China’s Xi Pledges to Cut Auto Tariffs, Press Ahead With Reforms

China’s President Xi Jinping did not mention U.S. President Donald Trump by name or speak directly about rising trade frictions with Washington during a closely watched speech at the Boao Forum — China’s version of Davos for Asia.

But the pledges Xi made to press forward with economic reforms had everything to do with the trade dispute and President Trump’s threats to levy heavy tariffs on Chinese goods.

In his speech, Xi mentioned the phrase “opening up” 42 times. One of the key messages of his speech was that China was open for business. It was also an effort, one analyst said, to highlight a contrast between Beijing’s approach and Washington.

“I want to clearly tell everyone, China’s door for opening will not close, but will only open wider,” Xi said. “Cold war mentality and zero sum game are more and more old-fashioned and outdated. Isolationism will only hit walls.”

Car imports

In his speech, Xi said China would launch a number of landmark measures this year, including cutting tariffs on car imports, one key trade barrier President Trump has mentioned repeatedly. China places a 25 percent tariff on automobile imports, while Chinese vehicles exported to the United States are taxed by two and half percent.

Xi re-stated a pledge to open up China’s financial sector — easing restrictions — and accelerate the opening up of the insurance industry.

He also said China would restructure its State Intellectual Property Office this year to step up law enforcement, raise fines for violations and strengthen legal protections.

Xi did not give a specific timeframe, but said the reforms would take place “sooner rather than later, faster rather than slower.”

Some analysts said the pledges were nothing new and unlikely to amount to the type of concessions that the Trump administration is expecting. Others, however, said there might be enough there to at least help the two move toward sitting down to talk.

“President Xi gave the outline and the many details and the concrete measures we are still waiting to see what policies will come up in the following days,” said Zhang Yifan, an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “But he mentioned balanced trade, that means that they will address the trade surplus issue, not just with the U.S., but with all other countries.”

The United States has proposed placing tariffs on about 1,300 Chinese imports, which amounts to about $50 billion in trade. Late last week, even as he disagreed with the characterization of the dispute as a trade war, President Trump upped the stakes by asking for $100 billion more in tariffs.

China has responded with a list of its own, some 106 products that target among other things agricultural production in areas where political support for Trump was strong in the 2016 elections.

Beijing has already put a 25 percent tariff in place on pork products, in response to Trump’s earlier tariffs on steel and aluminum. And if Beijing’s recently announced tariffs go forward, soybean imports from the United States could also face a 25 percent tariff.

The impact that could have on American farmers is already raising concerns. So much so that the White House announced Monday it is drafting up a plan to protect farmers and make sure they don’t bear the brunt of Chinese retaliation.

That is why it is hard to predict just how far Xi’s remarks may go in helping the two sides resolve their differences, said Oliver Rui, a professor of international finance and accounting at the China Europe International Business School.

“The issue is very complicated. It is not just the trade imbalances between the two countries, it is also related to political issues. The mid-term elections will definitely play a role here, the attitude of the EU will also play a role here,” Rui said.

Several days ago the White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that the Trump administration is building a “coalition of the willing” to jointly take on China over its trade practices. Kudlow has not yet said which countries might be a part of that grouping, but the European Union is one likely partner.

Concern about trade practices

The United States is not the only country concerned about China’s trade practices and increasingly analysts who have been arguing against tariffs have noted that working with other countries could have an even stronger impact.

That is something that President Xi appeared to be hinting at in his speech and that might be a point of concern for Beijing.

“We should pursue the path of dialogue, not conflict, building partnerships and not alliances as we forge new paths in relations between countries,” Xi said.

This story was written by VOA’s William Ide in Beijing. Joyce Huang contributed.

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Bolton Takes Helm on US National Security at Time of Tumult

The U.S. military is bracing for a possible strike in Syria. Preparations for a high-risk North Korea summit are barreling forward. The White House staff is on edge, unsure who will be fired next, and when. And the national security team is holding its breath to see whether their new leader will be a shock to the system.

