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Koch Network to Spend $20 Million Touting Tax Overhaul

The political network backed by conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch plans to spend $20 million to promote the tax overhaul recently signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The investment marks an early focus of the Koch brothers’ 2018 political strategy. It comes as the conservative billionaires work to expand their sweeping efforts to promote a “free society” in America.

Charles Koch and his chief lieutenants previewed their strategy on Saturday, the first day of a three-day private donor retreat at a luxury resort in the California desert. They previously announced plans to spend between $300 million and $400 million on politics and policy heading into the midterms when the GOP’s House and Senate majorities are at stake.

‘Increase the scale … 10 fold’

At an evening welcome reception, Koch called on his biggest donors to “increase the scale and effectiveness of this network by an order of magnitude — by another 10 fold.”

“If we can do that,” he said, “I’m convinced we can change the directory of this country.”

In addition to roughly 550 donors in attendance, each pledged an annual donation to the network of at least $100,000, the guest list featured a slate of Republican elected officials: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Todd Young of Indiana, and House Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.

Despite Koch’s optimism, there was concern about the midterm elections. Historical trends suggest that GOP majorities in the House and Senate could be in jeopardy, said Tim Phillips, who leads the network’s political arm, Americans For Prosperity.

‘Energized’ left

“The left is energized,” Phillips said, noting that the party that holds the White House typically loses congressional seats in its first midterm election. “You’re going against the tide. You’re going against history.”

For now, at least, the conservative powerhouse will focus on the tax overhaul to help protect the Republican majorities. Phillips said the Koch network would host rallies and phone banks and run television and internet ads in the coming months.

“Our job is to make sure we shine a spotlight on those benefits that are occurring because of this law,” Phillips said. “Over time, that should overwhelm what has been a lot of demagoguery and rhetorical nonsense.”

Several reporters, including one from The Associated Press, were invited to attend some of the forums in the private weekend retreat. As a condition of attending, reporters were not permitted to identify any donors without their permission. No photographs were allowed.

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Trump Expected to Highlight Strong Economy in First State of the Union Address

President Donald Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday. Lawmakers and a worldwide TV audience expect to hear the president’s priorities for 2018 in domestic and foreign policy. Trump is looking to shore up public support after a controversial first year that saw a victory on tax cuts but also numerous distractions and controversies that led to historically low poll ratings. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone previews it from Washington.

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Casino Mogul Steve Wynn Resigns as Top GOP Finance Chairman

Casino mogul Steve Wynn has resigned as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee amid allegations of sexual harassment and assault.

Wynn has been a prolific Republican donor and led the RNC’s fundraising efforts during President Donald Trump’s first year.

RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement Saturday that she accepted Wynn’s resignation.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that a number of women said they were harassed or assaulted by Wynn, the chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts.

Wynn has denied the allegations.

Wynn’s resignation was first reported by Politico.


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Rebuilding US, Addressing Foreign Threats to Highlight Trump State of Union Address

During his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Donald Trump will discuss a return “to clarity about our friends and adversaries” and his efforts “to defeat terrorists around the world,” a senior administration official said Saturday.

The White House is keeping mum on specifics, but officials confirmed that North Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland was expected to be addressed.

The annual address by U.S. presidents to a joint session of Congress usually is heavily skewed toward domestic issues. Trump’s speech will be no exception. It will also be of interest to international audiences, however, as he will discuss national security, trade and immigration.

Trump also will be “emphasizing the fair and reciprocal nature of trade,” according to the official, who briefed reporters on the condition he not be further identified. Recent actions taken by the administration against China’s trade practices are likely to be mentioned. 

Push on immigration

In the days leading up to the speech, expected to last one hour, the White House is outlining Trump’s proposals on immigration reform, and officials say the president, in the State of the Union address, will call for Congress to approve them despite an initial poor reception among many lawmakers.

The speech, expected to be Trump’s most important of the year, and the one reaching the largest audience, will primarily deal with jobs and the economy, tax reform, deregulation and infrastructure.

