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House Republicans Seek Permanent Tax Cuts as Elections Loom

House Republican leaders have unveiled their proposal to expand the massive tax law they hustled through Congress last year. They’re aiming to make permanent the individual tax cuts and small-business income deductions now set to expire in 2026.

 

With midterm elections barely two months away, the second crack at tax cuts outlined Monday is portrayed as championing the middle class and small businesses. Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, who heads the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is looking toward a vote on the legislation by the House this month. The solid Republican majority in the House nearly ensures passage before the November elections.

 

But prospects for the legislation in the Senate are weak, given the slim Republican majority and concern over the potential for further blowing up the deficit with a new tax cut — without corresponding new revenue sources. And even some House Republicans oppose a new tax bill.

 

The proposal also calls for new tax incentives for savings by creating a “universal savings account” for families that could be used for a range of purposes and would allow the tax-free earnings to be more easily withdrawn than is the case with existing retirement accounts. In addition, the Republican plan would allow the popular, tax-free 529 college savings accounts to also be used to pay for apprenticeship fees and home schooling expenses, as well as paying off student debt. Also, workers would be able to tap their retirement savings accounts without tax penalty to cover expenses from the birth of a child or an adoption.

 

Startup businesses would be permitted to write off more of their initial costs.

 

“This legislation is our commitment to the American worker to ensure our tax code remains the most competitive in the world,” Brady said in a statement. Making the tax cuts permanent would build on the tax law’s economic boost by adding 1.5 million new jobs and increasing wages, he said.

 

As the elections loom, polls are showing only lukewarm support among voters for the $1.5 trillion package of individual and corporate tax cuts that President Donald Trump signed into law in December as his signature legislative achievement.

 

Several Republican House members, facing tough re-election fights in high-tax, Democratic-leaning states like New York and New Jersey, voted against the tax legislation last year and would prefer to do without this new version as well.

 

The tax law that took effect Jan. 1, the most sweeping rewrite of the U.S. tax code in three decades, is estimated to add around $1.5 trillion to the ballooning deficit over 10 years. Deficit hawks as well as Democratic lawmakers — who were unanimous in opposing the tax legislation last year — are asking how the Republicans intend to pay for the extended tax cuts.

 

“After handing massive unpaid-for tax breaks to Big Pharma, Wall Street and the wealthiest 1 percent with the first GOP tax scam for the rich, House Republicans are here with more of the same,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Monday. “Republicans want to add even more to the deficit, and even more to the bank accounts of the wealthiest 1 percent.”

 

The new tax law enacted in December provides steep tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and more modest reductions for middle- and low-income individuals and families.

 

While the law slashed the corporate tax rate permanently from 35 percent to 21 percent, its tax cuts for individuals and the millions of U.S. “pass-through” businesses expire in eight years. The “pass-through” businesses funnel their income to owners and other individuals, who then pay personal income tax on those earnings, not the corporate rate. They are allowed under the new law to deduct 20 percent of the first $315,000 of their earnings.

 

Also until 2026, the tax law ended the $4,050 personal exemption for individuals and capped at $10,000 the amount of property taxes or state or local taxes that consumers can deduct on their federal returns.

 

Early this year, millions of working Americans got a boost from the tax law as they saw increases in their paychecks with less tax withheld by employers. But as Trump’s populist attacks against free trade have erupted into trade wars with China and U.S. allies, trade tensions have overshadowed the tax cuts in economically vulnerable areas of the country that depend on exports.

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House Republicans Seek Permanent Tax Cuts as Elections Loom

House Republican leaders have unveiled their proposal to expand the massive tax law they hustled through Congress last year. They’re aiming to make permanent the individual tax cuts and small-business income deductions now set to expire in 2026.

 

With midterm elections barely two months away, the second crack at tax cuts outlined Monday is portrayed as championing the middle class and small businesses. Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, who heads the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is looking toward a vote on the legislation by the House this month. The solid Republican majority in the House nearly ensures passage before the November elections.

