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D.C. Memo: Northern over-exposure

POTUS in Duluth; border policy; S P A C E  F O R C E; and more.

On Wednesday, POTUS traveled to Duluth
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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This week in Washington, the president went to Duluth and had himself a great time with several thousand close friends. Before leaving, he took an opportunity to curb his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their families, which is Obama and the Democrats’ fault, but also within his power to fix, apparently.

This week in Washington

We’ve got an absolutely packed week of news to get to. Leading off: President Donald Trump visited our fair state for the first time since taking office. On Wednesday, POTUS traveled to Duluth, the crown jewel of the Great Lakes and home of good beer and good sandwiches, to meet with local officials and do the thing he really lives for: hold a good, old-fashioned campaign-style rally.

There were only several dozen state and national reporters there, so I’ll let them explain to you the scene, and what POTUS had to say there. (A lot on immigration and trade.) The crowd ate it up: MinnPost’s Cyndy Brucato has a nice dispatch here. MPR has a useful fact-check of Trump’s speech, if that’s your thing.

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In general, Duluth saw more or less your standard Trump campaign rally: he shouted down some hecklers, “Lock her up!” chants broke out, and the press was repeatedly maligned. And, true to form, POTUS also went on some weird tangents, including one in which he belittled the “elites” who hate him because… their apartments are less nice and they are poorer than him? (WaPo with some insta-psychoanalysis of that one.)

What stands out for me from Trump MinnFest 2K18? The president’s repeated insistence that he came “this close” to winning Minnesota in 2016 (true) and also his repeated insistence he’ll win Minnesota easily in 2020 (debatable — read Politico on this).

He also had some things to say on some key Minnesota issues, particularly tariffs and copper-nickel mining, in a roundtable with Iron Range leaders, mining advocates, Reps. Tom Emmer and Jason Lewis, and the GOP candidate in the heated 8th District, Pete Stauber. (He had a little difficulty saying the typically Iron Range surnames of a few participants — may need to work on that before the next trip out to turn Minnesota red.)

Touting his tariffs and their effect on the iron mining industry, POTUS said the mining biz was in a “hot place” as opposed to two or three years ago when “it wasn’t so hot.”

On copper-nickel mining, Trump referenced the efforts to undo Barack Obama administration actions to put mining and mineral exploration in northern Minnesota under further review. “It’s among the most valuable pieces of land in the world that you have right here in Minnesota, but you can’t touch it,” he said. “And people want to explore it, and they want to see what they can do. So we’re going to be working on that. That’s going to probably happen, I want to let you know. It’s probably going to happen.”

POTUS also riffed on immigration, saying “you have plenty of problems up here in Minnesota with respect to people coming in… And it’s probably one of the reasons that I almost won Minnesota, which hasn’t been won by a Republican statewide in a long time.”

“A lot of things have happened,” Trump went on. “Incredible things have happened having to do with immigration in Minnesota since we got in.” (Unclear what he was referring to.)

Trump’s visit, of course, has big electoral implications: beyond plugging his own 2020 chances in Minnesota, he also showed up to boost the GOP’s chances in this fall’s midterms — particularly in the 8th District, spanning Duluth, the Iron Range, northern Twin Cities exurbs, and parts of north-central Minnesota. State and national Republicans believe this one is theirs for the taking: Trump won CD8 by 15 points in 2016 and clearly retains popularity there; on the DFL side, five candidates are battling it out in a primary to succeed incumbent Rep. Rick Nolan, who’s running for lieutenant governor.

Stauber fundraised heavily off Trump’s visit and got numerous special shout-outs from POTUS on Wednesday, along with some good photo-ops behind the presidential seal and in the presidential limo. Emmer and Lewis got quite the photo op of their own, which you may see in an attack ad or two in the coming months.

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In that roundtable before the rally, Emmer and Lewis were effusive in their praise for POTUS: both said that Trump would undoubtedly win Minnesota in 2020. “On behalf of my state and the people who live here that I love, you are a leader at a time when there are so few leaders around the world,” Emmer told POTUS. Lewis, meanwhile, praised the administration for rolling back government regulations.

Have to wonder, though, what was going through the heads of these two pro-free trade Republicans as the president repeatedly praised his tariffs and complained that “nobody talks about” all the jobs and money that is “pouring into the Treasury” because of them.

