Donald Trump

Corker: ‘Wrecking ball’ Trump now ‘evolving to a better place’

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tells the Times-Free Press he sees the Donald Trump administration “evolving to a better place” on foreign affairs and has hopes stability will emerge among the team of rivals staffing Trump’s White House.

“There’s no question it may take a little while for them to get their sea legs,” he said, but he hopes Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, whom he called a friend, “over time will be able to pull all of that together and get them marching in the same direction.”

“It’s almost as though people are working against each other, and you can’t have an organization that functions well when that is the case,” he said, citing a “disconcerting” number of White House leaks.

“It seems to me it’s possible there’s numbers of power centers at the White House, in some cases, set up purposely to be in conflict, and I think that’s led to some of the confusion. I’m hopeful that as they move along — they’ve been in office now four weeks — they’ll be able to consolidate in such a way that some of the missteps that have occurred will not continue.”

Corker advised Trump on foreign policy during the campaign and said he’s continued the practice with Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Though in an interview last week with Politico, Corker called Trump “a wrecking ball” who “remains determined ‘to destroy everything about’ the U.S. establishment’s view of the world,” he told the Times Free Press the president has “begun to evolve to places I think are much better.”

“You have to remember his real focus group during the campaign was these rallies, and he was constantly testing out the messages, if you will, in front of these rallies. He didn’t have a lot of institutional support, he didn’t have people around him who were really advising him on foreign policy, and so as he’s gotten into office, he’s realized that things are far different than he imagined.

“He was very much about wanting to reorient the world,” Corker said. “He’s coming around to a better place as it relates to Israel, he’s coming around to a better place as it relates to NATO, coming around as of (Thursday) to a better place as it relates to Russia, much of which was because of pushback from folks who’ve been involved in foreign policy for many years. I consider it to be a healthy way because we’re moving to a place that is more aligned with what our U.S. national interests are.”

Alexander, Corker offer respect for Puzder’s withdrawal

Start of a Breitbart News report

The chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions  Committee expressed his support for businessman Andy Puzder’s nomination for Labor Secretary Wednesday shortly after the CEO of CKE Restaurants withdrew his name from consideration.

“Andy Puzder has the experience and ability to make an excellent Labor Secretary, but I respect his decision,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R.-Tenn.), who himself served at Education Secretary for President George H.W. Bush.

“He understands the difficulties American workers face in a rapidly changing workforce and I look forward to continuing to hear his insights,” Alexander said.

A Capitol Hill  source close to the chairman told Breitbart News that Alexander was not pushing for Puzder to withdraw.

The Puzder nomination was a sign of the rapprochement between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and President Donald Trump.

Sen. Bob Corker’s press release on Puzder’s withdrawal:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) released the following statement after Andy Puzder withdrew his nomination for secretary of labor.

“More than three years ago, I had the opportunity to assist Governor Haslam in recruiting Andy Puzder to the Volunteer State, and we are fortunate that he and his company now call Tennessee home,” said Corker. “Andy’s career as a successful businessman and deep knowledge of economic and labor issues made him well-qualified to serve as secretary of labor, but I respect his decision and know he will continue to be an important voice on issues that directly impact American workers.”ot

Note: Alexander’s press release comment, quoted by Breitbart, is HERE.

Poll: Tennesseans evenly divided on Trump travel ban

Start of a news release from icitizen after a Feb. 1-9 poll of 492 Tennessee adults:

Tennesseans have a clear split down the middle when it comes to issues of immigration, refugees, and values. Differences in age, gender, and partisan identification amplify this divide. “Independents” tip the scale in opposition to Trump’s executive actions:

Tennesseans are split down the middle when it comes to the travel ban. Fifty percent support this executive action while 49% oppose. Opposition is strongest among non-white Tennesseans (77%) and women ages 18-49 (66%).A majority (59%) of Tennesseans support accepting refugees to the United States, with 40% who oppose.

A majority (50%) percent of Tennesseans believe the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country, with 47% who believe the U.S. does not have a responsibility.

Tennesseans are split down the middle when it comes to opinions on the border wall with Mexico, with 50% who favor building the wall and 49% who oppose. Six in 10 Independents oppose the border wall with Mexico.

Nearly three-quarters of Tennesseans (74%) believe race relations in the United States are getting worse. This sentiment is strong among both white Tennesseans (75%) and non-white Tennesseans (70%).

Note: Full release and more on details of the poll HERE.

A sampler of reporting on TN anti-Trump protesting

A ‘Kookfest’ at Duncan’s office

About 100 people who gathered outside U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan’s office Friday for what they called “Kookfest” in response to the congressman’s choice of words in a letter refusing to hold a town hall meeting, reports the News Sentinel. In the letter, he said such a meeting “would very quickly turn into shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks and radicals.”

They came to sign up for one-on-one meetings, as Duncan suggested in the letter, but were told to make their requests online.

