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Trump and Democrats Prepare for a Reset in 2019

The year 2018 proved to be one of change in U.S. politics.  Opposition Democrats won back control of the House of Representatives in the November midterm elections, and that could have a profound impact on the next two years of Donald Trump’s presidency.

A preview of what the year ahead could look like came in the December 11 Oval Office meeting between President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders Representative Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer.

The verbal jousting over the president’s demand for a border wall with Mexico is likely the first of many partisan showdowns ahead given that Democrats will hold the majority in the House beginning in early January.

“Democrats will certainly use their majority to highlight some differences with Donald Trump and to investigate the Trump administration,” said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a recent guest on VOA’s “Encounter” program. “And then we will be spending this year leading into the presidential election of 2020, so it is a transition year.”

Investigations ahead


Democrats fueled their midterm victory with opposition to President Donald Trump spurred by a strong turnout from women and progressive voters on behalf of candidates like Massachusetts Democrat Ayanna Pressley.

“We have affirmed that while this could go down as the darkest time in our history, we will not let it be. And instead, we will be defined by our hopes, not our fears,” Pressley told supporters on election night.

Democrats picked up 40 House seats but Republicans bolstered their majority in the Senate and will hold a 53-to-47-seat edge in January.

Even though Trump now faces the prospect of a stalled legislative agenda and numerous oversight investigations launched by House Democrats, he remains defiant.

“Almost from the time I announced I was going to run, they have been giving us this investigation fatigue. It has been a long time,” the president told a White House news conference shortly after the election. “They have got nothing. Zero. You know why? Because there is nothing. But they can play that game but we can play it better.”

Deal or no deal?

But Democratic control of the House will force the president to adjust to a new political reality, according to University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato.

“Trump has faced relatively few problems in dealing with Congress [in his first two years] at least compared to other presidents who were dealing with one or both branches being controlled by the opposition party,” Sabato told Associated Press Television.

Trump can boast of his tax cut passed by a Republican Congress and his two Supreme Court appointments approved by the Republican-controlled Senate.

But next year, without full Republican control of Congress, and with an eye on an approaching re-election campaign, Trump could be more interested in cutting some deals with Democrats.

Jim Kessler is with the center-left policy group Third Way.

“At this point we have not seen Donald Trump really have the ability to work with Democrats to cut any sort of deal in the first two years,” Kessler told VOA. “So, Mr. ‘Art of the Deal’ has really fallen short and we will see if that is possible this time.”

Russia probe looms

Also looming on the horizon for the Trump White House in 2019, though, is the Russia investigation, which could move toward a conclusion in the coming months.

“This is a watershed year coming up for President Trump,” said Tom DeFrank of the National Journal, who has covered Washington politics for 40 years. “I mean, he [Trump] is going to have to confront whatever it is that Robert Mueller says about him or alleges, and I think it is going to be a difficult year for him.”

Trump will be increasingly focused on the next presidential election, but so will scores of Democrats who hope to defeat him in 2020, said University of Virginia analyst Guian McKee.

“You know, I think the reality is that the 2020 campaign has begun. That is probably unfortunate, but that shapes everything going forward,” said McKee.

Given the political reset between Congress and the White House and the uncertainty of what the Russia investigation will find, what happens in 2019 could go a long way to determining whether Donald Trump is a one-term or two-term president.

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Trump and Democrats Prepare for Reset in 2019

The year 2018 proved to be one of change in U.S. politics. Opposition Democrats won back control of the House of Representatives in the November midterm elections, and that could have a profound impact on the next two years of Donald Trump’s presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

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Trump Praises Treasury Secretary Mnuchin But Hits Fed Again on Rate Rises

President Donald Trump on Tuesday expressed confidence in Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin amid worries over a weakening economy and a stock market slump, but repeated his criticism of the U.S. Federal Reserve, saying it has raised interest rates too quickly.

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office after a Christmas video conference with U.S. troops deployed abroad, Trump also said U.S. companies were “the greatest in the world” and presented a “tremendous” buying opportunity.

