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Wife of Treasury chief Mnuchin apologizes for mocking social media commenter

Press Herald Politics -

WASHINGTON – It was a glam shot that got ugly.

The wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin dove headlong into a social media skirmish this week, blasting a critic of her Instagram post highlighting her high fashion choices. Calling the commenter “adorably out of touch,” Louise Linton suggested she and Mnuchin contributed more to the U.S. economy and paid more in taxes than did her critic.

After a day of mounting criticism, the Scottish actress issued an apology Tuesday. But she had already assumed a starring role in the continuing story of the Trump administration’s enormous wealth.

“I think spouses of political appointees are usually not fair game for critics, but with Trump, tensions are heightened,” said Republican political consultant Alex Conant.

The drama began Monday when Linton posted a photo of herself getting off a government plane in Kentucky with Mnuchin. In her post, Linton mentioned several designer labels for her white ensemble, including Tom Ford and Valentino.

Commenter Jenni Miller responded from Oregon: “Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable.”

Linton shot back, defending herself and Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive and hedge fund investor.

“Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours,” Linton wrote. She went on to call Miller’s response “passive aggressive” and “nasty” before ending her retort with a suggestion that Miller “go chill out and watch the new game of thrones.”

Miller told CNN she found Linton’s original post “incredibly offensive,” saying Linton went to a state with high poverty and “chose to brag about her outlandishly expensive clothes. It’s more than tone-deaf, it’s deplorable.”

In her apology, Linton said: “I apologize for my post on social media yesterday as well as my response. It was inappropriate and highly insensitive.”

Norm Eisen, President Barack Obama’s chief ethics attorney, called Linton a “Marie Antoinette for our age.” In an email, he added that in the Bush or Obama administrations, a spouse of an official who replied that way and the official “would have been counseled.”

The White House referred questions about Linton to the Treasury Department, which said Mnuchin and Linton are reimbursing the government for Linton’s travel and that Linton received no compensation from the fashion labels mentioned in her post.

Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff for former first lady Laura Bush, said people in high-level government jobs and their spouses must be careful about their public statements.

“Fairly or unfairly, you are held to a higher standard on how to respond and what kind of dialogue you should engage in,” she said. “Don’t take the bait.”

In a Cabinet with plenty of wealth, Mnuchin is among the richest members. He worked for Goldman Sachs for nearly two decades and later founding a successful hedge fund. He also ran a company that invested in Hollywood movies including such blockbuster hits as Avatar. He married Linton, who has had small roles in television shows and movies, in a lavish Washington wedding in June. Trump attended the wedding and Vice President Mike Pence officiated.

Before the wedding, Linton gave an interview to “Town and Country” magazine to talk about her jewelry, a lavish collection of diamonds and pearls.

Like the businessman president, Trump’s team is packed with high rollers, including Education Secretary Betsy Devos, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, as well as daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both senior advisers.

This isn’t the first time their wealth has drawn attention. The president has chosen his lavish Florida vacation home as a place to host foreign dignitaries. During the transition, Ivanka Trump displayed a high-end bracelet on “60 Minutes.” The Washington hangout of choice for staffers and hangers-on is the opulent Trump International Hotel.

Still, Trump has always promoted his image as a wealthy mogul, unlike politicians who have tried to downplay their riches. Said Conant: “It has always been part of Trump’s brand and it’s extended to his cabinet.”

Mnuchin was visiting Kentucky on Monday for an appearance with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a tour of Fort Knox. Treasury secretaries typically travel on commercial flights for domestic trips. The department did not answer questions about why the couple was using a government plane.

It’s not the first time Linton has raised eyebrows. Last year she apologized after being criticized for a self-published memoir of a year she spent in Africa as a teen, and withdrew the book. Critics deemed the book inaccurate in its depiction of life on the continent. An excerpt was published online by The Telegraph, but taken down by the British newspaper “in light of the concerns raised by readers.”

Trump returns to immigration issue with Arizona rally

Press Herald Politics -

YUMA, Ariz. – Fresh off a speech on Afghanistan that moved him in a different direction from many of his core voters, President Trump is highlighting his pledge to combat illegal immigration by visiting a Marine Corps base along the U.S.-Mexico border Tuesday and inspecting a Predator drone used to patrol the region.

Trump also scheduled a nighttime rally in Phoenix, which left local officials concerned that emotions may run hot among those inside and outside of the hall so soon after Trump blamed “both sides” for violence at a rally organized by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

One potential flashpoint was extinguished when the White House ruled out a pardon, at least for now, for former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Trump told Fox News in a recent interview that he was considering issuing a pardon for Arpaio, who awaits sentencing after his conviction in federal court of disobeying court orders to stop his immigration patrols.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said a pardon was off the table for the time being.

“There will be no discussion of that today at any point, and no action will be taken on that front at any point today,” Sanders told reporters traveling with Trump.

Trump’s first stop was a Marine Corps base in Yuma that is a hub of operations for the U.S. Border Patrol. He planned to inspect equipment used on the southern border, including the drone and other aircraft.

Administration officials briefing reporters on the trip said the area had seen a 46 percent drop in apprehensions of people attempting to illegally enter the U.S. between Jan. 1 and July 31, compared with the same period in 2016. None of the officials would agree to be identified by name.

In fact, immigrant traffic around Yuma has dramatically slowed over the past dozen years. Once a hotbed for illegal immigration, the Border Patrol sector covering Yuma now ranks among the lowest in the Southwest for apprehensions and drug seizures.

There were some 138,000 apprehensions in 2005. The number had dropped to 14,000 by last year.

Trump is trying to shift the focus to his core campaign theme of getting tough on immigration after rankling some of his most loyal supporters with his decision, announced Monday, to maintain to a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. They also were unhappy about the recent ouster of conservative Steve Bannon as White House chief strategist.

Bannon had made it his mission to remind Trump of what his most fervent supporters want from his presidency, and some conservative strategists have openly worried that without Bannon around, Trump will be too influenced by establishment Republicans on issues such as Afghanistan policy.

Democratic leaders and other Trump opponents planned protests and marches outside the Phoenix convention center to criticize the president’s immigration policies and his comments about Charlottesville. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton had asked Trump to postpone the rally to allow time for national healing after one woman was killed during the clashes in Charlottesville.

Gov. Doug Ducey, a Trump supporter, was expected to greet Trump upon his arrival in Phoenix, but will not attend the rally to focus on safety needs, his spokesman said.

Vice President Mike Pence, asked about the rally by Fox News Channel on Tuesday, said Trump will be “completely focused” on his agenda for the country.

“He’s also going to call on the Congress to get ready to come back when they arrive on Sept. 5th and go straight to work to make America safe again, make America prosperous again, and in his words, to make America great again,” said Pence. He was flying separately to Phoenix to introduce Trump at the rally.

Neither of Arizona’s two republican senators planned to appear with Trump while he is in the state.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a conservative, has been a frequent target of Trump’s wrath. The president tweeted last week: “Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!” Flake has been on tour promoting his book that says the Republican Party’s embrace of Trump has left conservatism withering.

Ward planned to attend Trump’s rally, sparking talk that the president could take the politically extraordinary step of endorsing her from the stage over an incumbent Republican senator.

In a modest but telling swipe at Ward and, by extension, at Trump, the Senate Leadership Fund, a political committee closely aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is spending $10,000 on digital ads that say of her, “Not conservative, just crazy ideas.”

Arizona’s other senator, John McCain, is undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer. Trump has been critical of McCain for voting against a Republican health care bill.

Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Alan Fram in Washington and Josh Hoffner in Phoenix contributed to this report.

LePage said 7,600 Mainers fought for the Confederacy. It was maybe 30.