Enter John Bolton, the pugnacious former U.N. ambassador who took over Monday as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser — the third person to hold the job in barely 14 months. Trump’s selection of Bolton last month set off a guessing game in Washington as to just how much of an imprint his take-no-prisoners approach to foreign policy will have on Trump’s team, already beleaguered and exhausted after a tumultuous first year.

If Bolton had any first-day jitters, he had little time to indulge them. A daunting to-do list has awaited him, punctuated over the weekend by a suspected chemical weapons attack by Syria’s government that led Trump to start exploring potential military retaliation.

Although Bolton didn’t formally start until Monday, he was spotted entering the White House over the weekend, carrying an umbrella as he strolled down the driveway toward the West Wing on a rainy Saturday.

And on Monday, he appeared at his first Cabinet meeting, where Trump talked up his forthcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, chided China for taking advantage of the United States and condemned the “atrocious” chemical attack in Syria. Bolton didn’t speak, but was seated prominently behind Trump as reporters were briefly allowed into the meeting.

“I think he’s going to be a fantastic representative of our team,” Trump said later in the day. He pointed out the fact that Bolton was starting in the midst of an urgent situation with Syria, adding: “Interesting day.”

Inevitably, Bolton’s past statements in public jobs and as a Fox News commentator follow him into the job. At the White House press briefing Monday, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about a comment Bolton made in 2013 on Fox and Friends — he said he would have opposed an authorization to use force in Syria.

“The point of view that matters most here at the White House, as you well know, is the president’s,” Sanders replied.

Next to go?

Apprehension outside the White House about Bolton’s influence has been matched by hand-wringing in the West Wing about whose fortunes will rise and fall as the new national security adviser takes charge.

In Trump’s reality-show-infused White House, it’s become a truism that when a powerful aide departs — like the chief of staff, national security adviser or a Cabinet secretary — others who were considered aligned with that aide are often the next to go. There have been many such shake-ups, even in just the past few weeks. And Bolton, in his former jobs at the U.N. and at the State Department, developed a reputation as someone who doesn’t suffer fools quietly.

Even before Bolton started, rumors were circulating about potential exits on the national security team. The night before Bolton started, the White House said National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton would be departing, a high-profile public face of national security team. The White House said Trump thanked Anton for his service, but his departure marked another moment of upheaval in an administration marked by months of in-fighting and high-level departures.

Although it’s unclear whether Bolton will “clean house,” two U.S officials and two outside advisers to the administration said that the White House has been considering a significant staff shake-up in the part of the NSC that handles the Middle East. That comes as Trump prepares for a key decision next month on whether to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, the 2015 accord that Bolton has long derided.

Traffic cop

In the weeks since being named to the post, Bolton has quietly sought to calm concerns that he would push a more militaristic, hawkish approach on the president, considering his previously expressed support for pre-emptive military action against North Korea and regime change in Iran.

Although he stayed out of the public eye, showing deference to outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Bolton privately told some foreign embassies and influential foreign policy experts that he planned to approach the job more like a traffic cop, guiding a decision-making process in which the president can hear competing views, said individuals familiar with those conversations who weren’t authorized to discuss them and requested anonymity.

Frank Gaffney, a longtime Bolton associate and former Reagan administration official who runs the far-right think tank Center for Security Policy, said Bolton views his role as “to help the president get his program implemented.” Bolton has been “preparing his whole life to be in this job,” Gaffney said.

Yet in his 2007 book Surrender is Not an Option, Bolton reflected on his decision to take a job at the U.S. Agency for International Development after President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated rather than work at the White House, out of concern his own voice would not be heard.

“Being on the White House staff was fun,” Bolton wrote. “But I wanted ‘line’ responsibility — to manage something and to change it, not simply to be ‘staff,’ even at the White House.”

Bolton’s start comes after the tortured exit for McMaster, Trump’s second national security adviser, a three-star general who never developed a strong personal bond with the president. While the White House said McMaster’s exit had been under discussion for some time and stressed it was not due to any one incident, it came after months of speculation about his future in the administration.