Trump will make an appeal to lawmakers of his Republican Party and the opposition Democrats to advance his trillion-dollar infrastructure improvement plan.

“He’s going to talk about the need to replace depleted infrastructure,” according to the official, who declined to provide additional details.

Some of the White House guests invited into the chamber of the House of Representatives for the speech will personify the battle against drug addiction and the opioid crisis in America, another priority for the Trump administration.

“You can expect the president will be speaking from the heart,” said the official, who noted the address will be titled “Building a Safe, Strong and Proud America.”

Analysts have diverse expectations for the important speech.

Saying that in the first year of this presidency “the world has borne the brunt of Trump’s impulsive and inconsistent policies,” former U.S. diplomat Brett Bruen offered that the president “would be well-advised to try to reassure foreign leaders the United States will continue to be a reliable ally and honor its long-standing commitments.”

What has he learned?

Bruen, who heads the Global Situation Room consulting firm and was director of global engagement in the Obama White House, told VOA that around the world, people “want to see signs he’s learned from his mistakes, even if he won’t admit it. His message should be: ‘Year one, I wanted to break china so we could have a fresh start. Now let’s talk about what our future looks like and how we get there together.’ ”

The tone on global issues in the State of the Union will echo Trump’s most recent speech on the international stage, according to administration officials.

Addressing the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on Friday, the U.S. president contended that defending national interests does not conflict with the global order, saying he “will always put America first — just like the leaders of other countries should put their country first. But America first does not mean America alone.”

Trump in Davos reiterated his support for free and reciprocal trade, but he bluntly warned that the “United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair trade practices.”

Tuesday’s speech also will be a chance for the president to build public support at home, according to Republican Party activist and strategist Morton Blackwell of the Leadership Institute, a suburban Washington organization that provides training in campaigns, fundraising, organizing and communications for conservatives.

“I’m confident things are going to turn around in terms of the polls with respect to Republicans versus Democrats, and I think the president’s popularity is going to go up,” said Blackwell.

Low approval rating

Recent national polls show Trump’s approval rating at just below 40 percent, the lowest level for any modern president at this point in a first term.

A Democrat with a centrist public policy research organization, Jim Kessler, noted “these speeches give you a bit of time to get to reintroduce yourself to voters. A lot of voters have made up their mind about him, though.”

Kessler, senior vice president for policy at Third Way, added that Trump “is capable of giving a decent speech,” terming as excellent his address in November to South Korea’s National Assembly.

“The question is, how long does it last? What is the shelf life or the half life on that speech? Does it help him for seven days or does it help him for seven months?” asked Kessler. 

VOA’s Jim Malone contributed to this report.

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Sessions: Trump’s Immigration Plan Supports National Interest

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday threw his support behind President Donald Trump’s immigration reform proposal, announced this week ahead of schedule.

In a speech on immigration and national security in Norfolk, Virginia, Sessions said a merit-based immigration system would be in the U.S. national interest.

“It is time to put in place smarter immigration laws and start enforcing them,” Sessions said to a group of law enforcement officials. “It is time to end the lawlessness and create a system that serves the national interest.”

A merit-based system, Sessions said, “would be great for our economy. … Much more importantly, it would be the best way to ensure that our immigration system does not continue to harm our national security. Immigration is a national security issue.”

In his speech, Sessions focused on alleged links between immigration, terrorism and crime. He blamed lax migration laws for allowing terrorists into the country.

“Employers don’t roll dice when deciding who they want to hire,” he said. “Our incredible military doesn’t draw straws when deciding whom to accept. But for some reason, when we’re picking new Americans — the future of this country — our government uses a randomized lottery system and chain migration.”

​Proposal includes

“Chain migration” is a term used by some to describe a system where immigrants can sponsor family members who can later sponsor other family members to join them in the United States.

In addition to eliminating family-sponsored migration, the plan would establish a $25 billion “trust fund” for a wall along the Mexican border, providing funding for the president’s core campaign promise. That money would also be for other ports of entry and exit and enhancements to the northern border with Canada.

The proposal also calls for ending the visa lottery system for certain countries.

