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Pennsylvania Primaries Could Herald Shift of Power in US House

Voters cast ballots on Tuesday in crucial party primaries in Pennsylvania, a state that has become central to Democrat’ hopes of retaking control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The state offers Democrats the opportunity to pick up as many as five seats from Republicans in congressional elections in November, analysts said. Democrats need a net total of 23 to assume the House majority, which would likely derail Republican President Donald Trump’s policy agenda.

The polls closed at 8 p.m. and final results were expected within hours. Voters in the state were also choosing Republican nominees to take on incumbent Governor Tom Wolf and U.S. Senator Bob Casey, both Democrats.

Pennsylvania’s politics were thrown into turmoil earlier this year when the state Supreme Court found that the current congressional districts had been unconstitutionally tailored to favor Republicans. The redrawn map has made some districts more competitive.

In addition, six incumbent House Republicans are not running for re-election, further scrambling the races and requiring voters to become familiar with a raft of first-time candidates. 

81 candidates for 18 seats

Some 81 candidates are running for 18 congressional seats, including 10 Democrats in a single race.

Democrats feel confident they can ultimately win three districts in suburban Philadelphia regardless of which candidates win their primaries on Tuesday because of the liberal tilt of those areas.

A more interesting contest comes in the northeastern district being vacated by retiring Representative Charlie Dent, one of the few remaining moderate Republicans in the House.

Huge job losses

The largest city in the district, Allentown, sustained huge job losses with the 1995 closing of the Bethlehem Steel plant, once been a pillar of the region’s economy.

The three top contenders represent the diverse viewpoints in the modern Democratic Party: Greg Edwards, a pastor backed by progressive U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and the Congressional Black Caucus; Susan Wild, endorsed by the abortion rights group Emily’s List; and John Morganelli, who opposes abortion rights and has been supportive of Trump’s hardline immigration policies.

Earlier this month, Sanders, who sought the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, visited Allentown to campaign with Edwards, drawing a crowd of more than 1,000.

Electoral risk

Terry Madonna, an expert on state politics at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said Democrats risked losing the Allentown race if a candidate viewed as too liberal wins Tuesday’s primary. In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton edged Trump in the district by a single percentage point in the presidential election, he noted.

Democrats are also hoping to pick up a seat held by first-term Republican Brian Fitzpatrick in another district outside of Philadelphia. Attorney Scott Wallace faces Navy veteran Rachel Reddick in the Democratic primary there.

Nebraska is also holding a primary on Tuesday that could affect the balance of power in the House. Two Democratic candidates, moderate former U.S. Representative Brad Ashford and progressive Kara Eastman, are battling to take on Republican Representative Don Bacon in an Omaha-area district Democrats believe they can win.

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Watchdog: US EPA Chief Pruitt Asked for 24/7 Security From Day 1

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt requested and received around-the-clock security from his first day in office in 2017, the agency’s watchdog on Monday told a lawmaker questioning Pruitt’s expensive security detail.

Prior EPA administrators have not had blanket protection.

Pruitt, under pressure from Congress for his high travel and security spending in his position at America’s top environmental regulator, has said his 24-hour security was installed due to unusual threats against him.

In a May 14 letter, EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. said the decision was made by the agency’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training after being informed that Pruitt had requested that such protection begin once he was confirmed as administrator.

The inspector general’s office “played no role in this decision,” Elkins added.

The letter was addressed to Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, who had asked the office how and why Pruitt was getting 24-hour protection.

“EPA’s Protective Service Detail handles security decisions and this particular decision was made before Administrator Pruitt arrived at EPA,” agency spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in an email.

During hearings last month, Pruitt, who was confirmed Feb. 17, 2017, justified his security spending by citing threats he had received since taking office.

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Former Nevada Senator Harry Reid Undergoes Surgery for Cancer

Former Senator Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, was recovering after undergoing surgery Monday at Johns Hopkins Cancer Center in Baltimore to remove a cancerous tumor from his pancreas.

Reid, 78, will undergo chemotherapy, according to a statement released Monday by his family.

“His doctors caught the problem early during a routine screening and his surgeons are confident that the surgery was a success and that the prognosis for his recovery is good,” the statement said.

The former Senate Democratic leader declined to seek re-election in 2016 after more than three decades in Congress. A 2015 accident left him blind in one eye.

