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45 After Dark: Not Don Yet edition

Donald Trump Jr. is pictured.

The president’s son-in-law changed his legal team on Friday afternoon, with Jamie Gorelick stepping back and Abbe Lowell taking charge of the inquiry. | Getty

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Governors steer clear of Trump

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Vice President Mike Pence spent much of his afternoon address to the nation’s governors on Friday making sure they know how much Donald Trump loves them. But a majority of the state leaders gathered here this week spent much of their three-day summer meeting pretending the president doesn’t exist.

When a group of seven Democratic governors stood in front of a cramped hotel meeting room Friday morning to decry the GOP’s health care plan, for all 30 minutes they avoided saying the polarizing words “Donald Trump.”

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Just hours later, the independent governor of Alaska spent the better part of a conversation over a cup of coffee extolling the virtues of administration officials from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt without ever mentioning the president by name.

And in the halls of the Rhode Island Convention Center and surrounding hotels, Republican, Democratic, and Independent governors alike flitted from meetings with their U.S. colleagues to sit-downs with their counterparts from Canada, Mexico and other foreign countries — aiming to patch up international relationships that Trump himself has threatened.

At the tail end of the National Governors Association’s three-day summer meeting, the lengths to which the country’s state executives went to sidestep the issue of the disruptive president underscored just how much the current Oval Office occupant has rewired the political environment, confounded its participants and upended their usual way of doing business. For many of them, the safest play is to avoid the matter altogether.

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"When I deal with all these governors here, Democrat or Republican, I'm not sure his name has even come up," said Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the NGA chairman who is mentioned as a prospective Trump challenger in 2020. "You would think it would be a big topic of discussion, it's almost like he's a non-factor, no one's even talking about him."

Neither the White House’s most prominent allies nor its loudest detractors in governor’s mansions made it to Rhode Island to begin with, significantly dampening what could have been a charged atmosphere. New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Florida’s Rick Scott — both close Republican Trump associates — skipped the meeting, as did frequent Trump critics like fellow Republican John Kasich of Ohio and Democrats Andrew Cuomo of New York, Jerry Brown of California, and Jay Inslee of Washington.

Instead, Trump's uneven relationship with other governors was in the spotlight. Few of the GOP governors supported him early in his 2016 campaign, but with 27 of the 38 governors' mansions up for grabs in 2018 held by Republicans, Trump casts a large shadow over the midterm election map. Some red state governors have rushed toward him with open arms, while GOP state executives in Democrat-heavy states — like Illinois' Bruce Rauner, Massachusetts' Charlie Baker, and Maryland's

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U.S. governors are wooed on NAFTA — by Canada and Mexico

Providence, R.I. — President Donald Trump has vowed he’ll pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if he doesn’t get the changes he wants. So Canada and Mexico have found a workaround: reach out directly to U.S. governors, local lawmakers and industry leaders in a bid to save NAFTA.

Canadian Cabinet and Parliament officials have held more than 170 meetings with senior U.S. officials in 23 states between Inauguration Day and the end of last month. They’re focusing on big cities, coastal states, and Rust Belt towns throughout Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania with economies that rely on cross-border trade.

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And in Mexico, an extensive private-sector effort has been underway pairing up major U.S. industry groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers with their Mexican counterparts to ensure that organizations in both countries are on the same page.

The goal is to box in the U.S. president with pressure from governors, mayors and business leaders to show how valuable NAFTA has been — state by state, district by district. The hope is that they can build groundswell of local support in the United States to pressure the Trump administration not to do anything radical to the 23-year-old trade agreement.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative plans to reveal the Trump administration’s NAFTA negotiating targets on Monday. With talks expected to begin 30 days after that, the preemptive efforts to line up American allies and spokespeople will aid in any defense against potential new barriers that the U.S. proposes.

“Canada has done a good job on the charm offensive," while Mexico has been involved in its own "active engagement strategy," said international trade lawyer Dan Ujczo, who focuses on U.S.-Canada bilateral relations.

"If all politics is local, all trade is personal," he added.

Trade observers and experts on both sides of the border described an elaborate, targeted engagement effort that has involved sending various government officials and corporate executives to key congressional districts to highlight how many jobs NAFTA has created in the district, or what percentage of exports were sent to either Canada or Mexico.

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By collecting that data and making it readily available to governors and other regional or local representatives, Canada and Mexico are hoping to illustrate the various effects of any potential changes to NAFTA. For instance, they will be able to use the information to pinpoint which U.S. states or companies would be hit the hardest by, say, heightened tariffs or tighter rules of origin.

“Their working premise is that members of Congress are going to have strong opinions about NAFTA,” said Scotty Greenwood, a senior adviser for the Canadian-American Business Council. “So the government of Canada wants to make sure that, as members are forming their opinions, they have an appreciation for

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Afghan girls robotics team arrives in U.S. just in time

Afghan girls robotics team arrives in U.S. just in time

In this July 6 photo, teenagers from the Afghanistan Robotic House, a private training institute, practice at the Better Idea Organization center, in Herat, Afghanistan. | AP Photo

By Associated Press

07/15/2017 09:51 AM EDT

WASHINGTON — Twice rejected for U.S. visas, an all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan arrived in Washington early Saturday after an extraordinary, last-minute intervention by President Donald Trump.

The six-girl team and their chaperone completed their journey just after midnight from their hometown of Herat, Afghanistan, to enter their ball-sorting robot in the three-day high school competition starting Sunday in the U.S. capital. Awaiting them at the gate at Washington Dulles International Airport were a U.S. special envoy and Afghan Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib, who described it as a rare moment of celebration for his beleaguered nation.

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“Seventeen years ago, this would not have been possible at all,” Mohib said in an interview. “They represent our aspirations and resilience despite having been brought up in a perpetual conflict. These girls will be proving to the world and the nation that nothing will prevent us from being an equal and active member of the international community.”

In the short time since their visa dilemma drew global attention, the girls’ case has become a flashpoint in the debate about Trump’s efforts to tighten entrance to the U.S., including from many majority-Muslim countries. Afghanistan isn’t included in Trump’s temporary travel ban, but critics have said the ban is emblematic of a broader effort to put a chill on Muslims entering the U.S.

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The girls’ story has also renewed the focus on the longer-term U.S. plans for aiding Afghanistan’s future, as Trump’s administration prepares a new military strategy that will include sending more troops to the country where the U.S. has been fighting since 2001. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday the strategy was moving forward but “not finalized yet.”

Trump’s personal intervention earlier in the week using a rare “parole” mechanism to sidestep the visa system ended a dramatic saga in which the team twice traveled from their home in western Afghanistan through largely Taliban-controlled territory to Kabul, where their visa applications were denied twice.

The U.S. won’t say why the girls were rejected for visas, citing confidentiality. But Mohib said that based on discussions with U.S. officials, it appears the girls were rebuffed due to concerns they would not return to Afghanistan. It’s a fate that has beset many Afghans seeking entry to the U.S. in recent years as continuing violence and economic challenges lead many to seek asylum in America, or to travel through the U.S. to Canada to try to resettle there.

As their case gained attention, Trump intervened by asking National Security Council officials to find a way for them to travel, officials said. Ultimately the State Department, which adjudicates visa applications, asked the

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