WASHINGTON -- Facing a divided Congress for the first time, President Donald Trump on Tuesday called on Washington to reject "the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution." He warned emboldened Democrats that "ridiculous partisan investigations" into his administration and businesses could hamper a surging American economy.
Trump's appeals for bipartisanship in his State of the Union address clashed with the rancorous atmosphere he has helped cultivate in the nation's capital — as well as the desire of most Democrats to block his agenda during his next two years in office. Their opposition was on vivid display as Democratic congresswomen in the audience formed a sea of white in a nod to early 20th-century suffragettes.
Trump spoke at a critical moment in his presidency, staring down a two-year stretch that will determine whether he is re-elected or leaves office in defeat. His speech sought to shore up Republican support that had eroded slightly during the recent government shutdown and previewed a fresh defense against Democrats as they ready a round of investigations into every aspect of his administration.
"If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation," he declared. Lawmakers in the cavernous House chamber sat largely silent.
Looming over the president's address was a fast-approaching Feb. 15 deadline to fund the government and avoid another shutdown. Democrats have refused to acquiesce to his demands for a border wall, and Republicans are increasingly unwilling to shut down the government to help him fulfill his signature campaign pledge. Nor does the GOP support the president's plan to declare a national emergency if Congress won't fund the wall.
Wary of publicly highlighting those intraparty divisions, Trump made no mention of an emergency declaration in his remarks. He did offer a lengthy defense of his call for a border wall, declaring: "I will build it." But he delivered no ultimatums about what it would take for him to sign legislation to keep the government open.
"I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country," he said, painting a dark and foreboding picture of the risks posed to Americans by illegal immigration.
Throughout his remarks, the 72-year-old Trump harkened back to moments of American greatness, celebrating the moon landing as astronaut Buzz Aldrin looked on from the audience and heralding the liberation of Europe from the Nazis. He led the House chamber in singing happy birthday to a Holocaust survivor sitting with first lady Melania Trump.
The president ticked through a litany of issues with crossover appeal, including boosting infrastructure, lowering prescription drug costs and combating childhood cancer. But he also appealed to his political base, both with his harsh rhetoric on immigration and a call for Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the "late-term abortion of children."
Trump devoted much of his speech to foreign policy, another area where Republicans have increasingly distanced themselves from the White House. He announced details of a second meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, outlining a Feb. 27-28 summit in Vietnam. The two met last summer in Singapore, though it garnered only a vaguely worded commitment by the North to denuclearize.
As he condemned political turmoil in Venezuela, Trump declared that "America will never be a socialist country" — a remark that may also have been targeted at high-profile Democrats who identify as socialists.
The president was surrounded by symbols of his emboldened political opposition. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was praised by Democrats for her hard-line negotiating during the shutdown, sat behind Trump as he spoke. And several senators running for president were also in the audience, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Another Democratic star, Stacey Abrams, delivered the party's response to Trump. Abrams narrowly lost her bid in November to become America's first black female governor, and party leaders are aggressively recruiting her to run for U.S. Senate from Georgia.
Speaking from Atlanta, Abrams calls the shutdown a political stunt that "defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people, but our values."
Trump's address amounted to an opening argument for his re-election campaign. Polls show he has work to do, with his approval rating falling to just 34 percent after the shutdown, according to a recent survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
One bright spot for the president has been the economy, which has added jobs for 100 straight months.
"The only thing that can stop it," he said, "are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations" — an apparent swipe at the special counsel investigation into ties between Russia and Trump's 2016 campaign, as well as the upcoming congressional investigations.
The diverse Democratic caucus, which includes a bevy of women, sat silently for much of Trump's speech. But they leapt to their feet when he noted there are "more women in the workforce than ever before."
The increase is due to population growth — and not something Trump can credit to any of his policies.
The president also defended his decisions to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan over the opposition from national security officials and many Republican lawmakers.
"Great nations do not fight endless wars," he said, adding that the U.S. is working with allies to "destroy the remnants" of the Islamic State group and that he has "accelerated" efforts to reach a settlement in Afghanistan.
