administration/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1331051_839311-LePage.jpgTue, 13 Feb 2018 10:26:30 +0000
At a glance: What’s in – and not in – Trump’s budget https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/at-a-glance-whats-in-and-not-in-trumps-budget/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/at-a-glance-whats-in-and-not-in-trumps-budget/#respond Tue, 13 Feb 2018 01:26:09 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/at-a-glance-whats-in-and-not-in-trumps-budget/ DEFENSE

Trump’s budget for 2019 shows the administration’s concern about the threat from North Korea and its missile program.

The Pentagon is proposing to spend hundreds of millions more in 2019 on missile defense.

The budget calls for increasing the number of strategic missile interceptors from 44 to 64 and boosting other elements of missile defense.

BORDER WALL

The second stage of Trump’s proposed border wall in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley would be 65 miles long, costing an average of $24.6 million a mile, according to the president’s 2019 budget.

That matches the amount requested in Trump’s 2018 budget to build or replace 74 miles in San Diego and Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings.

The proposal sets aside $782 million to hire 2,000 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, whose responsibilities include making deportation arrests, and 750 more Border Patrol agents toward Trump’s long-term goal of 5,000.

The administration also wants to raise capacity at its immigration detention facilities to 52,000 people.

MEDICARE

Trump’s budget proposes major changes to Medicare’s popular prescription benefit, creating winners and losers among the 42 million seniors with drug coverage.

On the plus side for seniors, the budget requires the insurance plans that deliver the prescription benefit to share with beneficiaries a substantial portion of rebates they receive from drug makers.

The budget also eliminates the 5 percent share of costs that an estimated 1 million beneficiaries with very high drug bills now must keep paying when they reach Medicare’s “catastrophic” coverage. Instead seniors would pay nothing once they reach Medicare’s catastrophic coverage level, currently $8,418 in total costs.

But on the minus side, the budget calls for changing the way Medicare accounts for certain discounts that drug makers now provide to seniors with significant drug bills.

That complex change would mean fewer seniors reach catastrophic coverage, and some will end up paying more than they do now.

EDUCATION

Fulfilling a campaign promise, Trump is proposing to put “more decision-making power in the hands of parents and families” in choosing schools for their children with a $1.5 billion investment for the coming year. The budget would expand both private and public school choice.

A new Opportunity Grants program would provide money for states to give scholarships to low-income students to attend private schools, as well as expand charter schools across the nation. Charters are financed by taxpayer dollars but usually run independently of school district requirements.

The budget also calls for increased spending to expand the number of magnet schools that offer specialized instruction usually focused on specific curricula.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Trump’s proposed 2019 budget calls for slashing funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by more than one third, including ending the Climate Change Research and Partnership Programs.

The president’s budget would also make deep cuts to funding for cleaning up the nation’s most polluted sites, even as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said that is one of his top priorities. Trump’s budget would allocate just $762 million for the Hazardous Substance Superfund Account, a reduction of more than 30 percent.

The budget also would eliminate money for the popular Energy Star program, seeking instead to raise “a modest fee” from appliance and electronics manufacturers who seek to label their products as being energy efficient.

‘OBAMACARE’

The budget assumes that Congress will repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law, although there’s little evidence that Republican leaders have the appetite for another battle over “Obamacare.”

The Obama health law would be replaced with legislation modeled after an ill-fated GOP bill whose lead authors were Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said it would leave millions more uninsured.

VETERANS

The budget proposes an overall increase of $8.7 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, primarily to strengthen medical care for more than 9 million enrolled veterans. A key component is a proposed $11.9 billion to revamp the Veterans Choice program, a Trump campaign priority. The planned expansion would give veterans wider freedom to receive government-paid care from private doctors and MinuteClinics outside the VA system.

STATE

Trump’s budget includes a modest increase of $191 million for what’s known as “overseas contingency operations,” or active war zones like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had argued in the past that the impending resolution of major global conflicts would decrease the need for U.S. spending and allow the Trump administration to significantly reduce what it spends overseas.

INTERIOR

The Interior Department’s proposed $11.7 billion budget includes $1.3 billion to address a growing backlog of projects to maintain and improve roads, bridges, park buildings and other infrastructure. The agency has an estimated $16 billion deferred maintenance backlog, including more than $11 billion for the National Park Service alone.

ENERGY

The Trump administration is seeking $30.6 billion for the Energy Department, a figure that includes an additional $1.5 billion authorized under a two-year budget deal that Congress approved last week. Much of the additional funding, $1.2 billion, goes to the Office of Science to pay for basic scientific research.The budget again proposes steep cuts to energy efficiency and renewable-energy programs and calls for eliminating DOE’s loan program and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, DOE’s innovation arm.

