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White House: Trump Tweets on Russia ‘Opinion,’ Not ‘Order’

U.S. President Donald Trump is not obstructing the federal criminal investigation into Russian interference in the election that he won, rather he is “fighting back,” according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

Sanders made the remark to reporters Wednesday in a White House briefing hours after Trump made his most forceful call yet for an end to the special counsel’s investigation.

The president said Robert Mueller’s 14-month investigation of his campaign’s links to Russia is “a terrible situation,” and he tweeted that the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who is the country’s top law enforcement officer, “should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further.”

Sanders said Trump’s tweet “is not an order, it’s the president’s opinion,” adding that as far as she knew, Trump has not transmitted any formal directive to Justice Department top officials to stop the investigation.

The attorney general, more than a year ago, removed himself from oversight of the probe because of his own contacts with Russia, leaving that role to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, whom some Republican lawmakers want impeached.

Some senators of the president’s party are defending the investigation.

“I support the probe to find out what Russia did to influence our election in 2016,” Senator John Kennedy of the state of Louisiana and a member of the judiciary committee, told reporters Wednesday, adding that the attorney general “had no choice” but to recuse himself.

“I don’t fully get what he’s trying to do,” said Utah’s Orrin Hatch, a former chairman of the senate’s judiciary committee, when asked by reporters about the president’s tweets, adding that while many would like the Mueller probe to go away, “that’s not going to happen.”

The third highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune of the state of South Dakota, said that “most of us up here believe the process needs to play out, and it will.”

Sanders, in her remarks to reporters in the briefing room Wednesday, said Mueller’s probe has “come up with nothing with regard to the president,” and the press secretary expressed expectations the investigation will soon conclude.

Trump contended in another tweet the appointed special counsel “is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!” 

Trump’s pressure on Sessions came on the second day of the tax and bank fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, with the president, in another tweet, calling the trial “a hoax” and attempting to distance himself from the case in a courtroom just outside Washington. Manafort is accused of hiding millions of dollars he earned lobbying for deposed Ukrainian dictator Viktor Yanukovych in the years before his work for the Trump campaign.

“Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders,” Trump said. “He worked for me for a very short time. Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation. These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion – a Hoax!”

Trump’s Wednesday tweets are “just one more piece of circumstantial evidence of corrupt intent that Mueller will incorporate into his analysis of whether the president sought to obstruct justice,” according to national security lawyer Bradley Moss.

“Whether this will result in increased risk of a successful impeachment and conviction of President Trump is a purely political calculation,” Moss, deputy executive director of the James Madison Project, told VOA.

Rosenstein named Mueller to lead the investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election after Trump, in May the following year, fired FBI Director James Comey, who was at the time heading the agency’s Russia probe.

Trump has declined to fire any of the officials, however, perhaps because some lawmakers, including Republican colleagues of Trump’s, have warned him that his dismissal of any of the officials could lead to impeachment hearings against him in the House of Representatives.

Mueller has secured guilty pleas from a handful of Trump aides for lying to investigators about their contacts with Russia and indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officials on charges of hacking into computers of Democratic operatives supporting Trump’s opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, and then releasing emails through WikiLeaks.

Mueller’s probe is continuing, and there is no deadline for its completion, although a Trump lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said this week he thinks it could be finished next month, ahead of November’s nationwide congressional elections.

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US Officials Promoting Lower-Cost, Short-Term Health Plans

The Trump administration is clearing the way for insurers to sell short-term health plans as a bargain alternative to pricey Obama-law policies for people struggling with high premiums.

But the policies don’t have to cover existing medical conditions and offer limited benefits. It’s not certain if that’s going to translate into broad consumer appeal among people who need an individual policy.


Officials say the plans can now last up to 12 months and be renewed for up to 36 months. But there’s no federal guarantee of renewability. Plans will carry a disclaimer that they don’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s requirements and safeguards. More details were expected Wednesday.


“We make no representation that it’s equivalent coverage,” said Jim Parker, a senior adviser at the Health and Human Services Department. “But what we do know is that there are individuals today who have been priced out of coverage.”


Unable to repeal much of the Obama-era law, Trump’s administration has tried to undercut how the law is supposed to work and to create options for people who don’t qualify for subsidies based on their income.


Officials are hoping short-term plans will fit the bill. Next year, there will be no tax penalty for someone who opts for short-term coverage versus a comprehensive plan, so more people might consider the option. More short-term plans will be available starting this fall.