 

But prospects for the legislation in the Senate are weak, given the slim Republican majority and concern over the potential for further blowing up the deficit with a new tax cut — without corresponding new revenue sources. And even some House Republicans oppose a new tax bill.

 

The proposal also calls for new tax incentives for savings by creating a “universal savings account” for families that could be used for a range of purposes and would allow the tax-free earnings to be more easily withdrawn than is the case with existing retirement accounts. In addition, the Republican plan would allow the popular, tax-free 529 college savings accounts to also be used to pay for apprenticeship fees and home schooling expenses, as well as paying off student debt. Also, workers would be able to tap their retirement savings accounts without tax penalty to cover expenses from the birth of a child or an adoption.

 

Startup businesses would be permitted to write off more of their initial costs.

 

“This legislation is our commitment to the American worker to ensure our tax code remains the most competitive in the world,” Brady said in a statement. Making the tax cuts permanent would build on the tax law’s economic boost by adding 1.5 million new jobs and increasing wages, he said.

 

As the elections loom, polls are showing only lukewarm support among voters for the $1.5 trillion package of individual and corporate tax cuts that President Donald Trump signed into law in December as his signature legislative achievement.

 

Several Republican House members, facing tough re-election fights in high-tax, Democratic-leaning states like New York and New Jersey, voted against the tax legislation last year and would prefer to do without this new version as well.

 

The tax law that took effect Jan. 1, the most sweeping rewrite of the U.S. tax code in three decades, is estimated to add around $1.5 trillion to the ballooning deficit over 10 years. Deficit hawks as well as Democratic lawmakers — who were unanimous in opposing the tax legislation last year — are asking how the Republicans intend to pay for the extended tax cuts.

 

“After handing massive unpaid-for tax breaks to Big Pharma, Wall Street and the wealthiest 1 percent with the first GOP tax scam for the rich, House Republicans are here with more of the same,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Monday. “Republicans want to add even more to the deficit, and even more to the bank accounts of the wealthiest 1 percent.”

 

The new tax law enacted in December provides steep tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and more modest reductions for middle- and low-income individuals and families.

 

While the law slashed the corporate tax rate permanently from 35 percent to 21 percent, its tax cuts for individuals and the millions of U.S. “pass-through” businesses expire in eight years. The “pass-through” businesses funnel their income to owners and other individuals, who then pay personal income tax on those earnings, not the corporate rate. They are allowed under the new law to deduct 20 percent of the first $315,000 of their earnings.

 

Also until 2026, the tax law ended the $4,050 personal exemption for individuals and capped at $10,000 the amount of property taxes or state or local taxes that consumers can deduct on their federal returns.

 

Early this year, millions of working Americans got a boost from the tax law as they saw increases in their paychecks with less tax withheld by employers. But as Trump’s populist attacks against free trade have erupted into trade wars with China and U.S. allies, trade tensions have overshadowed the tax cuts in economically vulnerable areas of the country that depend on exports.

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Nielsen: Election Security Among Biggest Security Threats

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says risks to election security are now among the “principal security threats” facing the country.

 

Nielsen spoke Monday at a summit on election security in suburban St. Louis. The two-day summit is focused partly on halting threats to the nation’s election infrastructure. The event includes secretaries of state from around a dozen states and other election officials.

 

The U.S. intelligence community says Russia tried to influence the 2016 election to benefit President Donald Trump. Nielsen says that while no attempts have been detected so far that match the scale of the 2016 effort, threats against election systems are “real and evolving.”

 

Nielsen says Homeland Security can offer states cost-free assistance on technical matters and risk and vulnerability assessment.

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Nielsen: Election Security Among Biggest Security Threats

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says risks to election security are now among the “principal security threats” facing the country.

 

Nielsen spoke Monday at a summit on election security in suburban St. Louis. The two-day summit is focused partly on halting threats to the nation’s election infrastructure. The event includes secretaries of state from around a dozen states and other election officials.