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

This recruiting sign, which came from a Kennebunk recruiting office for a Civil War regiment formed in 1864, was on display at the Maine State Museum in 2014. (BDN file photo)

Calling himself “a history buff,” Gov. Paul LePage revised Civil War history as we know it in a Tuesday radio interview when discussing the racially charged violence in Virginia and saying “7,600 Mainers fought for the Confederacy.”

There is just a kernel of truth: Maine State Archivist David Cheever said that approximately 30 people are confirmed to have gone from Maine to the Confederacy, including students who left Bowdoin College in Brunswick and what is now Colby College in Waterville to fight, but they could have been from other parts of the country.

Maine’s history as one of the proudest Union states is well-documented. It sent about 73,000 people to war — a higher proportion than any other state — and more than 9,000 died, though there were some pockets of Southern sympathizers.

A few men with Maine ties became Confederate generals, including the Leeds-born Danville Leadbetterthe Avon-born Zebulon York and Josiah Gorgas, who controlled the Kennebec Arsenal in Augusta from 1856 to 1858.

But those three hardly qualified as Mainers at the time they joined the rebels. Leadbetter went to the South originally as a U.S. Army officer. York joined as a Louisiana plantation owner. Gorgas was moved from Maine to other assignments before quitting the Army and going to Alabama to fight the Union.

Cheever said there’s one big reason it’s unlikely more than 7,000 left Maine to fight: There was a census of draft-eligible men to meet quotas, so if that many men were missing, it would have been “an alarming number and well-noticed” by state and federal officials.

“I’m pretty sure that the governor misspoke,” he said of LePage. “He may have thought something, but 7,600’s pretty strong.”

LePage also said on WVOM the war was “a property rights issue” when it began, saying Lincoln made it about slavery “to a great degree,” but Elizabeth Leonard, a Colby College history professor, said the governor “is wrong there, too.”

Slaves were property then and Southern states’ right to slavery was a major issue of the 1860 election, which was narrowly won by Lincoln in a crowded field. More than 62 percent of Mainers voted for him, a percentage topped by only three other states. Mainer Hannibal Hamlin was Lincoln’s first vice president.

And Alexander H. Stephens, the Confederate vice president, said in a speech about a month before the war that slavery was “the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization” that it was “a realized fact” that the issue would split the nation. It did.

Wife of Treasury chief Mnuchin lambasts critic as ‘adorably out of touch’

Press Herald Politics -

WASHINGTON – Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, blasted as “adorably out of touch” a person who criticized her Instagram post in which Linton depicted her designer-label outfit.

Linton posted the picture of herself Monday getting off a government plane in Kentucky with Mnuchin. In her post, she mentioned several designer labels for her all-white outfit, including Tom Ford and Valentino.

The commenter responded: “Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable.”

Linton, an actress, responded on Instagram by calling the commenter “adorably out of touch.” She suggested she and Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive and hedge fund investor, contributed more to the U.S. economy and paid more in taxes than her critic.

“Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours,” Linton added.

She went on to call the commenter’s response “passive aggressive” and “nasty” before ending her retort with a suggestion that the critic, “go chill out and watch the new game of thrones.”

Linton’s Instagram account is private, but a screengrab of her response has circulated online.

Linton didn’t respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press on Tuesday. A Treasury Department spokesperson said Mnuchin and Linton are reimbursing the government for Linton’s travel and that Linton received no compensation from the fashion labels mentioned in her post.

Mnuchin was visiting Kentucky on Monday for an appearance with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a tour of Fort Knox.

The Scottish-born Linton apologized last year amid criticism of a self-published memoir of a year she spent in Africa as a teen, and withdrew the book. Critics deemed it inaccurate in its depiction of life on the continent. An excerpt was published online by The Telegraph, but taken down by the British newspaper “in light of the concerns raised by readers.”

Linton has also had small roles in films and television shows and more recently worked as a producer. Mnuchin produced several films before being tapped for the Treasury post by President Trump. The pair married in June in a ceremony attended by the president.

LePage claims that 7,600 Mainers fought for the South in Civil War

Press Herald Politics -

LEWISTON – Republican Gov. Paul LePage says 7,600 residents of Maine fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, a claim that is drawing consternation among historians.

The self-described “history buff” made the claim Tuesday on WVOM-FM during a discussion about Civil War monuments. He says Maine residents who fought for the South instead of the North were farmers “concerned about their land, their property.”

Jamie Rice with the Maine Historical Society says, “There’s no way to say he’s right or wrong, but it’s not a number I’d go with.” She says about 72,000 Maine residents fought with the Union Army. An estimated 9,400 Mainers died in the Civil War, according to the Maine Historical Society’s online resource, the Maine Memory Network.

LePage also criticized the media and repeated his claim that newspaper reporters are “pencil terrorists.”

He says, “If I walked across the Kennebec River, the headline would read ‘Governor can’t swim.'”

LePage has backed President Trump’s blaming of “both sides” after a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Virginia on Aug. 12.

Opinion Podcast: Confederate statues, LePage’s stationary, and the week in Trump

Press Herald Politics -

Host Greg Kesich is joined by columnists Bill Nemitz and Alan Caron to discuss the history that statues teach, Gov. LePage’s propensity for penning personal notes, and to analyze a presidency that is like no other. Plus, Nemitz previews his upcoming column on a class-action lawsuit against Poland Spring.

Related links:

Bowdoin relocates Confederate plaque

LePage pens notes to those critical of his stance on Charlottesville

Lawsuit says Poland Spring water is mislabeled because it really isn’t spring water

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Ethics panel to consider $16,500 fine for Andre Cushing

Press Herald Politics -

AUGUSTA – A leading state Senate Republican is facing up to $16,500 in fines for failing to file state campaign finance reports in a timely manner.

Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Newport, the Senate’s assistant minority leader, was the subject of a Maine Ethics Commission investigation, following a complaint by Cushing’s sister. Cushing’s sister also filed a civil lawsuit against her brother over the alleged transfer of more than $1 million from a family business to his personal and campaign accounts.

The commission’s staff issued its findings Tuesday in advance of a hearing on the matter but is recommending that Cushing be fined between $1,000 to $1,500 for each report that was misfiled.

The recommendation acknowledges that Cushing could have faced as much as a $105,000 fine but because of other mitigating circumstances a lower fine amount is being recommended.

The five-member ethics commission is set to hear from Cushing or his attorney on Aug. 30 before it votes on the fine recommendation.

“Although they omitted required information, almost all of the campaign finance reports filed by Cushing for Senate in 2014 and 2016 substantially conformed to the disclosure requirements for candidates, in the opinion of the Commission staff,” the staff recommendation notes. “We believe only one Senate campaign report (filed in December 2016) was substantially non-conforming.”

A memo included in the recommendation from Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director, notes Cushing campaign filings should be deemed late because they “substantially under reported contributions.”

“Because the transactions were not reported for months, the preliminary penalties reached the maximum,” Wayne wrote. “The preliminary penalties against the PAC total $100,000, and the preliminary penalty against Cushing for Senate is $5,000. Maine law contains very few restrictions on how PACs and traditionally financed candidates may spend their funds. While there may be some public interest in debating whether Sen. Cushing’s uses of PAC or campaign funds were appropriate, such questions of policy and official conduct are outside the scope of the staff’s investigation, which was focused on whether contributions and expenditures were disclosed to the public as required by law.”

Meanwhile, Cushing’s sister, Laura Cushing McIntyre of Hermon, filed a complaint in October 2016 that prompted the commission to investigate the allegations. McIntyre also has filed a lawsuit against Cushing, his wife and his adult children in Penobscot Superior Court over the alleged transfer of more than $1 million from a family business to his personal and campaign accounts.

