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In Alabama, Democrat Fights History, Math in Senate Race

Renegade Republican Roy Moore may be plagued by scandal, but it will take more than that to convince the voters of 44th Place North to show up for Democrat Doug Jones on Tuesday.

In a state where Democrats are used to losing, the malaise is easy to find in this African-American neighborhood in suburban Birmingham, even on the final weekend before Alabama’s high-profile Senate contest.

“A lot of people don’t vote because they think their vote don’t count,” Ebonique Jiles, 27, said after promising a Jones volunteer she would support the Democrat in Tuesday’s election. “I’ll vote regardless of whether he wins or loses.”

Delicate balancing act

With history and math working against them in deep-red Alabama, Democrats are fighting to energize a winning coalition of African-Americans and moderate Republicans — a delicate balancing act on full display Saturday as Jones and his network of volunteers canvassed the state.

Nearly 100 miles south of Birmingham, during an appearance near the staging ground for Selma’s landmark “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in 1965, Jones declared that Alabama has an opportunity to go “forward and not backward.”

“This campaign has the wind at its back because we are bringing people together from all across this state,” Jones said after a meeting at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church. “The other side is trying to divide us more than they bring people together.”

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, one of only two African-Americans in the Senate, was scheduled to appear at Jones’ side later in the day at Alabama State University. And Saturday evening, the Democrat organized two get-out-the-vote concerts expected to draw overwhelmingly white voters, including some open-minded Republicans, in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in more than a quarter century.

​Moore goes silent

Moore had no public events on Saturday, an extraordinary silence three days before the election but in line with a final-weeks strategy that featured very few public events in which he could be forced to address allegations of sexual misconduct. The former state Supreme Court judge got a big boost the night before in nearby Pensacola, Florida, where President Donald Trump encouraged voters to “get out and vote for Roy Moore.”

The 70-year-old Moore is facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, including allegations that he molested two teenage girls and pursued romantic relationships with several others while in his 30s. He has largely denied the allegations.

The explosive charges, which many Washington Republicans describe as credible, are giving Democrats a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pick up a Senate seat in the Deep South, where Republicans significantly outnumber Democrats. Even if Jones wins on Tuesday, many Democrats expect the GOP to re-claim the seat when the term expires at the end of 2020.

Tough math

Beneath Jones’ biracial and bipartisan balancing act is a complex numbers game that has vexed Alabama Democrats for decades.

The party’s core of black voters and white liberals — plus a smidgen of old-guard, more conservative “Southern Democrats” who’ve held on amid the region’s partisan shift — is worth no more than 40 percent in statewide elections. That’s been true in high-turnout elections, with former President Barack Obama twice landing between 38 and 39 percent, and the most recent governor’s race in 2014, when the Democratic nominee pulled 36 percent.

African-Americans make up about 25 percent of eligible voters, though Democratic pollster Zac McCrary said Jones needs black voters to comprise 27 percent or more of those who show up at the polls Tuesday. Jones then needs to win 1 in 3 white voters in the state, which would require capturing about 15 percent of Republicans, McCrary said.

Such dynamics are difficult to overcome, said Democratic strategist Keenan Pontoni, who managed the campaign of Georgia congressional hopeful Jon Ossoff earlier this year. Ossoff aimed for an upset in the 6th Congressional District of Georgia, but ultimately came up short in Atlanta’s Republican-leaning northern suburbs.

“The only way you win in these kinds of districts and states is a coalition that is obviously very hard to put together,” Pontoni said. “You’re going after voters who think and vote very differently.”

​Ground game

Much like Jones, Ossoff used an extensive, data-driven ground game to maximize Democratic support, while using television advertising to strike a moderate, non-partisan tone. Ossoff didn’t have a controversial opponent like Moore, but he ran against Washington dysfunction as a way to reach moderates.

On the ground in Alabama on Saturday, Jones dispatched hundreds of volunteers across the state to knock on doors to identify likely supporters in neighborhoods that featured high concentrations of African-Americans and Republicans who supported Moore’s GOP primary opponent, current Sen. Luther Strange.

