President Donald Trump heads to Capitol Hill Tuesday evening to rally House Republicans behind an immigration bill he panned just five days ago.
Now Republicans have to decide: Which Trump do they believe?
Speaker Paul Ryan and his top lieutenants are well aware that only the president can give conservatives cover to votes for a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers — a huge leap for those who once dismissed that idea as “amnesty.” It’s why leadership invited Trump for a rare meeting with the entire Republican conference, just days after he indicated he might veto the legislation.
Even if Trump vows to sign the bill, some House Republicans worry the damage has already been done. Trump’s suggestion on Fox News Friday that he would not sign a “moderate” immigration bill is already making some lawmakers fret that he might change his mind at any moment, leaving them to suffer the backlash.
“It’s entirely suspect whether this gets 218 votes,” said one top conservative lawmaker who asked not to be named. “It’s strong on amnesty, weak in border security.”
Another wild card sure to come up at the meeting is Trump’s family separation policy at the border. But it’s unclear whether House Republicans who rarely challenge Trump will press him to end the practice, which has consumed the immigration debate and drawn fire from members of both parties.
House Republicans who say they don’t like the policy are blaming the courts instead of Trump, even as the White House has incorrectly said Congress is responsible for the separations. They’ve tucked into their immigration bill a provision that would keep families together, but which also enables children to be detained indefinitely.
It’s unclear, however, that the bill has the votes to pass. Moderate Republicans such as Rep. Will Hurd, whose Texas district includes a third of the U.S.-Mexico border, have expressed opposition.
Conservatives are similarly skittish, but for different reasons. Backing the House GOP leadership’s so-called “compromise bill,” negotiated between conservatives and moderates, would mean going up against several powerful anti-immigration outside groups. NumbersUSA and Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, are both blasting the bill as “amnesty” and telling conservatives to oppose it.
“Any immigration proposal that isn’t grounded in the well-being of the American people and undermines the rule of law is doomed to fail, and this bill is no different,” said RJ Hauman, the government relations director for the FAIR.
Immigration hardliners in the House say only Trump can give them cover to buck those groups. They worry a vote in favor will be used against them in future primaries.
But conservatives aren’t convinced that Trump will give them that protection, even after the White House clarified the administration’s support for the bill. They note that Trump hasn’t called Republicans personally to urge them to back the bill, like he did with Obamacare repeal and tax reform.
“Trump is out there all day selling ad nauseam. Selling, selling, selling,” said one House conservative source. “It looks like he’s are holding his fire on this.”
Republicans haven’t forgotten when Trump changed his tune other times to their detriment. White House officials told GOP lawmakers this spring that Trump wanted them to vote for a $1 trillion-plus spending bill. Then, after he had signed the bill and the base balked, he turned on Hill Republicans, criticizing them for foisting the bill on him and inviting blowback from their constituents.
Another conservative lawmaker wondered allowed why any members would take such a risky vote when Senate leaders have said they won’t pass the bill — nor could they, in all likelihood, if they tried because of Democratic opposition.
“I think the bigger question is: Why take the leap and stretch to get something passed,” one conservative lawmaker said, “when the senators are saying they won’t support it.”
President Donald Trump is getting frustrated with his administration’s own demands for border wall funding.
In a private meeting regarding the wall Monday, Trump fumed to senators and his own staff about the $1.6 billion the Senate is planning to send him this fall, according to two people familiar with the meeting. Trump wants the full $25 billion upfront and doesn’t understand why Congress is going to supply him funds in a piecemeal fashion — even though that’s how the spending process typically works.
“He’s focused on border security. And like all presidents, he wants it done now. But we’re part of the legislative process, it’s slower and deliberate,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who met with Trump.
The president said at the meeting that if Congress doesn’t give him the resources he needs for border security, he will shut down the government in September, according to one of the people familiar with the meeting. He did not give a specific number, but has been fixated on getting the $25 billion in a lump sum.
In fact, the $1.6 billion figure came from Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who was present at the meeting. Mulvaney submitted the request to Congress earlier this year, though the administration has since upped its ask to $2.2 billion.
Senate Democrats offered to supply the president with his $25 billion in border wall funding earlier this year in return for giving 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship. But Trump and most Republicans rebuffed that proposal to salvage the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Democrats are unlikely to provide $25 billion for Trump’s wall absent a much broader immigration deal.
Trump’s renewed focus on the border wall comes amid rising pressure to end his administration’s policy of separating families that cross the border illegally. The “zero tolerance” policy shift has been roundly criticized by lawmakers in both parties, but Trump has blamed Congress for inaction on immigration.
“Now is the best opportunity ever for Congress to change the ridiculous and obsolete laws on immigration. Get it done, always keeping in mind that we must have strong border security,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning.
GOP lawmakers are loath to see a government shutdown on their watch just weeks before the midterm elections.
“It’s probably an overwhelming belief in the House and the Senate, especially the Senate, that government shutdowns aren’t good for anybody,” Shelby said.
The Appropriations Committee, which is led by Shelby, began working to pass its Homeland Security bill on Tuesday. Democrats seem unlikely to change course and agree to add more border security money for the president.
“We’ve got the bill and we’re moving forward and I think we’re going to get good bipartisan support for it. I think it’s a good bill that will keep our borders safe,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the ranking member of the Homeland Security appropriations committee.
On Monday, GOP Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Shelby both tried to explain to Trump that the Senate is merely meeting Mulvaney’s request and has to cut a bipartisan deal with Democrats. The Senate needs 60 votes to pass a spending bill, so Republicans would have to find at least nine Democratic votes.
“We’re going to do make a down payment on that working together,” said Capito, chairwoman of Homeland Security spending panel.
But Trump has not been mollified. He raised his voice several times in Monday’s meeting with Mulvaney, White House staffers and the senators, insisting he needs the full $25 billion — an unlikely outcome in the narrowly divided Senate.
Shelby said he views $1.6 billion as a floor in negotiations, which could increase if Democrats want to do some horse-trading.