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Bolton Takes Helm on US National Security at Time of Tumult

The U.S. military is bracing for a possible strike in Syria. Preparations for a high-risk North Korea summit are barreling forward. The White House staff is on edge, unsure who will be fired next, and when. And the national security team is holding its breath to see whether their new leader will be a shock to the system.

Enter John Bolton, the pugnacious former U.N. ambassador who took over Monday as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser — the third person to hold the job in barely 14 months. Trump’s selection of Bolton last month set off a guessing game in Washington as to just how much of an imprint his take-no-prisoners approach to foreign policy will have on Trump’s team, already beleaguered and exhausted after a tumultuous first year.

If Bolton had any first-day jitters, he had little time to indulge them. A daunting to-do list has awaited him, punctuated over the weekend by a suspected chemical weapons attack by Syria’s government that led Trump to start exploring potential military retaliation.

Although Bolton didn’t formally start until Monday, he was spotted entering the White House over the weekend, carrying an umbrella as he strolled down the driveway toward the West Wing on a rainy Saturday.

And on Monday, he appeared at his first Cabinet meeting, where Trump talked up his forthcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, chided China for taking advantage of the United States and condemned the “atrocious” chemical attack in Syria. Bolton didn’t speak, but was seated prominently behind Trump as reporters were briefly allowed into the meeting.

“I think he’s going to be a fantastic representative of our team,” Trump said later in the day. He pointed out the fact that Bolton was starting in the midst of an urgent situation with Syria, adding: “Interesting day.”

Inevitably, Bolton’s past statements in public jobs and as a Fox News commentator follow him into the job. At the White House press briefing Monday, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about a comment Bolton made in 2013 on Fox and Friends — he said he would have opposed an authorization to use force in Syria.

“The point of view that matters most here at the White House, as you well know, is the president’s,” Sanders replied.

Next to go?

Apprehension outside the White House about Bolton’s influence has been matched by hand-wringing in the West Wing about whose fortunes will rise and fall as the new national security adviser takes charge.

In Trump’s reality-show-infused White House, it’s become a truism that when a powerful aide departs — like the chief of staff, national security adviser or a Cabinet secretary — others who were considered aligned with that aide are often the next to go. There have been many such shake-ups, even in just the past few weeks. And Bolton, in his former jobs at the U.N. and at the State Department, developed a reputation as someone who doesn’t suffer fools quietly.

Even before Bolton started, rumors were circulating about potential exits on the national security team. The night before Bolton started, the White House said National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton would be departing, a high-profile public face of national security team. The White House said Trump thanked Anton for his service, but his departure marked another moment of upheaval in an administration marked by months of in-fighting and high-level departures.

Although it’s unclear whether Bolton will “clean house,” two U.S officials and two outside advisers to the administration said that the White House has been considering a significant staff shake-up in the part of the NSC that handles the Middle East. That comes as Trump prepares for a key decision next month on whether to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, the 2015 accord that Bolton has long derided.

Traffic cop

In the weeks since being named to the post, Bolton has quietly sought to calm concerns that he would push a more militaristic, hawkish approach on the president, considering his previously expressed support for pre-emptive military action against North Korea and regime change in Iran.

Although he stayed out of the public eye, showing deference to outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Bolton privately told some foreign embassies and influential foreign policy experts that he planned to approach the job more like a traffic cop, guiding a decision-making process in which the president can hear competing views, said individuals familiar with those conversations who weren’t authorized to discuss them and requested anonymity.

Frank Gaffney, a longtime Bolton associate and former Reagan administration official who runs the far-right think tank Center for Security Policy, said Bolton views his role as “to help the president get his program implemented.” Bolton has been “preparing his whole life to be in this job,” Gaffney said.

Yet in his 2007 book Surrender is Not an Option, Bolton reflected on his decision to take a job at the U.S. Agency for International Development after President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated rather than work at the White House, out of concern his own voice would not be heard.

“Being on the White House staff was fun,” Bolton wrote. “But I wanted ‘line’ responsibility — to manage something and to change it, not simply to be ‘staff,’ even at the White House.”

Bolton’s start comes after the tortured exit for McMaster, Trump’s second national security adviser, a three-star general who never developed a strong personal bond with the president. While the White House said McMaster’s exit had been under discussion for some time and stressed it was not due to any one incident, it came after months of speculation about his future in the administration.

