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Trump Meets with Governors to Address Prison Reform, Recidivism   

President Donald Trump discussed prison reform with governors and state attorneys general at his New Jersey golf club Thursday, part of an effort to increase education, vocational training and other opportunities to make it less likely that inmates will commit new offenses. 

The United States has the largest prison population and the highest per-capita incarceration rate in the world. The majority of inmates are held in state facilities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

White House officals said the group represents states that have implemented reforms similar to those backed by Trump. The mostly Republican group included governors from Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Dakota, as well as attorneys general from Florida and Texas. 

Trump is pushing a bill that has passed the House of Representatives that would provide $250 million over five years to fund education, vocational training and rehabilitation programs within the federal prison system. Participating inmates get credits toward early release or serving the rest of their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement. 

The prison reform bill, “Formerly Incarcerated Re-enter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act,” is also known by its acronym the First Step Act. 

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, has been working with congressional allies to move the First Step program forward. 

First Step Act

Ryan Streeter, director of domestic policy studies with the American Enterprise Institute, said First Step uses “evidence-based interventions to help people get the kind of training they need, the attachment to the community they need, and the things that we’ve seen actually work in a research-based environment.”

He says there is growing congressional consensus on the need for sentencing reform, but initiatives have faced roadblocks. Streeter sees the legislation as an effort to ensure that when inmates reach the end of their sentences, they don’t end up back behind bars within five years, which is what happens with more than 75 percent of the prison population. 

The First Step Act is a “back end” type of prison reform, meaning it focuses on cutting prison time once people are incarcerated. A “front end” initiative focuses on reducing the amount of people sent to prison and the amount of time they spend there by making changes in the process of arrest, prosecution and sentencing.

The bill focuses solely on the federal prison system, which is only a small part of the overall U.S. prison system. Critics say the bill does not address the main causes of mass incarceration: prison sentences that are too long, and too many incarcerated people. For example, the bill would not reduce or limit mandatory minimum sentences for minor drugs offenses. 

A separate piece of legislation — a broader criminal justice reform bill co-written by senators Chuck Grassley and Richard J. Durbin — is also moving though the Senate and has received bipartisan support.

​The Washington Post is reporting that administration officials are pushing for a deal that would combine the Senate bill and the First Step Act, including provisions that would allow judges to issue sentences shorter than mandatory minimums for low-level crimes. 

The deal may face opposition from within Trump’s own administration, particularly from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has come out in strong opposition to any measures that would change mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. 

Support from minorities

Racial disparity is a huge problem in the U.S. criminal justice system. African-Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites.

 According to the Sentencing Project, 1 in every 10 black men in his 30s is in prison or jail on any given day.

Last week at the White House, Trump met with a group of urban pastors to discuss prison reform. Attendees said the president essentially came out in support of broad-based reforms to the criminal justice system.

Criminal justice reform

A number of polls, including one by the American Civil Liberties Union Campaign for Smart Justice, have shown that the majority of Americans support criminal justice reforms and believe the country’s criminal justice system needs significant improvements. 

The U.S. makes up about 5 percent of the world’s population but has 21 percent of the world’s prisoners.  According to the World Prison Brief, an online database providing information on prison systems around the world, 655 people were incarcerated in the U.S. per 100,000 population in 2016.

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Latina Press Officer Helen Aguirre Ferre Leaves White House

Helen Aguirre Ferre, one of the most prominent Latinos serving in the White House, has left her job as director of media affairs.

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said Thursday that Aguirre was taking up a new position as director for strategic communications and public affairs at the National Endowment for the Arts. She said Aguirre would start her new job in the next two weeks.

In a statement, Aguirre said she looks forward to “continuing to advance the President’s agenda in support of American communities through the National Endowment for the Arts which provides support to nonprofit cultural institutions nationwide.”

Aguirre had held the White House job since the start of the Trump administration after serving as the Republican National Committee’s director of Hispanic communications. During her tenure, the White House removed the Spanish-language content from its website, a departure from the two previous administrations.

President Donald Trump’s engagement with Latinos has been complicated. During his campaign, Trump turned off many Latinos with his harsh anti-immigration rhetoric, including disparaging Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists. He criticized rival Jeb Bush for answering a reporter’s question in Spanish, saying the former Florida governor “should really set the example by speaking English while in the United States.”

