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Ties Long Strained Between Trump, Democrats Targeted With Mail Bombs

U.S. President Donald Trump for months has aimed sharp political attacks at the eight Democrats and news network CNN who were mailed suspected explosives this week, all of whom have been among his fiercest critics.

Trump defeated former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. But as he campaigns for Republican candidates in next month’s nationwide congressional elections, he still demonizes her as corrupt.

“I mean, look at what she’s getting away with,” Trump told one rally. “But let’s see if she gets away with it. Let’s see.”

“Lock her up! Lock her up!” his supporters erupted in response, just as they did two years ago as Trump campaigned for the White House.

For her part, Clinton wrote recently, “Trump and his cronies do so many despicable things that it can be hard to keep track. There are no tanks in the streets. The administration’s malevolence may be constrained on some fronts — for now — by its incompetence. But our democratic institutions and traditions are under siege. We need to do everything we can to fight back. There’s not a moment to lose.”

The U.S. Secret Service said it intercepted possible explosive devices sent to Clinton, former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden, a possible 2020 opponent of Trump when he seeks another four-year term.

In addition, law enforcement authorities said a possible incendiary device was mailed to Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, at the New York office of CNN, the television cable news network where he has often lobbed acerbic attacks on Trump’s presidency.

Three months ago, Brennan said Trump’s performance at the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin “was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin.”

Soon after, Trump revoked Brennan’s national security pass.

CNN anchors routinely say that Trump lies or exaggerates about his presidency. One, Don Lemon, called the president a racist.

Trump recently said on Twitter: “Facebook has just stated that they are setting up a system to ‘purge’ themselves of Fake News. Does that mean CNN will finally be put out of business?”

Obama, in the nearly two years since leaving the White House, has often shied from direct attacks on Trump. But recently, he assailed Trump as a “threat to our democracy” and said he was engaging in the “politics of fear and resentment.” Obama accused Trump of needlessly befriending Russia, turning a blind eye to provocations by white supremacists and dividing Americans.

Trump, who often attacks his predecessor, dismissed Obama’s critique, saying, “I’m sorry. I watched it, but I fell asleep. I found he’s very good, very good for sleeping.”

On Twitter, Trump describes his political opponents as a “Radical Democrat Mob” that is “too dangerous to govern.”

Biden and Trump, both in their 70s, have traded schoolyard taunts, with Biden saying he’d like to “beat the hell” out of Trump over his incendiary comments in years past about women. Trump said the former vice president would “go down fast and hard, crying all the way” if they fought fist to fist.

Other recipients of the suspected explosive devices have also traded barbs with the president.

Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California has repeatedly called for Trump’s impeachment. He calls her an “extraordinarily low IQ person.”

Actor Robert De Niro unleashed a barrage a profanities aimed at Trump at a Broadway awards show in June. Trump responded in kind, calling him “a very Low IQ individual,” who “has received to (sic) many shots to the head by real boxers in movies. I watched him last night and truly believe he may be ‘punch-drunk.'”

Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, said he will never call Trump president, referring instead to him as the “present occupant” of the White House. Trump has said that Holder’s performance as the country’s top law enforcement official was as bad as Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whom he regularly assails as incompetent.

Billionaire political donor George Soros has contributed millions of dollars to Democratic candidates. Trump, without evidence, has accused him of paying for protesters against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his recent confirmation hearings, calling them “elevator screamers.”

During his campaign and 21-month presidency, Trump has applauded the behavior of Congressman Greg Gianforte, a Montana Republican convicted last year of body-slamming a reporter, condoned neo-Nazis who rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulting in a woman’s death, and said he would pay the legal bills of a Trump supporter who attacked a protester at one of his rallies.

After news surfaced of the suspected explosive devices being sent to his political opponents, Trump said, “We have to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.”

At a political rally in Wisconsin, Trump omitted his usual rhetorical blasts at Democrats, saying at one point he was “trying to be nice.”

