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From Poles to Filipinos? UK Food Industry Needs Post-Brexit Workers

Britons who voted for Brexit in the hope of slashing immigration seem set for disappointment. In the farming and food industries at least, any exodus of Polish and Romanian workers may simply be followed by arrivals of Ukrainians and Filipinos.

From dairy farms to abattoirs, employers say not enough Britons have an appetite for milking cows before dawn or disemboweling pig carcasses — jobs often performed by workers from the poorer, eastern member states of the European Union.

With unemployment at a four-decade low of 4.3 percent, even Brexit supporters acknowledge the industries will need some migrant workers after Britain leaves the EU in 2019, ending the automatic right of the bloc’s citizens to work in the country.

Employers praise eastern European staff for their skills and work ethic.

“They are a massively valuable part of our work force and a massively valuable part of the food industry overall,” said Adam Couch, chief executive of Cranswick plc, a meat processing group founded by pig farmers.

Food and drink is the largest U.K. manufacturing sector, with a turnover of 110 billion pounds ($147 billion) in 2015, government figures show. Much of it depends heavily on staff from elsewhere in the EU, mainly the post-communist east.

For example, the British Meat Processors Association says 63 percent of workers in the sector come from other EU countries, and in some plants it can be as high as 80 percent.

The proportion has risen partly due to increased demand for more labor-intensive products such as boneless meat.

Association members have found it impossible to recruit the additional employees needed from Britain, the BMPA says.

Pro-Brexit campaigners say Britain needs to reduce its reliance on EU workers.

“Our sights should be firmly set on raising the skill level of our own domestic workers, employing domestic whenever we possibly can and automating,” said Owen Paterson, a member of parliament for the ruling Conservatives.

But Paterson, who as a former Environment Secretary was responsible for U.K. agricultural policy from 2012-14, added: “Where there is a clear shortage and no technological solution, by all means bring in labor but the good news is we wouldn’t be limited to the EU. We will have the whole world to choose from.”

‘Money for a month’

On the meat production line, Romanian Dumidru Voicu explained the attractions of working at Cranswick’s plant in Milton Keynes, a town northwest of London.

“I just want to do something with my life, save some money and make my own business. The money for a week here is the money for a month in Romania,” said Voicu, who arrived in the country about the time that Britons voted to leave the EU in June last year.

An estimated 27,000 permanent staff from elsewhere in the EU worked in British agriculture last year, House of Commons staff noted in a briefing paper for members of parliament. This figure is swollen at times by around 75,000 seasonal workers.

A further 116,000 EU citizens worked in food manufacturing.

The Food and Drink Federation predicts the sector, which employs about 400,000 people, needs to recruit another 140,000 by 2024.

The government, which wants to reduce immigration sharply, has yet to announce its post-Brexit policy but farm minister George Eustice has recognized employers’ concerns. “Leaving the EU and establishing controlled migration does not mean closing off all immigration,” he told parliament in earlier this year.

However, a government document leaked in September showed that restrictions for all but the highest-skilled EU workers were under consideration.

Such a possibility alarms farm employers. “Without EU labor there will be no British pig industry as we know it,” said Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association.

British farmers have relied on foreign labor for a long time, at least around harvest time. A Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme was introduced shortly after World War II.

The government ended it in 2013 before Romanians and Bulgarians won the automatic right to work in Britain, arguing that there were now enough EU workers to fill farm vacancies.

With EU citizens to lose that right on Brexit, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) wants the scheme — or something similar — reinstated. This may mean going back to the time when people from beyond eastern Europe filled farm jobs.

Michael Oakes, chairman of the dairy board at the NFU, says older colleagues remember when people from countries such as the Philippines worked on British farms.

“There are other countries in the world that would help to solve the problem but at the moment because they are not within the EU they are not necessarily able to come in and work.”

Filipinos already work on New Zealand farms but such an idea could prove politically difficult in Britain as the pro-Brexit side fought the referendum on promises to curb immigration.

Many of the 17 million Britons who voted to leave are likely to be unhappy if they find eastern Europeans simply replaced by non-EU workers such as Filipinos or Ukrainians.

“Perhaps we need to broaden out the opportunities but a lot of people voted for Brexit because of immigration reasons, so it is a tricky one for the government,” said Oakes.