Aguirre’s departure follows that of another high-profile Latino, Carlos Diaz-Rosillo, who in June left his job at the White House as deputy assistant to the president and director of policy and interagency coordination to become a senior deputy chairman at the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Before joining the administration, Díaz-Rosillo had taught at Harvard in the Government Department. He did not reply to a message from the AP requesting comment.

The recent changes leave these Latinos serving closest to Trump: Mercedes Schlapp, White House director of strategic communications; Jennifer Korn, special assistant to the president and deputy director for the Office of Public Liaison; Juan Cruz, senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council.

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Both Trump and Democrats See Positives in Ohio Election Results

In U.S. politics, President Donald Trump and Republicans are claiming victory in a special congressional election in Ohio seen as a possible bellwether for the November midterm elections. While the race officially remains too close to call, both major political parties see encouraging signs in the results, as we hear from VOA National correspondent Jim Malone in Washington.

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Both Trump, Democrats See Positives in Ohio Election Results

President Donald Trump and his Republican supporters are claiming victory in a special congressional election in Ohio, even though officially the race remains too close to call. The race was seen by many as a possible bellwether for the midterm congressional elections in November.

Republican Troy Balderson leads Democrat Danny O’Connor by about 1,700 votes, but a few thousand provisional ballots remain to be counted.

Even if the Republican eventually emerges victorious in the Ohio race, opposition Democrats also see plenty to be optimistic about as they look ahead to the November midterms, when all 435 House seats will be at stake along with 35 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats.

​Tipping by Trump

President Trump held a rally in Ohio a few days before the voting on behalf of Balderson, and many analysts believe that may have tipped the election in Balderson’s favor.

Trump was quick to take credit on Twitter Wednesday, claiming that Balderson’s fortunes took “a big turn for the better” after his speech Saturday night. In a second tweet, the president boasted that “As long as I campaign and/or support Senate and House candidates (within reason), they will win!”

Trump also promised to campaign on behalf of Republican candidates in the midterm elections and predicted, “We will have a giant Red Wave!”

In remarks to his supporters Tuesday night, Balderson was quick to pay tribute to the president for his last-minute help.

“I’d like to thank President Trump,” Balderson said to cheers. “America is on the right path and we are going to keep it going that way.”

​Democratic surge

Balderson benefited from large campaign contributions from the Republican Party’s campaign arm to offset heavy Democratic spending in the race on behalf of Danny O’Connor.

For the most part, O’Connor tried to stay focused on economic issues and health care and was less interested in making Trump the central issue in the race.

“I heard over and over again that the people of central Ohio are sick and tired of the same old Washington politics,” O’Connor told supporters Tuesday night. “Folks want new leadership.”

O’Connor’s strong showing came in a district that Republicans have held for more than three decades and which Trump carried in the 2016 election by more than 11 points.

In his rally Saturday on behalf of Balderson, Trump laid out a template for future campaign attacks as he strove to take the focus off of him and aim squarely at opposition Democrats.

“If the Democrats get in, they are going to raise your taxes, you are going to have crime all over the place and you are going to have people pouring across the border,” Trump told supporters. “So why would that be a blue wave? I think it could be a red wave, really I think it should be a red wave.”

Warning signs

The fact that Democrat O’Connor ran a close race in a strongly Republican district, however, strikes experts as yet another warning sign for Republicans in November.

“It is more evidence that in race after race throughout this year, Republicans have been underperforming the levels that they were at in 2016, which has to spell trouble for them moving forward,” said Brookings Institution analyst John Hudak.

Balderson also received help from Ohio Governor John Kasich. On Sunday on ABC’s This Week, Kasich predicted a narrow Republican victory in the election, but he also warned that Trump remains a polarizing figure for the broader electorate.

“The chaos that seems to surround Donald Trump has unnerved a lot of people. So suburban women in particular here are the ones who are really turned off,” Kasich told ABC.

Double-edged weapon

So on one hand, the Ohio results suggest the president can tip a close race into the Republican column. 

“Oh, I believe the president does think that his ability to weigh in and endorse a candidate can have an effect,” said analyst Hudak.

