Washington, Sep 17 (AP/UNB) — The prognosis for President Donald Trump and his party was grim.
In a post-Labor Day briefing at the White House, a top Republican pollster told senior staff that the determining factor in the election wouldn't be the improving economy or the steady increase in job creation. It would be how voters feel about Trump. And the majority of the electorate, including a sizeable percentage of Republican-leaning voters, doesn't feel good about the president, according to a presentation from pollster Neil Newhouse that spanned dozens of pages.
Newhouse's briefing came amid a darkening mood among Republican officials as the November election nears. Party leaders were already worried that a surge in enthusiasm among Democrats and disdain for Trump by moderate Republicans would put the House out of reach. But some Republicans now fear their Senate majority is also in peril — a scenario that was unthinkable a few months ago given the favorable Senate map for the GOP.
"For Republican candidates to win in swing states, they need all of the voters who support President Trump, plus a chunk of those who do not," said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster. "That is threading a very narrow strategic needle."
Operatives in both parties say Republicans still have the edge in the fight for control of the Senate. But GOP officials are increasingly worried that nominees in conservative-leaning states like Missouri and Indiana are underperforming, while races in Tennessee and Texas that should be slam-dunks for Republicans are close.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raised an alarm last week, warning that each of the competitive Senate races would be "like a knife fight in an alley."
Some of the public fretting among Republicans appears to be strategic, as party officials try to motivate both voters and donors. Many moderate Republican voters "don't believe there is anything at stake in this election," according to the documents Newhouse presented to White House officials. He attributed that belief in part to a disregard for public polling, given that most surveys showed Democrat Hillary Clinton defeating Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Newhouse and the White House would not comment on the early September meeting. The Associated Press obtained a copy of Newhouse's presentation, and two Republicans with knowledge of the briefing discussed the details on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter publicly.
At the White House, anxiety over the midterms has been on the rise for months as polls increasingly show a challenging environment for the GOP and heightened Democratic enthusiasm. The sheer number of competitive races in both the House and Senate is stretching cash reserves and forcing tough calculations about where to deploy resources and surrogates. And there are growing fears that the coalition of voters that delivered Trump to the White House will not come out for midterms.
Even if those voters do show up in large numbers, Republicans could still come up short. The polling presented to White House officials, which was commissioned by the Republican National Committee, showed that Trump's loyal supporters make up about one-quarter of the electorate. Another quarter is comprised of Republicans who like Trump's policies but not the president himself and do not appear motivated to back GOP candidates. And roughly half of expected midterm voters are Democrats who are energized by their opposition to the president.
White House aides say Trump is getting regular briefings on the political landscape and is aware of the increasingly grim polling, even though he's predicted a "red wave" for Republicans on Twitter and at campaign rallies. Aides say Trump's sober briefings from GOP officials are sometimes offset by the frequent conversations he has with a cadre of outside advisers who paint a sunnier picture of the electoral landscape and remind the president of his upset victory in 2016.
The paradox for Republicans is that most Americans are largely satisfied with the economy, according to numerous surveys. But the party has struggled to keep the economy centered at the center of the election debate. Trump keeps thrusting other issues to the forefront, including his frustration with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and his intense anger with unflattering portrayals of his presidency in a book by journalist Bob Woodward and an anonymous editorial from a senior administration official that was published in the New York Times. He stunned some backers Thursday when he disputed the death toll in Puerto Rico from last year's Hurricane Maria, just as another storm was barreling toward the East Coast.
Newhouse told White House officials that Trump could appeal to moderates and independents by emphasizing that a Democratic majority would be outside the mainstream on issues like abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and government-funded health care. Other Republican strategists have offered candidates similar advice.
Karl Rove, who served as chief political strategist to President George W. Bush, said that if Republicans cast their Democratic rivals as soft on immigration or in favor of high-dollar government spending on health care, "that's a toxic mix to the soft Republicans and Republican-leaning independents."
In his most recent campaign appearances, Trump soft-peddled his predictions for a Republican wave and warned supporters that a Democratic congressional majority would have consequences. But he focused less on the policy implications of Democrats regaining control of Congress and more on the impact on his presidency, including the prospect of impeachment.
"If it does happen, it's your fault, because you didn't go out to vote," Trump said of the prospect of getting impeached. "You didn't go out to vote — that's the only way it could happen."
Seoul, Sep 17 (AP/UNB) — A senior South Korean official on Monday played down the chance that this week's inter-Korean summit will result in major progress in efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear program.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in flies to Pyongyang on Tuesday for his third summit of the year with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Presidential chief of staff Im Jong-seok told reporters the leaders plan to meet twice during Moon's three-day trip.
Im said it's "difficult to have any optimistic outlook" for progress on denuclearization during those talks, adding that progress will depend on how candid the discussions are. Still, Im said he expects the summit to produce "meaningful" agreements on ways to ease a decades-long military standoff between the rivals. He did not elaborate.
Moon's trip comes as global diplomatic efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear program have stalled and questions have been raised about how serious Kim is about following through with his vague commitments to denuclearize. Moon has said he hopes he can help restart talks between Washington and Pyongyang, which peaked in June with a historic summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.
