All posts by MPolitics

As Midterms Near, Trump Gambles on his Hardline Trade Policy

Farmers worry about falling crop prices and lost sales overseas. Manufacturers fear rising costs and new foreign taxes on their exports. American allies overseas are furious.

 

By any conventional gauge, President Donald Trump’s uncompromising stance toward tariffs and the pain they’ve begun to cause U.S. individuals and companies so close to midterm elections would seem politically reckless. Yet Trump appears to be betting that his combative actions will soon benefit the country and prove a political winner.

 

Ditching decades of U.S. trade policy that he says swindled America and robbed its workers, Trump insists he can save U.S. jobs and factories by abandoning or rewriting trade deals, slapping taxes on imports and waging a brutal tariff war with China, America’s biggest trading partner.

 

“Prior presidents in both political parties have never really moved to try to help and protect the American economy and its workforce, its farmers, its manufacturing workers, in a way of creating a level playing field,” Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser, told reporters last week. “They give it lip service, and then they back off. This president has no intention of backing off. None. Zero.”

 

Trump’s apparent belief is that he and congressional Republicans can rely on the unswerving support of core GOP voters — even in rural areas that have been economically hurt by his trade disputes — and maybe succeed in delivering better trade deals before Election Day. Still, as an insurance policy against failure, the administration is providing $12 billion in farm aid to soothe trade-war wounds in rural America.

 

All told, it’s a high-risk political gamble.

 

“It’s still unclear ultimately how the issue plays in November,” said Nathan Gonzales, publisher of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan newsletter.

 

The U.S. and China have imposed import taxes on $50 billion worth of each other’s products in a rumble over American allegations that Beijing uses predatory tactics to acquire foreign trade secrets and to try to overtake America’s global supremacy in high technology. Over the weekend, news reports indicated that the administration is set to announce tariffs on $200 billion more in Chinese imports — a step that that would significantly escalate the trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Beijing has said it would swiftly retaliate against additional U.S. tariffs.

Caught in the crossfire are U.S. soybean farmers, a prime target of Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs, whose exports to China account for about 60 percent of their overseas sales. These tariffs make U.S. soybeans prohibitively expensive in China. That means lost sales for American farmers.

 

Separately Trump has enraged U.S. allies like Canada and the European Union by declaring their steel and aluminum a threat to America’s national security as justification for slapping taxes on them.

 

On yet another trade front, the president would raise the stakes considerably if he carries out a threat to tax $340 billion in imported cars, trucks and auto parts — action that would raise prices for vehicles Americans buy.

 

What’s more, Trump has threatened to kick Canada out of a North American trade bloc if it doesn’t cave in to pressure to open its dairy market, among other things.

 

Trump is running into resistance in pockets across the country. American farmers who rely on exports are facing retaliation from U.S. trading partners, which depresses export sales and prices of agricultural commodities. Manufacturers that buy steel and aluminum are being hurt by higher prices and supply shortages resulting from the tariffs on imported metals.

 

Corporations fear that Trump’s drive to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement will disrupt the supply chains that they’ve spent the past 24 years building across the United States, Canada and Mexico. If the trade war with China further escalates, consumers would face higher prices at the mall and online. The affected imports would range from handbags, luggage and textiles to a range of consumer electronics, including the Apple Watch and adapters, cables and chargers.

 

On the basis of public opinion surveys, at least, the president’s approach poses political risks. A poll released Aug. 24 by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 61 percent of Americans disapproved of the president’s handling of trade negotiations.

 

“The Trump administration has handed Democrats in the midterms at least a talking point, not just with farmers but with consumers,” said Mickey Kantor, the top American trade negotiator under President Bill Clinton.

 

Missouri’s embattled Democratic senator, Claire McCaskill, is trying to link her Republican challenger, Trump ally Josh Hawley, to a nail manufacturing plant that says it might have to close because the Trump steel tariffs have driven up its costs.

