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Trump boasts of economic gains on eve of impeachment verdict

WASHINGTON — Addressing the nation in extraordinary times, President Donald Trump declared America “stronger than ever before” Tuesday night as he delivered his State of the Union address on the eve of his likely impeachment acquittal and in the aftermath of the chaotic first votes of the race to replace him.

The first president to run for re-election after being impeached, Trump received a sharply partisan welcome to the House of Representatives, with some Republicans chanting “Four More Years” while Democrats stood silently.

“America’s enemies are on the run, America’s fortunes are on the rise and America’s future is blazing bright,” Trump declared. “In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny. We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back!”

Setting a yardstick for success and then contending he’d surpassed it, Trump has gone from an inaugural address that decried “American carnage” to extolling the “Great American Comeback, claiming credit for the nation’s economic success as a chief rationale for a second term.

Republican members of Congress applauded Trump’s speech frequently, often leaping to their feet to cheer him.

The only suspense concerned whether he would address the impeachment charges against him.

In the nationally televised speech, Trump was speaking from the House of Representatives, on the opposite side of the Capitol from where the Senate one day later was expected to acquit him largely along party lines.

Trump aimed to spend the first part of his speech highlighting the economy’s strength, including low unemployment, stressing how it has helped blue-collar workers and the middle class, though the period of growth began under his predecessor, Barack Obama.

And what Trump calls an unprecedented boom is, by many measures, not all that different from the solid economy he inherited from Obama. Economic growth was 2.3% in 2019, matching the average pace since the Great Recession ended a decade ago in the first year of Obama’s eight-year presidency. Trump had promised much higher.

The White House promised an optimistic speech that would look past the impeachment trial that has consumed Washington in favor of a recitation of accomplishments and promises. But Trump often veers from his script and may not be able to resist using the moment to claim exoneration and settle scores. And even in the moments when Trump has struck a tone of bipartisanship and cooperation, he has consistently returned to his scorched-earth rhetoric within days.

Even for a Trump-era news cycle that seems permanently set to hyper-speed, the breakneck pace of events dominating the first week of February offered a singular backdrop for the president’s address. Yet Trump told TV anchors at a midday meal that his address would be “extraordinarily low key.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who has presided in the Senate over only the third impeachment trial in the nation’s history, was on hand Tuesday night — this time in his more customary seat in the audience. Trump stood before the very lawmakers who have voted to remove him from office — and those who are expected to acquit him when the Senate trial comes to a close.

And over his shoulder, visible in nearly every camera shot, was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a frequent thorn in Trump’s side who authorized the impeachment proceedings that charged the president with abusing the power of his office to push Ukraine to investigate a political foe. Pelosi created a viral image with her seemingly sarcastic applause of the president a year ago. When Trump entered the chamber this time, he did not take her outstretched hand but it was not clear he had seen her gesture. Later, as Republicans cheered, she remained in her seat.

Trump was staring out at some of the Democrats who have been vying to take his job, although it was unclear if he would weigh in on the confusion in Iowa, where the results of Monday’s lead-off caucuses were delayed. In advance of his address, Trump tweeted that the caucus chaos showed Democrats were incompetent and should not be trusted to run the government.

Trump spent the hours before his speech tucked away at the White House, hosting network anchors for lunch while working on final drafts of the address. He entered the moment on a roll, with his impeachment acquittal imminent, his job approval numbers ticking upward and Wall Street looking strong. Aides played down the possibility that he would use the address to seek vengeance over impeachment.

“I think that this has gone on for too long and I think that, if you look at the ratings, the American people are frankly bored of it,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News early Tuesday.

In the closest historical comparison, Bill Clinton did not mention his recent impeachment when he delivered his State of the Union in 1999. In his address a year ago, Trump did remain on message, making no mention of how Pelosi had originally disinvited him from delivering the speech during the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history.

On Tuesday, Trump stressed the new trade agreements he has negotiated, including his phase-one deal with China and the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement he signed last month.

While the White House said the president would have a message of unity, he also planned to spend time on issues that have created great division and resonated with his political base. He was expected to attack the Democrats’ health care proposals for being too intrusive and again highlight his signature issue — immigration — trumpeting the miles of border wall that have been constructed.

