Trump rejects wealthy friends’ pleas for help

Coal magnate Robert Murray has just joined Wall Street billionaire Carl Icahn in an exclusive club — wealthy backers of President Donald Trump who tried and failed to get lucrative concessions from his administration.

Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, one of the nation’s biggest and most politically active coal miners, complained in an Aug. 4 letter made public Tuesday that the Energy Department had dragged its feet on his request that it use its emergency powers to force some Rust Belt coal-fired power plants to stay open. Trump was so taken by the idea that he immediately turned to Energy Secretary Rick Perry and ordered him to do it, wrote Murray, who said he had witnessed the conversation.

But DOE said no.

Murray’s failure to shift the policy, and Icahn’s earlier inability to convince the Environmental Protection Agency to alter its ethanol rule, raises questions about the limits of bulldog business leaders to circumvent the government’s bureaucracy, even in an administration run by a sympathetic billionaire.

“These are two people who really don’t understand how government works talking to a president who came into office not understanding how government works,” said Jeff Navin, a founder of Boundary Stone Partners and former acting chief of staff at the Department of Energy under President Barack Obama. “What they’re asking for causes serious legal problems for the agencies they’re asking to take these steps."

Some conservatives, meanwhile, praised Trump for sticking up for market principles by refusing to grant favors to individual supporters.

The Trump administration “is committed to making sound policy decisions based on market principles and the rule of law, not political favoritism,” said Tom Pyle, president of the industry-funded American Energy Alliance and former head of the Trump transition team at the Energy Department. “This is welcome news for Main Street and a wake-up call for K Street.”

Icahn was an early Trump supporter — the two men go back decades — and though Murray started 2016 backing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, he eventually boarded the Trump train, hosting a major fundraiser in West Virginia and offering to educate Trump on coal issues. Trump’s victory in November meant both had a chance to advance pet policies, especially since it seems both men have regular access to the president.

Yet both met with defeat.

The Energy Department rejected Murray’s request that it use a special authority meant to protect the electric grid during emergencies to order FirstEnergy Solutions, part of Ohio-based utility FirstEnergy Corp., to keep open its coal-fired plants supplied by Murray’s mines, even if the utility enters bankruptcy proceedings and would otherwise shut them down. Murray said if those power plants shut down, it would force his company into bankruptcy.

Trump seemed fully supportive in private meetings, Murray revealed in letters to the White House, which were first published by the Associated Press.

At one meeting with the president, Trump turned to Perry in front of Murray "and said three (3) times ‘I want this done,’" the coal company owner wrote. During a subsequent meeting with Murray and FirstEnergy Corp. CEO Charles Jones, Trump told an aide to "’tell [National Economic Council Director Gary] Cohn to do whatever these two want him to do.’"

But despite Trump’s reported enthusiasm to grant Murray’s unusual request, and despite Murray’s assurances that other coal producers would benefit as well, the administration this week rejected it. DOE said in a short statement that “the evidence does not warrant the use of this emergency authority.”

A White House spokeswoman did not address whether Trump had made the promises to Murray, but said the president had acted on behalf of coal miners by killing Obama-era rules.

“Whether through repealing the Clean Power Plan and the ‘Waters of the U.S. Rule,’ removing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, or signing legislation to overturn rules and policies designed to stop coal mining, President Trump continues to fight for miners every day," White House spokeswoman Kelly Love said in a statement.

Similarly, Icahn’s push to change a federal biofuel program to help his oil refining company CVR Energy also suffered defeat earlier in the month. The Wall Street investor for years had railed against the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires gasoline refiners to blend ethanol into their fuel, and Icahn’s role as an unofficial Trump adviser on regulations presented him the opening he had sought.

In the early weeks of the Trump administration, Icahn presented the White House with language for an executive order to overturn the rule, which was costing his company hundreds of millions of dollars. But Icahn’s effort hit a wall of opposition from oil companies and biofuel makers, and by spring, the proposal was largely left for dead. Sources told POLITICO earlier this month that the president would not be changing the biofuel program, though EPA has yet to make the decision official.

"[Icahn] comes in hot, his guy wins, Trump places a crown on Icahn’s head, and Icahn says ‘OK, it’s corporate raider time,’" said Tyson Slocum, energy director for the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. "He knows hardball tactics. What Carl Icahn doesn’t know is D.C."