IS militants have lost territory since Trump's surprise announcement in December that he was pulling U.S. forces out, but military officials warn the fighters could regroup within six months to a year of the Americans leaving. Several leading GOP lawmakers have sharply criticized his plans to withdraw from Syria, as well as from Afghanistan.
Trump's guests for the speech included Anna Marie Johnson, a woman whose life sentence for drug offenses was commuted by the president, and Joshua Trump, a sixth-grade student from Wilmington, Delaware, who has been bullied over his last name. They sat with Mrs. Trump during the address.
DES MOINES --- State leaders are discussing whether to pursue financial recompense from a former state agency director charged with sexual harassment.
The state Appeal Board on Monday approved a $4.15 million settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by two women against former Iowa Finance Authority director David Jamison.
Gov. Kim Reynolds and attorney general Tom Miller are discussing the state’s options, including whether to pursue action against Jamison, Reynolds and Miller’s staff said Tuesday.
State auditor Rob Sand, the lone appeal board member to vote against the settlement Monday, suggested Jamison should be held financially accountable for his alleged harassment, not Iowa taxpayers.
“I don’t think we should ever lose sight of the victims. Let’s just start there,” Reynolds said. “We’re consulting with the AG’s office to consider what our state’s options are once the settlements are finalized.”
The approved settlements bring to nearly $6 million the amount the appeal board has agreed to pay out over the last 15 months to settle allegations from state employees who say they were subjected to sexual harassment from superiors.
In October 2017, the board approved a $1.75 million payout to Kirsten Anderson, a former Iowa Senate Republican staff member who said she was fired the day she lodged a sexual harassment complaint.
Reynolds said no policy can eradicate sexual harassment, but said her administration is working constantly to create a safe working environment in state government.
“Unfortunately you can’t legislate morality (and) giving people respect,” Reynolds said. “But what you can do is say that you have a zero-tolerance policy, you do everything you can to change the culture, you make sure that employees know that the expectation is for them to come to work and have every expectation of working in a safe environment, that they know what the process is if they see or experience sexual harassment, they know who they report that to, and they know that those allegations will be heard, and if they’re substantiated, action will be taken. And I did that.”
Reynolds said she supports a proposed constitutional amendment that would state the Iowa Constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion.
A subcommittee meeting on the proposed amendment is scheduled for Wednesday. Changes to the state’s constitution must be passed by consecutive General Assemblies and then Iowa voters.
Reynolds said she has not yet decided whether to appeal the recent district court ruling that struck down legislation passed in 2018 that banned abortions after a heartbeat can be detected.
Reynolds expressed her support for and defended legislation introduced Monday that would overhaul the makeup of the commissions that nominate judges to Iowa courts.
The governor appoints judges from a list of nominees created by commissions that are comprised equally of governor’s appointees and members elected by attorneys. Each commission is headed by a current judge.
Under the legislation, the attorneys would no longer elect any commission members. Instead, commission members would be nominated by the governor and legislative leaders.
Half of the members would be required to be attorneys, but those attorneys will be chosen by politicians, not their peers.
The proposal gives weight to the political party in power. For example, on the statewide commission the party in power would nominate 12 commission members and the party out of power only four. The legislation says nominees should be chosen regardless of political affiliation, but there is no mechanism to guarantee that. Other state boards, for example, are required to be politically balanced.
Reynolds said the changes are to ensure commission members are elected in a more representative fashion by removing attorneys from the process.
“We want it to be fair and we want to make sure that all Iowans are represented in the process,” Reynolds said.
SIOUX CITY -- Non-union employees working in Woodbury County departments are in line to receive pay raises of 3 percent next year, after the county board of supervisors talked through other potential wage amounts Tuesday.
After two weeks of discussion, the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors in the weekly meeting settled on the 3 percent raises to go to the 36 non-union county employees for fiscal year 2019-20.
One week ago, the supervisors deadlocked in a 2-2 vote on a proposal to give a 2 percent raise. In that meeting, Supervisor Rocky De Witt said non-union employees should get raises of 3 percent, while Keith Radig favored 2.5 percent and Matthew Ung supported 2 percent.