In Washington on Friday, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen released a statement that also supported the president’s immigration plan. She said her department “fully supports the president’s security-focused immigration framework, including funding for the border wall system, the ability to quickly remove those who break our immigration laws, and reforms to our immigration system.

“This is what DHS front-line personnel have asked for to secure our borders and maintain the integrity of our immigration system,” she said.

The White House on Thursday released the details of its Framework on Immigration Reform and Border Security, four days earlier than had been scheduled. It characterized the plan as a framework for compromise.

For the 1.8 million young immigrants living in the United States known as “Dreamers,” who were brought to the country by their families when they were still minors, there would be a long path to citizenship and with conditions.

For those recipients who have been allowed to stay in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as well as others who met the same criteria, there would be a “10- to 12-year path to citizenship with requirements for work, education and good moral character.”


On Friday, as the day before, opponents of the plan spoke out.

At Sessions’ speech in Norfolk, dozens of protesters gathered outside the library hosting the closed-door speech. Many held signs indicating their opposition to the plan: “Immigrants and refugees welcome” and “Deport racists, not dreamers.”

The group chanted: “Lies, hate and fear. One stinking year,” presumably referring to the one year that President Trump has been in office.

A statement from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Friday read, “The administration’s anti-immigrant framework is an act of staggering cowardice which attempts to hold the Dreamers hostage to a hateful anti-immigrant scheme.”

The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin, has been closely involved with the immigration talks. His statement said, “The White House claims to be compromising because the president now agrees with the overwhelming majority of Americans that Dreamers should have a pathway to citizenship. But his plan would put the administration’s entire hard-line immigration agenda — including massive cuts to legal immigration — on the backs of these young people.”

​Republican reaction

Trump’s plan drew praise from some Republican lawmakers, although no promises to follow it to the letter.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement Thursday evening saying, “I am hopeful that as discussions continue in the Senate on the subject of immigration, members on both sides of the aisle will look to this framework for guidance as they work towards an agreement.”

Some Republican hard-liners were displeased that the plan offered a concession to young immigrants.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz said, “I do not believe we should be granting a path to citizenship to anybody here illegally. … Doing so is inconsistent with the promises we made to the men and women who elected us.”

David Milliband, the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee said that, based on current trends, the U.S. is “on track to cut by three-quarters the number of refugees allowed into the country for resettlement,” in fiscal 2018, what he called “an unprecedented assault on U.S. global leadership in this area.”

“It is no exaggeration that the future of America as a home for refugees is now on the line,” Milliband said. “The administration’s determination to squeeze the life out of the refugee resettlement program will harm the lives, and life chances, of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, and it sets a terrible moral example to the rest of the world.”

The IRC resettlement assessment also found that only 13 percent of refugee arrivals in fiscal 2018 identify as Muslim, compared with 48 percent in fiscal 2017.

Pushing for vote

The White House is hoping the Senate will be able to vote on the plan early next month, before the Feb. 8 deadline for lawmakers to approve a spending bill to keep the U.S. government operating.

Many opposition Democratic Party lawmakers, as well as some from the president’s Republican Party, are opposed to voting for a long-term budget bill without a deal on immigration.

If there’s no legislation to deal with the DACA recipients by March 5, administration officials warned Thursday that they will be considered illegal immigrants and those who come into contact with immigration officers will be processed for deportation.

Steve Herman at the White House contributed to this article.

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VOA Interview: Former Envoy Richardson on Rohingya Crisis

VOA’s Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine interviewed former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson via Skype about his abrupt resignation from an international board that advises Myanmar on the Rohingya crisis.

Question: Do you prefer Ambassador Richardson or Governor Richardson?

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson: I think governor is better.

Q: Governor Richardson. First just to clarify, did you resign from the advisory board, or were you asked to leave, and more importantly, why did you leave?

Richardson: Well I resigned. They’re claiming I was fired but they were begging me to stay till the very last minute by the national security advisor. I resigned for two reasons – one, because I felt the advisory board was just whitewashing operation meant to validate the policies of the government of Myanmar. The second reason is an explosive reaction Aung San Suu Kyi had as I was trying to give her frank advice to deal fairly with the two Reuters journalist that had been imprisoned. That showed me she wasn’t interested in frank advice, and this is after thirty years of very strong friendship where we worked together for democracy. That has obviously been shattered by my resignation.

