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Trump's real-estate business pays the price for poisonous politics – The Globe and Mail

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Donald Trump’s focus on the political brand has increasingly overtaken his identity as a real-estate mogul, says one hospitality industry veteran.SHANNON STAPLETON/Reuters

Former U.S. president Donald Trump’s slashing rhetorical style and divisive politics allowed him to essentially take over the Republican Party. His supporters are so devoted that most believe his false claim that he lost the 2020 election because of voter fraud.

But the same tactics that have inspired fierce political loyalty have undermined Trump’s business, built around real-estate development and branding deals that have allowed him to make millions by licensing his name.

Trump’s business brand was once synonymous with wealth and success, an image that now clashes sharply with a political brand rooted in the anger of his largely rural and working-class voter base. His presidency is now associated in the minds of many with its violent end, as supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Those searing images, along with years of bitter rhetoric, are costing Trump money. Revenues from some of his high-end properties have declined, vacancies in office buildings have increased and his lenders are warning that the company’s revenues may not be sufficient to cover his debt payments, according to Trump’s financial disclosures as president, Trump Organization records filed with government agencies, and reports from companies that track real-estate company finances.

Prospective tenants in New York are shunning his buildings, one real-estate broker said, to avoid being associated with Trump. Organizers of golf tournaments have pulled events from his courses.

Trump’s focus on the political brand has increasingly overtaken his identity as a real-estate mogul, says one hospitality industry veteran.

“Prior to his political career, the Trump brand was about luxury – the casinos, the golf resorts,” said Scott Smith, a former hotel executive and hospitality professor at the University of South Carolina. “When he entered into politics, he took the Trump brand in an entirely different direction.”

Trump’s business also remains under the cloud of a joint criminal fraud investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the New York Attorney General. The company and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, have been charged with a scheme to evade payroll taxes, and investigators continue to probe whether Trump or his representatives committed fraud by misrepresenting financials in loan applications and tax returns. Weisselberg and the company deny wrongdoing and are contesting the charges.

As his development business struggles, Trump has announced his first major deal since leaving office – and it has nothing to do with real-estate. On Oct. 20, he said he will build a new social media platform aimed in part at giving him a political forum after being banned by Facebook and Twitter, who said after the U.S. Capitol riots that Trump used their platforms to incite violence.

That deal could prove lucrative for Trump regardless of whether the platform succeeds. Investors rushed to buy shares in Digital World Acquisition Corp, the publicly traded blank-check acquisition company that plans to merge with the newly announced Trump Media and Technology Group. Digital World shares surged and are now worth about $2 billion. Trump’s new media company will have at least a 69% stake in the combined company, but Trump has not disclosed his level of ownership in Trump Media.

Trump has also been raising money for his political operation, which reported having $100 million on June 30, as he hints at a 2024 presidential run.

Eric Trump, the former president’s middle son and a Trump Organization executive, said in an interview that the company is now in “a phenomenal spot.” He cited a refinancing of a loan on San Francisco office buildings that gave the Trump business about $162 million in cash, according to loan documents and a release by Vornado Realty Trust, the venture’s majority owner.

“We’re sitting on a tremendous amount of cash,” Eric Trump told Reuters.

In an email, a spokesperson for Donald Trump denied that the business has slumped since he entered politics.

“The real estate company is doing extremely well, and this is evident in Florida and elsewhere,” Liz Harrington said in an emailed statement. “Considering the coronavirus pandemic, in which the hotel industry was hit particularly hard, Mr. Trump’s company is doing phenomenally well.”

Financial records show Trump’s real-estate business has declined. Income from the family’s holdings, heavy on golf courses and hotels, took a beating during 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. Revenues at his Las Vegas hotel, for instance, fell from $22.9 million in 2017 to $9.2 million during 2020 and the first 20 days of 2021, according to Trump’s financial disclosures.

Trump is now making a second attempt to sell his lease on one high-profile property, the Trump International Hotel, housed in a former federal building in Washington, D.C., after failing to secure a buyer at the original asking price of $500 million. Meanwhile, the business is paying the federal government $3 million annually in lease payments, according to documents released earlier this month by the House Oversight Committee of the U.S. Congress. Those records show Trump’s Washington hotel lost more than $73 million since 2016.

The damage to Trump’s business image started early in his presidency. One consultant for Trump, arguing in a 2017 public hearing for a lower tax bill at his Doral golf resort, said Trump’s politics had damaged his business model.

“It’s actually not about the property, it is about the brand,” said consultant Jessica Vachiratevanurak, at a December 2017 hearing of the Miami-Dade Value Adjustment Board, in a video recording reviewed by Reuters. She cited a meeting she attended where top Trump Organization executives had described “severe ramifications” to his golf business from, for instance, tournaments and charity events being cancelled by organizations wanting to avoid associating with Trump.

