GOP leaders weigh protecting Trump from primary challenge
By MEG KINNARD
Thursday, December 20
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Republicans in early voting states are grappling with how — and whether — to protect President Donald Trump from a potential primary challenger in 2020.
South Carolina’s GOP chairman said Wednesday the party was considering cancelling its presidential primary, a move that would make it harder for a challenger to gather delegates to wrest the party’s nomination from Trump. That follows a debate unfolding in New Hampshire, where some of Trump’s backers are pushing for the removal of longstanding rules that prevent the state party from taking sides in a primary.
In Iowa, there’s no plan to alter the caucus process to block potential Trump rivals from participating. But state GOP Chairman Jeff Kauffman has said he will defend the president should any prospective challengers begin making moves.
The activity reflects a party weighing how far to go to fend off potential primary challengers. So far, no one has said they’d run against Trump in a primary, a move that would be extraordinarily difficult given the president’s popularity among the GOP base. But outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee are among those who have entertained the possibility, forcing party leaders to think through their options.
In South Carolina, which holds the first-in-the-South contest, GOP leaders said they weren’t trying to shield Trump from a challenger and instead questioned the need for a primary when the president faces no Republican challengers.
“At this point, I’m not aware of a need for a primary,” South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick told The Associated Press Wednesday.
He cited Trump’s popularity among South Carolinians among the reasons to possibly skip over the 2020 nominating contest, which he views as a foregone conclusion. According to AP VoteCast, The Associated Press’ nationwide survey of the 2018 midterm electorate, 53 percent of voters in South Carolina said they approve of Trump. Fully 86 percent of Republicans approved, while 96 percent of Democrats disapproved.
“The state party and the grassroots within the state, all around the state, totally support the president,” McKissick said. “The purpose of political parties is to unify around the platform and elect candidates who will advance that platform.”
McKissick stressed that no final decision would be made until June 2019 at the earliest, and there is precedent. In 1984, state party leaders opted to call off South Carolina’s GOP primary as President Ronald Reagan sought a second term.
“Obviously President Reagan was very popular,” said Warren Tompkins, a political consultant who served as executive director of South Carolina’s Republican Party at the time. “There was really no known organized opponent on the horizon.”
South Carolina Republicans did hold a 1992 primary, when Pat Buchanan mounted a challenge from the right to President George H.W. Bush. In 2004, the GOP again cancelled the state’s primary with leaders opting instead to endorse President George W. Bush’s pursuit of a second term.
“The party is well within its rights to not hold a primary and to endorse the president,” said Matt Moore, who finished two terms as state GOP chairman after the 2016 election cycle. “It simply means that all the party’s delegates at the convention will be given to the president.”
Democrats have used the tactic themselves. The South Carolina Democratic Party didn’t hold presidential primaries in 1996 or in 2012, as Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama sought their second terms and faced no opposition.
Not having to deal with the trappings that come along with a presidential primary can free up officials to look at other races. Strategist Luke Byars points out that by skipping the 2004 presidential primary, South Carolina Republicans were able to focus on winning a seat left open by Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings’ retirement.
“The U.S. Senate was much more on the top of our priority list,” Byars said.
But with more than two dozen Democrats mulling White House bids in 2020, Tompkins cautioned Republicans against allowing the other party to occupy all the state’s political news sphere.
“It would probably behoove us to have the primary,” Tompkins said. “I would hate to see the publicity and all that attention go to the Democrats.”
McKissick said his focus remained more on strategy and less on theatrics.
“Why would we want to distract attention from the absolute circus that’s going to be the Democratic primary?” McKissick asked. “Our job is not to satisfy everybody’s need for political entertainment.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.
Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, and Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.
The Fed cares when the stock market freaks out – but only when it turns into a bear
December 20, 2018
Professor of Finance and Fred T. Tattersall Research Chair in Finance, West Virginia University
Alexander Kurov does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
West Virginia University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Stocks have been falling for more than two months, with investors all but begging the Federal Reserve to stop lifting short-term interest rates. Higher rates hurt stocks by making other, less risky investments look more attractive and by driving up borrowing costs for companies and consumers.
Yet the U.S. central bank mostly rebuffed investors’ growing worries about recession and raised rates on Dec. 19 for a fourth time this year. It also signaled there’ll be two more hikes next year. Stocks didn’t take the news well.
So does this mean the Fed doesn’t care about Wall Street? And that the belief that the central bank will always support financial markets in turmoil is wrong?
My research on the relationship between stocks and the Fed over the past two decades suggests the answer isn’t straightforward.
First, let’s admit stock investors have had plenty to worry about in recent months.
Global trade wars, angry tweets from the White House and a possible economic slowdown have all been part of the daily news feed. All of that makes the Fed’s policy of “normalizing” interest rates even more unsettling to investors.
In part, that’s because many investors believe that the Federal Reserve will rescue financial markets in periods of market stress. This notion even has a name: the “Fed put,” implying that investors think the central bank will put a “floor” under stock prices by easing monetary policy. That is, by lowering interest rates, the Fed will make borrowing cheaper, encouraging more investment and consumer spending.
This belief may arise from the fact that the Fed typically begins easing monetary policy in times of economic distress, which often coincides with market turmoil. In other words, the Fed may not be reacting to stocks, but to real fundamental problems in the economy such as a rise in unemployment or exceptionally low inflation.
Further, Fed officials are on record saying they don’t care about the movement of stock prices beyond the information they might convey about the economy.
Still, traders are unconvinced, which is one reason why stocks fell after the Fed’s latest decision. It wasn’t as supportive as some had hoped.
Stocks and the Fed
In a recent research paper, two colleagues and I explored the interplay between central bank monetary policy and stock prices.
Looking at data from October 1997 to March 2018, we examined how monetary policy reacted to changes in stock market returns. Since actual changes in monetary policy are relatively rare, we used investor expectations as a stand-in. Research has shown investor expectations of interest rates – as measured by futures prices – provide good forecasts of actual monetary policy.
What we found is that monetary policy does in fact react to stocks. But it does so primarily when markets drop a lot. Namely, when stocks enter what are known as bear markets. That’s a term used to mean a broad sampling of stocks or an index has dropped 20 percent from its peak. A bull market, on the other hand, is when stocks jump at least 20 percent from their previous lows.
So when stocks are already in a bear market, it would take a further 10 percent decline in prices to increase the odds of a quarter-point interest rate cut by 50 percent over the near term, based on our analysis of intraday trading.
On the other hand, in bull markets, when stock prices surge, we didn’t find much of an impact on the likelihood that the Fed would increase rates to cool things down.
This suggests that the so-called “Fed put” does in fact exist. That is, the Fed does tend to put a “floor” under stocks – by lowering rates – to prevent them from falling too far but has less interest in establishing a ceiling to prevent them from rising too high.
No pain no gain
The key point, however, is that stocks must fall a long way before the Fed reacts.
And although U.S. stocks are now in correction territory, meaning they’ve fallen at least 10 percent, they still have more to fall to usher in a full-blown bear market. The S&P 500, for example, is down about 14 percent below its September peak.
To hit a bear market, it would need to drop another 6 percent from the peak. While this wouldn’t mean a interest rate cut is coming anytime soon, it may force the Fed to rethink its plans to continue raising rates.
In other words, Wall Street will likely have to endure more pain before the Fed steps in to ease it.
Judge delays Flynn sentencing, ‘not hiding disgust’ at crime
By ERIC TUCKER and CHAD DAY
Tuesday, December 18
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge Tuesday abruptly postponed the sentencing of President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, declaring himself disgusted and disdainful of Flynn’s crime of lying to the FBI and raising the unexpected prospect of sending the retired Army lieutenant general to prison.
Lawyers for Flynn, who admitted lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts, requested the delay during the stunning hearing in which U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan told the former Trump aide in a blistering rebuke that “arguably you sold your country out.”
“I can’t make any guarantees, but I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense,” Sullivan said.
The postponement gives Flynn a chance to continue cooperating with the government in hopes of staving off prison and proving his value as a witness, including in a foreign lobbying prosecution brought this week. The possibility of prison had seemed remote for Flynn, who was smiling and upbeat as he entered the courtroom, since prosecutors had praised his extensive cooperation and didn’t recommend any time behind bars.
But the judge’s upbraiding suggested otherwise and made clear that even defendants like Flynn who have cooperated in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation may nonetheless be shadowed by the crimes that brought them into court in the first place. The hearing upset what had been a carefully crafted agreement and pushed months into the future a resolution of one of Mueller’s signature prosecutions.
