Ken Thomas

Midterm takeaways: A split decision for Trump, Democrats

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats didn’t catch a blue wave. But they managed the next best thing: Divided government in the Trump era. House Democrats won back the majority for the first time since the 2010 elections. Helped by President Donald Trump, Republicans captured Senate seats in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota to maintain a narrow advantage. In the Great Lakes region, Democrats secured governors’ offices in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, complicating the president’s re-election campaign in an area that propelled him to victory in 2016. But Trump helped Republicans claim governors’ seats in Ohio and in Florida, where his hand-picked choice, Ron DeSantis, edged Andrew Gillum in the state’s high-profile governors’ race. The midterm elections offered something for everyone. Democrats will control the House, but Trump will point to GOP success in the Senate as proof that he defied the odds and avoided the type of midterm wipeout that afflicted his predecessor, former President Barack Obama. Yet Trump’s administration will now face intense scrutiny from House Democrats and a slew of subpoenas and document requests of his Cabinet — not to mention a renewed push for the president’s tax returns. And as special counsel Robert Mueller presses forward with the Russia investigation, the most liberal members of the Democratic caucus are expected to sound the alarm for the president’s impeachment. Some takeaways from the election: Political polarization Democrats posted gains in House seats representing the nation’s suburbs, with many college-educated women turned off by Trump’s first two years. Republicans strengthened their grip on the country’s rural and exurban areas, helping them defeat red-state Senate Democrats. The results could lead to more standoffs in Congress — there’s already the possibility of a partial federal government shutdown in December over spending for Trump’s signature border wall. And the outcome will produce fewer moderate lawmakers who can straddle the divide. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat, won re-election, but he will be the exception, not the norm. Star destroyer Trump allies dealt major blows to three of the Democrats’ breakout stars of the 2018 cycle. Democrat Beto O’Rourke lost to Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas. Gillum lost his bid to become Florida’s first black governor to DeSantis, whose public support from Trump propelled the former congressman to the top of the primary field. And Stacey Abrams’ campaign to become Georgia’s governor — and the nation’s first-ever black female governor — was trailing early Nov. 7 against Brian Kemp, who was also helped along by a critical Trump endorsement. Abrams declined to concede the race, pointing to votes that still needed to be counted and suggesting a likely runoff. 2020 implications Trump has taunted the potential 2020 Democratic field as lacking any talent or the ability to give him a serious challenge. He will soon find out. Three potential candidates, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kirsten Gillibrand, all won re-election to the Senate. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey were among the most sought-after surrogates during the fall campaign. O’Rourke’s star power and massive fundraising haul generated chatter as a possible 2020 candidate — win or lose — but he said in the final days he wouldn’t run in 2020. Despite Trump’s dismissive approach, he will enter his re-election as an incumbent who lost the popular vote in 2016 and staring down key states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — now under Democratic control. Rebuilding the blue wall? After Trump won several Midwest states that had long been in the Democratic column, the party had hoped to rebuild its Midwest “blue wall.” Democrats made some progress, but just like the nature of the election, it was a split decision. Democrats picked up the governors’ offices in Michigan and Wisconsin and kept control in Pennsylvania. But Republicans won the governors’ races in Iowa and Ohio, giving Trump allies in two key presidential swing states. Remember, no Republican candidate for the presidency has ever won the election without winning Ohio. Women rule After Hillary Clinton’s defeat, more women than ever before won major-party primaries for governor, the Senate and the House this year. Tuesday’s election produced a record number of women in the House and opened the door for women to hold state offices around the country. Democratic women like Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, Cindy Axne of Iowa and Haley Stevens of Michigan helped the party flip Republican-held seats in the House. Republican Marsha Blackburn won an open Senate seat in Tennessee and the Midwest elected two female governors: Kim Reynolds of Iowa, a Republican who won a full term after succeeding Terry Branstad, Trump’s ambassador to China, and Laura Kelly of Kansas, a Democrat who defeated Republican Kris Kobach. Women voted considerably more in favor of their congressional Democratic candidate — with fewer than 4 in 10 voting for the Republican, according to VoteCast, a nationwide survey conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago. Trump the closer Trump has long prided himself on the ability of his massive rallies to generate voter turnout and enthusiasm — and it paid off for him in the final days. The president staged rallies in five states — Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri — on the final two days of the campaign, helping his cause. In Georgia, Kemp was leading Abrams in the governor’s race but no winner had been declared. Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn won an open Senate seat. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a former senator, won the race for governor. In Indiana, businessman Mike Braun ousted Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly. And Josh Hawley prevailed over Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, giving Republicans another Senate pickup. For history The night served as witness to a number of history-making breakthroughs — steps that will help make Congress younger and more diverse. In New York, 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected to Congress. Democrats Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan will be the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. Kristi Noem will become the first woman from South Dakota to serve as her state’s governor. The House will have two Native American women for the first time: New Mexico’s Deb Haaland and Kansas’ Sharice Davids, who will also become her state’s first openly LGBT candidate to hold major office. And regardless of who wins in Arizona’s competitive Senate race, the state will elect its first woman to serve in the chamber.