“The United States of America should be a Sanctuary for Law-Abiding Americans — Not Criminal Aliens!” Trump was to say, according to the excerpts. “My Administration has undertaken an unprecedented effort to secure the Southern Border of the United States.”

He will was to dedicate a section to “American values,” discussing efforts to protect “religious liberties” and limit access to abortion as he continues to court the evangelical and conservative Christian voters who form a crucial part of his base.

As usual, the presidential guests reflect issues that Trump wants to highlight. The invited guests include military families, immigration officials and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

The Democrats were supplying plenty of counter-programming, focusing on health care — the issue key to their takeover of the House last year. Many female Democrats were wearing white as tribute to the suffragettes, while a number in the party were wearing red, white and blue-striped lapel pins to highlight climate change, saying Trump has rolled back environmental safeguards and given free rein to polluters.

Several Democratic lawmakers, including California Rep. Maxine Waters and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, announced in advance of the speech that they would be skipping it, with the high-profile New York freshman tweeting that she would “not use my presence at a state ceremony to normalize Trump’s lawless conduct & subversion of the Constitution.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was delivering the party’s official response and, in excerpts released ahead of the speech, was to draw a contrast between actions taken by Democrats and the president’s rhetoric.

“It doesn’t matter what the president says about the stock market,” Whitmer says. “What matters is that millions of people struggle to get by or don’t have enough money at the end of the month after paying for transportation, student loans, or prescription drugs.”

Charges against woman accused in Marcum Terrace shooting dismissed

HUNTINGTON — A murder charge filed in the 2018 shooting death of a woman at Marcum Terrace in Huntington was dismissed Tuesday after the state failed to find a key witness in the case.

Andrea Glenda Moore, 18, is charged with murder in the June 13, 2018, shooting death of Joann Dawn Saunders Childers, 32, a mother of five from Huntington.

Moore also is charged with malicious wounding in the shooting of Stephen Christopher Smith, an employee of the Huntington Housing Authority who was mowing grass at the Marcum Terrace housing complex when he was shot.

Moore’s trial was reset in November to Tuesday, Feb. 4, when prosecutors said they were unable to locate a key witness in the case and asked for more time to search for that person.

The witness allegedly placed Moore at the scene of the shooting and indicated she was the killer.

Defense attorney Glen Conway appeared before Cabell Circuit Judge Gregory Howard on Tuesday to ask for the case to be dismissed since Assistant Prosecutor Joe Fincham was unable to locate that witness.

Conway previously said the witness has no motivation to appear again because he placed himself at the crime scene. Conway believes the man has a prior attempted murder charge in his criminal background.

Fincham did not argue against dismissal, but said he plans to reindict Moore soon with a co-defendant he believes is connected to the case.

Fincham added that he had attempted to reach a plea deal with Conway, but had been unsuccessful.

Vickie Lester, executive director of the Huntington Housing Authority, previously said an altercation began June 12, 2018, at an off-site convenience store on Olive Street among a group of people. The altercation continued into the next day and resulted in the afternoon shooting.

Moore is accused of fleeing the scene and was not arrested until June 14, two days after the shooting.

While Moore was a minor when the shooting occurred, the murder charge was filed against her as an adult. She was previously offered a plea deal to second-degree murder with a sentence of 20 years, but she rejected the offer.

The W.Va. Supreme Court stopped impeachment of justices almost 2 years ago. Lawmakers are still trying to change things.

CHARLESTON — Nearly two years ago, a temporary West Virginia Supreme Court stopped impeachment of court justices in its tracks.

Legislators have not forgotten.

They still aren’t happy with the ruling that brought an abrupt end to the state Senate’s consideration of whether justices should be removed from office, and they aren’t holding back their feelings as they try to correct what they say was a constitutional wrong.

“That decision was one of the worst judicial rulings in the history of jurisprudence,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said last month. “It rebalanced the original Founding Fathers’ concept of equal branches of government and made the Supreme Court a superior branch of government.”

During a Jan. 29 meeting, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said the decision was a “vile, egregious usurpation of legislative power and authority.”