HOUSING

The budget proposes deep cuts to funding for rental assistance programs, eliminates community block grants and references future legislation that will implement work requirements for some tenants receiving public assistance.

Trump’s proposal reduces the budget for rental assistance programs by more than 11 percent compared with 2017.

JUSTICE

Trump’s 2019 Justice Department budget seeks more than $109 million for crime-fighting efforts, including $70 million for a partnership with state and local authorities called Project Safe Neighborhoods that targets gun offenders.

FOOD STAMPS

Trump’s budget proposes massive cuts to the program.

The budget also floats the idea of new legislation that would require able-bodied adults to work or participate in a work program in order to receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION

The Trump administration wants NASA out of the International Space Station by 2025 and to have private businesses running the place instead.

Under Trump’s 2019 proposed budget, U.S. government funding for the space station would end by 2025.

THE ARTS

Trump’s budget calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, two prominent grant programs founded in the 1960s.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/at-a-glance-whats-in-and-not-in-trumps-budget/feed/ 0 Mon, 12 Feb 2018 20:37:20 +0000
Trump’s $4.4 trillion budget would move boost deficit with more military spending https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/trumps-4-4-trillion-budget-moves-deficit-sharply-higher/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/trumps-4-4-trillion-budget-moves-deficit-sharply-higher/#respond Mon, 12 Feb 2018 20:05:49 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/trumps-4-4-trillion-budget-moves-deficit-sharply-higher/ WASHINGTON — President Trump unveiled a $4.4 trillion budget plan Monday that envisions steep cuts to America’s social safety net but mounting spending on the military, formally retreating from last year’s promises to balance the federal budget.

The president’s spending outline for the first time acknowledges that the Republican tax overhaul passed last year would add billions to the deficit and not “pay for itself” as Trump and his Republican allies asserted. If enacted as proposed, though no presidential budget ever is, the plan would establish an era of $1 trillion-plus yearly deficits.

The open embrace of red ink is a remarkable public reversal for Trump and his party, which spent years objecting to President Barack Obama’s increased spending during the depths of the Great Recession. Rhetoric aside, however, Trump’s pattern is in line with past Republican presidents who have overseen spikes in deficits as they simultaneously increased military spending and cut taxes.

“We’re going to have the strongest military we’ve ever had, by far,” Trump said in an Oval Office appearance Monday. “In this budget we took care of the military like it’s never been taken care of before.”

Trump’s budget revived his calls for big cuts to domestic programs that benefit the poor and middle class, such as food stamps, housing subsidies and student loans. Retirement benefits would remain mostly untouched by Trump’s plan, as he has pledged, though Medicare providers would absorb about $500 billion in cuts — a nearly 6 percent reduction. Some beneficiaries in Social Security’s disability program would have to re-enter the workforce under proposed changes to eligibility rules.

While all presidents’ budgets are essentially dead on arrival — Congress writes and enacts its own spending legislation — Trump’s plan was dead before it landed. It came just three days after the president signed a bipartisan agreement that set broad parameters for spending over the next two years. That deal, which includes large increases for domestic programs, rendered Monday’s Trump plan for 10-year, $1.7 trillion cuts to domestic agencies such as the departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development even more unrealistic.

The White House used Monday’s event to promote its long-awaited plan to increase funding for infrastructure. The plan would put up $200 billion in federal money over the next 10 years in hopes of leveraging a total of $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending, relying on state and local governments and the private sector to contribute the bulk of the funding.

But after his aides talked up that plan over the weekend, Trump suggested that his infrastructure proposal wasn’t a big deal for him.

“If for any reason, they don’t want to support to it, hey, that’s going to be up to them,” he said of the Republican-controlled Congress. “What was very important to me was the military; what was very important to me was the tax cuts.”

Trump also is proposing work requirements for several federal programs, including housing subsidies, food stamps and Medicaid. Such ideas have backing from powerful figures in Congress including Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who promises action on a “workforce development” agenda this year.

There was immediate opposition from Democrats.

“The Trump budget proposal makes clear his desire to enact massive cuts to health care, anti-poverty programs and investments in economic growth to blunt the deficit-exploding impact of his tax cuts for millionaires and corporations,” said Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

Some Republicans, on the other hand, said spending was much too high.

“This budget continues too much of Washington’s wasteful spending — it does not balance in ten years, and it creates a deficit of over a trillion dollars next year,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida. “We cannot steal from America’s future to pay for spending today

Trump’s plan aims at other familiar targets. It would eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The administration wants NASA out of the International Space Station by 2025 and private businesses running the place instead.

But the domestic cuts would be far from enough to make up for the plummeting tax revenue projected in the budget.