Last week, Icahn resigned his title, and in another sign that he was wrapping up his affairs in D.C., he settled a court challenge to an enforcement action brought by the Federal Railroad Administration against American Railcar Industries, another Icahn-controlled company. That final settlement largely resembles the inspection regime the agency originally imposed, an FRA spokeswoman said.

One critic said the lack of experience in the new administration appeared to open the door for both Icahn and Murray, even if neither managed to step through it.

“I think we’ve seen, in this administration, at least reports of an under-attentiveness to those procedural and institutional safeguards. That creates risk for unsound decisions to be made,” said Ali Zaidi, a former Obama White House energy adviser now at the law firm Morrison & Foerster.

Icahn and Murray aren’t the only ones seeking special treatment.

Coal billionaire-turned-West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has proposed a federal subsidy for Appalachian coal in a plan that could net his own mines millions of dollars.

Justice privately pitched Trump on a subsidy that would pay utilities $15 per ton of Appalachian coal burned, and he said in a recent interview the president was "really interested" in the plan, which would cost an estimated $4.5 billion a year and likely require congressional approval.

But Justice’s proposal has not been received well by key circles. It’s gone over “like a fart in church” with Western coal miners, according to Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association. And Wyoming’s congressional delegation — including Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrassopanned the idea in a letter to Trump. Democrats, environmentalists and budget-hawk Republicans are also opposed to any coal subsidy.

Justice might look to the results that Icahn and Murray got.

Icahn and Murray "both became completely consumed with their own narrow self-interest, and they completely lost sight that there are a lot of stakeholders — including corporate stakeholders — that may not like their proposals,” said Public Citizen’s Slocum.


Feds rein in demand for info on Trump inaugural protest website

Federal prosecutors have dramatically narrowed their legal demands for information about a website used to organize protests of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The move follows complaints from privacy advocates and civil liberties groups that a search warrant a D.C. Superior Court judge issued last month for data about the website was wildly overbroad and could have swept up data on thousands of people who simply visited web pages about anti-inaugural activities.

In a new court filing Tuesday, lawyers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said "factual revelations" led them to drop a demand for visitor logs and to limit the government’s demand for other data to July 2016 through Inauguration Day.

"Over the past week, DreamHost has made numerous public statements and made many statements in its opposition brief which provide information about the website that were unknown to the government and the Court at the time that the Warrant was issued," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer Kerkhoff and John Borchert wrote. "The government could not exclude from the scope of the Warrant what it did not know existed."

In a motion it filed objecting to the search warrant, DreamHost said the original demand appeared to cover 1.3 million IP addresses relating to visits to the disruptj20 site from Jan. 23 to Jan. 28.

After the company cited that figure in a court filing on Aug. 16, Borchert asked the webhosting firm how many such visits there were before Jan. 21. A lawyer for the firm declined to share that information with the government, emails show.

In the new filing, prosecutors say they are trying to investigate violence and property damage that took place on Jan. 20 as part of a "riot" just prior to Trump’s inauguration. The prosecution insists it is not trying to chill the activities of law-abiding demonstrators.

"The government values and respects the First Amendment right of all Americans to participate in peaceful political protests and to read protected political expression online," Kerkhoff and Borchert wrote. "This Warrant has nothing to do with that right. The Warrant is focused on evidence of the planning, coordination and participation in a criminal act – that is, a premeditated riot. The First Amendment does not protect violent, criminal conduct such as this."

D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Morin is scheduled to hold a hearing on the dispute Thursday morning.

A lawyer for DreamHost, Raymond Aghaian, welcomed the concessions from prosecutors, but said the firm plans to continue to fight the warrant.

"The government has now withdrawn entirely its unlawful and highly problematic request for any data relating to the visitors of the website and any unpublished data subject to the Privacy Protection Act," Aghaian told POLITICO via email. "This is a tremendous win for DreamHost, its users and the public. There remains, unfortunately, other privacy and First and Fourth Amendment issues with the search warrant, which we will address in a separate filing and at the hearing."


Judge seats 10 jurors for Menendez trial as senator pleads not guilty — again

NEWARK — The federal corruption trial of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez got underway Tuesday, as 10 jurors were seated and Menendez and his co-defendant, Salomon Melgen entering not guilty pleas.