Asked if he has confidence in Mnuchin, Trump said: “Yes, I do. Very talented guy. Very smart person,” he said. His comments came after Mnuchin on Monday held a conference call with U.S. regulators to discuss plunging U.S. stock markets.

The call did more to rattle markets than to assure them. All three major U.S. stock indexes ended down more than 2 percent on the day before the Christmas holiday. The S&P 500 has lost about 19.8 percent from its Sept. 20 closing high, just shy of the 20 percent threshold that commonly defines a bear market.

Mnuchin also spoke on Sunday with the heads of the six largest U.S. banks, who confirmed they have enough liquidity to continue lending and that “the markets continue to function properly.”

Investors said his move to convene a call with the president’s Working Group on Financial Markets, known as the “Plunge Protection team,” may have weighed on sentiment.

On Tuesday, Trump praised U.S. companies and said their lower stock prices present an opportunity for investors. “I have great confidence in our companies. We have companies, the greatest in the world, and they’re doing really well. They have record kinds of numbers. So I think it’s a tremendous opportunity to buy.”

U.S. stocks have dropped sharply in recent weeks on concerns over weaker economic growth. Trump has largely laid the blame for economic headwinds on the Fed, openly criticizing its chairman, Jerome Powell, whom he appointed.

“They’re raising interest rates too fast because they think the economy is so good. But I think that they will get it pretty soon,” Trump said, repeating his criticism.

Media reports have suggested Trump has gone as far as discussing firing Powell, and he told Reuters in August that he was “not thrilled” with the chairman.

On Monday, Trump said “The only problem our economy has is the Fed.”

The Fed hiked interest rates again last week, as had been widely expected.

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GOP Allies Still Trying to Figure out How to Read Trump

As the first two years of President Donald Trump’s administration close, Republican allies still haven’t figured out how best to influence a leader who takes cues from the forces that swept him to office and seems to fear losing them above all else.

Republicans on Capitol Hill and even the president’s closest advisers have been whipsawed over a series of recent actions that show how intently Trump relies on what is sometimes called his gut — an adherence to campaign promises he made that are being reinforced by a constellation of election gurus, Fox News personalities and others who hold sway like few others.


“I know he can be a handful, but he is the president,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told The Associated Press.


On the domestic front, no sooner had Trump signaled he might be backing off his demand for $5 billion to build a border wall with Mexico — easing away from a partial government shutdown — than he took a U-turn after being scolded by conservative allies and pundits, who accused him of wavering on a campaign promise. Now, three days into the shutdown, his budget chief says it could drag into the New Year.


On issues abroad, Trump acted against the advice of his national security advisers and issued a surprise decision to pull troops from Syria. That prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to step down and Trump’s special envoy to the coalition fighting Islamic State militants, Brett McGurk, to resign. A drawdown of troops in Afghanistan also appeared to be in the works.


As the stock market tumbled on Christmas Eve, Trump lashed out at the Federal Reserve sowing more uncertainty over his public criticism of chairman Jerome Powell.


Now, as Republicans prepare to relinquish their hold on government, with Democrats taking control of the House in January, the opportunities — and limits — of the GOP alliance with the Trump White House may be running their course.


“I am all alone [poor me] in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal,” the president tweeted.


Over and again, Trump has shown himself to be more of a tactical, than strategic, thinker, acting to avoid short-term pain rather than seeking long-term gain.

When Congress was about to keep the government running without a fight over border wall money, Trump felt the outcry from his base and intervened.


Trump told House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders at the White House he wouldn’t sign a Senate-passed compromise bill, which would have kept border security money at $1.3 billion, not the $5 billion he wanted for the wall with Mexico.


The House and Senate gaveled in for a brief Christmas Eve session Monday only to close up quickly for the holidays.


“Trump is plunging the country into chaos,” the Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement. “Instead of bringing certainty into people’s lives, he’s continuing the Trump Shutdown just to please right-wing radio and TV hosts.”


Trump’s sudden moves on Syria left top Republicans on Capitol Hill criticizing his decision to pull out all of the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signed on to a letter with other GOP senators urging Trump to reconsider.


