WASHINGTON — The White House says President Donald Trump will call for optimism and unity in today's State of the Union address, using the moment to attempt a reset after two years of bitter partisanship and deeply personal attacks.
But will anyone buy it?
Skepticism will emanate from both sides of the aisle when Trump enters the House chamber for the primetime address to lawmakers and the nation. Democrats, emboldened after the midterm elections and the recent shutdown fight, see little evidence of a president willing to compromise. And even the president's staunchest allies know that bipartisan rhetoric read off a teleprompter is usually undermined by scorching tweets and unpredictable policy maneuvers.
Still, the fact that Trump's advisers feel a need to try a different approach is a tacit acknowledgment that the president's standing is weakened as he begins his third year in office.
The shutdown left some Republicans frustrated over his insistence on a border wall, something they warned him the new Democratic House majority would not bend on. Trump's approval rating during the shutdown dipped to 34 percent, down from 42 percent a month earlier, according to a recent survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the president would use his address "to call for an end to the politics of resistance, retribution."
"He's calling for cooperation," she said, adding that Trump will point to examples of where this has happened on his watch. Officials said the president also is expected to highlight infrastructure, trade and prescription drug pricing as areas in which the parties could work together.
But Washington's most recent debate offered few signs of cooperation between Trump and Democrats. Under pressure from conservative backers, Trump refused to sign a government funding bill that did not include money for his long-sought border wall. With hundreds of thousands of Americans missing paychecks, Trump ultimately agreed to reopen the government for three weeks to allow negotiations on border security to continue.
With the new Feb. 15 funding deadline looming, Trump is expected to use his address to outline his demands, which still include funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He's teased the possibility of declaring a national emergency to secure wall funding if Congress doesn't act, though it appeared unlikely he would take that step Tuesday night. Advisers also have been reviewing options to secure some funding without making such a declaration.
"You'll hear the State of the Union, and then you'll see what happens right after the State of the Union," Trump told reporters.
The president's address marks the first time he is speaking before a Congress that is not fully under Republican control. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who won plaudits from Democrats for her hard-line negotiating tactics during the shutdown, will be seated behind the president — a visual reminder of Trump's political opposition.
In the audience will be several Democrats running to challenge Trump in 2020, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Another Democratic star, Stacey Abrams, will deliver the party's response to Trump. Abrams narrowly lost her bid in November to become Georgia's first black governor, and party leaders are aggressively recruiting her to run for Senate.
While White House officials cautioned that Trump's remarks were still being finalized, the president was expected to use some of his televised address to showcase a growing economy. Despite the shutdown, the U.S. economy added a robust 304,000 jobs in January, marking 100 straight months of job growth. That's the longest such period on record.
Trump and his top aides also hinted that he is likely to use the address to announce a major milestone in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. Despite the objections of some advisers, Trump announced in December that he was withdrawing U.S. forces in Syria.
In a weekend interview with CBS, Trump said efforts to defeat the IS group were "at 99 percent right now. We'll be at 100."
DES MOINES -- Iowa’s public K-through-12 schools appear in line for a 2.1 percent state funding boost for the 2019-2020 school year.
Republican leaders in the Iowa Capitol said Monday they have reached an agreement with Gov. Kim Reynolds, and will soon begin running bills with the goal of sending them to Reynolds next week.
The proposal would produce a $3.3 billion state public K-12 education budget, including $89.3 million in new funding.
The new funding includes:
• a 2.1 percent increase in general funding, or $78.6 million
• $7.8 million to help districts with outsized transportation costs
• a $5 per pupil boost in the school funding formula, or $2.9 million
“We’re confident that the amount that we’re committing here today is sustainable, we will be able to fund it and it shows the priority that we have for K-12 education,” said Jack Whitver, the Republican Senate Majority Leader from Ankeny.
The general budget increase more than doubles the 1.1 percent and 1 percent increases Reynolds and the Republican-led Iowa Legislature approved for the current and previous school years.
“At the end of the day, this is a big increase,” said Linda Upmeyer, the Republican Iowa House Speaker from Clear Lake. “We’re talking about serious money. We’ve made a serious attempt to increase revenue to schools and also leave revenue for other priorities of Iowans. This is a significant portion of the budget. We still have to discuss regents and community colleges, so we’ll continue with our education work. I think it’s a big commitment. It’s a serious commitment.”
Reynolds, in her budget proposal she released in January, had called for a 2.3 percent general funding increase. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Herman Quirmbach, the top Democrat on the Senate’s education committee, said the Republican proposal is inadequate in part because it does not compensate for the low funding increases the previous two years.
