Good morning from Augusta. President-elect Donald Trump could be making more Cabinet announcements today, but we’re looking a little bit further down the road for a Maine connection to the transition process.
Gov. Paul LePage, who endorsed Trump in February during the Republican primaries, hasn’t been among the high-profile politicians shuttled into New York City over the past week for meetings with the president-elect. The governor is in Florida through Thanksgiving.
But after Trump fills top posts, he may set some sights on the LePage administration. A Republican source said Trump’s transition may focus particularly on staff in two Maine departments: health and human services and agriculture.
There are many reasons why this makes sense. LePage’s welfare policies have gotten a lot of buzz from national conservative groups, while Maine Agriculture Commissioner Walter Whitcomb was named as a Trump adviser in August.
POLITICO has also called U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, “the clear favorite” for health and human services secretary. He’s the chairman of the House budget commitee. Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew was in front of a House subcommittee discussing the state’s welfare reforms in June.
Republican National Committeeman Alex Willette, a former LePage aide and early Trump endorser, said last week it’s “an obvious choice to look at Maine and try to emulate what we’ve done here,” particularly on welfare, but that the transition must take further shape before department staffs are made official. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.
But LePage’s ideas should find favor in a Trump government. Willette predicted “a different tune from Washington” on issues such as a waiver to ban junk food purchases with food stamps that has been denied by the Obama administration. — Michael Shepherd
Congressional quick hits
- Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general pick, was backed by Sen. Susan Collins on Friday. Sessions’ pick is under scrutiny after a 1986 episode where he was denied a federal judgeship because of alleged racial remarks. But Collins, a Republican who entered the Senate with Sessions in 1997, called him “an individual who works hard, believes in public service, and acts with integrity” and would be “well qualified” to serve as attorney general.
- U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree is keeping her options open in the coming fight over House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s post. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said last week that he’d be challenging Pelosi, D-California, for her top spot in the Democratic caucus, which she has led since 2004. In a Sunday statement, Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, said she’s “always supported Nancy” and “no one works harder than her for our caucus” but she considers Ryan “a friend, so I’d like to hear him out as well.”
- U.S. Sen. Angus King blasted Republican plans to seek a continuing resolution to fund the federal government from December through March. Leaders in Congress said last week that they wouldn’t move forward with budget bills in 2016 and instead would seek a continuing resolution to fund government between December 9 and March, when Trump will be in office. In a letter to leaders, King, an independent, called this “an inexplicable abdication of one of our fundamental responsibilities,” especially since top-line figures and many details have been agreed upon. The Obama administration has also criticized the move. But Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, the chairman of the House budget committee, said while he’s “disappointed” that the process won’t move forward, he’s “extremely hopeful” that regular order on budgets will return under Trump, who will bring a unified Republican government to Washington.
- Collins and King want to increase funding to the U.S. Postal Service and mandate improvement in its performance. Maine’s two senators signed onto a letter to congressional leaders urging action to build upon a postal reform bill in the House. Despite revenue increases, the postal service has long been plagued by yearly losses driven by a unique mandate to pre-fund retiree health benefits. The letter that performance improvement must be a part of congressional action on reform, citing issues with rural mail delivery. It calls for a performance target system, publishing performance information and provisions to enforce new standards. — Michael Shepherd
- Here’s why Maine makes most stores close on Thanksgiving, but not others — Darren Fishell, Bangor Daily News
- How Maine is a model for rural states grappling with aging populations — Jenni Bergal, Stateline
- Maine Democratic Party Chairman Bartlett re-elected after leadership fight — Michael Shepherd, BDN
- A scramble to assess the dangers of President-elect Donald Trump’s global business empire — Drew Harwell and Anu Narayanswamy, The Washington Post
- For the ‘new yellow journalists,’ opportunity comes in clicks and bucks — Terrence McCoy, WaPo
- Trump’s Cabinet picks may not get rubber-stamped in GOP Senate — Steven T. Dennis, Bloomberg News
- Police, protesters face off at Dakota Access pipeline — James MacPherson, The Associated Press
- Freeport Democrat Sara Gideon nominated as Maine’s next House speaker — Shepherd
- Norridgewock residents defend New Balance from social media uproar — Nick McCrea, BDN
Democrats weren’t happy with me yesterday
Yesterday’s Maine Democratic Party meeting didn’t come without a hitch: me.
I was there covering the re-election of Chairman Phil Bartlett by the party’s state committee, which also went over a financial document that was handed out to almost everybody in the audience, including me.
Noting that it was marked “CONFIDENTIAL,” I immediately posted it on Twitter. Then, a speaker told the committee they had to return it after reviewing it because they didn’t want it in the hands of the public, Republicans or press. Whoops.
Then, party spokeswoman Katie Baker passed by me with an eye roll and told Executive Director Katie Mae Simpson that the document was already public. Simpson announced it to the audience, which groaned. One man yelled, “Thanks a lot.”
The document shows the state committee raised $269,000 more than budgeted and spent $193,000 more, although some on Twitter poked fun at a $228,000 office expense budget miss. It drew questions from the committee, but party officials chalked it up to it being a wider budget category than paper and toner.
The party deserves credit for opening the meeting to press, which it didn’t have to do. However, the security protocol for tall reporters needs to be reviewed. It’s the price of transparency. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd