VP Mike Pence tours islands wrecked by Hurricane Maria

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 11:40 AM
Updated: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 11:39 AM

Surveying the twisted metal wreckage in one San Juan neighborhood, Vice President Mike Pence came face-to-face with Puerto Rico's post-hurricane urgency.

"If you're going to help us, it's got to be now," a bearded young man told Pence as the vice president walked with Puerto Rico's governor and others along a street hit hard by Hurricane Maria. "We need more people, we need more communications," the man told Pence, adding that he was "a little bit angry."

Pence, wearing short sleeves and cowboy boots, patted the man on the shoulder and later told reporters, "We understand his frustration when you think of the sheer magnitude of the loss, the impact on families, the loss of life being so grievous." He promised that better days were ahead and the Trump administration would be "here for the long haul."

Pence's empathy and reassurances in San Juan and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Friday served as a humbler follow-up to President Donald Trump's visit this week to Puerto Rico. Maria has wiped out power across the island and left Puerto Rico's 3.4 million people short of food and supplies.

Trump spoke at length in self-congratulatory tones Tuesday about the strength of the federal recovery effort and made light of how costly Puerto Rico's troubles were to the federal budget. He tossed rolls of paper towels to the crowd in San Juan and compared the island's lower death toll with the "real catastrophe" of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when more than 1,800 people died.

Pence, for his part, said there had been "steady progress" on opening roads and addressing other challenges, but acknowledged, "we have a long way to go." He told Puerto Ricans he had "faith in President Trump's leadership, his determination to stand by Puerto Rico in this challenging time."

The vice president joined with religious leaders at the Iglesia Santa Bernardita church in San Juan, which has fed about 60 to 100 people every day since the storm. Pence carried a tray of sandwiches into the church's reception area and then walked along the long white tables, shaking hands.

During a church service, Pence listened as Father Willie Pena spoke of the resiliency of the people, explaining that he tells those who talk about still being in the dark, "We do not have electricity but we do have light."

The vice president offered an upbeat message, predicting that one day the congregation would say, "Puerto Rico se levanta, Puerto Rico is rising." He then bowed his head as his wife, Karen, led the church in prayer. They later met with emergency responders.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, Pence visited an Episcopal church in Frederiksted that was battered by the storm, losing sections of its roof. Church leaders vowed to rebuild as sunlight streamed onto the pews from above and water and dirt lined the church's white tile floor.

Sitting in the back of the church, Jose Sanchez, a 33-year-old construction worker, said Pence's visit "builds morale. It gives us hope."

As for Maria, Sanchez said: "It was a whipping that we received. It is something that people are never going to forget, like Katrina."

Pence then boarded a military helicopter to view the damage from the air, looking on as his convoy flew over St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John — now marked by upended boats lying along the coastline, blue tarps dotting the tops of homes and vegetation ripped astray.

Pence described the wreckage as "overwhelming," but told local leaders, "the resilience of the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands is even greater."

Trump had hoped to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands earlier in the week but the White House said difficult logistics in the aftermath of the storm prevented it from adding it to his trip to Puerto Rico.

There were few complaints. Kenneth E. Mapp, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, said the federal government had hurricane response efforts "down to a science."

"There is no country that responds to disasters like the United States of America," Mapp said, adding that the island is making progress in its recovery and he expects schools to reopen Tuesday.


On Twitter, follow Ken Thomas at @KThomasDC.

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McMaster out as Trump hires John Bolton as new National Security Adviser

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 2:34 PM

President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he will be replacing his National Security Adviser, General H.R. McMaster, replacing him with former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, in another big shake up on the White House staff.

Making the announcement on Twitter, the President said McMaster had “done an outstanding job,” though there had been reports for months that Mr. Trump was unhappy with the Army General, who is reportedly expected now to retire from the military.

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Defense gets major increase, pay raise for troops in budget plan

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 5:42 PM
Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 5:42 PM

            Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could benefit from budget plan that passed the U.S. House Thursday. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could benefit from budget plan that passed the U.S. House Thursday. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

The U.S. House passed a massive spending bill Thursday which includes $700 billion for defense, spends billions more on aircraft, ships and tanks and provides a 2.4 percent pay hike for troops.

