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March 19 2016

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19 March 2016


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16 US ships that aided in Operation Tomodachi still contaminated with radiation

By Matthew M. Burke

Stars and Stripes

Published: March 13, 2016



CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Sixteen U.S. ships that participated in relief efforts after Japan’s nuclear disaster five years ago remain contaminated with low levels of radiation from the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, top Navy officials told Stars and Stripes.

In all, 25 ships took part in Operation Tomadachi, the name given for the U.S. humanitarian aid operations after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011. The tsunami, whose waves reached runup heights of 130 feet, crippled the Fukushima plant, causing a nuclear meltdown.

In the years since the crisis, the ships have undergone cleanup efforts, the Navy said, and 13 Navy and three Military Sealift Command vessels still have some signs of contamination, mostly to ventilation systems, main engines and generators.

“The low levels of radioactivity that remain are in normally inaccessible areas that are controlled in accordance with stringent procedures,” the Navy said in an email to Stars and Stripes. “Work in these areas occurs mainly during major maintenance availabilities and requires workers to follow strict safety procedures.”

All normally accessible spaces and equipment aboard the ships have been surveyed and decontaminated, Vice Adm. William Hilarides, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, wrote to Stars and Stripes.

“The radioactive contamination found on the ships involved in Operation Tomodachi is at such low levels that it does not pose a health concern to the crews, their families, or maintenance personnel,” Hilarides said.

The largest U.S. ship to take part in the relief operation was the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, which normally carries a crew of more than 5,000 sailors. In 2014, three years after the disaster, the Reagan’s ventilation system was contaminated with 0.01 millirems of radiation per hour, according to the Navy. Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines advise no more than 2 millirems of radiation in one hour in any unrestricted area, and 100 millirems total in a calendar year from external and internal sources in unrestricted and controlled areas, so full-time exposure on the Reagan would be below that.


Plume of radiation

In the days after the tsunami hit the Fukushima complex, the plant suffered multiple explosions and reactors began to melt down.

Officials from the NRC told Congress that extremely high levels of radiation were being emitted from the impaired plant. Japanese nuclear experts said winds forced a radioactive plume out to sea, and efforts to keep fuel rods cool using sea water caused tons of radiated water to be dumped into the ocean.

The Reagan was dispatched to take part in relief efforts, arriving the next day. Navy officials say the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier stayed at least 100 nautical miles away from the damaged plant, but many sailors have disputed the Navy’s accounting, saying they were so close that they could see the plant.

The Navy has acknowledged that the Reagan passed through a plume of radiation. Navy images showed sailors with their faces covered, scrubbing the deck of the Reagan with soap and water as a precautionary measure afterward. The Reagan and sailors stayed off the coast of Japan for several weeks to aid their Japanese allies.

The multibillion-dollar ship, projected to last at least 50 years after its launch in 2001, then was taken offline for more than a year for “deep maintenance and modernization” at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Wash., according to Navy officials.

“Procedures were in place to survey, control and remove any low-level residual contamination,” the Navy said. “Personnel working on potentially contaminated systems were monitored with sensitive dosimeters, and no abnormal radiation exposures were identified.”

Upgrades and cleaning also took place at the ship’s next stop in San Diego.

Sailors who performed the work said it entailed entering spaces deep within the ship, testing for high levels of radiation, and if it was found, sanding, priming and painting the areas. They say there were given little to no protective gear, a claim that the Navy denies.

Of the 1,360 individuals aboard the Reagan who were monitored by the Navy following the incident, more than 96 percent were found not to have detectable internal contamination, the Navy said. The highest measured dose was less than 10 percent of the average annual exposure to someone living in the United States.


Radiation effects unknown

Experts differ on the effects of radiation in general and, specifically, for those involved in Operation Tomodachi.

Eight Reagan sailors, claiming a host of medical conditions they say are related to radiation exposure, filed suit in 2012 against the nuclear plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. The suit asserts that TEPCO lied, coaxing the Navy closer to the plant even though it knew the situation was dire. General Electric, EBASCO, Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi were later added as defendants for allegations of faulty parts for the reactors.

A spokesman for TEPCO declined to comment for this story because of the sailors’ lawsuit, which was slated to go forward pending appeals in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.