Trump’s plan sees a 2019 deficit of $984 billion, though White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney admits $1.2 trillion is more plausible after last week’s congressional budget pact and $90 billion worth of disaster aid is tacked on. That would be more than double the 2019 deficit the administration promised last year.

All told, the new budget sees accumulating deficits of $7.2 trillion over the coming decade; Trump’s plan last year projected a 10-year shortfall of $3.2 trillion. And that’s assuming Trump’s rosy economic predictions come true and Congress follows through — in an election year — with politically toxic cuts to social programs, farm subsidies and Medicare providers.

Last year Trump’s budget promised such ideas could generate a small budget surplus by 2027; now, his best-case scenario is for a $450 billion deficit that year, more than $300 billion of which can be traced to his December tax cut.

In stark numbers, the budget rewrites the administration’s talking points for last year’s tax plan, which administration figures such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin promised would more than pay for itself.

“Not only will this tax plan pay for itself, but it will pay down debt,” Mnuchin declared in September.

Instead, Trump’s budget projects that tax revenues will plummet by $3.7 trillion over the 2018-27 decade relative to last year’s “baseline” estimates.

The budget also includes $1.6 billion for the second stage of Trump’s proposed border wall, a 65-mile segment in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. Trump’s request last year for 74 miles of wall in San Diego and the Rio Grande Valley is pending before lawmakers right now.

Once again, there’s no mention of how Mexico would have to pay for it, as Trump repeatedly promised during the presidential campaign and after his victory.

The plan reprises proposals to curb crop insurance costs, cut student loan subsidies and reduce pension benefits for federal workers. They went nowhere last year.

Trump’s plan promises 3 percent growth for the nation’s economy, continuing low inflation and low interest yields on U.S. Treasury bills despite a flood of new borrowing. That likely underestimates the mounting cost of financing the government’s $20 trillion-plus debt, many economists say.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said a surge in stimulus from higher government spending and tax cuts would boost growth but for only for a short time.

“This will meaningfully raise the odds that after juiced-up growth in 2018 and 2019, we will get a much weaker economy, possibly a recession in the next decade,” Zandi said. “In good times, budget policy should be working to get the deficits down because bad times are sure to come.”

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/trumps-4-4-trillion-budget-moves-deficit-sharply-higher/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/AP18043488124438.jpgJames Knable helps to unpack copies of the President's FY19 Budget after it arrived at the House Budget Committee office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)Mon, 12 Feb 2018 20:27:53 +0000
Trump budget would kill funds for many programs in Maine https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/trumps-budget-proposal-again-seeks-to-eliminate-funds-for-heating-aid-housing-assistance-conservation-in-maine/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/trumps-budget-proposal-again-seeks-to-eliminate-funds-for-heating-aid-housing-assistance-conservation-in-maine/#respond Mon, 12 Feb 2018 19:02:22 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/trumps-budget-proposal-again-seeks-to-eliminate-funds-for-heating-aid-housing-assistance-conservation-in-maine/ President Trump released a proposed budget for the next fiscal year Monday that if enacted would have serious consequences across Maine.

The sweeping plan again proposes to eliminate the programs that provide heating oil to low-income Mainers, legal aid to indigent citizens, and grants to towns and cities to rehabilitate housing, infrastructure, and services. It also would stop federal funding for Maine Public’s television and radio outlets, the University of Maine’s Sea Grant research program, and the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, which would again face closure.

The White House sought to eliminate all of these programs last year, but was ultimately spurned by the Republican-controlled Congress and may be again this year. The cuts last year were opposed by Maine’s entire congressional delegation.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat representing Maine’s 1st District, said via email that Trump’s proposal “spells disaster for rural states like Maine and demonstrates how out of touch his administration is with the needs of the country.” Pingree, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, added: “I’ll fight the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate so many programs critical to Maine.”

Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who represents the 2nd District, said in a statement that he was pleased the budget request strengthened national security and supported the armed forces, but was opposed to many of the president’s proposed program eliminations, including heating assistance, public broadcasting, Sea Grant and Wells.

“As I have said before, we must make sure we maintain support for programs and agencies that serve our families and communities and help protect our environment,” Poliquin said. “As Congress begins its work in the coming months on the federal budget, I will continue to push for continued support for these and other programs and agencies that do good for Maine families.”

Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said via email that the budget “contains a number of concerning provisions that would roll back programs important to Maine’s economy while also adding to the deficit.” He said he hoped congressional appropriators “prioritize smart spending to stimulate the economy and support people in rural Maine and across the country.”

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement late Monday that she was pleased the president’s budget calls for the construction of three destroyers of the type built at Bath Iron Works, $160 million for Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and new funding for the opioid crisis and veteran’s medical care. However, she also said there are “serious problems” with the budget, including “unwise cuts” Trump had proposed last year “that Congress has already signaled its opposition to on a bipartisan basis.” She said she’d work with her colleagues to ensure funding for home heating assistance, development grants to municipalities, and other programs.