The $60 billion increase in military spending is the biggest in 15 years.

The budget plan also includes $300 million to continue cleaning the Great Lakes, $400 million for cleanup at a closed uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, and millions of dollars for Ohio to combat opioid addiction.

The $1.3 trillion measure, which needs Senate approval by Friday night, keeps the federal government open until the end of September.

The Air Force share is $183.6 billion, which also aims to add 4,000 airmen by 2020, Air Force officials have said. It includes nearly $25 billion for procurement of aircraft, space vehicles, missiles, and ammunition and more than $49 billion for operations and maintenance, budget documents show.

“For the Air Force, the higher level of spending in the budget bill offers an opportunity to fix nagging readiness problems while moving forward with long delayed plans to replace Cold War aircraft,” Loren B. Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant, said in an email. “It also provides seed money for a transformation in how the Air Force will assure U.S. air and space superiority in the future.”

The spending bill includes $1.08 billion to upgrade the Abrams M-1 tank. Most of that money will be spent at the JSMC plant in Lima.

Across all research, testing and technology accounts, it adds $25.6 billion, documents show.

Impact at Wright-Patterson

The influx of dollars is a particular windfall for research spending at the Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson, observers said.

“For Wright Patterson, the impending budget increase signals a surge in research spending to unprecedented peace time levels,” Thompson said. “This could be the beginning of a golden age for the Air Force’s premier research and modernization site if Washington can find a way of keeping spending levels high in the years ahead.”

AFRL’s budget could exceed last year’s level of $4.8 billion, which was nearly split between government appropriations and sponsored research.

This time, about $1.2 billion of that in government appropriations is headed to Wright-Patterson, according to spokespersons in U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office.

A breakdown of other budgets at Wright-Patterson was not yet available, spokeswoman Marie Vanover said Thursday.

But in some research accounts, such as materials and aerospace vehicles, spending could rise as much as 20 percent, said Michael Gessel, vice president of federal programs at the Dayton Development Coalition.

The budget boost bodes well for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, also headquartered at Wright-Patterson, with money beyond the president’s request to procure more aircraft and will jump start new contracts that had been on hold without a permanent budget, Gessel said.

“The larger, overall funding level provided by this bill, which is accompanied by additional flexibility on spending authority, will relieve many budgetary pressures as the funding makes its way from Washington to field operations, including Wright-Patterson,” Gessel said in an email.

“There are provisions which give more flexibility in personnel management of civilian defense workers. This is important to Wright-Patterson because of the large percentage of civilians who work on the base.”

Non-defense spending

The bill provides $3 billion to reduce opioid addiction, of which $1 billion is set aside for grants that will go directly to the states. Fifteen percent of the state grant money has been earmarked for states which have been hardest by opioids, such as Ohio.

“This is good news for Ohio and good news for the millions of Americans who continue to struggle with addiction,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “I’m particularly pleased that the bill includes $60 million for states to develop an infant plan of safe care to help newborns exposed to opioids and their families.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said “while we know there is more work to be done,” the money in the bill “is a meaningful step forward for Ohio.”

The money for the Great Lakes was inserted into the bill after the White House did not include any money for the program, known as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The program has strong bipartisan backing from lawmakers from both parties, such as Portman and Brown.

Both Brown and Portman pushed for more money to continue the cleanup at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, about 65 miles south of Columbus. The $400 million, Brown said, should guarantee no additional layoffs at the facility.

How Ohio lawmakers voted

The House passed the measure by a vote of 256-to-167 with local Republicans Mike Turner of Dayton and Steve Chabot of Cincinnati voting yes.

Republicans Jim Jordan of Urbana and Warren Davidson of Troy voted no.

In an interview on Fox News, Jordan complained that the 2,200-page bill “grows the government at a $1.3 trillion price tag which will lead to a trillion dollar deficit,” adding “this may be the worst bill I have seen in my time in Congress.”