But Hudak also argued that in addition to motivating his own base, Trump also is proving to be a turnout motivator for Democrats who want to show their displeasure with him.

“While his intervention or maybe Governor Kasich’s intervention or someone else’s intervention may well have made the difference in this 1,700-vote margin in Ohio, the president has probably also played a significant role in the shift from Republicans toward Democrats in a race like this.”

No matter who is declared the eventual winner of Tuesday’s special election, Balderson and O’Connor are expected to face off again in November when it is likely that Trump will once again be the pivotal issue for voters in midterm elections where the control of Congress is at stake.

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Army Suspends Discharges of Immigrant Recruits

The U.S. Army has stopped discharging immigrant recruits who enlisted seeking a path to citizenship, at least temporarily.

A memo shared with The Associated Press Wednesday and dated July 20 spells out orders to high-ranking Army officials to stop processing discharges of men and women who enlisted in the special immigrant program, effective immediately.

It was not clear how many recruits were affected by the action, and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the memo.

“Effective immediately, you will suspend processing of all involuntary separation actions,” read the memo signed by Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Marshall Williams.

Dozens of discharges 

The disclosure comes one month after the AP reported that dozens of immigrant enlistees were being discharged or their contracts were canceled. Some said they were given no reason for their discharge. Others said the Army informed them they’d been labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them.

Early last month, the Pentagon said there had been no specific policy change and that background checks were ongoing. And in mid-July, the Army reversed one discharge, for Brazilian reservist Lucas Calixto, 28, who had sued. Nonetheless, discharges of other immigrant enlistees continued. Attorneys sought to bring a class action lawsuit last week to offer protections to a broader group of reservists and recruits in the program, demanding that prior discharges be revoked and that further separations be halted.

A judge’s order references the July 20 memo, and asks the Army to clarify how it impacts the discharge status of Calixto and other plaintiffs. As part of the memo, Williams also instructed Army officials to recommend whether the military should issue further guidance related to the program.

Margaret Stock, an Alaska-based immigration attorney and a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create the immigrant recruitment program, said Wednesday the memo proves there was a policy.

“It’s an admission by the Army that they’ve improperly discharged hundreds of soldiers,” she said. “The next step should be go back and rescind the people who were improperly discharged.”

Discharged recruits and reservists reached Wednesday said their discharges were still in place as far as they knew.

One Pakistani man caught by surprise by his discharge said he was filing for asylum. He asked that his name be withheld because he fears he might be forced to return to Pakistan, where he could face danger as a former U.S. Army enlistee.

Security requirements

The reversal comes as the Defense Department has attempted to strengthen security requirements for the program, through which historically immigrants vowed to risk their lives for the promise of U.S. citizenship.

President George W. Bush ordered “expedited naturalization” for immigrant soldiers after 9/11 in an effort to swell military ranks. Seven years later the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, known as MAVNI, became an official recruiting program.

It came under fire from conservatives when President Barack Obama added DACA recipients — young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — to the list of eligible enlistees. In response, the military layered on additional security clearances for recruits to pass before heading to boot camp.

The Trump administration added even more hurdles, creating a backlog within the Defense Department. Last fall, hundreds of recruits still in the enlistment process saw their contracts canceled.

Government attorneys called the recruitment program an “elevated security risk” in another case involving 17 foreign-born military recruits who enlisted through the program but have not been able to clear additional security requirements. Some recruits had falsified their background records and were connected to state-sponsored intelligence agencies, the court filing said.

Eligible recruits are required to have legal status in the U.S., such as a student visa, before enlisting. More than 5,000 immigrants were recruited into the program in 2016, and an estimated 10,000 are currently serving. Nearly 110,000 members of the Armed Forces have gained citizenship by serving in the U.S. military since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Defense Department.

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Terms of Trump-Mueller Interview Still Being Negotiated

Fifteen months since special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to head the probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, prosecutors and lawyers for President Donald Trump are still negotiating over what questions investigators can ask the president.

News reports Wednesday quoted the president’s lawyers as saying they are trying to narrow the scope of Mueller’s questions by declining to allow the president to answer questions about possible obstruction of justice.

In an interview with CNN, Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers on the case, said the team is sending a new letter today with a counteroffer. Giuliani declined to describe the counteroffer.

