States Can Count on Federal Cash in Emergencies
President Donald Trump recently stated that states can count on his administration to dispense U.S. emergency funds efficiently. “We do it quickly. We do it effectively,” Trump told reporters at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), where he and members of his Cabinet were getting a briefing on the summer’s hurricane season.
“We are very strong with respect to FEMA," Trump said. "FEMA is something I’ve been very much involved in already.”
The president spoke a few hours before embarking on his own summer vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. At FEMA, President Trump got a tour of the command center, the hub where the agency coordinates during emergencies. Video maps line the walls to help officials monitor storms, weather conditions and more.
Federal officials predicted in May that the U.S. could face 11 to 17 named storms, including five to nine hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast predicted two to four “major” hurricanes with sustained winds of at least 111 mph. Forecasters expect warmer-than-average waters across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea this summer. Tropical Storm Emily drenched parts of Florida earlier this week with rain, but no hurricanes have formed so far.
Trump was accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Also in attendance were White House chief of staff John Kelly.
Disaster Risk Management: Insights from the U.S.
Australian disaster management expert Andrew Gissing recently visited the United States to attend the annual Association of State Floodplain Managers Conference, American Planning Conference and to meet with representatives of FEMA, North Carolina Emergency Management and the University of North Carolina. He noted two key themes arising from this conference.
Governments and communities should use disaster recovery as an opportunity to transform resilience and use hazard mitigation plans to inform post-event mitigation activities.
The scale of recent hurricane disasters in America has been beyond that of Australian experiences in terms of death toll, damage, disruption and displacement. Out of these events opportunities have arisen to enhance community resilience as a consequence of increased political and community interest in risk mitigation and the availability of additional funding. This is allowing the building of safer communities, moving beyond a mantra of repair and restoration.
This was observed in communities of North Carolina following Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. Previous major hurricanes in North Carolina in 1996 (Fran) and 1999 (Floyd) resulted in voluntary property buy-outs and the implementation of house-raising. These measures were said to have significantly reduced damages during Hurricane Matthew.
Following Hurricane Matthew, voluntary property buy-outs and house-raising are, again, being pursued, along with the demolition and rebuild of structures to increased standards. Currently some 2,600 households have volunteered for either buyout, house-raising or demolition and rebuild.
For buy-outs, the state provides a fair market price for the property based on an independent appraisal, with an additional incentive provided if owners remain within the existing county. The home is demolished and the land deeded to the local government. There is often no systematic, community-wide approach to buy-outs resulting in a patchwork of buildings remaining on the floodplain and concerns by local government that buyouts will reduce rates. Vacant land has also become a site for illegal dumping. The timeframe for executing individual buy-outs was often a challenge as the process can take several years, accounting for valuation, assessment of contamination, title searches, negotiation and completion of the transaction.
Integration across a whole of community approach is key to catastrophic disaster planning. The U.S. develops catastrophic disaster plans for identified scenarios including mass power outages, large hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions, and nuclear and biological incidents. The Department of Defense are integrated in the planning process to ensure logistical requirements for deployments in support of responses managed by states.
To build unity of effort through a whole-of-community approach, FEMA engages with private sector organizations through partnerships. Most partnerships are voluntary, with organizations motivated by public good and to ensure their own business continuity. FEMA maintains a private sector division and integrates business through a representative of Fortune 500 companies in their national operations center. It was said that businesses appreciated that FEMA shares information with them, though there were challenges with businesses sharing information about their supply chains due to commercial interests.
Are More Policies Needed to Aid Emergency Management Collaboration?
Successful emergency management is often the result of great collaboration among personnel, agencies and nonprofit organizations coming together in the midst of a disaster. Collaboration is an integral component of emergency management, but sometimes it can be difficult to execute effectively.
Some of the most effective collaborations, however, are founded on a policy. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Incident Command System, for example, is a policy that has helped first responder organizations stay focused during an emergency and effectively collaborate on resources, personnel and communications. Mutual aid agreements between local and state governments have also been of great help in promoting collaboration between departments and agencies.