Making sacrifices

Any new seasonal plan could still recruit in the EU, but might be forced to widen its scope to get the required numbers.

Net migration to the UK fell to 230,000 in the year to June, far from the government’s ambition of arrivals “in the tens of thousands”. Still, EU citizens accounted for three quarters of the 106,000 drop, the Office for National Statistics reported.

The figures present a mixed picture, with a net 20,000 Poles leaving the country in 2016 but 50,000 Romanians arriving.

But some eastern Europeans say they feel less welcome since the referendum and resent the negative attitude of some Britons.

“I was quite upset. Why do you have a problem with me if I am coming to take a job you don’t want and I am paying tax?” said Zoltan Peter, who came to England in 2009 to work on a dairy farm in western England, initially leaving his wife and baby daughter at home in Romania.

Peter now works as a regional manager for LKL, a firm which recruits workers to the dairy industry, but says the early years were not easy. “I didn’t catch my daughter starting to talk, but you sometimes you make sacrifices and eastern European people are making sacrifices,” he told Reuters.

A drop in sterling since the referendum has also made Britain less attractive for farm workers who earn at least 7.20 pounds an hour. That was worth 41 Polish zlotys before the vote but now it buys only 34.

Part of the answer may lie in a drive to recruit and train more British workers, despite Peter’s doubts.

Oakes said he needed people prepared to work long, unsocial hours often in cold, wet conditions. Milking on his farm starts at 4.30 a.m. and the day does not end until 8 p.m. “It is an early start or a late finish, and occasionally on bad days you might have to do both,” he said.

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Pentagon ‘Deeply Committed’ to Laws of War as ICC Considers Investigation

The Pentagon has reasserted its commitment to complying with the laws of war, after news emerged that the International Criminal Court is seeking an investigation into alleged war crimes by U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.

Pentagon spokesman Mike Andrews, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, told VOA on Friday that the United States is “deeply committed to complying with the law of war, and we have a robust national system of investigation and accountability that more than meets international standards.”

Andrews was replying to a move by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in November requesting judicial authorization to investigate the alleged misconduct by members of the U.S. military and Central Intelligence Agency.

The alleged war crimes by U.S. personnel are centered on reports from secret detention facilities in Afghanistan and on the territory of other states who are party to the ICC, particularly between 2003 and 2004.

Andrews said the U.S. objects to such an investigation, specifying that “we do not believe that an International Criminal Court examination or investigation with respect the actions of U.S. personnel in Afghanistan is warranted or appropriate.”

Meanwhile, a defense official told VOA that the United States has never consented to be under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, meaning it is not obligated to comply with the court’s actions.

“The U.S. has a longstanding and continuing objection in principal to any ICC assertion of jurisdiction over U.S. personnel,” the official said.

Bensouda, the ICC prosecutor, requested permission from the ICC judges on November 20 to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the ongoing armed conflict in Afghanistan. The court has been examining the situation in Afghanistan since 2006.

ICC origins

The International Criminal Court began operations in 2002 and was designed to be permanent and independent of national governments as it investigated war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

While it has the support of small- and medium-power states, world powers such as the United States, Russia and China have been reluctant to sign on. The United States has specifically passed legislation prohibiting U.S. support of the ICC. Those laws authorize Washington to use “any means necessary” to repatriate U.S. citizens detained by the court.

The U.S. also has diplomatic immunity agreements with some nations in which they agree not to turn U.S. citizens over to the ICC. The court is investigating situations in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, Kenya, Libya, Mali and Uganda.

The ICC Office of the Prosecutor is conducting preliminary examinations in nine other situations: Afghanistan; Colombia; Gabon; Guinea; Iraq/the United Kingdom; Nigeria; Palestine; registered vessels of Comoros, Greece, and Cambodia; and Ukraine.

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UN Calls on Social Media Giants to Control Platforms Used to Lure African Migrants

The U.N. migration agency called on social media giants Friday to make it harder for people smugglers to use their platforms to lure West African migrants to Libya where they can face detention, torture, slavery or death.

The smugglers often use Facebook to reach would-be migrants with false promises of jobs in Europe, International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Leonard Doyle said.

When migrants are tortured, video is also sometimes sent back to their families over WhatsApp, as a means of extortion, he said.