Trump sees mixing trade, foreign policy as good politics

WASHINGTON (AP) — When President Donald Trump pulled the plug on an upcoming trip to North Korea by his secretary of state, he pointed a finger of blame at China and the global superpower’s trade practices. In his recent trade breakthrough with Mexico, Trump praised the country’s outgoing president for his help on border security and agriculture. Both developments offered fresh evidence of how Trump has made trade policy the connective tissue that ties together different elements of his “America First” foreign policy and syncs up them with his political strategy for the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s 2016 triumph was paved in part by his support among blue-collar voters in Midwestern manufacturing states that narrowly supported him over Democrat Hillary Clinton, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. His aggressive trade tactics, epitomized by tariffs and standoffs with longtime economic partners and allies, are aimed at reversing what he has long viewed as unfair trade deals while maintaining support among largely white, working-class voters who have been hurt by the loss of manufacturing jobs. “Trump understands that economic policy is foreign policy and vice versa,” said Stephen Moore, a former Trump campaign adviser and visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation. “The most important element of foreign policy is to not just keep the world safe but to also promote America’s economic interest. That’s what Trump does — this is America First.” It’s also good politics, in Trump’s view. “It’s a populist position. But it’s also a popular position with a lot of Americans,” Moore said. As he puts a high premium on trade gains, Trump is intertwining the issue with a host of top foreign policy concerns. Trump, asked by reporters last week about North Korea living up to its commitments to denuclearize, said “part of the North Korean problem is caused by our trade disputes with China,” pointing to the U.S. trade imbalance with China. “We have to straighten out our trade relationship because too much money is being lost by us,” Trump said. “And as you know, China is the route to North Korea.” Trade has been a common refrain at the president’s rallies, where he has vowed to pursue “fair and reciprocal trade.” “We don’t want stupid trade like we had for so long,” Trump said during a rally in Duluth, Minn., in June. Trump’s second year as president has been marked by a number of trade disputes with traditional U.S. allies and global rivals alike, an approach cemented by his tweet that “trade wars are good.” He imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in March, prompting retaliation from the European Union and other American allies. Later in the month, Trump announced tariffs on China to combat what he called the theft of U.S. technology from a wide range of goods and services. China struck back with its own sanctions on a variety of U.S. products, including Midwest farm-produced soybeans in a way to hit hard against the president’s base of voters. The two sides have clashed during the spring and summer, raising the stakes in their trade fight. In late July, Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reached a temporary deal at the White House to avert tariffs on automobile imports and a ramping up of their trade dispute — although the threat still remains. After a breakthrough with Mexico, Trump’s team has been engaged in talks with Canada aimed at creating a new version of the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. While previous administrations have often used a carrot-and-stick approach to trade as a way to forge agreements, before Trump’s arrival trade agendas had emphasized multi-lateral and bilateral deals aimed at maintaining U.S. leadership around the world, promoting American values and improving human rights. This administration, by contrast, “is leveraging foreign policy tools to achieve its trade goals,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. Critics say Trump’s insistence on trade concessions could hamper his ability to move forward in other areas. On North Korea, for example, Trump has sought to turn his meeting with Kim Jong Un into a vivid example of how his unconventional style can bring longstanding U.S. adversaries to the bargaining table. But by raising China’s trade practices as essential to any progress to ensuring North Korea gets rid of its nuclear weapons, Trump runs the risk of getting bogged down in both areas — and having little to show for it. Mixing foreign policy and trade policy introduces so many variables it’s “virtually impossible to close on a precise policy decision,” said Daniel Ujczo, a trade attorney with Dickinson Wright PLLC in Columbus, Ohio. “You’re constantly chasing after the next issue as opposed to having a very targeted approach to the objective.”