The resort saw revenues fall from $92 million in 2015 to $75 million in 2017, she said at another hearing the following year. Trump’s presidential financial disclosure listed Doral revenues at $44 million last year.

Vachiratevanurak declined a Reuters request for comment.

“This is obviously false as Doral is doing very well,” Trump spokesperson Harrington said.

In Trump’s home base of New York, the Trump name has become increasingly toxic. One high-profile property, the Trump SoHo hotel in lower Manhattan, was rebranded the Dominick in 2017. New York City in January cancelled his leases on a golf course, two Central Park skating rinks and a carousel; Trump has sued the city for wrongful termination of the golf course lease.

At 40 Wall Street, the 72-story skyscraper that was among Trump’s proudest acquisitions, problems that started before the pandemic have gotten worse, according to reports from firms that track real-estate performance. After the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, some of Trump’s large tenants, including the Girl Scouts and a nonprofit called TB Alliance, said they were exploring whether they could get out of their leases. One commercial real-estate broker says many prospective tenants won’t consider the building because Trump’s name is on it.

The Girl Scouts did not respond to comment requests, and TB Alliance said it was “exploring all options” for leaving the Trump building.

“Most New York tenants want nothing to do with it, and that’s been the case for five years now,” said Ruth Colp-Haber, who said she has placed seven clients in the building over the years, but can’t interest anyone now. “It’s the biggest bargain going, but they won’t look at it.”

Occupancy was 84% in March 2021, well below the average of about 89% for that downtown New York office market, according to Mike Brotschol, managing director of KBRA Analytics LLC. The rents Trump has been able to charge are lower, too – between $38 and $42 per square foot in a market where the average runs closer to $50, he said.

The property’s financials have tumbled into risky territory, the reports say.

Trump took out a $160 million loan in 2015 to refinance 40 Wall Street – personally guaranteeing $26 million. Last year, the building was placed on an industry watchlist for commercial mortgage-backed securities at risk of defaulting, according to reports by KBRA and Trepp, which also monitors real-estate loans. In the first quarter of the year, according to the KBRA report, the debt-service coverage ratio, a statistic monitored by banks, dipped to a number indicating that the building’s cash flow can’t cover its debt payments.

In the statement for Trump, Harrington blamed “the disastrous policies of Bill de Blasio,” New York’s mayor, for the downturn in the city’s office market. “Despite all these serious headwinds, Mr. Trump has very little debt relative to value and the company is doing very well,” she said.

The Doral resort and Washington hotel, along with a hotel in Chicago, are secured by about $340 million in loans from Deutsche Bank AG, Trump’s biggest lender. But the bank has no appetite for more business with Trump and has no plans to extend the loans after they come due in 2023 and 2024, a senior Deutsche Bank source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Asked about the bank’s unwillingness to work with Trump, his spokeswoman said: “So what?”

Experts say the prospect of any new Trump-branded development faces long odds. One hotel industry executive said hotel developers – worried about cutting themselves off from the millions of customers turned off by Trump – will likely think twice before signing any branding deals to put the Trump name on their properties.

“People have choices. You can go to the Ritz Carlton, you can go to the Four Seasons, and not bring the politics into it one way or the other,” said Vicki Richman, chief operating officer of HVS Asset Management, a hospitality industry consultancy and property manager.

The Trump Organization tried to take its premium luxury hotel brand downmarket with two new brands: Scion, a mid-priced offering, and American Idea for budget travellers. The company scrapped plans for both in 2019, citing difficulties doing business in a contentious political environment.

Harrington said nothing is off the table for Trump’s business.

“We have many, many things under consideration,” she said. “But we also have politics under consideration.”

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Meet the recipients of the new Women in Politics scholarship – The Signal

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Dalhousie award created to encourage more women to enter male dominated field

Having more women at the decision-making table is important for Claire Belliveau.

“If we have male dominated rooms, we’re going to have male dominated issues, as easy as that,” said Belliveau.

Belliveau, along with Charlotte Bourke, are the first recipients of the new Women in Politics scholarship at Dalhousie.

Belliveau is in her fourth year at Dalhousie, studying political science and law, justice and society. She has been involved in politics since she was 18, working for Environment Minister Tim Halman. Belliveau is the community outreach co-ordinator at Halman’s constituency office.

Being a young woman in politics has not always been easy for Belliveau. She recalls instances where people questioned her abilities due to her age and times when male peers would take credit for her ideas.

Despite these challenges, Belliveau has found support among other women in the field. One thing she found interesting was how women in politics support each other despite party alliance.

“It’s so nice to see how much these women want to see other women succeed, in a male dominated field,” she said.

Belliveau would like to pursue a career in government as an analyst, contributing to policy development in education and the environment.