The Washington Post reports Giuliani, a former New York mayor who joined the Trump legal team in April this year, said the letter will largely reject a presidential interview that would include questions about possible obstruction of justice, particularly in regard to the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

Mueller has been seeking to interview the president for months. Trump has repeatedly urged his legal team to allow him to be interviewed, believing it will give him the opportunity to clear his name. Trump’s lawyers have advised him against it, citing the fear of a “perjury trap.”

One of the defenses often invoked by Giuliani and other members of Trump’s legal team in regard to whether Trump is obstructing justice by firing Comey is Article II of the U.S. Constitution. The provision gives the president executive authority to appoint and dismiss members of his administration.

In May 2017 Trump fired Comey, who was leading the Russia investigation. The day after the firing, Trump said that Russia was on his mind when he made the decision.

Interview scope unclear

The president’s lawyers had previously offered the special counsel written answers to obstruction questions and insisted on limiting the interview to matters before Trump’s presidential inauguration.

Of particular interest to Mueller is the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., several top campaign aides, and a Russian lawyer with connections to the Kremlin.

Last weekend, Trump tweeted that the meeting’s purpose was to “get information on an opponent,” i.e. former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. He claimed that such a meeting was “totally legal” and “done all the time in politics.” Trump’s tweets are at odds with his own statements about the encounter, as well as with Trump Jr.’s statement in July 2017, saying the meeting had been mostly about issues related to Americans adopting Russian children.

Last month, Trump declared on Twitter that “collusion is not a crime,” as he continued his attacks on Mueller’s investigation. Mueller is examining Trump’s tweets and public statements to determine whether he made them with the intention to deceive investigators.

Subpoena?

If Mueller and the Trump legal team fail to reach an agreement on the interview, Mueller could resort to issuing a subpoena to the president. In an interview with ABC on Sunday, Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump’s legal team, said a subpoena would spark a legal battle that could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

In May 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

The investigation has led to the indictments of several members of Trump’s circle, including former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, as well as 12 Russian intelligence agents.

Trump has repeatedly called the Russia probe a “witch hunt.”

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Record Number of Women Seeking Seats in US Congress

A record number of women are running for the US Congress in November, a surge that follows a year marked by the #MeToo movement and defiance of President Donald Trump.

After another round of primary voting in several states on Tuesday, 183 women will fight for a seat in the House of Representatives in November’s midterm election.

“It’s official,” the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) said after the voting in Kansas, Michigan and Missouri. “We’ve broken the record for women major party nominees for US House in any year.”

Until now the record was 167.

In another record, at least 11 women are running for state governor, the advocacy group said on Twitter. Until now that number had peaked at 10, in 1994.

In June, women also set a record for how many are running for the Senate. It is 42 — 24 Democrats and 18 Republicans. The previous record was 40, set in 2016, said the CAWP.

Several women candidates in races that they have a good chance of winning are from minorities with little or no representation in Congress.

They include Rashida Tlaib, who won a Democratic primary Tuesday in Michigan and is now poised to become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress.

Several Native American women are also running for seats.

“A Native American woman has never been elected to the US Congress,” CAWP said.

The strong number of female candidates comes midway through the term of Trump, whose inauguration in January 2017 was met the next day with a huge march in Washington favor of women’s rights.

It also comes as the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment of women by men in powerful positions has marked a watershed moment in US society.

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NY Congressman Collins Arrested, Charged with Insider Trading

Federal prosecutors have filed insider trading charges against Republican Congressman Chris Collins, who was arrested and is scheduled to appear in federal court in Manhattan.

The lawmaker from New York, one of the first members of Congress to support then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election, turned himself in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation early Wednesday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York charged Collins in connection with an alleged insider trading scheme involving his investments in the Australian biotech company Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd.

Earlier this year, an Office of Congressional Ethics report said Collins may have committed a federal crime by disclosing proprietary information about the company with investors, including his son, who was also charged. The office voted unanimously to send the case to the House Ethics Committee.

His son, Cameron Collins, allegedly passed the information to another alleged conspirator, Stephen Zarsky, the father of the junior Collins’ fiancee. 

