Trump dismisses idea of allowing Bahamians into U.S. after Hurricane Dorian

President Donald Trump on Monday downplayed the idea of allowing Bahamians fleeing the destruction of Hurricane Dorian into the United States on humanitarian grounds, hours after his acting Customs and Border Protection chief said it was worth considering.

“We have to be very careful. Everybody needs totally proper documentation because the Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there,” Trump said on the White House South Lawn before departing for a campaign rally in North Carolina, where he also planned to survey Dorian damage.

“I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.”

Earlier Monday, acting Customs and Border Protection chief Mark Morgan said during a press briefing that while there has not been any formal grant of temporary protected status, or TPS, for Bahamians affected by Dorian, it was not something he had ruled out. TPS provides legal status to migrants from countries affected by war or natural disaster and allows them to live and work in the U.S. for a set period of time.

Morgan said he had yet to discuss it with Trump but said, “I think it would be appropriate to have that circumstance. History shows we’ve done that before.” He added that if it’s a “lengthy time” before residents of the Bahamas can get back on their feet, he expected the discussion to happen.

Instead of allowing Bahamians into this country — which Trump said is “also recovering from the hurricane” — Trump suggested those struggling in devastated areas of the Bahamas could go to the “large sections” of their country that were not hit.

The conflicting stances came a day after more than 100 Bahamians were forced off a ferry boat before it could reach Florida, according to two U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.

Those removed from the boat were supposed to be taken to the Bahamas capital of Nassau first to get visas, a process that authorities in the United States have been coordinating with the Bahamas government on to ensure is done correctly, Customs and Border Protection officials said in a statement on Monday.

The ferry boat operator had not coordinated the evacuation with U.S. authorities first, the officials said.

Customs and Border Protection said in a statement on Monday that it is “supporting the humanitarian mission with interagency partners in the Bahamas” following Dorian, one of the strongest Atlantic storms ever recorded.

“CBP continues to process the arrivals of passengers evacuating from the Bahamas according to established policy and procedures — as demonstrated by the nearly 1,500 Hurricane Dorian survivors who arrived at the Port of Palm Beach, Fla., aboard a cruise ship on Saturday and were processed without incident,” the agency said.

The agency added it was “notified of a vessel preparing to embark an unknown number of passengers in Freeport and requested that the operator of the vessel coordinate with U.S. and Bahamian government officials in Nassau before departing The Bahamas.” The agency said that it has already processed nearly 1,500 storm survivors at the Port of Palm Beach, Fla., aboard a cruise ship on Saturday.

Video of the evacuees being ordered off the boat was first shared by Miami’s WSVN reporter Brian Entin late Sunday.

Anyone arriving in the U.S. from another country needs to first meet with a Customs and Border Protection officer at official ports of entry and must have valid identity and travel documents, the agency’s statement said.

Dorian has killed at least 44 people in the Bahamas, according to the country’s health minister. The storm hit the islands as a Category 5 last Sunday and Monday, leaving tens of thousands of residents homeless. It then slammed North Carolina’s Outer Banks Islands before pounding Canada’s Atlantic Coast.

[NBC News]

NOAA backs Trump on Alabama hurricane forecast, rebukes Weather Service for accurately contradicting him

The federal agency that oversees the National Weather Service has sided with President Trump over its own scientists in the ongoing controversy over whether Alabama was at risk of a direct hit from Hurricane Dorian.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated Alabama was in fact threatened by the storm at the time Trump tweeted Alabama would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.”

Referencing archived hurricane advisories, the NOAA statement said that information provided to the president and the public between Aug. 28 and Sept. 2 “demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama.”

In an unusual move, the statement also admonished the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Ala., which had released a tweet contradicting Trump’s claim and stating, “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

The NOAA statement said: “The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

Released six days after Trump’s first tweet on the matter, the NOAA statement was unsigned, neither from the acting head of the agency nor any particular spokesman. It also came a day after the president’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser released a statement justifying Trump’s claims of the Alabama threat.

The NOAA statement Friday makes no reference to the fact that when Trump tweeted that Alabama was at risk, it was not in the National Hurricane Center’s “cone of uncertainty,” which is where forecasters determine the storm is most likely to track. Alabama also had not appeared in the cone in days earlier, and no Hurricane Center text product ever mentioned the state.

Trump’s tweet that Alabama would be affected by the storm gained national attention Wednesday when he presented a modified version of the forecast cone from Aug. 29, extended into Alabama — hand-drawn using a Sharpie. The crudely altered map appeared to represent an effort to retroactively justify the original Alabama tweet.