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New Projects in Brazil’s Amazon? Not Without Congressional Approval, says Court

Brazil’s government has been told that development projects, including hydropower dams, in protected areas can no longer go ahead without the prior approval of lawmakers.

Last week’s ruling by the supreme court followed the use by the government in recent years of the controversial “provisional measure”, a legal instrument that allowed the president to approve projects by reducing the size of protected areas.

Campaigners said the decision should ensure the country’s forests and reserves, including the Amazon rainforest, were better protected.

“This decision puts an end to a spree of provisional measures in the name of environmental de-protection,” said Mauricio Guetta, a lawyer at Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), an advocacy group.

In recent years, the government has used the measure to open up protected areas for controversial projects, including building two of Brazil’s largest hydropower dams – the Jirau and Santo Antonio – in the Amazon.

The use of the measure to shrink protected areas with immediate effect had brought “irreversible consequences, irreversible damage to the environment,” Guetta told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

The eight-judge bench ruled unanimously that using the provisional measure to reduce the size of protected areas for any reason was unconstitutional.

 

It followed a lawsuit in which the court heard the measure had been used in 2012 to allow trees in six protected areas of the Amazon to be felled to make way for five hydropower dams.

“The (provisional measure), later converted into law, reduced the level of environmental protection by deactivating due legislative process,” supreme court justice Alexandre de Moraes said in a statement.

The court said the ruling would not affect the five hydropower plants in question because the provisional measure had already been enacted in law, and some are operating.

Guetta said the ruling meant any changes to protected areas must be first approved by law, and local communities should be properly consulted about projects planned on their land.

“The government has been trying to reduce by more than 1 million hectares the area under conservation in the southern part of Amazonas state. Now this initiative is officially vetoed because of the supreme court’s decision,” he said.

Environmentalists say increasing swaths of land, including the Amazon forest, are being felled for grazing and cropland, and for development projects.

Deforestation in the Amazon fell in the August 2016 to July 2017 monitoring period for the first time in three years, although the 6,624 square kilometers (2,557 square miles) cleared of forest remains well above the low recorded in 2012 and targets for slowing climate change.

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New Projects in Brazil’s Amazon? Not Without Congressional Approval, says Court

Brazil’s government has been told that development projects, including hydropower dams, in protected areas can no longer go ahead without the prior approval of lawmakers.

Last week’s ruling by the supreme court followed the use by the government in recent years of the controversial “provisional measure”, a legal instrument that allowed the president to approve projects by reducing the size of protected areas.

Campaigners said the decision should ensure the country’s forests and reserves, including the Amazon rainforest, were better protected.

“This decision puts an end to a spree of provisional measures in the name of environmental de-protection,” said Mauricio Guetta, a lawyer at Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), an advocacy group.

In recent years, the government has used the measure to open up protected areas for controversial projects, including building two of Brazil’s largest hydropower dams – the Jirau and Santo Antonio – in the Amazon.

The use of the measure to shrink protected areas with immediate effect had brought “irreversible consequences, irreversible damage to the environment,” Guetta told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

The eight-judge bench ruled unanimously that using the provisional measure to reduce the size of protected areas for any reason was unconstitutional.

 

It followed a lawsuit in which the court heard the measure had been used in 2012 to allow trees in six protected areas of the Amazon to be felled to make way for five hydropower dams.

“The (provisional measure), later converted into law, reduced the level of environmental protection by deactivating due legislative process,” supreme court justice Alexandre de Moraes said in a statement.

The court said the ruling would not affect the five hydropower plants in question because the provisional measure had already been enacted in law, and some are operating.

Guetta said the ruling meant any changes to protected areas must be first approved by law, and local communities should be properly consulted about projects planned on their land.

“The government has been trying to reduce by more than 1 million hectares the area under conservation in the southern part of Amazonas state. Now this initiative is officially vetoed because of the supreme court’s decision,” he said.

Environmentalists say increasing swaths of land, including the Amazon forest, are being felled for grazing and cropland, and for development projects.