McIntyre also filed a complaint with the ethics commission over the transfer of the funds.

Aslo on Tuesday, Walter McKee, an attorney for McIntyre, in responding to a question from the Press Herald, wrote a short email saying the the civil suit remained unresolved and was a matter separate from the ethics commission complaint.

This story will be updated.

Republican group asks to strike ‘insurance’ from Medicaid expansion ballot wording

Press Herald Politics -

AUGUSTA –– A group of Republican lawmakers led by former Maine Senate President Rick Bennett is asking Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to strike the word “insurance” from a ballot question that will ask voters in November to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Bennett, also a former chairman of the Maine Republican Party, said at a news conference Tuesday that the proposed question, which is currently under a public comment period, should describe the expansion as either “taxpayer-funded health benefits” or as “government-funded health benefits” but not as insurance.

But supporters of the expansion said there was little question that Medicaid is a health insurance program for the poor, even though opponents prefer to label it “medical welfare.”

Bennett said Tuesday’s event was not the launch of an opposition campaign but an effort to draw attention to a four-page letter he and expansion opponents had sent to Dunlap asking him to consider a wording change to the ballot question. The question now reads: “Do you want Maine to provide health insurance through Medicaid for qualified adults under the age of 65 with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line (which is now about $16,000 for a single person and $22,000 for a family of two)?”

Currently, 19- and 20-year-olds, individuals with disabilities, the elderly and certain low-income parents qualify for Medicaid, which operates as MaineCare.

Lawmakers in attendance Tuesday included Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester and Reps. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, Phylis Ginzler, R-Bridgton, Paula Sutton, R-Warren, and Stephanie Hawke, R-Boothbay Harbor. The group said the state’s price tag for the change, estimated at about $54 million a year, according to the bill’s fiscal note, should also be included in the question.

“A welfare expansion will take money from Maine taxpayers, from their pockets and put it into the pockets of others who are not disabled and are working-aged adults,” Sirocki said.

Robyn Merrill, executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners, a nonprofit that advocates for the poor and led the petition drive for the ballot question, said Sirocki is wrong. Merrill said Medicaid doesn’t provide cash payments to those who would be covered under the expansion, but instead reimburses health care providers, including Maine hospitals, many which are struggling to cover the cost of the state’s uninsured as charity care.

Merrill and other supporters acknowledge the proposal’s $54 million annual price tag. However, they say that opponents frequently fail to mention that expansion would draw down $525 million each year in federal matching funds, while saving the state an estimated $27 million a year in costs once it is fully implemented.

In all, 31 states have expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act, including a number with legislatures controlled by Republican majorities and headed by Republican governors.

Maine Equal Justice Partners gathered more than 67,000 signatures of registered Maine voters in 2016 to put the Medicaid expansion question on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The federal Affordable Care Act, which passed in 2010, offers reimbursement rates for Medicaid expansions that taper from 100 percent to 90 percent in 2020. Since the ACA became law, the Maine Legislature has voted to expand Medicaid five times, only to see those expansions vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage – with support from minority Republicans in the House.

“The majority of the Legislature has passed this, it has been vetted,” Merrill said, “but the important thing is more people would have access to affordable health care.”

Merrill refuted claims that Medicaid was not a health insurance program. “I disagree with the claim this isn’t insurance. Ask anybody who is covered by Medicaid, this is health insurance, over 265,000 Maine people are covered by Medicaid and this is health insurance,” Merrill said. About one out five Mainers are now insured under the program.

Kristen Muszynski, a spokeswoman for Dunlap, the secretary of state, said he would be reviewing all responses during a public comment period but not discuss specific concerns about wording.

The public comment period on the question’s wording closes at 5 p.m. on Sept. 1.

Bennett said he had no ulterior motives for entering the public fray over the ballot question and does not plan to run office. Bennett had been considered a possible candidate for the governor’s race in 2018, and earlier this year said he was considering that, but Tuesday he ruled that out as well.

“I’m not here for a campaign. I’m here as a former legislator, as a businessman, as a father and as a citizen who is just concerned about his state,” Bennett said.

As of Tuesday, no formal opposition to the ballot question had registered with the Maine Ethics Commission as a ballot question committee or as a political action committee, as required under state ethics and campaign finance laws.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

Sen. Collins says she isn’t sure Trump will be Republican nominee in 2020

Press Herald Politics -

BANGOR – U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine didn’t vote for President Trump and she says she’s not sure if he’ll be the Republican nominee in 2020.

Collins told MSNBC on Tuesday that there’s “a long ways between now and that point.”

Collins wrote in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s name in November instead of voting for any of the presidential candidates on the ballot. She said, “That was very hard for me to do as a lifelong Republican.”

She’s one of a handful of Republicans who voted against the Republican health care plan. But she said she remains hopeful of a bipartisan solution.

She also renewed her criticism of Trump’s handling of the racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. She said he “failed to meet the standard” of what’s expected of a president.

Maine Republicans: Strike ‘insurance’ from Medicaid expansion question

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Former Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett speaks alongside Gov. Paul LePage at an Androscoggin County event in 2014. (Sun Journal file photo)

Several Maine Republicans said Tuesday that the Medicaid expansion question on the November ballot shouldn’t contain the word “insurance,” a concern that was quickly dismissed by a top Question 2 proponent.

The group, led by former Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett, sent a letter to Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap on Tuesday listing the use of “insurance” as one of four main concerns about the draft language of the question, which would expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act to an estimated 70,000 Mainers.

It’s been one of the biggest policy debates during the era of Gov. Paul LePage, who has vetoed expansion proposals five times, saying it could lead to exploding costs in the program. Proponents have said not expanding has left $1 million per day on the table that could support health care coverage and jobs.

Dunlap, a Democrat, controls the wording of the question. A draft version asks if a voters wants to “provide health insurance through Medicaid” for qualified adults, who are younger than 65 with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line. A public comment period on the wording is open through Sept. 1.

Bennett’s group called a news conference on Tuesday morning that mostly focused on the word “insurance” — which he said Medicaid “simply isn’t … under any definition” and noting that the word doesn’t appear in the law that Mainers will decide on in November.

The group stood next to a sign saying Medicaid is “welfare.” But whatever it is, the program covered nearly 69 million Americans as of May and it has covered nearly 153,000 children in Maine as of 2016.

“It’s an insurance program,” said Robyn Merrill, executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners, a progressive group running the pro-expansion campaign.

The group of Republicans, which also included Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling of New Gloucester and Rep. Heather Sirocki of Scarborough, said in their letter that cost information should be included in the question and that the federal poverty level is poorly defined.

Kristen Muszynski, a Dunlap spokeswoman, said he won’t be commenting on question wording at this time, but that he’ll take all expressed concerns into consideration when drafting the final question.

Maine lawmakers have mixed reviews for Trump Afghanistan plan

Press Herald Politics -

Maine’s congressional delegation is giving a mixed review to President Trump’s recommitment to the war in Afghanistan.

Trump used a primetime speech on Monday to say the U.S. must “fight to win” the war. Republican Sen. Susan Collins says Trump has “outlined an important change” from an approach she says has been driven by arbitrary deadlines.

Independent Sen. Angus King says he applauds Trump for moving toward a more regional approach to stabilizing Afghanistan. But he also says the U.S. must “move forward with clear goals” for its own troops.

While Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, 2nd District, says it would be a mistake to declare arbitrary withdrawal dates, his 1st-District counterpart, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, says committing more troops to the conflict will make developing an exit strategy more difficult.