Jones volunteer Dana Ellis, a 64-year-old nurse, navigated icy sidewalks in Birmingham’s Kingston neighborhood, which is overwhelmingly African-American, to ensure likely Jones supporters vote Tuesday. Unlike many states, Alabama doesn’t offer early voting.

“Roy Moore will not win if people turn out to vote,” Ellis said.

Many voters on the list provided by the campaign didn’t answer their doors Saturday morning. Those who did suggested they would support Jones, even if they didn’t know him well.

Oweda Clark, who lives just around the corner from 44th Place North, admits it’s hard being a Democrat in Alabama. But she told Ellis that she plans to vote for Jones anyway.

“I don’t like Roy Moore. I don’t like what he stands for,” she said.

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Montana Tribe Wary of Monument Offer, Seek Land’s Ownership

Even as it clashes with American Indians over reductions to national monuments in the Southwest, the Trump administration is pursuing creation of a new monument on the border of a Montana reservation where tribal officials remain wary of the idea.

The Blackfeet Indian Tribe has long fought oil and gas drilling and other development within the Badger-Two Medicine area, a mountainous expanse bordering Glacier National Park that’s sacred to the tribe.

Blackfeet Chairman Harry Barnes told The Associated Press that protection of that 200-square-mile (518-square-kilometer) area is paramount. He sees a “workable solution” in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposal to co-manage the area with the tribe, but stressed that the Blackfeet have never sought a national monument designation for the land.

“We want total return to Blackfeet ownership,” Barnes said Saturday, adding that the idea of a monument “has been proffered and advanced by others.”

Zinke says he’d seek congressional approval for the co-management proposal, part of his recommendation to create national monuments at Badger-Two Medicine and two other sites, a Civil War camp in Kentucky and the Mississippi home of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

Barnes cautioned that the tribe would be unwilling to surrender treaty rights dating to the 1800s that let its members hunt, fish and gather timber from the Badger-Two Medicine.

“The Blackfeet Tribe’s interest has always been protection of the Badger-Two Medicine,” Barnes said in an emailed response to questions from The AP. “We have fought a long time and we see it not being over yet.”

Tribe’s creation story

The Badger Two-Medicine has deep cultural significance for the Blackfeet as the site of the tribe’s creation story and a place where traditional plants are still gathered for medicinal purposes.

During the brutal winter of 1883-84, when hundreds of tribal members starved to death, others journeyed to the Badger-Two Medicine to hunt. They brought back enough food for their families to survive, said John Murray, the tribe’s historic preservation officer.

The land was part of the Blackfeet Reservation until 1896. That’s when the tribe sold it and adjacent property that would later become Glacier National Park to the U.S. government for $1.5 million, a deal some tribal members still dispute as illegitimate.

Badger-Two Medicine is now within the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Zinke’​s home state

Zinke, a former Montana congressman who grew up around Glacier National Park, recently told reporters that said he recognizes the area’s sacred value to the Blackfeet. He described the Badger-Two Medicine as “one of the special places in our country” and deserving of national monument status.

“Here is a virtually untapped area to do it right, to generate income through tourism, a greater understanding of the culture,” Zinke said on a conference call to discuss the administration’s actions on national monuments.

Informal talks on the Badger-Two Medicine are underway between the Blackfeet and Zinke’s office, Barnes said. Still, Barnes said the tribe remains united with a coalition of tribes in American Southwest that have joined with conservationists to fight Trump’s reductions to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in Utah.

Barnes said the tribe remains opposed as a “general rule” to a federal monument designation for Badger-Two Medicine. But he added the tribe was working with Zinke in hopes of securing for the Blackfeet a permanent voice in how the land is administered.

Co-management common

The co-management of lands by tribes and government agencies has occurred numerous times elsewhere in the U.S., said Martin Nie, professor of Natural Resource Policy at the University of Montana.

It’s typically a way to balance tribal claims on public lands and resources against the federal government’s oversight responsibilities, Nie said. One of the most high-profile examples is the management of salmon in the Pacific Northwest, where tribes were given greater involvement under a court order.

