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Sunday Political Brunch: Political Odds and Ends

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – Congress is coming back to Washington, D.C., this week after a two-week recess or, as the members call it, “a district work period.” Many in the public and the press call it a “vacation,” but for many Senators and Representatives it’s a busy time to meet with constituents across districts and states. Having been a staffer for two members of Congress, I can tell you it’s mostly work, not play. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Coal in Your Stocking” – Sometimes in the world of politics, a local or regional issue will go national. That will happen this week, when the Coal Miners Protection Act is up for a final vote in the House and Senate. The bill would provide health insurance for 23,000 retired miners who lost coverage after their coal company employers went bankrupt. The legislation mostly affects Appalachian States (see photo above), but coal is mined in places such as North Dakota, Illinois, and Wyoming, too. A controversial inclusion to pay also for workers’ lost pensions will stir opposition and debate, especially in non-mining states. That provision is likely to fail.

“Not All Politics is Local” – Yes, this issue hits close to home in West Virginia, where I work now; but it also raises concerns about “who” pays for “what” at the federal level. The issue with the pensions revives worries about what happens in other industries. If Chrysler closes and goes bankrupt, should taxpayers have to pay for its worker pensions, too? Coal supporters say their pensions will be paid for by monies from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, but what about other industries with no such revenue stream? This issue is likely to expand, not to go away.

“It’s Not a Trump Referendum” – Much was made this week about a special election in Georgia to fill the seat of former Representative Tom Price (R-GA), who is now President Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also once held this seat, so it’s a reliable Republican stronghold. But this week, an upstart Democrat named Jon Ossoff won with 48 percent of the vote, against a field that included 18 candidates, including many Republicans who split the vote. Since he did not win a majority, Ossoff must now face former Secretary of State Karen Handell (R-GA) in a two-person runoff election. It’s a new race.

“What’s Trending Matters” – The national press and a lot of politicos on both sides of the aisle obsess about these races, which are truly minutia. One race does not a trend make. Maybe Democrat Ossoff will ultimately win; maybe Republican Handell will save the seat for her party. It’s a net-sum gain of zero for both parties. This Georgia Congressional district is just one of 435 nationwide. How can either side claim it as a bellwether for Trump in 2018, or for any other outcome? You want a trend? In the 1994 midterm election, Republicans gained 54 seats in the U.S. House and took the majority for the first time in 40 years. In 2006, Democrats won 31 seats and took back control with the first female Speaker of the House in charge. Both elections made history.

“Throw Up My Hands” – As much as I preach against reading too much into one single election - or a few elections – I am swimming against the media tide. Later this year, New Jersey and Virginia will both elect new Governors – the only two states to do so in an odd-numbered election year. In the past, these elections have produced such notables as the states’ two current chief executives: Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Governor Terry McAuliffe (D-VA). Both their wins were attention-getting; yet, neither of their wins moved the national political needle an inch. Whoever wins this year in the Garden State or in the Old Dominion State will be interesting, but will not signify a trend.

“On the Other Hand” – Virginia remains a notable state to watch, though. The once solid red state from 1964 to 2004 has gone blue in the past three Presidential elections. It’s truly an important swing state with 13 Electoral College votes. I say this because in the field of Democratic Presidential possibilities, I am handicapping Senator Mark Warner (D-VA). The once-Governor-turned-U.S. Senator has a resume similar to that of recent Vice Presidential nominee, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA). I think Warner has White House potential, more so than Kaine. Keep watching!

“Proof of My Point” – Speaking of special elections – where a lot of political viability is in play – we had another recent result in Kansas. Republican Ron Estes was elected to the House of Representatives to replace former Representative Mike Pompeo, who is now CIA Director. Again, there were hopes a Democrat would win the seat – in a so-called Trump referendum – but the issues were mostly local, and national politics was not the determining factor.

“Why Does This Happen?” – As much as I hate political hype and handicapping, it’s part of our election culture. Whenever I speak to Rotary Clubs and other groups, the first question is always, “Who is going to win?” Then audience members tell me how much they hate how we overdo polling in the media (and I’m not saying I disagree with them). You can’t win!

“Kim Jong Un-Done” – I’ll be honest. It is frustrating and sad to me as a U.S. citizen (as well as a reporter in the free press) to watch what is happening in North Korea. Dictator Kim Jong Un threatens to launch a nuclear missile attack on the United States or on other closer targets; yet his missile launches have so far been disastrous.However, I worry that - sooner or later - he’ll get it right and at least hit a target closer than San Francisco – say South Korea. What’s the proper response? What should President Trump do, and will we have a united U.S. response? I believe we may be days away.