The three men are charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, securities fraud and making false statements to the FBI. They also face civil charges by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Collins served on the company’s board and owned 16.8 percent of the company’s stock. His son was also a “substantial” shareholder, prosecutors said.

Indictment details

The indictment says Collins allegedly learned in an email from Innate’s chief executive that a trial for a multiple sclerosis drug had failed. Collins then disclosed the information to his son, who passed it on to his fiancee, Zarsky and a friend. Zarsky tipped off his brother, his sister and a friend, the indictment said.

“Congressman Christopher Collins is charged with insider trading and lying to the FBI, as are his son, Cameron Collins and Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron’s fiancee,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said.  “Representative Collins, who, by virtue of his office, helps write the laws of this country, acted as if the law did not apply to him.”

The indictment also says Collins did not trade his own Innate stock, which lost millions of dollars in value, maintaining he was “virtually precluded” from doing so due, in part, to the fact he already faced a congressional ethics investigation related to his Innate holdings. Prosecutors said, however, others avoided nearly $770,000 in losses as a result of the information.

Collins’ attorneys said in a statement they “will mount a vigorous defense to clear his good name” and added, “It is notable that even the government does not allege that Congressman Collins traded a single share of Innate Therapeutics stock.”

Midterm elections

House Republican leader Paul Ryan said the allegations against Collins “demand a prompt and thorough investigation by the House Ethics Committee” and added that Collins would no longer serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee “until this matter is settled.”

Collins is running for re-election in November and has raised more than $1.3 million dollars for his re-election bid, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission. 

The three-term congressman represents a largely Republican district that most political analysts believed would not be ripe for a Democratic takeover in the November midterm elections.

Zarsky attorney Amanda Bassen declined to comment, and lawyers for Cameron Collins could not be immediately reached.

Innate, which is based in Sydney, also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Trump’s Candidate, Dem Challenger in Tight Ohio Race

Battleground Ohio was deciding the year’s final special election on Tuesday, a congressional faceoff that tested anew President Donald Trump’s political clout – and the appeal of his signature tax cuts.

The Republican president’s shadow also loomed over primary contests in four other states, none bigger than Kansas, where Trump roiled the governor’s race by opposing the GOP incumbent on the eve of the election.

In Ohio, Democratic county official Danny O’Connor was locked in a tight congressional race with Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson in a district that has been in GOP hands for decades.

The day’s races, like dozens before them, pitted Trump’s fiery supporters against the Democratic Party’s anti-Trump resistance. The results will help determine the political landscape – and Trump’s standing within his own party – just three months before the GOP defends its House and Senate majorities across the nation.

Voters in Ohio and Kansas joined those in Missouri, Michigan and Washington state. But only Ohio will send someone to Congress immediately.

The script for Ohio’s special election was somewhat familiar: An experienced Trump loyalist, Balderson, was fighting a strong challenge from O’Connor, a 31-year-old Democrat, in a congressional district held by the Republican Party for more than three decades. In an election morning tweet, Trump said Balderson would make a “great congressman.”

The winner will fill the seat previously held by Pat Tiberi, a nine-term incumbent who resigned to take a job with an Ohio business group.

Trump himself campaigned at Balderson’s side just 72 hours before Election Day, a weekend appearance to help energize his loyalists in a district the president carried by 11 percentage points.

Several voters casting ballots in suburban Westerville Tuesday, both Democrat and Republican, said they saw little difference between the two candidates.

Mike Flynn, a hospital unit coordinator from suburban New Albany northeast of Columbus, voted for Balderson as a show of support for Tiberi. Flynn, 43, said he didn’t care for mudslinging on either side of the campaign.

But Trevor Moffitt, a public health doctoral student at The Ohio State University who voted for O’Connor, said he felt Balderson’s attacks on Democrats went too far.

“I’m just tired of the rhetoric of `They’re the bad guys, we’re the good guys,”’ said Moffitt, 29. “I want to see someone who’s interested in working with the other party so we can actually get something done.”

It’s unclear how much Trump’s support helped or hurt Balderson. Described by campaign operatives as a “Whole Foods” district, the largely suburban region features a more affluent and educated voter base than the typical Trump stronghold.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a leading voice in the GOP’s shrinking anti-Trump wing, once represented the district in Congress.

