Trump bypasses Senate while Republicans say nothing

Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

President Donald Trump’s latest anointment of an acting head of a major federal agency has prompted muttering, but no more than that, from Republican senators whose job description includes confirming top administration aides.

Their reluctance to confront Trump comes as veterans of the confirmation process and analysts say he’s placed acting officials in key posts in significantly higher numbers than his recent predecessors. The practice lets him quickly, if temporarily, install allies in important positions while circumventing the Senate confirmation process, which can be risky with Republicans running the chamber by a slim 53-47 margin.

The latest example is Ken Cuccinelli, who last week was named acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He is an outspoken supporter of hard-line immigration policies and his appointment was opposed by some key Senate Republicans.

Definitive listings of acting officials in Trump’s and other administrations are hard to come by because no agency keeps overall records. Yet Christina Kinane, an incoming political science professor at Yale, compiled data in her doctoral dissertation, “Control Without Confirmation: The Politics of Vacancies in Presidential Appointments.”

Kinane found that from 1977 through mid-April of this year — the administrations of President Jimmy Carter through the first half of Trump’s — 266 individuals held Cabinet posts. Seventy-nine of them held their jobs on an acting basis, or 3 in 10.

Under Trump, 22 of the 42 people in top Cabinet jobs have been acting, or just over half.

And though Trump’s presidency has spanned only about 1 in 20 of the years covered, his administration accounts for more than 1 in 4 of the acting officials tallied. Kinane’s figures include holdovers from previous administrations, some of whom serve for just days.

“This is not a new thing,” Kinane said of presidents’ use of acting officials. “It is, however, a considerably higher number” under Trump, she said.

While Republicans widely blame Democratic opposition to Trump’s nominees for his use of acting officials to fill some posts — a characterization Democrats reject — many also say his reliance on that alternative is costly.

“It has the potential to spill over into other nominations that the president’s prioritized,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said of Cuccinelli’s appointment. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said acting officials have “tenuous footing” for overseeing their agencies, while Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she wants confirmed department chiefs because she “wants to know who’s on point” for the administration on issues.

Yet no Republicans said they had challenged Trump’s use of acting officials. Many of them complained openly when President Barack Obama named special White House advisers informally called czars. And a year after President Bill Clinton named civil rights lawyer Bill Lann Lee acting attorney general for civil rights in 1997, Congress passed a law limiting the time acting officials can serve, generally to no more than 210 days.

“I don’t know who spends their day worrying” that their acquiescence was fraying the Senate’s constitutional power to advise and consent on nominees, said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Democrats and experts disagree on the importance of the Senate’s role.

“They’re almost like they’re willing to act as staff members (of the White House) rather than independent senators,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a senator since 1975.

“They’re not standing up for their own institution,” said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a nonresident scholar at the Brookings Institution who has studied White House staffing.

Cuccinelli, a former attorney general of Virginia, has taken hard-line positions on immigration, such as opposing citizenship for American-born children of parents living in the U.S. illegally. He once led a conservative group that considered Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., too moderate, and many Republicans doubt Cuccinelli could win confirmation.

“That’s probably the only way they could get him in there,” the No. 2 Senate GOP leader, John Thune of South Dakota, said of Trump’s naming Cuccinelli acting director.

Also in an acting position are two Cabinet secretaries, Kevin McAleenan of the Homeland Security Department and Patrick Shanahan at the Defense Department. Others in the acting roles are Director Russell Vought of the Office of Management and Budget, U.N. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. All but Mulvaney would need Senate approval to become permanent, and Trump has sent the Senate a nominee for just one of those jobs: Kelly Craft to be the ambassador to the U.N.

A White House spokesman did not provide a list of acting officials or comment on why Trump was relying on them, despite requests over several days. Trump has said he likes naming acting officials, telling reporters in January, “It gives me more flexibility.”

But one explanation is that under Trump, the process of filling jobs has been slow and riddled with missteps.

Trump has withdrawn 63 nominees so far, doubling the 31 Obama retracted at this point in his first term, according to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, which studies ways to improve government effectiveness. He’s also decided against nominating some candidates after realizing the GOP-led Senate would reject them, including two would-be picks for the Federal Reserve: businessman Herman Cain and conservative commentator Stephen Moore.

In addition, Trump’s 568 nominations during his first year in office were more than 100 fewer than Obama submitted during that period, partnership figures show.

