Graham: Trump’s handling of McCain’s death was ‘disturbing’

The way President Donald Trump handled Sen. John McCain’s death was “disturbing,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Thursday.

“It bothers me greatly when the president says things about John McCain. It pisses me off to no end. And the way he handled the passing of John is just — it was disturbing,” Graham said, appearing on CBS News on Thursday morning.

McCain, a Vietnam War hero, died of brain cancer over the weekend after serving three decades in the Senate. Graham (R-S.C.) was among his closest friends in the Senate.

Trump had a tense relationship with McCain that dated back to the 2016 presidential campaign. When the Arizona Senator died, Trump was reluctant to issue a White House statement offering condolences to his family. Instead, he posted a short tweet that did not mention McCain’s decades of service.

The American flag at the White House had been lowered to half-staff in McCain’s honor after his death on Saturday. But the flag was raised to its full height on Monday, igniting a firestorm of criticism. For the deaths of high-ranking officials, the flag will remain at half-staff until the burial.

Among Trump’s critics was Graham, who has a warm relationship with the president. Although he did not call Trump directly, Graham told CBS News he “called some people around him” over the flag issue. Later in the day Monday, the flag was lowered to half-staff and the White House released a statement honoring McCain.

“We finally got it right,” Graham said. “I am not going to give up on the idea of working with this president. The best way I can honor John McCain is to help my country.”

Kremlin confirms Bolton meeting with Russian officials next week

A Russian government spokesman confirmed Wednesday that Kremlin officials will meet next week in Switzerland with U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, Reuters reported.

“Such contacts are indeed planned and being prepared,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday.

Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders work to elect first Muslim governor

Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are joining forces to elect an underdog but potentially history-making candidate on the ballot in Michigan next week: Abdul El-Sayed, a 33-year-old physician who would be the nation’s first Muslim governor.

Sanders is spending the final weekend of the race in the state, and Ocasio-Cortez was there last week to campaign with El-Sayed ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic primary. He also has a constellation of hard-left groups in his corner, including, Justice Democrats and Our Revolution, the offshoot of Sanders’ failed presidential campaign.

After a July lull in primary season, the race in Michigan represents the first opportunity for insurgent liberals to shove Democrats leftward since Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory over Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) six weeks ago. Tuesday is also the first real test of the burgeoning alliance between Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, who have also campaigned for two congressional candidates on the ballot next week in Kansas.

El-Sayed, a first-time candidate who’s trailed in public polls, has emerged as a threat to the front-runner, former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer. Whitmer is a favorite of most elected Democrats as well as organized labor and women’s groups such as EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights.

Every public poll of the primary has shown Whitmer leading El-Sayed and entrepreneur Shri Thanedar, a self-funder who has blanketed the airwaves with television ads but hasn’t caught fire. But with Sanders parachuting into Michigan this weekend, El-Sayed backers and Sanders allies see a parallel in recent history.

“Bernie was written off” going into the 2016 presidential primary in Michigan, said Democratic strategist Julian Mulvey, whose firm worked for Sanders on that campaign. “I think Nate Silver predicted that Hillary Clinton had a 99 percent chance of winning in Michigan, and Bernie was able to pull it out. So the best thing you can do is have Bernie going in there to help try to close.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette is the favorite to win the Republican primary and has been endorsed by President Donald Trump. Schuette has worked to distance himself from unpopular term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican. The state is seen as a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats.

According to a Democrat close to her campaign, Whitmer’s most recent internal polling showed her with a 16-point lead in the primary. She has raised more money than El-Sayed, and she has more institutional support: In addition to local politicians, unions and EMILY’s List, Whitmer was just endorsed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

But El-Sayed, the former executive director of the Detroit Health Department and a public-health expert, has built a significant support base by presenting himself as a Sanders-aligned progressive alternative to the more mainstream Whitmer. Some of the same outside groups that backed Sanders in 2016 are behind El-Sayed, as is Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and grassroots favorites like Ocasio-Cortez, and activist Michael Moore. El-Sayed has also received donations from Ben Affleck and received praise from the hosts of the liberal podcast Pod Save America.

Sanders only endorsed the candidate this week, even though El-Sayed had embraced the Vermont senator and many of his core issues, like a $15 minimum wage, single-payer health care and tuition-free college for families making less than $150,000 a year. Sanders is planning to appear at two El-Sayed rallies on Sunday in Detroit and Ypsilanti.

“Abdul has run a campaign — win or lose — that speaks explicitly to the policies that Bernie talked about during the 2016 campaign and continues to talk about in the Senate,” said Ari Rabin-Havt, a senior adviser to Sanders. “Abdul lines up so perfectly on these values that the endorsement is a testament to running a campaign based on that.”

El-Sayed hasn’t shied from his religion in the campaign, even as he’s had to swat away rumors that he’s a George Soros plant sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood. He’s happily described the immigrant story of his father moving to the United States from Egypt and spending time with his stepmother, whose family history in Michigan goes back to before the Civil War.

But foremost, El-Sayed and his liberal supporters are betting that campaigning on a Sanders-style platform isn’t just good politics in a primary: They’re trying to prove a candidate can tout these issues and win one of the three states that President Donald Trump flipped in 2016.

“Michigan is ground zero for the debate over how you win back power from Trump and Trumpism,” said Ben Wikler, the Washington director of, which is backing El-Sayed. “And Abdul El-Sayed is the living avatar of the idea that to defeat Trump you don’t move right.”

In addition to El-Sayed, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are backing two congressionalcandidates on the ballot Tuesday in Kansas. The two New York natives traveled last month to the state to stump with two candidates: Brent Welder, a former Sanders campaign staffer running for a battleground seat in the Kansas City suburbs, and James Thompson, a repeat, liberal challenger for a more solidly Republican seat.

