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CPAC attendees give A+ to Trump — so far

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2/24/2017 Eliza Collins
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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday have all found something from President Trump’s first month in office to be excited about. But many are still on guard for what’s to come.

“I like how honest he’s been, or appears to be. I like the way he’s being unconventional,” John Hellerman, a communications consultant, told USA TODAY. “He hasn’t governed in a classical sense, which is partly exciting and partly concerning, And so I would say, so far, I’m still giving him a chance.”

CPAC is an annual gathering of hard-line conservatives taking place just outside of Washington, D.C., this week. The confab brings together thousands of people to listen to speakers, talk tactics and schmooze. The president, vice president and members of the administration are speaking along with members of the conservative media, gun-rights and pro-Israel groups and more. 

Sheri Few is the director of an education advocacy organization and is running to replace Mick Mulvaney in Congress. Mulvaney is a former South Carolina congressman who left his position to become director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Trump administration.

Few loves Trump’s vow to end Common Core education standards and his executive order to limit refugees from coming into the United States from certain countries, even though the refugee order is currently frozen after federal judges blocked its enforcement.

Few says she is “as conservative, if not more conservative” than Mulvaney is. When he was in Congress, Mulvaney was a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, a group of hardliners opposed to government spending and big debts. Like many conservatives — including the Freedom Caucus — Few said she is mostly supportive of Trump’s proposals so far, but she is waiting to see price tags for some of his larger initiatives.

“The infrastructure issue is a troubling one. There’s no doubt that our state and our nation indeed are in disrepair when it comes to infrastructure needs but I don’t think it’s a need to pour more money into these agencies,” Few said about Trump’s calls for major infrastructure spending. "I'm not in favor of increasing spending in any way." 

Joe Guzzardi is the media director for a group that advocates to limit immigration to pre-1965 levels. Ideally he wants no more than 250,000 people to come into the U.S. per year, down from the more than 1 million a year arriving now.

“It’s terrific that he’s bringing the issue to the forefront,” Guzzardi said about Trump’s actions so far on immigration and refugees. He’s also excited about Trump’s stance on trade.

But he thinks Trump has sent mixed messages on what happens to participants in the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program. DACA was put in place by the Obama administration and grants temporary relief from deportation and work permits for undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors. Democrats and some Republicans want to extend the program. Trump so far has not taken action on the initiative, and his early steps on immigration, including stepping up deportations, do not include DACA recipients.

“We frankly didn’t expect it to be included in this new immigration order because he’s been so frankly, shall we say, squishy about it to date,” Guzzardi said. “The only time he mentions it is to say that 'these are wonderful, wonderful kids and exceptional kids and we’re going to do something that’s going to make them very happy.' ”

Guzzardi would like the program to be scrapped entirely, but he thinks at the least Trump should halt new applications and use existing recipients as a bargaining tool to get more in the immigration debate with Congress.

Retiree Donna-Marie Fred from Findlay, Ohio, said Trump is doing "a great job, an excellent job," particularly his immigration orders.

But she said she's worried about her Social Security, which she doesn't want to be taken away. "It is not quote 'an entitlement' or a free ride. You work for that money, you put it away."

“I’m proud of Trump," said Ajah Hyten, a student from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. "He’s doing everything he said he would. I know people always have problems with presidential decrees and stuff. But he’s basically bringing it back down from what Obama did so he’s just bringing it down to a main level again,” she said, referring to the flurry of executive orders Trump signed after taking office.

When asked whether she would have an issue if Trump continued to sign executive orders, she said there’s no problem “as long as he continues working toward the Constitution.”

Hyten said she had no concerns about Trump, but she does think it would be beneficial for him to release his tax returns to show transparency.

 “I’m trying to figure out why he wouldn’t,” she said.


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