We, as ‘prisoners of hope,’ must fight hate mongering

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

As a Jew, as an American, I cannot forget the sight of Nazis marching through the streets of Charlottesville. The line of (mostly) men carrying torches, anger in their faces and their voices, cast an ominous glow. They chanted “Jews shall not replace us.” They chanted the Nazi slogan “blood and soil” and carried Nazi flags.

Seeing unabashed Nazis was surely an awful sight to so many Americans, particularly those who lived during Hitler’s reign.

Although that was not my time, I cannot forget, for Nazis are not an abstraction to me.

When I was a child at Hebrew School, I saw pictures of emaciated survivors liberated from death camps. I saw people at the beach with concentration camp numbers tattooed on their arms. A beloved uncle was a German who pleaded with his parents to leave. They stayed and they perished. Another relative was born in a displaced persons camp. She and her Polish Jewish family then came to the United States as refugees.

After the Holocaust, “Never forget” was repeated to remind us of the systematic genocide carried out by purportedly cultured German leaders, by bureaucrats doing their jobs, and by soldiers following orders, as others looked away.

Neo-Nazis, alt-right, and white supremacists march through the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 11. (Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto/Zuma Press/TNS)

Remembering is also embedded in Judaism. As Nobel Prize winner and concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel proclaimed in his Nobel lecture, “No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible. It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered.”

Among what was good for Jews was the experience of living in the United States. Although no place is without anti-Semitism and this country could have done more to save European Jews from Nazis, the traditions of religious freedom and no state religion made America a good place for Jews.

Over 200 years ago, President George Washington wrote to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, saying the United States’ government “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” Jews had faced persecution elsewhere, but Washington wished them well in this new nation, writing, “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Even before Washington’s words, the First Amendment had been sent to the states for ratification, and even earlier Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Jefferson was so proud of this creation that he wanted it included on his gravestone, along with his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and his founding of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

The promise of a life without religious persecution was a beacon to Jews and others around the world. And, as the civil rights movement heated up in the 1950s and 1960s, many Jews became activists and allies to African-Americans as they stood up to challenge and change white supremacist institutions and practices created during slavery, supported by the Confederacy, and further developed after the Civil War.

When the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis came to Charlottesville touting their warped vision, these hatemongers were countered by hope mongers, like the murdered Heather Heyer, who was always kind, always concerned with righting injustice. Anti-alt-right protesters were nearly all nonviolent, with Antifa an outlier.

Unbelievably, President Donald Trump claimed there were “very fine people” on both sides. As Sen. Susan Collins stressed, “There are no good neo-Nazis” and Trump “failed to meet the standard that we would have expected the president to do in a time like that.”

A good next step for Congress would be to insist on restoring Trump administration cuts from programs aimed at fighting white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Congress should also reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, which is still needed to counter voter suppression.

As we remember the past and pursue justice, we should live by the ancient words of Rabbi Tarfon, who taught, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it either.” Our obligation is to act, for we are, as the prophet Zechariah, said, asirei hatikvah, prisoners of hope.  

 

Republicans send reinforcements for LePage’s campaign against Medicaid expansion

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where a group of Republicans is expected to express concern about the wording of Maine’s 2017 Medicaid expansion referendum on Tuesday, showing that it’s not going to go unanswered in the public domain.

Former Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett, Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, and other elected officials will be headlining an 11 a.m. press conference at the State House today, but a news release was cagey on details of the event.

However, Sirocki said the wording of Question 2 of the November ballot — which would expand Medicaid to an estimated 70,000 Mainers under the federal Affordable Care Act — is “part of the concern.” It has been a core issue of Gov. Paul LePage’s tenure and he has vetoed it five times.

But Sirocki didn’t give any other details and Brent Littlefield, the Republican strategist who sent the news release, said he wasn’t helping any particular client set up the event. It’s also not related to Bennett’s possible 2018 gubernatorial run, he said.

The wording of Maine’s two citizen-initiated questions is in Democratic Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s hands and a public comment period on the draft language ends on Sept. 1, so there’s still time for interested parties to weigh in on it.

It’s hard to tell where this campaign will end up two and a half months from Election Day. The pro-expansion campaign — led by the progressive Maine Equal Justice Partners, Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine Center for Economic Policy — raised $85,000 by June’s end. Of that, $75,000 came from The Fairness Project, a California group.

No active opposition committee has been formed yet, but that could change. The conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center released a report opposing expansion last month.

LePage has been using his bully pulpit to campaign against expansion, which his administration has long opposed by saying that it could cause costs to balloon and undo their work in shrinking the state’s Medicaid rolls. Between 2011 and 2015, 67,000 people were culled from the program.

President Donald Trump’s rise has given pro-expansion forces new urgency because of the debate around repealing the Affordable Care Act. The LePage administration is also seeking a waiver from the Trump administration to shrink Medicaid eligibility as the statewide vote looms.

But those campaigning against referendums are always in a difficult position. In 2016, four of the five initiatives on the ballot passed. There was only one well-heeled opposition campaign.

And that was the one funded mostly by the National Rifle Association against expanded gun background checks. They won. We’ll see if Republicans can mount a similar effort. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • Collins, King and Poliquin reacted somewhat favorably to President Trump’s address on Afghanistan strategy. Pingree didn’t like it. In a prime time address on Monday, the Republican president committed to continuing the war in Afghanistan, saying withdrawal “would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill” while promising an end to “nation-building” abroad. He didn’t discuss details of the new strategy, but it was widely reported that he signed off on sending 4,000 more troops there. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said it “outlined an important change from an approach driven by arbitrary deadlines to a strategy based on conditions on the ground.” Sen. Angus King, an independent, said he’s “hopeful this path forward will support our country’s national security and help stabilize the region.” Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, said fully withdrawing “would be a mistake.” But Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, said the plan is “over-reliant on military action and, in removing all timetables, there is no end in sight for our nation’s longest war.” — Michael Shepherd
  • The Legislature’s watchdog group will release a report examining an embattled tax break program for businesses on Wednesday. The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee will get a presentation on Pine Tree Development Zones from their Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability at 9 a.m. tomorrow. In 2016, the committee authorized an evaluation of the program, which gives several types of tax breaks to businesses who build or expand operations in economically disadvantaged parts of Maine. It was enacted in 2003 under then-Gov. John Baldacci, but Pine Tree Watch found in 2012 that the state couldn’t prove that $46 million in tax breaks under the program created jobs. The report to be released Wednesday will discuss purposes, beneficiaries, objectives and performance measures for the program and it’ll be published on OPEGA’s website at the time of the meeting. — Michael Shepherd
  • Lincoln County could provide a major legislative primary fight in 2018 after a party activist filed to run for the seat held by Sen. Dana Dow. Republican Gordon Colby of Waldoboro, the Lincoln County Republican Committee chairman and founder of the Knox and Lincoln County Tea Party, filed last week to run for the Senate seat. Dow, also of Waldoboro, beat incumbent Democratic Chris Johnson in 2016 by just over 1,300 votes in a district that leans Republican but has been one of Maine’s top swing seats in recent elections. Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, is a big Dow booster who was burned in 2016 when LePage supported a Sagadahoc County primary candidate who narrowly beat incumbent Sen. Linda Baker, R-Topsham, but lost the general election to Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic. Dow couldn’t be reached for comment. Colby could only be reached briefly because he’s managing a blueberry harvest, but he said that he’s “not running against anyone” and if Dow is running again, Colby would have to consider that as a factor affecting his campaign. Thibodeau called Dow “a proven winner” in a statement, crediting him for pushing the repeal of the voter-approved surtax on high earners as co-chairman of the tax committee. — Michael Shepherd
Reading list Hate the one you’re with

In the Aug. 14 Daily Brief, Christopher Cousins joked about “ALF,” the 1980s television comedy about a smart-mouthed alien from the planet Melmac who ends up living with a suburban American family after his spaceship crashes. The reference elicited an unusually strong response from readers.