Trump: Government ‘needs a good shutdown’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared May 2 the U.S. government “needs a good shutdown” this fall to fix a “mess” in the Senate, signaling on Twitter his displeasure with a bill to keep operations running. But Republican leaders and Trump himself also praised the stopgap measure as a major accomplishment and a sign of his masterful negotiating with Democrats. On the defensive, Trump and his allies issued a flurry of contradictory statements ahead of key votes in Congress on a $1.1 trillion spending bill to keep the government at full speed through September. After advocating for a future shutdown, the president hailed the budget agreement as a boost for the military, border security and other top priorities. “This is what winning looks like,” Trump said during a ceremony honoring the Air Force Academy football team. “Our Republican team had its own victory — under the radar,” Trump said, calling the bill “a clear win for the American people.” Late in the day, the White House said he would indeed sign the bill. Yet Trump’s morning tweets hardly signaled a win and came after Democrats gleefully claimed victory in denying him much of his wish list despite being the minority party. They sounded a note of defeat, blaming Senate rules for a budget plan that merited closing most government operations. But the White House then rallied to make the case to the public — and perhaps to a president who famously hates losing — that he actually had prevailed in the negotiations. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney briefed reporters twice within a few hours to adamantly declare the administration’s success. He was joined at his second briefing by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. And Trump himself used the normally non-political football ceremony to proclaim his own success. Mulvaney, criticizing Democrats for celebrating, said Trump was “frustrated with the fact that he negotiated in good faith with the Democrats and they went out and tried to spike the football to make him look bad.” Asked how the president would define a “good shutdown,” Mulvaney suggested “it would be one that fixes this town.” Trump’s embrace of such a disruptive event came days after he accused Senate Democrats of seeking that same outcome and obstructing majority Republicans during budget negotiations. Lawmakers announced Sunday they had reached an agreement to avoid a shutdown until Oct. 1 — a deal that does not include several provisions sought by Trump, including money for a border wall. It also came at the start of a week in which the House is considering a possible vote on a health care overhaul that would repeal and replace Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The spending bill was set for a House vote on May 3, when it’s likely to win widespread bipartisan support, though a host of GOP conservatives will oppose the measure, calling it a missed opportunity. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin defended the package, calling it an “important first step in the right direction” that included a “big down payment” on border security and the military. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the bill “delivers some important conservative wins.” In fact, the White House on Monday had praised the deal as a win for the nation’s military, health benefits for coal miners and other Trump priorities. But by May 2, the president sounded off on Twitter. “The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there!” He added that we “either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51 (percent). Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” That contradicted Trump’s message of less than a week ago. On April 27, Trump had tweeted that Democrats were threatening to close national parks as part of the negotiations “and shut down the government. Terrible!” He also tweeted at the time that he had promised to “rebuild our military and secure our border. Democrats want to shut down the government. Politics!” His May 2 tweets about Senate procedures came after Senate Republicans recently triggered the “nuclear option” to eliminate the 60-vote filibuster threshold for confirming Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. That change allowed the Senate to hold a final vote to approve Gorsuch with a simple majority, an approach that has not been used for legislation. Top Senate Republicans dismissed the idea of changing filibuster rules for a spending bill. “It would fundamentally change the way the Senate has worked for a very long time,” McConnell said. “We’re not going to do that.” Any future shutdown would likely cost the federal government billions of dollars. The 16-day partial shutdown in 2013 cost $24 billion, according to Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s. That included lost revenue for the national parks. “President Trump may not like what he sees in this budget deal, but it’s dangerous and irresponsible to respond by calling for a shutdown,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the spending agreement came from a “bipartisan negotiation,” adding, “The leaders — Democrat, Republican, House and Senate — work well together. And why ruin that?” Throughout the day, the White House and congressional Republicans pressed to reverse a Washington narrative that the catchall bill is a win for Democrats. Mulvaney cited a $15 billion infusion of defense spending — about half of what Trump asked for in March — as a huge win. He also claimed credit for $6 billion in war funding approved by former President Obama as a Trump win. He also cited $1.5 billion in emergency money for border security. He correctly noted that the administration succeeded in breaking the link — forged over several Obama-era spending deals — that required that any increases in military spending be matched by an equal, dollar-for-dollar increase for nondefense programs.
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