Trump delivers surprise to California

SACRAMENTO — California appeared destined for near-Dickensian times after Donald Trump’s election. The state had just delivered a landslide winning margin for his opponent and rapidly evolved into the beachhead of the Trump resistance. The irritable president threatened to withhold federal funding from the nation’s most populous state.

Yet in an early turn from that discord, the Trump administration has delivered on three big asks in its short time in office, approving much-needed presidential disaster declarations related to the Oroville Dam crisis and winter storms. The declarations free up what’s likely to be millions of dollars in federal aid in more than a dozen California counties.

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The approvals don’t necessarily represent a thawing between the president and the state that loves to hate to him. Reconciliation on the most partisan — and consequential — issues remains out of reach. But while the federal government has historically approved a large majority of disaster and emergency declaration requests, the process is not immune from political considerations, and previous presidents have made headlines with their denials. The administration’s responsiveness to California suggests an opening in Trump’s Washington for even the most critical, heavily Democratic states.

“Nothing is all that predictable under the current administration,” California Gov. Jerry Brown said when he touched down in the nation’s capital this week for his first visit since the inauguration. “So that could be a cause for alarm, but also a cause for some optimism.”

Despite his coolness toward California, which delivered a popular vote margin of over 4 million votes for Hillary Clinton, Trump has largely sidestepped opportunities for open conflict with the state. While moving this month to roll back national vehicle emission standards, the Trump administration elected not to immediately seek revocation of a federal waiver allowing California to impose its own, stricter rules — though the administration could still do so following a move by California regulators Friday to impose even stricter state emissions standards.

In talks with Trump officials about the disaster declarations at least, the Brown administration was struck by a lack of politics in the administration’s decision making, finding conversations professional and not dissimilar from other administrations.

With a fourth request pending, Brown said after meeting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Bob Fenton, “We feel we’re in synch with the federal emergency management team here … and I’m optimistic. I think President Trump cares about helping people in disasters.”

Like other presidents, Trump has also appeared to recognize the political opportunity in assisting states. Hours before issuing his first disaster declaration for California, in February, the president used the Oroville Dam emergency to advance his infrastructure agenda.

“The situation is a textbook example of why we need to pursue a major infrastructure package in Congress,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that month. “Dams, bridges, roads and all ports around the country have fallen into disrepair. In order to prevent the next disaster, we will pursue the president’s vision for an overhaul of our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.”

The Brown administration hopes Trump could prove helpful on infrastructure and water in California, issues with multi-million dollar implications. Brown has called for billions of dollars in roadwork in California and is pushing forward with high-speed rail and a $15.5 billion Delta water plan.

“I think we’ll find a way here in Washington,” Brown said. “I can’t say we’re there yet, but you don’t build Rome in a day. You take steps … I’m here to negotiate, to make friends and to advance the cause of California.”

Brown has been unsparing at times in his criticism of the president. He warned before the election that a Trump victory would spell “game over” for climate change, and he has sharply criticized the president on health care and immigration. Joining House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former Vice President Joe Biden on the Capitol steps as recently as Wednesday, Brown tore into Trump for what he called “this fake health care bill.”

“This is not about health care reform,” Brown said. “This is about disease, death and suffering. Mr. Trump, come down from Trump Tower, walk among the people and see the damage that this latest exercise in raw political power will wreck on the women, the men and the children of this country.”

The speech recalled Brown’s frequent trips to Washington when he was governor before, castigating Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan in the 1970s and 1980s and standing out as a reliably partisan critic of Republican administrations.

But that was when Brown, who turns 79 next month, still held ambition for higher office. Now that he does not, his barbs are less frequent, even as other Democratic governors, including Jay Inslee of Washington and Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, raise their profiles with steadfast criticism of the president.

For Brown’s purposes of negotiating infrastructure spending and disaster relief, said Bill Whalen, a former speechwriter for GOP Gov. Pete Wilson who is now a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, “These matters are not decided by spitballs and tweets lobbed 2,500 miles away. These matters are decided by being in the room and having conversations and coming to something that is mutually beneficial.”