WHITEFISH, Mont. — A foundation established by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and headed by his wife is playing a key role in a real-estate deal backed by the chairman of Halliburton, the oil-services giant that stands to benefit from any of the Interior Department’s decisions to open public lands for oil exploration or change standards for drilling.
A group funded by David Lesar, the Halliburton chairman, is planning a large commercial development on a former industrial site near the center of the Zinkes’ hometown of Whitefish, a resort area that has grown increasingly popular with wealthy tourists. The development would include a hotel and retail shops. There also would be a microbrewery — a business first proposed in 2012 by Ryan Zinke and for which he lobbied town officials for half a decade.
The Whitefish city planner, David Taylor, said in an interview that the project’s developer suggested to him that the microbrewery would be set aside for Ryan and Lola Zinke to own and operate, though the developer told POLITICO that no final decisions have been made.
Meanwhile, a foundation created by Ryan Zinke is providing crucial assistance. Lola Zinke pledged in writing to allow the Lesar-backed developer to build a parking lot for the project on land that was donated to the foundation to create a Veterans Peace Park for citizens of Whitefish. The 14-acre plot, which has not been significantly developed as a park, is still owned by the foundation. Lola Zinke is its president, a role her husband gave up when he became interior secretary.
The Zinkes stand to benefit from the project in another way: They own land on the other side of the development, and have long sparred with neighbors about their various plans for it. If the new hotel, retail stores and microbrewery go through, real estate agents say, the Zinke-owned land next door would stand to increase substantially in value.
Lesar, who also served as Halliburton’s chief executive until last year, is providing money to back the hotel and retail development, according to business records and officials at Whitefish city government and Halliburton. He also has a longstanding relationship with the Zinkes. In 2014, he and his wife, Sheryl, gave $10,400, the maximum allowed by law, to Zinke’s first House campaign. His only other federal contributions that year were to Halliburton’s PAC and the campaign of Rep. Liz Cheney, whose father, Dick, ran the company before becoming George W. Bush’s vice president.
Ryan Zinke did not respond to a list of specific questions but said in a statement that he “resigned as president and board member” of the foundation “upon becoming secretary.”
The foundation’s 2018 annual report to the state of Montana, however, lists Ryan Zinke as an officer, with Lola Zinke as president and their daughter as treasurer. Zinke said the report was in error and he would seek to amend it.
In his statement, Zinke declared: “The mission remains to provide a children’s sledding park and community open space in a setting that recognizes the contributions of the railroad and the veterans to the community. … The subject LLC you mention has been in contact with Lola with the intent of expanding their parking requirements on park property. I understand a concept was provided but no formal proposal or documents have been submitted or agreed upon. I also understand by reading the paper is their proposal is supported by the City Council.”
He did not respond to questions about the microbrewery, the involvement of Lesar or Lesar’s status as chairman of Halliburton.
Lola Zinke did not respond to questions left on her Facebook page or messages left at the family’s Montana home. Neither Jennifer Detlefsen, the Zinkes’ daughter and the foundation’s treasurer, nor the foundation’s law firm of Frampton Purdy Law, responded to questions.
In Whitefish, the plan to use land that was donated to the Zinkes’ foundation as a public park to further a private development strikes residents as a surprise.
“I’ve never been clear exactly what his intentions are for the place,” said Steve Thompson, who lives near the park and supported Zinke early in his career but has since grown disillusioned with him. He described the current state of the land as “sort of a big puddle, a mudhole puddle.”
The involvement of the interior secretary’s family in a multimillion-dollar project funded by the chairman of an energy-services giant — revealed here for the first time — is rife with conflicts of interest, ethics experts say, especially since Zinke’s job as interior secretary makes him the custodian of more than 500 million acres of public land and head of a department that sets technical and safety standards for pipelines and drilling.
Halliburton is the largest American oil-services company, drilling wells and building rigs. It stands to benefit from any new oil and gas exploration on public land or offshore — something the Trump administration has promised to promote — and the company has frequent dealings with the Interior Department in its regulatory capacity.
For example, federal disclosures show that Halliburton’s in-house lobbyist met repeatedly with Interior officials to discuss the department’s policies on hydraulic fracturing, the oil extraction procedure that some studies have linked to groundwater contamination and earthquakes. Under Zinke, the department last year rescinded Obama-era rules that restricted fracking on federal land, a decision that directly benefited Halliburton, one of the world’s leading fracking companies.
Marilyn Glynn, who was acting director of the Office of Government Ethics under former President George W. Bush, said the foundation’s involvement in a deal backed by the chairman of Halliburton is clearly inappropriate and, at minimum, should force Zinke to recuse himself from any policy decisions affecting Halliburton.
“That Halliburton’s chairman would almost be a business partner of Zinke or his wife, he would have to recuse himself from anything involving Halliburton,” said Glynn, adding that the relationship clearly crosses ethical lines.
She suggested the Trump administration should set a higher ethical standard.
“In a previous administration, whether Bush or Obama, you’d never run across something like this,” she said. “Nobody would be engaging in business deals” with executives whose companies they regulate.
Amy Myers Jaffe, a longtime energy analyst now working at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Interior Department, in setting specifications for rig equipment and how much methane can leak from pipelines, has the power to make Halliburton’s business more or less profitable.
“They spend a tremendous amount on R&D to comply” with government regulations, Jaffe said of oil-service companies. “You wouldn’t want Interior to change specifications and make that equipment no longer commercially viable.”
She added that Zinke’s conflicts could extend to investigations of accidents involving Halliburton’s equipment.
“One thing that is most concerning is if Interior would be called upon to investigate the procedures of a service company offshore” in case of an accident, said Jaffe. “A tight relationship [between the interior secretary and the company] would be problematic.”
Executive branch officials such as Zinke are subject to conflict-of-interest rules requiring that they recuse themselves from government decisions involving people with whom they or their close relatives have a financial relationship.
Craig Holman, a specialist in federal ethics laws for the advocacy group Public Citizen, said Lola Zinke’s efforts to help the development backed by Lesar would amount to a financial relationship.