By contrast, Columbus-area Congressman Steve Stivers said the measure “provides critical funding for our military and veterans, resources for opioid addiction prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation, and resources for our schools to keep our kids safe.”

The Senate must approve the bill because lawmakers from both parties were unable to agree on a budget for the 2018 spending year which began on October 1 and ends on September 30. By passing the bill, the Senate guarantees the government will remain open for next seven months.


Get the latest news from our team on our Ohio Politics Facebook page and on Twitter at @Ohio_Politics

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Attorney representing Trump in Russia probe resigns

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 1:15 PM

In this April 29, 20111, file photo, attorney John Dowd walks in New York.
AP Photo/Richard Drew, File
In this April 29, 20111, file photo, attorney John Dowd walks in New York.(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

The top lawyer representing President Donald Trump in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election resigned Thursday, according to multiple reports.

>> Read more trending news

Attorney John Dowd’s resignation came days after he called for an end to Mueller’s investigation, claiming it was “manufactured” by former FBI Director James Comey and based on an infamous -- and mostly unverified -- dossier that was funded in part by the Democratic National Committee and Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“I love the president and wish him well,” Dowd wrote Thursday in an email to The Washington Post.

>> More on Robert Mueller's investigation

The newspaper reported that Dowd’s departure was “a largely mutual decision” based on Trump’s recent belief that Dowd couldn’t handle Mueller’s investigation and the attorney’s frustration with the president’s recent additions to his legal team. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow earlier this week brought one of his friends, veteran Washington attorney Joseph diGenova, onto the team, according to The New York Times.

It was not immediately clear who would take over as lead of the president’s legal team. 

>> Related: Trump slams Mueller, McCabe in Sunday tweets

“John Dowd is a friend and has been a valuable member of our legal team,” Sekulow said Thursday in a statement to the Times. “We will continue our ongoing representation of the president and our cooperation with the office of special counsel.”

CNN reported that Dowd’s exit could hint that Trump’s legal team plans to become more aggressive in defending the president.

>> Related: Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleads guilty in Mueller investigation

Dowd, who took over Trump’s legal team last summer, has advised the president to cooperate in Mueller’s investigation and refrain from publicly attacking the special counsel, the Times reported. Still, Trump has targeted Mueller for criticism in recent days, repeating his claims that the probe is little more than a politically motivated “witch hunt.”

Last month, Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three organizations on charges of interfering in the election. Three of Trump's associates -- former national security adviser Michael Flynn, deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates and campaign aide George Papadopoulos -- have pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate. Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has pleaded not guilty to a variety of money laundering and other criminal charges.

13 Russian Nationals And 3 Russian Companies Indicted In Mueller Probe
The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Trump proposes $50 billion in new tariffs on imports from China

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 9:16 AM

Continuing his campaign vow to get tough on countries which don’t play fair on trade, President Donald Trump on Thursday recommended slapping nearly $50 billion in new tariffs on products from China, as he accused the Chinese of stealing American technology.

“This has been long in the making,” the President told reporters at the White House, as he said his pledge to do something about unfair trade practices was just getting started.

“It’s probably one of the reasons I was elected, maybe one of the main reasons,” Mr. Trump said, as he has steadfastly resisted the calls of Republicans in Congress to stay away from tariffs on imported goods, which critics say are nothing more than a tax on American consumers.

“We’re doing things for this country which should have been done for many, many years,” the President added.

Trump Administration officials will now go over proposals for tariffs on all sorts of goods imported from China, much different than the targeted tariff plan that Mr. Trump approved earlier this month on imported steel and aluminum.

“It’s out of control,” the President said of the trade imbalance between the U.S. and China.

At the same event, Vice President Mike Pence said today’s move against China again signaled that the “era of economic surrender” is over when it comes to the United States.

“The United States of America is taking targeted and focused action to protect not only American jobs, but American technology,” Pence added.

The reaction in Congress was much more muted than a move to impose new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum coming into the country, when a number of Republicans denounced the idea of tariffs, arguing it could spark a trade war.

As the President’s decision was announced, Wall Street markets went down, with investors worried by a possible trade fight with the Chinese.

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