The illnesses listed in the lawsuit include genetic immune system diseases, headaches, difficulty concentrating, thyroid problems, bloody noses, rectal and gynecological bleeding, weakness in sides of the body accompanied by the shrinking of muscle mass, memory loss, leukemia, testicular cancer, problems with vision, high-pitch ringing in the ears and anxiety.

The list of sailors who have joined the lawsuit, which is making its way through the courts, has grown to 370.

In early 2014, Congress ordered Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson to investigate the claims.

After a peer-reviewed study into the levels of exposure, Woodson reported back to Congress, defending the military’s response and safeguards.

Any illnesses that sailors have developed since the operation are not a result of the relief campaign, he said.

“There is no objective evidence that the sailors … experienced radiation exposures that would result in an increase in the expected number of radiogenic diseases over time,” Woodson wrote. “The estimated radiation doses for all individuals in the Operation Tomodachi registry, including sailors on the USS Ronald Reagan, were very small and well below levels associated with adverse medical conditions.”

Furthermore, Woodson said, more sailors would have been sick if the levels were high enough to cause the illnesses cited. There were upward of 5,000 sailors aboard the Reagan at the time of the operation. He also said symptoms developed too early to be associated with the operation.

But Shinzo Kimura — a professor at Dokkyo Medical University in Japan who has studied radiation exposure from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Chernobyl and, now, Fukushima — said it wasn’t too early for sailors to show symptoms of exposure-related conditions. Doctors have seen conditions in children living near the plant that surfaced earlier than would normally be expected.

Kimura, hired by the Nihonmatsu city government for his expertise in the field, was the first scientist on the ground taking readings in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. He said each person and the way their body is affected by radiation is different.

While unable to definitively say if the sailors were sickened by the radiation, Kimura reasoned that the levels aboard the Reagan were high enough to cause illnesses. Otherwise, he said, why go through the bother of repeated cleanings to lower radiation levels?

“It is impossible to speculate or calculate how much the doses were before the two decontamination works,” he said. “The U.S. military is very good at risk-management. Considering that, it is assumed that decontaminations were conducted twice because the levels were not favorable.”



Light F-35 Helmet Tests Begin, DOD Aims To Fix Escape System This Year

Lara Seligman, Defense News 7:12 p.m. EDT March 14, 2016


WASHINGTON — The F-35 joint program office will begin testing the first prototype of the new, lightweight Generation III helmet later this month, with the hope of resolving by November issues with the jet’s escape system that have kept some pilots grounded.


The JPO and industry will begin testing Rockwell Collins’ latest version of the F-35 helmet, built to be about 6 ounces lighter than the original Gen III helmet, in late March, said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, director of the F-35 integration office. This will be the first time the JPO has tested the full-up Gen III “Light,” although the program office has tested a modified helmet that is about the same weight as the light version, he said.

The new light helmet is one of three solutions the Pentagon and industry hope will allow the military services to lift restrictions on lightweight pilots flying the F-35. Last year, Defense News first reported that pilots under 136 pounds were barred from flying the fifth-generation aircraft after testers discovered an increased risk of neck damage to lightweight pilots ejecting from the plane. The Air Force has also acknowledged an “elevated level of risk” for pilots between 136 and 165 pounds.

All three fixes — the lightweight helmet and two modifications to the F-35 ejection seat — will be finalized and ready for incorporation into the production line by November, said JPO Chief Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan during a March 10 event in Washington. This reflects an acceleration of the schedule since January, when the JPO estimated the services would be able to implement the three parts of the complete solution in October 2017.

“That schedule showed me that the helmet wouldn’t be ready until late 2017. That was not good enough, so I sent the team back,” Bogdan said at the Credit Suisse/McAleese FY2017 Defense Programs Conference. “The good news is the team did a lot of hard work [and] we will have our first Gen III light helmets now aligned with the seat in November 2016 so we can remove the restriction for the pilots under 136 pounds.”


The Fix

The prototype helmet the JPO will test weighs about 4.63 pounds and will help ease some strain on smaller pilots’ necks during ejection, Harrigian said during a March 9 interview. Testers have found that the heavier helmet adds risk of neck damage during the first phase of an ejection, after the windscreen canopy is breached. The seat and pilot are launched upward via a rail system at a jarring rate, causing back and neck injuries if the pilot is not in the correct position with his or her head directly centered on the spine. The heavy helmet pushes a pilot’s head down, increasing the risk of injury particularly for lighter pilots.