Critics say the plans are “junk insurance” that could lead to unwelcome surprises if a policyholder gets sick, and will entice healthy people away from the law’s markets, raising premiums for those left. Under the Obama administration, such plans were limited to three months’ duration. Some states do not permit them.


President Donald Trump has been enthusiastic. “Much less expensive health care at a much lower price,” he said, previewing the plans at a White House event last week. “Will cost our country nothing. We’re finally taking care of our people.”


The administration estimates that premiums for a short-term plan could be about one-third the cost of comprehensive coverage. A standard silver plan under the Obama law now averages $481 a month for a 40-year-old nonsmoker. A short-term plan might cost $160 a month or even less.


But short-term insurance clearly has fewer benefits. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey of current plans found none that covered maternity, and many that did not cover prescription drugs or substance abuse treatment — required under the Obama law. They can include dollar limits on coverage and there’s no guarantee of renewal.


At a hearing Tuesday, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called the administration’s anticipated action “a new sabotage step that will do even more to let insurance companies offer junk plans.”


Short-term plans have been a niche product for people in life transitions: those switching jobs, retiring before Medicare eligibility or aging out of parental coverage.


Some in the industry say they’re developing “next generation” short-term plans that will be more responsive to consumer needs, with pros and cons clearly spelled out. Major insurer United Healthcare is marketing short-term plans.


Delaware insurance broker Nick Moriello said consumers should carefully consider their choice.


“The insurance company will ask you a series of questions about your health,” Moriello said. “They are not going to cover anything related to a pre-existing condition. There is a relatively small risk to the insurance company on what they would pay out relative to those plans.”


Nonetheless, the CEO of a company that offers short-term plans says they’re a “rational decision” for some people.


“It’s a way better alternative to not being insured,” said Jeff Smedsrud of Pivot Health. “I don’t think it’s permanent coverage. You are constantly betting that for the rest of your life you won’t have any health issues.”


Smedsrud said most plans restrict coverage for those who have sought treatment for a pre-existing condition over the past five years.


Short-term plans join “association health plans” for small businesses as the administration promotes lower-cost insurance options that cover less. Federal regulations for association health plans have been approved. Such plans can be offered across state lines and are also designed for self-employed people.


The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that roughly 6 million more people will eventually enroll in either an association plan or a short-term plan. The administration says it expects about 1.6 million people to pick a short-term when the plans are fully phased in.


About 20 million are covered under the Obama law, combining its Medicaid expansion and subsidized private insurance for those who qualify.


Enrollment for the law’s subsidized private insurance is fairly stable, and HealthCare.gov insurers are making money again. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina just announced it will cut Affordable Care Act premiums by 4 percent on average next year.


But a recent Kaiser Foundation analysis found turmoil in the unsubsidized market.


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Promoting Voter ID, Trump Says ID Needed To Buy Groceries

President Donald Trump wrongly claimed that shoppers need to show photo identification to buy groceries and accused Democrats of obstructing his agenda and his Supreme Court nominee during a raucous rally aimed at bolstering two Florida Republicans ahead of the state’s primary.

Trump, addressing thousands of supporters Tuesday night in one of the nation’s top electoral battlegrounds, also mounted a rigorous defense of his trade agenda, accusing China and others of having “targeted our farmers.”

“Not good, not nice,” he told the crowd as tensions with China continue to escalate, adding: “You know what our farmers are saying? `It’s OK, we can take it.” The Trump administration last week announced plans for $12 billion in temporary aid to help farmers deal with retaliatory tariffs from U.S. trading partners in response to Trump’s policies.

The freewheeling rally lasted more than an hour and included numerous attacks on the media, as well as one glaring false claim. Trump was railing against the idea of noncitizens voting and advocating stricter voting laws when he claimed that IDs are required for everything else, including shopping.

“If you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card, you need ID,” he said at the event at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. “You go out and you want to buy anything, you need ID and you need your picture.”

A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to questions about when the billionaire president last bought groceries or anything else himself. Photo IDs are required for certain purchases, such as alcohol, cigarettes or cold medicine.

The comment came as Trump waded into Florida Republican politics, picking sides as he embraced U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in a competitive primary for governor and backed the Senate campaign of his longtime ally, Gov. Rick Scott.

“We have to make sure Rick Scott wins and wins big,” Trump told the crowd. “It’s time to vote Bill Nelson out of office.”

Trump, who is seeking Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court in the fall, also made the case that voters need to elect more Republicans, pointing to Democratic opposition to his pick.

Democrats “don’t want to give Trump any victory,” he said. “They will do anything they can to not help the Trump agenda.”

