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Trump Refocuses on Tax Reform Amid New Political Landscape


U.S. President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn after arriving via Marine One helicopter at the White House in Washington, Aug. 14, 2017.

President Donald Trump is shifting his focus back to domestic issues after returning late Tuesday from a 12-day trip to Asia.

This week, Trump will resume pressing congressional Republicans to pass a tax reform measure to follow through on one of his key campaign promises.

Trump appears to be working closely with Republican congressional leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. "We ran in 2016 on doing this tax reform," Ryan told reporters at the Capitol. "The president ran on doing this tax cut and tax reform. So this is about fulfilling our promises to the American people."

WATCH: Trump Renews Focus on Tax Reform Amid New Political Landscape

Democrats rising

However, since the president was last in the country, he and his Republican allies in Congress face a new political landscape in the wake of last week's gubernatorial election victories by Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey.

In Virginia, exit polls showed that many voters were motivated primarily by their opposition to the president.

"The fact that the president is so polarizing and so unpopular with approval ratings generally under about 40 percent, and Democrats are going to be extra-motivated to come out," said University of Virginia political analyst Kyle Kondik.

FILE - Virginia Democrat Ralph Northam points to his wife, Pam, as they celebrate his election victory with supporters at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Nov. 7, 2017.
FILE - Virginia Democrat Ralph Northam points to his wife, Pam, as they celebrate his election victory with supporters at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Nov. 7, 2017.

Kondik said the strong Democratic showing in statewide races in Virginia last week was the best non-presidential election showing for the party since 2006, the last time Democrats nationally won control of the House of Representatives. Many Democrats believe a focus on Trump could help them retake control of the House next year.

"You can sort of smell when a wave is beginning, no guarantee it continues, but it is likely to," said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. "And that smell that was in the air in 2005 is in the air now."

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y. speaks about the Republican tax reform plan on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 9, 2017.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y. speaks about the Republican tax reform plan on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 9, 2017.

Hampered by polls

Trump's approval ratings remain historically low for a first-year president — with several recent polls showing him below 40 percent — which could be a warning sign for Republicans ahead of next year's elections.

"If the president is where he is today, I think that is going to be very difficult for the party to even hold the House of Representatives in the next election," said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

But is simply opposing Trump the magic elixir that will help recapture the House? Not everyone is convinced.

"Democrats have to make sure that they are just not the anti-Trump party, though, when they are running," said Jim Kessler with Third Way, a center-left policy organization in Washington. "They have to show that they have got some sort of agenda to take full advantage."

And there are plenty of signs that Democrats have yet to heal the primary divisions from last year's election between supporters of party nominee Hillary Clinton and her main challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato said those differences could linger all the way until the next presidential election.

"If you are looking at 2020, you have to say that Democrats are also deeply divided," he said. "The Hillary Clinton establishment wing has become more alienated from the Sanders progressive wing, and vice versa. They are hardly on speaking terms."

Looking to 2020

But Democrats were clearly excited with the recent results in Virginia and New Jersey, tantalizing some with the prospect of defeating Trump should he run for re-election in three years.

However, analyst Kondik was quick to add a cautionary note.

"I wouldn't make any assumptions that the president was, you know, a dead duck heading into 2020 because, you know, his numbers were not very good in 2016 but he still figured out a way to thread the needle to win," he said.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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