News Agency reverses course on Trump’s Alabama hurricane claim
SETH BORENSTEIN and KEVIN FREKING,•Trump shows apparently altered Hurricane Dorian map WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal agency reversed course Friday on the question of whether President Donald Trump tweeted stale information about Hurricane Dorian potentially hitting Alabama, upsetting meteorologists around the country.On Sunday, Trump had warned that Alabama, along with the Carolinas and Georgia, was „most likely to be hit (much) harder than anticipated.”The National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama, tweeted in response: „Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”But the president has been adamant throughout the week that he was correct, and the White House has deployed government resources and staff to back him.The latest defense came out Friday evening, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a statement from an unidentified spokesman stating that information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to the president had demonstrated that „tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama.” The advisories were dated from last Wednesday, Aug. 28, through Monday, the statement read.Friday’s statement also said the Birmingham NWS tweet Sunday morning „spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”The statement from NOAA contrasts with comments the agency’s spokesman, Chris Vaccaro, made Sunday. „The current forecast path of Dorian does not include Alabama,” Vaccaro said at the time.Friday’s NOAA statement, attributed to an unnamed spokesman and released just before 5 p.m. Friday, points to a few graphics issued by the National Hurricane Center to support Trump’s claims. The maps show percentage possibility of tropical storm force winds in the United States. Parts of Alabama were covered, usually with 5% to 10% chances, between Aug. 27 and Sept. 3. Maps on Aug. 30 grew to cover far more of Alabama, but for only 12 hours, and the highest percentage hit 20% to 30% before quickly shrinking back down.Alabama was not mentioned in any of the 75 forecast advisories the hurricane center sent out between Aug. 27 and Sept. 2. Nor was any Alabama city mentioned in the charts that listed percentage chances of tropical storm force winds or hurricane force winds. Every state along the U.S. East Coast — as well as Canada and inland places like Washington, D.C. — was mentioned in those charts, but not Alabama.Dan Sobien, president of the union representing weather service employees, tweeted Friday, „Let me assure you the hard working employees of the NWS had nothing to do with the utterly disgusting and disingenuous tweet sent out by NOAA management tonight.”Other meteorologists also voiced concerns about NOAA’s actions Friday.”I am very disappointed to see this statement come out from NOAA,” Oklahoma University meteorology professor Jason Furtado told The Associated Press. „I am thankful for the folks at NWS Birmingham for their work in keeping the citizens of Alabama informed and up to date on weather hazards.”Furtado said NOAA’s statement and the president’s Twitter „war on weather” are undermining confidence in meteorologists, adding, „The job just got harder because of this issue.”University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd, former president of the American Meteorology Society, simply responded, „OMG.”Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami, cited the focus that NOAA placed on „tropical force winds” in its Friday evening statement. He said the first assertion about such winds from Dorian affecting Alabama is fine, but the second assertion „seems to be excessive.”McNoldy said the National Weather Service „had the right tone and message for the time. Alabama, for some time, was on the fringe of probabilities of experiencing tropical storm winds.That is not very threatening.””The Birmingham office was correct,” said a NOAA staffer familiar with the situation but speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of being fired in reprisal.MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel said Trump’s „broadcast of false information is inexcusable.”NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment. It is part of the Commerce Department, overseen by Secretary Wilbur Ross. The White House did not immediately respond to a question of whether someone at the White House had asked NOAA to issue its statement._Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.
“This story has been shopped in multiple forms to multiple media outlets but was never run by the others because the sourcing didn’t hold up or withstand scrutiny. It is false,” said the senior White House official when asked about the anecdote.
And one Pence adviser noted that Trump has repeatedly told the vice president that he has nothing to worry about, and that stories of him possibly being removed from the ticket are “fake news.”
Regardless of the rumor mill, there do appear to be tensions between the Trump and Pence camps.
“The perception is that Pence’s team is difficult to work with,” one Trump adviser said.
The adviser noted that, in his talks with Trump, the president has occasionally asked what the adviser thinks of Pence and his aides. “That just doesn’t come up organically. Somebody is saying that to the president,” the adviser said.