Senate Democrats, who are in the minority, have proposed a 3 percent general funding increase.
“The last two years have been pitiful,” Quirmbach said. “I think a higher number is in order.”
DES MOINES — The state of Iowa agreed Monday to pay $4.15 million in settlements to two executive branch employees who were sexually harassed for years by an agency director who was a longtime friend of Gov. Kim Reynolds.
The payments will go to the Iowa Finance Authority's former business development director, Beth Mahaffey, and its communications director, Ashley Jared. Both complained last year to the governor's office about the hostile work environment they endured under Iowa Finance Authority executive director Dave Jamison, who was then fired by Reynolds.
The state appeal board voted 2-1 to approve the settlements after tabling a proposal by State Auditor Rob Sand to seek restitution from Jamison for the cost.
Both women had filed legal complaints with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, but had not yet filed lawsuits. Settling the cases this early — and for this much money — is unusual for the state. But the move avoids potentially years of proceedings during which Jamison's conduct and his association with the governor would have been examined, along with the risk that jurors could eventually return larger verdicts.
The women said that Jamison frequently boasted of his close relationship with the governor and that they didn't complain sooner because they believed he would face no consequences. They came forward after they were disturbed by an incident in which Jamison allegedly showed one a pornographic video during a car ride, looked at his crotch and said, "can you tell when I am excited?" They said they were afraid of the former Marine.
The state will pay $2.35 million in cash and annuities to Mahaffey, 53, who left state employment last year after complaining about Jamison. Another $1.8 million will go to Jared, 35, who continues to work at the agency. The money will come from the state's general budget, but Reynolds has asked the authority to consider reimbursing the state for the cost.
Sand, who took office last month, said taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for Jamison's misconduct and that he should be required to pay. But Solicitor General Jeff Thompson told the panel that it's unclear whether the state has the authority to seek restitution from Jamison and that question should be considered later.
State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald and Department of Management Director David Roederer voted to approve the deals, saying they trusted advice from the attorney general's office to settle them now. Fitzgerald said that Jamison's conduct was so outrageous that the cases could have ultimately cost the state tens of millions of dollars.
"Having this employee heading up one of our departments is disgusting," said Fitzgerald, who questioned why no criminal charges were filed against Jamison.
Jamison, who has remained silent publicly since the scandal broke, didn't return a message seeking comment.
Reynolds fired Jamison one day after the women contacted her office in March 2018. The governor initially refused to share details of Jamison's conduct, saying the women didn't wish to be identified. But she later released a complaint that described constant sexual talk and improper behavior by Jamison in the workplace, during travel and social outings.
In statements issued by their lawyers, both women praised Reynolds for firing Jamison and keeping their complaints confidential.
Mahaffey said that she went to work for the agency to serve Iowans but ran into an "increasingly toxic and harmful" environment.
"I came forward in desperation when I could no longer tolerate the dehumanization of myself and others. This was a very difficult decision due to the constantly looming threat of retaliation," she said.
Jared said that coming forward "took every ounce of courage and strength I had" but she did so to prevent others from being harassed.
An independent investigation concluded Jamison had subjected the women — identified as Witness 1 and 2 — to "aggressive and harassing treatment." He frequently talked in detail about his sex life, asked questions about theirs, and made remarks about their bodies, the report found. In the most egregious incident, Jamison allegedly grabbed one of the women's breasts as part of a "joke" during a work outing at a bar. Jamison disputed their allegations, but the report found his denials weren't credible.
Reynolds has described Jamison as a longtime professional and family friend. She said that she knew he had a reputation as a heavy-drinking partier but that she never witnessed or was aware of any improper sexual harassment.
The two met when they were county officials in the 1990s and later became leaders of the association representing county treasurers. They ran on the statewide GOP ticket in the 2010 election, when Reynolds was elected lieutenant governor and Jamison lost his race for state treasurer. Then-Gov. Terry Branstad appointed him in 2011 to lead the authority, which promotes affordable housing and runs other programs.
Jared and Mahaffey received unusually large salary increases from Jamison that weren't justified or necessary, according to an audit released last month. Jared's salary increased by 210 percent during her 10 years with the agency to $115,000, while Mahaffey's went up 44 percent in six years to $87,000.
"Essentially he was using taxpayer money to keep them quiet which is why I believe the taxpayers ought to be going after Dave Jamison," Sand said.