At times, the race has centered on Trump’s tax cuts as much as the candidates.

O’Connor and his Democratic allies have railed against the tax plan, casting it as a giveaway for the rich that exacerbates federal deficits and threatens Medicare and Social Security. Balderson and his Republican allies have backed away from the tax plan in recent weeks, training their fire instead on top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

O’Connor has dominated Balderson on the local airwaves. His campaign spent $2.25 million on advertising compared to Balderson’s $507,000, according to campaign tallies of ad spending. The Republican campaign arm and its allied super PAC were forced to pick up the slack, spending more than $4 million between them.

Meanwhile, more than 700 miles to the west, Kansas Republicans were fighting among themselves in the battle for governor, where Secretary of State Kris Kobach was trying to unseat Gov. Jeff Colyer.

Should the polarizing Kobach win the primary, some Republican operatives fear he could lose the governor’s seat to Democrats this fall. The race could become further disrupted if Kansas City-area businessman Greg Orman makes it onto the November ballot. He submitted petitions Monday with more than 10,000 signatures for what could become the most serious independent run for Kansas governor in decades.

Trump made his preference clear for Kobach.

“He is a fantastic guy who loves his State and our Country – he will be a GREAT Governor and has my full & total Endorsement! Strong on Crime, Border &; Military,” the president tweeted on the eve of the election. “VOTE TUESDAY!”

Republicans were hoping for Democratic discord in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, a suburban Kansas City district where several candidates were fighting for the chance to take on Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder in November.

The five-way Democratic primary featured labor lawyer Brent Welder, who campaigned recently with self-described democratic socialists Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and ascending political star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York congressional candidate.

Also in the race: Native American attorney Sharice Davids and former school teacher Tom Niermann.

Voters in suburban Detroit were also weighing in on the direction of the Democratic Party. Three mainstream Democrats were among those vying for a chance at retiring Republican Rep. Dave Trott’s seat in November. The field includes Fayrouz Saad, who would be the first Muslim woman in Congress.

And in suburban Seattle, three Democrats vied in a jungle primary for the seat held by another retiring Republican, Rep. Dave Reichert.

The field in Missouri’s high-stakes Senate contest was set: Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill claimed her party’s nomination, while state Attorney General Josh Hawley will represent the GOP. 

In Michigan, Sen. Debbie Stabenow was expected to win the Democratic nomination easily, while military veteran and business executive John James was vying for the chance to take her on in November. He could join Sen. Tim Scott as the only black Republican senators.

Hours before polls opened, Trump again weighed in on Twitter, casting James as “a potential Republican star.”

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Record Number of LGBT People Run for US Office

A record number of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are standing in elections for public office in the United States, a nonprofit group that supports them said Tuesday.

The Victory Institute said gay and transgender people were still underrepresented in political life, but it was aware of more than 400 LGBT candidates so far in 2018 — a higher number than ever before.

“It’s a really exciting time,” Sean Meloy, the Victory Institute’s political director, told Reuters.

“We believe that representation is power and when someone is in the room and helping to make decisions, they will automatically bring an LGBTQ perspective.”

Earlier this year, the Victory Institute said 0.1 percent of all elected public officials currently serving — or 559 — were openly LGBT.

It said an estimated 5 percent of U.S. citizens identified as LGBT, though a recent major poll suggested the figure could exceed 20 percent among young adults.

The majority of the LGBT candidates coming forward are Democrats, and many are standing in November’s midterm elections.

They are running for positions ranging from state governor to local government officials.

Among them is Alexandra Chandler, a Democrat transgender woman and former military intelligence officer running for Congress in Massachusetts.

She said a more diverse group of officials would better reflect society and bring better policy, but that she did not believe her identity was a concern for most voters.

“They want the person that gets the job done,” she said. “The gender identity or sexual identity, it’s part of someone’s biography, it’s part of the whole person they bring to the table, but it’s only a part.”

Public policy expert Patrick Egan said the figures reflected an increasing tolerance of LGBT people among the U.S. public.

“Gay people have always been involved with electoral politics and many of them ran for office,” said Egan, associate professor of politics and public policy at New York University.

“What we are seeing now is the slow receding in stigma against gay people in that they can not only run for office but run openly as LGBT.”

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