Welder is running in a crowded, six-candidate Democratic primary for the right to take on Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) in a district Clinton narrowly won in 2016. But in a sign that Republicans see Welder’s ties to Sanders as a liability, a conservative group began running last-minute ads on Friday that appear designed to boost Welder in the Democratic primary, meddling that Welder’s opponents decried, blaming Yoder and the GOP.

Back in Michigan, while El-Sayed is rallying with Sanders, Whitmer will be campaigning with prominent Michigan Democratic politicians, including Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Rep. Brenda Lawrence.

Whitmer’s surrogates and supporters remain bullish about her chances but also are familiar with their state’s history of upsets in gubernatorial races. Democrat Jennifer Granholm wasn’t the frontrunner when she ran for governor in 2002.

There’s polling data, but primaries are tough to poll,” said former Gov. Jim Blanchard, a Whitmer supporter, adding that he still expected Whitmer to win.

EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock painted the primary as an ultimately constructive argument about how to win a general election fight in battleground state. The differences between Whitmer and El-Sayed, Schriock said, paled in comparison to the contrast between either of them and state Attorney General Bill Schuette, the Trump-endorsed front-runner in the Republican primary.

“The values all these Democrats share is the same,” Schriock said. “What we’re having is a very active debate on how to get there. I’ll take that. That’s what we’re talking about there. You’ve got Schuette on the other side who wants to tear it all down.”

El-Sayed echoed that sentiment on Friday, promising that Democrats will come together, despite the intra-party battle playing out in the final days before the primary.

“Four days out, things can get heated,” El-Sayed tweeted Friday. “I admire [Whitmer and] the vigorous debate we share. While I deeply disagree on health care [and] corporate money in politics, I admire her work [and] commitment to serve. We will walk in lockstep, whoever wins, to a blue wave in November.”

Bannon to Kochs: ‘Shut up and get with the program’

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon tore into the powerful Koch political network Sunday, accusing it of undermining President Donald Trump ahead of a midterm election that threatens to derail his presidency.

“What they have to do is shut up and get with the program, OK?” Bannon said in an interview with POLITICO. “And here’s the program: Ground game to support Trump’s presidency and program, [and] victory on Nov. 6.”

Bannon’s comments came as the network of major Republican Party donors, led by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, convened in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to discuss the 2018 political landscape. During the retreat, top Koch officials described the Trump White House as toxic and destructive to the country.

They sharply criticized Trump’s protectionist trade policies, arguing that his actions were taking a toll on the economy. A video shown during the conference depicted images of recently shuttered businesses.

“The divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage,” Brian Hooks, a senior Koch lieutenant, told reporters at the event. “When in order to win on an issue someone else has to lose, it makes it very difficult to unite people and solve the problems in this country. You see that on trade: In order to get to a good place on trade, convince the American people that trade is bad.”

The Kochs, who espouse free-trade views, have long expressed discomfort with Trump, and their network largely sat out the 2016 election. But the open hostilities at this weekend’s conference came as something of a surprise.

Since the election, there had appeared to be a thaw. David and Bill Koch met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort a few months after the inauguration, and at a donor meeting earlier this year, the network lavished praise on the president’s tax reform bill.

With 100 days to go before a midterm election that has emerged as a referendum on Trump and his policies, Bannon argued, the Kochs need to rally behind the president. Democrats, who he said want to halt Trump’s agenda and launch impeachment proceedings, are energized and focused — and out-hustling Republicans.

He described the Koch political operation as ineffective, saying it had wasted untold dollars on losing past elections. And he argued that voters had rejected the free-trade approach the Kochs embrace in favor of Trump’s brand of economic populism.

“We can have a theoretical discussion later, OK? This is why they don’t know what it means to win, OK? We don’t have time to have some theoretical discussion and to have their spokesman come out and say the president is divisive,” Bannon said.

He said it was unacceptable “for them to come out and talk about divisiveness” given their long-running lack of support for Trump.

“They were the first people to put the knife in his back,” he said.

A Koch network spokesman, James Davis, shrugged off the criticism.

“We are focused on uniting the country to help remove barriers that are preventing people from reaching the potential,” he said. “Toward that end, we look forward to working with the President Trump, Congress and communities whenever possible to help people improve their lives.”

The Koch network has pledged to spend $400 million ahead of the midterms.

Bannon left the White House a year ago, and earlier this year, he had a high-profile falling out with Trump after he made critical remarks about the president and his family in a book, “Fire and Fury.”

Since that time, he has taken steps to re-ingratiate himself with the president and has been a loud outside supporter and spokesman. He described Trump’s policies as across-the-board successes and said that he’d achieved a wide range of conservative policy goals.

Bannon praised, among other things, Trump’s handling of the economy, tariffs and tax cuts, and noted that he’d nominated an array of conservative judges and pursued stringent immigration policies.

But he said that the Kochs had only chosen a few Trump policies to support “a-la-carte” and in many instances had actively fought him.

Displeasure with the Trump agenda was an ongoing theme of the weekend’s conference. During remarks to reporters on Sunday, Charles Koch expressed regret about some of his past financial support for Republican candidates — and hinted that he’d be open to working with Democrats.

“Charles Koch is a good man, but 100 days before an election that will determine the direction of the country is not the time to tell us that you are prepared to work with Democrats that support parts of your progressive agenda,” Bannon said.“It’s wrong, it’s stupid and it shows contempt for the hardworking grassroots folks that delivered the victory that got your tax cut,” he added.

Trump asks business groups for help pushing Kavanaugh confirmation

The White House on Monday immediately played up Brett Kavanaugh’s pro-business, anti-regulation record and is asking industry trade groups for help pushing his confirmation through the Senate.

As President Donald Trump introduced the nominee during a Monday evening ceremony, the White House was touting Kavanaugh’s record battling “overregulation“ in a document sent to industry stakeholders.

“Judge Kavanaugh protects American businesses from illegal job-killing regulation,” the White House wrote in an email delivered just after 9 p.m.