“This is a very serious offense. A high-ranking senior official of the government making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation while on the physical premises of the White House,” Sullivan said.
He later softened his tone, apologizing for suggesting that Flynn had worked as a foreign agent, “undermining everything this flag over here stands for” while in the White House when that other work had actually already ended. He also backpedaled on an earlier question on whether Flynn’s transgressions amounted to treason, saying he didn’t mean to suggest they did.
Flynn was to have been the first White House official sentenced in Mueller’s ongoing investigation into possible coordination between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.
The hearing, though incomplete, marked a remarkable fall after a three-decade military career that included Flynn’s tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and oversight of the Defense Intelligence Agency during the Obama administration. Though he served only briefly in Trump’s White House, he campaigned vigorously before the election and attracted attention for memorably leading a Republican National Convention crowd in a “Lock Her Up” chant about Hillary Clinton.
It all comes amid escalating legal peril for Trump, who was implicated by federal prosecutors in New York this month in hush-money payments involving his former lawyer to cover up extramarital affairs. Nearly a half-dozen former aides and advisers have pleaded guilty or agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Some, like Flynn, have been tripped up by concealing Russian contacts.
Flynn’s help in the probes, including 19 meetings with investigators, has been especially notable. Yet he’s nonetheless enjoyed Trump’s continued sympathy, thanks in part to a sentencing memo last week that tapped into the president’s suspicion of law enforcement and took aim at the FBI’s conduct during the investigation.
Trump tweeted “good luck” to his first national security adviser hours before the sentencing and said: “Will be interesting to see what he has to say, despite tremendous pressure being put on him, about Russian Collusion in our great and, obviously, highly successful political campaign. There was no Collusion!”
At the White House afterward, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if the administration had changed its stance on Flynn or the FBI after his admissions and guilty plea.
“Maybe he did do those things, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the president,” she said. “It’s perfectly acceptable for the president to make a positive comment about somebody while we wait to see what the court’s determination is.”
Sanders repeated her allegation that the FBI “ambushed” Flynn in an interview in which he lied. Of Trump’s earlier criticism of the agency, she said, “We don’t have any reason to want to walk that back.”
Flynn’s legal woes stem from transition-period calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that raised intelligence community alarms even before Trump took office.
During those conversations, Flynn urged against a strong Russian response to Obama administration sanctions for Russian election interference and also encouraged Russia’s opposition to a U.N. resolution on Israeli settlements.
But when FBI agents approached him in the White House on Jan. 24, 2017, Flynn lied about those conversations, prosecutors said.
Flynn has never said why he lied, but Sullivan nonetheless castigated him for a deception that was then parroted by other senior administration officials.
The tone of Tuesday’s hearing startled Flynn supporters who hoped his lawyers’ arguments about the FBI’s conduct — they suggested he was discouraged from having a lawyer present and wasn’t informed it was a crime to lie — to resonate more than it did with Sullivan, who a decade ago tossed out the prosecution of a U.S. senator over government misconduct.
But while Sullivan tested those arguments, he was ultimately unmoved and Flynn mostly walked them back. He acknowledged that he indeed knew that lying to the FBI was a crime. Neither he nor his lawyers disputed that he had lied to agents.
Flynn attorney Robert Kelner asked Sullivan not to penalize Flynn for the sentencing memo arguments, saying they were mostly intended to differentiate Flynn from other defendants in Mueller’s investigation who’d received prison sentences for lying. Though Sullivan said none of the other defendants was a White House official, Kelner suggested none had been as cooperative.
“He made the decision publicly and clearly and completely and utterly to cooperate with this investigation, knowing that because of his high rank, that was going to send a signal to every other potential cooperator and witness in this investigation,” he added.
After a prosecutor raised the prospect of Flynn’s continued cooperation with other investigations in the future, Sullivan warned Flynn that he might not get the full credit for his assistance to the government if he were sentenced as scheduled.
Sullivan gave a visibly shaken Flynn a chance to discuss a delay of the hearing with his lawyers. The court briefly recessed.
