LePage to Trump: Put somebody in charge

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage said on Thursday that President Donald Trump may have too many high-level aides vying for control in an embattled White House.

The Republican president is dealing with a few different crises less than a month into his tenure, with the biggest involving the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and the scrutiny over his contact with the Russian government before Trump took office.

There also could be an organizational crisis of sorts: Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries — now stalled by a judge — led to reports of tension in the president’s inner circle, which is dominated by many top-level staffers with similar amounts of power.

Senior counselor Stephen Bannon and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus did an interview with The Hill on Wednesday for a piece in which they and other top staffers denied reports of division after Breitbart News, the conservative site that Bannon once ran, said Priebus’ job was in danger.

Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and White House Policy Director Stephen Miller are also in his inner circle.

LePage, a Trump supporter who campaigned with him in Maine, contrasted that structure with the governor’s own on WGAN on Thursday, saying there seem to be “three or four chiefs at the top” and “you’ve got to put somebody in charge.”

Chief of Staff John McGough leads the governor’s office, while Deputy Chief of Staff Kathleen Newman is a go-between with the Legislature. LePage said “everything has to flow through your key people and if you don’t do that, you’re going to have problems.”

“I really believe that he’s got the making of being a great president, but he’s got to have some structure in that White House,” LePage said of Trump. — Michael Shepherd

Maine Dems’ chairman gets behind Sanders’ pick for DNC chair

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ pick to lead the Democratic National Committee was boosted on Wednesday when Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett got behind his bid.

Bartlett issued a letter supporting U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, for the spot, saying he has “both the experience and the passion” to lead the committee and “understands the role state parties can play in building a long-term progressive movement.

Ellison is supported by a broad coalition from progressives such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to establishment figures including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. His top opponent is former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, backed by former Vice President Joe Biden.

Bartlett joined two of other Maine’s national committee members — Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash and Diane Denk of Kennebunk — in supporting Ellison.

The fourth vote-holder from Maine — state party Vice Chairwoman Peggy Schaffer — said Wednesday that she’s undecided, but “it’s exciting that we have these kinds of options” for the spot.

After Bartlett announced his choice, Ellison spokesman Brett Morrow tweeted “181 now,” a reference to the votes his boss has out of the required 224. “Wasup?” — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Another battle in the global trade war. Just two days after they called for a government intervention into a new government subsidized cement plant in Quebec that could hurt a Maine cement manufacturer, Maine’s congressional delegation has turned its attention to too-cheap fabric coming from China. According to a news release, the sale of Chinese “industrial grade amorphous silica fabric” (which doesn’t sound like what I want my underbritches made of anyway) puts textiles made at Auburn Manufacturing Inc. at a disadvantage. On Wednesday, the delegation applauded a decision by the U.S. International Trade Commission for a decision to direct the Department of Commerce and customs agents to collect antidumping and countervailing duty fees when the Chinese products come across the border.
  • Opioid task force parameters announced. According to today’s Senate calendar, an opioid task force is on the cusp of being named with four senators, four representatives and a number of law enforcement and addiction treatment specialists. The task force’s task is to examine the effectiveness of drug laws in Maine and elsewhere and produce recommendations for the Legislature by April and December of this year.
  • Tonight only! State of the Judiciary. Due to the snow, many things scheduled for today in Augusta have been pushed back. Committee work is to continue as scheduled, last we heard, but the House and Senate won’t convene until 4 p.m. The State of the Judiciary speech by Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, which was supposed to be at 11 a.m., has been rescheduled to 5 p.m. — Christopher Cousins and Robert Long

Reading list

‘Oh, and of course, one of the passengers was a reporter’

U.S. Sen. Angus King earns today’s Daily Brief soundtrack because of a tale he posted Wednesday on Facebook about being stuck in a “warm and absolutely chock full” malfunctioning elevator at the Capitol for about 15 minutes.

Among King’s co-captives was Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who he said was on his cellphone calling for help.

“I was periodically pushing the alarm bell,” wrote King, which I think is the silver-tongued way of saying “I WAS LOSING MY MIND SO CLICKCLICKCLICK.”

But I’m just guessing. King said there was a reporter on board. If the reporter did anything to help, King didn’t mention it.

“Don’t know what caused the problem, but my bet is it was the Russians,” he quipped.

You might think I’m just fooling around here but I actually know what I’m talking about. It was probably 2003 and 2004 when I was sent to cover an appearance by then-U.S. Rep. Tom Allen of Maine at Woodlawn Tower, a semi-high rise senior housing facility in Brunswick.

Photographer Troy R. Bennett and I (both of whom now work for the BDN) got stuck in an elevator with Allen and some of his staff. We were trapped in there for less than 10 minutes, all of which I was trying to think up some really tough questions with which to ambush Allen while I had him as a captive audience.

My clearest memories from the encounter were:

  1. We were all looking around to estimate how much everyone weighed, doing math and comparing the sum to a plaque that was posted with the elevator’s capacity; and
  2. I sensed a just-below-the-surface panic building in the usually dry-as-toast Allen.

The moral of these stories? Take the stairs. Here’s your Maine-bred soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.