 

The U.S. intelligence community says Russia tried to influence the 2016 election to benefit President Donald Trump. Nielsen says that while no attempts have been detected so far that match the scale of the 2016 effort, threats against election systems are “real and evolving.”

 

Nielsen says Homeland Security can offer states cost-free assistance on technical matters and risk and vulnerability assessment.

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Official Defends Trump Plan to Revamp Endangered Species Act

A top Trump administration official on Monday defended a plan to revamp the Endangered Species Act, saying the proposed changes would result in more effective, quicker decisions on species protection.

 

Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt dismissed criticism by environmental groups that the plan would “gut” crucial protections for threatened animals and plants.

 

“That’s laughable,” he said, adding that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and other officials “respect the law” and know the law.

 

While he disagrees with critics, Bernhardt said he recognizes that any plan to change the 45-year-old law was bound to create controversy.

 

“People are passionate about the Endangered Species Act, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

 

Bernhardt told an audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation that the Obama administration too often “strayed” from the law to focus solely on species protection without regard for costs to nearby land owners or businesses.

 

“The reality is there is a cost” to listing a species as endangered or threatened, Bernhardt said. “It’s not a free choice by society.”

 

The “true costs” of the species law “are often borne by folks who just happen to be in a certain geographical area” where an endangered animal lives, he added.

 

Conservatives have long complained that the law hinders drilling, logging and other activities while failing to restore endangered species to unprotected status.

 

The Trump administration proposed a regulatory overhaul in July that would end automatic protections for threatened animals and plants and limit habitat safeguards meant to shield recovering species from harm. The proposal also opens the possibility of including cost-benefit analysis in listing decisions and makes it easier to remove a species from endangered or threatened status.

 

Democrats and some wildlife advocates said the moves would speed extinctions in the name of furthering the administration’s anti-environment agenda. Species currently under consideration for protections are considered especially at risk, including the North American wolverine and the monarch butterfly, they said.

 

David Hayes, who served as deputy interior secretary in the Obama administration, said Zinke and Trump were “pandering to fringe elements of the extraction industry that consider any protection for wildlife an unacceptable constraint on profits.”

 

The proposal comes as Republicans in Congress are pushing legislation to enact broad changes to curtail the landmark law, saying it hinders economic activities while doing little to restore species.

 

While the administration is happy to work with lawmakers from both parties, Bernhardt called major changes to the law unlikely to pass a divided Congress.

 

“The Endangered Species Act pretty much as we know it is here and will be with us,” he said. “What we’re thinking about is how can we make the law work in a way that’s good for species and good for people.”

 

Comments on the proposed changes will be accepted through Sept. 24.

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Official Defends Trump Plan to Revamp Endangered Species Act

A top Trump administration official on Monday defended a plan to revamp the Endangered Species Act, saying the proposed changes would result in more effective, quicker decisions on species protection.

 

Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt dismissed criticism by environmental groups that the plan would “gut” crucial protections for threatened animals and plants.

 

“That’s laughable,” he said, adding that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and other officials “respect the law” and know the law.

 

While he disagrees with critics, Bernhardt said he recognizes that any plan to change the 45-year-old law was bound to create controversy.

 

“People are passionate about the Endangered Species Act, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

 

Bernhardt told an audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation that the Obama administration too often “strayed” from the law to focus solely on species protection without regard for costs to nearby land owners or businesses.

 

“The reality is there is a cost” to listing a species as endangered or threatened, Bernhardt said. “It’s not a free choice by society.”

 

The “true costs” of the species law “are often borne by folks who just happen to be in a certain geographical area” where an endangered animal lives, he added.

 

Conservatives have long complained that the law hinders drilling, logging and other activities while failing to restore endangered species to unprotected status.