Max Stier, the group’s president and CEO, said Trump’s use of acting officials is partly because his campaign’s preparations for its transition into power were “the worst of any recent president.” But he said a desire to avoid difficult or rejected Senate confirmations “does appear to be one element, and the most obvious example of that is Ken Cuccinelli.”

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AP news researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Republicans scramble from fallout of Trump’s trade war

Vice President Mike Pence, left, talks with Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., as they enter a Senate Republican policy luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Donald Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill are scrambling to soften the blow from his trade war with China amid mounting anxiety from farm-state lawmakers that the protracted battle and escalating tariffs could irreparably damage their local economies.

Vice President Mike Pence met privately Tuesday with Senate Republicans for a second week in a row and urged them to stick with the White House. Senators were working with the administration to craft a relief package for farmers and ranchers, some $15 billion that Trump announced this week would be coming soon. Details of the package remained in flux.

“One thing I think we all agree on is that nobody wins a trade war,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the private lunch meeting.

McConnell said there was hope that the tough negotiating tactics being used by the administration “get us into a better position, vis-à-vis China, which has been our worst and most unfair trading relationship for a very long time.”

Pence heard an earful from senators last week as uncertainty mounted.

The administration on Friday launched a fresh round of tariffs on some $250 billion of Chinese goods; China retaliated this week with tariffs on $60 billion on American goods on top of those already hurting U.S. markets.

The tariffs risk spiking prices for U.S. consumers while leaving growers with commodities they cannot sell to the Chinese markets. Already soybean and hog farmers are among those home-state interests senators say are struggling under Trump’s trade policies. With China talks stalled, senators pushed the White House to wrap up the negotiations and resolve the standoff.

“There’s a lot of concern,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of GOP leadership.

“If this is what it takes to get a good deal, I think people will hang in there, but at some point we’ve got to get it resolved,” Cornyn said. “If this goes on for a long time, everybody realizes it’s playing with a live hand grenade.”

On Tuesday, though, senators appeared more reserved, and largely held their fire as they tried not to undermine the president’s negotiating hand and worked to shore up their home-state communities with a new round of federal aid.

Pence told them that talks on another trade front, a new U.S.-Mexico-Canada deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, were progressing. Senators said they were hopeful those talks were at the finish line and would open new markets for commerce, but the deal would need approval from Congress, which remained uncertain.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., the chairman of the agriculture appropriations subcommittee, is working with the administration on the latest aid package. Last year, Congress gave the Agriculture Department some $30 billion annually that can be tapped to provide up to $15 billion Trump wants to offer as aid. Congress could advance some of the money by tucking it into a disaster aid package that’s expected to be voted on next week.

The federal aid could go toward existing government programs, including those that provide market payments for certain agricultural producers or that fight hunger in poorer or war-torn countries abroad. Last year, the Trump administration made some $12 billion available to domestic producers of soy, corn, dairy, hogs and others hit hard by the retaliatory tariffs.

“We’re stepping forward with more assistance,” Hoeven said. “The goal is to get a trade agreement.”

Senators said they were hopeful that talks would resume before the latest Chinese tariffs kick in on June 1. Trump is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in late June at the G-20 summit in Japan.

Trade is the rare issue in Congress that cuts across party lines. Several top Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, want the president to stay tough on China.

Schumer said that while Trump’s tariff fights with other countries “make no sense,” he thinks the president should work with U.S. allies to confront China. “We have to have tough, strong policies on China,” he said.

Other Democrats, though, doubt Trump’s ability to negotiate a good deal for Americans. “The president is essentially betting the farm — somebody else’s farm,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

GOP Sen. Ron Johnson said agricultural and business interests back home in Wisconsin “really feel a lot of short-term pain.” But he said they also “really want the president to succeed on this.”

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Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
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Socialism: Real threat or political propaganda?

Rhett Lucero, 40, an auto body shop in Pueblo, Colo. (AP Photo/Alan Fram)

In this scruffy, high-desert town encircled by prairies and potato farms, Sen. Cory Gardner drew shouts of approval last week for his message that Democrats are shoving the country toward socialism.

“That’s not what government is or what it should be,” he told about 200 Alamosa County Republicans at a barbecue fundraiser in a National Guard armory. “We have to stand up and fight. Are you going to join me in this fight?”

For Gardner and other Republicans making the same pitch , including President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the key question is whether it will attract moderate voters, not just their conservative stalwarts. Based on interviews with over three dozen Coloradans last week from Denver’s suburbs south to this town in the flat San Luis Valley, the argument has yet to take root, though the GOP has 18 months to sell it before Election Day 2020.