“Kavanaugh helped kill President Obama’s most destructive new environmental rules” and has “led the effort to rein in unaccountable independent agencies,” the White House wrote.

With Republicans holding only a sliver of a majority in the Senate, deep-pocketed business groups could have enough influence, especially in an election year, to help swing votes in Kavanaugh’s favor. In early July, the White House asked industry leaders in Washington for input and several groups — including the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Association of Home Builders — declared a preference for Kavanaugh.

Business groups on Monday were asked to help push his confirmation, according to two people familiar with the request.

In the one-page document , which was obtained by POLITICO, the White House wrote that Kavanaugh has overruled federal regulators 75 times on cases involving clean air, consumer protections, net neutrality and other issues. Most recently, in PHH Corp. v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he favored curtailing the power of independent federal regulators.

“Because of their massive power and the absence of Presidential supervision and direction, independent agencies pose a significant threat to individual liberty and to the constitutional system of separation of powers and checks and balances,” Kavanaugh wrote.

Among the stakes for industry is a judicial doctrine that looms large for corporate America. In a 1984 opinion in Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council Inc., the Supreme Court said the Environmental Protection Agency had the power to change a regulatory definition to make it easier for air-polluting industrial plants to get permits for new equipment.

The case was a win for the plants, but has come to haunt industry because it gave broad power to federal regulators. Corporations have been working nearly 35 years to overturn it. In 2014, Kavanaugh called Chevron “nothing more than a judicially orchestrated shift of power from Congress to the Executive Branch.”

“Chevron is a big issue,” said Karen Harned, who leads the NFIB’s legal center, speaking before the nomination. “It’s led to this vicious cycle where administrative agencies get more and more power. For small business, regulations are a top concern.”

U.S. listened in on attorney calls with American citizen prisoner in Iraq

The Defense Department recorded at least 18 phone calls intended to allow confidential communication between an American citizen being held prisoner by U.S. forces in Iraq and the prisoner’s attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union, according to a court filing late Friday.

In at least two instances, a civilian Defense Department employee listened to the attorney-client calls, government lawyers disclosed.

The surveillance may have run afoul of a federal judge’s order issued in December calling for the Pentagon to give the ACLU “immediate and unmonitored access” to the prisoner by phone or videoconference.

Justice Department attorneys described the monitoring as “an inadvertent breach … of attorney-client communications.”

“DoD deeply regrets this incident,” the attorneys said.

Not all the calls appear to have involved actual conversations, and some were apparently dialed to the wrong number, the court submission said. The ACLU lawyers took the calls at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, the filing said.

The Justice Department filing also said the monitoring was part of routine surveillance the Defense Department conducts of communications from military phones overseas. Those who arranged the calls were unaware of the monitoring, government lawyers said.

ACLU attorneys were advised of the problem on April 27, the court filing said. The filing does not name the employee or the specific Defense Department division for which he works. The employee did not reveal to anyone the content of the two calls he listened to and has been ordered not to do so in the future, the court submission said.

“Confidentiality of attorney–client communications is a cornerstone of our legal system, and any violation of it is cause for serious concern,” ACLU attorney Jonathan Hafetz said. “The government properly informed us that it recorded and screened our client’s privileged communications, and we will hold the government to its commitment to address this breach.”

The prisoner, who has not been publicly named but appears to be a dual Saudi-U.S. citizen, was turned over to American forces in Syria in September. The U.S. military, which contends that the detainee was allied with ISIS forces, later moved him to Iraq.

The ACLU went to court in October to demand access to the prisoner and to press for his release. Over the Trump administration’s objections, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered the U.S. government to allow the ACLU to contact the prisoner.

In April, Chutkan issued a preliminary injunction blocking a U.S. plan to send the prisoner to Saudi Arabia against his will. Last month, a federal appeals court panelupheld that injunction.

The Kochs just embraced one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators

The conservative Koch brothers political network is launching a new ad campaign boosting Sen. Heidi Heitkamp — a surprising show of support for one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection.

Americans for Prosperity is running digital advertisements to thank the North Dakota senator for helping pass a bill that relaxes some financial regulations under the Dodd-Frank law. The advertisement comes just a week after President Donald Trump praised her for her work on the bill at the White House.

“This was a bipartisan effort made possible by lawmakers like Heidi Heitkamp who put politics aside to work together,” said AFP President Tim Phillips. “While we don’t agree with Sen. Heitkamp on everything, particularly her vote against tax relief, we commend her for taking a stand against the leaders of her party to do the right thing.”

Heitkamp has made her aisle-crossing record her main selling point in her reelection race against Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) in a state that Trump easily won in 2016. She was the only Democrat invited to a bill-signing ceremony for the bank deregulation measure last week, though Cramer was also invited along with a host of other Republicans.

“There were two people there who really delivered that bill: Mike Crapo and myself,” Heitkamp said in a recent interview, referring to the Banking Committee chairman. “It’s really a question of who was there that had nothing to do with it.”

Trump has praised Heitkamp several times in the past year, though the president also helped recruit Cramer to run against her. GOP officials say Trump will soon hold a rally for Cramer in North Dakota, though a Republican senator said it was unclear whether the president will attack Heitkamp.

AFP previously spent nearly a half-million dollars earlier this year hitting Heitkamp for voting against the Republican tax law, likely dwarfing the spending on the digital ad praising her, which was not disclosed by AFP. Phillips said he hopes Heitkamp votes with the GOP on making the tax law’s temporary tax cuts for individuals permanent.

Though AFP has traditionally spent far more on conservative causes and candidates, the group occasionally aligns with Democrats. AFP is also backing the Senate Democrats’ immigration plan, which would trade a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants for $25 billion in border wall funding. Heitkamp played a central role in writing that legislation, too.

Trump administration presents Capitol Hill with deal to rescue Chinese firm ZTE

The Trump administration has reached a deal that will put Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE back in business by rolling back severe sanctions put in place last month by the Commerce Department, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The move to settle with the Chinese company removes a major barrier to U.S.-China trade talks as Beijing opposed a penalty that would have shuttered the firm by prohibiting U.S. suppliers from doing business with ZTE for seven years.