On Thursday, he blamed one of his favorite targets, the mainstream news media, for the turmoil.

“A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!” 

 

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Trump: Explosives Targeting Political Figures ‘Attack on Our Democracy’

Targeting current and former high-ranking U.S. government officials with explosive devices “is an attack on our democracy itself,” U.S. President Donald Trump told a political rally for Republican Party candidates Wednesday evening.

His remarks, in the state of Wisconsin, came after federal officials said they were seeking to find who has sent pipe bombs to former President Barack Obama and Trump’s 2016 presidential election opponent Hillary Clinton and other prominent Democrats.

Throughout the day, leaders from both the major parties called for a return to civility in the political arena, a theme Trump picked up on at the rally.

“No one should carelessly compare political opponents to historical villains, which is done often and all the time. It’s got to stop,” the president said. “We should not mob people in public spaces or destroy public property. There is one way to settle our disagreements — it’s called peacefully, at the ballot box. That’s what we want.”

Trump, known for his personal criticism of others in the public arena, also requested people “stop treating political opponents as being morally defective.”

WATCH: President Trump on Investigation, Political Violence

In an uncharacteristically muted tone for his political rallies, Trump who noted, “I’m trying to be nice” also blamed the media for the negative national tone.

“The media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative, and, often times, false attacks,” he said.

CNN President Jeff Zucker issued a statement saying members of the Trump administration have a “complete lack of understanding” about the seriousness of their frequent attacks against the media.

“The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that,” Zucker said.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded on Twitter, accusing Zucker of being divisive.

“[President Trump] asked Americans ‘to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the USA’ Yet you chose to attack and divide. America should unite against all political violence,” Sanders posted.

Pipe bombs ‘abhorrent’

Earlier, speaking at the White House, Trump said he was “extremely angry and unhappy” to learn about the packages containing pipe bombs, saying it was “abhorrent” and “despicable.”

Packages were also sent to a former attorney general, a Democratic Party member of Congress and a former director of the CIA, all of whom are prominent critics of his presidency.

“The safety of the American people is my highest priority,” Trump said during a White House event.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top two Democrats in Congress, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, accusing Trump of fanning the flames of political unrest.

“Time and time again, the president has condoned physical violence and divided Americans with his words and his actions,” they wrote, pointing to recent Trump campaign rallies where he has voiced support for a legislator who used physical violence against a reporter, and where he has branded the press as enemies of the people.

​Several packages

Within hours of the U.S. Secret Service announcing it had intercepted a package sent to Clinton in New York and one to Obama in Washington, the Time Warner Center in New York, where news network CNN has studios, was evacuated Wednesday morning after a suspicious package addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan was found in the mail room there.

A device that was contained in an envelope was safely transported from the site in a special truck by the city’s police department bomb squad. The addressee, Brennan, is a commentator on MSNBC, a rival cable news broadcaster.

‘An act to terrorize’

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray is terming the investigation the FBI’s highest priority.

“We have committed the full strength of the FBI’s resources and, together with our partners on our Joint Terrorism Task Forces, we will continue to work to identify and arrest whoever is responsible for sending these packages,” Wray said in a statement.

New York police officials said it appeared to be a live explosive device and the package it came in also contained a white powder.

“What we saw here today was clearly an act to terrorize,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, but stressed there were no other credible threats in New York City.

The police department in Sunrise, Florida, and the FBI are investigating a suspicious package found near a building containing the local office of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who formerly chaired the Democratic National Committee. News reports say the package was addressed to Eric Holder, the attorney general during the Obama administration but had a delivery issue and was returned to the listed sender, Wasserman Schultz.

All of the other suspicious packages also contained a printed label with the congresswoman’s name and address as the sender.

‘Troubling time’

The Secret Service says the package addressed to Clinton was discovered late Tuesday, intercepted at a mail screening facility near her home in a New York suburb where she lives with her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Speaking on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton thanked the Secret Service for intercepting the package that was addressed to her.