Trump has publicly threatened to shut down the federal government over his push to overhaul the nation’s immigration system and fund his signature border wall, though officials say he has privately assured staff he wouldn’t provoke a fiscal crisis before midterms. The president avoided making an outright reference to a government shutdown during the rally, saying, “We may have to do some pretty drastic things” unless Democrats support his agenda.

Instead, he spent much of the rally highlight strong economic numbers and praising DeSantis as “a tough, brilliant cookie.” He predicted DeSantis will win against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the state’s Aug. 28 Republican primary.

Trump, who makes frequent trips to Florida and his private Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago club, criticized Nelson’s policies and claimed the only time he sees the senator is “five months before every election.”

“After a while, you forget who’s the senator,” Trump said.

Scott didn’t join Trump at the rally but appeared with him at an earlier roundtable event.

DeSantis has tied his campaign for governor directly to Trump, appearing on Fox News more than 100 times to talk about federal issues and defend the president. DeSantis has campaigned with Fox’s Sean Hannity and Donald Trump Jr. and uses humor in a new ad to show his alliance with the president, teaching one of his two children to “build the wall” with blocks.

Putnam, a state agriculture commissioner and former congressman, has run a more traditional campaign for governor, barnstorming the state with campaign events aimed at building upon his family’s deep ties to the state.

Trump, in railing against the idea of allowing noncitizens to vote in some elections, said at the rally, “Only American citizens should vote in American elections.”

He also advocated for requiring voters to present photo identification, even though Florida already has such a law on the books.

“The time has come for voter ID like everything else,” Trump said, before making his claim about groceries.

“It’s crazy,” he added, “but we’re turning it around.”

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US to Protect Voting System from Foreign Cyberattacks

With only three months left before U.S. midterm elections, U.S. lawmakers, government officials and private industries are working to protect U.S. voters from hackers and foreign propaganda that seeks to sway their political opinion. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have condemned Russia’s meddling in the U.S. presidential election two years ago and call for action to protect U.S. cybersecurity. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

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What Are 3-D Printed Guns?

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday raised questions about his own administration’s decision to allow designs for 3-D printed guns to be posted online, while several U.S. states are suing to stop the release of the blueprints, due on Wednesday.

Here are some facts about 3-D printed guns and how they are made:

– 3-D printing is the process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, including layers of plastic, metal or other materials. The first patents for the technology were issued in the 1980s, and it gained in popularity after the first commercially available device was introduced in


– Though the technology is often used for business applications, individuals can purchase their own desktop 3-D printers for personal use. More than 1 million desktop 3-D printers, which can range in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars, have been sold worldwide since 2015, according to data from research firm Context.

– The first working 3-D printed gun, a single-round pistol called the “Liberator,” was designed in 2013 and made almost entirely of 3-D printed thermoplastic components, with the exception of a metal firing pin. Hybrid designs incorporate metal components used in traditional firearms with parts made from 3-D printers.

– Homemade guns such as the Liberator are often known as “ghost guns” because they are unregistered, untraceable and do not have serial numbers.

– The Liberator was created by the self-styled crypto-anarchist Cody Wilson, founder of the Defense Distributed group based in Austin, Texas, which works “for the benefit of the American rifleman,” according to its website. The group also sells “Ghost Gunners,” milling devices that can assemble parts

of military-standard weapons, including the lower receiver for AR-15s.

– A U.S. federal law, the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, bans guns that do not contain enough metal to be detected by screening machines in public places, such as airports and courthouses, but does not require that the metal parts be non-removable. Makers of plastic 3-D printed guns have taken advantage of this loophole by creating metal inserts that are not essential for the gun to function.

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Trump: Government Shutdown of No Concern in Immigration Dispute

U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday that a government shutdown later this year would be “a very small price to pay” to force Congress to approve tougher immigration controls.

“I don’t care what the political ramifications are, our immigration laws and border security have been a complete and total disaster for decades, and there is no way that the Democrats will allow it to be fixed without a Government Shutdown,” Trump said on Twitter.

“Border Security is National Security, and National Security is the long-term viability of our Country,” he said, adding that a shutdown would lead to a “safe and prosperous America!”

It was the third consecutive day that Trump has pressed Congress to approve the controversial construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to thwart illegal immigration. However, twice in June, a splintered majority Republican bloc in the House of Representatives, along with solid Democratic opposition, rejected immigration reforms that Trump supported, including $25 billion for construction of the wall.

Republican leaders in Congress have said they want to push off another immigration debate until after the nationwide November 6 congressional elections. But they are faced with approving new funding authorization for the government at the end of September when the current spending measure expires, which leaves open the possibility, if not likelihood, of a shutdown.