When they returned, Kelner requested a postponement to allow for Flynn to keep cooperating. Kelner said he expected Flynn would have to testify in a related trial in Virginia involving Flynn’s former business associates, and the defense wanted to “eke out the last modicum of cooperation” so he could get credit.
The judge set a new hearing date for March. Flynn left the courthouse hand-in-hand with his wife, climbing into a large SUV as protesters heckled and supporters chanted “USA!”
Read the Flynn FBI interview notes: http://apne.ws/xfm8IsO
Associated Press writer Michelle R. Smith in Providence contributed to this report.
Eco-Friendly Trips: Seeing the World Without Trashing It
Your travel is only as green as you make it
By Emily Folk December 13, 2018
Have you ever stopped to wonder what impact your travels have on the environment? Billions of people trek the globe daily by planes, trains and automobiles, and it creates a ton of waste as well as carbon emissions.
But traveling can be sustainable when it’s done correctly. In fact, ecotourism has become a booming industry focused on minimizing the negative environmental impacts of travel and respecting our world as well as all the people and critters in it. While booking a trip to help restore part of the rainforest may not be everyone’s cup of tea, all travelers can take simple steps to make their trips more green.
Here are some simple tips that can help make your journey more eco-friendly —whether or not you’ve already planned your vacation.
Preparation While Packing
Traveling the eco-friendly way takes a bit of planning. While there’s little that can be done about emissions from airplanes, you can choose greener alternatives for almost every other slot on your itinerary.
Start with the hotel you book. Unfortunately, some hotels seeking to cash in on the eco-friendly trend use the word “green” in name only. Call ahead and inquire about the hotel’s practices. At booking, ask if the hotel has recycling bins. Sadly, many do not. Does the establishment encourage guests to reuse towels to save on water waste? What measures do they take to conserve electricity?
This strategy doesn’t necessarily mean staying in a yurt. Green practices can take the form of something as simple as a gentle reminder on the interior of room doors for guests to turn off lights and televisions prior to heading out.
Pack with sustainability in mind too. Take along a reusable cloth laundry bag versus opting for the plastic one many hotels provide. And don’t forget the water bottle! Packing a reusable container can prevent you from using the plastic bottles in the hotel fridge. Have cloth bags that you tote to the grocery store? Take a few along to use when souvenir shopping so that you don’t have to speak the local language to decline a plastic sack.
At Your Destination
Once you arrive, it’s time to get out and see the sights! Be selective with which activities you opt into. Some, such as off-road ATV driving, damage the environment greatly. Try to steer clear of activities that leave environmental scars. Look for travel and activity planning companies that give back to the area they serve. Some travel planning businesses make considerable donations to conservation efforts in the areas they serve, and such companies make giving back as simple as booking through their services.
No one says to shun that fancy restaurant you simply must try, but try to have the majority of your meals at locally owned restaurants versus chains. Strive to avoid food waste by ordering only what you know you can eat. Order an appetizer as an entree, or order off the kiddie menu if it’s allowed at restaurants known for gargantuan portions.
Instead of renting a car, utilize public transport to cut emissions. Many popular tourist destinations have excellent public transit systems. While it’s tempting, try to resist the urge to take home those mini bottles of shampoo and other products the hotels provide. That way, you can cut plastic waste. If space permits, bring your own toiletries from home.
Don’t overlook the value of exploring your destination by foot either. Walking releases no carbon emissions at all and permits you to truly explore the sights in detail. In addition, you’ll burn off that big dinner you had the night before! However, remember to tread lightly in nature areas. Stay on maintained and marked trails to avoid trampling native vegetation. You’ll protect the area’s flora this way and avoid getting lost as an added perk.
Going the Extra Mile
Sustainability involves giving back as much as you spend. Sometimes, it may take the form of volunteering to restore a local nature area or educating locals about sustainable practices. Other times, giving back may be as easy as reaching for your credit card. Calculate the carbon footprint of your travel, and donate an amount up to or equal to the amount of your trip to a group dedicated to protecting the environment if you can afford to do so.
Nobody wants to give up travel, and indeed, doing so would result in lost opportunities to explore our magnificent world and interact with different cultures. By planning ahead and choosing sustainable options when possible, you can still roam if you want to while protecting the one planet we all have to share.
EmilyFolk is the editor of Conservation Folks. She writes on topics of sustainability, conservation and green technology.