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Trump pleads on TV for wall money; Dems say he 'stokes fear'

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump urged congressional Democrats to fund his long-promised border wall Tuesday night in a somber televised address that was heavy with dark immigration rhetoric but offered little in the way of concessions or new ideas to break the standoff that has left large swaths of the government shuttered for 18 days.

Speaking to the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Trump argued the wall was needed to resolve a security and humanitarian "crisis," blaming illegal immigration for what he said was a scourge of drugs and violence in the U.S. and asking: "How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?"

Democrats in response accused Trump appealing to "fear, not facts" and manufacturing a border crisis for political gain.

Using the formal trappings of the White House, Trump hoped to gain the upper hand in the standoff over his demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He plans a visit to the border Thursday as he continues to pitch what was a signature promise of his 2016 presidential campaign.

He addressed the nation as the shutdown stretched through its third week, with hundreds of thousands of federal workers going without pay and some congressional Republicans growing increasingly jittery about the spreading impact of the impasse. Trump will visit the Capitol today to meet with Senate Republicans, and has invited Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to return to the White House to meet with him later that day.

He claimed the standoff could be resolved in "45 minutes" if Democrats would just negotiate, but previous meetings have led to no agreement.

For now, Trump sees this as winning politics. TV networks had been reticent about providing him airtime to make what some feared would be a purely political speech. And that concern was heightened by the decision Tuesday by Trump's re-election campaign to send out fundraising emails and text messages to supporters trying to raise money off the speech. Their goal: A half-million dollars in a single day.

"I just addressed the nation on Border Security. Now need you to stand with me," read one message sent out after his remarks.

In their own televised remarks, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of misrepresenting the situation on the border as they urged him to reopen closed government departments and turn loose paychecks for hundreds of thousands of workers.

Negotiations on wall funding could proceed in the meantime, they said.

Schumer said Trump "just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration."

In his dire address, Trump ticked off a string of statistics and claims to make his case that there is a crisis at the border, but a number of his statements were misleading, such as saying the new trade deal with Mexico would pay for the wall, or suggesting through gruesome examples that immigrants are more likely to commit crime.

Trump, who has long railed against illegal immigration at the border, has recently seized on humanitarian concerns to argue there is a broader crisis that can only be solved with a wall. But critics say the security risks are overblown and the administration is at least partly to blame for the humanitarian situation.

Trump used emotional language, referring to Americans who were killed by people in the country illegally, saying: "I've met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I've held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible."

The president often highlights such incidents, though studies over several years have found immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.

Trump has been discussing the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow him to move forward with the wall without getting congressional approval for the billions he's requested. But he did not mention that Tuesday night.

Trump was nearly halfway through his 9-minute address before he ever mentioned the border wall, describing it as a request from law enforcement rather than his own longstanding political pledge. He also suggested that his proposal to build the wall from steel, rather than concrete, was a concession to Democrats, although they don't see it that way.

Trump sought to put the blame on Democrats for the shutdown, which reached its 18th day, saying they "will not fund border security." In fact, House Democrats passed legislation the day they took control of the House that offered $1.3 billion for border security. And Senate Democrats have approved similar funding year after year.

Ahead of the speech, the White House sought to shore up GOP support on Capitol Hill, where a growing number of Republicans have been expressing unease with the extended shutdown. But GOP lawmakers were still raising concerns Tuesday, talking about disruptions in payments to farmers and troubles for home buyers trying to get government-backed mortgage loans.

A year after reforms, mental health care challenges remain

Fourth in a series of stories on the upcoming Iowa Legislature’s 2019 session.

DES MOINES — Iowa’s mental health care delivery system received a massive overhaul in 2018 that was well-received by patient advocates.

The reforms created critical access centers for people experiencing a mental health crisis and a statewide crisis hotline, removed a cap on the number of beds a facility can house, expanded use of teams of community-based professionals to treat people with serious and persistent mental illness, and established services for such patients.

But significant work remains for lawmakers. The system needs reliable funding, and the state still lacks a mental health care system for children.

Gov. Kim Reynolds appointed a task force to research children’s mental health care. The group delivered its plan late last year, and Reynolds said she and lawmakers will consider them.

Reynolds will highlight children’s mental health care during her condition of the state address Tuesday.

“They’ve been talking about it for years, and now it’s time that we do something,” she said.

It will take time, she said, noting recent reforms to the adult system were spread out over several years.

“You can’t do it all at once,” Reynolds said.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake, said state Reps. Joel Fry and Shannon Lundgren are working on the issue and reviewing the task force’s recommendations.

“It’s a very ambitious list, obviously. But where do we start? How do we get moving down this path? What are the things that are possible? And what do we need to do first to sort of set up the infrastructure base for accomplishing some of these things,” Upmeyer said. “I think that will be something we’ll want to work on, and I’m hoping that that’s something we can do in a very bipartisan way. We worked together to do that last year. I think that’s important to do. We are here to govern and we want everyone involved in that.”

House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, a Democratic from Charles City, expressed similar hope.

“There’s definitely room with mental health to find bipartisan support to solve Iowa’s mental health crisis,” Prichard said.

In addition, legislators will be faced with how to fund the adult system.

For all the praise the 2018 reforms received, many noted it lacked a funding plan. The current system is funded largely by local property taxes, which are capped by state law. Some counties have asked for the cap to be raised so taxes can be increased to cover local mental health care services.

Legislators may debate whether the state should pick up the entire tab.

The ongoing push from water quality advocates to pass a three-eighths of 1 cent sales tax for natural resources funding has spurred a new debate: Legislators could pass a full 1 cent sales tax increase, use three-eighths for water quality funding and hold a debate over how to spend the remaining five-eighths.

