Chattanooga area residents, politicians, activists reflect on Trump's start

Chattanooga area residents, politicians, activists reflect on Trump's start

April 29th, 2017 by Judy Walton in Local Regional News

President Donald Trump walks down the steps of Air Force One after arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, MD., Friday, April 28, 2017. President Trump is returning from addressing the National Rifle Association convention in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

POLL: Are you pleased with the president's 100 days in office?

In Chattanooga, how well President Donald Trump has performed in his first 100 days depends on whom you ask.

A local attorney sees Trump's immigration policies as scaring some of his clients, and scaring off others, while a supporter of tough immigration enforcement wants the president to do more.

A Chattanooga physician says the health care community has no idea what Trump and Congress can or will do about the medical safety net.

According to the top official in the state highway department, "nobody knows what's true or what's not true" about the president's promise to lavish money on the nation's transportation infrastructure.

The area's elected U.S. representatives, all Republicans, are mostly bullish.

Sen. Bob Corker, the former Chattanooga mayor who is chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says he sees the novice commander-in-chief growing and evolving in his perception of world affairs, with the help of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

That includes Trump's cooling ardor for Russia, developing trust with China's premier to counter North Korean belligerence and responding to Syria's use of chemical weapons on its own citizens with a "decisive, appropriate, proportional" cruise missile strike.

Corker said the president called him the night of the strike.

"I was very proud of our country for taking steps I thought should have been taken in 2013," Corker said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander said in a statement: "After 100 days of President Trump, the country has a new Supreme Court justice, the Keystone Pipeline has a permit, and Congress has overturned thirteen overreaching Obama administration regulations which will save $65 billion and 52 million hours of paperwork. He has an education secretary who is implementing the law fixing No Child Left Behind as Congress wrote it — restoring responsibility for how to improve schools back to states and local communities. For a nation that voted for a change, these are significant steps in a new direction."

And U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, in his own statement, said the president "is committed to protecting our borders, creating a more competitive economic climate, and making the government more fiscally responsible."

Fleischmann, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, also praised Trump's "willingness to further invest in necessary entities like the VA" in his proposed budget, and he applauded Trump's Friday executive order opening up the Arctic and Atlantic oceans for oil and gas drilling.

North Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Graves said the president and Congress "accomplished big things for the American people over the last 100 days. We cut spending, repealed regulations, stepped up the fight against the Islamic State and restored the balance of the Supreme Court. The best part: this is just the beginning."

Health and immigration

There's less certainty, though, for the folks in the trenches.

As the second attempt at reforming the Affordable Care Act fell apart this week in D.C., Dr. Nita Schumaker, a Chattanooga pediatrician who will be sworn in this weekend as president of the Tennessee Medical Association, said her members are just wondering what's next.

The TMA supports ACA provisions expanding access, mandating coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing children to stay on their parents' plans until age 26. But high premiums and deductibles and insurance companies' retreat from the individual marketplace create uncertainties about access and affordability.

"It's such a complex system with so many moving parts and so many heavy lobbyists for people who don't want to lose what they've gained — it affects fundamentally every family in the United States," Schumaker said. " There's going to be winners and losers, so we just keep trying to protect patients in the process."

Immigration attorney Terry Olsen said Trump's moves to limit new arrivals and deport the undocumented put some of his clients in "constant fear." He said family immigration may be speeding up as residents try to unite before the country's gates shut, but processing times are getting longer.

Olsen also said Trump's policies are discouraging some overseas businesses from moving to the U.S. He said meetings he'd scheduled in Taiwan were canceled.

"I was going to give a speech to companies about how to invest in the U.S. but [was told] most companies don't want that — they are going to change their investment goals and only concentrate on Southeast Asia and not the United States," Olsen said. He thinks other Taiwanese companies that want to invest in North America could choose Mexico.

However, Georgia immigration enforcement activist D.A. King said Trump needs to do more to protect the borders. He supports a Mexican border wall and Trump's proposed temporary halt to immigration from some Muslim-majority countries.

"I believe there's no such thing as extreme vetting. If we're going to let people in this country, no vetting we do could possibly be too extreme," said King, whose Dustin Inman Society is named for a 16-year-old who was killed when an undocumented immigrant crashed into his vehicle in 2000.

King wants Trump also to focus on enforcing visa limits, and he said the president's declaration this week that children brought here by their parents "have nothing to worry about" is "a defiant betrayal of his campaign promise and existing federal law."

Business and infrastructure

The president's push to bring back coal jobs and ease carbon limits won't have much effect on the Tennessee Valley Authority, which has plans to derive only 15 percent of its power generation from coal a decade from now.

"Our statutory duty is to produce electricity at the lowest feasible rate," TVA President Bill Johnson said. "And when we decided to close the coal plants, that was the math we were doing. We weren't trying to comply with the Clean Power Plan or anything else. What's the cheapest way to serve the customer? It turned out to be retiring those coal plants."

The Trump administration also ordered a 60-day delay in implementing Obama-era regulations requiring retirement investment advisers to act in their clients' best interests. The administration has indicated it wants to lessen some of what it claims are overly complex and meddlesome rules.

But many brokerage firms and insurance companies had begun imposing the standard, so the financial industry is divided on the new rules, according to Barnett & Co. Vice President Chris Hopkins, a certified financial adviser who already operates under the higher fiduciary standard.

State Transportation Commissioner John Schroer said he likes the president's promise to invest in the nation's transportation system, but he's not sure how much it will help Tennessee.

Trump's idea of an "infrastructure bank" would make loans to states for transportation projects, but Tennessee doesn't borrow for its needs, Schroer said. And Tennessee doesn't have large enough projects to attract private investors in proposed public-private partnerships.

"And, plus, you'd have to have tolls. And we don't toll," he said.

Schroer said he's hoping Trump will appoint a Federal Highway Traffic Administration chief soon.

For now, like others interviewed for this report, he's mostly just waiting to see what happens.

"I'll just kind of take what comes at me when it comes, because you can't plan for what you don't know about," he said.

Staff writer Dave Flessner contributed to this story.

Contact Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.


This story was updated to fix a typo in the opening paragraph. President Trump has served his first 100 days in office.