“Why All of This Matters?” – Yes, the next significant election – as far as trends are concerned – is November, 2018. That’s a long way off. A lot of big decisions – whether on Obamacare or North Korea – will come well before then and could be big factors in the outcome. Something which today may not be a factor, tomorrow might be!

What worries you the most right now? Just click on the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo courtesy: tristateupdate.com.

Sunday Political Brunch -- April 16, 2017: Trump Changing His Tune

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – There has been a lot of chatter this week in the news and on talk radio about how many times Donald Trump has changed positions now that he is President, compared to what he said on the campaign trail. In fairness, there have been consistencies, too! Let’s “brunch” on all that the Easter Sunday!

“Serious in Syria” – Last fall, when candidate Trump was asked about taking military action in Syria, he said, “What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria.” Last week, after he ordered missile attacks, he said, "Yesterday's chemical attack against innocent people - their deaths were an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated." So, what happened? Well, events and circumstance can change, prompting a policy change. I’d hardly call it a flip-flop. The difference between what was said in October and what was done in April was a chemical weapons attack on civilians.

“NATO No-No” – A year ago on the campaign trail, Trump’s criticism of NATO was a common theme. “My statement on NATO being obsolete and disproportionately too expensive (and unfair) for the U.S. are now, finally, receiving plaudits,” Trump said in a March 2016 Tweet. Trump’s two big beefs with NATO were that the U.S. paid a higher share of the cost and that NATO was not fighting terrorism. This past week, he said, "I complained about that a long time ago, and they made a change; and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete; it's no longer obsolete." It’s not all coming up roses yet, but you could hear our European allies' collective sigh of relief.

“From Russia with No Love” – In the early days of the campaign, Trump said of Russia, "I was over in Moscow two years ago; and I will tell you — you can get along with those people and get along with them well. You can make deals with those people. Obama can't." Fast forward to April 2017 and he’s changed his tune on the heels of the Syrian gas attack. "Right now, we're not getting along with Russia at all," Trump said, adding that relations with Russia "may be at an all-time low." Trump has also changed his tune regarding China. During the campaign, he was highly critical of China’s trade policies, but has warmed up to the communist nation because he needs their support against North Korean aggression.

“Icing ISIS” – As previously mentioned, not all of Mr. Trump’s recent comments represented a change in position or policy. For example, during the campaign he said of ISIS: “I would just bomb those suckers; and that's right, I'd blow up the pipes, I'd blow up the refineries, I'd blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left.” He may not have hit refineries yet, but dropped the “mother of all bombs” on an ISIS outpost in Afghanistan. On this issue, he is at least holding close to a campaign pledge, though there is much more work to be done.

“Read My Lips; No New Taxes” – George H.W. Bush won the White House in 1988 by famously saying, “Read my lips; no new taxes.” But, two years later, he raised taxes; and it cost him dearly. It is certainly one reason why he did not win a second term. Could Donald Trump’s position on NATO cost him a second term? I doubt it, and here’s why: Taxes are something that affect people personally. A tax increase has a direct impact on our wallets. Things like NATO seem remote from our daily lives. Yes, NATO is there to deter war; but unless it fails in that mission, a lot of its work goes largely unnoticed.

“With That Woman” – It wasn’t a public-policy flip-flop, but it surely was a personal one. Early in 1998, President Clinton denied having an affair with a White House intern: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” In September, 1998, Mr. Clinton addressed the National Prayer Breakfast, saying: “I agree with those who have said that in my first statement after I testified I was not contrite enough. I don't think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned. It is important to me that everybody who has been hurt know that the sorrow I feel is genuine: first and most important, my family; also, my friends, my staff, my Cabinet, Monica Lewinsky and her family, and the American people. I have asked all for their forgiveness.” Yes, he was still impeached, but I always call that the speech that saved his Presidency.

“Why All This Matters” – I often say, “It’s one thing to campaign for President; it’s quite another thing to actually have the job.” A President is privy to far more intelligence data than a candidate. Sometimes, you get to the job and say, “Whoa, I had no idea.” I’ve always suspected that is why candidate Barack Obama said he’d close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but never did. Not only do time and circumstances change policy decisions; so, too, does new information. There is at least one funny twist to this story. A company called www.cafepress.com is selling Trump flip-flops (photo above) you can wear on your feet! I'm certain that Trump, the entrepreneur, would appreciate that!

Do you have a memorable example of a politician flip-flopping or changing a previous position or statement? To share it, just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo Courtesy: cafepress.com

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