The Recognition of EMS Personnel Licensure Interstate Compact (REPLICA) is the nation’s first and so far only multi-state compact for the emergency medical services profession. Its aim is to foster greater collaboration among the states. REPLICA is a coordinated database that will permit EMS licensure sharing and create greater accountability. The program will also close some of the gaps that EMS organizations have experienced throughout the country. According to the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, the 10 states that have joined REPLICA are: Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Virginia, Tennessee, Idaho, Utah, Mississippi, Wyoming and Georgia.
REPLICA’s role in furthering collaboration among states begs a philosophical question for the emergency management community: could programs like REPLICA add a new and important dimension to disaster management?
For many agencies, departments, nonprofit organizations, local governments – and anyone involved in emergency management – programs like REPLICA could create a more collaborative environment for those involved in emergency management.
The Week in D.C.
House Speaker Paul Ryan To Face Debt Ceiling Dilemma
When Congress returns in early September, Republicans and Democrats will only have a few short weeks to raise the debt ceiling. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) faces a problem: the gap between what House conservatives want for raising the debt limit and what they can actually get is looking increasingly vast. Ryan may pay a price if he simply turns to Democrats and passes a clean raise to the government’s borrowing authority.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) stated this week that conservatives have proposed a menu of options to GOP leadership. Their ideas include adding debt prioritization language to a limit increase, which would prioritize Treasury debt payments ahead of other spending, and codifying the Trump administration’s informal rule of "one regulation in, two out."
Freedom Caucus Republicans are also open to making around $250 billion in mandatory spending cuts, as well as attaching a debt ceiling raise to their health care bill. But none of those options are looking all that likely, with any borrowing limit increase needing the sign-off of at least eight Senate Democrats. With Republicans controlling Congress and the White House, there’s little incentive for Democrats to give Republicans any concession. If anything, Democratic aides insist, it’s Republicans who will have to give in to Democratic demands.
One possible option would be to couple the debt ceiling with funds to reimburse health insurance companies serving poor customers. The Trump administration has threatened to withhold those funds, which were promised to insurance companies as part of the Affordable Care Act, but Congress could guarantee the payments. One senior Democratic aide stated that negotiations haven’t really begun at this point, but a lot of Democratic members are uneasy about approving more debt only to allow Republicans to cut taxes for the wealthy as a result. At this point, another senior aide said, Democrats are taking a “wait and see” approach.
Ryan’s office said it’s too early to comment on the negotiations or his position on the debt ceiling. But there’s a growing sense among conservatives that Ryan’s position is more tenuous than he anticipates, especially if he passes a clean debt ceiling raise with the help of almost every Democrat and a small coalition of Republicans. It would be extremely difficult for a Republican speaker to put forward a clean debt ceiling and look his conference in the face and believe he’s done a job well done.
But Republicans speaking on the condition of anonymity were more candid, with one member saying that if Ryan puts forward a clean debt ceiling raise, “it becomes the start of the end for the Ryan speakership.”
Another conservative member summed up Ryan’s position this way: “He doesn’t get it. He’s not going to make it to tax reform if he doesn’t get through this.”
If conservatives actually make the debt ceiling a litmus test for the speaker, Ryan may resist the pressure from Democrats ― and, potentially, the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) ― to simply raise the limit without changes. But taking a hard stance could have serious economic implications, calling into question the United States’ ability to pay its bills and raising interest rates for future government borrowing. In effect, playing a political game of chicken with the debt ceiling may end up costing the government, and taxpayers, more.
Trump and McConnell (Again)
The war of words between President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is heating up - and threatening to imperil an already thorny legislative agenda come September. Trump resumed his public criticism of McConnell last week, again attacking the GOP leader for failing to repeal Obamacare.
"Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn't get it done. Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!" Trump tweeted last week.
This tweet follows barbs from Trump and a top aide directed at McConnell Wednesday after the Kentucky Republican said the president had "excessive expectations" about the legislative pace on Capitol Hill.
Trump called McConnell to express his disappointment before his critical tweet, but targeting McConnell publicly is seemingly not a good strategy for President Trump as Senate Leader McConnell is a crucial ally for anything the president needs or wants to accomplish this fall, from the must-do items like raising the debt ceiling to shiny objects, like a tax code rewrite.
