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Can a rising Trump tide float GOP boats?

President Donald Trump at a rally on Friday

President Donald Trump at a rally on Friday in Mesa, Ariz., supporting Republican candidates running for Congress. Credit: Getty Images/Ralph Freso

Unmaking waves

As President Donald Trump has been urging rally crowds around the country to vote as if it was his name on the ballot, there are signs his approval is on the rise. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Sunday pegged his approval rating at 47%, his highest ever as president, vs. 49% disapproval.

But it's not at all clear whether there will be enough trickle-down popularity to keep Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress, which is what he is supposed to be campaigning for.

GOP voter enthusiasm is up, but Democrats hold a 9-point lead among likely voters over Republicans in congressional preference, the poll found. "The current data shows that the Democratic advantage has ebbed, but still with a large advantage," said Democratic pollster Fred Yang. “It’s a barn burner,” says Republican pollster Bill McInturff.

A danger sign for Democrats: Their advantage has vanished in the House districts rated as the most competitive by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

David Wasserman, the House editor for Cook, told The Washington Post that Democrats still have a 70%-75% chance of winning the House — they need to gain 23 seats — but their majority would likely be smaller than previous projections suggested. Republicans remain favored to keep the Senate, where they currently hold a 51-49 majority.

Latino turnout or tune-out?

Democratic candidates have been counting  on a surge in turnout by Latinos angered by Trump administration policies such as the family separations at the border. But the signs are mixed on whether that will happen.

The NBC/WSJ poll found the share of Latinos showing high interest in the election jumped to 71% this month from an average 47% in surveys this year through September. Democrats led among Latinos by 66% to 26%.

But The New York Times said interviews with Hispanic voters in Nevada and California find Trump's policies cut both ways — some want to bring their anger to the ballot box, others are dispirited and feel disempowered.

Gender zap

The Trump administration is considering rules that would end federal recognition of transgender status, along with the anti-discrimination protections that come with it, according to The New York Times.

Now the Department of Health and Human Services is developing a plan that would set genitalia at birth as the legal definition of gender under laws designed to fight sex discrimination. For the past year, the department has privately argued that the term “sex” was never meant to include gender identity or even homosexuality, the report said. It has called on the departments of Education, Justice, Labor and Health and Human Services to adopt the definition.

Trump's believe it and not

When the Saudis gave their official explanation Friday for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — that the killing arose from a fistfight — the president said he was confident in the story. In an interview with The Washington Post late Saturday, Trump said, "Obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies.”

The president keeps putting forth the view that all things are possible, including contradictory conclusions, as he seeks to maintain the alliance with Saudi Arabia 

On the question of whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the plot, Trump told the Post, "Nobody has told me he’s responsible. Nobody has told me he’s not responsible. We haven’t reached that point. . . . I would love if he wasn’t responsible."
Some Trump political allies are also in an awkward balancing act. "What happened here was savagery and we can't go along with their cover story," Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said on ABC's "This Week." But King said Trump is "in a very delicate diplomatic spot" and "let's not be questioning the motives of our president right now."

But the Post writes that Trump, who tries to cultivate an image of strength, risks coming off as weak from his waffling.

These kids, whaddaya gonna do?

In his role as a special Mideast envoy, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner placed a big bet on the close relationship he forged with the Saudi crown prince as a key to solving the region's problems, including Israeli-Palestinian peace and the Iran threat. Trump, in turn, put his chips on Kushner. Now Trump is downplaying the Kushner-bin Salman relationship as a casual friendship between a pair of thirty-somethings.

"They’re two young guys. Jared doesn’t know him well or anything. They are just two young people. They are the same age. They like each other, I believe,” Trump told the Post.

Privately, Trump is upset that "Kushner’s misjudgement" resulted in a relationship that is a "liability" and has left the White House with “no good options,” sources told the Post .

What else is happening:

  • Trump claimed at a Nevada rally Saturday night that Californians are "rioting" against "sanctuary cities." No, they're not.
  • After the rally, Trump told reporters that he's working with House Republican leaders to unveil "a very major tax cut for middle-income people" before the elections. But Republicans on Capitol Hill seemed to know nothing about it, Axios reported, and Congress is away until after the midterms.
  • While Democrats are accusing Republicans of voter suppression efforts in several states, Trump tweeted a warning that "All levels of government and Law Enforcement are watching carefully for VOTER FRAUD," and "Violators will be subject to maximum penalties, both civil and criminal!"
  • Reaction is mixed both in Congress and among U.S. allies to Trump's decision to pull the U.S. from a nuclear arms control agreement with Russia. The Trump administration accuses Moscow of cheating.
  • Though he pulled out of an investors' conference in Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi killing, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is headed there for a meeting on combating terrorism financing.

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