“Entering this type of business relationship could very clearly open the doors [of government] to business interests that have stakes before the office holder,” Holman said. “Clearly, any substantial development project next to the vacant lot owned by Zinke’s foundation would significantly boost the value of the lot. The conflict-of-interest statute would be invoked if even the nonprofit on which Zinke or his spouse serves as an officer, as either paid or unpaid officers, derives a financial benefit.”
After 23 years as a Navy SEAL, Ryan Zinke retired from the military in 2008 and returned to Whitefish, the mountain city of roughly 6,000 people where he grew up and where his father and grandfather ran a plumbing business.
It was, however, a changed community, increasingly popular with tourists and second homeowners for its pristine isolation and proximity to Glacier National Park.
A city that began as a stopping place for freight trains carrying lumber from the state’s thriving timber industry was fast becoming an upscale resort. In 2009, the year after Zinke’s retirement, about 17 percent of households were making more than $100,000 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2016, 23 percent of Whitefish households were making that much, adjusted for inflation.
Whitefish is a particular magnet for California tech entrepreneurs and oil barons from Canada and Texas who have built homes valued at more than $1 million each. Lesar is one of them. He currently has a home behind a gate on a private road looping up one of the nearby mountains.
As the then 46-year-old Zinke planned his future, he began laying the groundwork for business and political careers more or less simultaneously, and sometimes on parallel tracks. Launching a nonprofit foundation to build a park in Whitefish was one of the first things he did to reintroduce himself to the community, which helped bolster his credentials for office.
The foundation’s first big donation was from BNSF Railway, the nation’s largest freight railroad, with more than 32,500 miles of track. The railway is one of the state’s biggest landowners, with extensive business before the state government.
Zinke proudly announced that the donated land would be used for what he dubbed “the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park.” In announcing the gift, he touted his own career in uniform and described the park as a gift to Whitefish. His intent was to combine the railway land and an adjacent city-owned hill into “a children’s winter sledding park in a setting that recognizes the contributions of the veterans and the railroad to the local community,” according to the nonprofit’s publicly available IRS forms.
“The theme of this park is to celebrate life — why veterans fight,” Zinke told a local newspaper in February 2008.
That same year, he filed paperwork to run for the state Senate.
He won the race and, shortly after taking office, cast the deciding committee vote on a bill that strongly benefited BNSF. The bill would have pumped millions of taxpayer dollars into railroad construction through a publicly funded Montana Rail Authority.
Jeff Mangan, Montana’s commissioner of political practices, said the vote, coming so soon after Zinke accepted a donation of land from the railway, would have violated the Legislature’s code of conduct if he did not disclose the relationship. “If there’s an appearance of conflict of interest, they have a duty to disclose that conflict before a vote,” Mangan said. But enforcement of that requirement can be “fairly laid back,” he said.
There is no record of Zinke making a formal disclosure of his relationship with BNSF before the vote, and Zinke did not respond to questions on the matter.
Ultimately, then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed the legislation for the Montana Rail Authority, saying he was concerned “that public money will be targeted to build infrastructure that should be rightly financed by the private sector.”
BNSF continued to donate more land to the Veterans Peace Park with adjoining parcels being given to Zinke’s foundation in 2010 and 2013.
BNSF spokesman Ross Lane said in an interview, “We would firmly reject that there is any quid pro quo on the donations” for the Veterans Peace Park.
The land remains mostly in a natural state, and is only lightly utilized, except when local children use it for sledding, as they had before Zinke’s foundation acquired the land. On a recent spring day, the only inhabitants were a pair of Bufflehead ducks sharing a retaining pond that dominates the property with a discarded inner tube.
Nonetheless, even in an undeveloped state, the land is now valued at more than $500,000, according to the group’s 2016 tax returns, the most recent publicly available. The tax returns also show monetary gifts to the foundation, which increased as Zinke’s political career advanced.
In 2012, when Zinke launched an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor, the foundation took in $30,000, according to tax records. In 2014, when Zinke ran for the House, the foundation again received $30,000 in contributions and saw its cash holdings grow from $118 to $23,743 over the course of the year. The foundation raised $36,000 in 2015, before seeing its contributions fall to $5,000 the following year, the last before he became interior secretary.
The Zinkes reported that they gave the foundation $10,000 in 2012, but the source of the rest of the contributions is undisclosed. That lack of transparency is a common concern when politicians control their own charities, said Melanie Sloan, a senior adviser at government ethics watchdog group American Oversight.
“The main concern is it’s another way for donors and corporations to curry favor with politicians,” Sloan said. “If he’s doing something to benefit those making donations, it’s invisible to us. It undermines the whole interest of transparency.”
Even as the park continued to lie fallow, Ryan and Lola Zinke turned their attention to pieces of land that they own through various LLCs. In December 2012, while Ryan was preparing to leave the state Senate, the Zinkes announced that they wanted to turn his childhood home into a B&B called the Snowfrog Inn, and also to build a microbrewery on their development land across the street. They planned to call the brewery “Double Tap,” which is a Navy SEAL term for two gunshots.
Both proposals required public approvals, which put Zinke — one of the state’s rising political stars — in a position of arguing before local politicians. He was steadfast in calling for more commercial development in the face of neighbors’ complaints about traffic and noise.
The City Council appointed Zinke to a special steering committee of local residents to explore ways to develop the area where the Zinkes’ land was located. The committee included 13 residents of Whitefish, just two of whom lived in the neighborhood, Zinke and one other.
The committee recommended opening the area for greater commercial development. The City Council and mayor endorsed the plan.
While the larger planning process was playing out, Zinke won approval in 2013 for the B&B without a microbrewery across the street, as he had initially proposed. The Snowfrog Inn website states that it is still under construction.
By 2015, Zinke was back before the City Council, this time in his first term as Montana’s sole representative in the U.S. House, arguing passionately for the committee plan to expand development, according to a video of the meeting. He cited his microbrewery proposal as the impetus for the changes to the planning process.
“In regards to a brewery, I’ve asked for a brewery because that’s what started this whole process,” Zinke declared at a contentious May 4, 2015, council meeting, referring to the changes to the city’s planning rules that he had helped orchestrate.