“I was calling my congressman and two senators and felt like I was being blown off,” said Sarah Herron, founder of Indivisible East Tennessee and an organizer of Kookfest. “I was getting canned responses or template letters and I felt like, maybe if there was a group of us, it would be a more effective way to communicate.”

Indivisible East Tennessee is based off a national “Indivisible” movement inspired by the publication of the Indivisible Guide, an online guide published by former congressional staffers in the aftermath of Trump’s election with tips on the best ways to get the attention of members of Congress. The movement describes itself as a “practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda” and has spurred events similar to the march on Duncan’s office across the country.

A closed door at Roe’s office

About a dozen members of Indivisible Tennessee showed up at U.S. Rep. Phil Roe’s district office seeking air concerns about the Trump presidency, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

The group didn’t immediately get into the Kingsport Higher Education Center, where Roe’s district office is located. Instead, the group was met in the parking lot by district Director John Abe Teague, who gave each member paperwork to fill out, asking for contact information and a list of their concerns.

That information, Teague promised, will be forwarded to the congressman.

In a separate blog post, reporter Hank Hayes says the office door was locked – noting the contrast with the late former Congressman Jimmy Quillen’s oft-declared policy of “my door is always open” – and Teague emerged only when a reporter showed up and knocked. Teague eventually agreed to let the group come inside to fill out the paperwork when it started to rain.

Protesters call for Puzder to ‘stay home’ in Franklin

Between 50 and 100 people gathered in the center of Franklin’s public square Saturday to send a message to Andrew Puzder, President Donald Trump’s embattled nominee for labor secretary: Stay home, reports The Tennessean.

“Franklin is a beautiful place,” said Laura Gilbert, who is on the steering committee of Nashville Indivisible, which along with Middle Tennessee Jobs with Justice organized the protest. “Andy, welcome. Just stay home. Don’t go to Washington.”

Puzder is a Franklin resident and CEO of CKE Restaurants, which includes Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants. He’s faced criticism as Trump’s nominee but retained GOP support after he recently admitted he employed an undocumented housekeeper for years. His confirmation hearing, already postponed four times, is set for Feb. 16.

“I don’t feel that Puzder honors or respects workers, and I don’t believe he will uphold the labor laws,” said Karla Barde, a retired educator who held an American flag Saturday in protest of the nomination. “I don’t believe he respects women.”

Alexander, Corker vote for DeVos confirmation

Tennessee’s Republican U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, voted to confirm the nomination of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education Tuesday, helping create a 50-50 tie on the Senate floor that was broken with Vice President Mike Pence’s vote in favor of approval.

Chalkbeat has a Tennessee-oriented report on the proceedings. An excerpt:

The vote came after Alexander urged his colleagues to support DeVos following a Democrat-led vigil that attempted to derail her nomination.

“I’m voting for Betsy DeVos because she will implement our law fixing No Child Left Behind the way we wrote it: to reverse the trend to a national school board and restore control to classroom teachers, to local school boards, to governors and legislators,” said Alexander, himself a former U.S. education secretary under President George H.W. Bush.

Alexander also cited DeVos’s work at “the forefront of one of the most important public school reforms in the last 30 years — public charter schools; and because she has worked tirelessly to give low-income children more the same kind of choices that wealthy families have.”

As chairman of the Senate panel that advanced her nomination, the Tennessee Republican has been in the national spotlight in the debate.

Only minutes before he spoke, Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat with whom Alexander co-authored the new federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, criticized Senate leaders for “cutting corners and rushing” to a hearing and a vote. She also questioned DeVos’s financial alliances and cited potential conflicts of interest.

Alexander responded that DeVos had testified before Congress longer and answered significantly more questions than either of President Obama’s two education chiefs. He noted that DeVos has worked with the Office of Government Ethics to comply with laws and regulations governing potential conflicts of interest.

“So, plenty of time for questions. No conflict of interests. What’s the problem?” Alexander asked the Senate.

Tennesseans have flooded both senators’ offices with phone calls and emails voicing their opinions about the embattled DeVos.

…Spokeswomen for both senators sidestepped the question when asked Tuesday about the breakdown of calls over DeVos.

Lamar Alexander: We love Australia

Australia’s prime minister says ‘dozens and dozens’ of U.S. members of Congress expressed support for Australia after reports of a hostile exchange (in a telephone conversation between himself and America’s president), reports the Manchester Guardian.

Malcolm Turnbull says his infamous phone call with US president Donald Trump last week has worked in Australia’s favour, because it inspired “dozens and dozens” of US congressmen to publicly support the Australia-US alliance.

And Tennessee’s U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who once spent six months in Australia, provides a fine example in the press release below.

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:

WASHINGTON, February 6 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) tonight spoke about the close relationship between the United States and Australia, saying, “it is always appropriate for the United States Senate to reaffirm the importance of that relationship and I am glad to do so again today.”

