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Top Trump TV surrogate to leave high-profile post

Top Trump TV surrogate to leave high-profile post

Boris Epshteyn is expected to remain in the administration, but possibly in a less visible role. | Getty


Trump delivers surprise to California

SACRAMENTO — California appeared destined for near-Dickensian times after Donald Trump’s election. The state had just delivered a landslide winning margin for his opponent and rapidly evolved into the beachhead of the Trump resistance. The irritable president threatened to withhold federal funding from the nation’s most populous state.

Yet in an early turn from that discord, the Trump administration has delivered on three big asks in its short time in office, approving much-needed presidential disaster declarations related to the Oroville Dam crisis and winter storms. The declarations free up what's likely to be millions of dollars in federal aid in more than a dozen California counties.

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The approvals don’t necessarily represent a thawing between the president and the state that loves to hate to him. Reconciliation on the most partisan — and consequential — issues remains out of reach. But while the federal government has historically approved a large majority of disaster and emergency declaration requests, the process is not immune from political considerations, and previous presidents have made headlines with their denials. The administration’s responsiveness to California suggests an opening in Trump’s Washington for even the most critical, heavily Democratic states.

“Nothing is all that predictable under the current administration,” California Gov. Jerry Brown said when he touched down in the nation’s capital this week for his first visit since the inauguration. “So that could be a cause for alarm, but also a cause for some optimism.”

Despite his coolness toward California, which delivered a popular vote margin of over 4 million votes for Hillary Clinton, Trump has largely sidestepped opportunities for open conflict with the state. While moving this month to roll back national vehicle emission standards, the Trump administration elected not to immediately seek revocation of a federal waiver allowing California to impose its own, stricter rules — though the administration could still do so following a move by California regulators Friday to impose even stricter state emissions standards.

In talks with Trump officials about the disaster declarations at least, the Brown administration was struck by a lack of politics in the administration's decision making, finding conversations professional and not dissimilar from other administrations.

With a fourth request pending, Brown said after meeting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Bob Fenton, “We feel we’re in synch with the federal emergency management team here … and I’m optimistic. I think President Trump cares about helping people in disasters.”

Like other presidents, Trump has also appeared to recognize the political opportunity in assisting states. Hours before issuing his first disaster declaration for California, in February, the president used the Oroville Dam emergency to advance his infrastructure agenda.

“The situation is a textbook example of why we need to pursue a major infrastructure package in Congress,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that month. “Dams, bridges, roads and all ports around the country have fallen into disrepair. In order to prevent the next disaster, we will pursue the president’s vision for an overhaul of our


How a secret Freedom Caucus pact brought down Obamacare repeal

Speaker Paul Ryan and House leaders had been toiling behind closed doors for weeks assembling their Obamacare repeal bill as suspicion on the far-right simmered to a boil.

So on March 6, just hours after Ryan unveiled a plan that confirmed its worst fears, the House Freedom Caucus rushed to devise a counter-strategy. The few dozen true believers knew that pressure from House leaders and President Donald Trump to fall in line would be immense, and they were intent on not getting boxed in.

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In a conference room in the Rayburn House Office Building, the group met that evening and made a secret pact. No member would commit his vote before consulting with the entire group — not even if Trump himself called to ask for an on-the-spot commitment. The idea, hatched by Freedom Caucus vice chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), was to bind them together in negotiations and ensure the White House or House leaders could not peel them off one by one.

Twenty-eight of the group's roughly three dozen members took the plunge.

Three weeks later, Republican leaders, as many as 25 votes short of passage, were forced to pull their bill from the House floor.

“This is a defining moment for our nation, but it's also a defining moment for the Freedom Caucus,” said group leader Mark Meadows about a week before the doomed vote was scheduled. “I don't think there's a more critical vote for the Freedom Caucus than this."

The unpublicized pledge sowed the seeds of Friday’s collapse of the Republican Party’s seven-year campaign to replace Obamacare with its own vision of health care reform. While Trump and leadership were able to win over some Freedom Caucus members, the parties to the pact refused to budge without a green light from their peers, despite receiving one concession after another.

Their resistance — along with the objections of a handful of moderates — stymied Trump and Ryan in the first major legislative gambit between the policy expert and political novice. The Freedom Caucus stared down its own commander-in-chief and won — delivering a black eye to his early presidency and potentially damaging the rest of his agenda.

“They [were] basically saying, ‘We’re going to find all the guys who support it, and we’re all going to hold hands and be a ‘no' on something,’” said a senior Republican source. “It’s ironic because these are the guys who say, ‘I don’t turn my voting card over to leadership. I am the only guy who controls my voting card.' But then they do this stuff, where they say, ‘I can’t because my group is a no.’"

This account of the Freedom Caucus’ central role in the health care showdown is based on interviews with more than two dozen Republican legislators, White House officials and congressional aides. Time and again, they described the tortured, toxic political dynamic within the House Republican Conference — old news to those who’ve followed years of internecine battles between the far-right


Freedom Caucus thwarts Boehner, Ryan — and now Trump


Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows at times attempted to broker a health care deal with the White House and even extracted a few concessions. | Getty

President Donald Trump’s election was supposed to neuter the House Freedom Caucus, the band of three-dozen rabble-rousing conservatives who made their name vexing House GOP leadership and driving John Boehner into early retirement.