Likewise in North Dakota, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is running ads tying her Republican challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, to Trump’s “reckless trade war.”

 

Besides unveiling $12 billion in aid to farmers hurt by the conflicts, Trump is seeking to reach trade deals to show that his brass-knuckles approach will succeed in the end. He has said he expects to sign a deal with South Korea later this month during the United Nations General Assembly. Earlier this month, he announced an agreement with Mexico to replace NAFTA — a move intended to pressure Canada to embrace a new North American accord on terms favorable to the United States.

 

Plans are underway for a delegation from China to resume trade discussions with the Trump team as early as this week. In addition, Trump says his team has started trade discussions with Japan and has received interest from India.

 

For the president, the bet is that America’s trading partners will capitulate promptly to his demands, rather than delay negotiations in the hope that Democrats will take control of the House and possibly the Senate and leave the president in a weaker bargaining position.

 

“There is some pressure to get results,” said Philip Levy, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a White House economist under President George W. Bush. “They need to do something where they can say, `Hey, this different approach actually works.'”

 

Trump is also relying on the loyalty of his supporters in rural America. He has called farmers “patriots” who are willing to absorb economic pain in the short run to buy time for him to negotiate trade deals more advantageous to the United States.

 

Approval for Trump’s performance is still running at 53 percent in rural areas, compared with 39 percent overall, according to an NPR/Marist poll released last week. Even if they’re worried about the trade disputes, many rural Americans support Trump’s stands on social issues such as immigration — a sign that the president may have enough political leeway to drive forward with his hard line on trade.

 

“Trump,” said chief global strategist Greg Valliere of Horizon Investments, “has a lot of Teflon in the farm belt.”

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Bloomberg Mulling a Run for President as a Democrat

Billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is actively thinking of running for president in 2020 as a Democrat.

 

“It’s impossible to conceive that I could run as a Republican – things like choice, so many of the issues, I’m just way away from where the Republican Party is today,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a New York Times report Monday.

 

“That’s not to say I’m with the Democratic Party on everything, but I don’t see how you could possibly run as a Republican,” Bloomberg said. “So if you ran, yeah, you’d have to run as a Democrat.”

 

Bloomberg served three terms as New York City mayor and has variously been a Democrat, Republican and independent. He twice flirted with running for president as an independent candidate, but ruled it out.

 

The 76-year-old founder and CEO of Bloomberg L.P., a global media company, has already lined up behind Democrats in the midterm elections and is using his money to attack Republicans on gun control, abortion and environmental issues.

 

Bloomberg did not say when he would make a decision on whether to run for president.

 

“I’m working on this Nov. 6 election, and after that I’ll take a look at it,” Bloomberg said.

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Bloomberg Mulling a Run for President as a Democrat

Billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is actively thinking of running for president in 2020 as a Democrat.

 

“It’s impossible to conceive that I could run as a Republican – things like choice, so many of the issues, I’m just way away from where the Republican Party is today,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a New York Times report Monday.

 

“That’s not to say I’m with the Democratic Party on everything, but I don’t see how you could possibly run as a Republican,” Bloomberg said. “So if you ran, yeah, you’d have to run as a Democrat.”

 

Bloomberg served three terms as New York City mayor and has variously been a Democrat, Republican and independent. He twice flirted with running for president as an independent candidate, but ruled it out.

 

The 76-year-old founder and CEO of Bloomberg L.P., a global media company, has already lined up behind Democrats in the midterm elections and is using his money to attack Republicans on gun control, abortion and environmental issues.

 

Bloomberg did not say when he would make a decision on whether to run for president.

 

“I’m working on this Nov. 6 election, and after that I’ll take a look at it,” Bloomberg said.

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Complexities of the Upcoming Election in One PA City

Residents of the small city of Hazleton, PA, face deeply personal choices in this November’s election which features a homegrown candidate with hardline-immigrant views in a city that has been changed in deep-rooted ways by… an influx of immigrants.

