DES MOINES — Senate Republicans on Thursday proposed about $52 million in mid-year cuts to Iowa’s $7.2 billion state budget, including big reductions to higher education and the courts. Administrators overseeing those systems warned the cuts would have detrimental effects.
The plan, which goes beyond the nearly $30 million in spending reductions proposed by GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds earlier this month, is for the budget year that runs through June. It is preliminary and will require additional votes. The full Senate is expected to do so next week, while House Republicans say they’re still finalizing their own proposal for spending cuts.
It’s still unclear how aligned the Republican-controlled chambers will be at first, but they’ll ultimately have to reach agreement before they can turn to the next state budget that begins in July.
The Senate GOP plan included $19.3 million in reductions to Iowa’s three public universities — the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. The Board of Regents, which oversees the schools, indicated it would fight to lessen the proposed reductions.
“As the state of Iowa is focusing on high-demand jobs, degree attainment and the biosciences economy, cutting the public universities to this degree goes in the opposite direction of achieving these goals. The public universities are key drivers in all three of these areas and are critical to the future economic success of our state,” said Regents Executive Director Mark Braun in a statement.
Jacob Simpson, student government president at the University of Iowa studying economics, said the cuts will be a factor in decisions on tuition and could make higher education more difficult to afford.
“With a mid-year cut, they’re going to respond by needing to increase tuition,” he said. “We already know students struggle to pay for school.”
Sen. Charles Schneider, a West Des Moines Republican who chairs a key Senate budget committee, said the additional cuts ensure GOP lawmakers can help avoid more mid-year reductions. Budget experts are expected to release their latest projections on the current spending year in March, and lower-than-expected state revenue could force more cuts or tapping emergency funds.
Schneider provided the $52 million reduction estimate though preliminary data broke down a $50 million cut. He said the goal was to make cuts “in a way that’s fiscally responsible and that reflects the priorities that we as Iowans all hold most dear.” That includes no direct cuts to K-12 education spending.
The Senate plan was announced on the same day students from several community colleges visited the state Capitol as part of a lobbying day. Lawmakers in both chambers highlighted the visit by giving students standing ovations in the chambers. A short time later, the Senate GOP spending plan revealed a $5.4 million cut to community colleges.
Reynolds told reporters at her weekly press conference she would be open to proposals from legislators. Her budget plan included a cut of $5.1 million to the regents and $1.8 million to community colleges.
The plan announced Thursday would also include $4.8 million in cuts to the Judicial Branch, which is part of Iowa’s court system. That’s more than the $1.6 million reduction proposed by Reynolds. State Court Administrator Todd Nuccio said courts in 30 county courthouses across Iowa would close. Those closures would be determined by caseload. Some court positions also would be eliminated.
Reductions were expected to some degree. A budget panel predicted in December that while Iowa is still experiencing revenue growth, it’s at a lower than expected rate. Similar predictions led to a mid-year spending cut last session and ultimately about $144 million in borrowing from reserve funds. That money is expected to be paid back.
Iowa’s budget constraints come at a time when the state’s unemployment rate has dropped to 2.8 percent. Reynolds and Republicans have said cutting taxes will be a priority this session, in an effort to spur more economic growth. Few specifics have been released on those assertions.
JESUP — The city is reviewing employee policies after a controversy involving the fire chief’s ability to keep his post after moving out of town.
Andy Trumbauer, who has served nine years as the chief of Jesup’s volunteer fire department, was asked to resign recently by Mayor Larry Thompson.
“Our job description says the chief has to live in the city limits,” Thompson said.
But when Thompson asked the City Council to approve his appointment of Assistant Fire Chief Kevin West to serve as interim chief, firefighters from Jesup and surrounding communities packed City Hall on Jan. 16 to support Trumbauer.
Council members voted 5-0 to reject West’s appointment, leaving Trumbauer in charge for now.
“We had firemen from other towns there showing support for our fire chief,” said Councilman Denny Bell. “The volunteers are almost 100 percent behind him if not 100 percent.
“I don’t think you go against your firemen,” he added. “In my opinion we should remove that (residency requirement).”