Few volunteered a drift toward socialism as a major worry, with health care and living costs cited far more frequently. Several said capitalism was too embedded in the U.S. to be truly threatened and Republicans were using socialism to stir unease with Democrats by raising the specter of the old, repressive Soviet Union and today’s chaotic Venezuela.

“They’re preying on fear,” said David Kraemer, 67, a financial adviser who’s not registered with a political party and lives in the Denver suburb of Westminster.

Yet when asked directly whether socialism was a concern, many expressed a wariness of injecting more government into people’s lives. Rather than naming policies that troubled them, many mentioned two self-proclaimed democratic socialists: Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s seeking the Democratic presidential nomination , and freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. The comments suggested that Republicans might be tapping into unease over letting either party go too far.

“Checks and balances are what make this country so great,” said Steve Lajoie, 46, a self-employed carpenter from Denver and independent voter.

Gardner, 44, who’s expected to face a tough re-election fight next year, has been repeating his argument for months. He cites liberal Democrats’ “Medicare for All” bills for government-provided health care and a Green New Deal proposal for aggressively cutting carbon emissions.

Sanders has sponsored Medicare for All legislation that’s been embraced by many of his Democratic presidential rivals. Ocasio-Cortez is an architect of the Green New Deal, which remains a concept, not proposed legislation. Many Democrats, especially moderates, have kept their distance from both plans, divisions Republicans are happy to exploit.

Democrats reject the socialism assertion as a distraction from Trump’s unpopularity and the issues they will emphasize, especially improving health care and protecting jobs and income. They say efforts to make health care more available and combat global warming have nothing to do with limiting individuals’ rights.

Democrats note that voters gave them total control of Colorado government in November despite GOP attempts to pin the socialism label on former U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who was elected governor. They say growing numbers of younger, urban and Hispanic residents are steadily making the state more liberal.

GOP cries of socialism are “Cold War stuff” that’s irrelevant to most voters, said Morgan Carroll, chairwoman of the Colorado Democratic Party.

“I think that probably does fire up their base, but you cannot win an election in Colorado with the Republican base alone,” Carroll said.

Republicans see a powerful argument in telling voters they need a GOP-controlled Senate for protection against Democrats who are coming after their current health insurance, their energy sector jobs and more.

“I think we’re running to be the firewall that saves the country from socialism,” McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters recently.

Republicans say the anti-socialism message will prove powerful in a state that overwhelmingly rejected a ballot initiative creating single-payer health care and where registered unaffiliated voters, often with libertarian leanings, outnumber both Democrats and Republicans.

The GOP hopes the appeal will win over suburbanites whose distaste for Trump helped Democrats capture the House in the fall. They note that public opinion polls find socialism is especially unpopular among older voters, Republicans and moderates.

Avery Jones, of Westminster, is one potential target.

“Taxes kill,” said Jones, 27. While she’s eager to improve her family’s health coverage, she sees “some merit” to checking Democrats from pushing toward universal health care because “it would just drive up taxes.”

But for every Jones, there’s a Rhett Lucero. Lucero, 40, eating lunch at the Riverwalk park that winds through the city of Pueblo, says Democrats’ efforts to expand health coverage and curb global warming make sense.

“It’s helping each other out,” said the auto body mechanic, who, like Jones, is an unaffiliated voter. “It’s putting our taxes to a real good use.”

Not all Democrats are dismissive of the socialism strategy.

Eva Henry, a commissioner of Adams County outside Denver, says her community’s blue-collar families might buy the GOP argument if they believe Democrats’ proposals would drive up taxes. “Our Democrats can vote Republican because they vote their pocketbooks,” the Democrat said.

Pueblo Mayor Nicholas Gradisar said he doubts the argument will sway many Democrats but warned, “Democrats have to be wary of it and they have to respond” by telling voters the party “will give you a fair shake.” Pueblo County, south of the economically surging corridor that runs from Boulder to Colorado Springs, leans Democratic but backed Trump in 2016.

Republicans, who’ve already cast Democrats as socialists this year with digital videos and roadside billboards, tried the theme in several states in November to little effect. It wasn’t new: Actor Ronald Reagan and GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater castigated Medicare as socialist in the 1960s, yet it’s now a cherished medical lifeline for millions of older Americans.

Republicans say this time will be different. But one Coloradan’s comments suggest that past GOP warnings about Democrats may haunt Republicans.