Neighborhood activists continued to raise objections, insisting that Zinke had done little in the 29 months since announcing his microbrewery proposal to assuage their concerns about noise and traffic. But Zinke told them they were outnumbered.
“The same people are going to be against it tomorrow as was at the beginning, but most of the strong majority of the steering committee, which represented every bit of the neighborhoods … all came to the same conclusion, that this [planning change] should stand,” Zinke said, according to a video of the meeting.
The changes to the planning process did not lead to approval of the microbrewery on the Zinkes’ own development parcel, but they opened the doors to a new proposal for a multiuse development on a much larger plot — a former timber-company lot — between the Zinkes’ land and the veterans’ peace park that they controlled.
The project, known as 95 Karrow, named for the avenue on which the land sits, was launched in September of last year. Two days after the partnership backing the development was established, Lola Zinke, in her capacity as president of the foundation controlling the peace park, signed an official letter of intent to allow the construction of a parking lot for customers of the microbrewery and other businesses on the parkland, which the developers included in their proposal. The letter said the specific terms of the agreement would be worked out by the parties.
Taylor, the Whitefish city planner, told POLITICO that the developers “certainly implied that they were working with [Zinke] to find a place for his microbrewery as well as a shared use agreement for parking on the peace park.”
At least two project maps submitted to the city mark off space specifically for a microbrewery adjacent to the parking lot. The letter Lola Zinke signed and submitted to Whitefish City Council states “it is the intent of the GNVPP Foundation to concur with the general design of the parking, micro-brewery, multiple use path, fence and other supporting elements” of the redevelopment project. Attached to that letter is a map with a handwritten notation indicating a “border adjustment” that would appear to carve out the microbrewery site from the rest of the property.
The parking lot is also meant to serve the park if the foundation ever does anything with the rest of the 14-acre parcel it owns.
The developers of the hotel, microbrewery and retail shops are a partnership known as 95 Karrow LLC, which itself is controlled by two individuals and three other entities, according to business registration records filed with Montana’s secretary of state. The two individuals are John and Katie Lesar, who are the son and daughter-in-law of Halliburton’s chairman, according to a biography his wife, Sheryl, wrote for a local nonprofit, where she serves as a board member.
Two of the other entities, BADF LLC and KCM Enterprises Inc., are linked to Bruce Boody, a local architect who worked with the Zinkes on their B&B proposal, and a local developer named Casey Malmquist, according to Montana business records. The third, Greenstream Resources LLC, lists a Texas address but does not disclose any owners in records filed there. However, the P.O. Box it uses matches the address of another business, First Floor Properties LLC, that lists David Lesar as its “general partner” and other family members among its management.
Both Malmquist and a Halliburton official confirmed that David Lesar is a member of the Greenstream Resources LLC, which is expected to provide a significant portion of the financing for the 95 Karrow project.
Halliburton spokeswoman Emily Mir said the company had no comment on Lesar’s involvement in the project, calling it a private investment that Lesar was making outside his role in the company.
Malmquist, who is leading the development project, said that talk of Zinke owning a brewery on the site was premature, as no final decisions have been made on what type of businesses the redevelopment will contain.
“If and when we get to that point, Ryan Zinke, or anyone else that is interested, can purchase a parcel of property, properly located on the development by use and per zoning, and develop a project that is permitted from the standpoint of zoning designations that determine the permitted uses on the development parcel, as well as following the [covenants, conditions, and restrictions] that are yet to be developed for the property,” Malmquist said in an email.
The Zinkes’ mixing of their nonprofit role as stewards of the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation with their role as landowner and developer echoes other ethical concerns raised about the couple.
In 2012, Ryan Zinke formed a super PAC called Special Operations for America, through which he raised money from donors to attack then-President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign for taking credit for the death of Osama bin Laden. Over the following year, the group paid nearly $40,000 to an LLC established by Ryan and Lola Zinke called Continental Divide International for “strategy consulting” and “fundraising consulting” and to reimburse travel expenses.
Only $7,000 of the more than $180,000 the group raised in 2012 went to efforts to influence the election, according to the group’s FEC filings.
The super PAC was Zinke’s foray into a world of political fundraising that would carry through to his time in the Trump administration. Less than a month after being sworn in as interior secretary, he appeared at a fundraiser in the Virgin Islands for another PAC that has been criticized for spending vastly more on administrative expenses than on campaign activities.
The Virgin Islands GOP PAC has raised $5.7 million since its inception in February 2015. It has spent $76,000 — just 1.3 percent — on congressional candidates, including $3,500 to Zinke’s campaign and SEAL PAC, a subsequent group he launched after his election to the House.
Meanwhile, two of Zinke’s top aides at Interior, chief of staff Scott Homell and counselor Vincent DeVito, were previously on the payrolls of Special Operations for America and SEAL PAC, respectively.
Earlier this year, the Interior Department’s internal watchdog criticized Zinke for obscuring his personal interest in some ostensibly official duties — an incident that involved another Whitefish resident, Fidelity National Financial Chairman Bill Foley, who was one of Zinke’s biggest political donors.
Zinke charged taxpayers more than $12,000 last June for a late-night charter flight from Las Vegas, where he had spoken to a National Hockey League team Foley owns, to Whitefish for meetings at the Western Governors Association that were being held there the following day.
Speaking to the Las Vegas Golden Knights was a favor to a friend and donor. He “first mentioned during his initial ethics briefing in March 2017 that he wanted to speak to a friend’s hockey team,” according to a report from the IG. He did not mention any specific aspects of his job as interior secretary during the speech, which focused on his time as a Navy SEAL. After Zinke and his staff made plans for the speech, the Interior Department started to schedule an event for him to announce Payment In Lieu of Taxation grants, routine business that is typically handled with a news release.
The IG’s investigation found that the charter flight could have been avoided with better scheduling, and that Zinke’s prior relationship with Foley should have been disclosed in advance to ethics officials who had reviewed the trip.
Foley, a West Point graduate who grew up in the Texas panhandle, has been a major presence in Whitefish since buying a home there in 2005. That same year, he purchased a majority share in Winter Sports, the company that runs the Whitefish Mountain Resort in the town. He soon bought Glacier Jet Center, a private airport about 20 minutes outside the city.
