Less is more? Trump out of sight as border talks play out
By CATHERINE LUCEY
Thursday, January 31
WASHINGTON (AP) — No televised round tables with Cabinet secretaries. No freewheeling speeches from the Oval Office. No shouted comments on his way to Marine One.
Where’s the president? While the federal government is open once again, President Donald Trump has been largely behind closed doors — tweeting often from the White House residence, but so far out of sight.
Republicans and Democrats alike seem just fine with Trump hanging back as legislators try to work out a deal to keep the government open and resolve a standoff over funding for the president’s long-sought wall at the southern border. In fact, some lawmakers think less Trump might be a good thing, given his rocky relationships with legislators and open criticism of his negotiating abilities.
Over the last five days, Trump has had no public events. And he had none on his public schedule Thursday — though he started the morning with a flurry of tweets weighing in on the House-Senate talks that kicked off Wednesday during which House Democrats offered a plan without a penny for his long-promised wall.
“Republicans on the Homeland Security Committee are wasting their time,” Trump tweeted Thursday. “Democrats, despite all of the evidence, proof and Caravans coming, are not going to give money to build the DESPERATELY needed WALL. I’ve got you covered. Wall is already being built, I don’t expect much help!”
The White House had said the president had made his demands for border wall funding clear and was letting the committee process play out on Capitol Hill.
One official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks, stressed that Trump was “engaged at every level” on border security, including receiving a lengthy briefing on the topic Wednesday, and has continued to get his message out, including doing an interview with The Daily Caller. The official added that the White House has also been heavily involved at a staff level.
Democrats are more pointed about the positive aspects of less Trump.
“When the president stays out of the negotiations, we almost always succeed,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. “When he mixes in, it’s a formula for failure. So I’d ask President Trump, ‘Let Congress deal with it on its own.’”
Asked about Schumer’s comment, Trump told The Daily Caller, “I don’t blame him.” But the Republican president added that “without our involvement, a deal is not going to get done.”
While Trump has been avoiding public appearances, he’s continued dishing out his practiced blend of bluster and blame on Twitter, including contradicting his intelligence chiefs and slamming a former staffer for writing a White House tell-all. He weighed in on the congressional negotiations, saying that if the negotiating committee “is not discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier, they are Wasting their time!”
Never able to stay out of the public eye for long, Trump will be speaking up more in the coming days. He’ll do an interview with CBS that will air during the Super Bowl on Sunday, his State of the Union address is Tuesday and the White House is weighing travel options for after the speech to drive home his message on border security.
Going quiet after the fractious fight with Democrats raised questions about whether Trump was missing an opportunity to publicly frame the debate and push his border security arguments. But some Republicans said it was the right move.
“I think it’s smart for him to hang back here,” said Marc Short, former White House director of legislative affairs. “I do think he should still be traveling to vulnerable districts to put pressure on (Democrats) politically. But I think it’s fine for him not to be at the center of the negotiations.”
Trump’s allies also noted that he has been working on a variety of other issues throughout this period. He called Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to offer his support Wednesday. He attended a political function at the Trump International Hotel on Monday night. He hosted Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia for lunch at the White House on Sunday.
“There’s a ton going on. It’s Venezuela, China, North Korea. It’s not the public event stuff,” former Trump campaign aide Barry Bennett said.
Bennett argued that giving Congress some space made sense for Trump, adding: “If I was him, I would see what they offer. If they don’t solve it, then solve it yourself.”
Trump appears to sour on congressional border security talks
By ANDREW TAYLOR and ALAN FRAM
Thursday, January 31
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Thursday to ratchet up his demands on his long-stalled border wall, appearing to sour on congressional talks aimed at striking a deal with Democrats that he could sign.
In a barrage of morning tweets, Trump sent mixed messages in which he alternately hardened his wall demand, but also suggested that repairing existing fencing is a big part of his plan.
“Lets just call them WALLS from now on and stop playing political games! A WALL is a WALL!,” Trump tweeted.