It also comes a week before Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is scheduled to travel to Beijing to continue efforts to negotiate a trade truce between the two countries.

Commerce notified officials on Capitol Hill of a deal, which will have ZTE pay a bigger fine, hire American compliance officers and replace the firm’s current management team, the source said.

Once those terms are met, the U.S. will lift a denial order, allowing ZTE to start doing business with American companies again, the source said.

President Donald Trump appeared to confirm the outlines of the deal on Twitter on Friday evening when he said that he had shut down the company but “let it reopen” after a series of changes.

“I closed it down then let it reopen with high level security guarantees, change of management and board, must purchase U.S. parts and pay a $1.3 Billion fine,” Trump tweeted.

He also blamed Democrats for letting ZTE “flourish with no security checks.” The Obama administration had flagged the company for violating U.S. sanctions law but created a temporary license that allowed it to continue doing business with U.S. suppliers, which the Trump administration also extended last year.

News of a deal brought quick condemnation from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Many on Capitol Hill view the action as a sign of weakness against China, especially as the administration tries to take Beijing to task over policies it says have robbed U.S. companies of sensitive technology.

“Yes they have a deal in mind. It is a great deal… for #ZTE & China,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted. “#China crushes U.S. companies with no mercy & they use these telecomm companies to spy & steal from us. Many hoped this time would be different. Now congress will need to act.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the deal as reported “would be helping make China great again.“

“Both parties in Congress should come together to stop this deal in its tracks,” he said in a statement Friday.

The Senate Banking Committee approved an amendment Tuesday that would bar the president from modifying any civil penalties against “Chinese telecommunications companies” unless he could certify that the company has not violated U.S. law in the past year and is fully cooperating with an investigation. That action follows a similar measure approved by a House panel last week.

The deal between the administration and ZTE largely follows elements shared publicly by Trump and other senior officials this week.

”What I envision is a very large fine of more than a billion dollars,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “Could be a billion-three. I envision a new management, a new board and very, very strict security rules. And I also envision that they will have to buy a big percentage of their parts and equipment from American companies.”

ZTE had already been hit with $1.19 billion in fines announced last year, following a two-year Obama administration investigation. The company was initially penalized for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran and North Korea by supplying those countries with telecommunications equipment containing U.S. parts.

Ross announced the seven-year ban would be put in place after ZTE violated the terms of deal that suspended the denial order in exchange for the company following a strict compliance plan.

That — to the Trump administration’s apparent surprise — prompted the company a few weeks later to announce it was ceasing major business operations.

Then, in a further stunning development, Trump tweeted that he had talked to Chinese President Xi Jinping about the issue and had instructed the Commerce Department to look into easing the ban on ZTE to save Chinese jobs.

The matter is also complicated by national security concerns. Intelligence leaders have been warning for months that the Chinese government was leveraging domestic companies with footprints abroad like ZTE to spy on other countries. Earlier this month, FBI Director Christopher Wray said during congressional testimony that he did not want foreign companies like ZTE gaining access to the U.S. telecommunications network.

That drama was taking place against the backdrop of Trump’s threat to impose duties on $50 billion to $150 billion worth of Chinese exports to pressure Beijing to do more to stop intellectual property theft, and China’s vow to strike back if those duties were imposed.

Heading into high-level trade talks between the two countries earlier this month, news reports said that China would agree to drop its retaliation on about $3 billion worth of U.S. agricultural exports if the U.S. eased off on sanctions on ZTE. Beijing originally threatened the retaliation in early April, after Trump imposed new tariffs on steel and aluminum products.

A joint statement released after the meeting was silent on the ZTE issue, and Beijing has not lifted its retaliatory duties on U.S. farm products, nor has the United States lifted its new tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum. But as part of the preliminary deal announced last Saturday, Ross is expected to go to China in early June to negotiate long-term contracts for sales of U.S. farm goods and energy products.

On Tuesday, Trump reiterated that he had asked the Commerce Department to look at easing current penalties on ZTE as a favor to Xi. But he insisted his administration would not go easy on the company.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other administration officials have insisted there was nothing unusual about Xi asking Trump to review the penalty because Trump often phones world leaders to ask them to do favors for U.S. firms.

“The president asked myself and the Commerce secretary to look into it. He didn’t dictate any terms. He just asked us to look into it,” Mnuchin said earlier this week during an interview on CNBC. Any changes to ZTE’s penalty are not part of the broader trade negotiations going on between the two countries, he added.

“The [Commerce Department’s] intent was not to put the company out of business. It was an enforcement issue,” Mnuchin said.

ZTE reported having nearly 75,000 employees last year.

American firms are also closely tied to ZTE’s fortunes. About 65 percent of ZTE phones use chips made by American company Qualcomm, according to Canalys, a tech market analysis firm. Stocks of several of ZTE’s U.S. suppliers fell after Commerce took action last month.Reports of a deal to rescue ZTE were first reported by The New York Times.

Why Long Island Still Loves Trump

PATCHOGUE, N.Y.—There are places where campaign rally-goers chanted “Build the Wall” in the fall of 2016 where most voters might scarcely have seen an immigrant, let alone an illegal one. Take Washington County, Wisconsin, where Donald Trump campaigned in the waning days of the election and won by 40 points. According to census data, the immigrant population there is under 3 percent, and the undocumented population negligible. In Saginaw County, Michigan, which flipped from Obama to Trump, the foreign-born population is under 2.5 percent. Howard County in Iowa, which swung 41 points in Trump’s favor in 2016, is 98 percent white.

In New York’s Suffolk County, though, on the eastern half of Long Island, the feeling of immigrants moving in is real and has been for some time. Driven by home-building, landscaping and an agricultural industry that, until 2015, was the state’s most lucrative, the Latino population in Suffolk increased by 40 percent between 2005 and 2009. By 2015, they were 18 percent of the population of 1.5 million, and by some estimations could be up to 30 percent of the population in 10 years. An estimated 51,000 undocumented immigrants now reside there.