Amid the onslaught of red-capped Trumpers, Democrats didn’t miss the chance to defend Duluth, a longtime DFL stronghold, and a city that’s key to keeping CD8 in their hands. Party bigwigs and candidates were on hand all day for counter-rallies and marches, including AG candidate Rep. Keith Ellison, anti-Trump firebrand and Senate candidate Richard Painter, and the candidates vying to take on Stauber in the CD8 general. (I’ve noticed Joe Radinovich, the former state rep and Minnesota politico, is stepping up his attacks on the Republican lately, as is state Rep. Jason Metsa.)

A few miles down I-35 from Duluth: I was in Minneapolis last weekend to cover the developing primary for the race to succeed Ellison in the 5th Congressional District. Here’s my write-up of the controversial special endorsing convention, in which delegates endorsed state Rep. Ilhan Omar. I have a profile from Wednesday on one leading candidate who did not show at the convention: Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the former Minnesota House Speaker.

A quick plug: if you value the in-depth reporting on this wild 2018 election that my colleagues and I are doing here at MinnPost, I’d urge you to consider chipping in with a donation. We’re having our summer member drive, and if enough of you sign up by June 30, we’ll unlock a $3,000 donation. That’s almost enough to cover my food reporting budget when I’ll go report on the State Fair in August! (Link to donate: here.)

Onto the big topic of the week, which again is immigration. On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order branded as the administration’s solution to the problems created by the administration’s policy of separating migrant parents from their children at the U.S. southern border.

A quick recap: surely, you’ve seen the photos and heard the heartbreaking audio revealing the plight of the thousands of stranded children in U.S. government custody as their parents await their fates in immigration jail. (Or, if you were an attendee at Trump’s rally in Duluth, perhaps you believe such evidence is fake news.)

You may have also read stories, like the one about a 10-year old girl with Down syndrome separated from her family, or the five-year old Honduran boy separated from his mother for over a month. Or the one about taxpayer-funded private shelters for migrant children that are rife with sexual assault, forcible administration of drugs, and neglect.

Much of this started in May, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled out a “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting undocumented immigrants, telling migrants that if they don’t want to be separated from their children, they shouldn’t break the law and try to cross into the U.S. (Many of those being separated from their children, however, are claiming asylum at official ports of entry — which, regardless of any flaws in that system, is not currently illegal.)

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Over the past week, Trump administration figures have taken pains to completely muddle the origins, purpose, and effects of this policy: Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has repeatedly said the administration does not have a family separation policy, period (not true), while hard-liners like top immigration adviser Stephen Miller are saying, yes, we very much have a separation policy and it is very good, thanks. (Per Vanity Fair’s Gabe Sherman, Miller is personally taking pleasure in the family separation crisis.)  

The president himself, meanwhile, had expressed sympathy publicly but has also blamed the entire debacle on Democrats. He also went on Twitter to declare immigrants are “infesting” the U.S. and are “violently changing” our culture. (BuzzFeed has a good story looking at Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants.)

Beyond changing its official story on the separations some 14 times, the administration’s strategy appeared to be to force Congress to take action, leveraging the manufactured crisis of family separation in order to force Democrats to accept increased funding for the border wall, caps on legal immigration, and other poison pills. (Dems have pushed back forcefully on the issue, Politico reports, and some high-profile politicians have visited detention facilities.)

On Wednesday, though, the administration stepped in to “solve” the crisis with an executive order, which allows families to remain together as authorities process their cases. But the order doesn’t do anything explicitly to resolve the situation of the 2,300-plus children currently in detention facilities, already separated from their families. WaPo reports that federal officials basically have no idea when or how these families could be reunited. CNN reports the order could replace the chaos of the past week with some new forms of chaos.

Where does that leave us right now? Vox’s Dara Lind reports that the administration could be deliberately sparking a legal battle to force the courts to resolve all this. (A lot of this has to do with a 1997 court decision called the Flores settlement, which you can read about here.)

Everyone is saying it’s up to Congress to put a definitive, long-lasting solution in place for all these problems. OK! An update on their progress: House Republicans are locked in a complete mess and are basically at each other’s throats as they finally bring immigration-related legislation to the floor. The House on Thursday rejected a bill, backed by most conservative hard-liners, with 41 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting no. (Third District Rep. Erik Paulsen was one of them.)

On Friday, the House is expected to vote on a bill brokered by leadership, moderates, and conservatives branded as a “compromise bill.” That one is unlikely to pass, too.