A former boxer who grew up poor in the small town of Searchlight, Nevada, Reid rose to one of the most powerful positions in American politics as Nevada’s longest-serving senator.

He helped propel the passage of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and blocked the development of a nuclear waste dump in Nevada. He was also a champion of his home state’s gaming and tourism industry and built up a well-organized Democratic machine in Nevada.

Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, who was recruited by Reid to replace him, wished him a speedy recovery.

“Senator Reid is no stranger to a fight. He beat his opponents in the boxing ring, took on the mob in Nevada, and moved bills in the Senate that no one believed could be done. He’ll beat cancer too,” she said in a statement.

His former congressional rival, John Boehner, tweeted prayers for Reid, writing: “You’re a fighter, Harry. You can whip this.”

Reid and Boehner are working on creating a public policy think tank at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, focusing on policy issues that affect the tourism, hospitality and gambling industries.

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US Embassy’s Move in Israel Draws Criticism from Around the World

The U.N. Security Council is set to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss the situation in Gaza after the deadliest day of violence there between Israel and the Palestinians in five years.

U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov is due to brief the council from Jerusalem.

WATCH: World reactions

​Ahead of the meeting, Kuwait drafted a statement expressing “outrage and sorrow” at the killing of dozens of Palestinians by Israeli troops, while also calling for an independent investigation. U.N. diplomats said the United States, an Israeli ally and one of five nations on the council with veto power, blocked the statement.

Many of the United States’ allies, along with its foes, expressed criticism of the U.S. decision to open its embassy in Jerusalem Monday, saying it would increase tensions in the Middle East.

 

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said, “We disagree with the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital” before a final peace agreement is reached in the Middle East.

French President Emmanuel Macron condemned Monday’s violence in Gaza, where Israeli soldiers killed more than 50 Palestinian civilians in clashes at the border. Macron said he had “warned repeatedly of the repercussions” of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

 

In a statement, Macron’s office said he talked with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday and is planning to talk with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeated Moscow’s objection to the U.S. move. “We firmly believe that it is inappropriate to unilaterally revise the decisions of the international community in this way,” he said.

 

Many Arab leaders also condemned the move, with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri calling it “provocative,” and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif describing it as “a day of great shame.”

Saudi Arabia condemned the Israeli gunfire against Palestinians in Gaza but did not mention the opening of the U.S. Embassy.

 

“Saudi Arabia strongly condemns the Israeli occupation forces’ gunfire against unarmed Palestinian civilians, which has left dozens of dead and wounded,” a Saudi foreign ministry spokesperson said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a visit to London that the embassy move was “very, very unfortunate” and said it disqualified the United States from being a mediator in the Middle East peace process.

 

Turkey’s government said was recalling its ambassador to the United States “for consultations” over the U.S. Embassy move. It also recalled its ambassador to Israel following what it called a “massacre” of Palestinians on the Gaza border.

Turkey also has called for an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the world’s largest body of Muslim-majority nations. Erdogan wants the meeting to be held Friday. In response to the thousands of people who took to the streets of Istanbul Monday, Erdogan promised to hold a pro-Palestinian rally on Friday after the OIC meeting. 

 

Kuwait also condemned the violence in Gaza and requested an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council for Tuesday.

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US Senate Committee to Vote On Trump CIA Pick Wednesday

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee will vote on Wednesday morning on President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the new director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, a committee aide said on Monday.

The vote will take place behind closed doors, as is customary for the intelligence panel.

Haspel was grilled by lawmakers at her confirmation hearing last week over her role in the agency’s past harsh interrogation system, pledging she would never restart the program or follow any morally objectionable order from Trump.

The nominee, who would be the first woman director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is expected to be approved by the committee and confirmed by the full Senate, now that at least two Democrats – Senators Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly – have said they would join Republicans in supporting her.

Although Republicans John McCain and Rand Paul have announced opposition to Haspel, Trump’s fellow Republicans hold a 51-49-seat majority in the 100-member Senate and Vice President Mike Pence could vote to break a tie.

 

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Staid Singapore Prepares for Historic Trump-Kim Summit

Singapore, a highly manicured city-state shaped by skyscrapers and luxury hotels, is preparing for perhaps the most crucial international diplomatic event of the decade.