But the helmet is only part of the problem. Once the pilot and seat reach the top of the rails, a rocket under the seat is ignited to lift the pilot-and-seat package free of the plane. At this point, the seat can begin pitching back and forth, a motion much like that of a rocking chair. This pitching motion is worse with a lightweight pilot, putting him or her in a potentially dangerous position when the main recovery parachute deploys – the pilot could be completely upside down at this moment. The rapid deployment of the parachute snaps the pilot back into an upright position, potentially injuring the head and neck.

To fix the ejection seat itself, the team will install a switch on the seat for lightweight pilots that will delay deployment of the main parachute. The proposed switch will keep the smaller “drogue” chute attached longer to further reduce the speed of the seat before the main parachute deploys, hopefully easing the pilot’s motion back into an upright position. In addition, the program office will mount a “head support panel,” or HSP, a fabric panel sewn between the parachute risers that will protect the pilot’s head from moving backwards during the parachute opening. This will prevent the potential hyperextension of the neck and protect the head.

Since November, the JPO, Lockheed Martin and seat-maker Martin Baker have conducted seven tests — three out of an airborne jet and four so-called “sled tests” on the ground — with the latest version of the seat, which included the switch and HSP, according to Harrigian. Although most tests have been done with mannequins in the lightest and heaviest weight classes – under 136 pounds and above 245 pounds – the latest test on March 3 was done with a 150-pound mannequin, which represents “the heart of the envelope,” Harrigian said.

The program office has about another 11 tests planned, which are expected to incorporate the lightweight helmet solution, Harrigian said. The tests will use a mix of low, middle and high-weight mannequins, he said.

All of the test results have been “fairly positive,” so far, although the team is still working through analysis of the latest March 3 test, Harrigian said.

“We’re waiting for a little more feedback, but everything thus far has been positive,” Harrigian said. “As you can imagine we’re going to continue to track this closely and stay very well connected with the JPO and industry to make sure we’re monitoring how this goes as we continue through the test.”


Weapons Tester Weighs In

A spokesman for the Pentagon’s top weapons tester, known for his criticism of development programs across the armed services, said the JPO’s test schedule for the escape system fixes is “aggressive,” but “achievable.” However, the spokesman cautioned that the schedule for flight clearance and implementation of the three solutions assumes that no discoveries are made during testing that would require additional modifications.

“If discoveries are made during the testing, the timeline to achieve full qualification of the seat and helmet for ejection will take longer because additional regression testing and analyses would be likely be required,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a spokesman for the director of operational test and evaluation, said in a March 7 email.

The upcoming tests will reveal if any other changes are required to the ejection seat, Rankine-Galloway said. In addition, the tests should show whether the new lightweight helmet is strong enough to withstand the wind blast from high-speed ejections, as well as any impact from pieces of the canopy that have been shattered by the initial blast, he said.

“Until this testing is completed and DOT&E has analyzed the data, we cannot assess whether the fixes work and are ready to field,” he said.

Tests late last year with 103-pound mannequins at various speeds demonstrated the two seat fixes worked as planned, Rankine-Galloway said. In at least one recent test, the HSP successfully prevented a “neck exceedence” during deployment of the main parachute, and the lightweight switch delayed parachute opening, he noted.

However, there is still work to be done to completely eliminate the risk. During Oct. 15’s low-speed “proof-of-concept” test at 160 knots, the HSP did not prevent strain on the lightweight pilot’s neck in the early stages of an ejection due to the rocket firing and initial wind blast, according to Rankine-Galloway. During the Nov. 19 test at 450 knots – or high speed – neck strain was still seen during the initial catapult and windblast phases, and during parachute opening.

These tests were done using a surrogate helmet that is not quite as light as the proposed lightweight Gen III helmet, Rankine-Galloway noted. Until the program has completed full testing of the new seat changes and the new helmet, DOT&E will not have adequate data to make a judgment, he cautioned.

DOT&E does not have the final say in when the Pentagon can lift the restriction on lightweight pilots.

Fixing the escape system is not part of the Air Force’s criteria to declare its F-35A variants operational this summer, but “it remains a fundamental concern that the Chief and the Secretary have because this is all about the safety of our airmen and that is the bottom line,” Harrigian said.



House Armed Services chairman fires opening salvo in what’s likely to be long defense procurement fight

By Karoun Demirjian March 16


The House Armed Services Committee chairman has fired the opening shot in the upcoming defense policy battle, proposing sweeping changes to the Pentagon’s weapons acquisition and intellectual property rights rules guaranteed to make the Pentagon squirm.

Rep. Mac Thornberry’s (R-Texas) proposal effectively upends the current military procurement process by splitting weapons systems into “platforms” – for instance, a fighter jet, or a submarine – and “components,” such as that jet’s or submarine’s navigation system, sensors, or telecommunication devices. The services would have latitude to upgrade anything that counts as a “component” without having to beg Congress for special permission.

The idea, Thornberry said, is to make sure that fighters in the field can more quickly get their hands on the latest technology, and when it comes time to make new purchase orders, help avoid cost-overruns and scheduling delays because much of the new system’s technology will have already been field-tested.

Doing that, though, means forcing the top Pentagon bureaucrats to set earlier cost and timeline targets for new systems, while at the same time, ceding oversight authority and accountability for more programs to individual branches of the military – even for joint programs. Meanwhile in Congress, lawmakers would have to get comfortable with the services having more leeway to fund technology upgrades without congressional permission.

“There will be resistance,” Thornberry said on Tuesday, describing his plan. “But if there’s not some sort of opposition, you’re not changing very much.”

Acquisition reform has been a central obsession of Congress’ Armed Services committees, and in theory, the Defense Department is on board with the idea of reforming the system. Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said the DOD would propose its own systematic reforms within weeks, according to a report in Defense News. Carter is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill this Thursday.

But lawmakers and administration officials have not always seen eye-to-eye about what weapons priorities are worth pursuing – and where the DOD could stand to cut costs without losing its edge in the field.

Thornberry was careful to tell committee members that his draft is a starting point for debate.

But his proposal will nonetheless set the stage for the debate over acquisition reform in the next several months, as lawmakers tackle the fiscal 2017 defense policy bill — behemoth legislation that goes well beyond the scope of weapons system procurement.

The defense policy process will also be influenced by an ongoing, parallel fight over defense appropriations. Thornberry and other Republicans have said they intend to seek an additional $18 billion to cover what they see as a shortfall in next year’s budget. Otherwise, they say, they cannot cover the costs of the programs they were planning for when lawmakers struck a two-year budget deal last year, and accommodate Obama’s request to commit more money to new ventures, such as quadrupling funding for defenses in Europe.

Thornberry’s proposal is also light, by design, on the details of just how programs would be labeled. But if a deal can be crafted, the Texas Republican is hopeful it can rid the system of bureaucracy that’s been weighing down the military’s ability to more nimbly respond to the demands of war.

“It’s not primarily about saving a buck or two, it’s about a system that is not keeping up with the way the world is changing,” Thornberry said. “Nobody’s smart enough to have all the answers to some of these issues we’re talking about.”

Late last year, lawmakers launched a sweeping review process of Pentagon inefficiencies, focusing on overlapping mandates, interservice rivalries, and how new missions – like cyber and space technologies that didn’t exist the last time lawmakers and the Pentagon embarked on such a review – should fit into the country’s defense apparatus.

Thornberry’s proposals to change the way the DOD commissions, upgrades and purchases cutting-edge weapons systems fit into this climate of change.

Among the other proposals in his bill is a requirement that all weapons systems be built using standard, open architecture that will make it easier to swap component parts out with upgrades, and competition between private sector developers to field the best – and most affordable – products.

As part of encouraging more companies to bid on defense projects, Thornberry also proposed giving private contractors more assurances about their intellectual property rights, and the ability to negotiate with the government over IP ownership of jointly-funded weapons platforms or component parts at the outset of their contract.




Air Force Cyber Simulation Center preps to meet tighter deadlines

Aaron Boyd, Federal Times 11:48 a.m. EDT March 16, 2016


The Air Force is ramping up operations at its Cyber Simulation Center, run by the 90th Information Operations Squadron with contractor assistance from CACI Federal.

The 90th IOS is under orders to launch new training programs under a tighter time frame — from the original three-year deadline down to two — and “expand the use and availability” of the simulation center, according to the task order.

To achieve this, the squad is upping a current task order with CACI to add more contract support.

The expansion will include 17 new contract positions, including 12 app developers, two quality assurance specialists, a technical writer, a network specialist and a voice/data communications engineer.