 

The Trump administration proposed a regulatory overhaul in July that would end automatic protections for threatened animals and plants and limit habitat safeguards meant to shield recovering species from harm. The proposal also opens the possibility of including cost-benefit analysis in listing decisions and makes it easier to remove a species from endangered or threatened status.

 

Democrats and some wildlife advocates said the moves would speed extinctions in the name of furthering the administration’s anti-environment agenda. Species currently under consideration for protections are considered especially at risk, including the North American wolverine and the monarch butterfly, they said.

 

David Hayes, who served as deputy interior secretary in the Obama administration, said Zinke and Trump were “pandering to fringe elements of the extraction industry that consider any protection for wildlife an unacceptable constraint on profits.”

 

The proposal comes as Republicans in Congress are pushing legislation to enact broad changes to curtail the landmark law, saying it hinders economic activities while doing little to restore species.

 

While the administration is happy to work with lawmakers from both parties, Bernhardt called major changes to the law unlikely to pass a divided Congress.

 

“The Endangered Species Act pretty much as we know it is here and will be with us,” he said. “What we’re thinking about is how can we make the law work in a way that’s good for species and good for people.”

 

Comments on the proposed changes will be accepted through Sept. 24.

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Nicaragua’s Ortega Ready to Meet Trump Despite US Threat

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said on Monday he is open to meeting U.S. leader Donald Trump at the United Nations later this month despite expressing concerns that the United States could launch a military intervention on his country.

More than 300 people have been killed and 2,000 injured in crackdowns by Nicaraguan police and armed groups in protests that began in April over an abortive plan by leftist Ortega’s government to reduce welfare benefits.

The United States on Sept. 5 declared Nicaragua’s civil unrest a threat to the region’s security, saying government repression of protests risked creating an overwhelming displacement of people akin to Venezuela or Syria.

“We are under threat,” Ortega told France 24 TV in an interview being broadcast on Monday. “We can’t rule out anything out as far as the U.S. is concerned. We can’t rule out a military intervention,” he said.

An advance copy of the interview was given to Reuters by the news TV channel.

U.S. government officials were not immediately available to respond to Ortega’s comments.

April’s protests escalated into broader opposition against Ortega, who has been in office since 2007. He also served as president in the 1980s when he was a notable Cold War antagonist of the United States during Nicaragua’s civil war.

Accusing the U.S. of training armed groups to stoke trouble in his country, Ortega reiterated that early elections would be detrimental to Nicaragua. The next presidential vote is due in late 2020.

Ortega said he would be prepared to meet Trump if it could be arranged.

“The idea of having a dialogue with a power like the U.S. is necessary,” said Ortega, interviewed in Spanish with English translation. “It could be an opportunity [to meet Trump] at the United Nations General Assembly [UNGA]. I’d like to go.”

The annual gathering of world leaders starts on Sept. 24 at the U.N.’s headquarters in New York.

Ortega said he was keen to restart dialogue with his opponents and had approached Spain and Germany to help play a role.

The current violence comes after years of calm in Nicaragua and is the worst since his Sandinista movement battled U.S.-backed “Contra” rebels in the 1980s.

Washington has blamed Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla leader, and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, for the situation. The U.S. has also imposed sanctions against three top Nicaraguan officials, citing human rights abuses.

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Nicaragua’s Ortega Ready to Meet Trump Despite US Threat

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said on Monday he is open to meeting U.S. leader Donald Trump at the United Nations later this month despite expressing concerns that the United States could launch a military intervention on his country.

More than 300 people have been killed and 2,000 injured in crackdowns by Nicaraguan police and armed groups in protests that began in April over an abortive plan by leftist Ortega’s government to reduce welfare benefits.

The United States on Sept. 5 declared Nicaragua’s civil unrest a threat to the region’s security, saying government repression of protests risked creating an overwhelming displacement of people akin to Venezuela or Syria.

“We are under threat,” Ortega told France 24 TV in an interview being broadcast on Monday. “We can’t rule out anything out as far as the U.S. is concerned. We can’t rule out a military intervention,” he said.