Trump’s tweets came a day after Democrats in the House offered a vague border security plan that would not provide a penny for his wall, ignoring — for now — his warnings that they’d be wasting their time if they don’t come up with wall money.
The Democratic offer Wednesday was just a starting point in House-Senate talks on border security funding that kicked off in a basement room in the Capitol. A top Democrat acknowledged that “everything is on the table,” including the border barriers demanded by Trump. Lawmakers on both sides flashed signs of flexibility, eager to demonstrate willingness to compromise in hopes of resolving the standoff with Trump that sparked the 35-day partial government shutdown.
But Trump on Thursday tamped down expectations, telling GOP negotiators that they were “wasting their time.”
“Democrats, despite all of the evidence, proof and Caravans coming, are not going to give money to build the DESPERATELY needed WALL. I’ve got you covered. Wall is already being built, I don’t expect much help!” Trump tweeted.
The high-stakes talks are taking place against the backdrop of another possible shutdown in mid-February — an outcome Trump’s GOP allies in the Senate are especially eager to avoid.
Trump and the White House have proven to be an unpredictable force in the shutdown debate, mixing softer rhetoric about a multi-faceted approach to border security with campaign-style bluster about the wall. Lawmakers negotiating the bill are well aware that he could move to quash an agreement at any time, plunging them back into crisis.
Still, Trump’s request for $5.7 billion to build about 234 miles of barriers along the U.S. border with Mexico faces uphill odds. Even Trump’s GOP allies acknowledge he may only get a fraction of it. The Democratic plan includes new money for customs agents, scanners, aircraft and boats to police the border, and to provide humanitarian assistance for migrants.
“Democrats are once again supporting strong border security as an essential component of homeland security. Border security, however, is more than physical barriers; and homeland security is more than border security,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.
Senators revisited a bipartisan $1.6 billion proposal for 65 miles of fencing in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas that passed a key committee last year. The panel of old-school lawmakers from the powerful appropriations committees has ample expertise on homeland security issues, as many of them helped finance fence built over the years that stretches across much of the 1,954-mile border.
“Because of the work we did years ago we’ve already built almost 700 miles of fencing on our nation’s border,” said Rep. David Price, D-N.C. “Whatever the president may say it is far from an open border. Meanwhile, the number of undocumented immigrants crossing our border or attempting to cross remain not at alarming highs but at historic lows.”
Republican allies of the president said there will have to be some money to meet Trump’s demands. But they also predict privately that the White House is eager to grab an agreement and declare victory — even if winning only a fraction of Trump’s request.
“The components of border security are people, technology and a barrier. And everybody has voted for all three,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. “To get to an agreement we’ve got to have all three in there.”
But as talks on the homeland security budget open, Trump and Republicans are in a weakened position just 17 days before the government runs out of money again without a deal. Democrats won back the House in a midterm rout and prevailed over Trump in the shutdown battle.
“Smart border security is not overly reliant on physical barriers,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said as the session began. She said the Trump administration has failed to demonstrate that physical barriers are cost effective compared with better technology and more personnel.
The comments at once served notice that Democrats weren’t ruling out financing physical structures, but would do so only on a limited basis.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that while Republicans favor improved border security technology, “Smart technology alone does not actually stop anyone from crossing into the U.S. illegally.”
Shelby said physical barriers are needed “not from coast to coast, but strategically placed where traffic is highest.” That echoed recent remarks by Trump as he’s retreated from his more strident comments from the 2016 presidential campaign.
The president surrendered Friday and agreed to reopen government for three weeks so negotiators can seek a border security deal, but with no commitments for wall funds.
Prospects for broadening the scope of the talks to include broader immigration issues such as providing protection against deportation to “Dreamer” immigrants brought illegally to the country as children — or even must-do legislation to increase the government’s borrowing cap — appeared to be fading.
