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Regardless of party, the 2018 primaries run through Trump

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WASHINGTON — In our divided political times, something unites both Democrats and Republicans running in key primaries this season: Most of them are talking about Trump.

Of course, there’s a difference in exactly how they’re talking about him. In Republican primaries, the conversation is about which candidate is more loyal to the president — or which candidate might have criticized him in the past.

  • Here’s Todd Rokita running in the May 8 Indiana Senate primary: “[GOP opponent] Luke Messer — he plotted with the Never-Trumpers to steal the nomination from President Trump… I’m Todd Rokita and I’ll proudly stand with our president and Mike Pence to drain the swamp,” he says in a TV ad as he dons a red “Make America Great Again” hat.
  • Here’s Messer’s own TV ad: “I’m Luke Messer. I get teamwork. That’s why I back President Trump’s agenda — tax cuts, pro-life and funding for our troops.” (Messer’s campaign also has seized on the news that Rokita called Trump “vulgar, if not profane” in a 2016 interview explaining why he backed Marco Rubio at the time.)
  • Here’s a TV ad from an outside group backing Republican Patrick Morrisey in the May 8 West Virginia GOP Senate primary: “Patrick Morrisey will move President Trump’s agenda forward.”
  • Here’s Republican Steve Braun running to fill Rokita’s House seat in Indiana: “Hoosiers are ready for ‘America First,’” he says in a TV ad.
  • And as the Washington Post recently spotlighted, here’s a TV ad from Republican Bill Schuette running in the August 7 gubernatorial primary in Michigan: “Supported by President Trump, Bill Schuette is the strong leader who can defeat the Granholm liberals.”

In Democratic primaries, meanwhile, the conversation is about which candidate is tougher on Trump, especially as a way to prove one’s progressive credentials. This anti-Trump contest, in fact, dates back to last year, when Virginia’s Ralph Northam was calling the president a “narcissistic maniac.”

  • Here’s a digital ad from Gwen Graham, who’s running in the increasingly competitive August 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary in Florida: “Donald Trump is an embarrassment. Donald Trump is an example of a bully.”
  • Here’s a TV ad from Democrat Steve Sisolak, who’s running in the June 12 Democratic gubernatorial primary in Nevada: “I’ve taken on bullies my whole life… Donald Trump is hurting Nevada families. He wants to take health care away from 200,000 Nevadans. He wants to break up families by deporting DREAMers.”

The Gwen Graham ad — much like the Northam one from last year — is especially striking, because it comes from a Dem candidate who, fairly or not, is being accused of not being sufficiently progressive. So playing the Trump card potentially neutralizes that. Bottom line: If you have primary problems, Trump is your elixir — in either supporting him (if you’re a Republican) or attacking him (if you’re a Democrat).

Trump White House hits the pause button on a trade war with China

“White House officials moved quickly on Wednesday to calm fears of a potential trade war with China, saying the administration’s proposed tariffs were a ‘threat’ that would ultimately help, not hurt, the United States economy, hours after China said it would punish American products with similar levies,” the New York Times writes.

“The administration’s insistence that a trade war was not imminent came as the United States and China traded tit-for-tat penalties that caused wild swings in stock markets from Hong Kong to New York.”

More: “White House officials reiterated on Wednesday that China must stop the ‘unfair’ trading practices President Trump believes have disadvantaged American companies and workers, but they held out the possibility that tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods outlined on Tuesday might never go into effect.

“‘There’s no trade war here,’ Larry Kudlow, Mr. Trump’s new top economic adviser, said in an interview on Fox Business Network. He described the threat of tariffs as ‘just the first proposal’ in a process that would involve negotiations and back-channel talks. ‘I understand the stock market’s anxiety,” he said. “But on the other hand, don’t overreact.’”

By the way, here’s the front page of the Des Moines Register: “Tariffs may help to sink farmers.” (What is Trump’s ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, who was Iowa’s former governor, thinking right now?)

Facebook’s Zuckerberg to testify before Congress April 10-11

NBC News: “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees as well and the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 10 and 11 respectively, the committees announced Wednesday.”

“The public testimony will be Zuckerberg’s first before the U.S. government and comes after Facebook has been the subject of broad criticism and numerous legal inquiries over how the user information of as many as 87 million Facebook users ended up in the possession of a data-analysis firm that worked with President Donald Trump’s election campaign.”

Our take: The problem that Facebook has right now is a credibility problem: Every time they give an explanation of what happened in 2016, we ultimately learn that it was worse than they said.

Scott Pruitt’s campaign to save his job

“EPA chief Scott Pruitt and his allies in the administration are on a mission to save his job — offering a blitz of interviews to friendly media outlets while separately accusing a former agency staffer of a cascade of damaging leaks,” per Politico. “But the White House made it clear Wednesday that President Donald Trump is not pleased with all the negative headlines surrounding him.”

One thing is for sure: Pruitt has a constituency inside the conservative movement. We’ll see if that’s enough to save his job.