So much for that idea.

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On Friday, the Freedom Caucus delivered enough votes to sink Trump’s push to replace Obamacare, proving it can stymie not only another Republican speaker, but a new Republican president.

It was not supposed to be this way. Trump’s election, along with the return of Republican majorities to the House and Senate, appeared to marginalize the party’s purist wing. Republicans elected their own bomb-thrower to the presidency; the bomb-throwers in Congress were expected to have his back.

But the failed health care drive made clear that if Trump wants to deal with Congress, he has to reckon with the Freedom Caucus. As does Speaker Paul Ryan and every other member of House, many of whom were left seething by their colleagues’ inability to get to “yes” on the Obamacare replacement.

The group launched just over two years ago and has repeatedly bucked Republican leaders, forcing Boehner and then Ryan to cut deals with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

“There were people were not interested in solving the problem,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), one of the architects of the GOP health care plan, said Friday. “They win today."

Amazingly, Ryan’s old reality — a right-wing flank that tortures leadership on seemingly every big initiative — remains his new reality despite the GOP’s dominance. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) at times attempted to broker a health care deal with the White House and even extracted a few concessions. But eventually, he and his allies withheld their support, effectively killing the measure.

In a way, Meadows seemed to recognize that the group's resistance to the health care legislation represented a broader quest for meaning in the Trump era.

"Speaking candidly, this is a defining moment for our nation but it's also a defining moment for the Freedom Caucus," he told reporters Monday, four days before Ryan pulled the health care bill. "And so when we look at that, I don't think there's a more critical vote for the Freedom Caucus than this."

Ryan pointed out at a press conference Friday afternoon that the caucus had enough votes to single-handedly kill the health care legislation, though slipping support from moderates also played a hand in its demise.

For now, Freedom Caucus members don’t seem interested in sending Ryan to the same fate as Boehner.

“Paul Ryan, he’s a very good man,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) “He’s an eloquent speaker. He is an excellent representative of the GOP conference as a whole, and I like the job he’s doing and I want him to stay as speaker of the House. And I’ve heard nothing to the contrary.”



Mar-a-Lago doesn’t hide its presidential seal

PALM BEACH, Fla. – President Donald Trump doesn't need to be at Mar-a-Lago for his glitzy private club to feel like the winter White House. The reminders are pretty much everywhere.

Stacked high at the front desk, just through the wrought-iron door at the main entrance, are copies of the latest issue of the seaside resort’s glossy promotional magazine, complete with a two-page photo spread celebrating the club owner’s biggest triumph yet.

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"Road to Victory,” reads the article’s headline. “Eric Trump walks us through some of the memorable moments on his father’s path to the White House."

On most weekends since Trump’s inauguration, the president and his entourage have been spotted in the club, loading up plates at the breakfast buffet, mingling with dues-paying members, turning up in photos on guests’ Facebook and Instagram feeds.

Melania Trump’s turn came Friday night. The seldom-seen first lady and her son Barron are there for spring break, and she made a brief cameo to greet a cocktail reception hosted by the county Republican party.

More than 700 Republican power brokers, fundraisers and foot soldiers paid $300 for a seat or as much as $5,000 for a table to enter the latest gala of the season inside the gold-painted Donald J. Trump Ballroom. Attendees said it was the most overtly political shindig at Mar-a-Lago since its host moved into the White House.

Away from media cameras, First Lady Melania Trump was spotted leaving a VIP reception where she posed for photographs with guests ahead of the annual Republican Party of Palm Beach County's Lincoln Day Dinner on March 24 at Mar-a-Lago Club. | M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

Over an open bar, filet mignon and scallops, guests mostly shrugged off the collapse, just hours earlier, of legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, marking Trump’s biggest loss in the early days of his presidency. “I’m trying to focus on the positive,” Adam Putnam, the Republican former Florida congressman who now runs the state’s Agriculture Commission, told POLITICO. “Maybe a better product will come out of it by not having it be quite so hasty.”

Instead, attendees celebrated their party’s dominance in Washington. Florida Gov. Rick Scott regaled the crowd with stories about his trip last month to see Trump in Washington, where they had lunch and watched “La La Land” in the White House theater. “He doesn’t eat the most healthy foods, by the way,” Scott said. A video clip from the campaign trail played on two giant overhead screens showing Trump on the stump with "Silk & Diamond,” the North Carolina sisters who gained fame thanks to their viral YouTube videos talking up the then-billionaire presidential candidate.

The night ended with a raffle. Prizes included an Apple Watch, a 14-karat gold and diamond necklace and a return ticket to the president’s club for a seafood dinner.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott arrives as President Donald Trump supporters greet guests with a sign during the annual Republican Party of Palm Beach County's Lincoln Day Dinner

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