And few counties in America swung as dramatically for Trump as Suffolk did. The county went for Barack Obama twice, including by four points in 2012. Then Trump crushed Clinton here, winning by eight points, the biggest margin of victory in a presidential election in Suffolk since Al Gore beat George W. Bush by 11 points in 2000. The result was so surprising that when an October 2016 poll showed Trump up by three points in New York’s 1st Congressional District, which covers most of the county, political scientists came out and publicly declared that the poll had to be wrong. It wasn’t.

In the wake of the November 2016 elections, an image was formed in the public’s mind of “Trump Country,” those down-and-out places in the Rust Belt where the factory moved to Mexico a decade ago, the only decent jobs could be found at Walmart, and where white working-class voters threw their lot with someone who blamed other people—immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter—for their problems. But it is impossible to talk about the Trump coalition without talking about places like Suffolk, filled with towns and people who have benefitted immensely from the global order that Trump promised to upend.

Suffolk’s success meant that people wanted to move here, and the fact that people wanted to move here meant that the residents set up barriers to keep them out. And as immigrants arrived—some from abroad, and not necessarily legally—so did gangs. Trump has made Suffolk a poster county in a way for his administration, campaigning hard there in the primary and already appearing twice there as president, including this week, when he hosted a roundtable on MS-13 in Bethpage.

Why did this one-time Democratic stronghold, 36 miles east of Manhattan, a place of well-kept homes and the Hamptons, where a third of residents have college degrees and median incomes are approaching $100,000 a year, flip so dramatically? And what did Donald Trump—who grew up just west of here, in Queens, understand about Suffolk County that Hillary Clinton did not?

“The mistake Barack Obama and the Democrat Party made was with this concept of globalization,” said John Jay Lavalle from behind his desk at the county’s Republican headquarters, where the accoutrements of a life lived among the party establishment were everywhere: photos of Lavalle with both Bushes, with John McCain, with Gov. George Pataki, Sen. Al D’Amato. “That’s the difference between our parties right now. The Democrats are more into globalizing America, and we are speaking more about securing our borders and rewriting our immigration policies.”

Lavalle was one of the first establishment Republicans in the country to endorse Trump. He became a ready Trump surrogate, appearing on his behalf dozens of times on cable news. After the “Access Hollywood” tape was released, Lavalle was one of Trump’s only defenders. “Trump speaks our language,” Lavelle says. “He thinks the way we think. He talks the way we talk. He is breaking the political correctness of America.”

It is a sentiment I heard again and again in Suffolk, during dozens of conversations over the past five months. Stacey Bishop has three degrees and her own modular home building business. We spoke before she was spending a weekend away on Cape Cod. She voted for Obama twice, but as for Trump, she said, “I love him. He’s failing Twitter 101, but he’s awesome.” She liked mostly that a) he wasn’t Hillary Clinton and b) “He’s not political. He’s not indoctrinated in that kiss-ass political machine.”

“Look at the dynamics on the east end of the island,” she went on to say. “Before it was quote-unquote discovered, it was a very tight-knit community. You would pick up the newspaper and there would be a story about a pumpkin stolen from the pumpkin patch. It was safe, everybody knew everybody. It was the quintessential American town. Now somehow it’s a ‘sanctuary area.’ We have an accused murderer who has been deported who keeps coming back, MS-13 members who keep coming back. That is what is going on, and people don’t see it because they say these are quote-unquote good people.”


One night in November 2008, a gang of mostly white teenagers drove around the towns of eastern Long Island, drinking beer and going “beaner-hopping.” They shot one Hispanic man with a B.B gun several times in his driveway. They jumped on an unsuspecting Latino immigrant in the park and beat him up until he was able to flee. They punched another out cold. At around midnight, near the Long Island Railroad station, they found Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant who worked at a dry cleaner and who had lived in the United States for 16 years. He fought back, and one of the group stabbed him.

“To them, it was a sport,” the district attorney said at their arraignment.

They all went to prison, the ringleader for 25 years. The incident brought a period of reckoning to the area. Community leaders wondered aloud what had become of Suffolk. Local politicians who regularly trafficked in anti-immigrant rhetoric toned it down.
Until 2016.

Trump campaigned hard in Suffolk ahead of the New York primary, which he won as part of his glide path to the Republican nomination. In the weeks before the vote in 2016 he rallied before a crowd of 15,000 at Grumman Studios, a converted sound stage carved out of an old defense factory. Grumman was one the nation’s largest aerospace contractors and the only remaining builder of military aircraft in the northeast when it shuttered its doors in Suffolk at the end of the Cold War in 1993, moving its operations to South Carolina and points south. Twenty-five thousand jobs were lost, along with untold numbers of contractors and service workers who relied on the plant.

At Grumman, the crowd chanted “Build the Wall” while Trump pledged to “knock the hell out of ISIS.”

“We don’t fight like people from Long Island,” he lamented to the crowd.

The next week, he rallied again, this time in Patchogue, down the street from where Marcelo Lucero was killed.

“We love the country,” Trump said. “There are a lot of people, they don’t love our country so much. We have people that are in office that do not love our country so much. Believe me. And I see it.”

Last summer, Trump returned to Suffolk for a rally in Brentwood where he vowed to take on MS-13, which has gained a local foothold. Police say the Central American gang killed 17 people during an 18-month period that ended last year. At the rally, Trump described American cities as “bloodstained killing fields” and urged police to not go easy on suspects. “When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice.’” Trump told the crowd.

“Like, when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put your hand over” their head. “Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody. Don’t hit their head. I said, ‘You can take the hand away, O.K.?’”—a remark that local police officers rebuked.

“One by one, we’re liberating American towns” he boasted.

