Trump sets pay rate for federal workers

President Trump sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday announcing 2018 pay rates for civilian government workers.

In the letter, Trump cited his authority in times of “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare” to make adjustments to the 2018 pay schedule for federal employees.

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If Trump had not acted, workers were scheduled for an across-the-board pay raise of 1.9 percent while those in expensive urban areas stood to get as high as a 26 percent raise, based on an old formula that presidents have routinely circumvented.

Trump will use his authority to lower across-the-board pay raises to 1.4 percent, with an average additional raise of 0.5 percent, depending on what city the worker lives in.

“We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a sustainable fiscal course,” Trump wrote.

“A pay increase of this magnitude is not warranted, and Federal agency budgets could not accommodate such an increase while still maintaining support for key Federal priorities such as those that advance the safety and security of the American people.”

Presidents have historically intervened to submit alternative pay plans for government workers to prevent larger pay increases that would kick in by default. Former President Obama froze government salaries in place from 2011 to 2013.

Obama implemented a 2.1 percent rate hike last year for 2017.

The overall 1.9 percent pay hike is consistent with Trump’s proposed budget. The White House has changed the formula it is using to get to that number by reducing the across-the-board pay hike to 1.4 and using the balance for adjustments to outside localities, so not everyone will see the 1.9 percent increase.

The raise is lower than some government workers unions and lawmakers had advocated for.

“[The National Treasury Employees Union] believes this figure is too low especially in light of the fact that federal law calls for a 1.9 percent across-the-board raise and private sector wages are growing at an even faster rate,” Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a statement. “Add to that, current proposals attacking the federal retirement system would result in a pay cut for federal workers.”

Trump will maintain the 2.1 percent pay increase for members of the military.

“I strongly support our men and women in uniform, who are the greatest fighting force in the world and the guardians of American freedom,” Trump wrote. “As our country continues to recover from serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare, we must work to rebuild our military’s readiness and capabilities.”

This story was updated at 1:21 p.m.

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Outgoing sheriff Clarke expected to take job in Trump administration

David Clarke is pictured. | Getty Images

It’s unclear what job Clarke will take in the administration, but sources say he’s expected to join the White House. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

David Clarke, the controversial outgoing sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wis., is expected to take a job in the Trump administration, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Clarke resigned as sheriff on Thursday. A regular presence on Fox News, Clarke has become a well-known figure in conservative circles in recent years. He is also an avowed supporter of President Donald Trump, and he spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last year.

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But he has come under fierce criticism amid a series of deaths in the Milwaukee County prison, including that of Terrill Thomas, who died of dehydration last year after guards turned off the water in his cell.

Trump has been one of Clarke’s most vocal cheerleaders, and even promoted his book on Twitter earlier this month.

It’s unclear what job Clarke will take in the administration, but one of the sources said he’s expected to join the White House. Clarke likely won’t be offered a Senate-confirmed role because his nomination would face opposition from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“We have no announcement at this time,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said. In a text message, Clarke said, “Will talk about my future plans next week.”

Clarke had previously been under consideration for a job at the Department of Homeland Security, and he even publicly announced his plans to join the administration in May. But he ultimately never landed the DHS job.

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GOP aims to approve Harvey relief as soon as next week

Evacuees are pictured. | AP

An evacuee feeds a child at an emergency shelter at the Beaumont Civic Center in Beaumont, Texas, after Tropical Storm Harvey on Aug. 30. | Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP

House Republicans are gearing up to pass a multibillion-dollar, short-term Hurricane Harvey relief package as early as next week, according to multiple congressional GOP sources.

No plans have been finalized. GOP leaders are waiting for White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to tell them exactly how much is needed by week’s end.

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But five GOP sources on both sides of the Capitol said the House could supply about $3 billion to $5 billion in disaster relief in the coming days.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency currently has about $1.1 billion in an emergency account, but is burning through it quickly. And GOP sources believe the agency can re-allocate money with the help of Congress, but that would only buy a couple more days of emergency relief.

The costs of the natural disaster are rising quickly. Congressional sources worry that FEMA might run out of relief money within a week.

News of a pending package comes after Republicans from Texas and Louisiana pushed GOP leaders and the White House to act soon. Some in leadership had hoped to tie the emergency Harvey funding to a combined debt ceiling-government funding bill at the end of September.

But FEMA could well run out of cash before then. And GOP leaders have promised their rank-and-file from Texas and Louisiana they will not leave them waiting.

Still, any provision that advances next week would be merely a down payment. A much larger infusion of money is expected to be tied to the debt and spending package due at the end of the month.