“It is a troubling time, isn’t it? It’s a time of deep divisions and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together,” said the former secretary of state at an event in Florida.

​Packages intercepted

A separate package addressed to Obama, according to the Secret Service, was intercepted at a screening facility at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, a 365-hectare military facility in Washington.

California Congresswoman Maxine Waters was sent two suspect packages, one intended for her office in the nation’s capital and the other for her home district office. The first was intercepted at a congressional mail sorting center in the state of Maryland, and the second discovered by postal inspectors at the Los Angeles Central Mail Sorting Facility.

The first in the series of explosive devices was found Monday in a mailbox outside the home in the state of New York of billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a major donor to Democratic candidates.

The Secret Service said the packages addressed to Obama and Hillary Clinton “were immediately identified during routine mail screening procedures as potential explosive devices and were appropriately handled as such. The protectees [Obama and the Clintons] did not receive the packages nor were they at risk of receiving them.”

Officials say all of the explosive devices appear similar in construction.

VOA’s Masood Farivar and Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.

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Trump Signs Bipartisan Measure to Confront Opioid Crisis 

President Donald Trump pledged Wednesday to put an “extremely big dent” in the scourge of drug addiction in America as he signed legislation intended to help tackle the opioid crisis, the deadliest epidemic of overdoses in the country’s history. 

Nearly 48,000 people died last year from overdoses involving opioids. Overall, U.S. drug overdose deaths have started to level off, but Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says it’s too soon to declare victory. 

The legislation will add treatment options and get the U.S. Postal Service to screen overseas packages for a synthetic form of opioids called fentanyl that are being shipped largely from China. 

The measure mandates advance electronic data on all international packages, including those delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, and set deadlines for the screening to be put into place by the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection and the Postal Service. 

Past efforts

The Obama administration secured a commitment to expand treatment, and Congress provided $1 billion in grants to states. Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency and two major funding bills have passed under his watch. 

“My administration has also launched an unprecedented effort to target drug dealers, traffickers and smugglers,” Trump said. “We are shutting down online networks, cracking down on international shipments and going after foreign traffickers like never before.” 

The White House says the Justice Department has shuttered a large “Darknet” distributor of drugs, and in August indicted two Chinese nationals accused of manufacturing and shipping fentanyl and 250 other drugs to at least 25 countries and 37 states. 

Fentanyl is inexpensive but 50 times more powerful than heroin, according to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who was recognized at the East Room event along with other lawmakers instrumental in getting the bill passed. 

Despite Trump’s calls for using the death penalty against major drug dealers, his administration has built on the treatment approach that Obama favored. 

The legislation covers not only opioids but also any kind of substance abuse. It expands Americans’ access to treatment and changes the law that prohibited Medicaid from reimbursing for residential treatment at certain facilities with more than 16 beds. 

Drug courts

It includes $60 million for babies born dependent on these drugs and authorizes a variety of programs, such as drug courts that work to get offenders into treatment instead of behind bars. 

“Together we are going to end the scourge of drug addiction in America,” Trump said. “We are going to end it, or we are going to at least put an extremely big dent in this terrible problem.” 

Trump also recognized more than 20 corporations for private sector commitments to fight the opioid crisis.

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ABC Tries for a Head Start Over Rivals on Midterm Coverage

ABC News says that it is treating midterm election night coverage as if it were a presidential year, promising Wednesday to get a one-hour jump on its broadcast rivals by devoting the entire prime-time schedule on Nov. 6 to reporting results.

The network said its “Your Voice, Your Vote” show, anchored by George Stephanopoulos, will begin at 8 p.m. Eastern time and 7 p.m. Central. While cable news networks will undoubtedly be on the story all day, both CBS News and NBC News previously announced that their continuous election-night coverage would begin at 9 p.m.

“It’s something I’m thrilled about,” Stephanopoulos said. “I’ve never seen a midterm election that feels like this or could potentially be more consequential. This feels like a presidential election, in part because President Trump has made himself the center of the debate.”