The June 12 meeting between tough-talking President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a brash young ruler with a nuclear arsenal, brings a bombastic set of personalities to the small island nation, which has hosted plenty of important meetings, but nothing as big as this.

Kim wants security and Trump wants Kim to get rid of his nukes. A breakdown in the talks could be costly — a collapsed faith in diplomacy would heighten fears of military conflict on the Korean Peninsula or maybe even spark a destabilizing arms race in Northeast Asia.

Whatever the outcome, the meeting will be a media spectacle. While the venue has yet to be announced, rooms appear to be fully booked on days surrounding the summit at the Shangri-La hotel and the Marina Bay Sands resort, two major properties seen as potential locations for the meeting, judging from reservation services on their websites or online travel companies. Other hotels say they’ve also seen increased reservations since the summit was announced.

A look at the possible venues, and why Singapore was likely chosen over more obvious locations:

Why Singapore?

Singapore appears to be a safe pick for the summit. It has close ties with the United States as a major trade and investment partner, and has also maintained diplomatic relations with North Korea since 1975. While Singapore’s tight control over political activities and media has drawn criticism, it’s also what makes the country an ideal location for a high-security event like the Trump-Kim summit.

Analysts, meanwhile, say the decision to meet in Singapore may suggest that Trump is entering the talks with tempered expectations.

A summit in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, would have been a tremendous propaganda coup for Kim, who desperately craves international legitimacy. For Trump, Pyongyang would have been the only place in the world where he would command more attention than Kim, and a dramatic stage to showcase the deal-making skills he speaks so proudly of.

Trump would have claimed a summit in Washington as a major diplomatic win. But Kim could have done the same by presenting the invitation as a symbol of U.S. commitment to a security guarantee for the North.

Settling for Singapore probably shows Trump isn’t immediately seeing a significant deal on the table, said Du Hyeogn Cha, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

“It was clear Trump was never going to Pyongyang unless he was sure he will return with a deal big enough to silence his critics at home, such as a firm agreement from North Korea for a quick and complete nuclear disarmament,” Cha said by phone. “Kim was never going to Washington, D.C., unless the United States promises to lift sanctions against the North upfront.”

Shangri-La hotel

The Shangri-La appears to be the most obvious fit. The 747-room hotel has a wealth of experience in hosting high-security events, including the historic 2015 summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, the first meeting between leaders of the two sides since they split in 1949.

The hotel also hosts the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, widely seen as Asia’s most important security forum, bringing together defense ministers and high-level government officials from across the region.

This year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, set for June 1-3, will include a session titled “Deescalating the North Korean crisis.” If the Shangri-La hotel is chosen for the Trump-Kim meeting, much of the security preparations might already be in place.

“The hotel has not received confirmation on the venue and is not in a position to make any comments on behalf of the stakeholders involved in the preparation of this summit,” Monica Alsagoff, Shangri-La’s communications director, said in an email.

Marina Bay Sands resort

It Trump and Kim have interest in creating powerful optics — and both seem to be personalities who would — the Vegas-style Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino, which towers over Singapore’s bustling financial district, could be the ideal venue.

The three-tower, 2,561-room property, which opened in 2011, now competes with the Merlion statue as Singapore’s most iconic landmark, dominating the skyline with a huge boat-like structure on top that houses a 150-meter (492-foot) -long swimming pool.

The resort is owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, whose billionaire chairman, Sheldon Adelson, was one of the biggest financial backers of Trump’s 2016 presidential bid. But there could be security challenges to hosting the summit so close to Singapore’s busiest streets.

“As the official venue of the summit has not been announced yet, Marina Bay Sands has no comments on your questions relating to the event,” Val Chua, communications director at Marina Bay Sands, said in an email.

Sentosa Island

There’s media speculation that North Korea would prefer the secluded island resort of Sentosa, located about 20 minutes from the city center, because of security reasons. However, it’s questionable whether there would be enough rooms at the island’s hotels to accommodate what’s likely to be a huge number of delegates, security personnel and reporters.

If the summit is held on Sentosa, the island’s relatively bigger properties such as the Capella Singapore and Resorts World Sentosa could be possible locations.

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China Sends Trade Envoy to US, Welcomes Trump ZTE Comments

China said Monday it is sending an envoy to the United States this week for talks aimed at cooling a trade dispute that threatens to upend markets from soybeans to steel, and welcomed comments by President Donald Trump hinting at a possible easing of sanctions on embattled Chinese telecoms firm ZTE.