“Every time a Democrat gets elected, they say, ‘We’re going to lose our guns,’” said Marc O’Leary, 48, of Westminster. “It never happens.”

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Lots of rhetoric over socialism claims

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., attends the Alamosa County Republicans Lincoln Day dinner in Alamosa, Colo., on April 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Alan Fram)

Republicans such as Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado are arguing the Senate must stay under GOP control in next year’s elections to prevent Democrats from pushing the country toward socialism. A sampling of comments from Colorado residents and others on the subject:

Terry Hammond, chairman of the Alamosa County Republican Party: “People depend too much on government rather than doing for themselves. Next thing you know it’ll be paying off people’s credit cards and mortgages.”

Helen Sigmond, Democrat and member of the Alamosa County Commission: “My goodness, they’re trying to make it sound horrible,” she said of Republican accusations of Democrats’ socialism. “But my goodness, who is Trump’s best friend? Putin.”

Paul Kelly, 64, accountant and unaffiliated voter from Denver suburb of Westminster: “I don’t think they understand where it will lead,” he said of Democrats’ views of socialism. “Democrats are innocents. They think a utopian world exists.”

Nicolette Jones, 20, Democrat, student at Adams State University in Alamosa: “I don’t see the possibility of the U.S. becoming a socialist country as a reasonable fear.”

Angie Horning, 50, Republican, real estate agent from Colorado Springs: “I don’t see socialism as having helped anywhere. It’s a concern. People don’t understand it. It takes freedom away.”

Nick Saenz, 36, Democrat, history professor at Adams State University: Republican warnings about socialism are “a dog whistle” aimed at older voters’ Cold War fears of the communist threat.

David Winston, Republican pollster and adviser to congressional GOP leaders, on next year’s elections: “In most of these states, it’s the political center that’s going to decide the outcome, and the political center is not fond of socialism.”

Geoffrey Garin, Democratic pollster and adviser to congressional Democratic leaders, on GOP attempts to woo suburban voters by warning about Democrats and socialism: “With suburban voters, Republicans are just playing a losing hand” because of issues like battling climate change and improving health care coverage.

Andrew Romanoff, former speaker of Colorado House and candidate for Democratic nomination to oppose Gardner: “People support Social Security and Medicare, public education and infrastructure. That doesn’t make you a socialist. It’s just common sense.”

Gardner, on his claim that the country faces a threat from socialism: “One of the leading candidates of the Democratic Party is a socialist. That’s the threat. One of the leading voices in the House of Representatives is a socialist. That’s not made up. That’s not pie in the sky.” His references were to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a Democratic presidential candidate, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who call themselves democratic socialists.

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Declaring war on Trump and Republican racism

What Trump gave America was what he is: A racist.

America today is more divided than at any point of its history since the Civil War and the hate seeps out of the toxic minds of those who want a land where white bigots dominate and anyone else must hide in fear.

Racism thrives in a divided government in Washington and a volatile combination of hate and fear of economic uncertainty after the Great Recession.

America’s racism rebirth came in 2008 with Barack Obama’s election as president.  For many, his victory signaled hope for a nation that killed many of its own men, women and children in a Civil War that tore the country apart.

But while millions cheered Obama, others saw him as a powder keg to rally white supremacists.  Racism created the Tea Party and used divisions that have existed since America’s birth to spread fear and encourage hate of anyone who wasn’t white, Anglo-saxon and protestant.

In just the eight years between 2008 and 2016, America went from being a nation of hope to a racist land where hate and bigotry dominates our government, our culture and our way of life.

“An era that started with hope and change had how become one of unapologetic hate,” reports CNN.

Reported the network in 2018:

The hate created two Americas. Two realities. Split-screen reactions to the same events, that continued and were exacerbated with President Trump’s victory and time in office.

When a gunman massacred nine people praying at a predominantly black church, America wept and asked for grace. But the virulent racists cheered, hailing the gunman a hero for helping to start the race war they dreamed of.

When much of America was horrified by the sight of neo-Nazis in their streets in 2017, white supremacists were almost gleeful their views were front and center.

And when a gunman stormed into a synagogue, declaring “all Jews must die,” Americans wept over the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history. But white supremacists breathed a sigh of relief. One of their biggest targets had been successfully attacked.

“We have a black man in the White House and you need to do something about it,” gloated Ken Parker, a Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon and neo-Nazi shortly after Obama took office in 2009.  “We would even joke amongst ourselves, we’re going to send President Obama an honorary membership to he the Klan because he’s our biggest recruiting tool.’