Trump Organization to use E-Verify for worker status checks
By BERNARD CONDON
Thursday, January 31
NEW YORK (AP) — The Trump Organization, responding to claims that some of its workers were in the U.S. illegally, said on Wednesday that it will use the E-Verify electronic system at all of its properties to check employees’ documentation.
A lawyer for a dozen immigrant workers at the Trump National Golf Club in New York’s Westchester County said recently that they were fired on Jan. 18. He said many had worked there for a dozen or more years. Workers at another Trump club in Bedminster, New Jersey, came forward last month to allege managers there had hired them knowing they were in the country illegally.
“We are actively engaged in uniforming this process across our properties and will institute E-verify at any property not currently utilizing this system,” Eric Trump, executive vice president of the Trump Organization, said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. “As a company we take this obligation very seriously and when faced with a situation in which an employee has presented false and fraudulent documentation, we will take appropriate action.”
“I must say, for me personally, this whole thing is truly heartbreaking,” he added. “Our employees are like family but when presented with fake documents, an employer has little choice.”
Launched in 1996, the E-Verify system allows employers to check documentation submitted by job applicants with records at the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration to see whether they are authorized to work.
During his presidential campaign, Republican Donald Trump called for all employers to use the federal government online E-Verify system. He told MSNBC in 2016 that he uses it at his properties, and that there should be a “huge financial penalty” for companies that hire workers who are in the country illegally.
Several of those workers from Trump’s properties paid visits to Congressional offices this week in hopes of raising support for their fight against possible deportation. One Democrat, New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, confirmed Wednesday that she had invited a maid who had cleaned President Trump’s rooms at Bedminster as her guest at his State of the Union speech.
The maid, Victorina Morales, was featured in a New York Times story last month titled “Making President Trump’s Bed: A Housekeeper Without Papers.” She has said that managers there knew she was living in the country illegally, helped her obtain false documentation and that she was physically abused by a supervisor.
Morales’ lawyer, Anibal Romero, said that Morales had accepted the invitation.
The Trump Organization has said it does not tolerate employing workers who are living in the U.S. without legal permission, and any problems with hiring is not unique to the company.
“It demonstrates that our immigration system is severely broken and needs to be fixed immediately,” Eric Trump said in his statement. “It is my greatest hope that our ‘lawmakers’ return to work and actually do their jobs.”
President Trump has repeatedly cast the millions of immigrants in the country illegally as a scourge on the health of the economy, taking jobs from American citizens. He has said they also bring drugs and crime over the border.
He turned over day-to-day management of his business to Eric and his other adult son, Donald Jr., when he took the oath of office two years ago. The Trump Organization owns or manages 17 golf clubs around the world.
Opinion: The Shutdown Made Inequality Worse
By Josh Hoxie
Anyone who has experienced joblessness or poverty can attest to the fear and anxiety associated with not having the money to cover the bills. During the government shutdown, stories flooded the media from struggling federal workers forced to stay home or work without pay.
But the shutdown didn’t occur in a vacuum. One unpleasant reality is that how these workers fared may have depended more on the color of their skin than you might think.
The Guardian newspaper recently profiled black federal workers struggling to get by. While black people make up just 12 percent of the U.S. population, they’re more than 18 percent of the federal workforce.
Many of these families don’t have savings or other wealth to fall back on, and their stories are gut wrenching.
“I don’t have cash reserves and I’m barely staying above water,” said Lora Williams, an African-American woman and 26-year-veteran of the National Parks Service. “My mother tells me — bless her heart — there’s a bed here if you need it,” Williams continued. “I’m 50. I’m not going back to my parents’ house.”
She resorted to opening a GoFundMe to try to make ends meet.
Wealth, the sum total of what you own minus what you owe, is the buffer families rely on when uncertainty strikes. It’s the difference between short-term unemployment being a time to simply “tighten the belt” versus homelessness and financial ruin.
Wealth is heavily skewed in the United States, largely along racial lines. My colleagues and I looked at that divide in a new report for the Institute for Policy Studies.
