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.

SCFD – A Formula That Works

In an article in the Denver Post on Sunday, John Wenzel describes the good news for regional arts and cultural organizations. The Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), which provides a financial lifeline to the 300 organizations, has increased revenue to distribute. The organization has helped make Denver one of the nation’s top areas for performing arts attendance.

At the moment arts funding in Washington D.C. is threatened with extinction, nearly two-thirds of Denver area voters supported a 12-year renewal of the SCFD. The funding provided for local cultural facilities and programs increased from $36 million in 2004 at the last renewal to $56 million today. The program is a national model for local arts funding, but has been seldom duplicated. The program’s success with Colorado taxpayers and opinion leaders reflects its careful governance, localized grant decision-making, and strong incentives for providing access to families and children of the entire region. It has a formula that works.

Congratulations to the SCFD on its 2016 victory and its 29 years of operation.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Is Immigration Reform Possible?

President Trump referenced that some type of solution was possible for millions of undocumented residents if they do not have criminal records in an interview on the day of his Joint Session of Congress speech on February 28, 2017. That was a change in position for Trump and the administration. Of course, it may not have been a serious proposal.

President Trump's first address to Congress
The administration is currently conducting deportation raids against all undocumented because their status is prima facia illegal. “We are just upholding the immigration law.” And although Trump has stated that the focus is on apprehending criminals and drug and gang members, numerous stories made clear that many of those deported are guilty, at most, of minor offenses, such as failing to have a driver’s license or misuse of a Social Security Card to obtain work. In other words, prior to the statement by Trump, it was assumed that most undocumented residents were subject to deportation. The administration was slated to hire 15,000 additional immigration employees to implement the new sweeps.

Resistance to this approach is significant, both from elected officials and the public. If the President wanted to support an immigration reform bill, he’s greatly increased bargaining power of the anti-immigration position, i.e., in favor of more stringent conditions.

The American people would welcome a solution that avoids mass deportations, endless conflict among political jurisdictions and stories of family hardship.

Polling done by our firm and others show that the majority of the public believe that immigration proposals of recent years requiring long waiting periods, speaking English, paying taxes and having no criminal record were popular. Only about a quarter of the population believes in expulsion, but it tends to be concentrated in the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Promise Trump and Ryan Need to Deliver

Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are in deep trouble. Health care repeal and replace is a promise that must be delivered. Much of their support is based on the belief they can deliver certain key promises. And critically for their power, the business community has ignored the distracting tweets and out of mainstream views in hopes tax reform, infrastructure spending and deregulation would be the upside for tolerance.

Health care reform was not the corporate and business crowds’ top priority. It was forced front and center by the Republican political leadership as long promised and doable given the repeated overwhelming votes to repeal in the House since 2011.

Trump changed the game. He insisted that the popular aspects of the program stay in place and that repeal and replace pass at once. He was operating as a politician, not an ideologue. But the Republican Party has a surfeit of health care ideologues: Tea Party, Freedom Caucus and Rand Paul Libertarians who do not believe in any health entitlements and resist subsidies for the poor. They want to replace Obamacare and then pass some market-oriented measures that are likely to leave many gaps and many sympathetic stories of citizens left bereft of support. Many of them will be Trump voters.

If the gridlock of the last six years now continues with Republicans in total control, the raison d’ĂȘtre of the Trump administration and Republican majority begins to crumble.

Public Opinion

As pointed out in recent blog, Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder, Obamacare has grown more popular as it appears threatened and President Obama is no longer the chief defender of it. Recent polling associated with Obamacare show that the Freedom Caucus and Tea Party viewpoint of no right to health care and no subsidy for the poor are narrowly held positions among the public.

The public supports Trump’s and Ryan’s view that a replacement plan must accompany the repeal. They also believe insurance must be affordable.

The public in general believe there is a “right” to health care.  The view that government is responsible for it has grown in recent years.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Putin’s Pyrrhic Victory

Russia and Vladimir Putin are now toxic in Washington, D.C.  Even having a conversation with the Russian ambassador can get a person fired (Michael Flynn) or recused (Jeff Sessions). That was hardly the plan on Election Night when Putin and his entourage were reportedly toasting the result with champagne.