The doctored map went viral, becoming a source of ridicule among political pundits and late-night talk show hosts, who accused the president of dishonesty.

[The Washington Post]

Trump causes confusion by saying Hurricane Dorian will hit Alabama, forcing national weather service to issue correction

Donald Trump has caused unnecessary confusion by saying Hurricane Dorian – now the joint most powerful storm to make landfall on record – was forecast to hit Alabama, when in fact the state is not among those experts believe is threatened.

Three other states – FloridaSouth Carolina and Georgia – are all ordering part or full evacuations of their coastal areas and North Carolinahas declared a state of emergency, but there are no evacuation orders in place in Alabama.

The US president generated additional bemusement, by saying he had “never even heard of a category 5 storm” before, despite making the same comment at least four times previously during his presidency.

Mr Trump tweeted: “In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated. Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!”

This prompted US weather organisations to refute the president’s statement.

The US National Weather Service branch for Birmingham, Alabama responded to Mr Trump’s tweet saying: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorianwill be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”

Mr Trump also claimed he had never heard of a category 5 hurricane, a remark he has made several times before – despite owning property in Florida, a state routinely affected by tropical storms.

[The Independent]

Trump Attacks Puerto Rico Ahead of the Storm—When the Island Is More Vulnerable Than Ever

Hurricane Dorian is set to make landfall today in Puerto Rico, with the potential of winds up to about 75 mph and heavy rains. The storm will strike only weeks before the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which tore the island apart in September 2017. Even though Zoé Laboy, the governor’s chief of staff, told reporters on Sunday that “Puerto Rico is ready,” recovery takes a long time—and even longer given the political and fiscal challenges the island has faced both internally and from the Trump administration.

“The recovery process from disasters, particularly from a catastrophic event like Maria, is measured in years, in decades,” says Samantha Montano, an emergency management and disaster science expert at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. “When you’re looking at a community already undergoing a recovery process, you’re in a more vulnerable state.”

Both during and after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane, the island’s devastation and recovery dominated the headlines. Maria left nearly 3,000 Puerto Ricans dead, and damage to the electrical grid meant that almost half a million residents were without power for more than four months. Puerto Rico’s electrical grid had already been in need of an upgrade before the storm, and it took 11 months before the island regained power. An estimated $95 billion in damages burdened a colony already in a decade-long economic slump, unable to contend with $120 billion in outstanding debts and obligations. Economic conditions and the storm caused the island to lose roughly 4 percent of its population, with many young people and families moving to Florida—a dynamic that has further slowed the recovery.

On Tuesday, President Trump falsely claimed on Twitter that Congress granted Puerto Rico $92 billion in aid. According to FEMA’s data on disaster funding, Congress has allocated a total of almost $42.7 billion, less than half of the sum Trump claimed, to the Puerto Rican government for disaster assistance, flood control, and other services related to recovery. Of the amount Congress has approved for Puerto Rico, less than $14 billion has been disbursed to the island so far. In 2017, Trump visited the island in the aftermath of Maria and memorablytossed paper towels to Puerto Ricans in an aid distribution center before cutting short his perfunctory visit to the United States territory.

“Because of federal and local neglect, Puerto Rico is still not prepared for another natural disaster,” says José Caraballo-Cueto of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research at the University of Puerto Rico. “Two years after Maria, thousands of residents are without roofs, the electrical grid is more or less in the same, weak condition, and many roads and bridges in the countryside were not completely restored.” Caraballo-Cueto, who is also the former president of the Puerto Rico Economists Association, says that instead of establishing a systematic approach to using the funds for recovery, the two entities responsible for distributing the money—the local government and the unelected, federally appointed fiscal control board that makes decisions about how Puerto Rico can spend money—”prefer to depend almost exclusively on NGOs and on the federal government to recover.” 

Although Dorian likely won’t hit the island with a force comparable to Maria’s Category 4 strength, with its 155 mile an hour winds and torrential rain that stalled over the island, for the thousands who remain without roofs, “it doesn’t matter how much it rains, it’s a big issue,” says Jenniffer Santos-Hernández, an expert in emergency management at the University of Puerto Rico’s Centro de Investigaciones Sociales. Santos-Hernández acknowledges that even though the government and some communities have more resources than they did during and after Maria, “the way that FEMA and the emergency management agency in Puerto Rico collaborate is not necessarily the best, because it’s very politicized.” Emergency management in Puerto Rico is “not really a professional career, but a political appointment.” Given Puerto Rico’s colonial status, the “lack of trust among the actors…becomes amplified.”