Gov. Paul LePage’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The White House proposal, titled “Efficient, Effective, Accountable: An American Budget,” includes steep increases in military spending and funds to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, while severely reducing funding for Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other programs.

Trump seeks to end the $3.39 billion Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides heating assistance to about 45,000 Mainers. His budget document says “the program is no longer a necessity as states have adopted their own policies to protect constituents against energy concerns.”

The cuts also include an end to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant program, which in Maine has funded groundbreaking work on how to monitor juvenile lobster populations so researchers can better predict future health of the stock; assisted mussel, scallop and kelp farmers with research and methodological expertise; developed organic certification guidelines for sea vegetable growers; and helped monitor and contain bacteria and other marine pests that plague shellfish growers and harvesters.

Sea Grant researchers created the Fishermen’s Forum, the industry’s premier event, in 1976, and helped found the Portland Fish Exchange, the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute – which researches issues of concern to the industry – and the removal of dams and restoration of fish habitat in the Penobscot River watershed.

The budget also would eliminate funding for the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, New Hampshire’s Great Bay Estuarine Reserve, and 27 other National Estuarine Research Reserves across the country.

“We have great support in our communities and states nationwide and bipartisan support in Congress,” Wells Reserve director Paul Dest told the Press Herald via email. “We are hopeful this will prevail again with the federal FY 19 budget when it is eventually passed.”

The budget would eliminate funding for the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which provides a wide range of funds for Maine cities and towns, claiming “evaluations have been unable to demonstrate program results” and that “state and local governments are better positioned to address local community and economic development needs.” In Portland, the program has been used to fund food pantries, homeless shelters, mental health services, case work, child care subsidies for low-income single parents, a jobs program for panhandlers, community based policing and other initiatives.

At the Department of the Interior, the $13 million fund that helps compensate local communities for lost tax revenue from land included in National Wildlife Refuges also will be closed because “refuges often generate tax revenue for their communities.” Maine has 11 such reserves spread across the state, from the Moosehorn reserve near Calais to the Rachel Carson reserve in Wells and Aroostook reserve in Limestone.

The budget also would eliminate the $385 million Legal Services Corporation, a Nixon-era agency that provides funding for legal aid agencies that help the poor take grievances to court.

In Maine, the agency provides $1.4 million a year to Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which is about half of its annual budget for general legal services. The 50-year-old legal aid agency, which represents poor Mainers in 4,500 cases a year, exposed and ended debtor’s prison in Maine in the 1970s and one of its volunteers exposed a national “robo-signing” scandal among sub-prime mortgage lenders.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which gets $495 million annually and distributes most of that to local public broadcasters, also would be eliminated, depriving Maine’s statewide public radio and television broadcaster, Maine Public, of about $1.7 million, or 14 percent of its annual budget.

The president also seeks to end the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which make nearly $3 million in awards to Maine artists and cultural institutions each year, including the Maine State Museum, the Maine Historical Society, and Maine Arts Commission.

In northern Maine, the Northern Border Regional Commission also would be eliminated. The $10 million federal-state partnership has provided funding for infrastructure, land preservation, workforce training, and public services in distressed communities in the “Northern Forest region” of Maine and three other states. The closure, the budget document says, will help encourage “states and localities to partner with the private sector to develop locally tailored solutions to community problems.”

Colin Woodard can be contacted at:

cwoodard@pressherald.com

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/trumps-budget-proposal-again-seeks-to-eliminate-funds-for-heating-aid-housing-assistance-conservation-in-maine/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/723224-38327220140103Dead.jpgWINTER HEAT: Greg French, a fifteen-year veteran delivery man for Dead River Oil, hauls the fuel line through an stretch of deep snow in the yard of a customer's residence on Primrose Street in Winslow on Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. French says it has been busier than usual compared to previous years. "We haven't seen cold like this in a long time. Usually there is a bit of relief with a thaw. Not this year." French said.Tue, 13 Feb 2018 09:28:04 +0000
Group plans rally in opposition to LePage before his final State of the State address https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/group-plans-rally-in-opposition-to-lepage-ahead-of-maine-governors-final-address-to-state/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/group-plans-rally-in-opposition-to-lepage-ahead-of-maine-governors-final-address-to-state/#respond Mon, 12 Feb 2018 16:54:37 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/group-plans-rally-in-opposition-to-lepage-ahead-of-maine-governors-final-address-to-state/ AUGUSTA — A group that backed a successful ballot question initiative to expand Medicaid in Maine in 2017 will rally Tuesday before Gov. Paul LePage’s final State of the State address.