Our first inclination was to list the names of all the secret ALF fans among Maine’s political elite, but we could not live with that level of betrayal. It would be like calling the cops on ET. So, all the Maine movers and shakers who still have ALF dolls in their desk drawers are safe.

However, one response merits further review. My wife, who is not dyslexic as far as we can tell, read the item and drew the immediate conclusion that Chris was again writing about one of his favorite subjects and one of her least favorite subjects — football.

“When I first read it, I thought he was writing about the AFL and that Melmacky was a player,” she said.

Given that the American Football League disbanded before she was born and that she actively avoids football, her interpretation was both obscure and impressive. When I asked for more details, she shared that, as a teen, she hated ALF — probably because he tried to eat a cat — and that she could not name any former AFL players.

It led to the obvious question: What do you hate more, ALF or football?

Her response: “If you write about me in Daily Brief, I will hate you most.” Here is her soundtrack. — Robert Long

Programming note

To allow us to spend all of Wednesday celebrating the birthdays of Rick Springfield and the late Keith Moon — and fantasizing about what it would sound like if they collaborated — the Daily Brief will take the day off. We’ll be back Thursday.

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Behind Trump’s Afghanistan decision: Infighting, stalemate, a bow to generals

Press Herald Politics -

President Trump was frustrated and fuming. Again and again, in the windowless Situation Room at the White House, he lashed out at his national security team over the Afghanistan war, and the paucity of appealing options gnawed at him.

Last month, as Trump mulled over a new strategy in the 16-year conflict that bedeviled his predecessors, he groused that sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan could have a negligible impact. He threatened to fire the current commander there. He flirted with privatizing the military effort. He even considered pulling out. Declaring victory seemed all but impossible.

Five weeks later, at a Camp David summit, the commander in chief arrived at his decision. A president obsessed with winning has now settled on simply trying not to lose.

Trump decided to escalate troop levels, but only after protracted deliberations that deeply divided the administration. Lobbied by rival advisers, the president pinballed between his militaristic and anti-interventionist impulses. Impatient during classified briefings, Trump longed to reimagine U.S. policy in South Asia under his “America first” banner.

Ultimately, however, Trump took a more conventional route. He tilted toward the generals who now dominate his inner circle and had urged a large-scale troop expansion, though he did not opt for the tens of thousands of troops they advocated initially.

Trump’s private deliberations – detailed in interviews with more than a dozen senior administration officials and outside allies – revealed a president unattached to any particular foreign-policy doctrine, but willing to be persuaded so long as he could be seen as a strong and decisive leader.

“This has been many months in the making,” said Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president. “The hallmark of leadership is a deliberative process, not an impulsive reaction, and that is precisely the protocol he followed here.”

SPEECH A ‘DEFINING MOMENT’

Part of that listening included hearing out the military about burden sharing in the region and getting Pakistan more involved in managing the war.

“When Secretary Mattis said this would be a South Asia strategy, that tells you a lot,” said John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, referring to recent remarks by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. “The big issue wasn’t land war tactics. The big issue is Pakistan.” He called Trump’s Monday speech the “defining moment of the Trump policy seven months into the administration.”

Years before running for president, Trump had a clear message on Afghanistan: It was time to get out. In 2012, he said the war was “wasting our money.” In 2012, he called it “a total disaster.” In 2013, he said, “We should leave Afghanistan immediately.” Trump continued his criticism of the war during the year and a half he campaigned for the White House.

But since becoming president, he has faced a different set of opinions. Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, both generals with extensive battlefield experience in Afghanistan, warned Trump about the consequences of withdrawal and cautioned that any move in Afghanistan would have ripple effects throughout the region.

One of the ways McMaster tried to persuade Trump to recommit to the effort was by convincing him that Afghanistan was not a hopeless place. He presented Trump with a black-and-white snapshot from 1972 of Afghan women in miniskirts walking through Kabul, to show him that Western norms had existed there before and could return.

Another key voice in Trump’s deliberations – especially in guiding the president to make a decision in recent weeks – was John Kelly, the newly installed White House chief of staff. A retired four-star Marine Corps general, Kelly spent years commanding troops in Afghanistan. And he had a deeply personal understanding of the stakes: His son, 2nd Lt. Robert M. Kelly, 29, was killed there in 2010 when he stepped on a land mine while leading a platoon of Marines.

“Talking to generals, he realized, you pull out completely and this is what happens: You endanger lives, you endanger American interests, allies, troops, Afghanis who are our friends, and it’s not a stable government,” said a senior administration official.

RESPECT FOR MILITARY CULTURE

Trump has nurtured a lifelong infatuation with military culture, going back to his youth at a military academy, and one of his favorite movies is “Patton,” the 1970 Hollywood biopic of general George S. Patton’s exploits in World War II.

Thomas Barrack, a longtime Trump friend and chairman of his presidential inauguration, said Trump “views generals with a special respect and admiration that allows him to defer to and consider their judgment and expertise in a different light than with his business or political peers who may be Cabinet members or other trusted advisers.”

By summer, the policy review process Trump initiated soon after taking office had grown sclerotic. Hovering over everything was the legacy of former president Barack Obama and his management of the war – a series of decisions that Trump found objectionable. Trump voiced frustration to his advisers about having to clean up somebody else’s mess.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich described the administration’s view of Afghanistan as one of “patience” about the time it will take to stabilize the region.

“If we can keep American casualties down, we can have patience. The fact is, if you slow down the casualty rate and you’re not losing young Americans, the American people will support gradually growing allies for a long time,” he said, referring to decades of U.S. troop presence in Korea, Germany and Japan.

INTERNAL TENSION

Trump’s decisions were put off in part because of infighting in his ranks, chiefly between McMaster and chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who departed the White House last week. Tensions between the two erupted in July as they talked through Afghanistan options with colleagues and the president.

When McMaster floated possibly sending tens of thousands of additional troops, Bannon shot back that such a commitment would be a folly in a country where intervention had crippled foreign powers through the centuries, officials said.

McMaster expressed alarm and irritation to confidants that Bannon was tempting the president to drift away from the military leadership with ideas that were not feasible. He was especially bothered by a proposal to hand over much of the military responsibility to private contractor Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial security company formerly known as Blackwater USA.

Mattis heard out Bannon’s pitch during a weekend meeting at the Pentagon in early July but quickly sided with McMaster. He and other military leaders were deeply suspicious of handing over any responsibility to private companies due to the controversies that dogged Blackwater and others in Iraq.

Bannon was undaunted, hoping that even if Trump did not adopt his ideas, he would back away from McMaster’s expansive plan. Meanwhile, Bannon’s allies at Breitbart News and elsewhere in conservative media attacked McMaster as a “globalist” who did not have Trump’s interests in mind.

The anti-McMaster campaign, which Bannon denied orchestrating, infuriated some West Wing colleagues, including Kelly. Instead of marginalizing him, the campaign made McMaster a sympathetic figure to military and administration officials who cringed at the wave of negative stories. Trump signaled which side he was on Aug. 10 when he was asked by a reporter whether he had confidence in McMaster.

“Absolutely,” Trump said. “He’s our friend. He’s my friend. And he’s a very talented man. I like him and I respect him.”

BANNON EXCLUDED

Bannon’s vocal opposition had a cost. He was attending fewer meetings. One of his few allies, chief of staff Reince Priebus, was pushed out just as Bannon was working to wrangle the Afghanistan decision in his direction. And by mid-August, Kelly, McMaster, Mattis and others planned the Camp David retreat without him.