“In my opinion, the Workman v. Carmichael decision decided by the temporary Supreme Court was the grossest invasion by one department, branch, of the government into another that I’ve seen in West Virginia, maybe ever,” Trump said. “The more I thought about that Workman v. Carmichael decision, the breadth of the wreckage it created in separation of powers could not be fixed by an amendment just to the section of the constitution that relates to impeachment.”

He says Senate Joint Resolution 7, which is set to be considered by the full Senate on Wednesday, Feb. 5, would rebalance the powers of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of state government.

The resolution, officially titled the “Preserving the Separation of Powers Amendment,” would amend West Virginia’s Constitution to prevent any judge from making any rulings on any ongoing action in the Legislature, including bills and resolutions.

If approved by two-thirds of the state Senate and House of Delegates, state voters would then approve or reject the change, as they do with all constitutional amendments.

The impeachment of the entire Supreme Court was seen by some as an attempt to replace the justices with ones more suited to Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Jim Justice. Justice Robin Davis, who was impeached and then resigned, said in a federal court filing that the charges were “a pretext to remove all four justices on West Virginia’s highest court so that the governor could replace the popularly elected justices with Republican men and create a ‘conservative court’ for years to come.”

Indeed, two of the three new justices appointed by the governor were men who had, shortly before, been Republican officeholders: former U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and former House Speaker Tim Armstead.

State Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman, who was chief justice at the time of the impeachment trials, declined to comment Tuesday. Armstead said the justices hadn’t seen everything proposed by the Legislature, but that they were generally in contact with the Legislature.

Even among legislators who didn’t like the Supreme Court decision, there’s disagreement about what their next action, if any, should be.

Last year, the Senate approved a resolution that said no West Virginia court could interfere with impeachment proceedings in the Legislature. That measure didn’t get the required two-thirds approval in the House, although delegates supported it by a 54-41 margin.

Democratic Sens. Richard Lindsay of Kanawha County and Mike Romano of Harrison County worry this year’s proposal is too broad, because it says all legislative matters are off limits to judges.

“We have a very delicate separation of powers,” Lindsay said during the Jan. 29 Senate Judiciary meeting. “We have co-equal branches (of government) that should stay in their own sphere, and I just have real heartburn over changing our constitution and specifically broadening those rules.”

Romano said he agreed with Trump that the Supreme Court didn’t have the authority to review House of Delegates rules, but he said judges should be free to make their own assessments.

“I think (SJR 7) unnecessarily could chill the checks and balances within our constitution and the division of the three branches of government,” said Romano.

Until the Legislature’s authority is made clear in the constitution, the Workman v. Carmichael decision puts the balance of government in West Virginia in a murky position, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said in January.

“We, the Legislature, are intended by the constitution to have a check on the executive and judicial branches,” Hanshaw said. “Just as they are intended to have a check on us, we’re intended to have a check on them. The viability of that check on the other branches of government is no longer clear, so sooner or later we must clarify that position.”

Hanshaw and House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said they had not reviewed the Senate resolution as of Tuesday.

Shott said the court’s ruling in Workman v. Carmichael puts the Legislature at an unfair disadvantage the next time legislators consider impeaching a member of the executive or judicial branch.

“If we don’t take these steps with these amendments, the next time a similar situation arises, we will not be in a position to respond in a way that, I think, the constitution anticipates we should be able to respond,” Shott said. “So we’re starting in a hole.”

An impeachment mess

In August 2018, the House of Delegates voted to impeach four of the state’s five Supreme Court justices. The fifth justice at the time, Menis Ketchum, resigned from office the day before the House began its impeachment investigation.

Ketchum and Justice Allen Loughry were each sentenced for federal crimes related to their actions on the court. Ketchum is serving three years on probation, and Loughry is serving his two-year sentence in the Federal Correctional Institution in Williamsburg, South Carolina, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website.

Workman, Davis and Justice Beth Walker didn’t face any such criminal accusations. The articles of impeachment, in broad terms, accused the justices of abusing their authority; misusing state resources, including cars and money; and failing to establish or enforce policies that would have kept in check the court’s resources.

Most notably, they were accused of grossly overspending more than $1.5 million in highly personalized renovations to their offices in the East Wing of the Capitol.

