Sen. Whitehouse: Trump is in the back pocket of billionaires

In his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump said, "We have gone forward with a clear vision and a right...

Posted: Feb 22, 2018 7:52 AM
Updated: Feb 22, 2018 7:52 AM

In his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump said, "We have gone forward with a clear vision and a righteous mission -- to make America great again for all Americans."

However, behind the scenes, President Trump is not calling all of the shots. While he golfs and tweets and watches cable news, several disturbingly powerful billionaires are pulling the levers and winning special treatment.

So, who is behind the curtain?

Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor, was brought in as "special adviser" to the President in order to cut regulations. On the campaign trail, the President bragged of his relationship with Icahn, calling him one of "the great businessmen of the world." Icahn, who bought one of Trump's Atlantic City casinos out of bankruptcy and contributed the maximum he legally could to the Trump campaign, said he would slash "crazy regulations" hindering American businesses.

It turned out Icahn had one particular regulation in mind. Skirting conflict of interest rules that apply to formally appointed executive branch officials, he undertook to change the Environmental Protection Agency's "renewable fuel standard" that required oil refiners to blend corn-based ethanol into gasoline. Changing the rule would save one of Icahn's companies, CVR Energy, hundreds of millions of dollars.

Icahn's insider campaign provoked intense scrutiny from Congress, in a steady stream of oversight requests, and from the media, in a steady stream of reporting. Icahn resigned from his role; the EPA put Icahn's proposed rule change on ice, and federal investigators have since opened a probe into his time advising the White House. Icahn calls the concern about his breathtaking conflicts of interest "absurd."

Next, there's Bob Murray, the billionaire coal baron who donated $300,000 to the President's inauguration and $1 million to his leading super PAC, while lobbying the Trump administration for actions favorable to his company. He has also given hundreds of thousands of dollars to political action committees affiliated with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Murray has boasted about his "action plan" for President Trump, a four-page wish list of policies to benefit him and his company: subsidizing coal plants over renewable energy, slashing regulations for coal-fired power plants, weakening miner safety standards and appointing friendly nominees in the agencies charged with regulating his mines. Notably, Murray's longtime lobbyist Andrew Wheeler is also lined up for the number-two spot at the EPA, poised to deliver on the plan.

And then there are the most sophisticated puppet masters of all: the billionaire Koch brothers. In July 2015, President Trump tweeted, "I really like the Koch Brothers (members of my [Palm Beach] Club), but I don't want their money or anything else from them. Cannot influence Trump!"

They don't influence Trump -- they man his administration. According to a report by Public Citizen, a progressive advocacy group, 44 administration officials come from Koch-backed organizations or political groups. EPA Administrator Pruitt has been heavily supported by the Kochs (including $3 million spent to boost his confirmation), as has Energy Secretary Perry (including tens of thousands of dollars in donations to his campaigns).

And Vice President Mike Pence has long been intertwined with the Koch operation, through funding and staff. Among his many ties to the Koch network, Pence's former chief of staff, Marc Short (now White House congressional liaison) is a top Koch operative who also served as president of the Koch's Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce.

They win huge paydays. The Kochs spent $20 million to promote the unpopular Republican tax cuts, and now stand to see their tax bill slashed by as much as $1.4 billion a year. They thanked Speaker Paul Ryan for pushing it through with a $500,000 donation to his political fundraising committee and a promise to spend $20 million more to tout the tax giveaway in upcoming elections. When billionaires spend millions to convince Americans that the tax cuts are good, it might actually be a sign that for most people, they aren't.

The Koch brothers weren't on board with the Trump candidacy at first. But the Kochs, like Icahn and Murray, saw in the Trump administration a golden opportunity, particularly once their man Pence was in place.

On the anniversary of Trump's swearing-in, a group of Democratic Senators released a report on how the President has outsourced his decision-making to billionaires looking to advance their own interests. These billionaires don't care about putting Americans back to work or ending unfair trade deals or "draining the swamp." They care about controlling government, for their own financial benefit, in a way the Founding Fathers would have recognized as corruption.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 31257

Reported Deaths: 1114
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds253640
DeSoto162016
Madison131434
Jones112849
Neshoba99271
Rankin95112
Harrison93311
Lauderdale91079
Forrest87842
Scott77315
Jackson63816
Copiah60715
Washington5919
Leake57819
Holmes55741
Lee55219
Wayne54513
Oktibbeha54126
Warren51618
Yazoo5136
Lowndes49413
Leflore49151
Grenada4905
Lincoln46634
Lamar4657
Pike44112
Monroe40330
Sunflower4008
Lafayette3934
Attala36123
Covington3595
Panola3526
Bolivar34014
Newton3399
Simpson3233
Adams31318
Pontotoc2926
Tate28810
Marion28411
Chickasaw27918
Claiborne27910
Noxubee2678
Winston2666
Jasper2636
Pearl River25732
Clay25111
Marshall2343
Smith21811
Union2109
Clarke20724
Walthall2045
Coahoma2016
Kemper17914
Lawrence1782
Yalobusha1737
Carroll16611
Humphreys1509
Tallahatchie1374
Itawamba1368
Montgomery1352
Calhoun1324
Tippah13111
Hancock13013
Webster12710
Jefferson Davis1124
Jefferson1083
Prentiss1083
Greene1058
Tunica1053
Wilkinson949
Amite912
George893
Tishomingo831
Quitman780
Choctaw744
Alcorn712
Perry674
Stone651
Franklin452
Benton380
Sharkey380
Issaquena91
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 45263

Reported Deaths: 1007
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5410152
Montgomery4158103
Mobile4129134
Tuscaloosa232142
Marshall172410
Madison14917
Lee141137
Shelby133423
Morgan11215
Walker97824
Elmore94314
Franklin89814
Baldwin8949
Dallas8919
Etowah75013
DeKalb7375
Chambers64227
Butler63428
Autauga61012
Tallapoosa60569
Russell5650
Houston5074
Unassigned50323
Limestone5010
Lauderdale4966
Lowndes47221
Cullman4594
Pike4375
Colbert4086
St. Clair4022
Escambia3966
Coffee3812
Calhoun3765
Covington3707
Bullock36910
Barbour3532
Talladega3177
Hale31421
Marengo31211
Dale2990
Wilcox2948
Sumter28512
Jackson2842
Clarke2776
Winston2633
Chilton2522
Blount2431
Monroe2392
Pickens2366
Marion23313
Conecuh2107
Randolph2099
Macon1999
Choctaw19512
Bibb1941
Greene1868
Perry1791
Henry1363
Crenshaw1253
Washington1117
Lawrence1100
Cherokee1027
Geneva830
Lamar781
Fayette711
Clay692
Coosa591
Cleburne381
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