Q: Right, right. And it’s well documented you’ve have been a very good friend of Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi for many, many years and she asked you to join the council. Was she herself I know that there were two Reuters Journalist were an issue. Was she herself also disparaging the United Nations, journalists and relief workers trying to get the facts and alleviate suffering in the area?

Richardson: Yes, certainly her chairman was. But she also in various conversations has disparaged the U.N., felt the U.N. was unfair to her – the human rights investigation especially. Disparaging the international media, disparaging human rights group saying that they are all against it. These are the people that worked with her and in that transition to democracy, that were her supporters, were in essence given her the Nobel Prize. She now feels an – “us against one situation,” “an us against them situation,” and has a siege mentality right now. She’s changed.

Q: Right I was going to ask if you were sort of blind sighted and really surprised by this and do you think she’s changed now that she is in a position of power? Or does she have a blind spot when it comes to the Rohingyas?

Richardson: No, I think she’s changed as she’s assumed power. She wants to get re-elected, she’s afraid to confront the military that basically handles national security issues like treatment of refugees, like I think they’ve been responsible for the atrocities. They have participated in the mass graves issue. Finding ways instead of helping the refugees move back to Myanmar, making it more difficult. Not guaranteeing safety. And I think she’s been afraid to confront them. There is a separation of power between the military and civilian government that she has. But she’s failed to exercise more leadership to push and tell the military that they can’t keep doing this. She doesn’t have control over them. But the fact that she not only doesn’t speak out but defends them is what has made her change. And I think these caused a lot of these problems that Myanmar has with the international community.

Q: What would you say to critics who say that Aung San Suu Kyi has to walk a fine line in her power-sharing position with Myanmar’s military rulers and the public criticism of her is counter-productive?

Richardson: Well I’m a politician. I know you have to balance the existing power centers – you can’t just attack anybody. But I think she’s overdone her consent in what the military has done. In stop defending them, exercise more leadership by saying – look military, we can’t continue torturing the Rohingya. Let’s find a way to deal with these very serious problems. Instead of constantly blaming the West, the international community, and the U.N., and the United States, and Canada, and the European Union. Instead of owning up to the problem she shifts blames to everybody else fails to deal with the issue by not confronting the military. Letting them basically run amok.

Q: Right. We just got word that the advisory board is now backing the government’s plan to repatriate Rohingya refugees. What is your feeling about that?

Richardson: Well I think that’s part of the whitewash. Look the government of Bangladesh, the United Nations human rights group say that this repatriation is not ready. And this is why the government of Bangladesh has delayed the repatriation because these refugees aren’t ensured of their safety. They’re probably thinking they’re gonna end up in mass graves. They have no guarantees about their citizenship. They should be given a path to citizenship. There’s no guarantee that they’re gonna be able to go back to their homes safely. Their homes have been destroyed and they’re down so – I think this is another incidence where this is a whitewash. And just to conclude on this issue – the advisory board met with Aung San Suu Kyi secretly without me. They didn’t want me there because they didn’t want hear my candid advice. That is what broke the camel – the stroke that broke the camel’s back. They don’t want my advice – I leave. That’s why I left.

Q: Right, right. Do you think the Trump administration is doing enough to help the Rohingyas?

Richardson: Yeah, I got to say the Trump administration has spoken out for internal investigations to treat the Rohingyas properly. They came out early to release the journalist. I was briefed by the American ambassador. About a month ago, Secretary (of State Rex) Tillerson called me and told me what they were doing. Yeah I think the Trump administration – the State Department is doing well on this issue. I think as long as they keep it away from the president, they’re doing OK.

Q: What do you think it be done to get those two journalists released?