An advance copy of the interview was given to Reuters by the news TV channel.

U.S. government officials were not immediately available to respond to Ortega’s comments.

April’s protests escalated into broader opposition against Ortega, who has been in office since 2007. He also served as president in the 1980s when he was a notable Cold War antagonist of the United States during Nicaragua’s civil war.

Accusing the U.S. of training armed groups to stoke trouble in his country, Ortega reiterated that early elections would be detrimental to Nicaragua. The next presidential vote is due in late 2020.

Ortega said he would be prepared to meet Trump if it could be arranged.

“The idea of having a dialogue with a power like the U.S. is necessary,” said Ortega, interviewed in Spanish with English translation. “It could be an opportunity [to meet Trump] at the United Nations General Assembly [UNGA]. I’d like to go.”

The annual gathering of world leaders starts on Sept. 24 at the U.N.’s headquarters in New York.

Ortega said he was keen to restart dialogue with his opponents and had approached Spain and Germany to help play a role.

The current violence comes after years of calm in Nicaragua and is the worst since his Sandinista movement battled U.S.-backed “Contra” rebels in the 1980s.

Washington has blamed Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla leader, and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, for the situation. The U.S. has also imposed sanctions against three top Nicaraguan officials, citing human rights abuses.

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High Stakes as 2-Month Sprint to Election Day Begins

Control of Congress and the future of Donald Trump’s presidency are on the line as the primary season closes this week, jump-starting a two-month sprint to Election Day that will test Democrats’ ability to harness opposition to Trump and determine whether the Republican president can get his supporters to the polls.

For both parties, the stakes are exceedingly high.

After crushing defeats in 2016, Democrats open the fall campaign brimming with confidence about their prospects for retaking the House, which would give them power to open a wide swath of investigations into Trump or even launch impeachment proceedings. The outcome of the election, which features a record number of Democratic female and minority candidates, will also help shape the party’s direction heading into the 2020 presidential race.

Republicans have spent the primary season anxiously watching suburban voters, particularly women, peel away because of their disdain for Trump. The shift seems likely to cost the party in several key congressional races. Still, party leaders are optimistic that Republicans can keep control of the Senate, which could help insulate Trump from a raft of Democratic investigations.

History is not on Trump’s side. The president’s party typically suffers big losses in the first midterm election after taking office. And despite a strong economy, Republicans must also contend with the president’s sagging approval rating and the constant swirl of controversy hanging over the White House, including special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe into Russian election interference and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

Despite those headwinds, Trump is betting on himself this fall. He’s thrust himself into the center of the campaign and believes he can ramp up turnout among his ardent supporters and offset a wave of Democratic enthusiasm. Aides say he’ll spend much of the fall holding rallies in swing states.

“The great unknown is whether the president can mobilize his base to meet the enthusiasm gap that is clearly presented at this point,” said Josh Holmes, a longtime adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Because the middle won’t be there for Republicans.”

Indeed, Trump’s turbulent summer appears to have put many moderates and independents out of reach for Republican candidates, according to GOP officials. One internal GOP poll obtained by The Associated Press showed Trump’s approval rating among independents in congressional battleground districts dropped 10 points between June and August.

A GOP official who oversaw the survey attributed the drop to negative views of Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the White House’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. The official was not authorized to discuss the internal polling publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Those declines put several incumbent GOP lawmakers at risk, including Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, who represents a district in the Washington suburbs, and Rep. Erik Paulsen, whose suburban Minneapolis district has been in Republican hands since 1961.

Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take control of the House. Operatives in both parties believe at least 40 seats will be competitive in November.

Corry Bliss, who runs a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, acknowledged a “tough environment” for Republicans that could quickly become too difficult for some incumbents to overcome.

“Incumbents who wake up down in the beginning of October are not going to be able to fix it in this environment,” Bliss said. “But incumbents who go on the offense early can and will win.”