As Trump began to align with the military establishment, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other advisers reminded the president of the expectations of his die-hard supporters, who thought they had elected a president who would get the United States out of endless wars.

Breitbart – which Bannon returned to last week as executive chairman – ran several skeptical headlines in recent days and played up an interview with Prince in which the Blackwater founder he said that “more troops and more money” in Afghanistan would be a mistake.

But some Trump allies predicted the base would respond favorably.

“They trust him on this stuff,” said Ed Brookover, a former Trump campaign adviser. “They know he’s gathered information and talked to a series of experts and reached a conclusion. On security issues, they’re with him and know that he’s certainly not jumping to fight wars everywhere.”

Pollster Patrick Caddell, who has done surveys for Breitbart, said, “The whole country is tired of the war that’s been going on 16 years and in general believes we’ve wasted a lot of time and money. But if he sells it as part of the war on terror, he’ll be fine.”

KELLY FORCES THE ISSUE

While Priebus was considered a passive voice on Afghanistan, Kelly all but forced a decision from the president with newfound urgency. One adviser called him “the accelerator.”

Kelly summoned the national security team to the Camp David meeting Friday with Trump and Vice President Pence, where the president was presented with his options.

Trump’s decision was foreshadowed by a grimacing pose he and his team struck in a portrait that the president put on his Twitter page. In a wood-paneled room, Trump sat at a table scowling as 13 advisers stood behind him, each of them stone-faced and staring into the camera. The flags of the five military branches filled the background. To Trump, this was the image of strength.

Some of Trump’s critics were relieved that the military prevailed in shaping Trump’s strategy.

“The president doesn’t know anything about war or anything about Afghanistan,” said Eliot A. Cohen, a foreign policy adviser in the George W. Bush administration. “He has a lot of angry instincts, but nothing more than that. So he is to some extent corralled by McMaster, Kelly and Mattis. . . He is going along with what the generals want.”

Kori Schake, another Bush administration veteran who, like Cohen, opposed Trump’s candidacy, said she was heartened by the president’s decision.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing that the president took his time, asked first-order questions, and widened the aperture to include outside perspectives and unconventional approaches,” said Schake, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “It’s a hard problem and we’ve been at it a long time.”

Guarding Trump has Secret Service in the red

Press Herald Politics -

WASHINGTON — The Secret Service said Monday that it has enough money to cover the cost of protecting President Donald Trump and his family through the end of September, but after that the agency will hit a federally mandated cap on salaries and overtime unless Congress intervenes.

If lawmakers don’t lift the cap, about a third of the agency’s agents would be working overtime without being paid, agency officials said.

“The Secret Service estimates that roughly 1,100 employees will work overtime hours in excess of statutory pay caps during calendar year 2017,” Director Randolph “Tex” Alles said in a statement. “To remedy this ongoing and serious problem, the agency has worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security, the Administration, and the Congress over the past several months to find a legislative solution.”

The spending limits are supposed to last through December, but the cost of protecting the president and the extended first family, who have traveled extensively for business and vacations, has strained the Secret Service, local governments and at least one other federal agency, the Coast Guard.

Presidential travel for Trump and the first lady – who fly to their oceanfront Mar–a–Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, and to their golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on many weekends – has added costs for taxpayers and complications for the government. The Secret Service also must provide protection for Trump’s four adult children.

Alles cited overall increases to his agency’s staff levels, which grew by 800 this year, as a factor driving the extra costs, calling the issue “not one that can be attributed to the current Administration’s protection requirements alone.”

He noted that the Secret Service in recent years has frequently received permission from Congress to exceed the overtime and salary cap. This occurred as recently as 2016 during President Barack Obama’s final year in office.

Alles called the agency’s current predicament, first reported by USA Today, “an ongoing issue for nearly a decade due to an overall increase in operational tempo.”

Without question, however, the agency’s workload for security personnel has grown under Trump. The Secret Service now protects 42 people around the clock, 11 more than it did under Obama. The Trump protection number includes 18 members of the president’s family.

The cap has been exceeded by at least some amount in recent years, but fewer agents were affected, usually 300, compared to 1,300 in 2016, when agents protected Obama, Hillary Clinton and Trump during the campaign, according to the office of Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Since he took office, the president’s inclination to conduct official business with crowds around him – such as a working dinner he held in February with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar–a–Lago with diners nearby – has required protection. His four adult children and son–in–law have far–flung travel plans that also have pushed up security costs.

Trump’s sons Eric and Don Jr. traveled this year to the United Arab Emirates for business with their Secret Service details in tow, attending the grand opening of a Trump–brand golf resort in the “Beverly Hills of Dubai” 8,000 miles from the U.S., for example.

Meanwhile, first lady Melania Trump stayed behind in New York with the president’s youngest son, Barron, for the first five months of his presidency, requiring extra security at Trump Tower.

Presidential families have for decades been guaranteed round–the–clock protection, with no limit on expenses. Every presidency has brought new security challenges, depending on the president’s lifestyle. George W. Bush traveled to his remote ranch in Texas. Obama went regularly to Martha’s Vineyard and his native state of Hawaii. Judicial Watch estimated that Obama–related travel expenses totaled nearly $97 million over eight years.

The Secret Service, beset by years of budget shortages, low morale and leadership shake–ups, requested $60 million in additional funding for the next year to protect the Trump entourage.

Nearly half the additional money, $26.8 million, would pay to protect President Trump’s family and private home in New York’s Trump Tower, documents obtained by The Washington Post show, while $33 million would be spent on travel costs incurred by “the president, vice president and other visiting heads of state.”

The U.S. Coast Guard has run round–the–clock shoreline patrols alongside Mar–a–Lago when the president is in town.

Republican and Democrats said Monday they are concerned about deepening demands on the agency and pledged a fix that could be permanent.

“Mr. Cummings and I have spoken twice this morning about our mutual desire to see the Secret Service funded and the agents treated fairly while acknowledging the difficult and important job they have,” Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R–S.C., said in a statement.

Cummings said in a statement that he plans to introduce legislation that would allow the agency to exceed the mandated caps on a regular basis.

“The hardworking men and women of the Secret Service put their lives on the line every day, and it is a travesty that they are not being paid for the hours they work,”he said. “Congress cannot stand on the sidelines and complain – we need to act to ensure that Secret Service agents get every penny they deserve, period.”

Republicans organize to raise concerns about Medicaid expansion in Maine

Press Herald Politics -

AUGUSTA — Several Republican lawmakers are expected to announce their concerns Tuesday about expanding Medicaid, a first step toward what could become a formal campaign to oppose the question voters will face on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Rick Bennett of Oxford, a former Maine Senate president and former chairman of the Maine Republican Party, will join three sitting Republican lawmakers at an 11 a.m. State House press conference to make an announcement of “importance to Maine taxpayers, senior citizens and families,” said Brent Littlefield, a Washington-D.C.-based political consultant who also advises Gov. Paul LePage and Maine’s 2nd District U.S. Rep Bruce Poliquin.

The press conference is not meant to be a kickoff event for a campaign opposing Question 2, which would expand Medicaid in Maine under the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Littlefield said.

“It’s going to be much more specific than that,” he said. But he noted that a campaign may follow.

Joining Bennett at the press conference will be Reps. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough; Paula Sutton, R-Warren; and Stephanie Hawke, R-Boothbay Harbor.

Maine Equal Justice Partners, a progressive advocacy group for low-income people, gathered more than 67,000 signatures of registered Maine voters to put the Medicaid expansion question on the Nov. 7 ballot. The proposal would expand Medicaid coverage to adults under 65 who earn below $16,000 for a single person and $22,000 for a family of two.