Four years ago during the midterm election of President Barack Obama’s second term, ABC had only an hour of prime-time coverage starting at 10 p.m. Eastern.

Starting at 9 p.m. allows CBS and NBC the chance to air two of its most popular programs, “NCIS” and “The Voice.” ABC will be bumping “The Conners,” but the head start may give it an edge among viewers interested in the race. ABC News President James Goldston said local affiliates are onboard with the extra time.

“It’s something that our viewers have shown that they want,” Goldston said. “I’m hopeful that this will be the most complete coverage that we have ever done.”

ABC’s election night will include a larger role for Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight blog. That has the potential to raise unpleasant memories from 2016, when Silver and his competitors forecast a strong probability of Hillary Clinton’s election, and saw predictions turn upside down as the night went on.

Silver’s blog on Tuesday showed that Democrats had an 85.9 percent probability of winning the majority in the House of Representatives, roughly the same as what Clinton had two weeks out from the 2016 election. That race was more volatile throughout and tightened considerably in the final days; polls have shown more consistency this year, he said.

Still, Silver said, “I get a little bit nervous when people see 80 percent and round those numbers up.”

“In 2016, people kind of came in with the impression that Hillary is going to win and all the talk of probabilities was just hedging bets,” he said. “People who worked on television thought that, too.”

The lesson of 2016 must be communicated on election night, that 85 percent is not 100 percent and probabilities are not certainties, Stephanopoulos said.

“Everyone was shocked,” he said. “I think the Trump campaign was shocked by how it turned out. That’s one of the things we all learned — be ready to be surprised.”

ABC will keep close tabs on Silver’s projections, updated through the night. Changes will be based on results and not polling, Silver said.

Goldston said ABC will offer a true second-screen option, where viewers will be able to call up statistics on local races. Similarly, NBC is working with Facebook to highlight coverage from local NBC reporters from across the country on the races in their areas.

Goldston is also excited about ABC’s “augmented reality,” essentially state-of-the-art 3-D imaging bringing to life illustrations on control of Congress.

CBS News is expecting a long night for its morning crew: its four-person “CBS This Morning” anchor team will all join with evening news Jeff Glor in leading that network’s coverage. Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd and Megyn Kelly will lead NBC News’ team.

Suddenly, that means Stephanopoulos is the most experienced hand leading network election night coverage.

“I’ve worked in a lot of campaigns and I’ve covered even more,” he said. “I’m going to bring all of that experience to bear on election night.”

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Secret Service Intercepts Suspicious Packages Sent to Clintons, Obama

The U.S. Secret Service says it has intercepted two suspicious packages, one of them addressed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the other addressed to former President Barack Obama.

A statement from the Secret Service says the package addressed to Clinton was discovered late Tuesday.  Earlier media reports said a suspected explosive device was found in mail sent to the Clintons’ home in a New York suburb.  

The New York Times is reporting the device found near home of the former U.S. President Bill Clinton and the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate is similar to the one that was placed in a mail box outside the home of philanthropist George Soros earlier this week.

The Secret service says a second package addressed to former President Obama was intercepted in Washington.

“The packages were immediately identified during routine mail screening procedures as potential explosive devices and were appropriately handled as such.  The protectees did not receive the packages nor were they at risk of receiving them,” the Secret Service statement said, adding that an investigation is under way.

 

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Will Migrant Caravan Move US Voters?

While President Donald Trump repeatedly rails against a caravan of undocumented Central American migrants attempting to reach the United States, Democrats are sticking to poll-tested campaign issues like health care with fewer than two weeks to go before midterm elections that will determine which party controls both houses of Congress.

“The caravan — look, that is an assault on our country,” Trump said in Houston late Monday at a rally for Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. “And in that caravan you have some very bad people. And we can’t let that happen to our country.”

In Virginia, Republican Senate candidate Corey Stewart seized on the caravan to blast his opponent, Democratic incumbent Tim Kaine.