Tea Party extremism

At Tea Party rallies their members displayed signs with photoshopped images of Obama as a witch doctor.They called then first lady Michelle Obama “an ape in heels.”

In New York City, real estate tycoon and reality show host Donald Trump called Obama “Muslim’ and questioned his citizenship, saying the president was not born in America.

He used both of those dishonest claims often after his announced his plans to run for president.  He called Mexicans “rapists” and “murderers” and denigrated his opponents with slurs and insults.

White supremacists and racists cheered his outlandish behavior.  They had found an ally.  Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, now headed for prison for multiple crimes, would later testify that Trump never expected to win the election.  He ran to try to help his business.

As a businessman, Trump proved his racism.  Federal authorities fined him often for housing discrimination.  When he owned casinos, managers of the establishments would later testify that Trump ordered them to remove any minority employees from areas where Trump and his wife would dine or play.  He ordered a black accountant fired because “you just can’t trust such people.”

As president, he referred to African nations as “shithole countries” and surrounded himself with a lily-white staff.  He called the white supremacists who brought violence to Charlottesville “fine people” and repeatedly refused to disown the support and embrace of racist groups.

Trump did not create America’s racism, but he gave it a bigger stage as president because he is one of them — a racist and bigot who uses hate to fuel his base.

He claimed he would “make America great again.”  Instead he is destroying it.  He, and those who support him, turned America from a nation that thrived into one that died.

Today, we live in one of the two parts of a divided America.  That division, for the first time in my 71+ years on this third rock from the sun, leaves me an ashamed American.

We could leave, as may others have done or might do, but we don’t run.  We will stay and fight to restore the America that we knew and loved.

We will work with other Americans to get them to the polls to rid our crippled nation of the racist in the White House and the too many other racists and bigots in Congress.  As a political operative, I won 95 percent of my races.

Stand with us or stand aside.  This is war.

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Trump backs down on health care push

President Donald Trump (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Donald Trump is suggesting he will defer until after 2020 his push for a Republican health care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Trump tweeted late Monday that Congress will vote on a GOP plan after the elections, “when Republicans hold the Senate & win back the House.”

Republicans were cool after Trump surprised them last week with an unexpected pivot to the issue and his claims the GOP will be the party of health care. They don’t yet have a comprehensive plan to replace the law, known as “Obamacare.”

Trump’s effort to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law narrowly failed in the Senate in 2017. And while Republicans gained Senate seats last fall, there’s no indication that GOP senators want another fight over repealing “Obamacare,” particularly not those up for re-election next year.

Health care, especially protections for people with pre-existing conditions, resonates with voters and helped Democrats in the November elections.

According to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 115,000 midterm voters nationwide, nearly 4 in 10 Democratic voters identified health care as the most important among a list of key issues. A Quinnipiac University poll last week found 55% of Americans supporting the improvement and not the replacement of the nation’s health care system.

With Democrats controlling the House, any attempt to dismantle the law could not pass Congress.

Still, Trump last week appeared to commit his party to a new push for a plan to replace the health law.

“We are working very hard on that,” Trump said as he was heading out to a Michigan rally.

He said Republicans “are going to work together to come up with something that’s really spectacular.”

In his late-Monday tweets, Trump claimed Republicans are developing a plan with cheaper premiums and deductibles that “will be truly great HealthCare that will work for America.”

Challenges to the 2010 law are making their way through courts.

Last week, the Trump administration told a federal appeals court it wants the entire Affordable Care Act struck down, an outcome that could leave millions of people uninsured and reignite a winning political issue for Democrats.

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Democrats hope for Senate gains in 2020

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev. (AP Photo/Scott Sonner)

Teresa Tomlinson is a former mayor of a mid-sized city with no national profile. Yet she hopes she’ll be national Democrats’ top recruit to run for the Senate from Georgia next year — if one of the party’s rising stars, Stacey Abrams, takes a pass.

“I feel comfortable I’ll be their Plan B,” says Tomlinson, 54, the first female mayor of Columbus, a minority-majority community and one of Georgia’s largest cities.

Nineteen months from Election Day, a political eternity during which plenty can change, Democrats are looking at Plan B in Senate races around the country. Even in a campaign cycle that looks far more promising than last year’s, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., who heads the party’s Senate campaign arm, have struggled to recruit candidates who are battle-tested statewide.

Yet the loss of well-known contenders merely compounds Democrats’ chief problem as they begin an uphill fight to capture a Senate majority next year: There are precious few Republican-held Senate seats that Democrats have a clear-cut chance of capturing.