The foreign ministry said Vice Premier Liu He will visit the U.S. from Tuesday to Saturday for consultations with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Ministry spokesman Lu Kang also said China appreciated tweets by Trump saying he would help ZTE Corp. get “back into business” because too many jobs in China are at stake after the U.S. government cut off access to ZTE’s American suppliers.

“We think highly of the U.S. statement regarding ZTE’s case. We are currently in close communication over details of the implementation,” Lu told reporters at a daily news briefing.

Referring to Liu’s visit, Lu said China was willing to work with the U.S. to “strive for positive and constructive outcomes from the next round of economic and trade discussions.”

Partially state-owned ZTE makes cellphones, network switching equipment and other telecommunications equipment. Last month, the U.S. Commerce Department banned it from buying U.S. technology or components for seven years after it misled regulators by failing to discipline employees involved in illegal exports and instead paid them bonuses.

Liu’s trip to Washington follows a visit by Mnuchin and other U.S. officials to Beijing earlier this month, where they conveyed a demand that China slash its trade surplus with the U.S. by $200 billion by the end of 2020.

An intensifying rivalry over advanced technology has also fueled demands by Washington that China give up policies that favor domestic companies. Beijing considers such programs as fundamental to its state-driven economic model and vital for its future growth.

America’s trade deficit with China amounted last year to $337 billion in goods and services.

The intensifying trade dispute has rattled financial markets for weeks. In March, the Trump administration slapped tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. China counterpunched with tariffs on a range of U.S. products, including bourbon and blue jeans.

An even higher-stakes fight looms over American allegations that China steals technology and forces U.S. companies to hand over trade secrets in exchange for access to the Chinese market. The United States is considering imposing tariffs on up to $150 billion of Chinese products, and Beijing has countered with proposed tariffs on $50 billion in American goods, including soybeans and small aircraft.

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Melania Trump Steps Onto Public Stage Amid White House Scandals, Controversies

U.S. first lady Melania Trump stepped into the limelight this month as she launched her official platform to address major issues facing children today. Since becoming the first lady, Mrs. Trump has kept a relatively low profile amid the turmoil and controversies surrounding the Trump White House, but experts say Mrs. Trump, who enjoys a higher approval rating than her husband, may be ready to take on a more public role. VOA White House Correspondent Peggy Chang has more from the White House.

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Sanders: Aide’s McCain Comment Shouldn’t Have Leaked

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told staffers Friday that an aide’s recent comment about Sen. John McCain was inappropriate but shouldn’t have been leaked to the media.

Sanders told communications’ staffers in a private meeting that it was inappropriate for aide Kelly Sadler to dismiss McCain’s opinion during a recent closed-door meeting because, Sadler said, “he’s dying anyway.”

Sanders said the leak was selfish and distracted from the president’s agenda and “everything we’re trying to accomplish for the American people,” according to a person familiar with the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting. She noted that it garnered attention following the president’s welcoming home of three Americans detained in North Korea and an upcoming summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

During the meeting, White House director of strategic communications Mercedes Schlapp defended Sadler, saying the private comments shouldn’t have been leaked to the media, the person said.

Sanders declined to condemn Sadler’s comments during a White House briefing on Friday, saying she wouldn’t “validate a leak out of an internal staff meeting.”

McCain, the 81-year-old Arizona GOP senator, was diagnosed in July with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. He left Washington in December and underwent surgery last month for an infection.

Sadler is a special assistant to the president. She has declined to respond to requests for comment on her McCain remark.

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Trump: Congress Should Get Spending Bills Done Before Break

President Donald Trump is urging the Senate to get its work done on funding before the August break “or NOT GO HOME.”

The president tweeted Saturday that “Wall and Border Security should be included.” He also said that he was “waiting for approval of almost 300 nominations, worst in history.”

Trump blamed Democrats for “doing everything possible to obstruct.”

The president’s push for speedy action on spending measures and nominations followed a recent letter from a group of Senate Republicans pressing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to cancel the August recess later this year. That effort was led by Senator David Perdue of Georgia.

The Senate Republicans said that spending more time on their pending work was particularly critical with Congress facing what they called “historic obstruction” by Democrats.

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