“Tim Kaine is inviting this invasion into our country,” Stewart tweeted. “@timkaine & his fellow socialists are openly calling for these invaders to violate our laws & smash through our borders.”

“The timing [of the caravan] works well for Republicans,” said Molly Reynolds, a fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. “Republicans have been somewhat concerned about the level of enthusiasm among their base voters in 2018. So, in that sense, it [highlighting the migrant caravan] is really a tactic to motivate the base.”

‘Fear-mongering’

Many Democrats have not commented on the caravan other than to accuse Republicans of political games.

In a joint statement, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Trump “is desperate to change the subject from health care to immigration because he knows that health care is the number one issue Americans care about.”

The Democratic leaders added, “Democrats are focused like a laser on health care and will not be diverted.”

Asked about the caravan, California Democratic Senator Kamala Harris on Monday told reporters, “What the people of our country want is leaders who are focused on the challenges that they face every day … not vilifying some group for the sake of fear-mongering and politics.”

“What Democrats have decided to do in prosecuting the midterm campaign is focus on health care in particular and other issues that affect everyday Americans,” Reynolds said. “They have created a pretty sizable lead in generic ballot polls. So some Democrats ask, ‘Why change what’s been working so far?'”

Human rights groups dispute Trump’s assertions that the caravan includes criminals and Middle Easterners — claims for which he has provided no proof. Numerous migrants interviewed by reporters covering the caravan have maintained they seek a better and safer life in the United States.

The caravan and the election

Trump’s often stark and unsubstantiated pronouncements on illegal immigration helped propel him to the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 and were credited with boosting Republican turnout in the general election, in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Reynolds said the president’s anti-caravan rhetoric may mobilize core Republican voters once again this year, but argued that images of the caravan blanketing American news channels call into question Trump’s warnings of a dire threat to U.S. security.

“It is worth noting that a lot of the images of the folks in the caravan are of women and young children who are fleeing violence. So it’s not entirely clear to me that people aren’t going to view them somewhat sympathetically, particularly after the crisis over the summer involving family separations at the [U.S.-Mexico] border.”

The caravan, and Trump’s statements about it, have received blanket coverage by some cable TV outlets and led many network news broadcasts in recent days, crowding out coverage of Democrats’ favorite themes ahead of the November elections. The trend has not gone unnoticed by some progressive and Democratically-aligned commentators.

“The saturation coverage of this caravan, based on Trump’s grotesque lies …is more grossly irresponsible than the panic-laced coverage of Ebola [cases in the United States] in 2014,” tweeted Brian Beutler, editor-in-chief of Crooked Media, a news and opinion website.

Republicans, meanwhile, are eager to highlight a drama-filled real-time event tied to America’s larger conversation about illegal immigration, an issue they believe puts Democrats on the defensive.

“You’re going to choose between Republicans who will secure the border, versus Democrats who want to open the border,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said at the Cruz rally.

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Voter Rights Take Center Stage in Georgia Gubernatorial Campaign

On a recent humid day in downtown Atlanta, dozens of voters gathered near the state capital to demand Brian Kemp step down as the state’s top election official. “No voter suppression in Georgia!” a middle-aged woman in sunglasses shouts to passing cars. “We will not have it!” 

Kemp serves as Georgia’s Secretary of State and is charged with overseeing the state’s elections. He’s also running to be the next governor of Georgia, and is being accused of blocking minority voters. “Brian Kemp has a really long history of suppressing the vote in Georgia, and it’s time that he needs to resign,” Maggie Chambers said. “Especially for an election when he is top of the ticket.” 

Chambers is a Democrat and works for Kemp’s opponent, Stacey Abrams. If elected, Abrams would be an historic choice: she would be the first black governor of Georgia, the first female governor of Georgia, and the first ever black, female governor to be elected in the United States. 

Abrams, a Yale Law School graduate, is one of three African-American gubernatorial candidates running to make history in their states. Democrat Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, is fighting to become the first black governor of Florida. And Ben Jealous, the former president and CEO of the NAACP, is running to become the first black governor of Maryland. 