Puerto Rico’s recent political turmoil further complicates the issue of both preparedness and recovery, should the storm bring greater damage to the island’s already compromised infrastructure. On July 24, less than two weeks after the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo published889 pages of a chat group featuring misogynistic and homophobic language and possible evidence of corruption among the governor and 11 of his associates, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resigned. On his way out of office, he appointed Pedro Pierluisi as secretary of state—an attempt to ensure that Pierluisi would succeed him as governor—only for a court to rule five days later that the process had been unconstitutional, disqualifying Pierluisi from service. Wanda Vázquez Garced, the island’s secretary of justice, who has faced allegations that she didn’t fully investigate issues around aid distribution after Hurricane Maria, was sworn in as governor on August 7.

The political upheaval caused FEMA to require extra documentation for reimbursement, applicant information, and work plans in Puerto Rico. This policy had been enacted in the fall of 2017 after Hurricane Maria but was eventually rescinded after the government of Puerto Rico established internal controls for the spending. The day after Rosselló’s resignation, FEMA reinstated the policy citing “the ongoing leadership changes within the Puerto Rican government, combined with continued concern over Puerto Rico’s history of fiscal irregularities and mismanagement.”

How that decision would potentially affect funding or additional support should Dorian cause major damage to the island is unclear. But in a response to a March 2019 General Accountability Office review of disaster funding in Puerto Rico, the island’s government said the policy “places an undue burden” on residents applying for federal aid and “significantly delays” reimbursement. The government’s letter asserted, “FEMA has never implemented such a [system] for any previous disaster in the nation.” FEMA did not respond to a request for clarification of this policy.  

A punitive federal response to Puerto Rico’s internal political problems was not restricted to FEMA. The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced on August 2 that roughly $9 billion in disaster mitigation funds earmarked for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands would be separated from overall disaster mitigation funding for nine other states. Before the HUD decision, funding for the states and the territories was going to be disbursed together, but the new decision allowed HUD to give money to the states while delaying money for the territories. In a statement, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said, “Recovery efforts in jurisdictions prepared to do their part should not be held back due to alleged corruption, fiscal irregularities and fiscal mismanagement occurring in Puerto Rico.” He cited the July 10 arrest and indictment of Julia Keleher, the island’s former education secretary, on charges of improperly steering sizable contracts to associates in 2017.

[Mother Jones]

Trump whines about paying for disaster relief in Puerto Rico as another storm barrels down on US territory

President Donald Trump complained — again — about disaster relief aid for Puerto Rico for hurricane relief as another storm approached.

The president has repeatedly and falsely claimed that Congress had allocated $92 billion of aid money to the U.S. territory for relief aid for 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which inflicted an estimated $90 billion in damage.

In fact, the island was allocated $42.5 billion but actually received only a fraction while the bulk of the aid has remained in Washington as part of a bureaucratic approval process.

The president tweeted out another complaint about the spending as Tropical Storm Dorian approached Puerto Rico.

[Raw Story]

Trump backs Brazilian president as he rejects aid for fighting Amazon fires

President Donald Trump gave Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro his full backing Tuesday as South America struggles to contain wildfires wreaking havoc in the Amazon rainforest and as Bolsonaro rejected a pot of international aid to fight the blazes.

“I have gotten to know President @jairbolsonaro well in our dealings with Brazil,” Trump tweeted. “He is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil – Not easy. He and his country have the full and complete support of the USA!”

Brazil on Tuesday said it would reject$20 million in aid money offered Monday by G-7 nations to battle the massive fires that have threatened one of the world’s greatest sources of biodiversity.

“The Amazon are the lungs of the planet, and the consequences are dire for the planet,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in announcing the aid fund earlier this week. The assistance was not intended solely for Brazil, but for the nearly dozen states that make up the Amazon region in South America, including French Guiana. Canada and Britain pledged an additional $11 million and $12 million in aid, respectively, during the G-7 summit.

Bolsonaro’s decision to spurn the aid money from France and other economic giants comes amid a public spat with Macron that resulted Monday in the French president openly wishing Brazil would soon have a new leader. Bolsonaro insisted Macron had called him a liar and insulted him by questioning his handling of the crisis. The Brazilian president said that once Macron retracted some of those comments, “then we can speak,” according to The Associated Press.