“I called it a cavalier indifference during the impeachment, and that’s what it was,” Shott said. “I just think (the justices) didn’t really consciously consider that this was public money, especially under the context of the budget issues we were having. We were cutting higher education. We were cutting Medicaid. There were a lot of people that were affected by those cuts, and yet the Supreme Court was spending money like it was water. The big issue was accountability.”

Workman, Davis and Loughry also were accused of violating parts of the state Judicial Code of Conduct, the ethical code for judges and magistrates, as well as a state law prohibiting overpayment of senior status judges (semiretired judges who fill in when other judges are unable to preside).

In September 2018, Workman challenged the impeachment in the state Supreme Court, saying her right to due process was violated when the House of Delegates didn’t properly adopt the resolution that contained the articles of impeachment against her and the other justices.

She also said it wasn’t the Legislature’s place to determine whether any judge violated the Judicial Code of Conduct, saying that authority belonged to the court.

Workman, who was chief justice at the time of impeachment, appointed former Supreme Court Justice Thomas McHugh to select a judge to serve as chief justice in her case.

McHugh appointed Harrison Circuit Judge James Matish as acting chief justice. Matish then appointed four other judges to make a temporary Supreme Court: Hancock Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson, Upshur Circuit Judge Jacob Reger, Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom and McDowell Circuit Judge Rudolph Murensky II.

On Oct. 11, 2018, the acting justices ruled in Workman’s favor, agreeing that the Legislature shouldn’t have acted on the Judicial Code of Conduct or the law regarding senior status judges, which they said wasn’t constitutional.

The acting justices also agreed the House made an error when it failed to adopt the resolution containing the articles of impeachment.

Matish, Wilson and Murensky said that error was enough to overturn impeachment altogether.

Reger and Bloom dissented, saying while the House made an error, it wasn’t the court’s place to take action to correct it. Reger and Bloom said the Legislature could correct the error by properly adopting a new impeachment resolution.

The court’s opinion effectively stopped the impeachment trials for Workman, Davis and Loughry.

Walker had already stood trial in the Senate on Oct. 1 and 2. The Senate ultimately acquitted her of the article of impeachment against her and voted to censure her, rather than remove her from office.

The Senate and the House each appealed the state court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2019. Justices there asked for further briefings in the case, but then decided not to consider the appeals.

Special Metals in Huntington has another round of layoffs

HUNTINGTON — Forty-one hourly employees were laid off Monday by Special Metals in Huntington, the latest of a series of employee reductions in recent years.

“These layoffs were not something we knew was coming in advance, and this is devastating news for these folks and their families,” said United Steelworkers of America Local 40 Secretary Bob Adkins.

According to the company, these layoffs are not much different from those announced in recent years.

“Related to our operation in Huntington, Special Metals routinely adjusts employment levels based on operational needs,” David Dugan, director of corporate communications at Oregon-based Precision Castparts, Special Metals’ parent company, said in an email response to a telephone call seeking answers.

Adkins said the layoffs are not routine to those affected by them.

“These layoffs are effective immediately,” Adkins said. “The majority of the workers have recall rights, but they were not told if these layoffs are temporary or permanent.”

Adkins said the union is trying to work with the company, whose business is the development, production and sale of nickel alloys used in a variety of industries.

“We want to get these workers back to work there,” he said.

Adkins says the company cited a “downturn in business” as the reason for the layoffs.

“That’s all we were told,” he said.

Adkins said WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) notices were not required because the number of laid-off people was fewer than 50. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, WARN generally covers employers with 100 or more employees. Employees entitled to notice under WARN include managers and supervisors as well as hourly and salaried workers.

Dugan said, after the latest reduction, the company employs about 850 people, with about two-thirds of them union workers.

Adkins added that the loss of jobs would hurt other local businesses.

“When this many folks lose their jobs, it has a negative economic impact on our community,” Adkins said.

Special Metals had similar layoffs in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 and the company’s response was nearly identical each time, stating it routinely adjusts employment levels based on operational needs.

Dugan would not say if these recent layoffs would be temporary or permanent.

“I don’t have any additional details to provide,” he said.