Graham used a weekend luncheon with conservative lawmakers at the White House to impress on the president the rightness of his instinct on both the border wall and the troop withdrawal in Syria, while also sharing with Trump some ideas for smoothing the policy around both issues.


“I told the president, I’m not arguing with your general philosophy,” Graham said. “He’s a good listener.”


Graham reminded Trump that while shoring up the border wall is important, “a Southern wall isn’t going to protect you against ISIS.”


It’s unclear if Trump was listening. The Pentagon said Monday that Mattis has already signed the order to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.


And Mattis, who was also unhappy with Trump’s order to develop plans to pull out half of the 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, was being pushed out two months early. Irritated by a surge of criticism over his decision, Trump said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will take over as acting secretary on Jan. 1.


Trump’s allies chock up the president’s year-end moves to a wager that the intense support from his base of voters will continue to propel his electoral chances in 2020 — even if polling suggests otherwise.


An analysis of VoteCast, a nationwide poll of more than 115,000 midterm voters conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago, highlights the fractures.


A small, but significant slice of voters — the 18 percent who described themselves as only “somewhat” approving of the president — expressed concerns.


Compared with the 27 percent of voters who describe themselves as strong Trump supporters, the “somewhat” Trump voters are much more likely to disapprove of Trump on key issues and have reservations about his personality.


In a warning signs for Republicans, who just lost their House majority in the November election, those voters are more likely to have voted for Democrats in 2018. They are more educated, somewhat more likely to be women, and more likely to live in suburbs.


The president has been busy on the phone to allies on Capitol Hill, talking late into the night with some.


Trump seemed “exuberant” at the luncheon, said one Republican, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, who was the only member of the GOP leadership to attend.


Ryan, who is retiring, and McConnell have become almost side actors to the year-end shutdown they both tried to avoid, but now will partly own. Both offices said it was up to Trump and Democrats to cut a deal.


Shelby said that at lunch Trump did seem like he wanted to reach a deal. At the same time, it’s not always clear whether any of the hours of conversation result in decisions that drift too far from Trump’s own instinct to stay close to his base.


“I don’t think it’s imminent we’re going to reach a deal,” Shelby said. “I wish we could.”


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American Women Turned Anger into Activism in 2018

2018 has been dubbed “The Year of the Woman,” after a record number of women were electetd to national, state and local legislatures across the United States. The diverse group includes several first-timers who took the leap into politics in response to the Trump administration’s policies. VOA’s Jesusemen Oni reports.

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2018 Another Tumultuous Year for Trump and the Media

It was another contentious year between U.S. President Donald Trump and the reporters who cover his administration. The president continues to refer to journalists as “enemy of the people.” White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this story.

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Democrats, Trump Blame Each Other for Government Shutdown Chaos

The two Congressional Democratic leaders are blaming President Donald Trump for “plunging the country into chaos” on Christmas Eve – when, according to the carol, all is supposed to be “calm and bright.”

“The stock market is tanking and the president is waging a personal war on the Federal Reserve after he just fired the secretary of defense,” Senator Chuck Schumer and incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday.

“The president wanted the shutdown, but seems not to know how to get himself out of it,” they wrote in a joint statement.

Schumer and Pelosi were referring to the partial federal government shutdown which enters its fourth day on Christmas, with no clear end in sight.

Trump is demanding $5 billion for a wall along the U.S. – Mexican border. Democrats say no way and have offered $1.3 billion for what they call border security.

The president canceled his Christmas vacation to his Florida resort because of the impasse with Congress.

“I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security,” he tweeted Monday. “At some point, the Democrats not wanting to make a deal will cost our Country more than the Border Wall we are all talking about. Crazy.”

Another Trump tweet claimed “virtually every Democrat” strongly supported a “Border Wall or Fence” but turned against the idea after he made it an important part of his campaign for president.

Most Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, have rallied around Trump’s demand.

“One would think that securing our homeland, controlling our borders and protecting the American people, would be bipartisan priorities…a core duty of any nation’s government,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said  of Kentucky has said.

In the past, Democrats have been flexible on additional border security funding, including money for a wall, as part of a larger deal on thorny immigration issues.