In Democrats’ favor, Republicans will be defending 22 of the 34 contested Senate seats, with just one incumbent Democrat in obvious jeopardy: Sen. Doug Jones of deep-red Alabama. Democrats say their voters will be supercharged by the polarizing President Donald Trump, who’ll be seeking his second term, and their focus on pocketbook issues like health care, wages and jobs.

“It’s trending in our favor, and I think we’ve got an opportunity to take back the majority in the Senate,” said Cortez Masto.

It’s a much better Senate battlefield than last year, when Democrats had to defend a nightmarish 26 of the 35 seats. That included 10 in states Trump carried in 2016, five by landslides, and Democrats were fortunate to lose just two net seats.

Even so, the 2020 map looks tough for Democrats.

Trump carried 20 of the 22 states where GOP seats are at stake next year and narrowly lost the other two. Those were Democratic-leaning Colorado, where Sen. Cory Gardner seems to be the most endangered Republican incumbent, and Maine, where Democrats will try denting Sen. Susan Collins’s reputation for independence as she seeks a 5th term.

Since Republicans control the Senate 53-47, Democrats need to gain three seats to take over if they defeat Trump next November and four if Trump wins, thanks to the vice president’s tie-breaking vote in the chamber. If Jones loses in Alabama, which party strategists consider likely, those numbers rise to four Democratic pickups if Trump loses and five if he wins, meaning Democrats will practically need to run the table of winnable Senate contests to take the majority.

“I think we get close,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. “Everything has to break our way to make it over the top.”

Republicans beg to differ.

They say the GOP should hold the Senate because the jam-packed field of Democratic presidential candidates will spend months noisily competing for their party’s liberal base. That means plenty of talk about the Green New Deal plan for aggressively curbing climate change and “Medicare for All” proposals for expanding the federal role in health care — ideas that go too far for some moderate voters.

“Green New Deal is something we can’t wait to run against,” said Jesse Hunt, spokesman for the Senate GOP’s campaign committee.

Arizona seems headed toward a competitive contest. Republican Sen. Martha McSally, appointed to one vacant seat shortly after losing a 2018 election for another to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, could end up facing former astronaut Mark Kelly. The gun control advocate and husband of former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, is expected to run a centrist campaign.

A close race could also loom in North Carolina. In one of this year’s most significant Senate votes, GOP Sen. Thom Tillis initially said he’d oppose Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southwest border, then voted for it. That turnaround has risked alienating hard-right Trump supporters and moderates alike, leaving Tillis exposed both to a potential GOP primary challenge and in the general election.

Democrats might have had a stronger chance against Tillis if state Attorney General Josh Stein, who’s seeking re-election, had succumbed to Schumer’s appeal to run for Senate. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who are running for president, also rebuffed pleas to seek the Senate.

Another who turned down Democratic leaders is former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who’s seeking the White House. That’s opened the door to potential contenders like MJ Hegar to challenge Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

“It’s pretty much all I’m thinking about lately,” said Hegar, 43, an Air Force combat veteran who narrowly missed ousting a longtime GOP incumbent last year from a safely Republican House district outside Austin. She might end up in a Democratic primary against Rep. Joaquin Castro, whose twin brother, former federal housing secretary Julian Castro, is running for president.

A handful of other GOP senators could face competitive races, including Georgia’s Sen. David Perdue, especially if he’s challenged by Abrams, who narrowly lost a gubernatorial race last year but gained a national following. Other possibilities include Montana’s Steve Daines and Iowa’s Joni Ernst. Democrats would love to oust Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, but that’s a longshot.

Strong GOP challengers could also force incumbent Democrats into tough races.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., would face a real fight if Gov. Chris Sununu challenges her. Trump lost New Hampshire by a knife’s edge in 2016. Democratic Sen. Gary Peters is running again in Michigan, which Trump narrowly carried.

Democrats say Trump will help them in closely contested states because his near-exclusive appeals to core supporters make it hard for GOP candidates to win over both conservatives and party moderates.

“Trump creates a rock-and-a-hard-place scenario for Republicans running in blue-leaning and purple states,” said Democratic pollster Geoff Garin.

Republicans say battleground states could shift their way depending on whether the Democratic presidential nominee is a moderate like former Vice President Joe Biden or a hard-left liberal like Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“There could be states that come on or off the board, depending on who the Democrats nominate for president,” said GOP pollster Robert Blizzard.

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