“We have a chance to make history,” Abrams said to a cheering crowd when she won the Democratic nomination for governor in April. “To make sure no one is unseen, or unheard.”

Abrams formerly served in the Georgia legislature as a Democratic leader, and is running a campaign on issues such as expanding Medicaid and providing affordable education and earned income tax credits for low-income families. Kemp, however, calls Abrams “too extreme for Georgia” and is campaigning to cut state spending and crack down on crime and illegal immigration.

​”This is a fight for the soul of our state, a battle for our future,” has become Kemp’s campaign signature line. Kemp, a University of Georgia graduate, is a former small businessman who was involved in agriculture, financial services and real estate management.

Following an Associated Press report that revealed 53,000 Georgia voter registrations – most of them belonging to black voters – had been suspended under a controversial verification program, a coalition of civil rights groups sued Kemp in his official capacity as Secretary of State. Abram’s campaign called for Kemp to resign his position and do away with the “exact match” program, which voting rights advocates say places an unnecessary burden on primarily minority voters. 

“The Secretary of State’s office must do away with the discriminatory ‘exact match’ program and process all voter registrations immediately,” according to a statement from the Abrams campaign. “In addition, Brian Kemp needs to resign his position, so that Georgia voters can have confidence that their Secretary of State competently and impartially oversee this election.” 

Under the “exact match” program, residents wishing to vote must present identification that exactly matches that of their registration. The smallest mistake – a typo or a missing hyphen, for instance — means their registration is held up. 

They can, however, still vote. As a “pending voter” at the polls, they would have to provide a photo identification that “substantially” reflects the name on the voter registration form, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. 

“My opponent manufactured a ‘crisis’ to fire up her supporters and fundraise from left wing radicals throughout the country,” Kemp tweeted. “Her dark money voter registration group submitted sloppy forms. Now, they are faking outrage for political gain.”

Abrams is credited with registering tens of thousands of new minority voters through her non-profit, the New Georgia Project. She has previously declined to identify the donors funding her initiative, according to local media. 

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Trump Escalates Immigration Rhetoric at Rally to Boost Cruz

President Donald Trump escalated his immigration rhetoric at a midterm rally in Texas, falsely accusing Democrats of “encouraging millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our borders and overwhelm our nation.”

With weeks to go before Election Day, Trump is seeking to drive Republican turnout with his hardline immigration policies. He cast the November choice in stark terms before the Houston rally for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday night, saying Democrats “have launched an assault on the sovereignty of our country.”

Trump spoke before a massive crowd on behalf of his former foe, who faces a strong challenge from Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke. When the two competed in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Trump would frequently deride his rival as “Lyin’ Ted” but said in Texas that their relationship had come a long way.

“Nobody has helped me more with your tax cut, with your regulation,” Trump said, also attacking O’Rourke, as a “stone-cold phony.

With the midterms drawing near, Trump has emphasized immigration, targeting a migrant caravan heading to the U.S. southern border. The president’s focus on immigration politics comes as he seeks to counter Democratic enthusiasm in November. Trump believes that his campaign pledges, including his much vaunted — and still-unfulfilled — promise to quickly build a U.S.-Mexico border wall, are still rallying cries.

Trump is betting that his latest focus will further erode the enthusiasm gap that began to close during the debate over Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court. But the approach offers both risks and rewards.

The hardline rhetoric may be popular among the red-state rural Republicans who will play an outsized role in the top Senate contests. But it may further alienate the moderate Republicans and women in the overwhelmingly suburban races that will decide the House majority — including several in Texas, California and Florida that feature large Hispanic populations.

On Monday night, Trump called the caravan an “assault on our country” and suggested, without citing evidence, that “Democrats had something to do with it.” He added: “We need a wall built fast.”

Earlier Monday, Trump said the U.S. will begin “cutting off, or substantially reducing” aid to three Central American nations because of the caravan.