But to call Suffolk’s sudden swing to the right a purely Trumpian phenomenon isn’t quite right. For 12 years, beginning in 2002, the 1st Congressional District was represented by Tim Bishop, a liberal Democrat with a background in university administration. He was considered vulnerable by national Democrats every year, but he kept winning, no matter the country’s mood: big in 2006 and 2008, a 268-vote victory in the Tea Party year of 2010, then a relaxed five-point win in a 2012 rematch.

In 2014, Bishop was routed by Lee Zeldin, an Army veteran and Republican state lawmaker. That summer, the U.S. saw thousands of undocumented immigrants pouring across the border. Polls showed support for immigrants plummet in Suffolk, and Zeldin grabbed onto the issue, accusing Bishop of supporting “amnesty” and proclaiming that the border had become vulnerable because agents were forced to “babysit the surge of children coming across the border.”

Zeldin’s campaign caught Trump’s eye. The future president robo-called on behalf of Zeldin during his 2014 race, and he called Zeldin after both his primary and general election victories. Then Zeldin and his wife dined at Mar-a-Lago with Donald and Melania.

In 2016, Zeldin attended the Republican convention that nominated Trump for president. Of the 11 Republicans that the Cook Political Reportrated as a “toss-up” for re-election to the House that year, he was the only one who showed up. He called the Clinton Foundation “the largest white-collar crime that is taking place in this country.” After the Iran nuclear agreement was reached, Zeldin released a statement suggesting that President Obama was a secret foreign agent. And after Trump said that Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s Mexican heritage should prevent him from presiding over the Trump University case, Zeldin went on CNN and, in a painfully awkward appearance, accused Barack Obama of being the realracist for microtargeting different communities during his re-election campaign.

Even so, Zeldin won re-election easily, and in a sign of the political temperature of Suffolk County, has since turned into the biggest Trump cheerleader this side of Diamond and Silk. After Trump’s “shithole countries” remark, Zeldin took to Twitter to defend him. “Pres @realDonaldTrump wasn’t elected for his ability or willingness to be politically correct. The fact is that there are many nations in the world struggling mightily,” he wrote. “Politically & economically, w poor infrastructure, schools, physical security & more.” He defended Trump’s comments after Charlottesville, has publicly stated that Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize and co-authored a resolution calling for a second special counsel to be appointed to investigate Hillary Clinton and any possible misconduct by the Justice Department and FBI during the 2016 campaign. For Zeldin’s efforts, Steve Bannon has come to Suffolk County to fundraise for him, and Donald Trump, Jr. is scheduled to visit in August.

No Democratic operative I spoke with thinks Zeldin is seriously in danger of losing this fall, a sign of how far to the right the district has shifted. Zeldin’s office ignored multiple requests for an interview. But at a forum Zeldin arranged with officials from the Department of Interior about the prospect of off-shore drilling along Suffolk County’s beautiful shoreline, I asked him about the shifting politics of his county.

“It’s different out here,” he told me. “The east end of Long Island isn’t Manhattan. You talk about illegal immigration, someone in Brookhaven is more motivated to combating illegal immigration compared to someone in Manhattan, where if they are talking about illegal immigration they are prioritizing something that brings more of it, or has some type of amnesty proposal.

“We have communities that have been dealing with illegal immigration for a long time,” he continued. “Communities where you have been living in your home for your whole life and all of a sudden you literally have three or four houses around you where there used to be a family living there and now there are three families living there, and the three families aren’t even related, and they are all going to the local school. That has been going on for a long time, before I was ever running for office and it has impacted quality of life and it has impacted the numbers in the school district.”

Talk to enough residents of the area though, and it is hard not to come away with the feeling that it is not immigration per se that is the issue. Almost everyone knows or lives alongside or employs or works with a Latino. Peter Ekstrom is a high-end cabinet-maker, a literature major at St. John’s in Queens who minored in philosophy. “Do you know how much perseverance it takes to travel across Mexico, sneak across the border, make your way to Holbrook and stand at the corner of Horseblock Road at 5 a.m. looking for work for the day?” Ekstrom told me. “These are awesome people. They are the bedrock of America.”

Still, he voted for Trump. In dozens of conversations with residents over several months, there was a persistent sense that even if they were doing OK financially, the promise of the Obama years had failed to materialize. Worse, everything was changing too fast, too soon.

“They feel the ground shifting underneath them. They need somebody to assure them that there is firmament under their feet,” says Hy Miriampolski, a Trump Republican who lives in the Hamptons and works as a marketing research consultant. “It’s not as simple as nostalgia. You go to a movie and you want to go to the soda shop afterwards, and the soda shop is gone. You want to go to the Irish bar and there isn’t an Irish bar. There are a lot of people around here that are hunters. You bag a deer, and it was like anything, like fishing or picking fruit off a tree, but all of a sudden everyone is bugged about it. Take transgender bathrooms. You’d see transgenders”—as he put it—“in places like this. You say, ‘Oh, so-and-so’s kid dresses like a girl.’ So what? There wasn’t an interest group that was demanding something. It wasn’t a crisis in society. You could go out and live your life and not have everything open to negotiation or be worried that there was some kind of stressful interaction about to come down. Even out here in supposedly ultra-liberal eastern Suffolk people know this.”

None of the people I spoke with would consider themselves rich, even though by any standard of measurement they are. It is one of the paradoxes of living in a place like Suffolk. A cop and a school teacher can have an annual household income of more than $100,000. But they are sandwiched between the Hamptons and Manhattan, and pay some of the highest property taxes in the country.

A common story in the county, one I heard over and over, is of older people whose children have gone to college and never came back. Faced with an empty nest, the parents would like to leave too, head to Florida or South Carolina to live out their golden years, but faced with high property taxes and a high cost of living, can’t find a buyer, and so find themselves stuck.