The median black family today owns $3,600 — just 2 percent of the $147,000 the median white family owns. In other words, the median white family has 41 times more wealth than the median black family (and 22 times more wealth than the median Latino family).
Put simply, it’s not surprising that black and Latino federal workers affected by the shutdown don’t have a wealth cushion to fall back on. And considering the high percentage of black federal workers, the government shutdown has only made this worse.
That isn’t to say white families are all flush with cash. Millions of white families struggle in poverty and are comparably low-wealth. Yet if you look at the numbers, you’ll see there is a gaping disparity along racial lines.
Our data stretches back three decades. Since 1983, median black family wealth has declined by more than half. Median white family wealth, on the other hand, has jumped by a third. So, the gap is getting bigger.
Of course, there are other historical trends at play here. For one thing, there have been massive gains in productivity and profit over the past three decades. Where did the money go? The short answer is: The fabulously wealthy became fabulously wealthier. And those fabulously wealthy households are overwhelmingly white.
Over the past 30 years, the number of households with $10 million or more skyrocketed by 856 percent, and the richest 0.1 percent have seen their wealth jump 133 percent. Meanwhile, the median American family saw their wealth drop 3 percent.
The deep and growing racial wealth divide was built on a history of intentional public policy — from slavery and Jim Crow to redlining, mass incarceration, unfair public-school funding formulas, and many other policies.
As many scholars have shown, it’s not the result of collective laziness or bad decision making by poor people. It’s systemic, and thus requires systemic solutions.
If there’s a silver lining to the recently concluded shutdown, it’s that it can shine a light on the deep wealth inequality in the United States. If the savings of long-tenured federal employees can’t cover a few missed paychecks, where does that leave the millions of families who can’t expect back pay or other relief?
Enacting policies that enable low-wealth families to buffer rainy days and build a nest egg for a brighter future should be a top priority for the new Congress. In the wealthiest country in the world, and one whose founding documents claimed all people were created equal, no one should be one missed paycheck away from financial devastation.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s a co-author of the new report “The Ever-Growing Gap: Failing to Address the Status Quo Will Drive the Racial Wealth Divide for Centuries to Come.” He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
E-cigs outperform patches and gums in quit-smoking study
By MATTHEW PERRONE
AP Health Writer
Thursday, January 31
WASHINGTON (AP) — A major new study provides the strongest evidence yet that vaping can help smokers quit cigarettes, with e-cigarettes proving nearly twice as effective as nicotine gums and patches.
The British research, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, could influence what doctors tell their patients and shape the debate in the U.S., where the Food and Drug Administration has come under pressure to more tightly regulate the burgeoning industry amid a surge in teenage vaping.
“We know that patients are asking about e-cigarettes and many doctors haven’t been sure what to say,” said Dr. Nancy Rigotti, a tobacco treatment specialist at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the study. “I think they now have more evidence to endorse e-cigarettes.”
At the same time, Rigotti and other experts cautioned that no vaping products have been approved in the U.S. to help smokers quit.
Smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable death worldwide, blamed for nearly 6 million deaths a year. Quitting is notoriously difficult, even with decades-old nicotine aids and newer prescription drugs. More than 55 percent of U.S. smokers try to quit each year, and only about 7 percent succeed, according to government figures.
Electronic cigarettes, which have been available in the U.S. since about 2007 and have grown into a $6.6 billion-a-year industry, are battery-powered devices that typically heat a flavored nicotine solution into an inhalable vapor.
Most experts agree the vapor is less harmful than cigarette smoke since it doesn’t contain most of the cancer-causing byproducts of burning tobacco. But there is virtually no research on the long-term effects of the chemicals in the vapor, some of which are toxic.
At the same time, there have been conflicting studies on whether e-cigarettes actually help smokers kick the habit. Last year, an influential panel of U.S. experts concluded there was only “limited evidence” of their effectiveness.