Hazleton’s “transformative decade,” is how former police chief Frank DeAndrea puts it.

And transformative it has been. About 130 kilometers (80 miles) northwest of Philadelphia, at the intersection of two major highways, Hazleton has some 25,000 residents. In 2000, 5 percent of them were Hispanic. Today, 50 percent of them are.

This remarkable surge of immigrants, mostly from the Dominican Republic, came to Hazleton after they discovered that both the cost of living and crime rate were lower in the former coal town.

“If a man and his wife both work, which they generally do here, if they’re both working in a plant… Where would you be better served for that $11, $12 an hour?” posits Bob Curry with the Hazleton Integration Project. “You want to try and do that in Newark? You want to try to do that in the Bronx? You want to try to do it anywhere near New York City? … Can’t do it.”

“It was a quiet, quiet town,” recalls Amilcar Arroyo, who moved to Hazleton from Peru 30 years ago. “Most people living here at that time were elderly people. At 6 o’clock [p.m.], it was quiet and during the day too.” Arroyo owns El Mensajero International, Hazelton’s Spanish language newspaper.

Yet, says former chief DeAndrea, who observed Hazleton’s transformation as a Pennsylvania state trooper, the influx sparked fear – fear of crime, fear of overrun schools and social services and simply, fear of the unknown. 

“And fear is an ugly thing. …it doesn’t only happen to a human being, it happens to a community. A community becomes so afraid they can’t move forward,” he said.

Hometown candidate

Challenging incumbent Bob Casey (D) for one of Pennsylvania’s two Senate seats, Hazleton native Congressman Lou Barletta is, according to his own website, “a national figure in the fight against illegal immigration.” He was an early supporter of President Donald Trump, who encouraged him to run for the Senate.

“We need Lou Barletta,” President Donald Trump told a packed arena in Wilkes Barre, PA, in early August.

Barletta is well known in Hazleton where he owned the largest pavement marking company in Pennsylvania before selling it in 2000 after he became Hazleton’s mayor.

During his time as mayor in 2006, he introduced the Illegal Immigration Relief Act after two undocumented immigrants from the Dominican Republic were charged with murdering a Hazleton father of three.

The act penalized and fined employers and landlords for hiring and renting to illegal immigrants. 

Arroyo recalls it as a dark time. “In one of the rallies of Mr. Lou Barletta, people were attacking me. Verbally attacking me. They called me traitor. They called me ‘Go back to your country,’ ‘Go back to Mexico,’ ‘Illegal,’ and I was an American citizen.” 

The ordinance was quickly challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The suit went up to the Supreme Court, which in 2014 refused to take the case, letting stand lower court decisions that struck down the measure.

Dorothy George is a longtime Hazleton resident who won’t reveal how she will vote. “When I look back 50 years ago, it was a safer community, and not necessarily that is caused by the Hispanic influx, but just I think the whole United States has changed in that respect,” she said when VOA caught up with her at her workplace.

Hazleton 

After the coal economy bottomed out in Hazleton, local lawmakers offered tax incentives hoping to attract manufacturing companies, distribution centers and warehouses. They began to set up plants near Hazleton and the warehouse economy was launched. 

“The new economy is based on warehousing because of the great dot com. All of the big major players selling things have warehouses and they want to ship it the most efficient way possible. Trucking is the way they do it. And we’re at an ideal location.” says Curry referring to Hazleton’s location at the intersection of interstates 80 and 81. 

At the same time, dozens of Latino-owned businesses have opened along the streets of Hazleton from restaurants selling homemade Mexican and Dominican food to small grocery stores. 

“My newspaper exists based on two kind of businesses: Latino businesses and American businesses, American businesses that want to get to that growing market, which is a Latino market,” Arroyo says. 

To Curry, whose Integration Project provides after school care for 1,000 children each week, the two communities are like a pair of railroad tracks, extending into the distance without ever meeting. The children, he thinks, might bring them together.

