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Trump v. Wolf: Is federal disaster aid at stake?


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Ed Mahon
October 30, 2020
Trump threats, counties counting, cheesesteak but it's soup, the Christmas City searches for a tree, and last-minute costume ideas. Enjoy the weekend!
Wolf vs. Trump

With Pennsylvania widely seen as the pivotal state in the 2020 election, President Donald Trump has had no shortage of criticisms — many of them rooted in falsehoods — for Gov. Tom Wolf.

He took the feud a step further during a Lehigh Valley rally earlier this week when he threatened to withhold future federal disaster aid.

“I’ll remember it, Tom. I’m going to remember it, Tom,” Trump said before doing an impersonation of Wolf, holding his hand to his ear like a phone. “‘Hello, Mr. President, this is Governor Wolf. I need help. I need help.’  You know what, these people are bad.”

So how worried should residents be about possible retribution?

Jeff Schlegelmilch, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Earth Institute, told Spotlight PA the president’s statements are part of a pattern that politicizes the government’s disaster response and "erodes trust" in the system.

The Context: Trump won Pennsylvania by about 44,000 votes in 2016, and the Associated Press recently reported that his re-election chances hinge on winning Florida and Pennsylvania this year.

On one hand, it's pretty natural for a Republican president to go after a Democratic politician in a state he needs to win. But Democratic lawmakers and Schlegelmilch say the president's comments go further than usual political jabs, and call into question whether the federal government will be there when people need it most.

Earlier this month, shortly after the president wrote on Twitter that “California is going to hell. Vote Trump!”, his administration rejected a disaster declaration for the state’s wildfires. Less than two days later and facing criticism, Trump reversed course and approved California’s request.

The threat of the coronavirus looms larger every day in Pennsylvania. New confirmed cases are at all-time highs, and the percent of tests coming back positive and hospitalizations are both increasing at their fastest rates in months. Officials are increasingly concerned about the extent of a “fall resurgence,” and officials are advising that Thanksgiving and Christmas plans be limited to immediate family only


“It’s really a melodrama type of situation. It’s got all of the elements of a movie coming out.”

––  Tom Spencer, vice president of the Lawyers Democracy Fund, who told Spotlight PA that the legal fight in Pennsylvania could be similar to Bush v. Gore stemming from Florida's 2000 election

POST IT: Thank you, Thomas B., for this shot of the sunrise in Bald Eagle State Park in Centre County. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
SCHOOL DISRUPTION: Pittsburgh Public Schools delayed plans to return most students to school two days a week, while the rise in coronavirus cases threatens Philly's re-opening plan. Meanwhile, Penn State marches on despite rising coronavirus cases and large student gatherings, the Centre Daily Times reports. Hospitalizations at Mount Nittany Medical Center reached a new pandemic-high of 16.

OBAMA/TRUMP TOWNS: Swing counties receive a lot of attention (for good reason), but PublicSource checked in with voters in three towns outside of Pittsburgh to see how they're feeling about their community and the country. The story features the leader of a local Democratic committee who hasn't convinced her son to break with the president.

BIG MONEY: Democrat Julie Slomski, a state Senate candidate, is criticizing the Republican incumbent Dan Laughlin for taking $250,000 in campaign donations that she says is "dark money." Laughlin, in turn, criticized her for the money she's received from outside the district. Looks like they read our Spotlight PA report on campaign cash.

CITY OF IMMIGRANTS: The Trump administration has cut down the number of refugees allowed in the United States by 86%, stating that admission will be capped at 15,000 this fiscal year. Marketplace explored how that has hurt Erie.

COUNT ON IT: While some Pennsylvania counties will delay counting mail votes, York County has 75 people assigned to count them on Election Day. The goal is to report that night on the results of all ballots received by 8 p.m. Plans in other counties vary, PennLive reports. Didn't get your mail ballot? The Inquirer has some advice.

SHOW US YOUR SELFIE: Are you voting in person on Tuesday? Planning to drop off your mail ballot this weekend? Send us a selfie and an "I Voted" sticker with your name and home county, tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvaniaand we'll feature you in our newsletters and social media pages.

FEELING JOLLY?: The Christmas City, aka beautiful Bethlehem, is looking for someone to donate a Christmas tree for one of its plazas. Officials say they aren't looking for the towering annual Tannenbaum, but rather a 15- to 20-footer to be used to display cards from children.

WHAT TO LISTEN TO IF ... You want a Halloween song that isn't "Monster Mash": Listen to "Spooky Spooky Spooky" once, maybe twice, and it will crawl into your brain and never leave like something out of those movies people watch at the end of October. But, also, I like it! And all the eerie parts remind me of the Pennsylvania city.

SOUP SEASON: This Philly cheesesteak soup recipe calls for provolone cheese, not wit whiz or American. I haven't tried it, but I'm intrigued.

LAST-MINUTE DECIDERS: If you're looking for a Pennsylvania-themed Halloween costume, consider the ketchup bottle. A few years ago, PennLive provided a bunch of other ideas: crayons, Mister Rogers, and Andy Warhol. The Inky has some Philly-themed ideas. You could be the Mandalorian, in honor of the second season's debut today. Our editor in chief was once a tube of toothpaste, though we have yet to get any photos to embarrass him.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out the winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Paranormal  

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Irene K., Craig W., Chris W., Lynne P., Theodore W., Patricia M., Brandie K., Joel S., Bill C., Patricia R., Gail H., Tracey C., Lynne E., Beth T., Kim C., Heidi G., George S., Ron P., Carol D., Irene R., Karen W., Dianne K., Ann and John, Perry H., Thomas B., and John H. 
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