In the new study, researchers tracked nearly 900 middle-age smokers who were randomly assigned to receive either e-cigarettes or nicotine replacement products, including patches, gums and lozenges. After one year, 18 percent of e-cigarette users were smoke-free, versus 9.9 percent of those using the other products.
“Anything which helps smokers to avoid heart disease and cancer and lung disease is a good thing, and e-cigarettes can do that,” said Peter Hajek, study co-author and an addiction specialist at Queen Mary University of London.
The study was more rigorous than previous ones, which largely surveyed smokers about e-cigarette use. Participants in this experiment underwent chemical breath testing.
Smokers in the e-cigarette group received a $26 starter kit, while those in the nicotine-replacement group received a three-month supply of the product of their choice, costing about $159. Participants were responsible for buying follow-up supplies.
“If you have a method of helping people with smoking cessation that is both more effective and less costly, that should be of great interest to anyone providing health services,” said Kenneth Warner, a retired University of Michigan public health professor who was not involved in the study.
Several factors may have boosted the results: All the participants were recruited from a government smoking-cessation program and were presumably motivated to quit. They also received four weeks of anti-smoking counseling.
The researchers didn’t test e-cigarettes against new drugs such as Pfizer’s Chantix, which has shown higher rates of success than older nicotine-based treatments.
Funding for the study came from the British government, which has embraced e-cigarettes as a potential tool to combat smoking through state-run health services. Some of the authors have been paid consultants to makers of anti-smoking products.
U.S. health authorities have been more reluctant about backing the products, in part because of the long-term effects are unknown.
“We need more studies about their safety profile, and I don’t think anyone should be changing practice based on one study,” said Belinda Borrelli, a psychologist specializing in smoking cessation at Boston University.
The American Heart Association backed e-cigarettes in 2014 as a last resort to help smokers quit after trying counseling and approved products. The American Cancer Society took a similar position last year.
An editorial accompanying the study and co-written by Borrelli recommended e-cigarettes only after smokers have tried and failed to quit with FDA-approved products. Also, doctors should have a clear timeline for stopping e-cigarette use.
Borrelli noted that after one year, 80 percent of the e-cigarette users in the study were still using the devices. Nine percent of the participants in the other group were still using gums and other nicotine-replacement products.
No vaping company has announced plans to seek FDA approval of their products as a quit-smoking aid. Winning such an endorsement would require large studies that can take years and cost millions of dollars.
The FDA has largely taken a hands-off approach toward vaping. It has not scientifically reviewed any of the e-cigarettes on the market and has put off some key regulations until 2022. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has said he doesn’t want to over-regulate an emerging industry that could provide a safer option for adult smokers.
The delay has come under intense criticism amid an explosion in teenage vaping, driven chiefly by devices like Juul, which resembles a flash drive. Federal law prohibits sales to those under 18, but 1 in 5 high school students reported vaping last year, according to a government survey. It showed teenage use surged 78 percent between 2017 and 2018.
Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids noted that the British study used so-called tank-based e-cigarettes, which allow users to customize their flavors and nicotine levels. Those devices have largely been overtaken in the U.S. by Juul and similar devices that have prefilled nicotine cartridges, or pods. Any benefit of e-cigarettes depends on the individual product and how it is used, he said.
“It is a fundamental mistake to think that all e-cigarettes are alike,” Myers said. “And in the absence of FDA regulation, a consumer has no way of knowing if the product they are using has the potential to help them or not.”
Myers’ group is one of several anti-smoking organizations suing the FDA to immediately begin reviewing e-cigarettes.
Ian Armitage was skeptical about e-cigarettes as a way to stop smoking, saying he tried vaping several years ago but gave it up after experiencing twitching and shakes from nicotine withdrawal.
“I tried it for a whole month, but it just wasn’t doing it for me,” said Armitage, an audio-visual technician in Washington. “I still wanted a cigarette afterward.”
Armitage, who has smoked for 15 years, said he also tried nicotine patches but found they irritated his skin.
The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.