Menendez initially pleaded not guilty in 2015, shortly after he was charged with doing official favors for Melgen, a Florida eye doctor, in exchange for lavish vacations, private jet flights and political contributions.

But the New Jersey Democrat succeeded in having some of the counts against him thrown out, leading to a superseding indictment by federal prosecutors to which he and Melgen pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

The pleas by Menendez, New Jersey’s senior senator, and Melgen were entered while reporters were locked out of the courtroom in Newark for what should have been a public proceeding. The details were confirmed by a source who was inside but requested anonymity because, the source said, U.S. District Court Judge William Walls instructed those present not to speak about the proceedings.

Menendez and Melgen were both present for the day’s proceedings, sitting in silence. The senator declined to comment as he left the courtroom late Tuesday.

Reporters were allowed in the courtroom for the beginning of jury selection, which remained unfinished when court adjourned for the day late Tuesday afternoon. Twelve jurors were initially seated, but two were excused at the last minute after raising undisclosed issues with Walls.

Defense lawyers were allowed to eliminate eight jurors from the pool — four for each defendant. Prosecutors were allotted six. Defense lawyers finished the day having eliminated eight, while prosecutors eliminated three.

Among the prospective jurors prosecutors eliminated was a middle-aged white woman who said she watches MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" and "The Rachel Maddow Show." Menendez’s attorneys eliminated a young white male who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with an American flag on the back, sandwiched between the words “You stomp my flag” and “I stomp you.”

In all, 12 jurors and four alternates will be seated. The court has yet to pick alternate jurors.

Walls instructed prospective jurors not to read about the case or talk to anyone about it outside of court: “Under no circumstances are you to read anything in print, newspapers, magazines or the net about this case,” he said.

One woman in the juror pool was allegedly caught by a court marshal texting about the case. That angered Walls, who in a sidebar conversation audible to the audience, dismissed her.

“Weren’t you instructed not to text about this case?” Walls said to the woman, who told him she’s a teacher. “So you’re really no good as a juror. And you may not be any good as a teacher.”

Jury selection is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Newark. Opening arguments in the case are scheduled for Sept. 6.


What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted Trump Fans?

Politics, as the late Bart Giamatti once said of baseball, “is designed to break your heart.” Sooner or later, everyone elected to the highest office in the land will act in a way that crushes the truest of believers, who were convinced that this time they had found a leader impervious to the powerful currents of compromise, strong enough not to abandon core principles.

This is why it’s hard not to feel a pang of sympathy for those who believed that Donald Trump’s years of opposition to foreign entanglements would actually lead to the reversal of decades of often disastrous interventions in every corner of the world. On Monday night, they heard him wrap the betrayal of their fondest hopes in the very rhetoric that had convinced them he would take their side.

Once Trump had finished his effort to clean up the wreckage of his Charlottesville comments (“When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry and no tolerance for hate”), he presented his all-new, completely improved, more-or-less-indistinguishable-from-the-previous-administration’s-policy wrapped up in words that implied a sharp break from his predecessors.

"We are not nation-building; we are killing terrorists,” he said. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting … India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development.” In these and other words, Trump was offering a watered-down version of the much more blunt “America First” language of his inaugural address, when he said, “We’ve subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own.”

The policy, however, brought to mind a line from The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”: “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.” A few thousand more Americans put in harm’s way; a stern warning to Pakistan to curb its support for Al Qaeda; the same stern warning to Afghanistan to root out government corruption in a land where corruption is and has been the driving force for generations, the repeated promise that “we will win” with no real definition of what winning would mean.

And Trump’s one-time true believers weren’t buying what the president was selling.

Breitbart News, now commanded once again by the banished White House strategist Steve Bannon, was filled with harsh responses.

“[Trump] Defends Flip-Flop,” one headline said. “His McMaster’s Voice,” read another, referring to Trump’s national security adviser, a Bannon foe. “President H.R. McMaster’s Yuge Foreign Policy Blunder,” read another. And, in the unkindest cut of all, “Trump Echoes Obama’s Blank Check Rhetoric,” complete with a photo of Trump and Obama together.