“We really … ask social media companies to step up and behave in a responsible way when people are being lured to deaths, to their torture,” Doyle told a Geneva news briefing.

There were no immediate replies from Facebook or WhatsApp to requests by Reuters for comment.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Europe since 2014, and 3,091 have died en route this year alone, many after passing through Libya.

This year, 165,000 migrants have entered Europe, about 100,000 fewer than all of last year, but the influx has presented a political problem for European countries.

Who ‘polices’ pages?

IOM has been in discussions with social media providers about its concerns, Doyle said, adding: “And so far to very little effect. What they say is, ‘Please tell us the pages and we will shut them down.’

“It is not our job to police Facebook’s pages. Facebook should police its own pages,” he said.

Africa represents a big and expanding market for social media, but many people are unemployed and vulnerable, he said.

“Facebook is pushing out, seeking market share across West Africa and pushing out so-called free basics, which allows … a ‘dumb phone’ to get access to Facebook. So you are one click from the smuggler, one click from the lies,” he said.

Social media companies are “giving a turbocharged communications channel to criminals, to smugglers, to traffickers, to exploiters,” he added.

Images broadcast by CNN last month appeared to show migrants being auctioned off as slaves by Libyan traffickers. This sparked anger in Europe and Africa and highlighted the risks migrants face.

Doyle called for social media companies to invest in civic-minded media outreach and noted that on Google, pop-up windows appear if a user is looking at pornography images, to warn of danger or criminality.

The IOM has helped 13,000 migrants to return voluntarily to Nigeria, Guinea and other countries from Libya this year. It provides them with transport and pocket money and documents their often harrowing testimonies.

Doyle said it was currently repatriating 4,000 migrants to Niger. Switzerland said Friday that it was willing to take in up to 80 refugees in Libya in need of protection, among 5,000 who the U.N. refugee agency says are in a precarious position.

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US Presses Russia About Compliance with Landmark Nuclear Treaty

The United States says it is reviewing military, economic and diplomatic options to compel Russia to return to compliance with the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

The State Department marked the 30th anniversary of the Cold War-era treaty, which is set to expire Friday. 

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert released a statement saying the pivotal agreement, which has been a pillar of international security, is now under threat.

“The Russian Federation has taken steps to develop, test and deploy a ground-launched cruise missile system that can fly to ranges prohibited by the INF Treaty,” Nauert said. “In 2014, the United States declared the Russian federation in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty. Despite repeated U.S. efforts to engage the Russian Federation on this issue, Russian officials have so far refused to discuss the violation in any meaningful way or refute the information provided by the United States.”

She stressed the U.S. is still fully committed to the treaty, which eliminates an entire class of nuclear weapons, but said Russia needs to get back in compliance.

“The administration firmly believes, however, that the United States cannot stand still while the Russian Federation continues to develop military systems in violation of the treaty. While the United States will continue to pursue a diplomatic solution, we are now pursuing economic and military measures intended to induce the Russian Federation to return to compliance,” Nauert said.

“This includes a review of military concepts and options, including options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems, which would enable the United States to defend ourselves and our allies, should the Russian Federation not return to compliance,” she added.

She said these actions would not violate U.S. compliance.

Russian response

Russia has long denied that is violating the accord. The Russian Foreign Ministry also put out a statement Friday, saying it is prepared to hold talks with the U.S. to save the INF treaty, and would comply with its obligations as long as the U.S. does the same.

In the statement, Russia said it is willing to negotiate, but added “the language of ultimatums” and attempts to impose sanctions are unacceptable.

The Arms Control Association said the INF Treaty required the United States and the Soviet Union to “eliminate and permanently forswear” all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

The treaty marked the first time the two superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and utilize extensive, on-site inspections for verification. 

Russian state media are reporting that the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, has called on U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to personally take charge of the situation to prevent the collapse of the treaty, which he signed with then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan 30 years ago.

Gorbachev said a collapse of the treaty would have “very heavy consequences.”

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White House: Trump Senior Aide Dina Powell to Resign Early Next Year

U.S. President Donald Trump’s deputy national security adviser, Dina Powell, plans to resign early next year and return to her home in New York, the White House said on Friday.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Powell, a key player in U.S. diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, had always planned to stay one year at the Trump White House.