Richardson: Well there has to be more international pressure. I think Aung San Suu Kyi and the military have to say – look this is not helping us internationally. There is a way this can happen. The attorney general has pardon power. I think they should exercise this immediately. This is a nightmare for the image of the Myanmar government. Plus it’s unfair to the journalist – they were set up. They violated no official secrets laws. They didn’t disclose anything. They discovered mass graves and it was done by Rohingya and non-Rohingya people, i.e. the military. So get it over with. But I think more international pressure, but mainly the two main actors – the commander of the military and Aung San Suu Kyi to have a public or secret meeting and get this off the table. This is hurting the country enormously.

Q: Right, Right. One more if I may on North Korea. What do you think of the Trump administration’s position on that? And if you asked, you’ve done it before, you’ve been there before. Would you be willing to try and go and negotiate with the North Korean president?

Richardson: I would and I told the Trump administration I’m ready to do it but I think the way to do it is I’m not going to get mixed up in their nuclearization talks. That should be done through official channels. But I think there is soft power. I’ve offered on humanitarian grounds, find ways to exchange the recovery of American serviceman in the Korean War, Korean American family reunification issues. I think what the North and South have done on this Olympic issue makes a lot of sense, bringing athletes together. Maybe that’ll create a path for a negotiation. So I think the Trump administration – I’ll give them credit for working with China, have China put stronger sanctions. I don’t think that’s going to do the trick – I give them credit for that. I don’t give the president credit for tweeting and making policy on the go – calling on Kim Jong Un “the rocket man” and I’ve got a bigger nuclear button. I don’t like Kim Jong Un also insulting the American president. They should step aside and let their diplomats and negotiator negotiate no preconditions, just to start talks.

Q: Right. Thank you so much, ambassador. Anything else you’d like to say we didn’t cover?

Richardson: No you got it all.

Saine: Okay. Real pleasure talking to you sir.

Q: Yes. So we talked – what the State Department is doing on Myanmar. Do you think the United States should reimpose sanctions on Myanmar?

Richardson: No I don’t think so. I – sanctions, economic sanctions particularly hurt poor people. I’m very fond of the Myanmar people. I don’t think they’re responsible for this travesty. Maybe targeted sanctions on some of the military at some point. But I don’t think the international community should turn its back on Aung San Suu Kyi at this time. Now if this continues, something has to happen. I think the answer is engagement. The West – the international institutions should reach out to Aung San Suu Kyi and she should do the same. Reach some kind of accommodation. Ease tensions and find ways to feel honorably and humanely with these refugees that are being devastated right now.

Q: Right and I hope this is not too personal but do you feel like you could still have the relationship with Aung San Suu Kyi to reach back to her?

Richardson: Well I’d be prepared to be helpful but right now no. She’s probably furious at me. It’s probably going to last a long time. I don’t think I would try to get a Visa there anyway. Yeah but I love the country. I’ve been so involved with the country and her and I’ve invest a lot of my foundation activity. My activity as a diplomat. Yeah but right now no. I think there has to be a big cooling off. It may be permanent but I realize that. What I did was a small (inaudible)–that even her friends are turning on it. That she has to get a frank advice from a friend. If she’s not prepared to do that, that’s going to be bad for her and Myanmar.

Saine: Right thank you. If your ever in D.C., we would love to have you again for a sit down interview.

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US Democrats Say Key to 2018 Election Wins Is Grass-roots Action

Yasmin Radjy finished graduate studies at one of the country’s top schools, Harvard University, and began mobilizing local efforts in Virginia to elect Democratic, progressive candidates.

Radjy said she soon learned that bookwork often doesn’t equate to real life. 

“They [Harvard professors] taught me a lot of things that didn’t work in [the election of] 2016,” she said. She said a simple strategy would win the midterm elections for the opposition Democratic Party in 2018: talking to voters and listening to their concerns.

That type of grass-roots campaigning is taking place across the country, and Democratic organizers say recent local elections have shown that it works.

A transgender woman, Danica Roem, will serve in the Virginia House of Delegates after defeating a Republican incumbent. Another woman, Jennifer Carroll Foy, gave birth to premature twins during her campaign and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates with both babies still in the hospital.