Congress doled out $120 billion after Hurricane Katrina and $50 billion for Hurricane Sandy. The final price tag for Harvey could fall somewhere in between. White House officials and Capitol Hill sources say it could take weeks to determine the cost of the damages. But they expect additional Harvey bills to move through Congress this fall.

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Will Trump Break His Promise to Dreamers?

President Trump may soon end Barack Obama’s signature immigration initiative, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which protects immigrants without legal status who came to the United States as children. Although DACA supporters are mobilizing to save the program, a looming lawsuit is likely to sink it even if Trump does not. A tougher question is what Trump – and Congress – plans to do with the “Dreamers” once the policy is gone.

Trump once suggested that he intended to leave the Dreamers alone, but it’s clear that wasn’t an ironclad promise. Recent stories suggest is “conflicted” and “torn” over DACA, and the fate of its beneficiaries weighs heavily on him. He might claim, more in sadness than in anger, that he has no choice but to wind down the program given the likelihood of defeat in the courts. But if Trump has a bad hand to play, it’s because he dealt himself the cards. DACA is imperiled only because Neil Gorsuch, who is likely skeptical of the program’s constitutionality, sits on the Supreme Court instead of Merrick Garland, who was likely not. Confirmations have consequences. And if Trump actually cared about DACA, he would play out the string even in the face of likely defeat.

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Obama created DACA in 2012 after the failure of the DREAM Act, a legislative attempt to provide the dreamers with a path to citizenship. Stymied in his efforts to pass the bill, Obama chose to act on his own. Sidestepping Congress made things happen – but invited lawsuits.

DACA-eligible immigrants can apply to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for a renewable two-year permit that essentially assures that DHS won’t try to kick them out of the U.S. unless they commit a crime. Just as importantly, the program provides authorization to work legally and allows participation in certain earned-benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Eligibility is limited to persons who have been in the U.S. since June 2007, arrived before turning 16 and didn’t turn 31 before 2012. A non-trivial criminal record or evidence of a security threat is a dealbreaker.

In 2014, while I was serving as a political appointee in DHS’s Office of General Counsel, the administration tried a similar approach to benefit parents of kids who were U.S. citizens. Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) never went into effect, though, because it was challenged immediately by 26 states, led by Texas, which asserted that it provides relief not authorized by Congress. The states also challenged a simultaneous expansion of DACA that would have eased certain eligibility limits and extended the permit length to three years. They did not, however, challenge the original DACA program itself.

The states won a preliminary injunction in the district court that barred us from implementing DAPA or expanding DACA. The Fifth Circuit upheld the injunction on appeal. The Supreme Court, after Scalia’s death, split 4-4 in June 2016; as a result, the injunction remained in place.

As a candidate, Trump promised to “immediately terminate” DACA, which he called “one of the most unconstitutional actions ever undertaken by a president.” Yet he didn’t end it immediately, and said in January that Dreamers “shouldn’t be very worried” about being removed from the U.S. In June, DHS formally ended DAPA and DACA expansion, but took no action on the original, still-active DACA program.

Two weeks later, the calculus changed dramatically when 10 state attorneys general, led by Ken Paxton of Texas, wrote a letter to DOJ threatening to sue to kill DACA if Trump didn’t stop issuing new permits by September 5. Such a suit is very likely to succeed, as the legal issues would be identical to those raised in the 2014 lawsuit. (While some disagree, the differences are likely to relevant only to the speed of the litigation, not the final outcome.) It’s a fair bet that the four votes in the Supreme Court against DAPA in 2016 came from the right side of the bench: Alito, Kennedy, Roberts and Thomas. It’s an equally fair bet that newly confirmed Justice Gorsuch would vote to kill DACA. Had Garland won confirmation, DACA’s prospects would look quite different.

Of course, it’s possible that, say, Justice Anthony Kennedy could have a change of heart. (The other three, not so much.) Tallies in tie votes aren’t released, so Kennedy has kept his powder dry, and he has been known to change his mind in other cases – which is why Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land. Annoyance with the states for waiting five years to challenge DACA, thus allowing Dreamers a false sense of security, might color his views.

But that’s a slender reed on which to hang the Dreamers’ hopes. And it seems highly unlikely that Trump would backtrack on a campaign promise when the Supreme Court, in the end, will probably force him to make good on it. The end of DACA would represent the first big conservative victory of the Gorsuch era, and – weirdly – it could be won without any litigation at all.

Why did the states wait until now to threaten DACA? Probably because it’s too popular. There’s no way 26 states would have joined the 2014 lawsuit if it had imperiled all the Dreamers. Legally speaking, the number of state plaintiffs was irrelevant – Texas alone would have sufficed. But justices – especially Kennedy – care about optics more than they admit to themselves, so it helped to have a majority of states opposing Obama. Once Trump took office, Paxton presumably assumed DACA would meet a swift end. When it didn’t, he sent his letter – but could convince only 9 other attorneys general to join him.