The rally is a protest of LePage’s efforts to block the expansion of the state and federally funded health care program that could offer coverage to up to 70,000 more Mainers.

LePage has five times successfully vetoed an expansion of the program under the federal Affordable Care Act, saying it will bankrupt the state. But nearly 60 percent of Maine voters approved the expansion at the ballot box in 2017.

Since the ballot question was passed, LePage has insisted that the Legislature fund expansion costs without tapping into the state’s rainy day fund or increasing taxes, which would effectively require lawmakers to cut spending elsewhere.

Those expected to speak at the rally, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. outside the State House in Augusta, include individuals who say they and their families have been hurt by LePage’s effort to block expansion and control its funding.

“I work at a paper mill, and thousands of Mainers like me who work in mills have been laid off (in) the past few years, and their families have been left without any health insurance,” said Linda Deane of Livermore, the sister of a laid-off mill worker, in a prepared statement. “Many are now working low-wage jobs that don’t provide benefits. The toll this has taken on hundreds of families is enormous.”

LePage is expected to address a joint session of the Legislature at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/group-plans-rally-in-opposition-to-lepage-ahead-of-maine-governors-final-address-to-state/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/1284135_625426-20171107_electiond2.jpgJennie Pirkl, campaign manager for Mainers for Health Care, at the microphone, is joined by other supporters of the expansion of Medicaid in Maine, as they celebrate Tuesday night at Bayside Bowl in Portland.Mon, 12 Feb 2018 23:22:25 +0000
Former Trump aide’s accuser hunkers down amid publicity https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/12/former-trump-aides-accuser-hunkers-down-amid-publicity/ Mon, 12 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/?p=1330640 Jessica Corbett is in hiding.

The 32-year-old ex-wife of a White House speechwriter she accused of domestic violence says she’s humiliated and hoping her life can return to normal soon.

Speaking on the phone from an undisclosed location outside of Maine, the Portland resident talked to the Press Herald at length Sunday about how she ended up in Maine, a long way from her childhood in southern Georgia, and how she met her husband at the Maine State House. She also spoke of the fear she said she faced by deciding to make her accusations public, and the mixed feelings she has over the outcome of doing so.

Corbett’s former husband, David Sorensen, resigned his White House job Friday, the same day The Washington Post published a story detailing her accusations against him.

Corbett said she left Maine nearly two weeks ago after starting to talk to The Washington Post about her 2½-year marriage to Sorensen, a former aide to Gov. Paul LePage and spokesman for the Maine Republican Party.

It is a relationship that before the Trump administration and the rise of the #metoo movement would not have gained the attention of the national press. Now with the White House embroiled over its employment of two aides facing domestic abuse allegations – White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned two days before Sorensen for alleged abuse of two ex-wives – Corbett is being sought out by national morning talk shows and newspaper reporters. She said speaking out has been painful and embarrassing.

“The humiliation I’ve endured is why other victims suffer silently and that is the only reason I am speaking up,” Corbett said Sunday.

She said that just before the Post’s story detailing her accusations against Sorensen was published Friday, she spent the night in a hotel out of concern for her personal safety, although she did not mention any threats against her. She has avoided the internet since the publication to avoid nasty online comments about her, but said her family has kept her apprised of what’s been said. Aside from the night in the hotel, she said Sunday was the first time she has emerged from her “hiding place” out of state to go to church.

ACCUSATIONS OF ABUSE

Corbett and Sorensen have traded accusations against each other.

Corbett told the Post that during her marriage to Sorensen, he ran a car over her foot, put out a cigarette on her hand, threw her into a wall and grasped her menacingly by her hair while they were alone on their boat in remote waters off Maine’s coast, an incident she said left her fearing for her life.

In a statement Friday night, Sorensen said he had “never committed violence of any kind against any woman in my entire life.”

“In fact, I was the victim of repeated physical violence during our marriage, not her,” he said.

Sorensen alleged that Corbett punched him on multiple occasions. After one such episode, he said, he tried to leave in his car and she ran after him as he was pulling away, injuring herself in the process. In another incident, he said, she grabbed the steering wheel as he drove on a highway and punched him in the face during an argument.

Several Maine Republicans, including gubernatorial candidate Mary Mayhew, have come  to Sorensen’s defense. On Sunday, longtime Yarmouth divorce lawyer Joanne Fryer, a friend of Sorensen, spoke out about what she called an effort by The Washington Post “to hurt John Kelly and the president.” Kelly is President Trump’s chief of staff.

Fryer, who is active in Maine Republican circles and socialized with the young couple, said Corbett sought her advice at one point about how to proceed with a divorce. Fryer said it was clear to her that Corbett was not the victim of domestic abuse. Fryer said that had she detected any sign of domestic abuse, she would have reported it as she is mandated to do.