Deforestation in the Amazon fell in the August 2016 to July 2017 monitoring period for the first time in three years, although the 6,624 square kilometers (2,557 square miles) cleared of forest remains well above the low recorded in 2012 and targets for slowing climate change.

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Apple: All Its Facilities Now Powered by Clean Energy

Apple on Monday said it had achieved its goal of powering all of the company’s facilities with renewable energy, a milestone that includes all of its data centers, offices and retail stores in 43 countries.

The iPhone maker also said nine suppliers had recently committed to running their operations entirely on renewable energy sources like wind and solar, bringing to 23 the total number to make such a pledge.

Major U.S. corporations such as Apple, Wal-Mart and Alphabet have become some of the country’s biggest buyers of renewable forms of energy, driving substantial growth in the wind and solar industries.

Alphabet’s Google last year purchased enough renewable energy to cover all of its electricity consumption worldwide.

Costs for solar and wind are plunging thanks to technological advances and increased global production of panels and turbines, enabling companies seeking to green their images to buy clean power at competitive prices.

“We’re not spending any more than we would have,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives, said in an interview. “We’re seeing the benefits of an increasingly competitive clean energy market.”

Renewable energy projects that provide power to Apple facilities range from large wind farms in the United States to clusters of hundreds of rooftop solar systems in Japan and Singapore. The company has also urged utilities to procure renewable energy to help power Apple’s operations.

Encouraging suppliers to follow suit in embracing 100 percent renewable energy is the next step for Apple. The suppliers that pledge to use more clean energy know they will have “a leg up” against competitors for Apple’s business, Jackson said.

“We made it clear that, over time, this will become less of a wish list and more of a requirement,” she said.

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Apple: All Its Facilities Now Powered by Clean Energy

Apple on Monday said it had achieved its goal of powering all of the company’s facilities with renewable energy, a milestone that includes all of its data centers, offices and retail stores in 43 countries.

The iPhone maker also said nine suppliers had recently committed to running their operations entirely on renewable energy sources like wind and solar, bringing to 23 the total number to make such a pledge.

Major U.S. corporations such as Apple, Wal-Mart and Alphabet have become some of the country’s biggest buyers of renewable forms of energy, driving substantial growth in the wind and solar industries.

Alphabet’s Google last year purchased enough renewable energy to cover all of its electricity consumption worldwide.

Costs for solar and wind are plunging thanks to technological advances and increased global production of panels and turbines, enabling companies seeking to green their images to buy clean power at competitive prices.

“We’re not spending any more than we would have,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives, said in an interview. “We’re seeing the benefits of an increasingly competitive clean energy market.”

Renewable energy projects that provide power to Apple facilities range from large wind farms in the United States to clusters of hundreds of rooftop solar systems in Japan and Singapore. The company has also urged utilities to procure renewable energy to help power Apple’s operations.

Encouraging suppliers to follow suit in embracing 100 percent renewable energy is the next step for Apple. The suppliers that pledge to use more clean energy know they will have “a leg up” against competitors for Apple’s business, Jackson said.

“We made it clear that, over time, this will become less of a wish list and more of a requirement,” she said.

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Duckworth Has Baby; 1st US Senator to Give Birth in Office

Senator Tammy Duckworth has given birth to a baby girl, making her the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office.

The Illinois Democrat announced she delivered her second daughter, Maile Pearl Bowlsbey, on Monday. Her office says Duckworth is recovering well and asked for privacy.

Duckworth, a 50-year-old veteran who lost her legs in the Iraq War, is one of only 10 lawmakers who have given birth while in Congress. Her first daughter, Abigail, was born in 2014.

Duckworth says Maile’s middle name is in honor of Duckworth’s husband’s great aunt, Pearl Bowlsbey Johnson, who was an Army officer and nurse in World War II.

She says she’s grateful to friends and family and “our wonderful medical teams for everything they’ve done to help us in our decades-long journey to complete our family.”

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Duckworth Has Baby; 1st US Senator to Give Birth in Office

Senator Tammy Duckworth has given birth to a baby girl, making her the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office.