Foley’s development projects, like David Lesar’s and the Zinkes’, are signs of just how far Whitefish has come since Zinke’s childhood. The Pastime Pool Hall and Bar, which Zinke fondly remembered in his autobiography as where his grandfather used to socialize, has been renamed “The Bulldog,” although not much else about it has changed. But the city also boasts a crepiere, an artisanal olive oil shop and a camping store that sells “overnight yurts.” A new yoga studio stands about a minute’s walk down the block from Zinke’s boyhood home.
“It’s gone from a dirty ski town to pretty bougie,” said Cale Knox, a Whitefish native and employee at the Red Caboose coffee shop downtown. In a sign of the times, tech venture capitalist Michael Goguen recently bought the Red Caboose, and there is rumor that it will become a wine bar.
Only a mile away is the open land that Zinke dubbed his Veterans Peace Park. Ten years after the railroad donated the first piece of land, locals are as flummoxed as ever about what will happen to it. The situation has left some residents worried that what was pitched as an attempt to provide a green space dedicated to children and veterans was instead used to build Zinke’s political profile.
“It was something to put on his résumé,” Whitefish City Council member Richard Hildner said of the park during a visit there. “Now, it just sits here.”
MIAMI — A billionaire member of Mar-a-Lago is running for Florida governor as the only candidate in the race to stand up to President Donald Trump “in his own dining room” — and Jeff Greene says he has a video to prove it.
Greene’s campaign told POLITICO he’s featuring the snippet of video as B-roll in one of two TV commercials he’s airing for a week as part of his mammoth $2.9 million introductory ad campaign.
The video was taken in December 2017 by his wife, Greene told POLITICO, after Trump started yelling at him near the buffet at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. He said Trump was enraged because Greene both supported Hillary Clinton and had told the Palm Beach Daily News during the campaign that the Republican was guilty of sexual assault.
“I walked by and he screamed, he pointed at me: ‘Jeff Greene!’ Really loud. And, of course, everybody looks up,” Greene said, recalling that Trump was with a posse of about a dozen people, including one of his sons, adviser Kellyanne Conway and his designated White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.
“And he starts ranting and raving: ‘You went against me in the media during the campaign!’ Over and over again. ‘You support Hillary Clinton!’” Greene said. “The whole room is staring at this, where the guy is unhinged, turning red, flailing his arms. And so my wife starts videoing it. And he was going on and on.”
Because his wife was at a distance and started shooting video at the end of the confrontation, Greene says it doesn’t capture him responding to the president-elect about how he had no regrets backing Clinton or opposing Trump.
POLITICO could not independently verify the story, which Greene is now telling publicly for the first time while pushing back on the notion that he and Trump are friends.
The campaign late Monday did not have the final ads or video available for viewing, but released a script of the 30-second ad — called “Stand up to Trump” — that’s supposed to feature the clip. The ad uses the confrontation as a metaphor and says Greene will stand up to the president on guns, “affordable healthcare, and women’s choice.”
“Jeff is the only candidate in America who is willing to stand up to Trump in his own dining room,” the ad says. “Sure, that took some backbone. But that’s exactly what it’s gonna take to stand up to him as governor of Florida. The timid need not apply.”
The second ad Greene plans to air, a 60-second bio spot, tells the story of his blue-collar roots in Massachusetts, his dad’s early death at 51 and his mother’s struggles working as a widowed single mom. Greene went on to become a real estate and investment tycoon who made a fortune betting against subprime loans.
Greene has relatively little name recognition among the five major candidates in the Democratic primary, but front-runner Philip Levine helped show how to quickly make up for that deficit with an ad campaign of more than $11 million over the past seven months.
Greene at this pace is set to shatter Levine’s record in a few weeks, could quickly become a top contender in a state with 10 major media markets and is likely to make this the most-expensive Democratic primary for governor in Florida history.
In 2010, Greene ran unsuccessfully for the Senate and spent about $24 million in a primary against then-Rep. Kendrick Meek, whose campaign and supporters used Greene’s wealth against him. They also defined the one-time Republican as a fake Democrat who profited from the bad economy, while the working class suffered.
Since then, Greene went back into private life, founded a private elementary school in Palm Beach County, where he says he gives many students financial aid, and has begun making himself far more accessible to Florida reporters. He quietly filed to run June 1, long after the others entered the race.
Greene, though, isn’t shy about flexing his financial muscle.
“We’re going to give all this money away anyway, what we really want to do is make a big impact and a difference in the world and make people’s lives better,” he told the Associated Press. “Whether we spend $100 million, $50 million, $200 million — whatever it is, we will spend whatever it takes to make sure that our message is heard at least equally to what the Republican message has been.”
One of Greene’s Democratic opponents, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, has signaled that he’ll make the wealth of Greene and all of the other primary opponents an issue.
“I’m the only non-millionaire in this race,” Gillum says on the stump.
Gillum has yet to advertise statewide on television and is running in the bottom of the pack. Former Rep. Gwen Graham recently began her ad campaign in the Tampa and Orlando markets and has spent about $2.2 million so far. Winter Park businessman Chris King has spent more than $2 million.
The primary is Aug. 28. The winner will likely face Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam or Rep. Ron DeSantis, who are both praising Trump as they run against each other in the GOP primary.
Greene said he expects to be Florida’s next governor, but he will probably lose something in the process: his Mar-a-Lago membership. Asked if he’s been booted from Trump’s exclusive resort club, Greene said, “I’m sure that it’ll happen.”
Kirsten Gillibrand has a different word for the family separation policy which the attorney general and White House press secretary call “Biblical.” Her word is “evil.” In the Biblical sense.
Referencing the “devil’s schemes” from the Book of Ephesians, the New York senator said President Donald Trump’s administration qualifies for that label “if you were talking in Christian language.”
“To me? Yes, these are all things that come from the darkness that are ripping children from their mothers’ arms. That’s outrageous. I mean, that is not a positive, good thing. It is an evil, dark thing,” she told me in an interview for the latest episode of POLITICO’s Off Message podcast.