Powell could be one of several administration officials to leave at the one-year mark of Trump’s presidency. Speculation has centered on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who officials say could be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and top economic adviser Gary Cohn may possibly leave also.

Powell’s replacement is likely to be Nadia Schadlow, a National Security Council aide who has been working with Powell on a new U.S. national security strategy expected to be released in the next couple of weeks, a senior administration official said.

Powell has been one of Trump’s inner circle and a key aide to national security adviser H.R. McMaster. She engaged in diplomacy throughout the Middle East with Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

“Dina has done a great job for the administration and has been a valued member of the Israeli-Palestinian peace team. She will continue to play a key role in our peace efforts and we will share more details on that in the future,” Kushner said in a statement.

Trump’s move to have the United States officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has been denounced across much of the Arab world.

His team is working on a framework for a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that aides say could be released early next year.

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Net Neutrality Advocates Speak Up as FCC Set to Strike Down Rules

Net neutrality is a simple concept but a dense and often technical issue that has been argued over for years in tech and telecom circles. Now everyday folks are talking about it.

That’s because the Federal Communications Commission has scheduled a vote next week to gut Obama-era rules meant to stop broadband companies such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon from exercising more control over what people watch and see on the internet. The protests aren’t likely to stop the agency’s vote on Thursday, but activists hope the outcry will push Congress to intervene and will show support for stricter regulation down the road.

Net neutrality has been a hot button before, thanks to assists from Silicon Valley and TV host John Oliver speaking out about what they see as threats to the internet. More Hollywood celebrities have been joining the cry against the agency’s direction.

“Long live cute dog videos on YouTube! #RIPinternet. Share what you loved about The Internet,” actor Mark Ruffalo tweeted as he urged people to push Congress to intervene. Big-time Hollywood producer Shonda Rhimes tweeted a link to a story about saving net-neutrality on her lifestyle website.

Net-neutrality rules bar cable and phone companies from favoring certain websites and apps — such as their own services — and give the FCC more oversight over privacy and the activities of telecom companies. Supporters worry that repealing them would hurt startups and other companies that couldn’t afford to pay a broadband company for faster access to customers.

Critics of the rules say that they hurt investment in internet infrastructure and represent too much government involvement in business. Phone and cable companies say the rules aren’t necessary because they already support an open internet.

While libertarian and conservative think tanks and telecom trade groups have spoken up against net neutrality, everyday people have been vocal in protesting the rules’ repeal.

Since the FCC announced just before Thanksgiving that it was planning to gut the rules, there have been about 750,000 calls to Congress made through Battle for the Net, a website run by groups that advocate for net neutrality. By contrast, there were fewer than 30,000 calls in the first two weeks of November. While Congress doesn’t need to approve FCC decisions, it can overrule the agency by passing a law.

Net neutrality also has triggered discussions all over social media, even in groups that typically do not discuss tech policy. In one Facebook group about leggings seller LuLaRoe, one woman’s lament about the repeal triggered more than 270 responses. They included questions about what net neutrality was, links to explanations and statements of support. The discussion sprawled into the next day.

Meanwhile, net-neutrality supporters protested outside 700 Verizon stores Thursday, said Tim Karr, senior director of strategy for Free Press, an advocacy group involved in Battle for the Net. In midtown Manhattan, some 350 people came to chant slogans and wave signs.

“Access to a free and fair internet is necessary for a functioning democracy,” said Lauren Gruber, a writer for a branding agency who joined the New York protest. If the net-neutrality rules are repealed, she said, “it’s just another showcase of oligarchy upon America.”

Most people don’t follow what federal agencies like the FCC are doing, even though decisions can have a lot of impact on people’s lives, said Beth Leech, political science professor at Rutgers University. Having celebrities speak out can help spark people’s interest, she said.

“Protests that draw average people out into the streets across the country are relatively rare,” she said. “It’s the rarity that gives them some of their power.”

The liberal organization MoveOn is urging Americans to speak up for net neutrality. Democratic senators have called for a delay in next Thursday’s vote, while Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel urged backers to “make a ruckus.” Some Democrats are hoping that the gutting of Obama-era net neutrality rules will become a campaign rallying cry in 2018 and beyond.

“Net neutrality has the potential to motivate young and progressive voters to turn out,” said Tyler Law, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which tries to get Democrats elected to the House.

