Trump suggests NHL owner could help him with NAFTA negotiations

President Trump suggested on Tuesday that Ron Burkle, a co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL team, could help his administration renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico.

Trump during a White House visit by the Stanley Cup championship team praised Burkle’s negotiating abilities, and suggested that the billionaire investor could play a role in NAFTA discussions.

“Ron, how about negotiating some of our horrible trade deals that they’ve made?” Trump asked. “Here’s what I want, I want to get him. Oh, I would love to have Ron Burkle.

“And it’s great to have you Ron. But I really mean that, if you want to get involved in negotiating NAFTA, I like it. Because we’re renegotiating NAFTA, Ron.”

“Of course, he may not like that, because maybe he’s on the other side,” Trump added. “You’re not on the other side of NAFTA, Ron, are you?”

Burkle could be heard responding: “I am not.”

Trump has railed against international trade deals, like NAFTA, as “unfair” to the U.S. and has vowed to renegotiate them.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to visit Washington on Wednesday — a trip that will overlap with the fourth round of NAFTA negotiations.

Trump has signaled more recently that he’s leaning toward scrapping the trade deal altogether, telling Forbes in an interview published Tuesday that “NAFTA will have to be terminated if we’re going to make it good.”

[The Hill]

 

Trump EPA Pick Defends His Extreme Views as ‘Sound Science’

At his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Michael Dourson, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the federal office for chemical safety, defended his record against fierce attacks from Democrats, who accused him of downplaying the risks of potentially toxic chemicals.

“I have been objective in my work and applied sound science to come to my conclusions,” said Dourson, a toxicologist who is Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety office.

Democrats repeatedly pressed Dourson to commit to recusing himself from EPA decisions involving chemicals that industry players had paid for him to review, pointing out that his proposed standards for safe exposure were often much weaker than the EPA’s.

Dourson refused to state whether he would recuse himself, saying only that he would rely on EPA’s ethics officials to determine if such actions was necessary. According to his financial disclosure forms, Dourson hasn’t been directly paid by chemical companies within the past year, making it unlikely that he would have to recuse himself because of ethics laws, The New York Times reported.

In his opening remarks, Dourson promised to protect the American public, “including its most vulnerable.” He added that his research and consulting company, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, received only one-third of its funding from private industry, with the remainder coming from government sponsors.

But Dourson’s testimony did little to assuage Democrats. When Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts asked Dourson if he would weaken the EPA’s existing standards for 1,4-Dioxane — a solvent that the agency has classified as a likely carcinogen — Dourson said he would “bring new science and thinking into the agency.”

Markey lashed out, saying that Dourson’s proposed standard for 1,4-Dioxane was 1,000 times higher than the EPA’s. “You’re not just an outlier on the science — you’re outrageous in how far from the mainstream of science you actually are,” Markey said.

Throughout the hearing, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, repeatedly quoted praise for Dourson from toxicology professionals who described him as “highly qualified” and “a leader in the field of risk assessment.”

Democrats do not have the votes to block Dourson’s nomination, but if he passes out of committee — which didn’t vote on his nomination Wednesday — they could threaten to prolong the nominating process by using a Senate procedure that requires 30 hours of debate for each nominee.

[NBC News]

Reality

Dourson has written books and often engages in “faith based science” which cherry-picks actual scientific evidence to fit into a Biblical narrative.

Trump Hires Campaign Workers Instead of Farm Experts at USDA

President Donald Trump’s appointees to jobs at Agriculture Department headquarters include a long-haul truck driver, a country club cabana attendant and the owner of a scented-candle company.

A POLITICO review of dozens of résumés from political appointees to USDA shows the agency has been stocked with Trump campaign staff and volunteers who in many cases demonstrated little to no experience with federal policy, let alone deep roots in agriculture. But of the 42 résumés POLITICO reviewed, 22 cited Trump campaign experience. And based on their résumés, some of those appointees appear to lack credentials, such as a college degree, required to qualify for higher government salaries.

It’s typical for presidents to reward loyalists with jobs once a campaign is over. But what’s different under Trump, sources familiar with the department’s inner workings say, is the number of campaign staffers who have gotten positions and the jobs and salaries they have been hired for, despite not having solid agricultural credentials in certain cases. An inexperienced staff can lead to mistakes and sidetrack a president’s agenda, the sources say.

“There is a clear prioritization of one attribute, and that is loyalty,” said Austin Evers, American Oversight’s executive director, who provided the documents after his organization received them in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. He said the group sought résumés for Trump administration political appointees from across the federal government and found an abundance of former campaign workers in positions that did not appear to match their qualifications. “The theme that emerges is pretty clear: What do you have to do to get an administration job? Work on the campaign,” he added.