She ducked calling Trump himself evil, or saying that the person she accuses of acting out the devil’s schemes is the devil himself. But she said what he’s doing certainly is.
“It’s not specifically about the president. It’s about ideas that are evil. It’s about darkness, which is rooted in hate,” Gillibrand said. “There’s a lot of ideas right now that are in this county that are dark ideas: building walls, dividing this country, marginalizing trans [military] members who are troops, marginalizing kids who are transgender, not supporting DACA kids, literally polluting our air and our water.”
“In the civilian world, you would just say those are horrible, outrageous things that we should fight against because they’re harmful and they hurt people. And so we don’t really talk about good and evil in our day jobs, but we certainly talk about policies that harm people and are hurtful and are cruel, and a lot of the policies that this president has put forward are harmful and cruel. And if you want to call it evil,” Gillibrand said, “you can.”
“This is an issue of right versus wrong,” Gillibrand said in a voice-cracking speech on the Senate floor Monday afternoon, calling for action on the family separation policy. “It is wrong of us to stand by silently. It is wrong of us to do nothing. This is what the darkness looks like. We have to stand up against it.”
The rest of that passage in Ephesians is about believers taking up the “armor of God”—the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit. Gillibrand goes to three Bible study sessions on the Hill each week, and really is the only Democrat who attends in the Wednesday group convened by Oklahoma Sen. Jim Lankford, really was there that morning in December when aides pulled her out after Trump’s tweeted about her “‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them).” And she really does see herself as wearing the “armor of God” (including, in the words of Ephesians 6:16, the “shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one”).
Close aides and advisers acknowledge it sounds trite, but add that they never would have believed it was genuine if they hadn’t heard her going on about it non-stop: she thinks in terms of black and white, good and evil, of Christian good works as her calling and speaks of a crusade towards those ends in a pugilistic way that’s become much more familiar with politicians on the right.
“This is not somebody who’s reading a well-crafted speech. She does it extemporaneously, which means it’s in her. She does it in private conversations,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, who said Gillibrand “went straight preacher” at an event at the National Action Network in April commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. It was there where she first rolled out the Ephesians quote, then hit it with a coda from the Book of Esther.
“There is right versus wrong. Unfortunately, wrong is winning in a lot of ways. And so what my job is, is to stand firm, to stand strong, have the belt of truth around my waist,” Gillibrand said in the interview. “This president, I think, is leading the country in a very wrong direction, and so our job is to try to push it back in the right direction.”
How people think of Gillibrand is all about their tone when they say, “Of course she did”—with excitement, with an eyeroll, with respect, with exasperation. Of courseshe said she’d vote against every one of Trump’s Cabinet nominees. Of courseshe was the first big Democrat to come out against taking money from corporate PACs (after she’d built up millions in her own account). Of courseshe fired a warning shot at progressive Senator Al Franken after sexual harassment allegations were made against him and said she was returning all the money he’d given her campaign. Of courseshe was then turned around and said Franken had to go (after she’d said she wanted to wait on the Senate Ethics Committee process to finish).
Take that fervor, run it through a gut that’s never lost an election, through political instincts that would slice the throat of anyone who tries to take her down, through a media savvy that knows how to propel herself into being the person everyone’s talking about, and she’s either the bold hero who gets cheered for leading the way, or the striver who seems like she’ll elbow everyone out of the way to get the headline and the camera shot.
“She relishes being in front—she’s seen it work for her so many times. When has she ever been burned by breaking the mold and stepping in front of the crowd? Never. She knows intuitively that people respect that,” said Jon Reinish, a former aide.
People who don’t respect that include George Soros, other top Democratic donors and operatives who are looking forward to payback in 2020 over her calling for Franken’s resignation. Franken himself has told people privately how betrayed and angry he still is at her for, in his mind, drumming him out—“I have to tell you, she doesn’t want to lose,” he said admiringly of Gillibrand for a 2014 New Yorkerprofile, comparing playing squash with her to seeing her push for causes. Franken declined a request to talk about her now.
She says she doesn’t love the role she’s taken on as the arbiter of sexual misconduct. That Monday evening last month when the revelations about New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman exploded, she and a few advisers huddled, trying to figure out what to do. They knew Schneiderman would have to resign and that she’d call for him to, but she was pushing back against rushing out the statement. “Why do I always have to be the first?” she asked advisers, according to people who remember what happened that night. She knew Schneiderman and had worked alongside him statewide for years. That day at Sharpton’s MLK event, he was two seats over from her.
In the end, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for resignation hit inboxes first, while she was still reading the New Yorker’s Schneiderman exposé to the end. Her statement followed soon after.
Schneiderman announced his resignation that night.
“It had to be said that it’s not okay and that you can’t do those jobs with that kind of allegations credibly reported in detail, multiple allegations,” Gillibrand said. “It’s a sad state of affairs, but it really comes down to this issue of, do we value women in society and, you know, do you believe them, do you value them?”
In the combination of intuition and luck of timing that’s defined her, the “Me Too” movement fit perfectly into the issues she’d carved out for herself, from fighting military sexual assault to encouraging more women into politics (she founded the Off the Sidelines PAC in 2011, devoted to that purpose).
She seizes on causes, finds the nexus of what she sees as morally indefensible and government inaction, and pokes at it every way she can to amp up public pressure.
Take, for instance, the way she’s used “The Daily Show” to become familiar to a whole set of liberals nationwide. Her first appearance on the talk show was intended to promote the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. But when that was passed in the 2010 lame duck session—after she’d done her own whip count and convinced then-Armed Services Committee chair Carl Levin to hold a hearing, despite the Obama White House initially telling her to hold off—she was already booked and instead arrived to applause. She hit it off with Jon Stewart, which led to a partnership pushing for the 9/11 health bill, and from there, garnered her enough appearances that she might as well have been an official contributor. Just last Monday, she headlined a panel with Stewart’s successor, Trevor Noah, on military sexual assault, which, despite the two other credible people sitting alongside her, would probably never have made for a whole segment on the show if not for the United States senator who showed up.