“In any other part of the country, they would be classified as upper middle class,” says Lawrence Levy, the director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. “But out here they are living paycheck-to-paycheck. They own a $375,000 house they can’t sell, they take out a second mortgage to pay for their kids’ college. They see themselves as hurting. They see themselves as ignored. They had the opportunity to make a statement about it, and that is what they did.”

“People are pissed off,” says Nick Gourevitch, a New York City-based pollster who has worked extensively in Suffolk for Democratic candidates. “There is a huge tax burden. Everybody thinks they are completely overtaxed, they think all of their politicians are corrupt. There is this general feeling that people have less than they used to, that Long Island used to be this magnificent place, a first-of-its kind suburb where things were happening, and it has changed. My kids moved away because it costs too much to live here. Nobody sticks around anymore and the services are bad. And it’s just not the same. People talk about leaving the county and never coming back.”

In 2003, Steve Levy, a Democrat and an immigration hard-liner, won election to the post of Suffolk County executive. He immediately proposed giving local police officers the authority to detain illegal immigrants taken into custody and prohibited local government contractors from hiring illegal immigrants. He cracked down on the day laborers who lined the sidewalks looking for work. He said a local maternity ward was closing due to the influx of “anchor babies” and became a regular on Lou Dobbs. A report from the Southern Poverty Law Center said that Levy’s rhetoric and policies were “creating a climate of fear” in Suffolk County.

“Their report was trash,” Levy says now, seven years after he left office. We were driving his hybrid electric car around the town of Islip, a mixed-income town in Suffolk that has seen a spike in immigration and in gang activity in recent years. He pointed out the hardware store that had closed when the Home Depot came to town, and then the Home Depot that was closing because of Amazon. We drove past well-kept neighborhoods and he pointed out places where an untidy yard meant that he suspected there was more than one family living there, and he pointed with pride to a 7/11 that was free of day laborers. It was raining. An older Hispanic walked down a side street, a plastic bag slung over his shoulder. “Look at this fellow,” Levy said, slowing the car down. “Probably illegal.”

“Democrats see illegal immigration as a core voting bloc,” he told me. “And Republicans don’t want to offend their Democrat friends. These voters here, they say no one speaks for me. And that’s why Trump won.”

When Levy came into office, he said, towns were overrun with single-family homes with 60 people living in them, mostly single men. He cracked down on that and other quality-of-life infractions, winning re-election with 96 percent of the vote. After the Lucero murder, however, opinion changed on Levy, as immigrant-rights groups and editorial boards blamed his hot rhetoric for, if not quite creating the climate of suspicion in Suffolk, at least rendering him mute in the face of its worst manifestation. Levy’s anti-immigrant “outbursts,” wrote the New York Times in one editorial, “have made him a nationally known spokesman for the fed-up, mostly white, middle-class citizens who see a seemingly pell-mell influx of Spanish-speaking people and fear for their way of life.”

“The illegal immigration lobby is incredibly powerful,” Levy says in response. “They manipulate the media, they make it seem like they are the good guys and the rest of us are racist. Here you get slammed for being anti-immigrant because you don’t want 60 people in a single-family home. It’s sick that people try to paint Suffolk as intolerant. It is not. These are educated people. They recoil at Trump’s tweets.”

According to Levy, Obama lost Suffolk when the federal government tried to relocate 4,700 unaccompanied minors from the 2014 border surge there. “Warehousing them in our communities,” Levy says.

“People out here, they want the white picket fence on a half-acre of land. They want people to respect zoning laws. They want to preserve the suburban character of their neighborhood. They moved away from Brooklyn and Queens to be here. They know it is not the country, but they like the suburban character of it and they want to keep it. And they gave up talking about these things. People get really tired of being called racist. And they saw that Trump wasn’t afraid to talk about it.”

One reason Suffolk became such a magnet for immigrants is that although much of the county is middle class or beyond, pockets of it have wealth beyond imagining. The Hamptons, on the island’s east end, have the highest real estate prices in the nation. On summer weekends, vacationers from New York City clog the highways, or, if they can afford the helicopter ride—and many can—the airways.

“If you live on the east end of Long Island you have seen the influx of these Manhattan people who build mega-mansions, who have brought their money and brought all these illegal aliens and crime,” says Paul Giardina, a recently retired nuclear engineer who lives in the wealthy enclave of East Hampton. A career official with the Environmental Protection Agency with a side business breeding horses, he lives in a book-lined home off the main road with his wife, his children having grown and moved away. A lifelong Republican, Giardina couldn’t bring himself to vote for Trump, but now wishes he had. “I am a fiscal conservative,” he says. “That does not make me a racist, and that does not make me a sexist.”

Despite the isolated pockets of a gang influx, crime in Suffolk remains at record lows, dropping by two-thirds since 1991. Still, according to Jon Schneider, a former spokesman for Rep. Bishop, “People have the sense that MS-13 is running the county. You never win elections by telling people they are wrong. And sometimes people don’t want to hear good news.”

And still residents of Suffolk suffer, under wages that have slowed since the boom years of the ’80s and ’90s, from too-high taxes, with home values that haven’t recovered since the crash. Yet residents deserve some of the blame. For a place that is doing relatively well, Suffolk is almost devoid of millennials. Young people who grew up here, equipped with decent educations and cultural capital, fled to places with more opportunity and haven’t looked back, leaving an older generation stuck in place.

“My kids are doing great in terms of the global economy; they have good educations, good jobs, but they can’t do anything here in Suffolk,” says Miriampolski, the marketing research consultant. “If you live here and you were expecting your grandkids to live down the street, well, it’s not going to happen.”

And that’s largely because the residents of Suffolk County have wanted it that way. Suffolk is an island within an island. You can’t get further away from America unless you move to a houseboat on the Atlantic Ocean. And people fought for it to stay suburban, even as young people were streaming into cities and rejecting cars for bikes and Uber. In the ’90s, big box stores sprang up on the highways outside of most towns, and the downtowns emptied out. And the residents by and large did nothing, preferring blight and neglect if it meant people would keep out. In 2010, Rep. Tim Bishop secured funding for a water transmission line between two towns. Residents erupted in protest, fearing it would create a new demand for development.