Bourke is also a fourth-year political science student with an interest in environmental politics. Her main research interests are social and environmental policies and she is studying ways to create fairer climate adaptation plans.

Bourke is unsure about her plans after graduation, but she knows it will involve politics, social issues and the environment.

Charlotte Bourke walks up the steps to the Henry Hicks Building, where the political science department is located, on Nov. 13, 2021.   Gabrielle Brunette

The scholarship serves to encourage, support and inspire young women in their political aspirations. It was established by Grace Evans and Sarah Dobson, co-authors of On Their Shoulders: The Women who Paved the Way in Nova Scotia Politics.

The book addresses the gender gap by showcasing the first and only 50 women at the time, to have served as MLAs in the province. The book highlights the importance of female representation in municipal politics and all proceeds go towards funding the new scholarship.

In 2021, women and gender-diverse people make up only 36 per cent of the legislative assembly in Nova Scotia.

Of 55 MLAs, 19 are women, one is gender-diverse and 35 are men.

“People often don’t want to enter a realm where they can’t see themselves reflected. I think it’s hard for young women to become interested in politics if they don’t see their peers there,” Evans said.

The scholarship will run for as long as there is funding. Every year, two students will be awarded $1,000 each.

“There’s not a lot of scholarships, to my knowledge, geared specifically towards poli sci students, let alone women in poli sci,” Bourke said.

Evans said they are looking to expand the scholarship beyond funding to create a network of people. She and Dobson have been working in politics for a few years and have made many connections they would like to share with the recipients.

Receiving the scholarship was rewarding for Bourke, who felt like all her hard work was being acknowledged.

“It’s kind of just like a relief and a push forward to be like, oh wow I am being recognized, this is really cool, people actually think that I’m good enough, or they actually want me here. It feels sort of welcoming,” she said.

Charlotte Bourke is a fourth-year political science student, minoring in environmental studies.   Gabrielle Brunette

Belliveau was honoured to receive a scholarship designed to encourage women, like herself, who want a career in politics.

“It was just really motivating, especially from Sarah and Grace, knowing how much they care about young women in politics, knowing how much they care about the history and seeing more young women join the field,” she said.

“They’re acknowledging how important it is to have those voices at the table.”

For both women, winning the scholarship has given them a boost of confidence.

Belliveau said it has pushed her to apply for other opportunities, something she hopes other young women in politics will be encouraged to do as well.

“Apply for every scholarship, apply for fellowships, apply for the jobs you don’t think you qualify for because … men are doing it and they get them all the time, so why shouldn’t you?” she said.

“So, take advantage of everything you can and just enjoy the ride, stand your ground and don’t be afraid to speak up.”

Gabrielle Brunette

Gabrielle is a journalist for the Signal at the University of King’s College. She completed her BAH in political studies at Queen’s University.

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Playing Politics With Democracy? – Forbes

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On December 9 and 10, President Biden will host the first of two Summits for Democracy to “set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today.” How do Americans see the threat to democracy in the US now? And do partisans see the health of our democracy differently?

In October, Grinnell College asked them this directly. Fifty-two percent said American democracy was under a very serious threat and 29% under a minor threat. Only 14% perceived no threat. Other polls with differently worded questions produce similar impressions of a democracy in need of serious rehabilitation. In a November poll, Monmouth University pollsters found that 8% thought the US system of government was basically sound and needed no improvement, 35% basically sound but needing some improvement, 26% not too sound and needing many improvements, and 30% not too sound and in need of significant changes. And a late October–early November poll of 18–29 year olds from Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) finds that 7% of them describe US democracy as healthy, 27% somewhat functioning, 39% as in trouble, and 13% as failed.

In 2018, 2019, and again in 2021, Public Agenda, as part of the Daniel Yankelovich Democracy Initiative, asked people identical questions about democracy’s health. In the May 2021 poll, 14% said American democracy was doing well, 50% facing serious challenges but not in crisis, and 36% in crisis. The results were similar to their 2018 and 2019 polls.  

In all of these new polls, Democrats were more positive about democracy’s health than were Republicans. In the 2021 Public Agenda survey, Democrats were less likely to see a crisis than Republicans, 25% to 48%. However, in their 2018 and 2019 polls taken during the Trump years, far more Democrats than Republicans said the system was in crisis. In the October 2021 Grinnell poll, 71% of Republicans compared to 35% of Democrats saw the threat as major. In the Monmouth poll, partisans in both parties thought improvements were necessary, but twice as many Republicans as Democrats (38% to 15%) said the system was not sound at all and needed significant changes. In the Harvard IOP poll, 18–29 year old Democrats were more optimistic about democracy, too. There is a clear disconnect between Democratic elites in the media and academia who regularly opine about a US democracy’s decline and the views of rank-and-file Democrats.

