U.S. agricultural sector is not giving up on trade with Cuba

After President Donald Trump announced a return to the U.S. embargo restrictions on travel to Cuba, a group from Minnesota traveled to the Communist island this week. 

The state group mission included Minnesota’s Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. They are part of bipartisan coalition working to forge relationships after former President Barack Obama lifted restrictions. 

“I am disappointed that we cannot continue to make progress that we were able to make under the Obama administration,” Smith said.

The bipartisan delegation’s main goal was to reiterate that despite Trump’s announcement, they want to continue fostering the U.S.-Cuba relationship, Smith said. Minnesota agricultural sales to Cuba are still allowed under Trump’s policy, which bars transactions with the Cuban military. 

The delegation arrived in Havana on Monday and traveled out of the city for about an hour to San Jose, the capital of the Mayabeque province, where they met on Tuesday. 

The group also included representatives of agricultural organizations looking for business opportunities and exchanges such as the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and the Minnesota Farm Bureau.

Cubans import about 80 percent of its domestic food requirements, according to the World Food Programme. The European Union and China are among Cuba’s largest trading partners. 

The U.S. International Trade Commission estimates that the embargo cost U.S. exporters up to $1.2 billion annually in lost sales. If all restrictions on trade and travel were lifted, sales in poultry, beef and pork could rise by $13.8 million, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  

Smith said Minnesota is one of the top five producers for turkey, pork, soybean and corn. Smith also said she and the president of the People’s Power of Mayabeque, Tamara Valido Benítez, talked about what both agricultural areas have in common, including the adoption of cooperative farms. 

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Mnuchin: White House won’t rule out a second term for Fed’s Janet Yellen

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday left the door open for President Trump to ask Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen to stay on for a second term.

The former Goldman Sachs banker said he has been working closely with National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn to vet top picks for the president to consider as the administration seeks to fill several financial regulatory posts, including head of the U.S. central bank.

Yellen’s term expires next February, and so far the Trump administration hasn’t ruled out reappointing her.

“We haven’t made any decisions yet on a Fed chair — whether we’re going to have a new one or not a new one,” said Mnuchin during an interview with Bloomberg Television. “We’ll be working closely together with the president as we consider all the issues.”

It’s been unclear whether Trump would reappoint Yellen for a second four-year term, since he has both praised and criticized her. Trump was a fierce critic of the Fed during the final weeks of last year’s presidential campaign. He has since softened his views and has avoided publicly questioning the Fed’s decisions to lift interest rates.

So far, Yellen has refrained from weighing in on her future at the Fed.

“I don’t have anything for you at this point,” Yellen said when asked at a press conference last Wednesday.

Separately, Mnuchin endorsed the Fed’s recent efforts to slowly shrink the $4.5 trillion of holdings it amassed during and after the recession.

The Fed said it plans to start selling Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities totaling $10 billion a month.

“We think it’s the right thing for them to get out of their large portfolio,” said Mnuchin. “It was something that they did in a unique period of time and, obviously, it has to be reversed.”

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Dems seek first big win of Trump era today in Georgia

Progressives poured $23 million into Jon Ossoff’s campaign. House Democrats’ campaign arm sent a team to Georgia to organize the sixth congressional district months ahead of the special election there.

Now, voters will decide whether all the effort was worthwhile.

Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel are facing off Tuesday in what has become the most expensive House race in history, with the candidates, their parties and super PACs pouring more than $50 million combined into the effort to win a single House seat in the northern Atlanta suburbs.

More than 140,000 voters cast their ballots early — an astounding number for a special election, and one that nearly matches presidential contests.

The race is being viewed nationally as a gauge of whether President Donald Trump’s sagging approval ratings are a drag on Republicans that could threaten the party’s control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections.

Democrats, meanwhile, see in Georgia an early test of their strategy of trying to win typically Republican seats in suburban areas — districts that are relatively highly educated, wealthy and diverse.

Trump weighed in on Twitter late Monday and early Tuesday, attacking Ossoff for living just outside the district, claiming Ossoff will raise taxes and calling Handel a hard worker “who will never give up!”

With the inflated price tag and the 15-month lag time between the special election and the November 2018 midterms, the contest might not hold much predictive value.

But it could be a huge psychic boost for the winner’s party — and a blow for the loser’s.

If Ossoff were to win, Democrats would have a clear victory that could help keep the party’s hyper-engaged base — and donor community — energized. A loss, though, would be a major disappointment.

If Handel were to win, Republicans on Capitol Hill could feel they are on the right track — helping the GOP’s push for health care and tax reform legislation. It could also show House incumbents that they can separate themselves from Trump effectively on the campaign trail, and stave off a potential wave of retirements.

Ossoff and Handel were the top two finishers in an April 19 primary, advancing to the one-on-one runoff election.

The district has historically leaned heavily Republican. Former Rep. Tom Price, whose departure to become Trump’s health and human services secretary led to the special election, won each time he was on the ballot since 2004 with more than 60% of the vote. Mitt Romney carried the district by more than 23 points when he faced former President Barack Obama in 2012.

However, it was Trump’s collapse — besting Hillary Clinton by just 1.5 points in the district in 2016 — that led Democrats to believe it could be in play.

It’s the best shot the party has of the four House special elections this spring to win a seat that now belongs to Republicans. But in November 2018, Democrats are expected to have many better pick-up opportunities. According to the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index, there are 71 Republican-held districts that have less GOP-leaning electorates than Georgia’s sixth district.

Polls close in Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties — the three that include part of the district — at 7 p.m. ET.

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Trump shadows over Georgia’s 6th district run-off

As all eyes turn to the race in Georgia’s sixth congressional district, voters there will be happy when the run-off election between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff is over.

“I think the people in this district and Atlanta as a whole, I think they are probably tired of hearing about it but they need to pay attention because it matters right now,” Jade Morey, a Handel supporter, told CNN outside a campaign event in the final days before Tuesday’s election.

An influx of money from both Democrats and Republicans has focused attention on the historically conservative district, and both sides expect it to be tight.

President Donald Trump’s narrow victory there in November’s presidential election gave Democrats an opening to flip the district to their side, but Republicans are putting up a fight.

With more than $50 million spent between the candidates, their parties and super PACs, it has become the most expensive House race ever.

“It’s a microcosm of what is coming down the road in 2018. We want to flip this district, we want to flip 25 districts to get the majority back in the house,” Craig Rusert, an Ossoff volunteer, told CNN.

Although both Handel and Ossoff have mostly avoided talking about Trump directly, some voters see the race in the shadow of Trump’s divisiveness.

Voter perspectives

CNN spent time with voters on opposite sides of the Congressional race, many with strong feelings about Trump.

Republican retiree Miriam Asper told CNN that she feels that Handel’s views reflect her own.

“I really like Trump and I feel good about what he’s doing,” Asper told CNN. “I feel that our country right now is safe, and I feel that we can go down the street now not worrying about what’s going to happen to us, and I like that feeling.”

Lee Roberts, a general contractor who used to be Republican and now leans Democrat, supports Ossoff.

“He’s fiscally conservative and socially moderate and that most reflects my position,” Roberts told CNN. “With the current executive branch being controlled by Trump, I almost see it as being dangerous to have a Republican-controlled Congress.”

Both Asper and Roberts are bothered by the divisiveness in today’s politics, put place the blame with different parties.

“I love this country and I feel like the news, with the Democrats, is trying to make Donald Trump not be able to do what he needs to do,” Asper said.

Her husband Bob, agreed: “I’m afraid that the Democrats are totally focused on destroying Trump rather doing their jobs, doing what’s good for the country. They don’t really have a plan other than get Trump.”

“I don’t support the Trump administration, I think that he has divided our country both politically and socially,” Roberts said. “To have our President denouncing Obamacare and almost wishing and hoping that it fails, I don’t know that he appreciates that he’s saying: ‘I hope people die.'”

Though both Handel and Ossoff have tried to keep the focus on specific issues like health care and the economy, voters like Asper and Roberts see larger implications for the future in their vote.

Asper told CNN Ossoff worries her because of his lack of experience at 30 years old.

“I want the right people in our government,” Asper said. “We’ve had a good life and I want it to be the same for our children and our grandchildren.”

For Roberts, Handel’s agenda is tied too closely with Trump’s.

“She wants to forward the Trump agenda,” Roberts said. “She’s focused on how electing her as a representative will help Trump.”

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Appeals court clears way for review of immigrant vetting

While the most controversial provisions of the president’s revised ban blocking travel to the U.S. remain tied up in the courts, a federal appeals court formally cleared the way late Monday for different portions of the executive order to move forward.

The Trump administration can now conduct internal reviews of other countries’ vetting procedures for visa applicants while the broader case is under review in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last week a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals largely affirmed a lower court’s decision to halt the core provisions of President Donald Trump’s revised executive order that attempted to limit travel from six predominately Muslim countries and block refugees.

However, the 9th Circuit concluded that U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson’s decision was overbroad in certain limited respects, and reversed the portions of Watson’s ruling that barred the administration from conducting internal reviews of other countries’ vetting procedures — a move Secretary John Kelly called a “big win” last week in an interview with CNN’s Tal Kopan.

This part of the ruling “was not narrowly tailored to addressing only the harms alleged,” the 9th Circuit panel explained. “For example, internal determinations regarding the necessary information for visa application adjudications do not have an obvious relationship to the constitutional rights at stake or statutory conflicts at issue here. Plaintiffs have not shown how the government’s internal review of its vetting procedures will harm them.”

Normally, the 9th Circuit’s decision would sit for 52 days while the parties tie up loose ends, but last week the Justice Department asked the court for a speedy mandate to make its decision from June 12 take effect immediately — a request the court granted Monday, thereby specifically allowing the vetting portions of the executive order to proceed now.

Legal experts caution, however, that this “win” for the administration may have an unintended practical effect.

“Procedurally, this is a narrow, but significant, victory for the government,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN legal analyst and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law. “But it may have the opposite effect substantively. The stated purpose of the entry ban was to allow the government to conduct this internal review. If it’s now able to conduct that review while the ban itself remains on hold, that may undermine the justification for the ban in the first place.”

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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5 things to watch in Georgia’s special election

Democrats have been desperate to deal President Donald Trump a real setback at the ballot box for months — and all their hopes are riding on Tuesday’s House election in Georgia.

In what’s become the most expensive House race in history, both Democrats and Republicans have tons at stake.

A win by Democrat Jon Ossoff will give his party a crucial proof point that Trump’s unpopularity is damaging Republicans up and down the ballot — and make it much harder GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill to tie their own political fortunes to Trump on health care, tax reform and more. It would also give progressives who pumped $23 million into Ossoff’s campaign something to celebrate.

A win by Republican Karen Handel, meanwhile, would give Trump and Republicans confidence in their agenda. And it would deliver a sharp blow to Democrats who had seen the race as their last, best shot at a special election win that would pump their base up and help them draw top-notch candidates for the 2018 midterms.

Ossoff and Handel were the top two finishers in an April 19 primary, and advanced to the June 20 one-on-one runoff. The polls in Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties — the three where the sixth district House seat is located — close at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

Here are five things to watch in Georgia’s special election:

Will Republicans show up? Would they vote for Ossoff?

In ordinary years, this is no swing district. Former Rep. Tom Price — whose departure to become Trump’s health and human services secretary opened the seat up — won by at least 23 percentage points every time he was on the ballot since 2004. Mitt Romney carried the district by 23 points in 2012.

The only reason Democrats have even an inkling it could be competitive is that Trump collapsed here, besting Hillary Clinton by just 1.5 points last fall.

That all means there are many more people who typically vote Republican in the district than Democrats.

It’s created a rare scenario where the huge early vote turnout — 140,000 people have already cast their ballots, including 36,000 who didn’t vote at all in the April primary — could actually benefit Republicans.

The question is whether these scores of what have historically been reliably GOP voters are separating this race from their distaste for Trump and sticking with Handel — or have been turned off more broadly by the Republican brand under Trump and are willing to back Ossoff.

The 36,000 voters who did not participate in the primary are perhaps the most baffling to both parties. Both sides have placed major emphasis on turning out voters who participated in Georgia’s presidential primaries last year but did not vote in April — and there are more Republicans than Democrats in that pool of potential voters.

What it all means: No one is quite sure what to expect, aside from a close race.

Democrats’ focus: African-American turnout

Democrats have placed a particular emphasis on turning out Atlanta-area African-American voters. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has pumped hundreds of thousands into ads on black radio stations and digital ads, as well as $325,000 for get-out-the-vote mail pieces targeting those voters.

The makeup of the electorate is critical to watch. Ossoff has endorsements from two leading African-American Georgia Democrats — Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon, and Rep. Hank Johnson. But he is also just 30 years old and does not have long-lasting political connections through the district.

To win, Ossoff will need something approaching presidential-level turnout from Democratic base voters — and African-Americans are a crucial component of that base.

If Ossoff wins: Democrats will eye a majority

Ossoff’s campaign has been a testing ground for Democrats’ hopes that Trump’s unpopularity will allow them to compete for GOP-held seats in suburban areas across America.

Many of those districts are actually less Republican than Georgia’s sixth district. What they tend to have in common: Relatively highly educated, wealthy and diverse populations, plus people who — like thousands in Ossoff’s district — voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and then backed Hillary Clinton in 2016.

An Ossoff win would be a proof point suggesting that Democrats are on the right track.

It would also be important in two other significant ways: Online, small-dollar fundraising has shattered records so far this year, and an Ossoff win would likely keep that money flowing in. And Democrats are deep into recruiting their crop of challengers for GOP seats in 2018; an Ossoff victory could embolden more top prospects to jump in.

If Handel wins: House GOP leaders can breathe easy

The outcome of Georgia’s contest is likely to become a prism through which congressional Republicans view Trump — a reality with major policy and political implications.

A spate of retirements from nervous incumbents who lack the stomach for a bitter re-election battle could be avoidable: A Handel victory could show worried party members — particularly those in suburban districts that Democrats are targeting — that they can still rely on a strategy of turning out their base in Republican-leaning districts, even if Trump is unpopular there. She’ll have even helped write the playbook, after relentlessly working to tie Ossoff to Nancy Pelosi and hitting him on national security.

It would also make life easier for congressional GOP leadership, which can’t afford to shed many votes from nervous members if it is to advance tax reform and health care legislation in the coming months.

But make no mistake: Republicans are closely watching the results to see just how much of a drag Trump is on Handel. Even a razor’s-edge win in a district where GOP congressional candidates typically top 60% would be a stark reminder of the wave potential of the 2018 midterms. After all, 71 incumbent Republicans sit in districts that are — per the Cook Political Report’s partisan voter index — less GOP-leaning than Georgia’s 6th District.

A clear Handel win could show Republican lawmakers that there’s no need to distance themselves from Trump — but anything short of that could send them scurrying from the President.

Was Ossoff too liberal or too moderate?

Ossoff became a fundraising phenomenon because he represented progressives’ best chance of swiping a House seat from Republicans early in the Trump presidency. He raised more than $23 million that way.

But if you watch Ossoff on the campaign trail or in TV ads, you’d never know it.

Through the campaign, Ossoff was hesitant to even say Trump’s name. Instead, he sold himself as a moderate who would happily work across the aisle, who fretted about deficit spending and who wasn’t even sure he’d vote for Pelosi for House speaker.

This reality has Sen. Bernie Sanders’ liberal wing of the party concerned that the Democratic establishment is recruiting and running too many moderates — and the establishment worried that Sanders’ insurgency could view a loss as proof the party needs to embrace a much more aggressive, populist, Sanders-like message.

Sanders himself fed this narrative when he pointedly answered, “I don’t know,” when the Wall Street Journal asked him this spring whether Ossoff is a progressive. “Some Democrats are progressive, and some Democrats are not,” Sanders said — though he later clarified that he does support Ossoff.

This could worsen tensions that already exist between the Sanders-aligned left, which fumed over the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s refusal to spend heavily on races in Kansas and Montana, and the DCCC.

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