Still, plenty of electoral implications in all this: Paulsen, one of the few notable Minnesota Republicans who did not attend the Duluth rally, said he was staying in D.C. to help on legislation that ends the “unconscionable practice of separating kids from their parents at the border and gives certainty to young DACA recipients.” He was one of the handful of Republicans to sign onto a petition that would have forced immigration votes over leadership’s objections, and clearly believes it’s worthwhile bucking Trump and the majority of the GOP on immigration in his moderate, suburban district.

Many D.C. Republicans are very worried that the White House is acting like its hard-line immigration policy is a political winner for all Republicans in the midterms. Top Republicans say (mostly privately, of course) they would rather the election not be a referendum on family separation and DACA, but a victory lap for the strong economy and the GOP’s tax cut bill. 

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Some international fallout from all this: the U.S. has moved to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Commission, which criticized family separation. (Recall: ahead of inauguration, the Boston Globe did an editorial in the form of a fake front page imagining a worst-case Trump presidency. Worth seeing how it’s holding up in June 2018!)

A few administration items: Politico reports that no one, even outside Trump allies, wants to join the White House staff. WaPo’s Ashley Parker notices that Trump is saying more and more stuff that isn’t true. Chief of Staff John Kelly is reportedly in full couldn’t-care-less mode, with Politico reporting that he’s telling people that if Trump is doing stuff to get impeached, well, he can’t stop him. C’est la vie!

On Monday, Trump directed the Pentagon to create a so-called “Space Force,” a sixth branch of the military that would work to ensure U.S. dominance of the great beyond. (POTUS literally assured us that such a branch would be “separate, but equal” from the others. Can’t make it up.)

Trump has been very excited about space for a long time: it wraps together in one neat package Trump priorities such as: restoring American greatness in something that was considered really important in the 1960s, beating China, and the troops.

Finally, news (sort of) from the U.S. Supreme Court: justices were expected to make big news in a case challenging the drawing of Wisconsin’s legislative districts, held up as an example of partisan gerrymandering. But instead of issuing a definitive ruling, the high court punted and sent the issue to lower courts for further examination. NPR’s SCOTUS correspondent, Nina Totenberg, explains that this protects the current Wild West on gerrymandering — for now.

This week’s essential reads

My talented colleagues here at MinnPost and elsewhere have exposed the harassment women face in the field of politics. Elected officials, staffers, and lobbyists all seem to have a story; and as HuffPost’s Molly Redden reports, so too do fundraisers: in a profession where securing a check from a wealthy, often male donor is the point of the job, the women who dominate the field face “rampant” harassment, and strong barriers to doing anything about it. The story:

In a profession dominated by young women, in which intimate meetings are the norm and powerful men direct a tidal wave of cash, enduring widespread sexual harassment has long been seen as just a cost of doing business. The options for recourse, many fundraisers told HuffPost, are limited. Fundraisers don’t share a common employer with the donors, and rebuking a benefactor in person risks losing access and money.

About half of fundraisers in all fields reported experiencing sexual harassment, mostly at the hands of donors, according to a March survey of more than 1,000 professional fundraisers, and 1 out of 5 people who responded to the survey described harassment in the industry as “rampant.” …

“If you have a national portfolio like I do, you spend a lot of time on the road alone in strange cities, meeting with strangers at places of their choosing,” Olm said. “And organizations expect you to get the money, no matter what it costs you in personal integrity, discomfort and legit harassment.”

In the context of Trump’s peerlessly troubled Cabinet, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has kept a low profile, earning bad press for falling asleep in meetings and wearing too-fancy clothes. But a dogged Forbes investigation finds that the industrialist billionaire Ross has misled watchdogs about the extent of the connection he retains with his business interests — raising major questions about his impartiality as he oversees aggressive trade actions against China and Europe:

Unlike his boss, Ross promised to divest from almost all his holdings upon entering government, drawing bipartisan praise en route to an easy confirmation. “You have really made a very personal sacrifice,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut. In November 2017, Ross confirmed in writing to the federal Office of Government Ethics that he had divested everything he promised. But that was not true. After weeks of investigation, Forbes found:

For most of last year, Ross served as secretary of commerce while maintaining stakes in companies co-owned by the Chinese government, a shipping firm tied to Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, a Cypriot bank reportedly caught up in the Robert Mueller investigation and a huge player in an industry Ross is now investigating. It’s hard to imagine a more radioactive portfolio for a cabinet member.