Most of the 400 county employees are union members, and have raises coming for 2018-19 roughly in the 2.5 to 3 percent range. The supervisors in recent years have the practice of giving raises to non-union personnel which are in line with those negotiated by union workers.
On Tuesday, Supervisor Jeremy Taylor opened the discussion with a proposal for a raise of 2.75 percent, although it didn't advance to a vote.
De Witt returned to his 3 percent recommendation, saying he is mindful of keeping "quality" employees in a time of low unemployment. Ung spoke against that, saying it is "overdue" to have pay be based on performance by employees, as he said is done with private sector businesses.
The 3 percent amount was set on a 3-2 vote, with Ung and Radig voting against it, and De Witt, Taylor and Marty Pottebaum voting affirmatively.
By comparison, one year ago the supervisors passed a budget motion to give raises of 2.75 percent to non-union employees, which includes some department heads.
The raises for non-union employees, like every element in the 2019-20 budget, won't officially be set until the county supervisors approve the final version, which is slated to take place after a public hearing on March 12.
Over six meetings since the beginning of January, the supervisors have worked through issues related to a county budget that was proposed at $56.9 million, or $2.3 million more than the current year, when talks began.
Going into the Tuesday meeting, county Finance Director Dennis Butler's projection showed the property tax rates at $7.34 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for city residents and $9.77 per $1,000 for rural residents. The tax rates in the current year are $7.29 per $1,000 for city residents and $9.53 per $1,000 for rural residents.
The budget covers the period from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020.
Also in the meeting, the supervisors approved a $1,000 mileage expense to travel to Minneapolis, in order to meet with federal agency officials to discuss a possible revenue source for the county.
Radig said it is a small amount to pay, because much more money could come back to the county in future revenues from that for-now unnamed federal agency, which could be put toward jail improvement costs.
County officials three years ago discussed more than $10 million in improvements in the Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center jail wing, which opened in 1987. Then Sheriff Dave Drew in January 2018 said the expansion was not needed, due to fewer inmates in the facility.
Now, county officials want see if the federal revenue sources could be a financial stream for any jail modernization projects that ultimately come back in the future. The trip will include a few county officials, plus a consultant from the Goldberg Group Associates, who has given input on jail needs in recent years.
Radig said the name of the agency will be released once a concrete proposal is settled.
SIOUX CENTER, Iowa -- Voters in the Sioux Center Community School District on Tuesday approved a $24.9 million bond referendum that would ease overcrowding in the district's three schools in addition to financing construction of a new high school.
According to unofficial results from the Sioux County Auditor's Office, 1,312 votes (76.37 percent) were cast to approve to bond referendum while 404 votes (23.63%) were cast against it.
Sixty percent support was needed to pass the measure.
Unlike other Iowa school districts, the Sioux Center student population has been steadily increasing, superintendent Gary McEldowney said.
For a number of years, the schools have been adding 50 new students per year. If this growth continued, Sioux Center would go from a school district of 1,300 students to a school district of 1,800 students in 10 years.
That would mean overcrowding will only increase over time.
The district had been reaching out to parents, business owners, community members, educators and students for possible solutions.
Presently, Sioux Center's elementary school has 572 transitional kindergarten through fourth-grade students, its middle school has 401 fifth-through-eighth-grade students, and the high school has 393 ninth-through-12th-grade students.
If Sioux Center could reconfigure its existing facilities while building a new high school, McEldowney said the district could alleviate capacity issues while allowing future enrollment in all grades.
By 2028, the elementary school would be able to accommodate 438 transitional kindergarten-through-second-graders, the current middle school would accommodate 438 third-through-fifth-graders, while the current high school would accommodate 438 sixth-through-eighth-graders.
The proposed high school would be able to accommodate 584 ninth-through-12th-graders in 2028.
Since the $24.9 million bond referendum passed, the debt service tax levy will increase by a maximum of 37 cents per $1,000 of taxation valuation. This comes out to a $40 per year cost impact for the average household and 52 cents per year cost impact per average acreage.
"The school district isn't merely addressing a want," McEldowney said a few days prior to the vote. "We're addressing a need that will benefit the district in the long term."