At least one Republican senator thinks his conference shares much more of the blame on Obamacare than McConnell is taking. "The bottom line is we didn't fail because we didn't have enough time. We failed because we were not ready to solve the problem, and we didn't have the right idea," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Fox News radio.
White House Pitches Deal for Wall Money and Avoiding a Government Shutdown
The White House is pushing a deal on Capitol Hill to head off a government shutdown by lifting trict spending caps long opposed by Democrats in exchange for money for President Donald Trump’s border wall with Mexico.
Marc Short, the White House’s director of legislative affairs, met with top staffers from both parties on the Senate Appropriations Committee last week to make a hard sell for the proposal. Short said the border funding would be used for a “double fence” and stressed that the White House is insisting on a down payment for construction this fall. Short also lobbied for a big budget increase for the Pentagon, another priority for Trump.
The government runs out of money after September 30. Without a spending deal, federal agencies will be forced to close until an agreement is reached. Democrats have vowed to oppose funding for a border wall, making it probably the biggest threat to an early October closure. The White House is offering Democrats more funding for their own pet projects in return for allowing construction to move ahead on a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border — though perhaps not the "big, beautiful wall" with solar panels that Trump has long promised.
The border wall has also become a more valuable prize politically for Trump since the collapse of the Obamacare repeal effort. Trump and GOP leaders are aiming to pass tax reform legislation this fall but face big obstacles, making the border wall even more important for the White House. Yet there still seems little chance of getting sign-off from Congress.
Democrats show no sign of yielding on the issue. They have already blocked the project once: during negotiations over a government spending package last spring, the White House dropped similar demands for wall funding after Democrats balked.
Trump and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney have since said they won’t cave this time — even if it means shutting down the government. Indeed, lawmakers and aides in both parties are dreading the looming showdown, as a White House desperate for legislative wins makes a major push for a wall that Democrats hate.
“It’s just the wrong message; we don’t want to build a wall around the United States,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee and called the border wall a “non-starter.”
“It’s difficult for me to see that proposal going anywhere,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) added. “A lot of people don’t want the additional border wall.”
The timing of Short's meeting with Senate Appropriations staffers — a full two months before the government would shut down — suggests the White House is aware of just how difficult it will be to secure border wall funding. White House officials appear to be trying to give themselves as much time as possible to strike a deal. GOP insiders on Capitol Hill expect negotiations could drag out well beyond September 30. Senior GOP and Democratic aides believe a two- or three-month patch that continues spending at 2017 levels is likely, in order to buy more time.
Before leaving for August recess, House Republicans made the first move on a wall, passing a security funding bill that included Trump’s $1.6 billion request for roughly 70 miles of new barriers on the southern border. The House bill also increased the Defense Department budget by more than $70 billion above current spending caps set in law. All but five House Democrats opposed the measure. Such a bill, however, is doomed in the Senate, where 60 votes — meaning eight Democrats — are needed to pass any spending agreement. Beyond their opposition to the wall funding, Democrats typically require any military spending boosts to be matched by domestic increases.
Trump's Government Overhaul Hits a Speed Bump
Republican and Democratic congressional aides have predicted for months that both sides will come together on a spending agreement to raise spending caps for the Pentagon, as well as for non-defense domestic programs.
Congress passed such a framework several years ago under the lead of then-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA.). The question this time is whether Trump can get his wall money as part of any agreement.
Some Republicans are more optimistic than others. White House officials appear to believe it’s a battle worth fighting. And congressional conservatives, including those in the House Freedom Caucus, strongly agree, even suggesting they would back a government shutdown to secure wall funding. After being forced to drop his request for wall money last spring, Trump also tweeted that “our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September” to secure the campaign promises he ran on.
Hill GOP leaders, however, are eager to avoid a shutdown, fearful the public would blame Republicans and that the party could suffer heavy losses in the 2018 midterm elections. They already worry that Trump's slumping approval ratings will cost them at the polls next year.
Still, some Republicans are hopeful that if the White House can sell the border barrier as a “fence” instead of a wall, perhaps some Democrats will be more receptive. Technically, the House wall funding package would not finance a massive brick-and-mortar structure, as Trump promised on the campaign trail, but rather, double fencing and levies.