Currently, 19- and 20-year-olds, individuals with disabilities, the elderly and certain low-income parents qualify for Medicaid, which operates as MaineCare.

David Farmer, a spokesman for the expansion campaign, has said it will “reduce the number of people without health insurance, it will create jobs.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called Maine’s uninsured rate of 8.8 percent in 2015 an all-time low, but Maine Hospital Association President Steven Michaud has said state eligibility rules cut MaineCare enrollment by 75,000 people in recent years, according to The Associated Press.

Michaud said that move shifted costs to Maine hospitals, which are providing about $250 million a year in charity care while Medicaid payments to hospitals are decreasing.

Expanding Medicaid is estimated to cost Maine $54 million each year once it is fully implemented, according to the ballot question’s fiscal note.

That figure includes $27 million in estimated savings and the cost of 103 new state positions to administer the expansion. The federal government would chip in $525 million each year, and lawmakers would have to appropriate the $54 million if the ballot question passes.

But Republican opponents to the expansion, including LePage, have said the expansion, even with the matching federal funds, would decimate the state budget and cause the Legislature to increase state tax rates to cover the shortfalls.

LePage has repeatedly told radio talk show hosts the expansion would set the state’s fiscal house in disarray for decades to come. Also in question is whether the Affordable Care Act will remain in place under President Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress, where both lawmakers and Trump have promised to repeal and replace the landmark law, which is considered a key accomplishment of former President Barack Obama.

The ACA provides federally matching Medicaid funds for states that expand the health insurance program for the nation’s poorest citizens, and while the repeal effort has yet to succeed, the issue remains a top concern for lawmakers in Washington. Under the ACA, states that expand Medicaid would see a gradual tapering of the federal reimbursement rate to a low of 90 percent of a state’s expansion costs in 2020.

 

Trump to disclose new Afghanistan policy in prime-time address

Press Herald Politics -

WASHINGTON – President Trump will unveil his updated Afghanistan policy Monday night in a rare, prime-time address to a nation that broadly shares his pessimism about American involvement in the 16-year conflict. Although he may send a few thousand more troops, there are no signs of a major shift in strategy.

Trump’s announcement caps months of debate that illustrated a basic problem in Trump’s Afghanistan decision: As a candidate he criticized the war and said the U.S. should quickly pull out, but he also campaigned on a vow to start winning wars. Exiting now, with the Taliban resurgent, would be impossible to sell as victory.

“I think there’s a relative certainty that the Afghan government would eventually fall,” says Mark Jacobson, an Army veteran and NATO’s former deputy representative in Kabul.

And while Trump has pledged to put “America First,” his national security advisers have warned that the Afghan forces are still far too weak to succeed without help. That is especially important as the Taliban advance and a squeezed Islamic State group looks for new havens beyond Syria and Iraq.

Even now, Afghan’s government controls just half the country.

Wary that the president is prone to last-minute decisions, officials at the White House, Pentagon and State Department remained tight-lipped about the plan ahead of Trump’s 9 p.m. EDT televised address from Army’s Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.

But early statements from advisers and military officials suggested Trump had lined up a plan the Pentagon put forward earlier this year, involving sending close to 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to boost the roughly 8,400 there now. At its peak, the U.S. had roughly 100,000 forces there, under the Obama administration in 2010-2011.

The Pentagon does not claim the troop increase will end the conflict, but military officials maintain it could help stabilize the Afghan government and break a stalemate with the Taliban.

Ahead of the speech, top officials emphasized Trump was pursuing a “regional” approach to stabilize South Asia, where neighboring Pakistan is accused of tolerating the Taliban, and nuclear-armed India and Pakistan are seldom far from conflict. Tillerson spoke Monday with foreign ministers from all three countries to discuss “a new, integrated regional strategy,” the State Department said.

Trump’s televised speech comes as the president has suffered one of his most difficult stretches to date – marked by controversies over white supremacy, the Confederacy and his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who was pushed out last week.

Bannon had advocated a proposal to gradually swap out U.S. troops and use private contractors instead to fight in Afghanistan. The military, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others did not support that proposal, officials say. Those officials weren’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations publicly and requested anonymity.

With no perfect options, Trump is likely to largely keep the mission – and any new troops – focused on training and advising Afghan forces, who are still unable to defeat the Taliban insurgency despite 16 years of U.S. help. In some areas Afghan forces are losing ground to the group the U.S. attacked after the 9/11 attacks for harboring al-Qaida.

While the U.S. keeps working to help the Afghan army make headway against the Taliban and convince them to talk peace, a counterterrorism operation is also expected to continue against the Taliban and an affiliate of IS that has gained a foothold and battled both the Taliban and U.S. forces. Last week, an American soldier died fighting IS militants in eastern Afghanistan.

The Pakistan piece presents another challenge. It’s widely accepted that Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders are living in Pakistan and that Pakistani hospitals treat the group’s wounded.

Trump is expected to press Pakistan to shut down Taliban sanctuaries using a mix of diplomatic and economic incentives, along with threats of consequences if Islamabad doesn’t cooperate. The carrot-and-stick approach has been tried before, with the U.S. withholding Coalition Support Funds.

Of key concern to Washington is the Haqqani network, blamed for some of the most devastating attacks in Afghanistan. Allied with the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network also has deep ties to Pakistan’s powerful ISI intelligence agency.

A fraught period of wrangling over a new U.S. strategy ran longer than Trump initially envisioned. Several times over the past months, officials had predicted Trump was nearing a decision to go along with his commanders’ recommendations, only to see the final decision delayed.

The Pentagon has argued the U.S. must stay engaged to ensure terrorists can’t again use the territory to threaten the America. Afghan military commanders have agreed, making clear they want and expect continued U.S. military help.

“I assure you we are with you in this fight,” Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said Sunday at Camp Morehead, where Afghan commandoes are trained southeast of Kabul. “We are with you and we will stay with you.”

After reviewing war options Friday with his national security team at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, Trump tweeted Saturday that he’d reached a decision.

The setting for his speech, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, is a short drive from the White House across the Potomac River and near the Pentagon. The base sits alongside Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for many Americans who have died in the war.

Burns reported from Amman, Jordan. Associated Press writers Kathy Gannon in Islamabad and Sagar Meghani and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed.

Collins: ‘Too difficult to say’ if Trump will be GOP nominee in 2020

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine speaks during an interview in Washington earlier this year. (Reuters)

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins told MSNBC on Monday that “it’s too difficult to say” whether President Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee when he runs for re-election in 2020.

Even if it was just a simple way for the moderate Republican to parry a question she can’t know the answer to, it comes as Trump is struggling with approval ratings under 40 percent and after a poll found that Collins may struggle in a gubernatorial primary.

Collins has never been a fan of Trump, who she rejected as her party’s nominee during the 2016 election. Instead, she cast a write-in vote for House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin in the general election.

The Maine senator has also worked against the president in key policy areas, most notably when she cast a key vote against a Senate Republican proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, drawing heat from Gov. Paul LePage.

Some in Maine’s Republican grassroots have expressed frustration around that vote, which could be an issue if Collins runs to replace LePage, which she is considering. But a poll conducted earlier this month by a Democratic firm showed her behind the only declared Republican, former LePage welfare chief Mary Mayhew.

It’s highly uncommon for a president to face a nomination fight. The last big one came in the 1980 Democratic primary, when President Jimmy Carter dispatched Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. But Kennedy won 12 states and Carter lost the general election in a landslide to Republican Ronald Reagan.