Democratic incumbents had a similar wakeup call during the primaries after New York Rep. Joe Crowley, who held a powerful leadership position in Congress, stunningly lost to 28-year-old first-time candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s among several younger minority candidates who defeated older, more established opponents, signaling a desire among many Democratic voters for generational change.

The result is a Democratic field with more women and minorities on the general-election ballot than ever before, several of whom are poised to make history if elected. Ayanna Pressley, who defeated 10-term Rep. Michael Capuano in a primary last week and is unopposed in the general election, will be the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress. Rashida Talib of Michigan is on track to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. And Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida would be their states’ first black governors if elected this fall.

Crowley said the wave that led to his own defeat will have long-term benefits for the Democratic Party if it motivates more young people and minorities to vote.

“Look at the positives for the country in terms of engagement and the activity that it’s causing and fervor that is forming,” Crowley said.

Indeed, turnout for Democrats has been high in a series of special elections that preceded the November contest. Nearly 60 Democratic challengers outraised House Republicans in the second quarter of 2018. And of the 10 Senate Democrats running for re-election in states Trump carried two years ago, only Florida Sen. Bill Nelson has been outraised by his Republican opponent.

“We’ve got real wind at our back,” said Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “The breadth and depth of the map is remarkable.”

Despite Democrats’ optimism heading into the fall, party officials concede that taking back control of the Senate may not be realistic. Unlike the competitive House races, which are being fought in territory that is increasingly favorable to Democrats, the most competitive Senate contests are in states Trump won — often decisively.

Democratic operatives are increasingly worried about Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s ability to hang on in North Dakota, a state Trump won by 36 points and visited on Friday. Democratic incumbents also face more conservative electorates in Missouri, Indiana and Montana.

Still, Democrats believe that if momentum builds through the fall and Trump’s approval rating sinks further, the party could not only hold onto its current Senate seats but also add wins in territory that has long been out of reach, including Tennessee and Texas, where Rep. Beto O’Rourke is giving Republican Sen. Ted Cruz a surprising re-election fight.

“There’s engagement and momentum like I haven’t seen since the Ann Richards days,” said Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, referring to the state’s Democratic governor in the early 1990s.

While most of the attention is on the battle for Congress, competition for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 is heating up. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is scheduled to headline the marquee fall banquet for Iowa Democrats next month.

For now, former President Barack Obama is emerging as the top Democrat making the case for the party this fall. He returned to the political fray last week imploring voters upset with Trump to show up in November.

“Just a glance at recent headlines should tell you this moment really is different,” Obama said in a speech Friday. “The stakes really are higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire.”

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High Stakes as 2-Month Sprint to Election Day Begins

Control of Congress and the future of Donald Trump’s presidency are on the line as the primary season closes this week, jump-starting a two-month sprint to Election Day that will test Democrats’ ability to harness opposition to Trump and determine whether the Republican president can get his supporters to the polls.

For both parties, the stakes are exceedingly high.

After crushing defeats in 2016, Democrats open the fall campaign brimming with confidence about their prospects for retaking the House, which would give them power to open a wide swath of investigations into Trump or even launch impeachment proceedings. The outcome of the election, which features a record number of Democratic female and minority candidates, will also help shape the party’s direction heading into the 2020 presidential race.

Republicans have spent the primary season anxiously watching suburban voters, particularly women, peel away because of their disdain for Trump. The shift seems likely to cost the party in several key congressional races. Still, party leaders are optimistic that Republicans can keep control of the Senate, which could help insulate Trump from a raft of Democratic investigations.

History is not on Trump’s side. The president’s party typically suffers big losses in the first midterm election after taking office. And despite a strong economy, Republicans must also contend with the president’s sagging approval rating and the constant swirl of controversy hanging over the White House, including special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe into Russian election interference and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

Despite those headwinds, Trump is betting on himself this fall. He’s thrust himself into the center of the campaign and believes he can ramp up turnout among his ardent supporters and offset a wave of Democratic enthusiasm. Aides say he’ll spend much of the fall holding rallies in swing states.