North Korea has long maintained that's its nuclear program is aimed at coping with what it calls U.S. military threats. As such, in exchange for giving up its nuclear program it has been seeking the withdrawal of the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and a peace treaty with the United States to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War. It also wants the lifting of U.S.-led sanctions.
North Korea has taken some steps, like dismantling its nuclear and rocket-engine testing sites, but U.S. officials have said the North must take more serious disarmament steps before receiving outside concessions.
Im, who is in charge of Seoul preparations for the summit, said he was confidant that the talks would yield agreements that "fundamentally remove the danger of armed clashes and ease fears of war" between the two Koreas. He said he expects the agreements would help promote chances for the signing of a peace treaty that formally ends the Korean War.
Military officials have in recent months discussed the possibility of disarming a jointly controlled area at their shared border village, removing front-line guard posts and halting hostile acts along their sea boundary.
The Koreas' 248-kilometer (155-mile) -long border is the world's most heavily fortified, with hundreds of thousands of troops stationed along a border laced with mines, barbed wire fences and anti-tank traps. The navies of the Koreas also fought several bloody skirmishes off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula.
Moon will also take a group of business tycoons such as Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong to Pyongyang. Some experts say Moon is preparing for the resumption of inter-Korean economic cooperation projects after diplomacy eventually yields results. Currently, all major joint economic projects between the Koreas remain stalled because of U.S.-led sanctions.
Guatemala City, Sep 17 (AP/UNB) — The Constitutional Court ordered President Jimmy Morales late Sunday to allow the head of a U.N.-backed anti-corruption commission to return to Guatemala, dealing a blunt rebuke to the leader who has sought in recent weeks to defang the body and its work.
The unanimous ruling by the court's five magistrates marked the second time in as many years that the court has reversed Morales' efforts to keep commission chief Ivan Velasquez out of Guatemala. Velasquez has pressed a number of high-profile graft probes, including one that is pending against the president himself.
There was no immediate public reaction from the president. His spokesman, Alfredo Brito, did not immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Morales announced in late August that he would not renew the mandate of the commission for another two-year term, effectively giving it a year to wind down and end its activities.
A few days later he said that Velasquez, a Colombian national who was traveling in Washington at the time, would be barred from re-entering the Central American nation. Morales called him "a person who attacks order and public security in the country."
Morales' order touched off public protests in support of the body, and multiple appeals were promptly filed with the Constitutional Court.
In issuing its decision Sunday night, the court said its ruling must be obeyed and cannot be appealed.
Morales said earlier this month that he was "not obligated to obey illegal rulings," which observers interpreted as a clear allusion to the court's previous checks on his actions.
Last year, Morales had declared Velasquez persona non grata and tried to have him expelled from the country, but that move was blocked by the Constitutional Court.
Among the investigations that the commission, known as CICIG for its initials in Spanish, has brought in Guatemala was one that led to the resignation and jailing of former President Otto Perez Molina and his vice president. Others have ensnared dozens of politicians, public officials and businesspeople.
Morales is suspected in a case involving more than $1 million in purported illicit campaign financing. In August, Guatemala's Supreme Court allowed a motion by CICIG and Guatemalan prosecutors seeking to lift the president's immunity from prosecution to go to lawmakers. If they approve it, he would be opened up to possible prosecution.
Morales denies wrongdoing, but critics saw his move to wind down CICIG and bar Velasquez as a maneuver to protect himself as well as relatives and associates also in the sights of investigators.
The president had asked the United Nations to designate someone to replace Velasquez, but the world body opted to keep him in charge for the time being, working remotely from abroad. The U.N. defended CICIG and its commissioner, saying the body has played "a pivotal role in the fight against impunity in Guatemala."
Hong Kong, Sep 17 (AP/UNB) — Philippine and Chinese authorities say the death toll from a typhoon has risen to at least 69 with dozens missing.
Mangkhut weakened to a tropical storm Monday morning as it moved deeper into southern China, where rain and strong winds were expected to continue through Tuesday.
A Philippine national police report said the death toll as of Monday midday was 65, with 43 people missing and 64 injured. Chinese authorities reported four deaths from falling trees and building materials in Guangdong, China's manufacturing hub.
Many of the missing in the Philippines are gold miners and their families feared buried in a landslide after seeking shelter in a bunkhouse-turned-chapel in a village in Benguet province.
Mangkhut battered the northern Philippines on Saturday before slamming into southern China on Sunday. It was the most powerful typhoon to hit Hong Kong since 1979, packing winds of 195 kilometers per hour (121 mph).
Mangkhut has weakened from a typhoon to a tropical storm as it moves deeper into China.
The storm was still affecting southern China's coast and the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan on Monday morning and rain and strong winds were expected to continue through Tuesday.
Hong Kong residents were being told to stay away from the coastline and be on alert for occasional gales. Bus, ferry and rail services were suspended and almost 900 flights were canceled at the city's airport, one of the world's busiest. The South China Morning Post said Hong Kong's hospitals had to use backup power due to outages caused by the storm.