This pattern is reversed when we look at questions about the events of January 6 and subsequent investigations as the new edition of the AEI Polling Report shows. Democrats profess much more concern than Republicans about what happened that day and are more eager to see the work of the January 6 congressional committee continue. In a mid-October online Morning Consult/Politico poll, 81% of Democrats compared to 18% of Republicans approved of the special congressional committee to investigate the events that occurred at the US Capitol on January 6. And in a mid-October Quinnipiac University poll, 40% wanted to hear more, but 56% said enough was already known about what led to the storming of the Capitol. Fifty-nine percent of Democrats wanted to hear more compared to 22% of Republicans and 38% of independents. Still, it is significant that nearly four in 10 (38%) Democrats said enough is known already, indicating some fatigue with the investigation.

There are some obvious reasons Democrats would feel better about our democracy than Republicans. They control both chambers of Congress, there’s a Democrat in the White House, and expressing confidence in American democracy is a way of showing support for the party and the president as the polls above suggest. And Democrats will continue to hammer away at anything to do with Donald Trump.

The polls suggest that concerns about democracy have not diminished people’s willingness to participate in the system — at least in terms of voting. Eighty percent in the Grinnell poll said they would definitely vote in the 2024 election for president and other offices and only 7% said they probably would not. What’s more, 91% of Democrats and 88% of Republicans in the survey said that it was very important for the United States to remain a democracy. Five percent nationally said it was fairly important, 4% just somewhat, and 3% not important. When you care deeply about something as Americans do about democracy, you worry at its erosion. But today, this concern has a deep partisan overlay.

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U.S. Senate passes bill to avert government shutdown, sends to Biden for signature

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The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a bill to fund the government through mid-February, averting the risk of a shutdown after overcoming a bid by some Republicans to delay the vote in a protest against vaccine mandates.

The 69-28 vote leaves government funding at current levels through Feb. 18, and gives Democratic President Joe Biden plenty of time to sign the measure before funding was set to run out at midnight on Friday.

The Senate acted just hours after the House of Representatives approved the measure, by a vote of 221-212, with the support of only one Republican.

Congress faces another urgent deadline right on the heels of this one. The federal government is approaching its $28.9 trillion borrowing limit, which the Treasury Department has estimated it could reach by Dec. 15. Failure to extend or lift the limit in time could trigger an economically catastrophic default.

“I am glad that in the end, cooler heads prevailed. The government will stay open and I thank the members of this chamber for walking us back from the brink from an avoidable, needless and costly shutdown,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on nailing down a deal with Republicans to clear the way for passing the bill.

The vote ended weeks of suspense over whether Washington might be plunged into a government shutdown at a time when officials worry that the potentially dangerous Omicron variant of COVID-19 could take hold in the United States after being discovered in South Africa.

Such a shutdown could have forced layoffs of some U.S. government medical and research personnel.

Senate Democrats defeated an attempt by a handful of conservative Republicans to attach an amendment that would have prevented enforcement of Biden’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for many U.S. workers.

Republican Senators Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Roger Marshall had earlier raised the possibility that the government could partially shut down over the weekend while the Senate moves slowly toward eventual passage.

“It’s not government’s job, it’s not within government’s authority to tell people that they must be vaccinated and if they don’t get vaccinated, they get fired. It’s wrong. It’s immoral,” Lee said before the defeat of the amendment.

Over the past few days, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted there would be no government shutdown from congressional inaction. But he had to work through the day on Thursday to get his Republican lawmakers in line on a deal allowing quick passage of the funding bill.

The emergency legislation is needed because Congress has not yet passed the 12 annual appropriations bills funding government activities for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.

A partial government shutdown https://www.reuters.com/world/us/what-happens-when-us-federal-government-shuts-down-2021-09-27 would have created a political embarrassment for both parties, but especially for Biden’s Democrats, who narrowly control both chambers of Congress.

LONGER TIMELINE

The fact the temporary spending bill extends funding into February suggested a victory for Republicans in closed-door negotiations. Democrats had pushed for a measure that would run into late January, while Republicans demanded a longer timeline leaving spending at levels agreed to when Republican Donald Trump was president.

“While I wish it were earlier, this agreement allows the appropriations process to move forward toward a final funding agreement which addresses the needs of the American people,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro said in a statement announcing the agreement.

But she said Democrats prevailed in including a $7 billion provision for Afghanistan evacuees.

Once enacted, the stopgap funding measure would give Democrats and Republicans nearly 12 weeks to resolve their differences over the annual appropriations bills totaling around $1.5 trillion that fund “discretionary” federal programs for this fiscal year. Those bills do not include mandatory funding for programs such as the Social Security retirement plan that are renewed automatically.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Moira Warburton, Doina Chiacu, David Morgan and Susan Heavey; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)

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