USDA in a statement defended the hires: “All of the appointees have skills that are applicable to the roles they fill at USDA.”

The truck driver, Nick Brusky, was hired this year at USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service — an agency tasked with developing overseas markets for U.S. agricultural trade goods — at one of the highest levels on the federal government’s pay scale, a GS-12, earning $79,720 annually. Though that pay grade requires a master’s degree or equivalent experience, it’s not clear from Brusky’s résumé whether he’s a college graduate. The document lists coursework in business management and political science at three universities from 2000 to 2013, but does not specify a graduation date.

Brusky served as a field representative for Trump’s campaign in the battleground state of Ohio, beginning in November 2016, while driving for a trucking company in Hilliard, where he also was a county commissioner. Brusky’s résumé shows he has no experience in cultivating international markets for trade goods, though he notes he has experience “hauling and shipping agricultural commodities.” It says he was twice elected to local office and was a legislative aide to an Ohio state representative from January 2009 until June 2012.

Another example: Christopher O’Hagan, an appointee as a confidential assistant at the Agricultural Marketing Service, which helps producers of food, fiber and specialty crop growers market their goods. O’Hagan graduated in 2016 from the University of Scranton with a major in history and a minor in economics. But his résumé lists only one example of work experience prior to joining the Trump campaign in January 2016 — employment as a cabana attendant at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, while in school.

Similarly, Trump campaign alum Tim Page, a 2016 graduate of Appalachian State University, is now at the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency that helps farmers, ranchers and forest managers employ conservation practices. Page’s résumé indicates that he owns Cutting Edge LLC, a landscaping service in Connelly Springs, North Carolina.

“Much in the same way previous administrations have done, the USDA worked with the Presidential Personnel Office to place Schedule C appointees where they could be most helpful to the mission of the department,” the department said in an email to POLITICO. “All of the appointees have skills that are applicable to the roles they fill at USDA.“

O’Hagan, Page and Brusky did not respond to emails requesting comment and the USDA declined to make them available for this story.

Brusky, O’Hagan and Page are three of 10 confidential assistants whose résumés were among those obtained by American Oversight, along with the résumés of some career staff who are acting in leadership roles. All but one of the 10 touted their work to get the president elected, and most do not have agricultural experience. All of the appointees with this title are ranked as GS-11, GS-12 or GS-13, positions with annual salaries ranging from $60,210 to $85,816 at Step 1 of each grade. Two of the 10 didn’t list college degrees on their résumés, despite guidelines that call for anyone at GS-7 or higher to have completed a four-year degree.

Further, none of the confidential assistants indicated they had earned a master’s. Employees at the GS-9 level or higher are required by Office of Personnel Management guidelines to have obtained that level of education or equivalent experience.

The USDA said duties of a confidential assistant include “conducting research; preparing documents for special projects; overseeing correspondence control … receiving a wide variety of telephone inquiries from executives within and outside the USDA and from other agencies.”

O’Hagan and Page were hired at the GS-12 level and assigned to the secretary’s office, with a salary of $79,720. They were then transferred to their current roles, both of which are at the GS- 11 level and come with an annual salary of $66,510. Four other political appointees had their salaries reduced after they started.

“By the time these people are serving in confidential assistant roles, they are sitting on a very thin layer in government bureaucracy,” a former USDA official who arrived at the department at the beginning of the Obama administration, noting that the confidential assistant positions can be involved with technical decisions on policy matters. “If you just have someone with no higher education and no experience and no background in policymaking as the arbiter on these questions, that’s pretty unusual.”

Also in the ranks of USDA political appointees are the scented-candle company owner; a clerk at AT&T; a Republican National Committee intern; a part-time executive assistant and rental property manager; and a former Washington state senator who mentioned on his résumé that he was the first elected official in his state to back Trump’s candidacy.

The list of 42 appointees also includes seven special assistants, who command higher salaries than confidential assistants and generally have experience in policy and government. All of the special assistants are either GS-14 or GS-15, which start at $101,402 and 119,285, respectively. Three of the seven special assistants mentioned work on the campaign on their résumés.

In the early days of the Obama USDA, more experienced people coming off the campaign were given posts as confidential assistants, the former USDA official explained. They were tasked with assisting Senate-confirmed officials, taking notes during meetings and coordinating efforts with career staff.