“There will be a political price to pay for those who are on the wrong side of this issue, because net neutrality’s time as a campaign issue has arrived,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a longtime net neutrality supporter, said on a call with reporters Wednesday.

Republican campaign officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The FCC’s commenting system has logged 23 million comments, compared with roughly 4 million for the last blockbuster issue — when the agency approved the net-neutrality rules in 2015. An August study by a data firm backed by the telecom industry found that 60 percent of the comments made this year supported keeping the 2015 rules.

But the commenting system has been messy. The FCC says millions of comments used temporary email accounts from, hundreds of thousands of comments came from one address in Russia and many comments were duplicates.

Some net-neutrality supporters have become intensely personal in their advocacy. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his staff have called out ugly and racist tweets and death threats. Pai also said activists came to his home to post signs that referenced his children. One man was charged in November with threatening to kill U.S. Rep. John Katko and his family if the New York Republican didn’t support net neutrality.

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Bangladesh Asks NY Fed to Help it Recover Stolen Millions

Bangladesh’s central bank has asked the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to join a lawsuit it plans to file against a Philippines bank for its role in one of the world’s biggest cyber-heists, several sources said.

The Fed has yet to respond formally, but there is no indication it would join the suit.

Unidentified hackers stole $81 million from Bangladesh Bank’s account at the New York Fed in February last year, using fraudulent orders on the SWIFT payments system. The money was sent to accounts at Manila-based Rizal Commercial Banking Corp and then disappeared into the casino industry in the Philippines.

Nearly two years later, there is no word on who was responsible, and Bangladesh Bank has been able to retrieve only about $15 million, mostly from a Manila junket operator.

​Legal action discussed

Officials from Bangladesh Bank and the New York Fed spoke about legal action against RCBC in a conference call last month that was also attended by two representatives from SWIFT, according to three sources in Dhaka who had direct knowledge of the conversations.

It was agreed that Bangladesh Bank would send a proposal on the suit to the New York Fed, they said.

“The aim is to file a case by March-April in New York,” said one of the sources. “Work is on. Bangladesh Bank is likely to send something to the Fed soon.”

The source said the idea was it would be a civil suit to recover the money, and that Bangladesh hoped the Fed and SWIFT would be joint petitioners.

Subhankar Saha, a spokesman for Bangladesh Bank, said he had no knowledge of any plans to sue RCBC but that “efforts are on to recover the entire stolen money.”

The New York Fed and SWIFT declined comment.

A source familiar with the New York Fed’s thinking confirmed that Bangladesh Bank’s external counsel raised the idea of filing a suit against RCBC in the call.

The New York Fed officials agreed to review any proposal Bangladesh Bank wrote up, but they did not formally agree to a joint effort, and have not since worked on it nor heard from Bangladesh Bank, the source said.

​Rogue employees

RCBC has blamed rogue employees, and Philippine prosecutors have filed money-laundering charges against a former RCBC bank manager and four people who owned the bank accounts where the funds were sent, but are not identifiable because the accounts were in fake names. They are the only people to be formally cited in association with the crime.

Bangladeshi officials have cited internal RCBC documents, also seen by Reuters, to assert that the Filipino bank ignored suspicions raised by some RCBC officials when the money was first remitted to the accounts on Feb. 5, 2016, and then delayed acting on requests from RCBC’s head office to freeze the funds on Feb. 9.

RCBC did not respond to requests for comment. But it has said in the past that it would not pay any compensation and that Bangladesh Bank bore responsibility for the theft since it was negligent.

RCBC was fined a record 1 billion Philippine pesos ($20 million) by the country’s central bank last year for its failure to prevent the movement of the stolen money through it.

Separately, a Bangladesh court has sent letters rogatory to the United States seeking the findings of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into the case, said the main police investigator in Dhaka. Letters rogatory are documents used to obtain judicial assistance from foreign courts.

“We have questions for the Federal Reserve Bank, we want to collect the FBI report, what their findings are,” Molla Nazrul Islam, a special superintendent of police in Bangladesh, told Reuters this week.

An FBI spokeswoman said the agency could not comment on ongoing cases.

A hacking group called Lazarus that is believed to have connections to North Korea has been linked to the Bangladesh cyberheist, and some U.S. officials said earlier this year that prosecutors were building a case against Pyongyang. But no case has yet been filed.

