Thursday, March 23, 2017

Germany vs. U.S. – Policy and Political Battleground

The Trump-Merkel Oval Office visit was frigid. No handshake and no consensus on the mission and scope of the Atlantic alliance. Donald Trump and his “America First” team are more interested in a Cold War with Germany and Western Europe’s establishments than with Russia.

President Donald Trump meets Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Oval Office  on March 17, 2016 | Evan Vucci/AP

The difference in core issues and values were significant: immigration, NATO, trade and the EU.


Migration, immigration, integration has to be worked on, obviously. Traffickers have to be stopped. But this has to be done while looking at the refugees as well, giving them opportunities to shape their own lives where they are; help countries who right now are not in an ability to do so -- sometimes because they have civil war.  I think that’s the right way of going about it.

We also recognize that immigration security is national security. We must protect our citizens from those who seek to spread terrorism, extremism and violence inside our borders. Immigration is a privilege, not a right, and the safety of our citizens must always come first, without question.

Trade and EU

Well, I believe that the President has clearly set out his philosophy as to what trade agreements have to bring about for the American side as well. I personally don’t think that Germany needs to negotiate and not the European Union.

But the question is, will it be of benefit to both countries or not, and let me be very honest, very candid -- a free trade agreement with the United States of America has not always been all that popular in Germany either.

First of all, I don't believe in an isolationist policy, but I also believe a policy of trade should be a fair policy. And the United States has been treated very, very unfairly by many countries over the years. And that's going to stop.

On trade with Germany, I think we’re going to do fantastically well. Right now, I would say that the negotiators for Germany have done a far better job than the negotiators for the United States. But hopefully we can even it out. We don’t want victory, we want fairness.


...obviously, defense and security has a lot of different assets and facets to it. One the one hand, it’s supporting missions in Africa, for example. It’s also promoting development assistance, but it’s also helping mission in Africa, for example, in trying to stand up for their own safety and security. 

We continue to be in conversation. What was important for us today was that we were able to talk about Afghanistan, talk about, as the President quite rightly said, the continuing mission of Germany in Afghanistan.

I reiterated to Chancellor Merkel my strong support for NATO, as well as the need for our NATO allies to pay their fair share for the cost of defense. Many nations owe vast sums of money from past years, and it is very unfair to the United States. These nations must pay what they owe. 

But the problem Trump has with Merkel is more political than policy. Merkel represents everything Trump doesn’t like, and he often says so.

She is the senior European leader in power since 2005. She was close to Barack Obama; she leads Europe’s best economy with its most stable government. She is conservative, yet a globalist and the leading advocate of the EU’s conventions on open borders and a European position on trade.

For Trump, what’s to like?

But it’s even more personal. She got a Time Person of the Year recognition when he felt he should have received it. She was just labeled “leader of the free world,” not surprising since he only aspires to lead “America First.”

And, during the campaign, he specifically used her as a rally shout out. In fact, she and Hillary Clinton were interchangeable. And, of course, his raison d'être issue, immigration, should sink her. Trump asks, why is she in my office?


October 2015
“I always thought Merkel was, like, this great leader,” he said…about her decision to allow more than a million refugees into the country. “What she’s done in Germany is insane,” he added and predicted: “They’re going to have riots in Germany.”

December 2015
After Time magazine made Merkel its Person of the Year, Trump took to Twitter to declare that the outlet picked the person “who is ruining Germany.”

March 2016
Referring to the Cologne New Year’s Eve assaults on hundreds of women, Trump, during a rally in Iowa, again predicted unrest in Germany and lashed out against Merkel. “The German people are going to riot. The German people are going to end up overthrowing this woman [Angela Merkel]. I don’t know what the hell she is thinking.”

“Germany’s being destroyed. I have friends, I just left people from Germany and they don’t even want to go back. Germany’s being destroyed by Merkel’s naiveté or worse.”

October 2016
“Hillary Clinton wants to be America’s Angela Merkel, and you know what a disaster this massive immigration has been to Germany and the people of Germany. Crime has risen to levels that no one thought would they would ever see.” Trump said.

“We have enough problems in our country, we don’t need another one,” the candidate said.

Neither the Atlantic alliance nor the German-American relations were helped by this summit. But, Merkel’s reelection may receive a boost. Trump is not popular with much of the European public. In fact, Merkel’s main German opponent, Martin Schulz of the center-left Social Democratic Party, has received considerable attention for his criticism of Trump and “America First.”