“The great unknown is whether the president can mobilize his base to meet the enthusiasm gap that is clearly presented at this point,” said Josh Holmes, a longtime adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Because the middle won’t be there for Republicans.”

Indeed, Trump’s turbulent summer appears to have put many moderates and independents out of reach for Republican candidates, according to GOP officials. One internal GOP poll obtained by The Associated Press showed Trump’s approval rating among independents in congressional battleground districts dropped 10 points between June and August.

A GOP official who oversaw the survey attributed the drop to negative views of Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the White House’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. The official was not authorized to discuss the internal polling publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Those declines put several incumbent GOP lawmakers at risk, including Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, who represents a district in the Washington suburbs, and Rep. Erik Paulsen, whose suburban Minneapolis district has been in Republican hands since 1961.

Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take control of the House. Operatives in both parties believe at least 40 seats will be competitive in November.

Corry Bliss, who runs a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, acknowledged a “tough environment” for Republicans that could quickly become too difficult for some incumbents to overcome.

“Incumbents who wake up down in the beginning of October are not going to be able to fix it in this environment,” Bliss said. “But incumbents who go on the offense early can and will win.”

Democratic incumbents had a similar wakeup call during the primaries after New York Rep. Joe Crowley, who held a powerful leadership position in Congress, stunningly lost to 28-year-old first-time candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s among several younger minority candidates who defeated older, more established opponents, signaling a desire among many Democratic voters for generational change.

The result is a Democratic field with more women and minorities on the general-election ballot than ever before, several of whom are poised to make history if elected. Ayanna Pressley, who defeated 10-term Rep. Michael Capuano in a primary last week and is unopposed in the general election, will be the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress. Rashida Talib of Michigan is on track to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. And Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida would be their states’ first black governors if elected this fall.

Crowley said the wave that led to his own defeat will have long-term benefits for the Democratic Party if it motivates more young people and minorities to vote.

“Look at the positives for the country in terms of engagement and the activity that it’s causing and fervor that is forming,” Crowley said.

Indeed, turnout for Democrats has been high in a series of special elections that preceded the November contest. Nearly 60 Democratic challengers outraised House Republicans in the second quarter of 2018. And of the 10 Senate Democrats running for re-election in states Trump carried two years ago, only Florida Sen. Bill Nelson has been outraised by his Republican opponent.

“We’ve got real wind at our back,” said Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “The breadth and depth of the map is remarkable.”

Despite Democrats’ optimism heading into the fall, party officials concede that taking back control of the Senate may not be realistic. Unlike the competitive House races, which are being fought in territory that is increasingly favorable to Democrats, the most competitive Senate contests are in states Trump won — often decisively.

Democratic operatives are increasingly worried about Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s ability to hang on in North Dakota, a state Trump won by 36 points and visited on Friday. Democratic incumbents also face more conservative electorates in Missouri, Indiana and Montana.

Still, Democrats believe that if momentum builds through the fall and Trump’s approval rating sinks further, the party could not only hold onto its current Senate seats but also add wins in territory that has long been out of reach, including Tennessee and Texas, where Rep. Beto O’Rourke is giving Republican Sen. Ted Cruz a surprising re-election fight.

“There’s engagement and momentum like I haven’t seen since the Ann Richards days,” said Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, referring to the state’s Democratic governor in the early 1990s.

While most of the attention is on the battle for Congress, competition for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 is heating up. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is scheduled to headline the marquee fall banquet for Iowa Democrats next month.

For now, former President Barack Obama is emerging as the top Democrat making the case for the party this fall. He returned to the political fray last week imploring voters upset with Trump to show up in November.

“Just a glance at recent headlines should tell you this moment really is different,” Obama said in a speech Friday. “The stakes really are higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire.”

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