In the case of the Badger-Two Medicine, co-management would put the Blackfeet on more equal footing with the U.S. Forest Service, Nie said. In the past, the tribe has been forced to react to actions affecting the land, such as government oil and gas leases issued in the Badger-Two Medicine in the 1980s, against the wishes of many tribal members.

Under co-management, the Blackfeet could have a say in such decisions.

However, Nie noted that Trump’s reductions to the two Utah monuments would call into question the permanence of the Antiquities Act, the 1906 law under which presidents designate monuments, if the reductions withstand legal challenges.

Zinke also recommended reductions in Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou monuments and opening other protected land and marine areas to more fishing, logging and other activities.

 

That should give the Blackfeet pause, Nie suggested.

“Why would the Blackfeet be interested in pursuing a national monument,” he asked, “if it can be undone by a successor?”

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Trump Speaks at Opening of Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

U.S. President Donald Trump says he is “moved” by the opening of a civil rights museum in Jackson, Mississippi, where he praised civil rights leaders such as Medgar Evers and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Trump’s presence at the event was controversial among his critics, who say he has fueled the fires of racial tension in the United States. Civil rights icon and congressman John Lewis, who was scheduled to speak at the event, announced on Thursday that he would not attend because the president will be there.

Trump kept his remarks at the event low-key, speaking to an audience that included Evers’ widow, and Ben Carson, Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. To the creators of the museum, Trump said, “We are truly grateful … we admire you.”

Trump took special note of pastors like King, who he said “started the civil rights movement.” Of the civil rights leaders profiled in the museum and their peers, Trump said, “We strive to be worthy of their sacrifice.”

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a supporter of Trump who invited the president, welcomed the president to the podium by saying, “What a wonderful day this is for us all.”  He said this week Trump’s attendance will draw global attention and provide the museums with a key boost.

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum offers a stark look at the often bloody struggle for civil rights in the American South from 1945 through 1976. Exhibits include such weapons of terror and hate as a Ku Klux Klan cross and the gun used to murder Medgar Evers.

There also is a Museum of Mississippi History, which provides a 15,000-year review of the state’s history from prehistoric times to present day. The two distinct museums under a single roof both open Saturday, the day before the 200th anniversary of Mississippi becoming the 20th state.

“President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum,” Lewis said in a statement. “President Trump’s disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants, and National Football League players disrespect the efforts of Fannie Lou Hamer … Medgar Evers, Robert Clark, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and countless others who have given their all for Mississippi to be a better place.”

Lewis, who is 77 years old, worked with Martin Luther King, led the civil rights march on Selma, and spoke at the March on Washington in 1963. For the last 21 years, he has represented the state of Georgia in the House of Representatives. He was scheduled to be one of the main speakers Saturday.

The White House said it was “unfortunate” that Lewis would not be at the opening.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said the president “has always condemned racism, violence and bigotry and hatred in all forms. We stand by that.”

The president has come under criticism from some for his reluctance to condemn the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer. He also has been relentless in his criticism of the silent, bent knee protests during the national anthem staged by NFL players in their attempt to bring national focus to the police brutality directed on African American men.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of assassinated Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers, was also one of the featured speakers at the opening event. Evers-Williams has said she would address Trump’s presence, although the president may be gone by the time she speaks.

Derrick Johnson, the NAACP president, told CNN that he will not attend the opening either. Johnson said Trump’s presence at the museum is “an affront to those individuals who fought for voting rights to ensure that people had quality education and access to health care …Those are principles this President does not support.”

The White House said Trump hopes others will be there to acknowledge “the movement was about removing barriers and unifying Americans of all backgrounds.”

Some African Americans, although opposed to Trump, were going to attend anyway. The Rev. C.J. Rhodes, a prominent clergyman and son of one of the state’s top voting rights lawyers, said he would be there. He said Trump sharing the day is part of Mississippi’s “complicated, complex, conflicted narrative.”