He added, “This is not the old Jerry Brown who goes to Washington to beat the drum about running for president. This is the second version of Jerry Brown who has to go to Washington to defend California.”

Over four days in Washington, Brown met with the state’s Democratic and Republican congressional delegations, and with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Bakersfield Republican and close ally of Trump. A McCarthy spokesman said he and his California colleagues urged Trump to approve a disaster declaration for California and that “when discussing issues affecting California, McCarthy has found that the president has an open ear.”

Watching Brown maneuver in Washington from the West Coast, Bob Mulholland, a longtime Democratic strategist in California, said the governor “carefully chooses his words so most politicians he’s meeting feel like they’ve had a good conversation with him.”

He said, “It is not his job as governor of California to be the Bernie Sanders of the left.”

Yet congressional Republicans have publicly warned that resistance to Trump from the Democratic-controlled state legislature, including a proposal to expand protections for undocumented immigrants, could alienate the president. And at the state Capitol, Senate Republican Leader Jean Fuller criticized Brown for taking “the opportunity to insult the president” in his health care speech instead of “showing appreciation” for his approval of emergency assistance.

“Perhaps at some point the tantrums against President Trump will end and we can focus on building a better California,” she said in a prepared statement,

While there will be no accord between Brown and Trump on the federal budget, climate change or health care, Brown is pressing Trump on more provincial matters. Following a meeting with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who this month stalled a $650 million grant to electrify a commuter rail system in the Bay Area — a major priority of Silicon Valley business interests — Brown told reporters he was “cautiously optimistic” that the project might go forward.

“No, we don’t have a deal yet, but I would say that we’re opening doors, we’re getting ideas that could offer possibilities,” he said. “There is some light in the tunnel.”

The Trump administration did not extend Brown a lifeline on the project, and it was unclear if the governor will have any success. But John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party, said Brown has no better option than to negotiate.

“He’s got you by the nuts,” said Burton. “What are you going to say, ‘Go f— yourself? You try to do something … You go in and try to, you know, grab what you can.”

http://www.politico.com

Fox News host promoted by Trump calls on Paul Ryan to step down

Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro, whose show President Trump urged his followers on Twitter to watch earlier in the day, opened her program on Saturday evening by calling on Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanNewsmax CEO: ‘Trump still the winner after Ryan plan fails’ Conservative media struggles with new prominence under Trump Report: Ryan pleaded on one knee for ObamaCare repeal vote MORE (R-Wis.) to step down.

“Ryan needs to step down as Speaker of the House. The reason: He failed to deliver the votes on his healthcare bill, the one trumpeted to repeal and replace ObamaCare,” Pirro said in her opening statement.

“You come in with all your swagger and experience and sell them a bill of goods which ends up a complete and total failure and you allow our president, in his first 100 days, to come out of the box like that, based on what?” Pirro said.

The Fox News host’s fiery comments about Ryan came hours after Trump tweeted to encourage his followers to watch “Justice with Judge Jeanine.”

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Trump has urged people to watch TV shows in the past, but typically when he is appearing on them.

“I have not spoken with the president about any of this,” Pirro said of her call for Ryan to step down on her show, where president’s counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka also appeared on Saturday evening.

Trump said he told Ryan on Friday to pull the GOP healthcare reform bill, the American Health Care Act, amid dwindling support among House Republicans.

The move marked Trump’s first legislative defeat as president and followed seven years of rhetoric from Republicans who campaigned on a pledge to repeal and replace former President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaCoal executive: Trump ‘can’t bring mining jobs back’ Graham: Left is ‘going insane’ after Trump’s win President travels again for meetings at Trump golf club in Va. MORE‘s signature healthcare law.

Trump blamed Democrats for not backing the GOP healthcare bill and signaled that he would move on to other legislative priorities, such as tax reform.

Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer also indicated that they appreciated Ryan’s effort to get the bill passed, amid criticism from some Trump allies over the failed effort.