Special assistants, by contrast, performed jobs for officials who did not require Senate confirmation, such as chiefs of staff, administrators and other leadership posts. There were some young staffers with ties to the campaign trail, sources conceded. The Obama team also pulled heavily from Capitol Hill staff to fill key roles, but only a handful of the appointees at USDA as of late last month have made a similar jump.

For the most part, the administration’s selections for leadership positions at USDA have been well received by industry and Capitol Hill. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a two-term governor of Georgia who also is a veterinarian and ran a host of agriculture-related businesses, got the endorsement of former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the only Trump Cabinet official to be backed by his predecessor.

Perdue also has brought on board about a half-dozen policy advisers and high-level political staff who have backgrounds at influential agricultural policy groups or as staffers on relevant congressional committees or who served under Perdue during his time as Georgia governor. None of these hires listed campaign experience among their qualifications.

Meanwhile, even with the campaign loyalists who are now on the USDA staff, the administration is still behind schedule in hiring for the agency’s more than 200 political positions that span from Washington, D.C., to rural communities across all 50 states.

The combination of a thin political staff and a lack of appropriate expertise among the appointees could spell trouble for Perdue as he pushes forward with his reorganization plan and other policy objectives, said a former USDA official who arrived at the department at the beginning of the Obama administration.

“If you don’t have talented people, experienced people, people who know how policymaking works, there are a number of ways you can get your agenda sidetracked,” said the former staffer, who was granted anonymity to discuss staffing freely. Policymaking is filled with landmines — from congressional oversight to complicated rules related to acceptance of gifts, the source noted, adding: “What you can get is both the failure to take advantage of opportunities … and mistakes that will eat up time and energy.”

[Politico]

Trump Nominates Science-Denying Politician To Run NASA

President Trump plans to nominate Rep. James Bridenstine (R-Okla.) to be the next administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the White House announced Friday.

Bridenstine entered Congress in 2013, serving on the House Armed Services Committee as well as the Science, Space and Technology Committee, which has jurisdiction over NASA.

He was also an aviator in the U.S. Navy Reserve, having flown combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bridenstine is one of two GOP lawmakers that Trump nominated on Friday to positions in his administration.

The White House also announced Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) as Trump’s pick to be the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Bridenstine’s nomination drew immediate criticism from both of Florida’s senators, who expressed concern over his lack of experience and partisanship.

“It’s the one federal mission which has largely been free of politics and it’s at a critical juncture in its history,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told Politico.

“I would hate to see an administrator held up – on [grounds of] partisanship, political arguments, past votes, or statements made in the past – because the agency can’t afford it and it can’t afford the controversy.”

[The Hill]

Reality

In 2013, during his first year in Congress, Bridenstine infamously called on then-President Barack Obama to “apologize” to the state of Oklahoma for his “gross misallocation [sic]” of funds to climate change research.

Trump Fires Long-Time Rally Organizer After Phoenix Speech

President Trump reprimanded the aide responsible for organizing his August rally in Phoenix, Ariz., after being disappointed by the results and coverage, Bloomberg reported on Monday.

Trump’s team reportedly informed George Gigicos, a contractor to the Republican National Committee, that he would not be hired in such a capacity again after the president was apparently left underwhelmed by the optics and crowd size of the event.

Gigicos, a longtime Trump aide who had previously served as the president’s director of scheduling and advance, declined to comment to Bloomberg.

Roughly 10,000 people were present when Trump spoke on Aug. 23, according to the Arizona Republic. But Trump saw TV coverage before he ever took the stage indicating the Phoenix Convention Center was less than full.

The president used the speech to deliver a blistering assault on the media after a week of fierce criticism directed at him over his response to the violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

The Bloomberg report comes amid a string of high-profile departures by former Trump aides, including special assistant Sebastian Gorka and chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

According to Bloomberg, Gigicos was one of Trump’s four longest-serving political aides.

[The Hill]

White House Aide Sebastian Gorka Resigns

Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to President Donald Trump closely aligned with Steve Bannon, has resigned, a source close to Gorka confirmed Friday.

In a resignation letter, Gorka cited “forces” that do not support President Trump’s “MAGA promise” as being ascendant in the White House.

“Regrettably, outside of yourself, the individuals who most embodied and represented the policies that will ‘Make America Great Again,’ have been internally countered, systematically removed, or undermined in recent months,” Gorka wrote.

[Politico]

Trump Picks Lobbyist Linked to Forced-Abortion Sweatshop Scandal as Overseer of Worker Protections in U.S.