In Texas, an enthusiastic crowd packed into Houston’s Toyota Center, wearing red Make America Great Again hats and waving signs, including some with the president’s new catchphrase, “Jobs vs. Mobs.”

Speaking before Trump took the stage, Cruz made clear that their conflict was behind them and that the two were working together. His biggest applause came when he predicted that “in 2020, Donald Trump will be overwhelmingly re-elected.”

A series of elected state officials were among the warmup speakers, as well as Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump and son Eric Trump, who told the audience that “we are driving the Democrats absolutely nuts.”

Trump gleefully used his latest attack line against Democrats, saying, “Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs.” He declared Democrats would be a “big risk to the American family,” and went after some of his favorite targets, including Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Rep. Maxine Waters, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The president stressed tax cuts, the strong economy and the hurricane response in the state. He repeated his pledge for a new middle-income tax cut of about 10 percent, though he offered few details on the plan. Trump said they would be “putting it in” next week, though Congress is not in session.

Trump also criticized so-called globalists, declaring, “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist.”

Trump’s Texas stop is part of a campaign blitz that is expected to last until Election Day.

Although political relationships tend to be fluid, Trump’s appearance for Cruz is notable, given that the two were bitter enemies during the 2016 primaries. After Trump insulted Cruz’s wife and father, and Cruz refused to endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention, it was far from clear that the two would ever put it all behind them.

But they started rebuilding in the closing days of the campaign and have worked together since Trump took the White House.

The White House views Cruz as a loyal vote for his agenda. Trump promised he would come to Texas after the Senate race grew closer than expected, with O’Rourke out-fundraising Cruz and drawing large and enthusiastic crowds around the state. Cruz, who is leading O’Rourke in the polls, said over the summer that he would welcome Trump’s support, though he has brushed off any suggestion he’d need Trump to win.

During the 2016 Republican primary, Trump assailed Cruz as a liar and “dishonest politician,” insulted his wife’s appearance and promoted unsubstantiated claims that Cruz’s father had links to President John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Trump on Monday did not voice any second thoughts about labeling Cruz the son of a presidential killer, telling reporters, “I don’t regret anything.”

Cruz gave back as good as he got in 2016. He savaged Trump as a “pathological liar,” an “amoral bully” and a “sniveling coward.” After Cruz lost the primary, he gave a speech at the Republican National Convention in which he did not endorse Trump and instead called on Republicans to “vote your conscience,” drawing boos from the crowd. But he announced his support about a month before Election Day — and won points in Trump’s camp for not withdrawing after the “Access Hollywood” tape was released in which Trump bragged about groping women.

 

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A GOP Favorite Faces a Democratic Groundbreaker in Vermont

In front of a small group of supporters on a chilly fall morning, Christine Hallquist laid out her economic development plan for a state that she feels is being left behind by prosperity in larger states and urban areas.

 

She reiterates her Bernie Sanders-esque call for a $15 per hour minimum wage, universal health care and paid family leave while adding that high speed internet access is critical for everyone in Vermont, even those who live in the state’s most rural areas.

 

Hallquist, Vermont’s Democratic candidate for governor, argues that Republican Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a series of legislative calls to address those economic issues and that he doesn’t understand just how critical high-speed broadband is for the state.

 

“Vermont is a microcosm of what’s happening in rural America,” Hallquist said. “We’re seeing flights to the city, aging demographics and increasing rates of poverty.”

 

What Hallquist, who until she announced her candidacy for governor this year led a rural electric cooperative, doesn’t mention is her status as the nation’s first major-party transgender gubernatorial candidate. Within the state, her campaign is focused on the issues facing Vermonters, but looking at her race from outside, she proudly carries the mantle as a way to reduce stigma.

 

“I think balancing has been pretty easy because locally, reporters talk about local issues,” Hallquist said before the rally in the Vergennes city park. “Nationally, people talk about the identity. It’s pretty straightforward. I don’t find it a problem at all.”

