Apprenticeships given focus in Trump's job plan

Posted: June 11, 2017 at 4:08 a.m.
Updated: June 11, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Romanian President Klaus Werner Iohannis, in the Rose Garden at the White House, Friday, June 9, 2017, in Washington.

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump is focusing on his promise to make American job creation a top priority, after a week that saw Washington and much of the country fixated on the testimony of his fired FBI director.

"We want to get back to running our great country," Trump said Friday at a White House news conference.

The effort to shift gears comes as the Justice Department asked a federal court late Friday to dismiss a lawsuit that accused Trump of violating the Constitution by continuing to own and profit from his businesses.

Facing turmoil about investigations that began over his campaign's ties to Russia, Trump plans to devote this week to bringing more Americans into the economy by having them begin working as apprentices, the White House said. The plan follows a week spent on infrastructure in which the president remained vague about his policies in hopes of starting a conversation.

The jobs-training initiative is aimed at millions of Americans who could consider apprenticeships instead of four-year college degrees, which can leave them struggling to pay off student loans. But as presented by White House aides Friday, the push so far lacks details.

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Trump's presidency is facing an increasingly tense period, while Congress and the Justice Department investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 election and Russia's possible ties to the Trump campaign. Other items on the Trump agenda also are mired in uncertainty, including a tax overhaul and plans to replace the health insurance law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010.

To turn to jobs and apprenticeships in particular, Trump is visiting a technical college in Waukesha, Wis., on Tuesday, delivering a policy speech at the Labor Department on Wednesday and meeting with eight governors at the White House on Thursday.

There are few specifics as to how Trump would encourage more Americans to simultaneously work and learn as apprentices. He intends to improve coordination on the issue among businesses, schools and government leaders.

"It's really when those elements come together that the country has seen the best results," Reed Cordish, a presidential aide on intragovernmental and technology issues, said in a conference call with reporters.

Administration officials declined to say how much additional money would be devoted for apprenticeship programs, let alone how they intend to increase the number of people taking part -- from roughly 500,000 in fiscal 2016.

At a White House event earlier this year with business executives, Trump said he was willing to try for a goal of 5 million new apprenticeships over five years. Part of the challenge, White House officials said, was changing negative attitudes toward vocational education.

Funding also may prove an obstacle. Trump's proposed budget would slash the Labor Department's budget by a fifth to $9.6 billion and its job-training programs by more than a third. The $90 million spent on apprenticeships would be spared. The plan aims to more tightly organize what his aides say are 43 job-training programs across 13 agencies.

Angela Hanks of the liberal Center for American Progress said the Trump budget reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how apprenticeship programs work.

"It's great if we can all agree that apprenticeships are good," she said. "But if you can't access child care to get there, and you can't partner to develop good programs because the workforce system that we have has been gutted, it's hard to see how you get to the goal that the president's laid out."

Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and an aide, said worker training is necessary for her father to deliver on his promise to create 25 million jobs over a decade.

"The reality is that there are still Americans seeking employment despite low unemployment rates and companies are struggling to fill vacancies that require various levels of skills and training," she said.

The administration will introduce "a series of initiatives" and will call on Congress "to pass reforms expanding apprenticeships and raise awareness about the fact there are important, very viable career paths outside of the traditional four-year college experience," she said.

Many employers say they can't find workers with the necessary skills. The number of job openings climbed above 6 million in April, an all-time high, but the level of hiring has barely risen over the past year.

Apprenticeships had largely been focused on the construction sector but have since branched out to include health care and information technology, among other fields, said Andrew Cortes, who leads a committee that advises the secretary of labor on the government's registered apprenticeship program.

The Obama-era Labor Department -- which also encouraged apprenticeships -- noted that 91 percent of those completing the programs found jobs with average incomes above $60,000.

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on Wednesday defended Trump's budget to a House committee considering its own plan.

"We're going to do more with less," he told members of the Appropriations Committee, describing the president's budget priorities as "smart investments in programs that work."

"You can only do less with less," replied Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who criticized the cuts in jobs programs for Americans who need the most help finding work.

divestiture complaint

In a 70-page brief, the Justice Department argued Friday that, even if Trump was violating the Constitution in terms of his current business practices, it would be up to Congress, not a federal judge, to act.

It also claimed the lawsuit is based on a faulty interpretation of the Constitution and that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated any revenue loss because of Trump's business operations.

The lawsuit was filed this year in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a legal watchdog group. It is seeking a court order to force Trump to divest himself of his business holdings on the grounds that the Constitution prohibits him from accepting any economic benefit from foreign governments or from the U.S. government beyond his salary.

The other plaintiffs include a group that represents restaurants, the owner of a hotel and restaurant business in New York, and a woman who books hotel events in Washington.

Norman Eisen, chairman of the watchdog group, said the Justice Department's claim that a federal court has no power to intervene -- even if it finds a president's behavior is unconstitutional -- "is a remarkable assertion" that flies in the face of decades of judicial decisions.

The Justice Department's lawyers argue that the injunction sought by the watchdog group would harm the president's ability to perform his official duties and would ensnare him "in prolonged litigation over any number of transactions."

They contend that litigation would violate the separation of powers, which prohibits one branch of government from impairing another in carrying out its duties.

Even if the president's continued ownership of his business is illegal, the government's brief argued, "Congress is far better equipped than the courts" to fashion a remedy, perhaps by enacting legislation that would govern the president's behavior.

Beyond that, the government's lawyers contended, any injury claimed by the watchdog group is "purely self-inflicted." The group has alleged that it has been forced to divert its resources to challenge the president's illegal actions. And the Justice Department said the other plaintiffs had not demonstrated any loss of business because of hotels or restaurants owned by the president's companies.

Information for this article was contributed by Josh Boak and Laurie Kellman of The Associated Press; by Sharon LaFraniere of The New York Times; and by Jim Puzzanghera of the Los Angeles Times.

A Section on 06/11/2017