Bell noted Trumbauer can get to the fire station from his home in about a minute and a half.
Thompson said the fire department bylaws require a five-minute response time for firefighters. But he reiterated the current city job description, which was adopted in July 2012, requires the chief to live in town.
“The job descriptions haven’t been gone through in five years so we’re in the process of going through them,” Thompson said. “We’re going to sit on this for awhile, but it will be up to the council.”
During the council meeting which is available for viewing on the city website, Trumbauer said he had never seen the job description and questioned why the issue wasn’t raised when he moved four months ago.
“I’m concerned there’s a personal issue involved versus what’s best for this community, the city and the fire department as a whole,” he said.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June, but he backed off the order after White House lawyer Don McGahn threatened to resign, according to a report Thursday in The New York Times.
The newspaper reports that Trump demanded Mueller's firing just weeks after the special counsel was first appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
McGahn said he would not deliver the order to the Justice Department, according to The Times, which cites four people familiar with the request by the president.
Trump argued at the time that Mueller could not be fair because of a dispute over golf club fees that he said Mueller owed at a Trump golf club in Sterling, Va. The president also believed Mueller he had a conflict of interest because he worked for the same law firm that was representing Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday night. Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer working on the response to the Russia probe, declined comment Thursday night.
The response from Democrats was nearly immediate. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said that if the report in The Times is true, Trump has crossed a "red line."
"Any attempt to remove the Special Counsel, pardon key witnesses or otherwise interfere in the investigation would be a gross abuse of power, and all members of Congress, from both parties, have a responsibility to our Constitution and to our country to make that clear immediately," Warner said.
The report comes as Mueller moves ever closer to interviewing Trump himself. The president said Wednesday that he would gladly testify under oath — although a White House official quickly said afterward that Trump did not mean he was volunteering to testify.
Last June, when Trump was considering how to fire Mueller, the special counsel's probe had not progressed far, at least not in public.
At that time he had yet to call on any major witnesses to testify and had not yet issued any charges or signed any plea deals. But that would change just a few months later, when federal agents would arrest former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and ultimately turn him into a cooperating witness.
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump adviser Rick Gates were charged by Mueller with criminal conspiracy related to millions of dollars they earned while working for a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian political party. And former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn agreed to cooperate with investigators in a plea deal revealed two months ago. Flynn was charged with lying to the FBI.
Mueller's investigators have been focusing their inquiry on questions surrounding Trump's firing of Flynn and also his firing of former FBI Director James Comey. They have slowly been calling in more witnesses closer to the president himself and, recently, began negotiating the terms of a possible interview with the president.
On Thursday, Trump's lawyer said that more than 20 White House employees have given interviews to the special counsel in his probe of possible obstruction of justice and Trump campaign ties to Russian election interference.
John Dowd, Trump's attorney, said the White House, in an unprecedented display of cooperation with Mueller's investigation, has turned over more than 20,000 pages of records. The president's 2016 campaign has turned over more than 1.4 million pages.
The number of voluntary interviews included eight people from the White House counsel's office.
An additional 28 people affiliated with the Trump campaign have also been interviewed by either the special counsel or congressional committees probing Russian election meddling. Dowd's disclosure did only not name the people nor provide a breakdown of how many were interviewed only by Mueller's team.
Separately, transcripts of interviews held behind closed doors in congressional investigations into Russian meddling could soon become public. Those will include the president's elder son.
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Thursday he will work with the panel's top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, to release the transcripts of interviews with Donald Trump Jr. and others who attended a June 2016 meeting between campaign officials and Russians at Trump Tower in New York.
"Let's get them out there for everyone to see," Grassley said.
The rare bipartisan move brings the focus, at least momentarily, back to the initial subject of several different congressional investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and whether Trump's campaign was involved. In recent weeks, many Republicans have pivoted to instead focus on whether the FBI conspired against Trump when it began investigating the campaign, citing anti-Trump texts between two Justice Department officials who were at one point part of special counsel Mueller's investigation.