“I would have jumped all over that. I felt very confident that this was not a case where she was abused,” Fryer said.

THE MOVE TO MAINE

Corbett got involved in Republican politics while a student at the University of Florida, where she would throw political tailgate parties at college football games. She joined the Marco Rubio Senate campaign early on and then worked with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s ill-fated run for president. In 2012, she got a call from Maine Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason asking her to interview for a consulting job for the Maine Senate Republicans.

“I met David on the day I came up for the interview,” she said.

She got the job and moved to Maine a month later and soon Sorensen sought her out.

“I was working out of the offices of the Maine Republican Party and he walked in and asked me out on a date,” she said Sunday.

The couple bought a house at 9 Fairbanks St. in Augusta, known among their young circle of Republican friends as “the Fairbanks lounge.”

Corbett went on from the Senate Republicans to work for U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s campaign and since then has worked as a consultant for various candidates and campaigns around the country.

She and Sorensen were married in Hawaii aboard a sailboat on Dec. 13, 2014. The marriage lasted for two years before they separated. The divorce became final this past September.

Corbett said she decided to stay in Maine after that.

“I escaped to Portland. People were asking me to move to Michigan or go back to Washington, D.C. I didn’t want to make one big life decision in the wake of another, so I went to Portland. That is where I fell in love with Maine,” Corbett said.

Corbett said she told the FBI about the alleged abuse when she was interviewed in October during the agency’s background check of Sorensen for his speechwriting job.

Corbett said she was recently approached by a reporter at a national media company about taking part in a story about political campaigns but she wasn’t the right fit for the story. The reporter passed on Corbett’s story about domestic abuse to a reporter at The Washington Post.

She heard from a Washington Post reporter on Jan. 30. The White house learned of the abuse accusations Thursday and confronted Sorenson, who quit Friday, saying he didn’t want to become a political distraction for the White House.

For now, Corbett said, her life has been turned upside down.

“I am in a black hole,” she said.

She said she is waiting for the day when she feels it is safe to return to the life she is making in the East End of Portland with her dog, Frank Underwood, a Wheaton terrier named after the protagonist played by Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards.” Her fiance, Stephen Greene, whom she met at a wedding, is planning to move to Portland soon. They are thinking about a summer wedding in Maine, she said.

She said Portland is the perfect city for her, given that as a Southerner and a Republican she is something of an anomaly.

“Only in that city could you be accepted and loved. That is what makes Portland so great,” she said.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

Twitter: bquimby

]]>
https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/sorensen-corbett.jpgMon, 12 Feb 2018 14:04:19 +0000
Four Republicans running for governor air their views at Lincoln Dinner https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/11/four-republicans-running-for-governor-air-their-views-at-lincoln-dinner/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/11/four-republicans-running-for-governor-air-their-views-at-lincoln-dinner/#respond Mon, 12 Feb 2018 00:41:50 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/11/four-republicans-running-for-governor-air-their-views-at-lincoln-dinner/ SKOWHEGAN — Without doing much to distinguish themselves from each other, four of the five Republican candidates for governor presented their case to voters Saturday night for why they deserve to be elected to the Blaine House in November.

At the Lincoln Day Gubernatorial Dinner, hosted by the Somerset County Republican Committee of Maine, the four candidates in attendance all promoted themselves as anti-abortion and pro-gun-ownership Republicans with a vision to move Maine forward. The candidates were state Rep. Ken Fredette, former commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services Mary Mayhew, businessman Shawn Moody and state Sen. Mike Thibodeau. The fifth Republican candidate, state Sen. Garrett Mason, did not attend.

The dinner at the T&B Celebration Center also featured state Sen. Eric Brakey, a Republican who is challenging U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, for his seat this year. Brakey, who likely faces an uphill challenge against the very popular King, criticized Washington, D.C., as being a district of rich elitists who “steal from the rest of us.”

Brakey, who was elected to the state Senate at age 26 when he defeated a Democratic incumbent, said he came into politics during the tea party wave. The tea party is a national conservative movement that first emerged in 2009 and is loosely associated with the Republican Party.

King “has a nice mustache, he rides a motorcycle, he got us a lobster emoji,” said Brakey, noting that if he was a U.S. senator he would “protect the Constitution.”

As for the candidates vying for the Blaine House, they were asked a series of seven questions. In addition to labeling themselves as anti-abortion and in favor of the Second Amendment, each of the four called for changes to “right to work” laws, which generally prohibit compelling workers at unionized companies to join the union and pay dues as a condition of employment.