Critics have accused Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist dubbed the “Trump of the tropics,” of facilitating the fires and of taking a lax approach to preventing mass deforestation of the rainforest while also being too slow to respond to the fires. Macron last week threatened to upend a major trade deal between the European Union and the South American Mercosur trade bloc over the issue, claiming Bolsonaro was not living up to environmental commitments that had been made under the deal.

Brazil’s ambassador to France, Luís Fernando Serra, said on French TV on Tuesday that his country is rejecting the aid because the decision was made without involving his country and the “language is ambiguous.”

“We refuse because we see interference,” he said, calling the aid “help we didn’t ask for.”

Bolsonaro’s chief of staff went further, taking personal shots at Macron and suggesting the aid might be better spent reforesting his own backyard. And he knocked the massive blaze earlier this year at Paris’ historic Notre Dame Cathedral, adding, “Macron cannot even avoid a predictable fire in a church that is part of the world’s heritage, and he wants to give us lessons for our country?”

[Politico]

Trump Brags That Victims of Mass Shootings ‘Love’ Him: ‘They Love Their President’

President Donald Trump gushed over himself during a freewheeling press spray on Wednesday, insisting that victims of mass shootings adore him.

“I went to the hospitals,” Trump said when asked about his recent visits to hospitals in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio following two massacres that left 31 dead. Trump then made bizarre remarks on the victims, complaining that there was no media coverage of their adulation for him:

“The people that were so badly injured that I was with, they love our country. And frankly, do you want to know the truth? They love their president. And nobody wrote that. Nobody wrote that. Because you didn’t write the truth. New York Times doesn’t like to write the truth. They totally love our country and they do love our president. So when I went to Dayton, when I went to El Paso, and when I went into those hospitals, the love for me, and me maybe as a representative of the country, but for me, and my love for them, was unparalleled. If you read the papers, it was like nobody would meet with me. Not only did they meet with me, they were pouring out of the rooms. The doctors were coming out of the operating rooms. There were hundreds and hundreds of people all over the floor, you couldn’t even walk on it.”

[Mediaite]

Trump on guns: ‘We do have a lot of background checks right now’

President Donald Trumpon Sunday emphasized a need for the country to focus on “a very big mental health problem” in the wake of two mass shootings in one weekend that left 32 people dead earlier this month as he appeared to defend current US gun control measures, stating “we do have a lot of background checks right now.”

“It’s the people that pull the trigger, not the gun that pulls the trigger so we have a very, very big mental health problem and Congress is working on various things and I will be looking at it,” Trump told reporters on the tarmac before heading back to Washington after a vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. 

The White House, Trump said, is “very much involved” in the discussions Congress is having to address gun violence and while “a lot of things are happening on the gun level” he said “the concept of mental institutions” must be addressed.

“These are people that have to be in institutions for help, I’m not talking about as a form of a prison, I’m saying for help and I think it’s something we have to really look at, the whole concept of mental institutions,” he said. “I remember growing up we had mental institutions, then they were closed — in New York, I’m talking about — they were, many of them closed. A lot of them were closed and all of those people were put out on the street.”

“So I think the concept of mental institutions has to be looked at,” he said. 

Guns in America

Trump’s comments Sunday mark an increased focus from the President on mental health measures over gun control legislation to address gun violence as lawmakers remain skeptical gun control legislation could pass a divided Congress. 

Trump, who has previously expressed support for tighter gun restrictions only to back off under pressure from the National Rifle Association, added Sunday that he’s “very concerned about the Second Amendment.”

Meanwhile, two gun control groups mobilized to increase the pressure on senators to pass legislation in the wake of the two mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas.

Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action held rallies across the country this weekend after announcing Thursday that they would spend nearly $1 million on ads against a handful of Republican lawmakers. 

The effort from Everytown and Moms Demand comes as the NRA, its biggest adversary, has been noticeably absent from applying pressure on Capitol Hill allies to hold fast against strong forces for gun reform.

Support for background checks 

The Democrat-controlled House passed a universal background check bill in February, but the measure has not been considered by the Republican-led Senate. Trump last week expressed an openness to background checks.

Speaking to a Kentucky radio station last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the Senate will put the issues of background check legislation in addition to “red flag” laws “front and center” when the body reconvenes after its summer recess, but it will not return early as Democrats are demanding.

A mid-July NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 89% of Americans considered it a “good idea” to implement background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or other private sales, with a nearly nonexistent partisan divide: 96% of Democrats, 89% of independents and 84% of Republicans called it a good idea.