Putin’s aggressive propaganda campaign continues most of the old Cold War techniques, but adds cyber warfare against Western democracies and especially the U.S. election. The motivation appeared to help remove a political irritant, Hillary Clinton, and assist a friendly Donald Trump, who was disinterested in Russian ambitions in Eastern Europe, the future of the EU or NATO, the removal of Bashar al-Assad and human rights issues in general. A tertiary benefit was undermining confidence in American democracy.

But, unfortunately for Putin, he and Russia have become pariahs in Washington. Even normal diplomacy is now disrupted. Both Putin and Russia are at all-time lows in public opinion, which will help their opponents to continue and extend sanctions and spend prodigious amounts on defense, much of it aimed at Russia And, of course, there are new multiple investigations of Trump’s Russian connections, plus the cabinet and NSC appointments do not bode well for a thaw in U.S.-Russian relations.

Putin is giving a modern update to the definition of Pyrrhic victory.

Read: Politico: Russian investigations a “witch hunt”? Not according to polls

Friday, March 3, 2017

Trump Gives the Rally a Boost

The Trump rally that broke through 20000 on January 25 was losing some of its momentum as the administration appeared diverted into side issues and Congress and Republicans became increasingly divided on health care and taxes and anxious for direction from the White House.

President Trump’s well-received February 28 speech to the Joint Session of Congress was exactly the boost the market needed to break through the 21000 DOW milestone, done in a record 24 days. The market jumped 303 points and closed at 21115 on March 1.

The nearly 15 percent DOW climb since Election Day confirms that there was significant investor confidence being restrained by President Obama and Democratic Party economic policies. The investor and entrepreneurial community have reacted positively concerning Trump’s proposed regulatory relief, tax rate reductions and stimulus expenditure. The unified Republican government dramatically increases the probability it will happen and Trump’s business cabinet appointees reinforce the optimism. Hence, the most significant risk was Trump’s off-key behavior and the administration’s mixed five-week performance.

Wednesday’s breakout was preceded by 12 up days in the DOW. The last time we had 12 days of continuous up markets was 1987, the year the movie Wall Street debuted (“Greed is good, money never sleeps”). Other factors driving the confidence is a strong underlying U.S. economy, stable oil prices, moderate Fed interest rate increases and a good earnings season.

Rallies don’t last forever. The 59-day boost in 2007 preceded the Great Recession and 24-day run in 1999 was followed by the Dot.com bust. The length and duration of the Trump rally is to be determined.

Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in Wall Street | Pinterest

Read my blog: Trump Rally Breaks 20000 in Near Record Speed

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Trump’s Timely Shift in Tone

President Donald Trump pivoted, if not in substance, at least in tone and language. Gone in this address was the dark “carnage” references, the narrow nationalism of “America First” or edgy attacks on media and opponents.

The shift was timely. He accomplished about all he could in signing events around the Resolute Desk. Republicans, market investors and impatient voters needed to see if there is a more typical political leader with management and legislative skills within the effective showman. He passed the test. The reset button was hit.

Polls showed his performance up to this point left voters nervous. They liked the possibility of change and keeping promises, but questioned the language, distractions and erratic performance of the first five weeks.

In fact, a public opinion poll prior to the speech suggested containment, a foreign policy term applied during the Cold War to describe efforts to restrain the bad impulses of perceived adversaries and their expansionist, destabilizing activities, could be applied to Trump’s White House.

Democrats, of course, want to contain President Trump, but in a Politico/Morning Consult February poll, 37 percent of Republicans who favor the President and many of his programs want Republicans in Congress to act as a restraint on him. More than half (53%) of the public at large want Congress to be a check and balance on Trump.

Trump’s performance will, no doubt, provide a bump. Republicans will be relieved by the tone and focus on the legislative agenda. Trump, for all the hostile criticism, is a voracious consumer of cable news, polls and audience feedback. Tuesday night should provide some reinforcement for the new approach. But the question is can he sustain it?