However, neither Merkel nor the EU establishment should have any illusions. Trump represents a direct challenge to them and their vision.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Gorsuch has Colorado Support

The Buzz was early to predict Neil Gorsuch would be confirmed, “Early Returns: Gorsuch Gets to 60 and Colorado’s Two Senators Support Him.”

His support in Colorado has built among the legal and political community with Democratic and Republican politicians and lawyers endorsing his confirmation.

Bill Ritter, D, Governor
John Suthers, R, former Attorney General
Steve Farber, D, civic activist
Ron Brownstein, R civic activist
Jim Lyons, D, attorney, Clinton ally

His confirmation would likely be easier in these polarized times if President Trump could take a week off from his endless controversies, many of which are self-generated, and focus on his legislative agenda. Gorsuch has been one of the few decisions he has made that has been well-received in the tumult of the eight weeks of his presidency.

Much will depend on the next couple of weeks, especially Gorsuch’s testimony, but he at least approaches his hearings with a public ready to support him. He has from 20 to 12 percent support for confirmation. These tend to be tighter numbers compared to the previous confirmations due to polarization. The questioning makes clear this confirmation is becoming embroiled in the Democratic resistance and the Trump turmoil.

The Buzz: Neil Gorsuch pulls Trump out of a ditch
The Buzz: Gorsuch remains calm moment in chaotic first three weeks
Public Opinion Strategies: Partisanship increasingly colors perceptions of SCOTUS nominees

Monday, March 20, 2017

New Polls on Health Care Show Danger for Republicans

Repeal and replace has Congress and Washington in its grip. Four new polls show some difference in the public’s support on the Republican House health care bill, but, in general, Republicans and President Trump are at risk, both from the possibility the bill fails, but also if a flawed bill passes. All four polls were conducted before the Congressional Budget Office finding that 24 million fewer people would have health insurance.

In general, support for the current Republican plan is below 50 percent, and range from 34 percent in a Fox News poll to 46 percent in a Politico/Morning Consult poll.

An equally large problem is the public’s sense that the Republican plan will cover fewer people and cost more. Hence, the new legislation, if passed, will have to deal with negative expectations at its start, much like Obamacare, which contributed to the replacement of Ms. Pelosi with Mr. Boehner in 2010. It may seem improbable, but Pelosi is still waiting for the gavel back.

The Buzz: A Promise Trump and Ryan Need to Deliver
The Buzz: Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
Kaiser Tracking Poll, 3-12-2017
Politico/Morning Consult, 3-13-2017
SurveyMonkey, 3-13-2017
Fox News, 3-14-2017

Friday, March 17, 2017

Netherlands Moves Right on Immigration, But Rejects the Chaos of Fringe Nationalism

Geert Wilders and Dutch Prime Minister
Mark Rutte | Yves Herman/Reuters
Immigration remains a powerful force in European electoral politics as just demonstrated by the Dutch electorate. But, voters rejected the governing extreme of Brexit or the Trump/Bannon anti-EU, anti-Muslim policies that Geert Wilders espoused. Although his Freedom Party picked up a few seats in parliament, it was far less than expected. The current prime minister, Mark Rutte, of the center-right Peoples Party remains the largest and will assemble a coalition government.

Rutte thanked his supporters for opposing the “wrong kind of populism.” He clearly moved right on immigration, but it was more rhetoric than policy.

A record turnout with a surge of young voters was good for the green party, which increased its share of the vote to a record high. Populism, and its anti-establishment sentiment, can help both right and left.

Immigration and nationalism will remain potent electoral strategy effecting the French (April 23 1st round) and German elections (September). But, voters appear to be pausing before jumping to the Brexit and Trump extremes.

Europe’s centralists were as excited by this election as the rightwing was of Trump’s (see blog: European Nationalists Cheer Trump)
  • François Hollande: Clear victory against extremism
  • Angela Merkel: “Oh, the Netherlands – You are a champion. Congratulations on this great result, very pro-European result.”
  • Jean-Claude Juncker: Victory for “free and tolerant societies in prosperous Europe”

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Wall is a Problem

President Trump doesn’t need any more problems with Congress at the moment. His repeal and replace health care bill will likely not pass either house in its current form.

But now the appropriation bill necessary for the operation of the Federal government until the fall is in trouble because Democrats are objecting to money in the bill for the President’s wall along with the U.S.-Mexican border.