Before Gillibrand was ever on set with Stewart, though, she was sitting in Roger Ailes’ office at Fox News, pitching him on the 9/11 health bill. She’d heard he was a military buff, that he’d bought his house for its view of West Point. She appealed to him about first responders dying for serving their country, and no one caring; she called it “a moral duty” to help them. Ailes seemed to like having a senator come to see him in his office. He seemed interested, Gillibrand said, but didn’t do anything for a few months—until her appearance with Stewart got Fox going, and they were all in. The bill passed.
“She knows more than anything how to best leverage the Senate. We’re in a modern America,” said Bill Hyers, who managed her first House campaign and remains a friend. “The Senate is a platform and if you use it right, you can advance an agenda. And that’s what she’s done.”
Next up: trying to turn up the media heat over reauthorizing the language on military sexual assault and trying to actually pass a bill to create a sexual harassment policy on Capitol Hill. Eight months after the Harvey Weinstein revelations, six months after pushing Franken out and a month after tweet-shaming the Senate into passing her version of the bill, the rage is over, the news has moved on, and they’re still going back and forth.
“If the House is unwilling to vote on our bill, which would be the simplest way to pass the bill, if they’re unwilling to vote on our bill, then they need to conference it,” Gillibrand said, to which the lead House Democrat on the legislation, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) responded, “easy for her to say.”
“What I would say is that I’d like them to pass the House bill so it can just get done, because it’s a much better bill,” said Speier. The Senate bill has a much narrower definition of harassment, and allows taxpayer money to be used on settlements. That’s a no-go, according to the California congresswoman. “The House Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much, but we do agree on this.”
Gillibrand calls the Senate changes “a little bit of tweaking” from the original ideas that she worked on in the House, and says “the simplest way to pass the bill” would be for the House to just pass her bill.
“If we pass my first version, it still would have passed unanimously because I don’t think anybody would have had the guts to vote against it,” Gillibrand said. “It’s frustrating to me because this should be the most easy, fundamental thing we could do, is make this a safe workplace for men and women who work here.”
The night Trump won, Hyers responded to every despondent text by responding with “Gillibrand 2020.” He says he doesn’t know if that’s more than just his fantasy, but other people who know her well expect she’ll run—her instincts are to go for the next big thing, her sons are old enough that the impact would be smaller than it was a few years ago, and there’s not too much worry about finding a way out of saying in February that she plans to serve a full term if she’s reelected in November.
“These decisions are so far outside the norm of what we know to be true that we are all feeling called,” Gillibrand said. “If we don’t do this one right, there’s no way we’ll unseat [Trump] in ’20 anyway. He has the megaphone. He is defining what his version of right versus wrong is, and it’s not consistent with the values certainly of my state and of the people that I represent. And so that’s why the battle in front of us is so important.”
“She will not be 75 and still in the Senate,” said Jef Pollock, the political consultant whom she talked into working on her first House campaign and has stuck with her. “She’s on a mission and where that mission takes her, who knows?”
Kirstjen Nielsen, President Donald Trump’s secretary of Homeland Security, emerged on Monday as the face of the administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy – though internally, she is not seen as a supporter.
Nielsen made a rare and hastily arranged appearance in the White House briefing room on Monday afternoon, where she defended the separation of nearly 2,000 children from their parents. Sounding alternately animated and defensive, Nielsen said the administration would “enforce every law we have on the books,” even if it meant breaking up parents and their kids.
White House chief of staff John Kelly advised Nielsen against doing the press conference, but she charged ahead anyway, according to a senior administration official. She placed blame for some of the heart-rending scenes captured by the news media squarely on Congress and charged that kids are being warehoused because lawmakers have shirked their responsibility to close loopholes in current immigration law.
Inside the administration, Nielsen has argued that implementing a zero tolerance policy would prove tremendously difficult without this, but the administration has pressed ahead regardless. On Monday, she responded indignantly when asked whether she intended to create a situation where thousands of children are caged in former big-box stores. “I find that offensive,” she said. “Why would I create a policy that purposely does that?”
Nielsen’s sudden ownership of the administration’s most controversial domestic policy to date came after senior administration officials pushed her to get on message over the weekend, days after she said in her Senate testimony that she shares lawmakers’ concerns about the monitoring of unaccompanied children placed with other family members or guardians.
“We were all wondering where she was and how long it would be until she got that talk,” said one Trump ally. “Everyone knew that talk was coming.”
Trump has been livid about Nielsen’s performance in what is potentially the biggest domestic crisis of his presidency. He has told allies that he already felt “duped” that Nielsen, who was not a Trump supporter during the 2016 campaign, was appointed to succeed Kelly, her close ally, in the first place, an adviser said.
And Nielsen has now found herself as the focal point of Trump’s wrath as he watches his administration trying to explain its way out of a policy that is being criticized by leaders of both parties as inhumane and immoral.
Nielsen came out swinging on Monday with remarks that reflected the fury of the president. “The Obama administration, the Bush administration all separated families,” she claimed. “They absolutely did.”
Internally, however, Nielsen has argued that the administration’s zero tolerance policy, which is supported by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and senior White House adviser Stephen Miller, would be difficult to implement barring congressional action — an argument that she and the president have made over the past few days, blaming lawmakers for their inaction.
Over the past few months, Trump has called Nielsen and Sessions to account as the number of immigrants flooding across the southern border has spiked. Arrests on the border nearly tripled year-over-year, rising to 40,344 this past May from 14,519 in May of 2017.
In private, Nielson and Sessions have pointed the finger at each other when pressed about the rising number of illegal border crossings, but Nielsen has borne the brunt of Trump’s frustration.
Sessions officially announced the zero-tolerance policy in early May, but the issue came to a head two days later in a Cabinet meeting where Trump blew up at Nielsen. Convinced by whispers from Miller and his allies that Nielsen, a veteran of the George W. Bush administration, is oatmeal-mushy on immigration, much like the former president, Trump berated the DHS secretary, pushing her to the brink of resignation. Several of those present at the meeting said it was the most uncomfortable scene they have witnessed in their professional lives.