To this day, Ross’ family apparently continues to have an interest in these toxic holdings. Rather than dump them all, the commerce secretary sold some of his interests to Goldman Sachs—and, according to Ross himself, put others in a trust for his family members. He continued to deal with China, Russia and others while evidently knowing that his family’s interests were tied to those countries.

Not a whole lot of statewide elected officials go by the name Big John, but in January, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor may well be one Big John Fetterman, the hulking, bald, 6-8 mayor of Braddock, a town squarely in western Pennsylvania’s Rust Belt. Fetterman is a progressive populist folk hero, the kind of candidate Dems say they need to win over Trump country. But what if Dems won’t have him? WaPo’s Ben Terris brings his brand of evocative, textured reporting to the Ballad of Big John:

He’s 6-8, arms covered in ink, head as bald as a wrecking ball. When he strolls through town, everyone knows his name: the boys from the foundry, the brewers, the carpenters. … He’s brought artists to this town east of Pittsburgh , fed the hungry from the bed of his pick-up truck and, perhaps most important to his political fame, been a progressive since before Bernie Sanders became a household name.

And, now, he’s Pennsylvania’s Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. The problem with being a political folk hero is that you’re bound to disappoint people. Fetterman is not a man out of time. He belongs to 2018, a year that has made at least one truth truer than it was before: No reality can ever quite live up to a myth. …

At a moment when the Democratic Party is struggling to figure out what it needs to be, Fetterman’s candidacy has become a colossal microcosm situated smack dab in the center of a political identity crisis.

The week in takes

Your weekend longread

Trump’s visit to Duluth this week brought back to the fore conversations about the president’s appeal to rural, white, working-class voters. But it’s important to remember that Trump’s biggest base of support, and the one key to his future success, is probably be older, well-to-do whites.

Scores of them live in one central Florida community — a sprawling retirement complex called The Villages — and it’s as much Trump territory as anywhere in the Rust Belt. Politico Magazine’s Michael Grunwald takes us to the idyllic, golf cart-clogged paths of this place to get insights into the enduring, broad appeal of Trump.

Older voters are America’s most reliable voters, which is why baby-boomer boomtowns like The Villages represent the most significant threat to a potential Democratic wave in Florida in 2018—and the most significant source of Republican optimism for many years to come. Because while the Villages may look like the past, with its retro architecture and gray-haired demographics, it sells like the future. This master-planned paradise an hour northwest of Disney World has been the fastest-growing metro area in the United States in four of the past five years. And as the baby boom generation continues to retire, The Villages is continuing to expand into nearby cattle pastures, luring more pensioners to this fantasyland in the sunshine, gradually swinging America’s largest swing state to the right.

Trump supporters who get the most media attention tend to be economically anxious laborers in economically depressed factory towns. But in Florida, economically secure retirement meccas like The Villages are the real reason Trump won in 2016—and why the state’s Republicans, who have controlled Tallahassee for two decades, think they can avoid a blue wave in 2018 and help reelect Trump in 2020. For all the hype about Puerto Ricans moving to the Sunshine State after Hurricane Maria, or high school students like the Parkland gun control activists turning 18 and registering to vote, any Democratic surge could be offset by the migration of Republican-leaning seniors who like Florida’s balmy weather and lack of income tax.

It makes sense that they’re coming to The Villages, because this leisure-class Sun Belt oasis is a lot more pleasant than the dying working-class Rust Belt towns that journalists usually visit on Trump-voter safaris. It feels like a 40-square-mile cruise ship, or a college campus without required classes. It has enough golf courses to play a different one every week of the year, and more than 100 miles of golf cart trails that keep traffic congestion to a minimum. …  It isn’t exactly luxurious, but it’s comfortable with a median home price above $250,000; though a new POLITICO/AARP poll finds plenty of concern elsewhere in Florida , the only real economic anxiety for most Villagers is the state of their investment portfolios, which are thriving in the Trump era.

What to look for next week

Congress will be around next week, and it may save its most high-profile vote on immigration legislation for then. In any case, expect the issue to remain at the top of the agenda on Capitol Hill.

Across the street from Congress, the Supreme Court only has a few more days to issue opinions for this term, and there are 14 cases, including several high-profile ones, still on the list. As soon as next week, we could get high court rulings on the administration’s travel ban, a case challenging the authority of public sector unions, and a case challenging rules over so-called “crisis pregnancy centers.”

I’m sure a bunch of other stuff will happen that we cannot predict right now. Until then, thanks for sticking around, and have a great weekend. Drop me a line at