The Illinois Democrat announced she delivered her second daughter, Maile Pearl Bowlsbey, on Monday. Her office says Duckworth is recovering well and asked for privacy.

Duckworth, a 50-year-old veteran who lost her legs in the Iraq War, is one of only 10 lawmakers who have given birth while in Congress. Her first daughter, Abigail, was born in 2014.

Duckworth says Maile’s middle name is in honor of Duckworth’s husband’s great aunt, Pearl Bowlsbey Johnson, who was an Army officer and nurse in World War II.

She says she’s grateful to friends and family and “our wonderful medical teams for everything they’ve done to help us in our decades-long journey to complete our family.”

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Trump’s Tendency to Go Off Script Carries Risks

President Donald Trump seems to be relying more on his gut political instincts in recent weeks.  Whether it is sending U.S. troops to the border with Mexico or imposing tariffs on Chinese goods, Trump seems to be harkening back to his roots as a presidential candidate in 2016, eager to wear the badge of a political disrupter, much as he promised on the campaign trail.

Emblematic of this shift in style, Trump literally tossed away his prepared script during a recent discussion on tax reform in West Virginia, where he continues to enjoy high approval ratings.

“You know, this was going to be my remarks. It would have taken about two minutes. But the hell with it! That would have been a little boring, a little boring,” Trump told the crowd.

Cheered by his base

The audience seemed to delight in Trump’s decision to go off script, and it stands out as a symbolic moment that seems to frame the Trump presidency. After sifting through a long list of advisers, Trump seems more eager to return to his roots as a freewheeling candidate eager to please his hardcore base of supporters.

Trump’s decision to go after China on trade is a classic example of his desire to follow through on a campaign promise popular with much of his base.

“For many years, no president wanted to go against China economically, and we are going to do it,” Trump told the crowd in West Virginia.

Trump kept up his barrage Monday on Twitter, referring to “stupid trade” with China.

​Worried about retaliation

But as China responds with trade actions of its own, some American farmers are getting nervous about where all of this might lead.

“We are looking forward to more profits this year than last year because of the tax cut. Hopefully, we don’t have to give it all away due to the tariffs,” said Iowa hog farmer Jeff Rehder.

Whether it is expressing a desire for U.S. troops to be pulled out of Syria or using them to beef up the Mexican border to stop illegal immigration, Trump appears to be listening more to his gut political instincts.

“It signifies to me that Donald Trump believes that he can run the whole shebang [administration] and that he can do it from Twitter,” said University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato via Skype. “And that includes whether it is declaring new policy or arranging for the firing of a secretary of state or any number of other things.”

Echoes of the campaign

Others see the latest shift as a natural evolution of the man who made bold promises on the campaign trail, especially his vow to be a political disrupter.

“He was a strong outsider, so I think you could argue he had to find his way. Look, I think the president is always going to be this way to some extent,” said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

Trump prefers to visit friendly states with lots of supporters, such as West Virginia, where his disruptive nature continues to play well. “He doesn’t seem tremendously interested in broadening his base for the most part,” said Michael Barone of the American Enterprise Institute. “He seems interested in pursuing policies, in rough form at least, that he advocated.”

Democrats plan a reckoning

But opposition Democrats have a different take on Trump’s reliance on his gut political instincts.

Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress said the president’s actions are helping to motivate Democrats, and that could lead to a political reckoning for Trump and his fellow Republicans in the congressional midterm elections in November.

“It seems as if Donald Trump is energizing Democrats like we haven’t seen in a very long time. And as a result of that, they are turning out in much, much higher numbers up and down the federal, state and local level.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan insists Republicans can limit the damage in November by emphasizing the Trump tax cuts. “We need to execute, we need to get our message and we need to make sure that our candidates are not massively outraised and outspent on TV,” Ryan said.

Like many Republicans, Ryan will be keeping a close eye on Trump’s public approval rating as the months tick down to the midterms. Trump’s approval has increased slightly in recent days in several polls, but his average approval is still around 41 percent, and that usually is a precursor to significant congressional losses for the party holding the White House during a midterm election.

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