“Look, there are places where the wall makes sense, and there are places where the wall doesn’t make sense and there are better options,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who represents a state that Trump carried by 20 points in the election. “So I’ll just take a look at it and see.”
But it’s unlikely that the White House will find eight Democratic senators to go along, even if means more money for domestic programs. “I do know for a fact that every [Democrat] considers wall funding to be a poison pill,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who is up for reelection next year.
Murray, the Democrat who negotiated the 2013 budget pact, said she would oppose the terms that the White House is floating. "He promised during the campaign he was going to build a wall paid for by Mexico," Murray said. "Until I see that promise, it's going nowhere."
Senator Susan Collins Says Threats Will Not Change Her Health Care Vote
Maine’s Republican Sen. Susan Collins said that she would not be swayed by President Donald Trump’s apparent threats to pull the plug on key Obamacare funds, including subsidies for members of Congress and their staff.
In an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Collins first said that even if Trump cut off Congress’ subsidies, it would not change her mind about opposing the health care repeal. Tapper then asked whether if cuts to cost sharing reduction (CSR) payments that the federal government provides for low-income people would affect her decision.
“It would not affect my vote on health care but it’s an example of why we need to act ― to make sure that those payments, which are not an insurance company bailout, but rather help people who are very low income afford their out-of-pocket costs toward their deductibles and their co-pays,” Collins said in response.
Trump tweeted on Saturday that he would end “BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress” if Congress did not act to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
Although Trump did not make clear what he meant, he implied that he would withhold CSRs, which the federal government provides insurers to subsidize the coverage of people with incomes under 250 percent of the poverty level who buy plans on the Obamacare insurance exchanges.
He also appeared to threaten the funding that the federal government uses to subsidize the cost of coverage for members of Congress and their staff, who are required to purchase the insurance of the Washington, D.C., Obamacare exchange.
Collins said she favors developing multiple pieces of legislation in the relevant Senate committees to address Obamacare’s flaws, noting that the Obamacare exchanges are “collapsing” in some areas. Collins received a spontaneous round of applause at the airport in Bangor, ME, from constituents who were pleased that she opposed the Obamacare repeal. Collins told Tapper that the warm reception was “encouraging and affirming.”
Collins has resisted virtually every iteration of repeal that the Senate considered in recent months. Early Friday morning, she joined fellow Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and John McCain (Arizona) in voting down the so-called “skinny” repeal bill, which would have eliminated Obamacare’s individual insurance mandate and the requirement that large companies provide insurance to their employees.
Collins’ steadfastness has not discouraged the president or senior Trump administration officials from threatening to torpedo the exchanges through moves like cutting off the CSRs. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, suggested in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” that Trump was seriously considering halting the payments. “He’s going to make that decision this week and that’s a decision that only he can make,” she said to host Chris Wallace.
Also, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney affirmed that it was official White House policy that Congress should not enact any new legislation, including a raise of the debt ceiling, until Congress repeals Obamacare. He did not explicitly say whether that meant that the White House would not sign any such legislation. “Go and poll the American public and find out what the most important issue is to them right now, and it’s health care,” Mulvaney said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union. “So, in the White House’s view, they can’t move on in the Senate.”
At the Races
Rep. Tsongas Won’t Seek Reelection, Setting Off Scramble To Run For Open Seat
Massachusetts Rep. Niki Tsongas (D) announced yesterday that she won’t seek reelection next year.
Tsongas’ “late husband, Paul Tsongas, was a Democratic congressman and served as Massachusetts senator. He made an unsuccessful bid for president in 1992.
The Springfield Republican reports that the announcement by Tsongas, who was elected to the House in 2007, “sets off a scramble for an open Congressional seat in the same year that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) and Gov. Charlie Baker (R) will be seeking second terms.
“Inside Elections” rates the Tsongas' district as safely democratic. Tsongas won re-election by 38 points last fall. Her decision not to seek re-election will likely give way to a crowded Democratic primary.
Rep. Tsongas’ announcement “sparked a flurry of interest in succeeding her. Among those eyeing a run: Ellen Meehan, the wife of former Democratic Rep. Marty Meehan, who represented the district before Tsongas and was also her campaign chair .