President Donald Trump’s pick to be deputy secretary for the Department of Labor is a former lobbyist who worked to allow companies to run sweatshops in the Northern Mariana Islands, a territory of the United States.

Mother Jones reported on Tuesday that Trump nominee Patrick Pizzella was linked to a scandal involving disgraced former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Pizzella reportedly helped defeat a bipartisan effort to clean up sweatshops on the islands in the 1990s after horrific details of worker conditions and forced abortions came to light.

According to Mother Jones, Pizzella and his colleagues arranged trips to the Northern Mariana Islands for more than 100 members of Congress in order to defeat the measure.

Read the entire report here.

[Raw Story]

Trump Officially Nominates Climate-Denying Conservative Talk Radio Host as USDA’s Top Scientist

Sam Clovis, a former Trump campaign adviser and one-time conservative talk radio host, has no background in the hard sciences, nor any policy experience with food or agriculture. Still, that did not stop President Donald Trump from officially nominating Clovis to the position of the United States Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary of research, education, and economics, the agency’s top science position.

In the past, the undersecretary of research, education, and economics has brought years of experience in science, public health, or food policy. Previous undersecretaries have been biochemists, plant physiologists, or food nutrition experts. The most recent undersecretary, Catherine Woteki, came to the position from Mars, Inc., where she helped manage the company’s scientific research on health, nutrition, and public safety.
Clovis, on the other hand, comes to the position after serving as national co-chair for the Trump campaign, which he joined in 2015. Before that, Clovis was a professor of economics at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. He has a doctorate in public administration, and unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

“Dr. Clovis was one of the first people through the door at USDA in January and has become a trusted advisor and steady hand as we continue to work for the people of agriculture,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement on Wednesday. “He looks at every problem with a critical eye, relying on sound science and data, and will be the facilitator and integrator we need. Dr. Clovis has served this nation proudly since he was a very young man, and I am happy he is continuing to serve.”

He has served as the administration’s top USDA policy adviser since January, signing off on a memo sent to USDA scientists telling them to cease publishing “outward facing” documents, like press releases or fact sheets.

Clovis, like so many of the Trump administration’s top policy officials, does not accept the scientific consensus on climate change. In 2014, he told Iowa Public Radio that climate science is “junk science” and “not proven.” He also said in an interview with E&E News in October that the Trump administration would not prioritize climate change or climate science at the USDA — a sharp break from the Obama administration, which made a point of trying to better prepare farmers and the food system for imminent climate-fueled changes like droughts or heavier storms.

“Whether or not Clovis acknowledges climate change, it is happening, and agriculture has to deal with that,” Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, told ThinkProgress. “They have to come up with techniques to grow crops in tough weather conditions, and there are always research needs for how you grow crops in changing climate more efficiently with less resources.”

Clovis would not be the only senior official at USDA to question established climate science. Secretary Perdue called climate science “obviously disconnected from reality” and “a running joke among the public” in a 2014 op-ed published in the National Review.
As undersecretary, Clovis will be responsible for administering policies to ensure USDA’s scientists conform to “scientific integrity.” It’s unclear how Clovis will administer those programs, or whether he will specifically seek to undermine climate science, as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is doing with his “red team/blue team” initiative aimed at questioning mainstream climate science.

For Lovera, Clovis’ nomination simply underscores the Trump administration’s disdain for science, from the dismissal of dozens of EPA advisory board scientists to the deletion of climate information from government websites.

“It’s a sad continuation of that trend that we were seeing with EPA and science advisory boards, and shutting down different websites,” Lovera said. “It’s just another sad example of the Trump administration putting politics first, and inside USDA, the politics of Big Agriculture.”

[ThinkProgess]

Trump Regrets Hiring Attorney General Jeff Sessions

US President Donald Trump has said he would never have appointed Jeff Sessions if he had known the attorney general was going to recuse himself from leading a Russia investigation.

Mr Trump told the New York Times the actions of Mr Sessions had been “very unfair to the president”.

Mr Sessions recused himself after admitting meeting Russia’s ambassador.

He said on Thursday he would not resign and he would continue running the Justice Department effectively.

“I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate,” he said.

The president also accused Mr Sessions of giving “some bad answers” at his confirmation hearing performance.

With Donald Trump, loyalty will only get you so far.

Mr Sessions was the earliest and most enthusiastic of Mr Trump’s top-tier political supporters, and he was rewarded with a plum Cabinet appointment. Now, however, that position of power appears not quite as golden a prize.

While the former Alabama senator has toiled to implement the president’s agenda as attorney general, Mr Trump personally blames him for the ongoing independent counsel investigation that has bedevilled his presidency.