Republican leaders have said they do not want to force their colleagues to make politically tough votes on immigration policies about five weeks ahead of the voting, but Trump in his latest tweets dismissed political concerns.

On Monday, Trump told a White House news conference, “Strong nations must have strong borders.”

Trump called the United States “the laughingstock of the world, with the worst immigration laws anywhere in the world.”

But when asked whether he wants approval of full $25 billion funding for the wall, as well as other tougher immigration changes he has demanded in order to avert a shutdown, he replied, “I always leave room for negotiation.”

In addition to the wall, Trump has called for ending a visa lottery allowing migrants from overseas to move to the United States.  Instead, he wants a “merit” system in which job skills and education of the migrants play an important role in whether they are allowed into the country.

“We have laws that don’t work,” Trump said. “We have to end these horrible ‘catch and release’ principles where you catch somebody, you take their name and you release them. You don’t even know who they are. The whole thing is ridiculous.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing Thursday on the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for families who illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico.  Those who did were automatically detained and children were detained separately from their parents.  

Trump signed an executive order rescinding the family separations after a nationwide outcry, including from many fellow Republicans.  A federal judge in San Diego gave officials two deadlines to reunite children, and last week credited the government for reunifying more than 1,800 children while also saying it is at fault for deporting the parents of more than 400 kids without reuniting those families.

Trump used a Twitter post Monday night to celebrate the reunifications that have taken place while making no mention of the families that remain separated.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw has ordered both the government and the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the parents, to give written updates each Thursday on the families that are still separated.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is also asking the inspectors general of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate allegations of physical and sexual abuse of immigrants by guards and other staff members at detention facilities.

The top Republican on the committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, and the top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, issued a joint letter saying there should be a thorough probe of the procedures for hiring, training and vetting guards and other workers.

Many of the allegations detailed in media reports in recent weeks date back to 2014 and include facilities in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Virginia.

“These allegations of abuse are extremely disturbing and must be addressed,” Grassley and Feinstein wrote.  “This is not a partisan issue as reporting suggests many have been occurring for years.  Immigrant families and children kept in federal custody deserve to be treated with basic human dignity and respect and should never be subjected to these forms of abuse.”

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Trial of Former Trump Campaign Chair Begins in Virginia

A jury of six men and six women was impaneled on Tuesday afternoon for the closely watched financial crimes trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Alexandria, Virginia.


Manafort, 69, is on trial for tax and bank fraud charges related to his political consulting and lobbying work for politicians in Ukraine.   


Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The trial of Manafort, who briefly headed President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, is the only to arise so far from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the vote.

The jurors – 10 whites and two Asian-Americans — who will decide Manafort’s guilt or innocence were selected from a pool of several dozen candidates. Four alternate jurors were also selected.


Prosecutors and defense lawyers objected to nearly two dozen other candidates in the juror pool for unknown reasons.


Federal District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III summarized the indictment for the jury, imploring them to consider the case “solely based on the evidence presented here and the court’s instructions of the law.”


With the jury impaneled, the trial is scheduled to continue Tuesday afternoon with 30-minute opening statements by prosecutors and defense lawyers.

On the surface, the criminal charges against Manafort — tax evasion, failure to report foreign bank accounts and fraudulently obtaining bank loans — are unrelated to the core of Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to subvert the 2016 U.S. national election.

The charges stem from Manafort’s decade-long lobbying and political consulting work for Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych.

On the surface, the criminal charges against Manafort — tax evasion, failure to report foreign bank accounts and fraudulently obtaining bank loans — are unrelated to the core of Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to subvert the 2016 U.S. national election.

The charges stem from Manafort’s decade-long lobbying and political consulting work for Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych.

While working for Yanukovych and his pro-Russia Party of Regions between 2006 and 2015, Manafort and his former business partner, Rick Gates, allegedly earned tens of millions of dollars in fees while hiding the income from the Internal Revenue Service.

To avoid paying hefty taxes, prosecutors say, they set up secret shell companies and offshore accounts to funnel their Ukrainian proceeds disguised as “loans” to U.S. accounts to buy multimillion dollar properties and luxury goods.

After Yanukovych was deposed in 2014 and their Ukrainian income dwindled, Manafort and Gates allegedly came up with another scheme to obtain money: the two used their real estate properties in the United States as collateral to fraudulently secure more than $20 million in bank loans by “falsely inflating” their income.

In all, prosecutors say, more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts Manafort and Gates set up.