Former Mayor Intends to Challenge Cruz
Former Corpus Christi Mayor Dan McQueen, confirmed his Senate run last week. McQueen abruptly stepped down as mayor in January – just one month after being elected – following news reports that questioned his qualifications and choice of chief of staff.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who failed in his presidential bid last year, faces a competitive race in the upcoming midterm elections. A June 2017 poll conducted by the University of Texas shows 35 percent of those surveyed “strongly disapprove” of Cruz’s job performance, compared to 21 percent who “strongly approve."
McQueen appears to be taking a page out of the Trump playbook, vowing to fight against “fake news” while taking a strong stand against illegal immigration, according to his campaign website. McQueen also cast himself as an outsider and railed against “career politicians with little life experience” on his website. “I have fought my way from the bottom, served in America’s military, fought Fake News, educated and given myself to better Texas and America,” he wrote. McQueen was also famous during his brief tenure as mayor for his social media rants. One one occasion, he claimed the Corpus Christi City Council was “comprised of only high school graduates."
Cruz will also face Rep. Beto O'Rourke, an El Paso Democrat, who threw his hat in the ring in March. While he faces a tough fight against Cruz in the red state, early polls in April showed the Texas senator was tied at 30 percent with O’Rourke.
Top Trump Donor Ponies Up to Take Out Flake
Robert Mercer, one of Donald Trump’s most generous political benefactors, is providing a $300,000 donation to a super PAC devoted to unseating Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who has been fiercely critical of the president.
It’s the latest sign that Trump’s political machine is preparing to take on Senator Flake, whose persistent attacks have angered the president. The White House has met with Kelli Ward and two other Republicans who are mulling primary challenges to the Arizona senator, state Treasurer Jeff DeWit and former state GOP Chairman Robert Graham.
A longtime Trump critic, Flake has made waves with the release of his new book, “Conscience of a Conservative.” He argues that his party is in denial about the Trump presidency and blames the GOP for his rise.
Over the past week, Flake has launched a national TV tour in which he’s made the case that his party has taken the wrong course. During the 2016 campaign, Flake refused to endorse Trump and called on him to withdraw after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump was heard boasting about groping women. The senator refused to attend the GOP convention, saying that he had to stay home to mow his lawn. His jabs rankled candidate Trump, who at one point said that he would be willing to spend $10 million of his own money to defeat Flake in a 2018 primary.
During a recent press briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to rule out the possibility that the president would help finance an anti-Flake primary effort. “Sen. Flake would serve his constituents much better if he was less focused on writing a book and attacking the president" and more involved in "passing legislation,” she said.
Ties between the Mercer family and Trump run deep. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, is close to several of the president’s closest aides, including chief strategist Steve Bannon. In August 2016, Rebekah Mercer, a major GOP donor in her own right, played an instrumental role in engineering a shakeup that placed Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, now a White House counselor, atop Trump’s campaign.
In December, then-president-elect Trump, Bannon, and Conway attended a lavish “Villains and Heroes”-themed costume party at the Mercer family’s Long Island home. Robert Mercer also contributed to the pro-Ward super PAC, KelliPAC, during the 2016 campaign, when Ward unsuccessfully challenged GOP Sen. John McCain. Mercer is a primary funder of the pro-Trump website Breitbart, which published a number of flattering stories about Ward during her previous bid.
“We are so grateful to Mr. Mercer for his courageous support for Kelli Ward, a true conservative champion. Early investments in a campaign like this are so valuable,” said Doug McKee, KelliPAC’s chairman, said in a statement. “Kelli is in prime position to carry her message of accountable, constitutional government all the way to the United States Senate. Interest from additional donors is pouring in, and we are confident that leadership like Mr. Mercer’s will allow us to run a robust winning effort all the way to November of 2018."
A Mercer spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Flake is one of the most vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection in 2018, and many senior Republicans are worried that his manifesto will hurt his prospects and further inflame tensions with the administration. Within Arizona, some of Trump’s biggest donors have been searching out a primary opponent to challenge the senator. The president has yet to declare his support for any of Flake’s prospective opponents, yet he is keeping tabs on the primary. During a recent meeting in the Oval Office, Trump asked the Arizona GOP chairman, Jonathan Lines, for an update on the contest.