“And when Johnny goes to his little league baseball game and Jose gets a homerun and your team goes to the championship, you’re not so anxious to see Jose sent back to that ‘whatever he came from’ story. Life happens and when life happens, people’s mentality, their worldview, their outlook will change.” 

Referendum on immigration

“A lot of ethnic people don’t like Lou Barletta,” said Barry Chaskin from behind the counter of his retail establishment. He is a white Republican voter. “I think that everybody had a wrong concept of what he was trying to do. It wasn’t immigration. It was illegal immigration that he fought.”

Connie Cramey, a “Republican conservative Latina,” does like Barletta. VOA caught up with her as she was knocking on doors for her candidate. “I’m pro-America first and I believe that he’s too,” Cramey said.

Cramey says she moved to the U.S. at the age of 15 from El Salvador. 

“Nobody is closing the doors to diverse communities, different nationalities. I believe if the latino or the Hispanic community wants to be part of America, first of all, you’ve got to come here legally and then … learn English, and I don’t see that as anything discriminatory or racist,” she said.

Arroyo says that if the Latino population got more engaged in the political life of the city, a “sleeping giant,” would wake up. For now small percentages of the Latino community vote.

“We have to get more involved in local politics,” he says. 

Barletta is trailing Casey in the polls. Real Clear Politics’ average of polls gives Casey a comfortable 14.8% margin statewide. But how the vote will go in Hazleton, part of Luzerne County that went for Trump in 2016, is anyone’s guess. 

“I know them both,” Chaskin said of the two Senate candidates. “I would hope [Barletta] does have a chance and some people in town would agree with me. Others would not…” 

As much as anywhere in the country, the vote in Hazleton is also about President Trump’s unbending immigration policies – including his short-lived “zero tolerance” policy that separated immigrant families at the border. 

“I don’t know who’s right. That’s why we do these things,” Chaskin continued. “That’s why we vote – to see what the people really want.”

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Complexities of the Upcoming Election in One PA City

Residents of the small city of Hazleton, PA, face deeply personal choices in this November’s election which features a homegrown candidate with hardline-immigrant views in a city that has been changed in deep-rooted ways by… an influx of immigrants.

Hazleton’s “transformative decade,” is how former police chief Frank DeAndrea puts it.

And transformative it has been. About 130 kilometers (80 miles) northwest of Philadelphia, at the intersection of two major highways, Hazleton has some 25,000 residents. In 2000, 5 percent of them were Hispanic. Today, 50 percent of them are.

This remarkable surge of immigrants, mostly from the Dominican Republic, came to Hazleton after they discovered that both the cost of living and crime rate were lower in the former coal town.

“If a man and his wife both work, which they generally do here, if they’re both working in a plant… Where would you be better served for that $11, $12 an hour?” posits Bob Curry with the Hazleton Integration Project. “You want to try and do that in Newark? You want to try to do that in the Bronx? You want to try to do it anywhere near New York City? … Can’t do it.”

“It was a quiet, quiet town,” recalls Amilcar Arroyo, who moved to Hazleton from Peru 30 years ago. “Most people living here at that time were elderly people. At 6 o’clock [p.m.], it was quiet and during the day too.” Arroyo owns El Mensajero International, Hazelton’s Spanish language newspaper.

Yet, says former chief DeAndrea, who observed Hazleton’s transformation as a Pennsylvania state trooper, the influx sparked fear – fear of crime, fear of overrun schools and social services and simply, fear of the unknown. 

“And fear is an ugly thing. …it doesn’t only happen to a human being, it happens to a community. A community becomes so afraid they can’t move forward,” he said.

Hometown candidate

Challenging incumbent Bob Casey (D) for one of Pennsylvania’s two Senate seats, Hazleton native Congressman Lou Barletta is, according to his own website, “a national figure in the fight against illegal immigration.” He was an early supporter of President Donald Trump, who encouraged him to run for the Senate.

“We need Lou Barletta,” President Donald Trump told a packed arena in Wilkes Barre, PA, in early August.