“There are certain pockets out there that want to solve their problems by replacing the running mate,” said the Pence adviser. “But we’re on the team. We might be JV, but we’re helping reelect him.”
The Pence adviser noted that Trump would automatically keep the support of “transactional evangelicals” — televangelists like John Hagee and Jerry Falwell Jr., heir to the Moral Majority founded by his father. But Pence is essential to keeping quiet, less political evangelical voters in the fold for Trump.
“Mike Pence is an exemplary vice president and has played a valuable role in the administration. He will also be a key asset as President Trump’s running mate in 2020,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement to Yahoo News. “At the staff level, everyone works together as one seamless team with a singular focus: the reelection of President Trump and Vice President Pence in November 2020.”
The vice president’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
As he returned from vacation, Trump beat back the idea. “I think Mike Pence has been an outstanding VP,” Trump told reporters in New Jersey shortly before boarding Air Force One. “I think that he has been incredible in terms of the love that a lot of people, especially if you look at the evangelicals and so many others, they really have a great respect for the vice president, and so do I. And so do I think most people.”
Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who have formed the political core of Trump’s reelection effort with campaign manager Brad Parscale, have sidelined Pence’s top political aides on the reelection — longtime fundraiser Marty Obst and former spokesman Marc Lotter — according to Trump campaign advisers. A Pence adviser noted that they have had some trouble working with Trump’s campaign during the past year.
In the spring, Pence’s aides went to Parscale to ask if he could include a question testing Pence’s favorability on a poll he was doing of battleground states, according to Trump campaign advisers familiar with the request. Parscale said it was too late to add the question to the poll — but what he didn’t tell Pence’s aides is that the question was already on the poll, done in 14 states. When the results came back, Pence’s favorability was higher than Trump’s — something Parscale and the campaign’s pollsters withheld from Trump and Pence. But Obst, Pence’s chief political aide who also works as a senior adviser on the Trump campaign, used a mole inside the president’s campaign to get a copy of one of the polls.
Parscale did not return repeated requests for comment. Spokespeople for the Trump campaign and Pence also did not return repeated requests for comment.
Haley inflamed those tensions two weeks ago when she tweeted her insistence that she would never replace Pence on the ticket and fully supported Pence and Trump. And even though Pence’s advisers are fairly sure the vice president will make it onto the Trump ticket in 2020, they aren’t 100 percent certain — which has led some Pence advisers and friends to chafe at Trump’s treatment of the vice president.
They see Trump keeping Pence on a tight leash — leveraging the uncertainty over 2020 to get him to pass “loyalty tests” for Trump.
One Pence confidant bemoaned Pence’s cancellation of a New Hampshire trip at the start of July and subsequent trip to a border detention camp as examples of Trump yanking on Pence’s leash. This was before it was reported widely the New Hampshire trip was canceled because Pence would have appeared onstage with a former New York Giants player accused of smuggling opioids.
A few weeks later in July, members of the Republican National Committee gathered in Charlotte, N.C., and chattered about what would become of the vice president. Pence had long been sold as a stable force in Trump’s orbit, helping to bring weary Republicans into the fold in 2016 and beyond — and he remains a popular figure with the RNC.
“He’s on a tightrope,” said one RNC member who helped secure Pence’s place on the Trump ticket in 2016 and is trying to ensure he stays there for 2020. “If he takes Mike Pence off the ticket, that would just be despicable.”
The RNC member said that Pence’s team appears worried about the relationship with the president. “People come into the VP’s office trying to find out what’s going on with Trump, and he can’t give them an answer,” the member said.
One former adviser to Trump and Pence noted that Trump would more warmly embrace the vice president in public if Pence simply announced that he wasn’t planning a run for president. Trump, the former adviser noted, hates aides who display more ambition than him.
“All of this would go away if he announced he wasn’t running for president in 2024,” the former adviser said.
Tom LoBianco is the author of „Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House,” one of Time magazine’s “42 Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2019.” He is a longtime reporter who has covered Mike Pence from the statehouse to the White House for the Associated Press, CNN and the Indianapolis Star.