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Trump Presses for Tax Cut Victory as Russia Probe Intensifies

President Donald Trump is counting on congressional Republicans to enact a package of tax cuts in the coming weeks, in the process delivering his first major legislative achievement since taking office in January. 

But even as Trump and his Republican allies close in on the goal of passing tax reform, the Russia investigation continues to be a major distraction.

The recent plea deal between Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and the office of special counsel Robert Mueller sent shockwaves around Washington and at the very least seemed to indicate the Russia probe is a long way from being completed.

WATCH: Trump Presses for Victory on Taxes as Russia Probe Continues

Banking on tax cuts

Trump is banking on a tax cut victory to shore up his political base and show supporters and detractors alike that he is a man of his word when it comes to delivering on his campaign promises. 

House and Senate negotiators are now working to resolve differences in the two versions with hopes of final votes in the coming weeks. But even if the tax plan is enacted into law, its impact is not likely to be felt for at least a year. And polls show the plan has less than majority support.

Trump insists the tax cuts will lead to economic growth and more jobs.

“I will tell you this is in a nonbraggadocio way,” Trump told supporters in Missouri recently. “There has never been a 10-month president that has accomplished what we have accomplished. That I can tell you.” 

Democrats oppose the tax plan but lack the votes to stop it.

“It rewards the rich in terms of individuals and corporations at the expense of tens of millions of working middle class families in our country,” warned House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

​Base sticks with Trump

Despite his poor standing in national polls, just less than 40 percent approval in most surveys, Trump’s base is largely sticking with him. The latest American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 84 percent of Republicans continue to back the president.

“Among members of his own party, his standing is quite good,” said PRRI CEO Robert Jones, who announced the findings this week at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “He enjoys the support of 8 in 10 (Republicans) with significant numbers saying, in fact, that there is virtually nothing he could do to lose their support.”

Fueled by fear

Analysts say Trump’s hold on his supporters began during last year’s Republican primaries and remains strong. Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center has written extensively over the years about Republican voters.

Olsen argues that Trump’s supporters are fueled by a sense of fear of economic and societal factors out of their control.

“These people were afraid of losing their economic and cultural place in American life and they wanted it back,” Olsen said. “So Donald Trump rockets to the top of the Republican primary largely on the backs of this sort of fear.”

Democratic hopes

Democrats won recent elections in Virginia and New Jersey largely on the basis of strong turnout from anti-Trump voters, fueling hope among the Trump opposition that Republicans may be facing some major defeats in next year’s midterm congressional elections.

But even liberal analysts like Joy Reid of MSNBC believe Trump’s base remains loyal to him.

“And so I think for Democrats who are realty kind of obsessed with this idea of converting Trump voters over, I’m not sure that that can be done, because I think for a lot of people, Trump is their Obama, and he has a cultural power over at least a third of the country that I don’t think anything can break,” Reid said. She was one of several people who spoke at a recent panel discussion at Brookings.

Midterms looming

And in looking ahead to next year’s midterms, Trump’s low overall approval ratings could prove to be a drag for Republican candidates.

“If the president is in the same place as he is today at 38 or 39 percent job approval ratings, then that midterm election is probably not going to go well for Republicans,” said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. “They are going to lose seats in the House of Representatives, maybe endangering their majority.”

Given what appears to be a unified Republican front on the tax cut bill now under consideration, Republicans seem to believe that the best way to protect themselves in next year’s election is to enact the president’s agenda.

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FBI Chief Defends Agency Following Sharp Criticism by Trump

In his first public comments since President Donald Trump sharply criticized the FBI on Twitter, Director Christopher Wray Thursday vigorously defended his agency as it came under fire from some lawmakers on a congressional oversight panel. Lawmakers questioned the impartiality of the nation’s top law enforcement agency as it investigates Russian election meddling and possible ties to the Trump campaign. VOA’s Congressional reporter Katherine Gypson has more from Capitol Hill.

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Protests Against US Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital Continue Friday

Protests unleashed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital continue in the Palestinian territories and outside U.S. missions elsewhere. Dozens have been wounded in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters in the West Bank and Gaza. Muslims in other countries took to the streets Thursday in solidarity. The violence could worsen Friday when Muslims attend weekly prayers at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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