But Trump may have to deal with one if he continues to languish. The latest round of polling from Gallup had him at 36 percent approval. He hasn’t gotten higher than 46 percent during his seven months as president.

Collins told MSNBC in the interview on the Bangor waterfront that she’s “weighing where I can do the most good for the people of Maine.” When asked if Trump factors in that decision, she said “not really.”

A Maine congressional candidate is trying to out-LePage LePage

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Last week brought more national attention for Gov. Paul LePage after he blamed “both sides” for violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, but it’s Maine Republican figure who made that case with more vigor and coordination.

That’s Mark Holbrook, a counselor from Brunswick who is running against U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District after losing to her by 16 points in 2016 after an only minorly eventful campaign highlighted by a late spat with his primary opponent.

After the violence between white nationalists and counter-protesters in Virginia — where one counter-protester was killed by a car driven into a crowd of people by a Nazi sympathizer — the Republican governor echoed President Donald Trump by saying the sides were equally at fault.

And so too did Holbrook on Friday, issuing a statement saying the two group “represent opposite sides of the same hate-filled coin.”

He also said Americans must “look at the rhetoric used by public officials, pop-icons, news reporters, and political commentators and how the constant drumbeat of the hyperbole impacts people who are predisposed to violence.”

Last week, he also posted a now-deleted video that compared his 2016 vote totals favorably those posted by other Republicans — President Donald Trump and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in 2016 and LePage in 2014 — with images of rockets and an ‘80s rock-style soundtrack.

It may not have been as offbeat as his football-pads commercial from 2016, but these are signs that he’s doubling down on stark conservatism in a Democratic district. It may get him through a primary if there is one, but nothing’s changed to make Pingree look vulnerable. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • LePage’s relationship with New Brunswick was highlighted by a provincial newspaper this weekend. The Telegraph-Journal of Saint John had a long Sunday piece on the governor’s close relationship with officials in Canada and New Brunswick, especially as it relates to their fight against new softwood tariffs imposed against Canada by the Trump administration. Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement began last week and Canada’s foreign affairs minister gave LePage a shout-out in a meeting in Ottawa, calling him “an influential voice in this administration” who “understands very well the intense and interconnected relationship between Maine and Canada.” LePage didn’t agree to an interview for the piece, but his spokesman passed along a recent letter to Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross that referenced Maine jobs being lost because of the tariffs, noting the state’s relationship with New Brunswick. In June, a CBC report said LePage would “make the province’s case” in a meeting with Trump. The Telegraph-Journal  also speculated that LePage could have a hand in renegotiating NAFTA, but that remains to be seen. — Michael Shepherd
  • U.S. Sen. Angus King will raise money at a Hallowell bar tonight. The Quarry Tap Room is hosting a fundraiser for the independent senator’s 2018 campaign from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday with a minimum suggested contribution of $25. The bar, co-owned by Hallowell real estate agent Chris Vallee, has emerged as a political center in the small city dominated jointly by artists and lobbyists. Gov. Paul LePage was a guest bartender there for charity in March. LePage is flirting again with a run against King after ruling one out, but state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, is runningDemocrat Zak Ringelstein of Portland and Libertarian Chris Lyons of Brunswick have said they will run.  — Michael Shepherd
  • An Islesboro bookseller has become the fourth Democrat to declare a run for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Craig Olson, an antique book dealer and former chairman of the Board of Selectmen in the Waldo County island town, announced his candidacy on Thursday, saying in a statement that he’s “tired of politicians who hide from their constituents and who put party first.” He’s one of the four Democrats and political newcomers who are looking to unseat two-term U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, in 2018. Former Maine Senate candidate Jonathan Fulford of Monroe, restaurateur Tim Rich of Seal Harbor and rural mail carrier Phil Cleaves of Dexter are also running for now. But if he runs, the favorite for the nomination would be Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden of Lewiston, who is considering a run and has said he’ll decide on one by summer’s end. — Michael Shepherd
  • Attorney General Janet Mills’ spokesman is stepping down and another Democratic operative is taking his place. Tim Feeley, who has been Mills’ spokesman since 2013, told reporters last week that he left the post as of Friday to enroll at the University of Maine School of Law for the upcoming semester. Andrew Roth-Wells, who left as chief of staff to Maine House Democrats at the end of 2016, replaces him as Mills’ spokesman and special assistant effective today. — Michael Shepherd
Reading list I turned down ‘an exclusive VIP tour’ of the Wienermobile

And some in my Twitter timeline weren’t happy about it. It started with a punny pitch from one of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile drivers on Friday.

“We are relishing the opportunity to let you know that the Wienermobile will be visiting the Augusta area for this upcoming week. We would love to schedule an interview to give you an exclusive VIP tour of the Wienermobile and see what all the excitement is about. If you’d like to come to us as well we will be visiting a Hannaford store this Sunday. If you’d like to ketchup with us we would love to find a time to meet and give you an exclusive look at the life of a hotdogger!”

My pithy response?

“Frankly, I would love to case out the Wienermobile and grill some Oscar Mayer officials. But I cover politics, so I can’t mustard the time and it would probably get me into hot water with the bosses. Thanks for reaching out with this red hot tip, though.”

We have a wiener, but I’ll be steamed if someone else gets this broiling scoop. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

LePage pens notes to critics of his Charlottesville stance

Press Herald Politics -

Gov. Paul LePage has penned a series of handwritten missives in response to Mainers who have written to him criticizing his stance on the violence in Charlottesville, Va. two weeks ago.

The messages from LePage to Laurel Daly and Darcey Poulin were shared on Facebook over the weekend. Poulin also sent a copy of her message, as well as LePage’s response, to the Press Herald.

“It is so VERY disappointing to have a governor who will not condemn the racists and violent actions of the KKK and Nazis in Charlottesville this past weekend,” Poulin wrote the Republican governor in a fax message last week.

In a response to Poulin dated Aug. 16, LePage writes, “You must be reading the liberal press. Funny how you don’t listen until it suits your own bigotry.”

On Aug. 17, LePage on WGAN radio was asked about the protests and counter protests over the removal of a statute of Confederate Civil War General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville. LePage echoed the sentiments of President Donald Trump, who drew a moral equivalency between the white nationalist protesters and the groups that engaged with them in counter protests. One counterprotester was killed when she was struck by a car driven into a crowd, and two police officers died when the helicopter in which they were monitoring the protests crashed.

On the radio talk show, LePage did condemn the Ku Klux Klan and its supporters, but he also said that those countering the protests of white nationalists and neo-Nazis, who were demonstrating against the removal of a statue of Confederate Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee, were “equally as bad.”

“I think what they are standing for is equally as bad, they are trying to erase history,” LePage said. “How can future generations learn if we are going to erase history, that’s disgusting.”

In her message to LePage, which also appears to have been sent by fax, Daly wrote, “Silence in the face of immorality is tantamount to consent.” LePage initially responded by scrawling on the message, “Return to sender. Who is the racist calling out folks who have nothing to do with this horrific tragedy.”

In a follow up letter to Daly dated Aug. 17, LePage’s wrote on his official stationary, “Both groups should be taken to task for their behavior. My entire life I have spoken out against the KKK. The Anti-facists are no better, they are trying to erase history. Like or not history should stay in place, and we need to have future generations not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

The message continues, “Frankly, my heart goes out to the two state troopers who were killed and their families. They were just doing their jobs trying to prevent violence. I stand for PEACE – you should too.”

In her message to the Press Herald, Poulin said she was “shocked” by LePage’s response.

“I don’t feel like our Governor should be speaking to any of his constituents this way and feel like the public has a right to know how he responds to someone who doesn’t agree with his actions,” Poulin wrote.

This story will be updated.

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