Rundown on the 2018 midterms

In case you missed them, here are some of the recent midterm developments that we’ve chronicled on our “Rundown” blog: Per NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald, Democrats are hoping their next upset comes in the April 24 AZ-8 special election… Vulnerable GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., called on Pruitt to resign… And Joe Biden is hosting a fundraiser for Phil Bredesen in Tennessee on April 10.

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More than 20,000 Haitians are gathered in Colombia for possible migration to U.S.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. officials are tracking large groups of Haitians in Latin America, including more than 20,000 in Colombia, who like the thousands now massed on the Texas border may soon try to reach the U.S., according to an internal document obtained by NBC News.

The Department of Homeland Security document also said the DHS Office of Professional Responsibility, the agency’s internal watchdog, is investigating an incident in which a Border Patrol agent on horseback in Del Rio, Texas, grabbed a Haitian migrant by the shirt. The incident, captured by a news photographer, drew widespread criticism Monday, prompting White House press secretary Jen Psaki to describe it as “horrific.”

In addition to the 20,000 Haitians gathered in northern Colombia, DHS is also monitoring groups of about 1,500 in Panama and 3,000 in Peru, the document said. A senior DHS official said it remains to be seen when and whether those migrants will come to the U.S., but they have begun “staging” in the various countries, potentially signaling they are planning to travel in large numbers.

Like the surge of 15,000 Haitian migrants who arrived in Del Rio over the past week, most of the migrants in Central and South America left Haiti years ago, many of them after the 2010 earthquake, and have been living in other countries.

Recent economic conditions in those countries, as well as what Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas described as misinformation about the Biden administration’s willingness to take in Haitians, have triggered many to seek protections in the U.S.

When DHS has previously monitored caravans of migrants headed to the U.S. border in large numbers, there has been a two to three-week lag between their departure and their arrival. But many of the recently arrived Haitians took buses through Mexico, expediting their arrival and increasing their numbers.

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CIA director’s team member reported Havana Syndrome symptoms during India trip

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A CIA official reported symptoms consistent with so-called Havana Syndrome, a mysterious affliction that has struck diplomats, spies and other government workers at home and abroad, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News on Monday.

The unidentified employee was traveling with CIA director Bill Burns during a trip to India this month. The employee was immediately tested as part of a protocol the CIA has established to deal with the mysterious brain symptoms typically associated with Havana Syndrome and is receiving medical treatment, the sources said.

The incident was first reported by CNN.

This is the latest reported case of a U.S. government employee reporting symptoms associated with the mysterious ailment. Havana Syndrome first came into public view in 2017 after U.S. diplomats and other government workers stationed in Cuba reported feeling unusual physical sensations after hearing strange high- and low-pitched sounds. U.S. government employees have also reported cases while in China and the Washington, D.C. area.

In late August, at least two U.S. diplomats were medically evacuated from Vietnam after Havana Syndrome incidents were reported in the capital city of Hanoi ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris’ arrival.

“The health and well-being of American public servants is of paramount importance to the administration, and we take extremely seriously any report by our personnel of an anomalous health incident,” a senior administration official said Monday night. “It is a top priority for the U.S. government to determine the cause of these incidents as quickly as possible and that we ensure any affected individuals get the care they need.”

Many people who have experienced Havana Syndrome report experiencing vertigo, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and intense headaches. Some describe it as being hit by an invisible blast wave. Some have no longer been able to work.

The India incident has raised questions about whether a foreign adversary had intentionally targeted the CIA director’s staff, but the sources said the agency is unclear what exactly could have caused the incident. The case is one of a number of new incidents in recent months involving CIA personnel who experienced what U.S. officials call “anomalous health incidents,” the sources said.

A CIA spokeswoman declined to confirm the case in India but said the U.S. government and the agency are taking every incident seriously.

“Director Burns has made it a top priority to ensure officers get the care they need and that we get to the bottom of this,” the spokeswoman said. “We’ve strengthened efforts to determine the origins of the incidents, including assembling a team of our very best experts — bringing an intensity and expertise to this issue akin to our efforts to find Bin Ladin.”

The spokeswoman added that a panel of experts has been convened from across intelligence agencies “to work collectively to increase our understanding of the possible mechanisms that could be causing [anomalous health incidents].”

Many U.S. officials suspect the incidents, which have caused permanent brain injuries in some victims, are a result of an attack or surveillance operation by Russian spies, but the evidence is inconclusive.

The National Academies of Sciences said in a report last year the most likely cause of the injuries was directed microwave energy, but that conclusion is being debated in the scientific community.

Last week, deputy CIA director David Cohen said the agency is getting closer to solving the mystery, but there are limitations.

“In terms of have we gotten closer, I think the answer is yes — but not close enough to make analytic judgment that people are waiting for,” he said.

Josh Lederman contributed.



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Boris Johnson tells jab-sceptic Brazilian President to get 'great' AstraZeneca vaccine

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BORIS JOHNSON has told the jab-sceptic Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to get a dose of the “great” Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca vaccine.

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