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Capitol Hill Comes to Terms With Sexual Harassment Debate

From Hollywood to major media outlets, high-profile men are stepping down or being fired from their jobs for alleged sexual misconduct. The issue is now making headlines at the U.S. Capitol, where a wave of allegations is forcing out U.S. lawmakers from both political parties. VOA’s Congressional reporter Katherine Gypson has the latest from Capitol Hill.

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Protesters Lash Out at Trump Across Muslim World

Large crowds of protesters across the Muslim world staged anti-U.S. marches Friday after the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with protests in Gaza leading to the death of one Palestinian man.

The Palestinian, Mahmoud al-Masri, 30, was killed by Israeli soldiers during clashes along the Israel-Gaza border after Palestinians called for a “Day of Rage” to protest the U.S. action. The Israeli military confirmed that it shot two people in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, accusing them of being “main instigators” of “violent riots.”

Israeli warplanes also struck Hamas military targets in Gaza in response to a rocket fired from the area. The Palestinian health ministry said at least 15 people were injured in the strikes.

Demonstrations also took place Friday in Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Pakistan, Lebanon, Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

The Arab League, comprised of nearly two dozen countries, will meet Saturday in an effort to create a joint position on the matter.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the United States plans to move its embassy there. Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its capital. The Palestinians want the eastern part of Jerusalem for its capital of a future independent state.

​Holy sites

Israel has added additional security forces in Jerusalem. In the past, Israel has imposed age restrictions at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound where violence often erupts during tense times.

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said, “We have no indication there will be disturbances on the mount, therefore there is no age restriction. If there will be disturbances, then we will respond immediately.”

The site is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. It is the holiest Jewish site and the third holiest in Islam.

The Islamist group Hamas, meanwhile, has called for an uprising against Israel.

​Decade of diplomacy defied

Trump’s announcement defies decades of diplomacy in the quest to bring peace to Israel. Jerusalem has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the quest and it was widely believed that a solution would be reached in the peace process negotiations.

The White House on Thursday denied that the president’s announcement on moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem means his administration is pulling out of the Middle East peace process.

“In fact, in the president’s remarks, he said that we are as committed to the peace process as ever, and we want to continue to push forward in those conversations and those discussions,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters. “And hopefully the ultimate goal, I think, of all those parties is to reach a peace deal. And that’s something that the United States is very much committed to.”

No other country has immediately followed Trump’s lead in planning to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something the White House has acknowledged.

“I’m not aware of any countries that we anticipate that happening at any point soon,” Sanders said. “I’m not saying that they aren’t, but I’m not aware of them.”

The Russian ambassador in Israel, Alexander Shein, said Moscow could move its embassy to West Jerusalem “after the Palestinians and the Israelis agree on all issues of the final status of the Palestinian territories.”

The Russian foreign ministry, in a statement viewed as a surprise by Israelis, said it considers “East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

​To draw up plans

Trump, on Wednesday, said he was directing the State Department to immediately begin drawing up architectural plans for a U.S. embassy in the holy city. But the actual relocation of the U.S. embassy, however, would take years, according to White House officials.

“We have to acquire a site, we have to develop building plans, construction plans, as you point out, ensure we get the authorizations — although I do not anticipate any difficulties getting those authorizations. And then actually build an embassy,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday at a joint press conference with his French counterpart in Paris.

“So this is not something that is going to happen this year, probably not next year,” Tillerson added, also noting that Trump was careful to say in his speech Wednesday that recognition and moving the embassy do not indicate any final status for Jerusalem.

Both Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have expressed concern about the timing of Trump’s announcement, according to U.S. officials.

Asked by VOA whether the president’s declaration had been delayed at the request of the two Cabinet members in order to put into place adequate security at U.S. embassies, Sanders replied the decision was made only after “a thoughtful and responsible process” and that “components of the decision went through the full interagency process.”

Palestinian officials say Trump’s decision has disqualified the U.S. as an honest broker in the peace process. Many U.S. allies are also disagreeing with the move.

Robert Berger in Jerusalem, and Steve Herman at the White House contributed to this report.

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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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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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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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