Breitbart was not alone. Mike Cernovich, an "alt-right" blogger and conspiracy theorist whose tweets and posts have been unstintingly supportive of Trump, asked simply, “Why did we even have an election?” The pro-Trump radio host Laura Ingraham asked: “Who’s going to pay for it? What is our measure of success? We didn’t win with 100K troops. How will we win with 4,000 more?” Ann Coulter, who may be regretting the title of her recently published book (“In Trump We Trust”) tweeted: “It doesn’t matter who you vote for. The military-industrial complex wins. Only difference: GOP presidents pronounce ‘Pakistan’ correctly.”

The unanswered question is: What becomes of the broken-hearted? Will they forgive Trump’s reversal on Afghanistan—a change of mind he actually acknowledged, for what may be the first time ever—if he doubles down on his “nationalist” views of trade and immigration? Will they see him as yet another president captured by the conventional Washington wisdom, which can never seem to figure out a way of disentangling the nation from a foreign conflict? Will they subject his future decisions to a more skeptical inquiry? Will his decision further erode his standing among those who tell pollsters they “strongly approve” of his presidency?

Those who saw in Trump a figure who might actually break with the bipartisan consensus of the last half-century-plus had every reason for their optimism. His background, his ego, his very disconnection from any taint of insiderism gave them reason to think that he would actually do what he had said he would do. We don’t know how large this group is, but it contains some of the most fervent and committed Trump supporters. What they now do with their shattered hopes is going to make a very big difference in the coming political wars.


White House says Trump won’t pardon Arpaio on Tuesday

President Donald Trump will not pardon controversial former sheriff Joe Arpaio at a campaign rally in Phoenix Tuesday night, the White House announced.

Trump floated the potential pardon in a recent interview with Fox News, saying he was "seriously thinking" about such a move.

“There will be no discussion of that today at any point, and no action will be taken on that front at any point today," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters during the flight to Arizona.

Arpaio, a controversial opponent of illegal immigration, was recently convicted in federal court of criminal contempt for defying a court order to cease the detention of suspected undocumented immigrants.

Arpaio’s sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 5. Trump could still pardon Arpaio at a later date.

Arpaio, 85, saw his 24-year run as sheriff end in November when he lost re-election to Democrat Paul Penzone.

Arpaio lost a 2013 case in which a court found his department regularly violated the rights of Latinos. Trump, who has pushed a hard line on immigration, welcomed Arpaio’s vigorous support during the 2016 campaign. Arpaio appeared on the trail with Trump and delivered an address at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Arpaio has said that he would accept a pardon, but has been coy about any ongoing talks with the White House.


America’s permanent export emergency

In 1994, with trade fights raging over the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, the White House faced an urgent problem: it was about to lose most of its power to block exports for national-security reasons. The decades-old law governing so-called “export controls” was about to expire, and Congress was making no move to renew it. So the Clinton administration took matters into its own hands: It declared a national emergency, extending its export-control powers without any new legislation.

Twenty-three years and three administrations later, that national emergency still stands. Last week, entirely unremarked in the aftermath of Charlottesville, President Donald Trump extended the emergency yet again, signing a 134-word presidential notice that allows the federal government to control the export of almost every U.S. product.

Though not as high-profile as trade deals, export controls are critical to U.S. national security: They prevent potentially risky technology or products from ending up in the hands of America’s enemies. So Trump’s notice, which has been issued by presidents every year for almost a quarter century, is entirely uncontroversial. But the need for such a notice—to control exports via emergency powers rather than regular legislation—is also a glaring example of congressional dysfunction, and the seemingly unchecked expansion of the president’s emergency powers.

“It is sort of ridiculous,” said Bill Reinsch, a fellow at the Stimson Center who has been involved in the issue for decades, as a congressional staffer and senior official at the Commerce Department.

The authority over what can be exported from the U.S., to where and by whom, is a huge power of the government, fueling an entire legal industry and creating huge political fights between pro-business lawmakers seeking to open up new markets and defense hawks worried about permitting the sale of sensitive technologies. Once, this power was a straightforward matter of law: The Export Administration Act (EAA) formally granted this power to the federal government. But except for a brief 10-month period, the act has been expired since 1994, and Congress has not permanently reauthorized it.

Unwilling to engage in the political fights necessary to forge a new system, Congress has basically abdicated its power here, leaving the federal government potentially unable to control exports. The shortcut has been to declare an essentially permanent state of national trade emergency, which effectively reinstates the law without any legislative action.