What happens if Trump pulls the plug? It depends on how hard he pulls it. He could rescind all existing DACA permits, but even the Texas letter asks only that he stop issuing new ones or renewals. Once their permits expire, the estimated 780,000 DACA beneficiaries will – at best – return to their pre-2012 status. They won’t be able to work legally; some will work off of the books, some may find employers willing to falsify employment eligibility forms and others will use someone else’s Social Security number. In some states, including Texas, access to a driver’s license also disappears once lawful presence is revoked.

But the Dreamers can remain in the U.S. – if the Trump administration wants them to. The states’ letter – just like their 2014 lawsuit – took pains to state that their request “does not require the federal government to remove any alien.” The 2014 lawsuit expressly noted that the states were not challenging DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s 2014 memo setting forth priorities for immigration enforcement. That memo listed three categories of priorities – including national security threats, criminals and those recently issued a final order of removal by an immigration judge – and instructed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to pursue removal of others only if an ICE field office director deemed that it would serve “an important federal interest.” In February, then-DHS Secretary John Kelly replaced the Johnson memo with a broader set of priorities and removed the requirement to seek high-level approval before pursuing others. But Kelly’s memo expressly carved out DACA recipients, and thus could easily be revised, if DACA ends, to provide more protections. Indeed, as the states expressly suggested in their 2014 lawsuit, DHS could even provide “low-priority identification cards” if it chooses.

DHS must provide clear guidance to ICE, an agency epitomizing the axiom that to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. For example, DHS could announce formally that no former DACA recipient can be pursued for removal without express approval from a high-ranking official. Likewise, to address the fear that ICE will use the voluminous personal information that Dreamers submitted in their DACA applications to track them down, DHS could issue a directive to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which runs DACA, not to provide such information to ICE absent extraordinary circumstances.

Full relief, however, can come only from Congress – which can go far beyond DACA and provide citizenship to the Dreamers. The DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship, is sitting on the shelf waiting to be revived, although that’s likely to happen only as part of a package deal including stricter immigration enforcement (with or without a border wall) and cuts to legal immigration. There’s an appetite for such a deal within the Trump administration and even among immigration hardliners, but Democrats will resist efforts to hold Dreamers hostage to the policy aims of immigration restrictionists.

Recent history suggests pessimism. Bush and Obama, with far more legislative savvy than Trump, spent considerable capital on immigration deals without success. Absent legislation, Dreamers’ best hope may be vigilant oversight from their supporters in Congress (including key Republicans such as Senators Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake) to guard against any efforts – whether by design or carelessness – to remove them from the country. In the meantime, Dreamers will hunker down and wait for brighter days.

Eric Columbus served as special counsel to the general counsel of the Department of Homeland Security from 2014 to 2017 and as senior counsel to the deputy attorney general in the Department of Justice from 2009 to 2014. Follow him on Twitter at @ericcolumbus.

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GOP lawmaker aims to force vote to protect Dreamers

Mike Coffman is pictured here. | Getty Images

Rep. Mike Coffman’s (R-Colo.) rarely used gambit comes amid reports that President Donald Trump may roll back the Obama-era program. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said Thursday he’ll attempt to force a vote on a bill that would extend protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors.

When he returns to Washington next week, Coffman said he’ll file what’s known as a “discharge petition” to force action on his proposal, known as the BRIDGE Act. If he can convince a majority of the House — 218 members — to join him, the House will be required to take up the measure later in September.

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Coffman’s rarely used gambit comes amid reports that President Donald Trump may roll back an Obama-era program meant to protect undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors. The program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, has shielded about 800,000 immigrants from deportation and provided work permits.

“#DACA participants grew up here, went to school here, and should be allowed to stay here. The time has come to take action,” Coffman tweeted.

The bill already has 12 Republican cosponsors in the House, in addition to Coffman. In the Senate, a companion measure was introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and it has support from GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

The measure extends protection — similar to that afforded under DACA — to those born after June 15, 1981, were brought to the United States before their 16th birthday and have lived in the United States since June 15, 2007. Applicants for protection must also be enrolled in school, have graduated from high school or have served honorably in the military. And those convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors would be barred from the program.

Coffman’s call is likely to draw support from Democrats, as well as other Republicans who have previously backed measures to protect those undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump called for eliminating the program, but he backed off shortly after winning the election. This week, his administration indicated he was reviewing the program and hadn’t yet decided what to do.

Trump said in February that he intended to deal with DACA enrollees “with heart.”

Coffman is also one of the more vulnerable Republicans in the House. Democrat Hillary Clinton won his district by a 50-41 margin.

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