Pirro insisted in her first segment that the failure was on Ryan and not on Trump.

“Folks, I want to be clear. This is not on President Trump,” she said.

“No one expected a businessman to completely understand the nuances, the complicated ins and outs of Washington and its legislative process. How would he know on what individuals he could rely?”

“Ryan has hurt you going forward, and he’s got to go,” Pirro said.

http://thehill.com

Failure of their healthcare bill leaves Republicans running Obamacare. That could open the way for bipartisan changes

Unable to kill the Affordable Care Act, Republicans may now have to fix it.

The White House and even GOP members of Congress risk a huge political backlash if they allow the healthcare law to come apart, as President Trump has predicted it will.

That leaves Republicans with a strong incentive to take steps to shore up Obamacare insurance markets, keep premiums in check and preserve consumer protections in a way that would be acceptable to both sides of the aisle in Congress.

“This may finally provide an opportunity to do this in a better way,” said G. William Hoagland, a former Senate Republican budget official who is now senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “The only way to make something sustainable is if Republicans and Democrats work together.”

The Trump administration already has shown a willingness to do some.

In February, for example, the Health and Human Services Department issued regulations to restrict when people could sign up for health plans.

Insurers have complained that too many customers have been waiting until they are sick to enroll in coverage and then dropping the coverage after they no longer need medical care.

Ironically, the House bill that just collapsed included another tool that insurance experts say is key to sustaining markets. That tool, which already is used in Medicare, offers additional financial assistance to insurers that have unexpectedly high-cost patients.

Some of the steps needed to stabilize insurance markets probably would require action by Congress.

But with several key healthcare bills due to come up later this year — including legislation to reauthorize the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program — Republicans and Democrats will have many opportunities.

“I don’t think that we are done talking about this,” Leavitt said.

A side-by-side comparison of Obamacare and the GOP’s replacement plan »

noam.levey@latimes.com | @noamlevey


UPDATES:

6:10 p.m.: Updated to include additional context and background.

This story was originally published at 1:55 p.m.

latimes.com

Top Trump TV surrogate to leave high-profile post

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Boris Epshteyn is expected to remain in the administration, but possibly in a less visible role. | Getty

Boris Epshteyn, a special assistant to the president who oversees Donald Trump’s television surrogate operation, is expected to leave his high-profile post, multiple sources close to the administration told POLITICO.

The well known, combative talking head, who fiercely defended Trump on television during the campaign first as a surrogate and then as a paid campaign staffer, is expected to remain in the administration, but possibly in a less visible role.

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“We are discussing opportunities within the Administration,” a senior administration official said in an email Saturday night.

Epshteyn did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday night.

http://www.politico.com

Biden: I regret not being president

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden: I regret not being president Biden: ‘McCain is right: Need select committee’ for Russia With no emerging leaders, no clear message, Democrats flounder MORE late Friday night voiced regret about his decision not to run for president, predicting if he had secured the Democratic nomination he could have won against Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBiggest challenge to Keystone XL not political but economic Bannon encouraged Sessions to run for president before meeting Trump: report Fundamentals or euphoria? Both fueled post-election stock surge MORE.

“I had planned on running for president and although it would have been a very difficult primary, I think I could have won,” he said. “I don’t know, maybe not. But I thought I could have won.”

“I had a lot of data and I was fairly confident that if I were the Democratic Party’s nominee, I had a better than even chance of being president,” Biden continued.

Biden explained that he didn’t regret the time he was able to spend with his son Beau Biden, who later died after battling cancer.

“But do I regret not being president? Yes,” Biden said. “I was the best qualified.”

His remarks came during a speech at Colgate University in Hamilton New York, which was largely focused on helping the middle class.

Biden explained in emotional terms that because of his son’s illness he felt he couldn’t run and that he had “lost part of my soul” when Beau passed.

He said he couldn’t run and give his full attention to the presidency during that time, and that he doesn’t regret spending the time he would have spent campaigning with his family instead.

Updated: 9:25 p.m.

http://thehill.com