Trying to stem some of that criticism, the Justice Department's internal watchdog said Thursday that it had located several months' worth of text messages the department had previously said it couldn't find.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in a letter to Congress that his office "succeeded in using forensic tools" to recover messages from FBI devices, including those swapped by a counterintelligence agent, Peter Strzok, and FBI lawyer Lisa Page between December 2016 and May 2017.
Strzok was reassigned from Mueller's Russia investigation following the discovery of anti-Trump text messages he and Page, who was also briefly detailed to Mueller's team, had shared.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is proposing a plan that provides a path to citizenship for 1.8 million of the so-called “Dreamer” immigrants, tighter restrictions on legal immigration and $25 billion in border security, the White House said, putting forward an outline likely to find resistance from some of Trump’s conservative allies and deep opposition from immigration activists.
Senior White House officials offered a preview of Trump’s immigration framework Thursday, casting it as a compromise that could pass the Senate. The proposal represents a reversal for the president, who once promised to eliminate an Obama-era program protecting immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and now in the country illegally. He later urged lawmakers to extend the program, but maintained he was not considering citizenship.
The Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program currently covers roughly 690,000 of those younger immigrants — about half the number who qualify for the program, according to independent estimates. Trump’s plan would expand this further by adjusting some of the requirements, officials said, but they would not offer specific details. It would not allow parents of those immigrants to seek lawful status, the officials said.
On Wednesday, Trump said he was open to a pathway to citizenship for the younger immigrants. “We’re going to morph into it,” Trump told reporters. “It’s going to happen, at some point in the future, over a period of 10 to 12 years.”
Recipients could have their legal status revoked due to criminal behavior or national security threats, the officials said, and eventual citizenship would require still-unspecified work and education requirements — and a finding that the immigrants are of “good moral character.”
Trump ended the DACA program in September, setting a March 5 deadline for Congress to provide legal protections or the program’s recipients would once again be subject to deportation. The officials said Trump would only sign legislation providing those protections if the other immigration changes he is proposing are implemented.
Trump’s plan would only allow immigrants to sponsor their spouses and underage children to join them in the U.S., doing away with provisions allowing parents, adult siblings and others to enter the country. The officials said it would only end new applications for visas, allowing those already in the pipeline to be processed.
It would also end the diversity visa lottery program, which drew Trump’s attention after the New York City truck attack last year, redirecting the allotment annually to bringing down the existing backlog in visa applications.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the plan before its release.
Trump had previously ruled out the idea of citizenship for the Dreamers, saying in September: “We’re not looking at citizenship. We’re not looking at amnesty. We’re looking at allowing people to stay here.”
Trump earlier this month had deferred to a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers to craft an immigration proposal, saying he would sign whatever they passed. But as talks on Capitol Hill broke down — in part because of controversy Trump ginned up using vulgar language to describe other countries — the White House decided to offer its own framework.
The release follows on concerns raised by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the president had not sufficiently laid out his priorities. One official said the Thursday release represents a plan for the Senate, with the administration expecting a different bill to pass the House.
The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute said it believes the largest share of the White House’s 1.8 million people who’d be eligible for citizenship — 1.3 million — are people who currently meet all of DACA’s eligibility requirements. These include years in the U.S., their ages now and when they entered this country, and whether they have a high school or equivalent education.
Another 400,000 are people who’d be eligible for DACA protection but for their education. And 100,000 more are people who are under age 15 —the minimum age allowed for most people requesting protection under the program.
Moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he was “very encouraged” by Trump’s surprising words, which the president made late Wednesday in impromptu comments to reporters.
But a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., blasted the plan as part of a “hateful anti-immigrant agenda.”
Drew Hammill accused White House aide Stephen Miller, a staunch opponent of illegal immigration, of “trying to ransom the lives of innocent DREAMers for a $25 billion anti-immigrant wish list.”
“The White House strategy of moving the goal posts every time the president isn’t paying attention continues to complicate this process,” he said in a statement.
On the Republican side, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., thanked the president and his administration.
“I am hopeful that as discussions continue in the Senate on the subject of immigration, Members on both sides of the aisle will look to this framework for guidance as they work towards an agreement,” he said in a statement.