And although diverse by any standard, Suffolk is also one of the most segregated places in America, a place where the county sheriff, an African-American man, went door-to-door to campaign and residents called the police on him. And nothing can solicit protest more than proposals to revitalize Suffolk’s downtowns with dense housing and mixed-use development, proposals that elicit cries of “We left Queens to get away from that!”

In Smithtown, town officials wanted to build a 260-unit apartment complex downtown on the site of a shuttered concrete plant. A 2014 town hall to discuss the project descended into a shouting match.

“A four-story monolith in our community is beyond reason … It’s just simply a case of the type of people you’re going to be having in there,” said one 72-year-old resident of the town. “You’re talking about transients. You’re not talking about people who are moving in, like we all did, with the intent of putting down roots.”

Another resident was even blunter: “It’s like New York City coming out to Smithtown. This is not what I signed up for.”

And so in most Suffolk towns, because there is very limited rental housing and home prices are too high, there is no place for young people to live. And because there are few places for young people to live, there are few jobs for them. It is a vicious circle, one that many people are invested in keeping.

After Marcello Rucero was killed, Patchogue became one of the only towns in the county to try a different tack. Under the direction of Mayor Paul Pontieri, Patchogue pushed through affordable housing projects and a revitalized downtown. Pontieri pointed out the new housing development that used to be a few derelict homes and a discount mattress store, the 1,200-seat theater that had been rebuilt (a David Bowie tribute act was doing a sound check when we popped in), and the town’s crosswalks that had been repainted to look like musical scales. It was lunch hour on a Friday in May, and the restaurants and streets were packed. The average age in Patchogue is eight years younger than the county average. It is one of the few towns in the area that voted for Hillary Clinton.

“It’s about putting people on the street, putting wallets on the streets,” Pontieri said. The mayor is a conservative Democrat and a former school administrator; I asked him if he had been inspired by Jane Jacobs, Richard Florida or other fashionable urban theorists. He shot me a what the hell are you talking about look; to him, what he was doing was just common sense.

“What I knew was that when I grew up you could look down the street and you would see people,” he said. “And that if you wanted to get young people in town, they want a place that is clean, that is new, where they don’t have to mow the lawn and they can take care of themselves. Everybody in these buildings,” he added, pointing out one, “is an elevator ride away from dinner.”

Other towns in Suffolk now look at how Patchogue is thriving and want to emulate it, even as residents howl about the possibility of outsiders coming in.

After the Lucero murder, Pontieri met with members of the local Latino community. He urged them to keep the noise down, to learn English, to not disrupt neighborhood norms. He visited Ecuador, where Lucero was from. At the big St. Patrick’s Day parade in Patchogue, Pontieri refused to march with Zeldin, fearing his support for Trump was sending the wrong message to residents. “I did not want the sense of this community to be that I agree with him.” Pontieri says. “We went through a lot in 2008. I am not going through that again. What explains the failure of communities around here? It is easy to blame the color of somebody’s skin. If I can blame somebody else, I have solved my problem.”

Pontieri now testifies regularly in other Suffolk towns where leaders want to bring in more housing, more growth, more vitality over the objection of residents who fear change, who fear what is meant by “new residents.” It is one of the great paradoxes of a place like Suffolk, a place with towns full of winners who feel like they are losers, who are well-equipped to meet the future, but who more and more don’t want to.

“I essentially grew up on Long Island,” Trump told a roundtable of local politicians, including Zeldin, on Wednesday in Bethpage. “All of the places that I know so well that you can’t walk outside. This used to be the place that you would leave your doors unlocked, you would leave your windows open always. We have gang members now that are so rough that people are afraid to go outside.” It was going to be OK, he reassured them. “The ICE guys,” he said, were rougher and tougher and meaner than even the meanest gangbanger.

“It’s unthinkable,” Trump said. “It is almost like an occupied territory where your children are afraid to go out and if they go out bad things happen.”

Trump blames media for ‘purposely’ reporting his ‘animals’ comment incorrectly

President Donald Trump on Friday chided media outlets who reported earlier in the week that he had referred to undocumented immigrants as “animals,” a remark that came in response to questions about members of the brutal MS-13 gang with roots in El Salvador.

“Fake News Media had me calling Immigrants, or Illegal Immigrants, ‘Animals.’ Wrong! They were begrudgingly forced to withdraw their stories,” the president wrote on Twitter. “I referred to MS 13 Gang Members as “Animals,” a big difference – and so true. Fake News got it purposely wrong, as usual!”

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen echoed the president Friday, saying on “Fox and Friends” that she was “a bit horrified” at media coverage of the president’s remarks: “If anyone wants to quibble about whether we should call those people animals, perhaps the quibble should be whether we call them something worse.”

Asked about criticism from Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Nielsen added, “I think those lawmakers owe the president an apology.”

Trump’s original comment came Wednesday at a White House meeting with California local officials opposed to the state’s “sanctuary” immigration policy. At one point in the meeting, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims complained about state law that prohibited her from telling federal immigration authorities about undocumented immigrants, including MS-13 gang members, in her county jail.

“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country,” Trump responded. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”

Fueled in no small part by the president’s history of incendiary remarks regarding immigrants and immigration, Trump’s comments quickly spread, with his “animals” remark widely reported as referring to many undocumented immigrants. By Thursday, Trump allies and White House spokespeople had pushed back against the reporting on the president’s remarks and Trump himself offered his own explanation at an afternoon meeting.

“You know I’m referring to the MS-13 gangs that are coming in. I was talking about the MS-13,” Trump said Thursday at the White House. “So, I’m actually surprised that you’re asking this question because most people got it right.”

Nielsen also said Friday that a recent report she had drafted a resignation letter after the president berated her was not true. She previously said she didn’t threaten to resign.