Barletta is well known in Hazleton where he owned the largest pavement marking company in Pennsylvania before selling it in 2000 after he became Hazleton’s mayor.

During his time as mayor in 2006, he introduced the Illegal Immigration Relief Act after two undocumented immigrants from the Dominican Republic were charged with murdering a Hazleton father of three.

The act penalized and fined employers and landlords for hiring and renting to illegal immigrants. 

Arroyo recalls it as a dark time. “In one of the rallies of Mr. Lou Barletta, people were attacking me. Verbally attacking me. They called me traitor. They called me ‘Go back to your country,’ ‘Go back to Mexico,’ ‘Illegal,’ and I was an American citizen.” 

The ordinance was quickly challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The suit went up to the Supreme Court, which in 2014 refused to take the case, letting stand lower court decisions that struck down the measure.

Dorothy George is a longtime Hazleton resident who won’t reveal how she will vote. “When I look back 50 years ago, it was a safer community, and not necessarily that is caused by the Hispanic influx, but just I think the whole United States has changed in that respect,” she said when VOA caught up with her at her workplace.

Hazleton 

After the coal economy bottomed out in Hazleton, local lawmakers offered tax incentives hoping to attract manufacturing companies, distribution centers and warehouses. They began to set up plants near Hazleton and the warehouse economy was launched. 

“The new economy is based on warehousing because of the great dot com. All of the big major players selling things have warehouses and they want to ship it the most efficient way possible. Trucking is the way they do it. And we’re at an ideal location.” says Curry referring to Hazleton’s location at the intersection of interstates 80 and 81. 

At the same time, dozens of Latino-owned businesses have opened along the streets of Hazleton from restaurants selling homemade Mexican and Dominican food to small grocery stores. 

“My newspaper exists based on two kind of businesses: Latino businesses and American businesses, American businesses that want to get to that growing market, which is a Latino market,” Arroyo says. 

To Curry, whose Integration Project provides after school care for 1,000 children each week, the two communities are like a pair of railroad tracks, extending into the distance without ever meeting. The children, he thinks, might bring them together.

“And when Johnny goes to his little league baseball game and Jose gets a homerun and your team goes to the championship, you’re not so anxious to see Jose sent back to that ‘whatever he came from’ story. Life happens and when life happens, people’s mentality, their worldview, their outlook will change.” 

Referendum on immigration

“A lot of ethnic people don’t like Lou Barletta,” said Barry Chaskin from behind the counter of his retail establishment. He is a white Republican voter. “I think that everybody had a wrong concept of what he was trying to do. It wasn’t immigration. It was illegal immigration that he fought.”

Connie Cramey, a “Republican conservative Latina,” does like Barletta. VOA caught up with her as she was knocking on doors for her candidate. “I’m pro-America first and I believe that he’s too,” Cramey said.

Cramey says she moved to the U.S. at the age of 15 from El Salvador. 

“Nobody is closing the doors to diverse communities, different nationalities. I believe if the latino or the Hispanic community wants to be part of America, first of all, you’ve got to come here legally and then … learn English, and I don’t see that as anything discriminatory or racist,” she said.

Arroyo says that if the Latino population got more engaged in the political life of the city, a “sleeping giant,” would wake up. For now small percentages of the Latino community vote.

“We have to get more involved in local politics,” he says. 

Barletta is trailing Casey in the polls. Real Clear Politics’ average of polls gives Casey a comfortable 14.8% margin statewide. But how the vote will go in Hazleton, part of Luzerne County that went for Trump in 2016, is anyone’s guess. 

“I know them both,” Chaskin said of the two Senate candidates. “I would hope [Barletta] does have a chance and some people in town would agree with me. Others would not…” 

As much as anywhere in the country, the vote in Hazleton is also about President Trump’s unbending immigration policies – including his short-lived “zero tolerance” policy that separated immigrant families at the border. 