Such a debate could include mental health care funding.

Legislative leaders’ opinions on such a proposal were mixed.

“One thing our caucus is interested in is lowering taxes, especially property taxes,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, a Republican from Ankeny. “If there are ideas or options to remove (mental health care funding) from the property tax rolls, we’re willing to look at it. ... That’s part of a larger discussion.”

Reynolds and Upmeyer said mental health care funding should be generated at the local level because that keeps funding in the hands of the government closest to the citizens.

Upmeyer said it used to be funded at the state level, and she finds the current system better.

“It was a state program and it really didn’t work that well because it wasn’t in touch with people,” Upmeyer said. “Especially when you’re dealing with mental health issues, I think we are absolutely committed that the best way to do this is in a much more local way.”

Another potential state-versus-local tradeoff could involve the funding, called backfill, the state sends local governments to compensate for lost revenue as a result of property tax cuts passed in 2013. Republican leaders are considering eliminating it.

That’s not palatable to Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines.

“I would hope they would fix our mental health funding structure without some type of hostage-type package deal that puts local leaders in a bad position,” Petersen said. “If they get rid of the backfill, it will come down on local property owners, and I don’t think people around the state want to see property taxes go up. ...

“I think Iowans are looking for stable, ongoing funding for our mental health system.”

Upgrades to I-80/380 in fast lane

CORALVILLE — A $50 million federal grant could shave a year or more off the construction of a new Interstate 80 and Interstate 380 interchange.

Cathy Cutler, transportation planner with the Iowa Department of Transportation District 6 office in Cedar Rapids, said the state still is determining how the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant, which was approved last spring, will affect the project. The $50 million should help condense the project’s overall timeline, she said.

“We’re still hammering out how to advance the project,” Cutler said. “I think we’re going to at least get a year off that.”

Cutler said any changes to the project, which began last year with some grading work, will happen in the project’s later years. This year still is expected to include more grading and early construction of some of the new interchange’s ramps.

The estimated $300 million project will convert the cloverleaf interchange where Highway 218, I-80 and I-380 meet into a sweeping, modern-style design called a turbine intersection. The project is tentatively scheduled through 2024.

Officials say some ramps could be closed to traffic for months, if not entire years. Major traffic delays are expected in 2020 and 2021.

To help alleviate traffic, the Iowa DOT and East Central Iowa Council of Governments in October launched 380 Express, a weekday bus service to carry commuters between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

While work on the I-80/I-380 interchange is ramping up this year, the state’s Forevergreen Road/I-380 interchange project should be finished by this fall.

Nick Bergus, North Liberty communications director, said that new interchange should ease the burden on the existing Penn Street interchange, which he said is aging and undersized for current traffic loads.

“The Penn Street interchange is over capacity, and there’s no real chance to do improvements there until there is a second interchange,” he said. “While nothing is scheduled, that second interchange allows us to maybe start asking.”

In addition to the state’s interchange project, which will add the second I-380 connection to the growing community, work has been taking place to prepare local roads for added traffic, including paving on Kansas Avenue and the construction of a roundabout at St. Andrews Drive and Kansas Avenue.

Vivica A. Fox to speak at Waterloo's MLK banquet

WATERLOO — For many years, the Martin Luther King Jr. banquet in Waterloo has commemorated the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s belief in the American dream and equal opportunity.

Speakers have included many area residents, or men and women with local ties, who have made significant contributions to society and their communities.

This year, on the 40th anniversary of the event, organizers wanted to celebrate the milestone with a speaker sure to pack the house.

So they got Vivica A. Fox.

You read that right. Film and TV actor, producer and author Vivica A. Fox will speak at the MLK banquet Jan. 20 at Electric Park Ballroom.

“We needed to go all out for the 40th,” said LaTanya Graves, banquet organizer and president of the Black Hawk County NAACP.

Fox is known for roles in the big-screen blockbusters “Set It Off,” “Kill Bill” and “Independence Day” and in hit TV series like “Empire” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

The esteemed starlet has received some of the industry’s top awards and was named one of People magazine’s Most Beautiful People in the World. She also has received NAACP Image Awards and the NAACP Theater Award.

In 2018, Fox released a best-selling memoir, “Every Day I’m Hustling,” and last fall debuted a daytime talk show, “Face the Truth,” on select CBS-owned stations.

“Besides being a blockbuster movie star, she’s a philanthropist, she encourages women that if you have a dream go after it — she just gives back. She’s such an inspiration,” Graves said.

Graves said she got a bit of a late start in booking this year’s keynote speaker. October rolled around and she began to feel the time crunch, she said.

“Normally we try to start in August and we just got busy. The time was approaching and we knew we needed to select someone as the speaker,” she said.

She made a call to Derrick Holmes, a Waterloo native and former DJ at KBBG radio, who now is CEO of Banneker Watches and Clocks. He asked her for a short list of prospective celebrity speakers the banquet committee thought would fit the bill. Fox’s name was on that list.

“Derrick called us back within two days telling us she said yes,” Graves said. “When we heard the news we were so elated. I jumped up and down and screamed.”

The annual MLK banquet is hosted by Social Action Inc. and is a fundraiser for programs for local disadvantaged youth.

“What we are trying to do is show them that there is more to life than heading down the wrong track, that there’s a whole other world out there,” Graves said. “We like to show them experiences they wouldn’t normally get.”

Social hour for this year’s MLK banquet begins at 5 p.m., with dinner at 6 p.m. Tickets are $50.

A VIP event featuring a meet-and-greet and book signing with Fox will take place at 8 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Brown Derby Ballroom in downtown Waterloo. Tickets to that event are $75.

RSVP for either or both events by calling Graves at 214-3434 by Jan. 16.