LePage on Fox News: Obamacare has been ‘stealing from the American people’

Good morning from Augusta. Gov. Paul LePage started today in the national media spotlight with an appearance on Fox & Friends.

LePage has been in Washington for several days meeting with President Donald Trump and Republican governors and leading a discussion about welfare reform at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday.

LePage’s national television appearance was brief and for the most part, the hosts fed him statements with which he could agree. For starters, he was asked if he supports Trump’s executive order — both the one he’s already issued and the revised one he is expected to issue Wednesday — that bans travel or immigration from certain countries.

“I support it very, very strongly,” said LePage. “We have recently had a terrorist in our state. It’s about safety in my mind. We all want immigration to continue but we want to make sure it’s done safely. I just want people to be vetted properly.”

LePage was presumably referring to a Freeport man, Adnan Fazeli, who traveled to Syria in 2014 to fight for Muslim extremists on behalf of the Islamic State. Fazeli, who died in 2015 while fighting in Lebanon, did not take part in any terrorist activity in Maine and his family alerted authorities about their concerns that he had become radicalized.

The governor and the show’s hosts did not mention that neither Trump ban would target people coming to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia, which is where most of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists who traveled through Maine held citizenship.

LePage was then asked about Trump’s upcoming budget proposal, which reportedly will boost defense department spending and not touch Medicare or Social Security. LePage said Congress should act to return Social Security funds that were appropriated to the Affordable Care Act.

“What they should be doing with Medicare is return the $800 billion they stole to put into Obamacare,” he said. “I really do believe that it was stealing from the American people. The American people have been paying into this program.”

LePage was then asked about his fiscal management of Maine in a question bred from an analysis posted by the Bangor Daily News on Sunday about the fact that the Maine treasurer’s cash pool has topped a monthly average of $1 billion for the first time in history.

However, the Fox hosts said inaccurately that the $1 billion sits in Maine’s rainy day fund. LePage appeared to be surprised by the question and its premise.

“I don’t spend a whole lot,” he said of the state budget. “I only spend what I need to.”

Finally, LePage said he supports a repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act and suggested that Trump’s preference for block grants and letting states use the money to create their own health care programs would benefit Maine.

“One size does not fit all,” he said. “Every state has their unique dynamics. The state of Maine is the oldest state in the country and so we need to have our own program that we can design to fit our state.” — Christopher Cousins

King ‘deeply disturbed’ by reported Trump administration actions on Russia

Earlier this month, Maine’s U.S. senators had been united on the thought that their Senate Intelligence Committee was the proper venue for an investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia. But weekend events may have made that more tenuous

That’s after a Washington Post report that said the administration tried to enlist intelligence officials and the Republican chairs of the House and Senate intelligence committees to push back on news reports on that issue, which has been under review by intelligence agencies.

On Sunday, Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he was “deeply troubled” by the reports and said he’ll speak to Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, “to better understand what happened.”

King said the committee “must have credibility not only with our colleagues, but also with the American people” and “I will have serious concerns if it seems that we are no longer able to proceed in this manner.”

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, praised the committee’s staff and structure in a statement, but said the committee must “work in a completely bipartisan fashion” to maintain trust in its work. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • There won’t be a House Ethics Committee investigation of Ryan Tipping. Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport decided on Friday that she will not authorize an investigation into Democratic Rep. Ryan Tipping of Orono and his role working for the Stand Up for Students referendum campaign last year. Republican Rep. Heather Sirocki of Scarborough requested the investigation last week, suggesting that Tipping’s involvement in the campaign, which successfully passed a referendum to put a tax on income over $200,000 to benefit public school, and his later appointment to the Legislature’s Taxation Committee, amounted to an ethical breach. “Your letter contains no information that leads me to change my opinion about this matter,” wrote Gideon in a Feb. 24 letter to Sirocki. “As such I will not exercise my authority as speaker to convene the House Ethics Committee.” — Christopher Cousins
  • Advocates are mounting another legislative effort to ban sales of furniture with harmful flame-retardant chemicals. A bill from Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Deer Isle, that would the sale of furniture with virtually any flame-retardant chemicals faces a public hearing before a legislative committee on Monday. Those chemicals have been linked to cancer and endocrine disruption and Maine banned one of them in 2007. Most companies have phased them out, but Prevent Harm, a group that fights toxic chemicals, says some companies still use them. They’re pushing for this year’s bill alongside the Professional Firefighters of Maine and former state Sen. Linda Baker, R-Topsham, whose husband, Skip, was a firefighter who died from cancer. Baker sponsored a similar bill unsuccessfully last year. — Michael Shepherd
  • Maine Democrats are still denouncing their 2012 U.S. Senate candidate. Former state Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, was a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2012. Now, she is the object of scorn from many on Maine’s left over a column in the Portland Press Herald, in which she has denounced “Bernie bros” — a segment of rabid fans of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who lost the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton. On Sunday, she blamed them on the rise of Trump, saying they “hated Clinton and her supporters with such ferocity that it became impossible for the party to put its hate back in the bottle after she won the primary.” This is off-message to the Maine Democratic Party, whose caucuses were dominated by Sanders in 2016 and Chairman Phil Bartlett, who tweeted Sunday that Dill “does not speak” for the party and “This divisiveness must stop.” He spoke out against her after other columns with a Press Herald op-ed in December. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Cerebral sabbatical

Today is No Brainer Day, according to multiple online sources that don’t require much brain power to find. We are all supposed to give our brain a rest today. We’ll sidestep the opportunity to note that the Legislature and Congress return to work today after week-long recesses.

Cinephiles who stayed awake into the wee small hours of this morning got to see Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway start No Brainer Day early with their Best Picture flub at the Academy Awards.

The observance, which originated in 1995, was the brainchild of Adrienne Sioux Koopersmith, who was dubbed “premier eventologist of America” by Insight Magazine. How do you apply for that job? Here’s your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.