The irony is that while Mr Trump views Mr Sessions’s recusal from the Russia probe as a betrayal, the attorney general made clear during his confirmation hearings that he would likely do just that if he were implicated in an investigation that had not yet begun in earnest.

It was only later that then-FBI Director James Comey – himself a target of the president’s scorn – revealed the Trump campaign itself was under the microscope.

Now the president has made clear that Mr Sessions lacks his full confidence. While the attorney general says he loves his job and plans to keep it, how secure can his position be when his boss lobs bomb after bomb his way from the White House?

Mr Sessions would have headed the justice department’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election. Congress is also conducting inquiries.

His recusal ultimately led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the investigation.

The Times interview reflects the anger the president feels at this development.

He said: “A special counsel should never have been appointed in this case… Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.”

Mr Trump said Mr Sessions had given him “zero” notice of the recusal.

“How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president.”

‘I didn’t do anything wrong’

Mr Trump then reflected on the performance of Mr Sessions at his Senate confirmation hearing in January at which he denied meeting any Russians. He later revealed he had met Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Mr Trump said: “Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers… He gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren’t.”

The president suggested the justice department’s Russia investigation was rife with conflicts of interest, not least that Mr Mueller had wanted to replace James Comey, who Mr Trump had sacked as FBI director.

“There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point,” Mr Trump said.

Mr Trump warned Mr Mueller about straying too far from his remit but again said he did not think he was personally being investigated.

“I don’t think we’re under investigation,” Mr Trump said. “I’m not under investigation. For what? I didn’t do anything wrong.”

US media have reported that Mr Mueller is investigating Mr Trump for possible obstruction of justice, both in the firing of Mr Comey and over whether Mr Trump tried to end an inquiry into sacked national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Associated Press news agency quoted a Trump adviser as saying that the president’s comments did not mean he was going to sack the attorney general, but the adviser questioned whether such a public dressing-down might prompt him to quit.

[BBC News]

Reality

Mr Sessions actually recused himself citing Department of Justice regulations stating employees should not participate in investigations of a campaign if they served as a campaign adviser.

Trump’s lawyer to critic: ‘Watch your back , bitch

President Trump’s attorney on Russian matters, Marc Kasowitz, used a series of profanities in several emails published by ProPublica on Thursday in response to someone who had urged him to resign and quit defending the president.

“Watch your back , bitch,” Kasowitz concluded in one of the bizarre emails.

The person who emailed Kasowitz also sent him a previously published article by ProPublica that alleged Kasowitz abuses alcohol at work and has contributed to a hostile work environment.

It appears that attachment might have triggered Kasowitz’s temper.

A request for comment from The Hill to Kasowitz’s office was not immediately returned, but Kasowitz’s spokesman told The Associated Press he “intends to apologize.”

Kasowitz’s spokesman also issued a statement regarding the initial ProPublica story, denying Kasowitz suffers from alcohol abuse.

“Marc Kasowitz has not struggled with alcoholism,” spokesman Michael Sitrick told ProPublica.

ProPublica did not identify the man who emailed Kasowitz.

The email he sent to Trump’s lawyer included the subject line “Resign. Now.”

In the email, the man said it was in the interest of Kasowitz and his firm to resign as Trump’s counsel.

Kasowitz responds minutes later with two words: “F*ck you.”

In another email fifteen minutes later, Kasowitz begins to threaten the man, who asked ProPublica not to identify him.

“You don’t know me, but I will know you,” Kasowitz responded. “How dare you send me an email like that. I’m on you now. You are f—ing with me now. Let’s see who you are. Watch your back , bitch.”

The man responded to Kasowitz’s email with a simple “thank you for your kind reply” and “I may be in touch as appropriate.”

But Kasowitz wasn’t done. Minutes later, another email arrived, with Kasowitz’s phone number.

“You are such a piece of shit,” he wrote. “Call me. Don’t be afraid, you piece of shit. Stand up. If you don’t call, you’re just afraid. Call me.”

A fourth response a half hour later referenced that Kasowitz is Jewish.

“I’m Jewish. I presume you are too. Stop being afraid. Call me. Or give me your number and I will call you,” he wrote. “I already know where you live, I’m on you. You might as well call me. You will see me, I promise, bro.”

According to ProPublica, the man forwarded the entire conversation to the FBI, saying he was disturbed by Kasowitz’s replies.

President Trump has periodically retained Kasowitz over the last 15 years, including to defend him in his Trump University case and the ongoing investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

[The Hill]

1 8 9 10 11 12 14