Earlier this year, Democrats were willing to support wall funding in return for protections for so-called “Dreamers” – illegal immigrants brought to America as children  a deal Trump initially hailed but later abandoned.

Democrats say saying Trump was willing to sign a deal to keep the government operating without the full $5 billion, but backed out after those Schumer calls “right-wing radio and TV talk show hosts” complained.

“Different people from the same White House are saying different things about what the president would accept or not accept…making it impossible to know where they stand at any given moment,” Schumer and Pelosi said.

What is certain, though, is the government will remain closed at least through Thursday and, according to acting Chief of Staff Nick Mulvaney, into 2019.

While government agencies dealing with national security and public safety remain open, other offices are closed and 800,000 federal workers are on furlough. Those who are considered to be essential employees are reporting for duty, but are working for no pay.

Congress has always approved back pay for all federal workers after past shutdowns.

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Trump Blames Fed for Market Turmoil

U.S. stock markets fell sharply on Monday with the S&P 500 down more than two percent and the Dow off nearly three percent.

President Donald Trump is blaming the Federal Reserve (central bank) for stock market declines and other economic problems.

In tweets, Trump has said the only U.S. economic problem is rising interest rates. He accused Fed chief Jerome Powell of not understanding the market and damaging the economy with rate hikes.

The Fed slashed the key interest rate nearly to zero to boost growth during the recession that started in 2007. The central bank kept rates low for several years.

Eventually, growth recovered, and unemployment dropped to its lowest level in 49 years, and Fed officials judged that the emergency stimulus was no longer needed. Fed leaders voted to reduce the stimulus by raising interest rates gradually. The concern was that too much stimulus could spark inflation. Experts say such a sharp increase in prices could prompt a damaging cycle of price increases leading to rising wage demands, which would spark another round of price hikes.

Analysts quoted in the financial press say Trump’s attacks on the Fed make investors worry that the central bank might lose the independence that allows it to make decisions based on economic factors rather than what is politically popular.

Some economists say investor confidence has also been shaken by Trump’s tariffs on major trading partners. Raising trade costs can reduce trade and cutting trade cuts demand for goods and services, which slows economic growth.

Investor confidence, or a lack of it, can cause stock and other markets to decline as worried stock holders sell shares and prospective investors stop buying available stocks. When buyer demand drops, prices fall.

Another factor hurting investor confidence is the political impasse in Washington over money for Trump’s border wall with Mexico. The bickering means Trump and congress can not agree on spending priorities, so legislation paying some government employees has lapsed.

In an effort to calm turbulent markets, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spoke with leaders of top U.S. banks in an unusual session Sunday. He says they have the money they need for routine operations.

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Films on Iconic Justice Ginsburg Detail Exceptional Life and Contributions

As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recovers from recent surgery for early stage lung cancer, two new films are paying tribute to her life and accomplishments.

The documentary “RBG”, by filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West, chronicles the justice’s lifelong legal battles for gender equality, her appointment to the Supreme Court by an overwhelming vote of 96 to 3 in 1993 and her rise as a pop culture icon in America. The feature “On the Basis of Sex”, by Mimi Leder, another female filmmaker, offers a dramatized portrayal of the beginnings of Justice Ginsburg’s illustrious career and her fight for women’s rights, through the lens of her personal life.

Leder’s film follows Justice Ginsburg’s challenges in a man’s world, starting with her first year as a Harvard law student in 1954. She was one of nine female students among more than 500 men, a situation that did not please the school’s dean, played by Sam Waterston. The film shows the character demanding to know why they are occupying seats that could otherwise have gone to young men.


“On the Basis of Sex” also looks into Ginsburg’s life as a wife and mother. At some point she was supporting her convalescent husband, who had suffered testicular cancer, by attending both her classes and his.

Daniel Stiepleman, the film’s screenwriter, is Justice Ginsburg’s nephew. He told VOA that apart from her legal acumen and advocacy for women’s rights, he wanted to share his first-hand experience of Ginsburg’s equal partnership with her husband, renowned  tax law attorney Martin Ginsburg.