There may be a legislative compromise available, but for now, Democrats are claiming they would stop the “keep the government open” appropriation bill if it includes money for the wall. That may be overkill and Democrats could look “Ted Cruz” extreme, but they have picked an issue that has little public or Republican establishment support, although rank and file Republicans like it.

Unfortunately, Trump not only promised a wall, but also that Mexico would pay for it, and almost no one believes that. Hence, another promise is in some trouble.

About 60 percent of the public opposes a wall and only 14 percent think Mexico will pay for it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Water in the West: Opportunities and Challenges in the Trump Administration Era

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently wrote to advocate for significant infrastructure funding, he started by discussing the Oroville Dam’s crumbling spillway, although he is mostly interested in transportation, airports and urban infrastructure.

Oroville Dam
In the quest for infrastructure funding, water and extreme climate have an advantage. They have caught the public’s attention. Drought, flood, pollution, dam failures and the need for more storage are regularly in the news. Indeed, water is increasingly mentioned as part of the infrastructure appropriation planned in Washington. Scott Pruitt, the new EPA leader, in particular, is an advocate.

The changes evident in Washington from the Trump administration and Congress should benefit the management and development of water resources. The administration wants to deregulate and focus on the EPA’s core mission. In addition, both Trump and Pruitt are strong advocates for states’ rights. For entities that have been dealing with the EPA, that would mean less federal intervention and more state involvement.

Colorado and the western states should benefit from more deregulation and more money if they can get organized. The competition for funding will be significant. Colorado needs to develop a strategy, identify a list of projects, empower a state team and build the case for the state’s water investments.

The good news is that Colorado has a water plan that identifies the state’s water needs and likely projects that can meet the need. By 2050, Colorado is projected to have a shortfall of 400,000 acre-feet of water that it needs to supply 1 million households. It will require $3 billion in water programs and projects to address the gap.

Also of benefit to the state, Colorado’s commitment to sound stewardship of water resources is apparent on many fronts. With more responsibility at the state level will come more scrutiny. Conservation through changes in residential usage, system improvements, reuse of water and conservation programs has become a priority for the state’s water agencies.

Coloradans support protecting their water and developing needed projects. In a statewide survey conducted in August 2016 for the Colorado Water Congress, voters strongly agreed that Colorado should store “its legal share of water” that flows out of state, and projects should be developed to stop the “loss of irrigated agriculture.”

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Trump Orders EPA to Review and Remove Waters of the U.S. Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will become considerably smaller and more focused on its core missions if the Trump administration has its way. The new Administrator of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, will manage an agency with an initially proposed budget reduction of 25 percent and with 3,000 fewer employees. Most importantly, President Trump is quickly ordering reviews of the Obama administration’s rules and orders. One week into the new administration, the new administration ordered a review of the Waters of the United States ruling – defining the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act – and said it will withdraw from fuel-efficiency standards and rescind rules limiting carbon emissions from power plants.
Administrator of EPA Scott Pruitt

Pruitt, who as attorney general of the State of Oklahoma often challenged EPA rules and regulations, is a strong believer in deregulation and shifting authority to the states. He was one of the states’ attorneys who sued on the Waters of the United States rule and helped tie it up in court.

Where the administration has authority, it has moved quickly. President Trump reversed President Obama’s decision and approved the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines during his first week in office. Pruitt will have allies in the departments of Interior (Ryan Zinke), Energy (Rick Perry) and Agriculture (Sonny Purdue – not confirmed) who share his goals of states rights and deregulation in departments now constrained by smaller budgets as federal dollars shift to defense spending.

But much of what the EPA does in rules and regulations, including its aggressive expansion orchestrated by the Obama White House after the 2014 election, can only be undone through a carefully managed and legally guided process. Just as Pruitt used his state position to challenge, and in some cases, stop the Obama administration, Democratic states’ attorneys, environmental groups and others will be ready to litigate any reversal of rules and regulations.

How much of Trump’s budget and administrative proposals are implemented remains to be seen. As the first eight weeks of the administration makes clear, there are a host of roadblocks to get around. The judiciary stopped the refugee rule. Meanwhile, Congress must enact the proposed budget and is struggling to find the votes for the Affordable Care Act repeal and replacement and for tax reform.

The EPA, in particular, will face a mostly hostile bureaucracy, powerful environmental interest groups adept at lawsuits, administrative leaks, media attacks and substantial local activism. Justice and the EPA were President Obama’s most political agencies. Changing their direction will produce the most resistance.