“The people of the United States do not have better friends than the people of Australia,” Alexander said. “Today no two countries trust one another and cooperate in security arrangements more than America and Australia.  We trade, we visit one another and our students study in each other’s universities.”

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Norris seeks meeting with Trump administration on refugees, lawsuit

State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris says he is putting on hold plans for filing a lawsuit against refugee resettlement in Tennessee while seeking a meeting with officials of President Trump’s administration, reports The Tennessean.

Norris, R-Collierville, said Thursday he has talked with U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Memphis attorney John Ryder about the refugee situation. Trump arranging a meeting with the Trump administration to discuss state lawmakers’ concerns over the federal refugee program. Trump recently issued a controversial executive order on refugees.

Ryder, who has served as general counsel for the Republican National Committee since 2013, has an established relationship with Reince Priebus, who is Trump’s chief of staff.

“(Blackburn) agrees that this is an opportunity and encouraged me to pursue it so she may be helping us to settle it as well,” Norris said.

…Trump’s order, which caused widespread confusion and generated protests immediately after it was announced on Jan. 27, called for a travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days while also suspending all refugee admissions for 120 days.

… Norris pointed to a section of Trump’s executive order which leads him to believe the new administration might be open to suggestions from states like Tennessee.

“To that end, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall examine existing law to determine the extent to which, consistent with applicable law, state and jurisdictions may have greater involvement in the process of determining the placement or resettlement of refugees in their jurisdictions and shall devise a proposal to lawfully promote such involvement,” the order states.

In the event that he is able to secure a meeting, Norris said he would go to Washington, D.C. with someone from the Thomas More Law Center, the Michigan-based legal group that the legislature hired to represent it in a potential lawsuit.

“It’s well-timed, it’s a good opportunity for us to air our grievances short of filing suit, although we are still prepared to proceed with the suit, once the 120-day period expires,” Norris said, adding that the lawsuit could go forward depending on what the Trump administration decides to do in the future.

Thousands attend TN protests onTrump immigration moves

There were protests aimed at President Donald Trump’s moves on refugees and immigration across Tennessee on Wednesday. Stephanie Teatro, a co-director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, which organized protests under the title “We All Belong,” tells The Tennessean that 3,500 persons attended the Nashville event, apparently the largest in the state.

Metro police estimated at one point that there were 1,500 demonstrators and said everything went well. The event included translation services in Somali, Arabic and Spanish, as well as voter registration tables.

About 2,000 people came to the Memphis vigil, about 1,500 in Chattanooga, over 1,000 in Knoxville, about 600 in Murfreesboro and 200 in Sewanee, Teatro said.

Here are some other reports on the protests appearing in Tennessee media:

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Alexander-chaired committee approves DeVos as education secretary

With Sen. Lamar Alexander at the chair, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved Betsy DeVos’ nomination as U.S. secretary of education Tuesday. All 12 Republicans on the panel voted for it; all 11 Democrats voted no.

From the New York Times report:

Ms. DeVos’s ultimate confirmation, while likely, is still not definite. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the committee, was visibly frustrated — by Democratic delaying tactics and arguments — as he defended Ms. DeVos and said she would be devoted not only to giving parents a choice about school options but also to protecting public schools.

“She wants to reverse the trend of a national school board and stop telling teachers and school boards how to run their schools,” Mr. Alexander said. “One would think the committee would be delighted with that. I respect my colleagues. I don’t question their motives. I don’t question their votes. But I believe their concerns are misplaced.”

But Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, expressed reservations about Ms. DeVos that sounded similar to those of Ms. DeVos’s opponents. The senator said that while she would vote to advance Ms. DeVos out of committee, she would not commit to voting for her on the Senate floor.

“She has not yet earned my full support,” said Ms. Murkowski, who referred to conversations with Alaska teachers. “Betsy DeVos must show all of us that she truly understands children of all America, of rural, of urban, who are not able to access an alternative choice in education.”

Democrats, teachers’ unions and liberal protesters have been flooding senators with calls and emails protesting her nomination for myriad reasons. They have expressed concern about her family’s contributions to groups that support so-called conversion therapy for gay people; her donations to Republicans and their causes, which she agreed have totaled about $200 million over the years; and her past statements that government “sucks” and that public schools are a “dead end.” (Note: See previous post HERE on a TN protest.)


Alexander’s press release is HERE.

Corker quip: Senate Democrats wouldn’t support the Pope

A brief from Politico’s daily notebook on Washington doings:

Corker not impressed: Asked about whether Tillerson had done enough to avoid any potential conflicts of interest with Exxon, Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker said he was “satisfied” and suggested Democrats were engaged in a purely political fight. “If the Pope were nominated right now as secretary of State, he likely would not get any Democratic votes right now or very few,” the Tennessee Republican quipped to reporters.

Corker’s latest official press release praising Rex Tillerson is below.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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