A former administration official explained the president’s view: “Being a Bushie is worse than being a Democrat.” Tension with the Bush family has flared in recent days as both former Florida governor Jeb Bush – a Trump antagonist in the 2016 primaries – and former first lady Laura Bush emerged to publicly rebuke Trump’s policy of separating parents from their kids.
Knowing Nielsen is in a vulnerable position, and that her handling of the border crisis could give the president a reason to scapegoat and fire her, her detractors have tried to tar her with a connection to one of the Bush administration’s greatest failures: Hurricane Katrina.
At the time of the 2005 disaster, which drowned New Orleans, Nielsen was serving as special assistant to the president for prevention, preparedness and response. Trump allies who are trying to make the argument that the administration’s policy is not the problem – it’s the poor implementation and planning that are the issue – are pointing to this piece of her resume as a proof that it’s Nielsen who is the real problem.
But Trump’s chief of staff considers her a surrogate daughter – she spent last Christmas with his family – and helped her secure the DHS job last December.
The president made his own attitude towards her clear in the first Cabinet meeting she attended as an official member of the Cabinet shortly after her confirmation in early December of last year. Trump used the occasion to recount Kelly’s successes at DHS and, in particular, how border crossings were historically low under his leadership. “I sure hope Kirstjen’s tough enough,” Trump said, according to one meeting attendee.
But Kelly’s status in the White House has changed in recent months, and he and the president are now seen as barely tolerating one another. According to four people close to Kelly, the former Marine general has largely yielded his role as the enforcer in the West Wing as his relationship with Trump has soured. While Kelly himself once believed he stood between Trump and chaos, he has told at least one person close to him that he may as well let the president do what he wants, even if it leads to impeachment – at least this chapter of American history would come to a close.
In recent months, his Secret Service detail has often been spotted standing outside the gym in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the middle of the day – and White House officials who pass it on the way to meetings view his late morning workouts as an indication of him having thrown in the towel on trying to have any control inside the West Wing.
In a statement following that explosive Cabinet meeting in early May, Nielsen said that the president was “rightly frustrated that existing loopholes and the lack of congressional action have prevented this administration from fully securing the border.”
That is almost exactly the message she returned to on Monday, when she said Trump is trying to “find a long-term fix.”
The president himself is showing no signs of backing down, either. “The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility,” Trump told reporters. “If the Democrats would sit down instead of obstructing, we could have something very quickly.”
Top aides to President Donald Trump are planning additional crackdowns on immigration before the November midterms, despite a growing backlash over the administration’s move to separate migrant children from parents at the border.
Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and a team of officials from the Justice Department, Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Management and Budget have been quietly meeting for months to find ways to use executive authority and under-the-radar rule changes to strengthen hard-line U.S. immigration policies, according to interviews with half a dozen current and former administration officials and Republicans close to the White House.
The goal for Miller and his team is to arm Trump with enough data and statistics by early September to show voters that he fulfilled his immigration promises — even without a physical border wall or any other congressional measure, said one Republican close to the White House.
Among the fresh ideas being circulated: tightening rules on student visas and exchange programs; limiting visas for temporary agricultural workers; making it harder for legal immigrants who have applied for any welfare programs to obtain residency; and collecting biometric data from visitors from certain countries.
Details of the ideas are still being worked out, said one White House official.
In one of the most closely watched plans under discussion, the Department of Homeland Security has proposed a new rule that former Obama administration officials and immigration advocates worry could be used as an end run around a 1997 court settlement that limits the length of time migrant children can be kept in government custody.
“Once you rescind that regulation, then you go back to being able to do whatever you want and the detention becomes the complete discretion of ICE,” said Leon Fresco, former deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Immigration Litigation at the Department of Justice. “That is where people think this is headed.”
The president and his top aides have framed the family separation issue as something Democrats could end by signing onto Republican legislation addressing Trump’s priorities, including funding the border wall — even though the separation moves are solely the outgrowth of a Department of Justice decision and not grounded in a particular law.
Miller, who was instrumental to Trump’s early travel ban — which, like the border separations, triggered widespread public outrage and was put into effect without sufficient logistical planning — is among those who see the border crisis as a winning campaign issue.
“That is the fundamental political contrast and political debate that is unfolding right now,” he said in an interview with Breitbart News published on May 24. “The Democratic party is at grave risk of completely marginalizing itself from the American voters by continuing to lean into its absolutist anti-enforcement positions.”
And some in the Trump administration are not inclined to back down from any of its immigration policies because they’ve been planning them for more than a year, according to one White House official and a Republican close to the administration.
On Jan. 25, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that called for the arrest and detention of people caught crossing the border illegally — a broad preview of the Department of Justice’s April “zero-tolerance” decision to refer all border-crossers for federal prosecution, which has led to the separation of children from parents being sent into criminal courts.
Many of the ideas for enacting more aggressive immigration enforcement or tweaking old government rules originated with the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, which Miller effectively runs.
Other participants in the effort include: John Walk, a lawyer in the White House counsel’s office and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ son-in-law; Thomas Homan, the soon-to-retire head of ICE; Francis Cissna, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Gene Hamilton, a former staffer to Sessions and ex-DHS official, who’s now at the Department of Justice; and officials throughout the Department of Homeland Security.
In his Breitbart News interview in May, Miller specially called for closer examination of H1-B visas, which allow U.S. employers to hire foreign workers for certain specialized jobs.
The Office of Management and Budget is currently reviewing a proposal to make it harder for immigrants with visas to obtain permanent residency, including a green card, if they or their children have used government benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps or tax credits. Advocates fear this would keep people from seeking necessary help or medical attention.
The Department of Homeland Security’s list of proposed rules, released this spring, offers another roadmap for the coming changes.
In one interim final rule, DHS would expand and make permanent a pilot program that allows the agency to collect biometric data — such as fingerprints, photographs or retina scans — from certain foreigners at land ports and some airports and seaports: a move that alarms privacy advocates.
“At all of the agencies, there is a steady drip, drip of regulatory and policy changes,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that favors lower levels of immigration. “It is clear that Congress is unlikely to help them in terms of legislative fixes and will probably not even give them much more money, so they are going to use the tools they have and address these problems.”