Moody, who emphasized his background as a small-business founder, said it’s critical to bring blue-collar jobs back to Maine and that teenagers who want to work are “brought down by the economy.” He said laws now prohibit teenagers from doing much at all at a business like his – Moody’s Collision Center – which “won’t let them do what I did to lift myself from poverty to prosperity.”

Mayhew, touting her experience with DHHS, said that despite having a staff of 3,600 in the department, she only had the capacity to hire or fire 23 employees when she worked there. The rest were all protected by a union contract or public service law, Mayhew said. She said not having the ability to fire a non-performing employee who was protected by a union hurt other hard-working employees.

Thibodeau said that not having a right-to-work law in Maine is a drag on the economy, and that not letting younger people enter the workforce is a drain on their learning opportunities. Fredette also said the state needs to get its teenagers working, and that the raising of the minimum wage to $10 per hour was a detriment to the rural parts of the state.

“The reality is, if you’re down in York (County) or Cumberland County, do you think they’re worried about a $10 minimum wage?” Fredette asked. “Up here in rural Maine, it’s a real issue. If you’re running that little country store, it’s a big deal and it’s putting people out of business.”

When asked how they plan to bring businesses to Maine, the candidates largely cited bureaucratic hurdles that they see keeping businesses out of the state. Thibodeau said he would be a governor who goes out and sells Maine as a pro-business state to the corporate world.

“We can do tremendous things,” he said.

Fredette said the state, especially the Second District and its rural areas, needs to embrace apprenticeship programs. He listed Bath Iron Works and Cianbro as examples of companies already doing that.

Mayhew said the “liberal socialists” in Augusta often stand in the way of business development by not respecting existing businesses. She said the state needs to let businesses know that hard work is valued, and that the state shouldn’t “pay people to sit on a couch and not work.”

“To attract businesses to our state, we have to respect those here today,” she said.

Moody talked about his experience with bureaucracy as a business owner. When he first went for a building permit to build his business, he said, it was a one-time cost of $35. Today, he said that before he could even file for a permit he’d have to pay for a $1,400 Department of Environmental Protection Agency order.

“Bureaucracy is crushing us,” Moody said.

All the candidates but Moody said they would support whoever is the Republican nominee for governor. Moody didn’t answer the question specifically, but said the goal is to sweep the House, Senate and Blaine House for Republicans.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

cellis@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @colinellis

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/11/four-republicans-running-for-governor-air-their-views-at-lincoln-dinner/feed/ 0 Thu, 15 Feb 2018 10:39:12 +0000
The Trump administration wants to privatize the International Space Station https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/11/the-trump-administration-wants-to-privatize-the-international-space-station/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/11/the-trump-administration-wants-to-privatize-the-international-space-station/#respond Sun, 11 Feb 2018 17:55:41 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/11/the-trump-administration-wants-to-privatize-the-international-space-station/ WASHINGTON — The Trump administration wants to turn the International Space Station into a kind of orbiting real estate venture run not by the government, but by private industry.

The White House plans to stop funding for the station after 2024, ending direct federal support of the orbiting laboratory. But it does not intend to abandon the orbiting laboratory altogether, and is working on a transition plan that could turn the station over to the private sector, according to an internal NASA document obtained by The Washington Post.

“The decision to end direct federal support for the ISS in 2025 does not imply that the platform itself will be deorbited at that time – it is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform,” the document states. “NASA will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit.”

In its budget request to be released Monday, the administration would request $150 million in fiscal year 2019, with more in additional years, “to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS-potentially including elements of the ISS-are operational when they are needed.”

The plan to privatize the station is likely to run into a wall of opposition, especially since the United States has spent nearly $100 billion to build and operate it. Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said he hoped recent reports of NASA’s decision to end funding of the station “prove as unfounded as Bigfoot.” He said the decision was the result of “numbskulls” at the Office of Management and Budget.

“As a fiscal conservative, you know one of the dumbest things you can to is cancel programs after billions in investment when there is still serious usable life ahead,” he said.

When asked about the possibility of a public-partnership, he said, “I think all of us are open to reasonable proposals that are cost effective and that are utilizing the investments we made in a way that maximize their effectiveness.”

NASA is currently studying whether the life of the station could be extended to 2028, or beyond, and he said any decision should hinge on that report.

But some questioned who would want to take over the station.

“The ISS is built for science and human exploration, it’s not built for profit seeking,” said Andrew Rush, the chief executive of Made In Space, a company that uses 3-D printing to manufacture objects on the space station.

Frank Slazer, the vice president of space systems for the Aerospace Industries Association, said the plan also could prove sticky with the station’s international partners.

“It will be very hard to turn ISS into a truly commercial outpost because of the international agreements that the United States is involved in,” he said. “It’s inherently always going to be an international construct that requires U.S. government involvement and multi-national cooperation.”