“My wife and I have always looked up to Aunt Ruth and Uncle Marty as our role models for what a marriage is supposed to be like,” he explained. “They shared the load raising their kids, getting food on the table, and taking care of the house, and we knew that that’s how we wanted to be as well. And so, for me, this was an opportunity to share our good fortune to have them as role models with the rest of the country, the rest of the world.”

Actor Armie Hammer interprets Martin Ginsburg. Hammer says he felt privileged to learn about the man’s character from Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself. “We were very lucky to have time with Justice Ginsburg in her private chambers in the Supreme Court. She invited us in and she was very generous with her time. More than actually answering any of my questions, I learned everything I needed to know about the relationship, [because] the minute his name came up she started smiling. And I could feel that love was very much alive.”

Hammer predicts the film will inspire audiences, especially women during the #MeToo era. “I think it is great for women to see a movie about a woman who changed the world without needing superpowers.”

Ginsburg herself is portrayed by Felicity Jones. It was a role she found, to say the least, challenging. She told VOA, “It was nerve wracking! You don’t enter into that lightly so it was about becoming her in every single way and doing justice to her story.” She also says that though the events surrounding Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life have been dramatized for the sake of entertainment, they speak truth to power. “It is so important that it does entertain but at the same time, it’s about getting a message into this world and about saying,‘Look what men and women can achieve when they work together, when they have absolute equality.'”

RBG chronicles Justice Ginsburg’s life from her birth to an immigrant Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, to her rise as a pop culture icon known as “Notorious R.B.G.” Since 2013, when the majority of the Supreme Court justices were conservative, Justice Ginsburg became the most vocal dissenting liberal voice on the court. At that time, New York University law student Shana Knizhnik created a blog about Ginsburg’s fiery dissenting opinions against decisions by the majority conservative justices. She coined the term, “Notorious R.B.G.,” echoing the moniker of a well-known rapper — also from Brooklyn — The Notorious B.I.G. 

Knizhnik’s blog and follow-up best-selling book re-introduced the octogenarian’s pivotal role in the fight for gender equality and women’s rights for more than half a century, and established her as the bulwark of liberalism in the high court. Every time Knizhnik would write about another of Justice Ginsburg’s dissenting opinions, “the web would explode,” comments a young woman in the documentary.

Media strategist Frank Chi created an online graphic of the justice in her Supreme Court robe and white collar and a crown like the one worn by The Notorious B.I.G. The image caught on: tattoos, t-shirts and mugs would carry his design, and images created by others. Chocolatier Sue Cassidy says her company, Choukette, includes a portrait of Ginsburg on chocolate, as part of its Phenomenal Women line. “She has her own box, and we can’t keep them in stock. They are just selling like crazy.”

“I am 84 years old and everybody wants to take a picture with me,” says a mischievous Justice Ginsburg. She has been hailed as a pioneer for gender equality, a tenacious Supreme Court justice, determined to work as long as she can make a difference on the bench. 

In 2011, a year after the death of her husband, Justice Ginsburg spoke with VOA’s Julie Taboh about her legacy. “I hope that I will be remembered as someone who loves the law, loves her country, loved humanity, prizes the dignity of every individual, and works as hard as she can, with whatever talent she has to make the world a little better than it was when I entered it,” she said.

Justice Ginsburg has spoken highly of both films depicting her life. Filmmaker Leder says the justice offered advice for On the Basis of Sex and fact-checked it. “She saw the film and she gave me a hug and a kiss, and that alone was incredible. I feel that women will be inspired not just in this country, but all over the world by the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which is her fight for equality, inclusion, her fight against injustice.”


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Court Says Justice Ginsburg Up and Working After Surgery

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is up and working as she recuperates from cancer surgery.

A spokeswoman for the court, Kathy Arberg, also says that Ginsburg remained in New York at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on Sunday. No information has been released on when Ginsburg might return home.

Ginsburg underwent surgery Friday to remove two malignant growths in her left lung. Doctors say there is no evidence of any remaining disease.

Now 85, the justice has been treated for cancer two other times. Last month she cracked three ribs in a fall at the court.

The court next meets on Jan. 7. Despite her health problems, Ginsburg has never missed arguments.

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