Manafort has been in jail since June, when the judge presiding over the Washington case revoked his bail for allegedly tampering with potential witnesses.

The special counsel has enlisted as many as 35 witnesses to testify against Manafort. They include accountants, financial advisers, tax preparers and real estate agents.

But prosecutors’ star witness is likely to be Gates, who worked closely with Manafort in Ukraine and later followed him into Trump’s campaign as deputy chairman.

Gates was named as a co-defendant in the initial indictment handed down against Manafort last October. But when the special counsel hit the two men with a second indictment in February, Gates pleaded guilty to two lesser counts in exchange for cooperation.

Manafort has remained defiant, vowing to fight the charges.

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Trump Celebrates Kelly’s First Full Year as Chief of Staff

President Donald Trump is celebrating his chief of staff’s survival for a full year on the job.


Trump congratulated John Kelly in a tweet that includes a photo of the two men smiling wide.


He writes: “Congratulations to General John Kelly. Today we celebrate his first full year as (at)WhiteHouse Chief of Staff!”

Trump also marked the occasion during an Oval Office swearing-in ceremony for the new secretary of Veterans Affairs.


Kelly’s fate has been a subject of months of speculation as his standing in the West Wing diminished.


Trump has at times sounded out allies about potential replacements, and Kelly has told people he’d be happy if he made it to the one-year mark.


It was July 28 of last year when Trump announced Kelly would replace Reince Priebus.

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Sessions: US Culture ‘Less Hospitable to People of Faith’

American culture has become “less hospitable to people of faith,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday in vowing that the Justice Department would protect people’s religious freedom and convictions.

Sessions spoke at a Justice Department summit on religious tolerance at a time when courts across the country have been asked how to balance anti-discrimination laws against the First Amendment’s religious freedom guarantees. He also announced the creation of a “religious liberty task force” to help implement that guidance and ensure that Justice Department employees are accommodating peoples’ religious beliefs.

Conservative groups immediately praised Sessions for promising to protect deeply held religious convictions, though Trump administration critics have repeatedly voiced concerns that the attorney general’s stance undercuts LGBT rights and favors the rights of Christians over those of other faiths.

Sessions, the country’s chief law enforcement officer, warned of a “dangerous movement” that he said was eroding protections for religious Americans.

He asserted that “nuns were being forced to buy contraceptives” — an apparent, though not fully accurate, reference to an Obama administration health care policy meant to ensure women covered by faith-based groups’ health plans have access to cost-free contraceptives. Religious groups that challenged the policy argued it violated their religious beliefs.

Sessions also said it was inappropriate that judicial and executive branch nominees were being asked about their religious dogma. And he praised a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple in a case that reached the Supreme Court and ended in his favor this year. That baker, Jack Phillips, was part of a panel discussion at the Justice Department summit.

“Let’s be frank: A dangerous movement, undetected by many but real, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom. There can be no doubt. It’s no little matter. It must be confronted intellectually and politically, and defeated,” Sessions said. “This election, this past election, and much that has flowed from it, gives us a rare opportunity to arrest these trends and to confront them.

“Such a reversal will not just be done with electoral victories, however, but by intellectual victories,” he added.

Sessions, a Methodist and former Republican senator from Alabama, has made protecting religious liberty a cornerstone agenda item of his Justice Department — along with defending freedom of speech on college campuses.

In his speech, the attorney general noted that he had issued guidance last year advising executive branch employees on how to apply religious liberty protections in federal law.

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Poll: Young Americans Motivated to Fix Political ‘Dysfunction’

A new poll shows that young Americans are expressing widespread pessimism toward the current political system but are feeling motivated to make positive change in the country.

The poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV found that about 70 percent of Americans ages 15 to 34 think American politics are dysfunctional, and just 1 in 10 have felt positive or excited about the state of the country in the past month.

However, the poll also found that 62 percent of young people believe that their generation is motivated to make positive changes in the United States. A similar percentage said that voting in the 2018 midterms will allow young people to effect real change in the government.

The survey found that young people are most eager to vote for someone who shares their political views. About a third say they are certain to vote in the upcoming midterm elections in November, and about half report following news about the midterms at least some of the time.

The issues that young Americans are most interested in are health care, immigration and the economy, according to the survey.

The poll found that fewer than half of American youths are excited about a candidate who is a lifelong politician, and 79 percent say leaders from their generation would do a better job running the country.

The nationwide poll was based on interviews with 1,030 young Americans ages 15-34, from June 21, 2018 to July 9, 2018.

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