Radjy said that grass-roots volunteers need to be trained to customize their pitches for non-typical candidates. “You can’t take them off the shelf and expect them to act the right way,” she said.

WATCH: Yasmin Radjy on Returning to Campaign Basics

Republican activism

President Donald Trump’s Republican Party also understands the importance of grass-roots activism, owing its current grip on power in part to the enthusiasm of tea party supporters who have advocated vigorously for conservative causes since 2009.

The movement took root as a reaction to measures introduced by then-President Barack Obama to help homeowners wiped out by the 2008 recession, and it gained strength in opposition to Democratic-sponsored legislation that gave government a larger role in the health care industry.

Tea party activists helped carry the Republicans to their unexpected success in the 2016 elections, when Trump’s earthy, populist rhetoric helped the party win not only the White House but also both chambers of Congress.

But that same rhetoric infuriated many left-leaning voters, especially women who vented their anger the day after Trump’s inauguration by staging the Women’s March of 2017, one of the largest protests in the history of the nation.

Now the energy seems to be more with the Democrats and especially women, who are running for office in unprecedented numbers. Almost 400 female candidates are running in the 2018 congressional elections.

Organizers say much of that anger has been channeled to the local level, where large numbers of liberals and especially women are running for mayoral offices, city councils and state legislatures.

The winner of any contest is “determined by the number of activists on the respective side,” acknowledged Republican Morton Blackwell, who is in his eighth four-year term as a Republican National Committee member from Virginia. 

Blackwell admitted that the Republicans have fallen behind Democrats of late and need more and better on-the-ground volunteers.

On the Democratic side, local groups like the DC Grassroots Coordinating Committee, supported by the Woman’s National Democratic Club, are holding regular meetings to teach organizers how to train grass-roots volunteers leading up to the November elections. The test for organizers is maintaining that vigor over the next 10 months.

Democratic momentum

Jean Gearon founded the Maryland-based Women’s Alliance for Democracy & Justice, a group that strives to empower women politically. Gearon said volunteers need to feel they are being effective, so her group keeps things simple.

When training her volunteers, she drafts simple scripts and gives them phone numbers, explaining everything. “Here’s what you want to say about fracking,” she gives as an example. “Here’s where you sign your name.”

Democrats still face tough odds in trying to break the Republican hold on power. After Congress passed a sweeping tax plan and Trump reached the first anniversary of his presidency, Republicans gave him an 87 percent approval rating in a Gallup Poll.

For 25 years, Guy Short, who lives in Erie, Colorado, and is vice president of fundraising with Campaign Solutions, has advised and managed Republican political campaigns and groups at all levels of government. He predicted that 2018 would be an election won with those staunch Republicans.

“We need to motivate and turn out the base,” he said. “This year, significant amounts of money are needed in order to compete in what’s a very big playing field.”

Short said Republicans were significantly ahead of Democrats in fundraising, but Blackwell said he thought Republicans would need more than money to win the midterm elections. If money were the key factor, he said, “Jeb Bush would have been the Republican nominee for president in 2016 and Hillary Clinton would have crushed Donald Trump for president.”

​Economy’s impact

Blackwell said the economy, which he predicted will improve throughout the year, would give his party a boost. “In just a few days, the paychecks of employees across the country are going to show a significant benefit [from the federal tax cut]. Ninety percent of the people are going to get more income, so that is going to have an impact.”

WATCH: Morton Blackwell on the Political Effects of the US Economy

In a January CBS News Nation Tracker survey, 67 percent said the U.S. economy was the same or doing well. Yet, 54 percent did not credit Trump with the improvement, while 46 percent said he had contributed to the economy doing well.

In the Gallup Poll, only 5 percent of Democratic voters approved of Trump’s performance. “Democrats are motivated by one thing and one thing only,” Short said, “and that is they hate Trump. That’s not enough.”

But Democrats said that’s exactly what has catapulted new candidates, new volunteers, and new voters into the spotlight.

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Trump: US Won’t Turn Blind Eye to Unfair Trade

U.S. President Donald Trump warned trading partners on Friday that Washington would no longer tolerate unfair trade, saying predatory practices were

distorting markets.