“I don’t know who’s right. That’s why we do these things,” Chaskin continued. “That’s why we vote – to see what the people really want.”

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Complexities of the Upcoming Election in One PA City

In rural Pennsylvania, the small city of Hazleton has come out of a “transformative decade,” the former police chief says. In the early 2000s, a wave of immigrants and first generation Americans moved to the area, seeking jobs and a better way of life. In the 2016 election, Donald Trump narrowly edged out Hilary Clinton. Now, a native son is Trump’s hand-picked candidate to challenge Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey. VOA’s immigration reporter Aline Barros has more.

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Complexities of the Upcoming Election in One PA City

In rural Pennsylvania, the small city of Hazleton has come out of a “transformative decade,” the former police chief says. In the early 2000s, a wave of immigrants and first generation Americans moved to the area, seeking jobs and a better way of life. In the 2016 election, Donald Trump narrowly edged out Hilary Clinton. Now, a native son is Trump’s hand-picked candidate to challenge Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey. VOA’s immigration reporter Aline Barros has more.

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Grim Warnings for White House, Republicans Ahead of Election

The prognosis for President Donald Trump and his party was grim.

In a post-Labor Day briefing at the White House, a top Republican pollster told senior staff that the determining factor in the election wouldn’t be the improving economy or the steady increase in job creation. It would be how voters feel about Trump. And the majority of the electorate, including a sizeable percentage of Republican-leaning voters, doesn’t feel good about the president, according to a presentation from pollster Neil Newhouse that spanned dozens of pages.

Newhouse’s briefing came amid a darkening mood among Republican officials as the November election nears. Party leaders were already worried that a surge in enthusiasm among Democrats and disdain for Trump by moderate Republicans would put the House out of reach. But some Republicans now fear their Senate majority is also in peril — a scenario that was unthinkable a few months ago given the favorable Senate map for the GOP.

“For Republican candidates to win in swing states, they need all of the voters who support President Trump, plus a chunk of those who do not,” said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster. “That is threading a very narrow strategic needle.”

Operatives in both parties say Republicans still have the edge in the fight for control of the Senate. But GOP officials are increasingly worried that nominees in conservative-leaning states like Missouri and Indiana are underperforming, while races in Tennessee and Texas that should be slam-dunks for Republicans are close.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raised an alarm last week, warning that each of the competitive Senate races would be “like a knife fight in an alley.”

Some of the public fretting among Republicans appears to be strategic, as party officials try to motivate both voters and donors. Many moderate Republican voters “don’t believe there is anything at stake in this election,” according to the documents Newhouse presented to White House officials. He attributed that belief in part to a disregard for public polling, given that most surveys showed Democrat Hillary Clinton defeating Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Newhouse and the White House would not comment on the early September meeting. The Associated Press obtained a copy of Newhouse’s presentation, and two Republicans with knowledge of the briefing discussed the details on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter publicly.

At the White House, anxiety over the midterms has been on the rise for months as polls increasingly show a challenging environment for the GOP and heightened Democratic enthusiasm. The sheer number of competitive races in both the House and Senate is stretching cash reserves and forcing tough calculations about where to deploy resources and surrogates. And there are growing fears that the coalition of voters that delivered Trump to the White House will not come out for midterms.

Even if those voters do show up in large numbers, Republicans could still come up short. The polling presented to White House officials, which was commissioned by the Republican National Committee, showed that Trump’s loyal supporters make up about one-quarter of the electorate. Another quarter is comprised of Republicans who like Trump’s policies but not the president himself and do not appear motivated to back GOP candidates. And roughly half of expected midterm voters are Democrats who are energized by their opposition to the president.

White House aides say Trump is getting regular briefings on the political landscape and is aware of the increasingly grim polling, even though he’s predicted a “red wave” for Republicans on Twitter and at campaign rallies. Aides say Trump’s sober briefings from GOP officials are sometimes offset by the frequent conversations he has with a cadre of outside advisers who paint a sunnier picture of the electoral landscape and remind the president of his upset victory in 2016.