Mangkhut earlier lashed the Philippines, sparking landslides and building collapses that killed at least 64 people. At least two deaths have been reported in China. As of Monday morning Mangkhut was on track to pass over the Guangxi regional capital of Nanning.
The Hong Kong Observatory reported Mangkhut was the most powerful cyclone to hit the city since 1979, packing maximum sustained gusts of 195 kilometers per hour (121 mph).
Rescuers are resuming work to find people feared trapped by a landslide in a Philippine gold-mining area that was pounded by wind and rain from Typhoon Mangkhut.
The workers used pikes and shovels to dig into the mud Monday morning, with the use of heavy equipment limited on the soaked ground.
Philippine police had said earlier that at least 40 people, mostly gold miners, were feared to have been trapped when part of a mountain slope collapsed on miners' bunkhouses in a far-flung village of Itogon town in Benguet province. At least seven bodies had been dug out Sunday before the work had ceased during the night.
Mangkhut battered the northern Philippines on Saturday before slamming into southern China. At least 64 deaths were reported in the Philippines and two more in China as of Sunday.
A Chinese state broadcaster says Typhoon Mangkhut has left at least two people dead after the massive storm slammed into southern China's Guangdong province.
China Central Television also says the typhoon has triggered storm surges as high as 3 meters (10 feet).
Fifteen people were injured in the nearby gambling enclave of Macau, which closed casinos for the first time. The Hong Kong Observatory warned people to stay away from the Victoria Harbour landmark, where storm surges battered the sandbag-reinforced waterfront.
More than 2.4 million people had been evacuated in Guangdong by Sunday evening to flee the typhoon, according to state media.
The typhoon battered southern China after first battering the northern Philippines, where at least 64 people were killed.
Philippine police say the death toll from Typhoon Mangkhut has climbed to 64.
The national police also say 45 other people are missing and 33 were injured in the massive storm, which battered the northern Philippines on Saturday.
The hardest-hit province was Benguet, where 38 people died, mostly in two landslides, and 37 remain missing.
After blowing past the Philippines, the typhoon lashed Hong Kong and other parts of southern China on Sunday.
Chinese state media say more than 2.45 million people have been relocated in southern China's Guangdong province to flee Typhoon Mangkhut.
State media also cited the Guangdong provincial meteorological station as saying that by Sunday evening, nearly 50,000 fishing boats had been called back to port.
The official Xinhua News Agency says groceries flew off the shelves of supermarkets in the provincial capital of Guangzhou as residents stocked up in preparation for being confined at home by the typhoon.
The massive storm left dozens dead from landslides and drownings as it sliced through the northern Philippines on Saturday.
A Philippine police officer says at least 40 people, mostly gold miners, are feared to have been trapped in a landslide in the country's north and seven bodies have been dug out by rescuers.
Police Superintendent Pelita Tacio tells The Associated Press that a part of a mountain slope collapsed on the miners' bunkhouses in a far-flung village of Itogon town in Benguet province as Typhoon Mangkhut's ferocious winds and rain pounded the gold-mining region on Saturday.
Tacio, who was at the scene of the landslide earlier Sunday, says rescuers found another man but could not immediately pluck his body, which was pinned by rocks and mud.
Typhoon Mangkhut has made landfall in southern China's Guangdong province, bringing torrential rains and winds of 162 kilometers per hour (100 miles per hour).
The typhoon barreled into the southern Chinese city of Taishan at 5 p.m. Sunday.
In preparation for the storm, southern China evacuated hundreds of thousands of people, suspended high-speed rail services and canceled classes.
The massive storm left at least 28 people dead from landslides and drownings as it sliced through the northern Philippines on Saturday.
Hong Kong and southern China hunkered down under red alert as strong winds and heavy rain from Typhoon Mangkhut lash the densely populated coast.
The biggest storm this year left at least 28 dead from landslides and drownings as it sliced through the northern Philippines on Saturday.
Nearly half a million people were evacuated from seven cities in Guangdong province, the gambling enclave of Macau closed down casinos for the first time and the Hong Kong Observatory told people to stay away from the Victoria Harbour, where storm surges battered the waterfront reinforced with sandbags. Mangkhut is due to make landfall in Guangdong later Sunday.
The national meteorological center says southern China "will face a severe test caused by wind and rain" and urged officials to prepare for possible disasters.
Berlin, Sep 17 (AP/UNB) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz are meeting to discuss migration before an upcoming European Union summit on the topic.
Merkel told reporters in Berlin as she and Kurz prepared to sit down for their one-to-one talks Sunday that "migration is, of course, a very important issue."
The EU's member countries are divided over how to respond to mass migration.
Some refuse to accept any asylum-seekers from the southern nations where most newcomers land first. Others are encouraging greater solidarity within the 28-nation EU.
Merkel and Kurz are set to join other national leaders at the two-day summit starting Wednesday in Salzburg, Austria. Their agenda includes a review of Brexit negotiations.
The Austrian leader next travels to Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.