Year-to-year, the U.S. export control system functions pretty well under the emergency system, experts say, and it has even undergone some updates. The Obama administration downgraded the security level for thousands of products during his presidency, allowing the government to focus its resources on a smaller set of goods and technologies that could most damage the U.S. if they fell into our enemies’ hands.

But larger reforms require Congress to get involved, and so they simply haven’t happened. One plank of the Obama plan called for simplifying the export control process, which has two separate lists governed by different agencies. The plan would have created a single system with a single licensing agency overseeing it; it had wide appeal, especially among exporters who find the current system unnecessarily confusing to navigate, but Congress never took it up. In fact, since the EAA was first passed in 1979, Congress has never undertaken a broad reform of the law. “It’s badly out of date. It refers to the Soviet Union,” said Reinsch. “It’s not designed to deal with current realities.”

Congress first granted the federal government peacetime authority to control exports after World War II when lawmakers passed the Export Control Act of 1949, which was intended to prevent certain strategic items from falling into the hands of the Soviet Union. Those powers would eventually fall to the Commerce Department, which has, over time, developed a complicated list of requirements for what can be exported, to what countries and under what conditions. Notably, the Commerce list does not include defense products like guns, ammunition and bombs, which fall under a separate, more tightly controlled list run by the State Department. Instead, it includes so-called “dual use” products—ones that have both civilian and military applications like night vision goggles or machine tools.

Over the next 30 years, Congress repeatedly reauthorized the law, culminating in a major rewrite in the 1979 Export Administration Act. But in 1994 Congress failed to reauthorize the EAA, caught between lawmakers who wanted to liberalize export control rules to help businesses and military hawks who wanted to tighten them, leaving the Clinton administration with the unnerving possibility of losing its export-control authority. To prevent this, Bill Clinton issued an executive order on August 19, 1994 declaring a national emergency under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, or IEEPA. The IEEPA gives the president nearly unlimited authority to control exports during an emergency.

Except for a 10-month reauthorization in late 2001 when Congress hoped to pass a broader, long-term reauthorization, presidents have relied on this emergency authority for the last 24 years. After so many years of failure, Congress has all but given up trying to reauthorize the underlying statute. “Basically everybody has accepted that this is the way it happens,” said Douglas Jacobson, an export controls attorney in Washington.

The truth is, experts said, the IEEPA is broad enough that a reauthorization of the EAA that allows the president to control exports without declaring a national emergency really hasn’t been necessary. “Like anything else in law and regulation, the law is the broader framework and ultimately it’s the regulations that control,” said Jacobson. Congressional leaders deemed that it wasn’t worth the messy political fight, especially among Republicans, that was certain to unfold from any reauthorization.

But the Commerce Department is quickly confronting questions that could never have been envisioned under the 1979 law, which still guides the government’s framework for export control, when the Internet barely existed and Steve Jobs was just 24 years old. The law was written during a time when controlling exports meant regulating the sale of physical goods, with U.S. Customs agents inspecting products at ports. “Now, a lot of what is controlled is software or blueprints that have been digitized,” said Reinsch. “It’s downloaded. It doesn’t have any physical manifestation at the dock.” Over the past few years, Commerce officials have been figuring out how to handle cloud storage, raising difficult and somewhat impossible questions, Reinsch said. “Has data in the cloud been exported? Does it depend on where the cloud lives?” he explained. “What if the cloud moves?”

Such questions could undoubtedly use some attention—and direction—from elected representatives in Congress. But given the congressional gridlock, that’s unlikely to be forthcoming. Which means next August, Trump is all but certain to issue another presidential notice, extending a national emergency over export control into its 25th year.


Tillerson: U.S. ‘pleased’ that North Korea has not launched more missile tests

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered encouraging words for North Korea on Tuesday, saying the United States is "pleased" the repressive regime has not launched any missile tests since the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved sanctions against it.

“I am pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has certainly demonstrated some level of restraint that we have not seen in the past,” Tillerson told reporters during a rare appearance at the State Department briefing. “We hope that this is the beginning of this signal that we’ve been looking for, that they are ready to restrain their level of intentions, they’re ready to restrain their provocative acts and that, perhaps, we are seeing our pathway to, sometime in the near future, having some dialogue.”