The paradox for Republicans is that most Americans are largely satisfied with the economy, according to numerous surveys. But the party has struggled to keep the economy centered at the center of the election debate. Trump keeps thrusting other issues to the forefront, including his frustration with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and his intense anger with unflattering portrayals of his presidency in a book by journalist Bob Woodward and an anonymous editorial from a senior administration official that was published in the New York Times. He stunned some backers Thursday when he disputed the death toll in Puerto Rico from last year’s Hurricane Maria, just as another storm was barreling toward the East Coast.

Newhouse told White House officials that Trump could appeal to moderates and independents by emphasizing that a Democratic majority would be outside the mainstream on issues like abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and government-funded health care. Other Republican strategists have offered candidates similar advice.

Karl Rove, who served as chief political strategist to President George W. Bush, said that if Republicans cast their Democratic rivals as soft on immigration or in favor of high-dollar government spending on health care, “that’s a toxic mix to the soft Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.”

In his most recent campaign appearances, Trump soft-peddled his predictions for a Republican wave and warned supporters that a Democratic congressional majority would have consequences. But he focused less on the policy implications of Democrats regaining control of Congress and more on the impact on his presidency, including the prospect of impeachment.

“If it does happen, it’s your fault, because you didn’t go out to vote,” Trump said of the prospect of getting impeached. “You didn’t go out to vote — that’s the only way it could happen.”

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Grim Warnings for White House, Republicans Ahead of Election

The prognosis for President Donald Trump and his party was grim.

In a post-Labor Day briefing at the White House, a top Republican pollster told senior staff that the determining factor in the election wouldn’t be the improving economy or the steady increase in job creation. It would be how voters feel about Trump. And the majority of the electorate, including a sizeable percentage of Republican-leaning voters, doesn’t feel good about the president, according to a presentation from pollster Neil Newhouse that spanned dozens of pages.

Newhouse’s briefing came amid a darkening mood among Republican officials as the November election nears. Party leaders were already worried that a surge in enthusiasm among Democrats and disdain for Trump by moderate Republicans would put the House out of reach. But some Republicans now fear their Senate majority is also in peril — a scenario that was unthinkable a few months ago given the favorable Senate map for the GOP.

“For Republican candidates to win in swing states, they need all of the voters who support President Trump, plus a chunk of those who do not,” said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster. “That is threading a very narrow strategic needle.”

Operatives in both parties say Republicans still have the edge in the fight for control of the Senate. But GOP officials are increasingly worried that nominees in conservative-leaning states like Missouri and Indiana are underperforming, while races in Tennessee and Texas that should be slam-dunks for Republicans are close.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raised an alarm last week, warning that each of the competitive Senate races would be “like a knife fight in an alley.”

Some of the public fretting among Republicans appears to be strategic, as party officials try to motivate both voters and donors. Many moderate Republican voters “don’t believe there is anything at stake in this election,” according to the documents Newhouse presented to White House officials. He attributed that belief in part to a disregard for public polling, given that most surveys showed Democrat Hillary Clinton defeating Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Newhouse and the White House would not comment on the early September meeting. The Associated Press obtained a copy of Newhouse’s presentation, and two Republicans with knowledge of the briefing discussed the details on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter publicly.

At the White House, anxiety over the midterms has been on the rise for months as polls increasingly show a challenging environment for the GOP and heightened Democratic enthusiasm. The sheer number of competitive races in both the House and Senate is stretching cash reserves and forcing tough calculations about where to deploy resources and surrogates. And there are growing fears that the coalition of voters that delivered Trump to the White House will not come out for midterms.

Even if those voters do show up in large numbers, Republicans could still come up short. The polling presented to White House officials, which was commissioned by the Republican National Committee, showed that Trump’s loyal supporters make up about one-quarter of the electorate. Another quarter is comprised of Republicans who like Trump’s policies but not the president himself and do not appear motivated to back GOP candidates. And roughly half of expected midterm voters are Democrats who are energized by their opposition to the president.