[CNN]

El Paso’s Republican mayor says Trump called him a ‘RINO’ during visit after mass shooting

The Republican mayor of El Paso, Texas, said this week that President Trump referred to him as a “Republican in name only” – or “RINO” – when the president visited the city following a mass shooting.

Mayor Dee Margo (R) told “PBS Frontline” in an interview that aired Wednesday that Trump made the remark while the two held an impromptu meeting amid the president’s visit in the wake of a shooting that left 22 people dead.

During their discussion, Margo said, Trump called him a “RINO” after he objected to the president’s “misinformation” about crime in El Paso.

“He said, ‘You’re a RINO,’ and I said, ‘No, sir. I am not a RINO.’ I said, ‘I simply corrected the misinformation you were given by [the Texas] attorney general, and that’s all I did,'” Margo told Frontline, adding that his response prompted a grin from the president.

Margo earlier this year denounced Trump for saying in his State of the Union address that El Paso experienced a dramatic dip in crime after installing a border fence. The criticism came amid a push for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Margo tweeted shortly after the speech that “El Paso was never one of the most dangerous cities in the US.”

“We’ve had a fence for 10 years and it has impacted illegal immigration and curbed criminal activity,” Margo wrote. “It is NOT the sole deterrent. Law enforcement in our community continues to keep us safe.”

He later added that Trump may have been given incorrect information from the Texas attorney general about crime statistics during his previous visit to McAllen, Texas.

Days later, Trump took aim at Margo, saying during a February rally in El Paso that “people were full of crap” if they say a border fence hasn’t made a difference in reducing crime.

“There’s no place better to talk about border security, whether they like it or not,” Trump said at the time. “I’ve been hearing a lot of things. ‘Oh the wall didn’t make that much of a difference.'”

“I don’t care if a mayor is a Republican or a Democrat, they’re full of crap when they say it hasn’t made a big difference,” he added.

Margo said his recent meeting with Trump occurred as the president traveled to the airport after visiting medical staff and shooting survivors in El Paso. The two discussed border security, according to Margo, who said he told Trump that a physical barrier is not a “panacea.”

“I said, ‘If you want to deal with immigration, the first thing you do is you have Homeland Security define what is a secure border and what they need in the way of resources to handle that,'” Margo said, adding that his comments about crime in El Paso seemed to “resonate” with Trump.

Asked about Trump calling his previous comments “full of crap,” Margo said he he hoped Trump “wouldn’t say that now, given our conversation.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

[The Hill]

Trump lashes out at Fox News’s Shep Smith, says ‘fake news CNN is better’

President Trump on Wednesday renewed his criticism of Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, arguing that “Fake News CNN is better” and saying that he now tunes in to the conservative news outlet One America News Network whenever he gets the chance.

“Watching Fake News CNN is better than watching Shepard Smith, the lowest rated show on @FoxNews,” Trump tweeted on a day when he visited first responders and survivors of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. “Actually, whenever possible, I turn to [One America News Network]!”

It was not immediately clear what Trump’s tweet — which came during Smith’s daily program and while Trump was aboard Air Force One to El Paso — was referencing. 

Trump earlier Wednesday visited Dayton to meet with those impacted by a mass shooting over the weekend that left nine people dead. 

Smith acknowledged Trump’s tweet during his show Wednesday, saying, “Good afternoon, Mr. President. It’s nice to have you with us.”

The Hill has reached out to Fox News for comment.

Trump has repeatedly denounced the media during his presidency, often referring to it as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.” But he has consistently praised Fox News and network hosts such as Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson. He has taken a different view of Smith, though. 

In March, the president derided Smith as the “lowest rated anchor,” saying that he should be working at CNN. 

Smith has consistently taken a critical view of Trump during his two-plus years in the White House. Among other things, he fact-checked Trump’s prime-time address on border security in January during his daily news program. 

Last month, he described Trump’s attacks on a group of minority congresswomen as a “misleading and xenophobic eruption of distraction and division.”

Trump has recently shown a greater willingness to condemn Fox News over what he views as unfair coverage. After the network aired a “F— Trump” chant from a bar in France in July, Trump claimed that Fox News was “changing fast” and forgetting “the people who got them there.”

He lashed out at the network again just weeks later after one of its polls showed him losing to former Vice President Joe Biden in a hypothetical 2020 presidential matchup. 

“Fox News is at it again,” he tweeted. “So different from what they used to be.”

[The Hill]

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