“The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair trade practices,” Trump told chief executives, bankers and political leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “We cannot have free and open trade if some countries

exploit the system at the expense of others,” he added.


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Trump Proves That in Diplomacy, Body Language as Revealing as Words

Last year it was tight-gripped hand-wrestling between Donald Trump and France’s Emmanuel Macron that attracted media attention. Neither male leader seemed to want to be the first to let go during their first face-to-face meeting in July, resulting in what was dubbed the “never-ending handshake.”

On Thursday, it was the U.S. leader’s prolonged Davos handshake with Britain’s Theresa May that excited fevered media speculation with the British press seeing it as an expression of how the recently troubled ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the United States is back on track.

The Trump-May handshake was analyzed by the European media almost as much as the grab-and-pull power pump between Trump and Macron that lasted 30-seconds and came across to some as a tussle between Alpha males. The warm handshake between the U.S. and British leaders, according to commentators, reinforced the friendly words between the two, who talked about how the two countries are joined at the hip and even the shoulder.

Tabloid newspapers in London plastered photographs of the handshake on their front-pages.

The Daily Express blazoned the question: “Has May ‘tamed’ Trump?” And the newspaper quoted a body-language expert who commented that Trump arrived for the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, “like a posturing prizefighter entering the ring but during his press conference with May he stopped showboating and looked truly respectful.”

She added that “he used direct eye contact” when he remarked at the news conference to May “rather romantically that ‘I will always be there for you – you know that’ and he produced the most normal handshake of his presidency so far.”

Britain’s Sky News also turned to a body-language expert to interpret the first meeting between the two leaders since their public clash over the president’s re-tweeting in November of a British far-right anti-Muslim campaigner, which earned a rebuke from May.

“A love-in,” pronounced the broadcaster’s satisfied Cordelia Lynch.

Handshake analysis

Why is a handshake so important? Transatlantic ties have taken on even greater importance for Britain as it struggles to shape a post-Brexit future. A trade deal with the United States could help offset the costs of leaving the European Union, Britain’s biggest trading partner, and May’s aides say a stronger alliance with America is critical to making a success of Brexit.

Hence the relief of both British officials and the country’s media at the public displays of affection between May and Trump in Davos only weeks after the U.S. leader canceled a planned trip to London next month for the official opening of a new U.S. embassy building in the British capital.

That cancellation followed a series of clashes between the pair including over Iran and intelligence leaks. The handshake was seized by the British as a public prize — an affirmation of sincerity.

But should a handshake be laden with so much importance?

Body-language has long been seen as an important element in diplomacy. “Communication is to diplomacy as blood is to the human body,” academics Christer Jönsson and Martin Hall noted in a study emphasizing that non-verbal language is as important as what is spoken during diplomatic encounters.

Body language

In 2014, USA Today revealed that the Pentagon had established a research team to study the body movements of Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders in order to better understand them, assess their sincerity and to predict their possible future actions.

According to an official with the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), “the goal is to learn about the physical movements of national leaders and determine if these can be used to gain insight about a leaders’ attitudes, mindset, etc. ONA does not make policy recommendations, so we cannot assert with any certainty how the studies have been used by policy-makers.”

France’s Macron certainly vested a lot in his handshake with Trump, admitting on French television that he viewed it as a “moment of truth.”

European officials and the continent’s media appear obsessed by Trump’s body language — more than with any other recent U.S. leader.

Some commentators say that’s because Trump’s body language appears to be more distinct and unpredictable than his predecessors.’ Others suggest it is because they are still trying to take the measure of a politician, who has upended U.S. politics and foreign policy and defied expectations and norms since he entered the race for the White House and pulled off an upset win. His governing style has been as unusual as his campaigning tactics.

A former Trump aide, Sam Nunberg, argued last year that in fact Trump invites the speculation and knows what he’s doing with body language. “I just think the president is very cognizant of the optics of what it looks like at these multi-lateral meetings with world leaders,” he told the Huffington Post website. “There is nobody who is a better showman,” he added.


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