White House aides say Trump is getting regular briefings on the political landscape and is aware of the increasingly grim polling, even though he’s predicted a “red wave” for Republicans on Twitter and at campaign rallies. Aides say Trump’s sober briefings from GOP officials are sometimes offset by the frequent conversations he has with a cadre of outside advisers who paint a sunnier picture of the electoral landscape and remind the president of his upset victory in 2016.

The paradox for Republicans is that most Americans are largely satisfied with the economy, according to numerous surveys. But the party has struggled to keep the economy centered at the center of the election debate. Trump keeps thrusting other issues to the forefront, including his frustration with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and his intense anger with unflattering portrayals of his presidency in a book by journalist Bob Woodward and an anonymous editorial from a senior administration official that was published in the New York Times. He stunned some backers Thursday when he disputed the death toll in Puerto Rico from last year’s Hurricane Maria, just as another storm was barreling toward the East Coast.

Newhouse told White House officials that Trump could appeal to moderates and independents by emphasizing that a Democratic majority would be outside the mainstream on issues like abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and government-funded health care. Other Republican strategists have offered candidates similar advice.

Karl Rove, who served as chief political strategist to President George W. Bush, said that if Republicans cast their Democratic rivals as soft on immigration or in favor of high-dollar government spending on health care, “that’s a toxic mix to the soft Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.”

In his most recent campaign appearances, Trump soft-peddled his predictions for a Republican wave and warned supporters that a Democratic congressional majority would have consequences. But he focused less on the policy implications of Democrats regaining control of Congress and more on the impact on his presidency, including the prospect of impeachment.

“If it does happen, it’s your fault, because you didn’t go out to vote,” Trump said of the prospect of getting impeached. “You didn’t go out to vote — that’s the only way it could happen.”

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Trump Claims Russia Campaign Probe Illegal

U.S. President Donald Trump claimed Sunday, without evidence, that the ongoing criminal investigation into his 2016 campaign’s links to Russia is “not allowed under the law.”

In a Twitter comment, the U.S. leader called the probe by special counsel Robert Mueller “illegal” and said it “continues in search of a crime.” But Mueller was appointed by the Department of Justice and judges have ruled that his investigation is being conducted legally.

As he often does, Trump denied there was collusion with Russia, except by his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He described Mueller’s legal team as “17 angry Democrats … looking at anything they can find. Very unfair and BAD for the country.”

But Trump did not comment on the latest development in Mueller’s 16-month investigation, Friday’s guilty plea by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to corruption charges and a declaration by prosecutors that Manafort is already cooperating with them about what he knows about the Trump campaign.

The 69-year-old Manafort, a longtime Washington lobbyist, has now been convicted in an August trial of eight tax and bank fraud charges in a Virginia court and pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges in nearby Washington.

In the most recent case, prosecutors agreed to drop other charges stemming from his lobbying efforts for one-time Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych that predated his five-month tenure working for Trump’s campaign in mid-2016 in exchange for him answering “fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly” questions about “any and all matters” Mueller’s team is investigating.

But what Manafort might have to offer Mueller about the Trump campaign is not publicly unknown, although prosecutors only dropped some charges against Manafort after hearing in advance what he had to say.

Manafort played a role in one key event Mueller is investigating, a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York, the then-candidate’s campaign headquarters. Manafort attended a meeting set up by Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., with a lawyer said to be a Russian government attorney willing to provide incriminating information about Clinton. The younger Trump said no such information was provided and President Trump has said he was unaware of the meeting at the time it was scheduled.

After Manafort’s guilty plea, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in a first statement, “Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: The president did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”

But minutes later, Giuliani issued a revised statement omitting the assessment that “Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”

After Manafort was convicted in the August case, Trump said he had “such respect for a brave man: because “he refused to ‘break’ — make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.'”

“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” Trump said.

 

 

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