Tillerson cautioned that “we need to see more on their part” but said it is important to “acknowledge the steps they’ve taken thus far.”

The secretary of state played a major role in trying to cool tensions earlier this month, after President Donald Trump lashed out after provocations from North Korea, warning that the country would experience "fire and fury" if it didn’t back down.

Tillerson offered more moderate rhetoric to urge North Korea to halt its attempts at nuclear proliferation, and insisted there is no imminent threat of war.

Despite his efforts, Trump continued making aggressive statements toward Pyongyang.


Democratic gubernatorial candidates plunge into Confederate fight

The white supremacist march that turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia, is spurring a wave of Democratic governors and gubernatorial candidates to call for Confederate monuments in their states to come down.

The push offers Democrats an opportunity to take on President Donald Trump and mobilize the base ahead of the 2018 elections — though some strategists say the focus should be on bread-and-butter issues rather than a revived culture war.

Democratic candidates in Maryland, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico and Tennessee have all called for Confederate statues or icons to be taken down. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted last week that he had asked the secretary of the Army to "remove confederate names from the streets of Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn." In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper said he wanted Confederate monuments around the state to be taken down. And in Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock hailed the Helena City Council’s decision to remove a Confederate memorial fountain from a park there.

Tennessee Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean said the events in Charlottesville created an opportunity for a wider discussion about Confederate monuments.

"I think this discussion or this issue has been present for many years. The events in Charlottesville have kind of brought it to the forefront," Dean said in an interview with POLITICO. A former mayor of Nashville, Dean wants a bust of Confederate Lt. General Nathan Bedford Forrest in the State Capitol building to be placed in a museum.

For Democratic candidates running for governor, there’s a powerful incentive to make the Confederate monument argument a top talking point. It’s increasingly the dominant position within the party and it contrasts sharply with Trump who has blasted efforts to take down Confederate statues at a news conference and on Twitter.

In Florida, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum sent out a fundraising email based off of Trump’s comments.

"He said it’s ‘sad’ and ‘foolish’ that ‘beautiful’ Confederate monuments are being taken down around the country," King wrote in the email, recounting Trump’s remarks. "I don’t think it’s ‘sad’ or ‘foolish’ — I think it’s about time. These relics of an anti-American ideology should be removed and transferred to museums, cemeteries, or other places where they’re not revered or celebrated."

But some Democratic strategists worry that focusing too much on Confederate statues will alienate some voters and distract from the “Better Deal” platform congressional Democratic leaders are promoting.

"I don’t want to fall into the trap again where we’re just focusing on the Trump negatives heading into 2018 as opposed to providing a better way as this plan does," said Kevin Walling, a Democratic strategist who works with HGC Digital.

Simply attacking Trump probably won’t bring Democrats satisfying results in the midterm elections, added Jake Dilemani, a Democratic strategist who works at Mercury LLC.

“To say that Trump is racist and incompetent and that the Republican Party is complicit in that is likely not enough to get the results that people want to see in 2018,” Dilemani said.

Former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said it was important for communities to feel open and welcoming to everyone, but that his fellow Democrats shouldn’t let a debate about Confederate monuments eclipse other topics.

"I wish we could be talking about investing in education and health care that helps white working class people who feel like opportunity is slipping through their fingers," he said. "Those are the things that make life better for everyone across the spectrum. And yes when you end up talking about things like this, you’re diverting away from those real issues that concern people every day while raising a family.”

But not addressing Charlottesville or Trump’s remarks can also expose candidates to a potent line of attack, said North Carolina Democratic strategist Morgan Jackson.

"Look at Charlottesville. If you don’t condemn Trump’s behavior and you’re running for governor as a Republican, you give Nazis the benefit of the doubt, you’re going to get hit — and get hit hard, you’re going to have to pay for that," Jackson said.

Staying silent on Charlottesville or Trump’s response isn’t a neutral position, said former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus, who also served in the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations.

"If you don’t say anything, that’s taking a stand. If you don’t take a stand on what Trump said, if you don’t take a stand on these monuments, that’s taking a position," Mabus said. "I guess my political argument would be the people that vote against a candidate for that position, I’d say the chances were pretty slim that they would vote for that candidate for anything."

Dean brushed off the prospect of political consequences when asked if he might lose votes for calling for the Forrest bust to be moved to a museum.

