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Political stew boils over Trump’s cabinet, homeless services and Russian hacking

The next time legislative Democrats bark about GOP closed-door caucuses, Republicans could respond, "So liberals can meet in secret to decide locations for homeless facilities?"
The next time legislative Democrats bark about GOP closed-door caucuses, Republicans could respond, "So liberals can meet in secret to decide locations for homeless facilities?"
Evan Vucci, Associated Press

The polar vortex is freezing the country — except within the bubble encasing Washington, D.C., where the political stew is boiling over President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks. We explore issues simmering in the nation’s capital and in Utah.

Trump rejected Utah adopted son Mitt Romney for secretary of state, and he is raising eyebrows with some of his other cabinet nominees. How should the Trump Cabinet lineup be viewed?

Pignanelli: “Great wealth took possession of the government. It was reflected in Mr. Harding's selection of a cabinet.” — Republican Sen. George William Norris

This political season continues to surprise. A Republican president is pushing a nominee for secretary of state who was awarded the “Order of Friendship" by the Russian president — a former KGB operative and open admirer of the Soviet Union.

The national media is properly focused on the financial or military background of Trump’s appointments. Utahns with a specific business or personal interest in a federal agency are anticipating or fearing whether the appointees have the muscle to change the existing bureaucracy.

But Trump is lucky. Most Americans do not care about insider maneuvering in Washington. So he has a window to hire officials that completely contrast with his campaign promises. Democrats object to almost all the Cabinet nominees but need to select targets strategically, or otherwise they appear obstructionist.

In this new environment, expect the following tweets from Trump on Christmas Day: “Awakened last night by a fat guy in red suit. Thought it was Christie.” “Jolly fat guy is terrific. Travels to 140 countries every year. Appointed him special advisor for international affairs.”

Webb: Trump is assembling a Cabinet consistent with his unorthodox campaign and his campaign promises. His picks are mostly aggressive conservatives who favor environmental and business deregulation, support big tax cuts, prefer limited government, want aggressive energy development (including fossil fuels) and vow to dismantle Obamacare.

When one party controls the entire government, a big danger is overreaching, like the Obama administration did with Obamacare and oppressive financial-services regulation. It will be very difficult to dismantle the welfare state, repeal and replace Obamacare, and shred the regulatory chokehold on businesses and energy development.

Each government program has enormous constituencies, including corporate titans, who will fight to the death for their government largesse. The entrenched bureaucracy and, to some extent, Congress, will also limit how quickly the new administration can move.

Another factor will be the federal budget. With his promises to cut taxes while spending massively on infrastructure, Trump threatens to balloon the deficit and overheat the economy.

Trump is promising a political revolution. It will be hard to execute.

At a news conference last week, Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski identified four new sites for homeless services in Utah’s capital — the culmination of a two-year process, part of it conducted behind closed doors. Is this a bold step that will revolutionize homeless services and greatly benefit people who need help?

Pignanelli: The next time legislative Democrats bark about GOP closed-door caucuses, Republicans could respond, "So liberals can meet in secret to decide locations for homeless facilities?" Regardless, most politicos are impressed with an aggressive attempt by city and community leaders to solve this tragic problem. The nationally recognized Road Home charity has its supporters (including me) and how it is treated will be carefully scrutinized.

Any new approach will not be deemed a success unless panhandling is curtailed. Hopefully, tough decision-making will also extend to this blight plaguing many Utah cities.

Webb: It’s a terrific plan that will bless the lives of thousands of people. It demonstrates Utah’s compassion. Identifying needs and directing people to the right resources makes great sense.

But the reality is we won’t ever completely solve the homeless problem, in part because we can’t help people who refuse help. Some people prefer to live on the fringes of society. We’ll still have people sleeping on the streets. Panhandling will continue as long as it’s profitable.

This sounds Grinchy, but if we’re not careful we’ll attract people from across the country. These folks have great networks. Word will immediately spread that if you come to Salt Lake City you can get help, counseling, food, nice facilities, treatment, housing, child services, education and so forth. We are bighearted, but we can’t become a magnet for the nation’s homeless.

Should the Utah congressional delegation support bipartisan efforts to investigate Russian hacking?

Pignanelli: Americans have the right to know whether foreign governments committed cyber fraud against political institutions, and what actions the Trump administration will conduct in response. A robust endeavor will satisfy legitimate concerns in this country and send a message to rogue nations not to mess with us.

Webb: Russia is conducting cyber warfare against the United States and we should retaliate. This is a test for the Trump administration. Is it going to enable Russia and wink at its aggression, or stand up to the bully?

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: