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U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on what he calls the "continued battle for the Soul of the Nation" in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, U.S.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Biden’s primetime warning kicks off the midterms

President Joe Biden delivered Thursday night a primetime address in Philadelphia — the birthplace of the US republic — with a clear message to the American people: Democracy is under threat.

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Somalia appoints former al Shabaab spokesperson as minister in Mogadishu

REUTERS/Feisal Omar

What We're Watching: Somalia's new cabinet, takeaways from US primaries, Peru's president in peril

Somalia appoints former al-Shabab militant to cabinet

Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre has named former al-Shabab spokesperson, Muktar Robow, as Somalia’s minister for endowment and religious affairs. A veteran of the Afghan war, who was training with al-Qaida in Afghanistan during 9/11, Robow helped found al-Shabab, which is fighting to overthrow the Somali government in a bid to invoke a strict interpretation of Sharia law. The militants have killed tens of thousands since 2007, and they’ve recently been involved in cross-border attacks in Ethiopia. Robow (aka Abu Mansour), who once had a $5 million bounty on his head, broke from the al-Qaida-linked militants back in 2017. Arrested by Somali authorities in 2018 to prevent him from running for office, Robow had been under house arrest in Mogadishu until last year, when he was taken back into custody. This week, he was released just before his new role was announced. As the new face of Somalia’s war against al-Shabab, Robow is tasked with helming the ideological battle against the terrorists. Some believe this will strengthen the government’s hand against al-Shabab, but critics fear it could lead to sectarian violence.

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US President Joe Biden

REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

Joe Biden: good news bad news

There is good political news ahead for Joe Biden. The trouble is that, for the embattled US president, bad news never seems far behind.

For example…

Good news: His party’s lawmakers look set to score some major legislative victories. On Tuesday, the US Senate passed a $280 billion package of subsidies and research funding to bolster US competitiveness in semiconductors and other advanced technology, with significant Republican support. In coming weeks, Democratic majorities in Congress are also expected to pass the first big prescription drug legislation in a generation, which is expected to lower the cost of prescription medication, and to enshrine the right to same-sex and inter-racial marriage into federal law, a highly popular step with Democratic voters.

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Trump speaks during a campaign rally when he was US president in Jacksonville, Florida.

REUTERS/Tom Brenner

What We’re Watching: GOP mulls Trump 2.0, UK leadership race heats up, energy crisis could get worse

Republican voters divided on Trump 2024

US Democrats seem to have soured on President Joe Biden, but are Republicans ready to turn their backs on former President Donald Trump? The short answer is: it’s complicated. A fresh New York Times poll shows about half of GOP voters don't want Trump to run a third time in 2024, but the other half do. The main takeaway is that Trump's once-formidable hold over the Republican Party has waned somewhat since (tumultuously) leaving office in January 2021, yet he still wields considerable influence with the base. Since hardcore Trump fans are more likely to turn out for primaries, he has been busy endorsing candidates for November’s midterm elections, so far with mixed results. The big test for Trump's stature within the GOP will be whether his picks can win in the general — especially the battle for control of the Senate, which Republicans are eager to flip (and only need one seat to do so). Meanwhile, there's growing chatter that Trump may announce his reelection bid before the midterms, which he hopes will freeze a potentially crowded GOP field in which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is now gaining on him.

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US President Joe Biden exits off of Air Force.

Ken Cedeno via Reuters

What We’re Watching: Dems take aim at Biden, them’s the breaks, BoJo; Japan takes to the polls

Are Dems done with Biden?

The US president’s party usually takes a thrashing in midterm elections, whether Republican or Democrat. But as November’s midterms approach, Democrats look set to take a greater-than-usual hit. (Republicans, for their part, only need to gain five seats to gain control of the House of Representatives and one seat to flip the Senate.) Crucially, it’s not only disaffected independents and middle-of-the-road suburban voters feeling the burn of inflation and losing patience with President Biden. Congressional Dems and party officials are increasingly expressing dissatisfaction with the commander-in-chief’s lackluster governing style and legislative losses – as well as his failure to use the power of the presidency to better appeal to voters. Indeed, many Dems are saying (mostly off-the-record) that they think fresh blood is needed to guide the party to the 2024 election. But who? VP Kamala Harris is wildly unpopular and has had a series of mishaps over the past 18 months. If Donald Trump decides to run again, or if another contender uses his playbook in 2024, are any Democrats capable of winning? The left appears to be backed into a corner, and many analysts anticipate a bloodbath come November.

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Macron shakes hands with Putin, at the French president's summer retreat.

REUTERS/Gerard Julien

Putin invades the year’s big elections

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is shifting politics inside every major country in the world. Here are four countries holding big elections this year — with details on how Vladimir Putin’s war is making a difference in Hungary, France, Brazil, and the United States.

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Jess Frampton

The US and China are too busy to fight

At the dawn of the US civil rights movement, Atlanta mayors William Hartsfield and his successor Ivan Allen promoted Georgia’s capital as “the city too busy to hate.” Whatever the reality of race relations at the time, both men wanted Atlanta to avoid the confrontations plaguing other southern US cities, and to open their city as the commercial hub of the “new South.”

In recent decades, US and Chinese leaders have relied on a similar approach to relations between the two countries. The risk of conflict was obvious, given differences in their interests and political ideologies, but there was much money to be made and stability to be gained as long as they protected their mutually profitable business opportunities.

But over the past five years, US and Chinese words and deeds have taken on a harder edge. As US post-Cold War dominance of the international system has eroded, and as Xi Jinping has more explicitly offered China’s leadership as an alternative to the West’s global rule-setting, Washington and Beijing have seemed headed toward a digital-age Cold War. Former US President Donald Trump pushed for a more open confrontation between the two powers, and current President Joe Biden has done little to change course.

There is good news, however, for those who believe that a US-China Cold War would be catastrophic for both countries and the world. In reality, both countries are far too busy to transform rivalry into hate. But it isn’t just business opportunities that now preoccupy them. It’s also major domestic challenges and distractions, particularly for China, that demand something close to their full attention.

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What We’re Watching: COVID Olympics, US-China business dilemma, China and the US midterms

COVID at the Games. The Beijing Winter Olympics, which begin on Friday, will be the most serious test to date of China's zero-COVID policy. President Xi Jinping wants to make a big international splash with the Games, as his predecessor did with the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008. That'll be tough with stadiums only half-full with domestic spectators pre-screened by the Communist Party, and no foreign fans allowed to attend at all. To avoid an outbreak at the Olympic Village, China initially imposed strict testing and quarantine policies for everyone attending the Games. But it’s possible that the CCP is having at least some doubts about this policy's ability to contain the omicron variant: Only days out from the inauguration ceremony, authorities have relaxed testing and isolation guidelines, signaling a slight pivot in China's pandemic management strategy. Does this mean the Olympics will be the beginning of the end of zero COVID? China's economy — and the world's — would surely benefit from a transition to living with the virus. Beijing says it is developing its own mRNA vaccines to achieve this, but that could still be many months away.

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