"If we learned anything from this last weekend it’s that we need to bring people together, we need to not hide our heads in the sand and say these issues don’t exist because they do,” he said. “I’m not saying I don’t think about political consequences, but it’s the right thing to do.”


Nelson draws Democrats’ fire for ducking Confederate monument question

MIAMI — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the sole statewide elected Democrat in Trump-state Florida, ducked a question about removing Confederate monuments and is now getting grief from members of his own party who worry he’s estranging African-Americans and progressives as he faces a tough reelection campaign next year.

“I don’t know what to think of this,” said a surprised state Rep. Shevrin Jones, an African-American Democrat sponsoring legislation to remove the monuments from public spaces.

“I would like Sen. Nelson to acknowledge that the people who are represented on those statues were individuals who oppressed black people,” said Jones, echoing other Democrats who sometimes spoke without attribution because they didn’t want to seem disloyal. “I want him to acknowledge that there is no place for them anymore. Our country is no longer there, we have moved on … there’s no need for them, that’s what Sen. Nelson should be saying.”

Nelson’s office pointed out that the senator has said he supports the Florida Legislature’s decision to remove the statue of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. But on Monday at a Lakewood Ranch event, when asked his opinion about the removal of all Confederate monuments from the state, Nelson refrained from weighing in because he views the removal of the monuments in Florida as a state, not federal, issue.

“I think leaving it up to the good sense of the communities involved is the best thing to do,” Nelson said when asked about removing monuments, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Nelson indicated he might oppose the monuments when he said that “a monument, a statue, ought to signify unity instead of division.”

Many Democratic insiders shook their heads and worried that Nelson’s approach was a sign he doesn’t appreciate the fervor of progressives, namely supporters of former presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). They say Nelson is likely to face his toughest challenge ever, from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, next year, and the Democrat can’t win if progressives aren’t excited.

"It seems that Bill Nelson doesn’t want to take a stand on the issue for political reasons. But this is not the time to shrink back from what he knows is right," said state Sen. Randolph Bracy, an African-American Democrat who had once thought of running against Nelson.

“It’s a little bit tone deaf from a skilled operator like Bill,” one top Nelson backer said. “He’s slightly vulnerable from the Bernie Bro wing of the party and doesn’t need to agitate it further. And Bill also needs Democrats to be enthused about him next year, not just voting out of obligation.”

Said another: “That sound you hear is all of our heads hitting the desks. What are you thinking, Bill?”

The internal party controversy comes as a surprise to Democrats who had been gleefully watching Scott and other Republicans struggle with the question of whether to remove the monuments and the degree to which they should react to Trump’s contention that the recent racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., was the fault of “many sides” and not exclusively with the white nationalists during a protest over the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Scott flubbed his talking points over the issue Monday before his office had to walk back his remarks.

Leslie Wimes, an African-American Democrat and Sanders supporter who has criticized Nelson, said it’s another sign of how tone deaf the three-term senator is.

“See, this is why I call out fellow Democrats,” said Wimes, who writes a column for the conservative Sunshine State News, which makes some Democratic activists bristle. “They won’t call him out on being mealy-mouthed, but they will blast Rick Scott.”

In contrast to their vociferous advocacy to remove Confederate statues and monuments, the three leading Democratic candidates for governor were muted in discussing their reaction to Nelson avoiding the topic.

Newcomer Chris King and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee reiterated their call to pull down all the monuments.

The only major African-American candidate in the race, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, would only say of Nelson’s comments that "I know that our opinions differ, but I know Senator Nelson’s record and he’s stood tall on these issues. Local communities need to have tough conversations about where they stand on this moral issue and how we heal our state. We need to have these conversations now so our children don’t have to decades from now.”

In the Florida Legislature, Rep. Jones said he’s hopeful that Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who also might run for governor, will allow his bill to be heard to remove Confederate vestiges from the public square. But, he said, the hard work remains to reform criminal justice, improve voting rights and improve minority communities.

“For the black community, the statues represent a history that we rather not be greeted with on public spaces, considering those are the same individuals who fought against us to have the rights that we have today,” Jones said in a text message to POLITICO Florida. “So, although I disagree with Sen. Nelsons comments, respectfully, I hope he sees from our point of view, and we are asking these statues to come down, and be placed in their proper places — a museum.”