Boeing currently operates the station for NASA, which costs $3 to $4 billion annually. Last month, as reports circulated about NASA pulling the plug on the station, Mark Mulqueen, Boeing’s space station program manager, said “walking away from the International Space Station now would be a mistake, threatening American leadership and hurting the commercial market as well as the scientific community.”

The internal NASA document has scant details over how the privatization of the station would work. As it prepares a transition plan, the White House said it “will request market analysis and business plans from the commercial sector and solicit plans from commercial industry.”

The transition of the station would mark another bold step for NASA in turning over access to what’s known as low Earth orbit to the private sector so that the space agency could focus its resources on exploring deep space. Under President George W. Bush, NASA took the first steps to outsource cargo supply flights to the station to SpaceX and Orbital ATK. President Barack Obama extended that model to hire Boeing and SpaceX to fly astronauts there.

Now, the Trump administration wants to push that public-private partnership even further to encourage “the emergence of an environment in (low-Earth orbit) where NASA is one of many customers of a non-governmental human space flight managed and operated enterprise, while providing a smooth and uninterrupted transition,” the document said.

It didn’t immediately propose what private enterprise might do with the station or which companies might take it over.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/11/the-trump-administration-wants-to-privatize-the-international-space-station/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/08/1242121_Space_Station_79093.jpg-c41.jpgIn this image made from video provided by NASA, Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy holds a mini satellite before launching it by hand from the International Space Station on Thursday.Sun, 11 Feb 2018 17:30:34 +0000
Trump says Democrats playing politics with memo https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/10/trump-says-democrats-playing-politics-with-memo/ https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/10/trump-says-democrats-playing-politics-with-memo/#respond Sun, 11 Feb 2018 00:43:07 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/10/trump-says-democrats-playing-politics-with-memo/ WASHINGTON — President Trump on Saturday accused Democrats of playing politics with classified information, asserting that their memo countering Republicans allegations about the conduct of the FBI’s Russia probe was a trap meant to “blame the White House for lack of transparency.”

Citing national security concerns, the White House notified the House Intelligence Committee on Friday that the president was “unable” to declassify the Democratic memo. White House counsel Don McGahn said in a letter to the committee that the memo contains “numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages” and asked the committee to revise it with the help of the Justice Department.

McGahn said Trump was still “inclined” to release the memo in the interest of transparency if revisions are made.

Trump weighed in with a tweet Saturday.

“The Democrats sent a very political and long response memo which they knew, because of sources and methods (and more), would have to be heavily redacted, whereupon they would blame the White House for lack of transparency,” he tweeted. The meaning of the “(and more)” was not immediately clear.

Trump urged the Democrats to “re-do and send back in proper form!”

The president’s rejection of the Democratic memo was in contrast to his enthusiastic embrace of releasing the Republican document, which accuses the FBI and Justice Department of abusing their surveillance powers in obtaining a secret warrant to monitor former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

Even before reading the Republican document, Trump pledged to make it public and was overheard telling one congressman after the State of the Union address that he would “100 percent” put it out. It was published in full a week ago over the objections of the Justice Department.

The Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, California Rep. Adam Schiff, criticized Trump for treating the two documents differently, saying the president is now seeking revisions by the same committee that produced the original Republican memo. Still, Schiff said, Democrats “look forward to conferring with the agencies to determine how we can properly inform the American people about the misleading attack on law enforcement by the GOP.”

He responded to Trump’s tweet Saturday with one of his own, writing “Mr. President, what you call ‘political’ are actually called facts, and your concern for sources and methods would be more convincing if you hadn’t decided to release the GOP memo (’100%’) before reading it and over the objections of the FBI.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said the move is “part of a dangerous and desperate pattern of cover-up on the part of the president.” California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has read the classified information both memos are based on. She tweeted that Trump’s blocking the memo is “hypocrisy at its worst.”

The head of the House committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who produced the Republican memo, encouraged Democrats to accept the Justice Department’s recommendations and “make the appropriate technical changes and redactions.”

Trump has said the Republican memo “vindicates” him in the ongoing Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. But Democrats and Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who helped draft the Republican memo, have said it shouldn’t be used to undermine the special counsel.

The House Intelligence Committee voted Monday to release the Democratic memo. Republicans backed the release, but several said they thought it should be redacted. Ryan also said he thought the Democratic document should be released.

Democrats have charged that Republicans aren’t taking the panel’s investigation into Russian election meddling seriously enough.

]]>
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/10/trump-says-democrats-playing-politics-with-memo/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1330303_Trump_Russia_Probe_29288.jp_.jpgThe House Intelligence Committee released the Republican memo after President Trump declassified it. Associated Press/Susan WalshbvSat, 10 Feb 2018 19:43:07 +0000