 

After winning the Democratic nomination in August, Hallquist, 62, received death threats from across the country. Since then, she is unaware of any others and she says the people of Vermont are focusing on her ideas.

 

The day after the primary, Scott said in a statement that he wouldn’t tolerate “hateful, discriminatory and disrespectful speech of any type.”

 

“A person’s gender doesn’t dictate whether they’re fit for public office,” he said. “What does is their commitment to serve, their ideas to improve peoples’ lives, and their ability to listen.”

 

Prior to the Vergennes rally, Greg Burdick, 68, a Republican and part-time city employee who also works in real estate, said as he was walking by the park that he was backing Scott because, among other reasons, he liked the governor’s position of no increased taxes.

 

When asked whether Hallquist’s transgender status affected his thinking, he answered, “No.”

 

“I’m pretty open to that,” Burdick said. “It’s not my place to make the call.”

 

Before the primary, The Victory Fund, a Washington-based political action committee that backs LGBTQ candidates across the country, rated Hallquist a “game changer.” The organization says Hallquist is one of at least 244 openly LGBTQ candidates who will appear on the ballot across the country.

 

“For Christine Hallquist to be running a competitive race for governor of a U.S. state is a tremendous leap forward for the trans community,” said Victory Fund spokesman Elliot Imse. “There are hundreds of thousands of trans young people all across the nation who are scared, unsure about their futures, but can look to Christine as someone who is proving to them that anything is possible regardless of their gender identity or expression.”

 

By historical standards, Hallquist’s quest to defeat a first-term incumbent is quixotic. No sitting Vermont governor has been defeated since 1962, and Scott, whose first political ad calls for a return to civility in politics, remains liked.

 

A poll released Monday by Vermont Public Radio and Vermont Public Television, gave Scott a 14 point lead.

 

Scott, the former owner of a construction company and a part-time race car driver, spent his first two years saying the best way to help Vermont’s struggling families is to keep taxes and fees low for everyone, while minimizing what he feels are governmental burdens on job-creating business owners.

 

“We want Vermonters to keep more money in their pockets,” Scott said during a debate hosted by the news organization VtDigger. “What we’ve been doing over the last decade or two is just raising taxes, raising taxes, increasing the burden on Vermonters.”

 

But as a popular Republican in liberal Vermont, Scott is also a frequent critic of President Donald Trump, is liberal on many social issues, and last winter, after what police described as a near-miss school shooting, he urged the Legislature to pass what turned out to be the state’s first significant gun ownership restrictions.

 

While the move angered many of Vermont’s fervent gun owners, it won him praise from others who favored the restrictions — mild by the standards of other states.

 

The election isn’t drawing the money of the 2016 race, when Scott was competing for an open seat.

 

As of the Oct. 15 campaign finance filing deadline, Scott had raised just over $560,000, while Hallquist had raised just under $440,000. At the same point in the 2016 campaign, Scott had raised just over $1.3 million, while his Democratic opponent, Sue Minter, had raised $1.7 million.

 

During a series of debates Scott and Hallquist have gone back on forth on their political philosophies and vision for the future of Vermont.

 

“Vermonters have a real choice,” Hallquist said during one debate.

 

People are listening to the debate.

 

“I loved what I heard,” said Jeremy Holm, 50, an actor who plays agent Nathan Green on “House of Cards,” lives in Vergennes and attended Hallquist’s rally. “It’s really refreshing to hear a candidate who understands the nuts and bolts of what’s going on and can articulate how to solve the problems we have, and is also realistic about the solutions. We don’t see that very often.”

 

 

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Illinois Voters Choose Issues Over Heritage in Congressional Race

A congressional race in one Illinois district pits two Indian Americans against each other. The Democrat incumbent was born in New Delhi before moving to the United States as an infant. His Republican opponent immigrated to America more than 20 years ago. But both men see the race as a battle between two Americans rather than Indian Americans. VOA’s Esha Sarai reports from Schaumburg, Illinois.

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