The new task order will take over from the existing one, finishing out the base year with an option for two one-year add-ons.

The expanded contract terms increased the original task order’s value by $6.6 million, though the related documents aren’t clear on whether this is in addition to the original task order or the new ceiling. A search of previous awards under the same reference number shows a $2.4 million award to CACI Federal in December 2015, which is when the original task order was issued.

The task order was competed openly on GSA’s Alliant vehicle. Of the four bids received, only two were deemed technically acceptable. Of those, CACI Federal was chosen for their experience working at the simulation center to date.

“CACI Inc. Federal has been performing these services for the Air Force for over 20 years,” according to the sole-source justification. “As a result of CACI Inc. Federal’s experience and current support, the contracting officer has determined that no other vendor has the immediate resources and skilled personnel to support the accelerated development schedule and expanded use of the Cyber Simulation Center.”



Clinton Sought Secure Smartphone, Rebuffed by NSA, Emails Show

By Michael Biesecker, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Mar 16, 2016, 10:02 PM ET


Newly released emails show a 2009 request to issue a secure government smartphone to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was denied by the National Security Agency.

A month later, she began using private email accounts accessed through her BlackBerry to exchange messages with her top aides.

The messages made public Wednesday were obtained by Judicial Watch, a conservative legal advocacy group that has filed numerous lawsuits seeking the release of federal documents related to Clinton’s tenure as the nation’s top diplomat.

The Democratic presidential front-runner has come under intense scrutiny for her decision to use a private email server located in the basement of her New York home to route messages, including some containing sensitive information. Security experts have raised concern the arrangement could have left the messages vulnerable to attack by hackers, including those working for foreign intelligence agencies.

Clinton’s desire for a secure “BlackBerry-like” device, like that provided to President Barack Obama, is recounted in a series of February 2009 exchanges between high-level officials at the State Department and NSA. Clinton was sworn in as secretary the prior month, and had become “hooked” on reading and answering emails on a BlackBerry she used during the 2008 presidential race.

“We began examining options for (Secretary Clinton) with respect to secure ‘BlackBerry-like’ communications,” wrote Donald R. Reid, the department’s assistant director for security infrastructure. “The current state of the art is not too user friendly, has no infrastructure at State, and is very expensive.”

Reid wrote that each time they asked the NSA what solution they had worked up to provide a mobile device to Obama, “we were politely told to shut up and color.”

Resolving the issue was given such priority as to result in a face-to-face meeting between Clinton chief of staff Cheryl Mills, seven senior State Department staffers with five NSA security experts. According to a summary of the meeting, the request was driven by Clinton’s reliance on her BlackBerry for email and keeping track of her calendar. Clinton chose not to use a laptop or desktop computer that could have provided her access to email in her office, according to the summary.


Standard smartphones are not allowed into areas designated as approved for the handling of classified information, such as the block of offices used by senior State Department officials, known by the nickname “Mahogany Row” for the quality of their paneling. Mills said that was inconvenient, because they had to leave their offices and retrieve their phones to check messages.

Mills also asked about waivers provided during the Bush administration to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for her staff to use BlackBerrys in their secure offices. But the NSA had phased out such waivers due to security concerns.

The department’s designated NSA liaison, whose name was redacted from the documents, expressed concerns about security vulnerabilities inherent with using BlackBerry devices for secure communications or in secure areas. However, the specific reasons Clinton’s requests were rebuffed are being kept secret by the State Department.

Clinton began sending work-related emails through private accounts soon after, in March 2009. The State Department has thus far released more than 52,000 pages of her work-related emails, a small percentage of which have been withheld because they contain information considered sensitive to national security.

In recent months, Clinton has said her home-based email setup was a mistake, but that she never sent or received anything that was marked classified at the time.

Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon declined to comment Wednesday.

The FBI is investigating whether sensitive information that flowed through Clinton’s email server was mishandled. The inspectors general at the State Department and for U.S. intelligence agencies are separately investigating whether rules or laws were broken.

There are currently at least 38 lawsuits, including one filed by The Associated Press, seeking records related to Clinton’s service as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. On Tuesday, Judicial Watch filed a discovery motion in one of those cases seeking to question eight former State Department staffers under oath, including Mills and Reid. The judge overseeing the case indicated last month he was strongly considering allowing lawyers from the group to question Clinton’s former aides.

“These documents show that Hillary Clinton knew her BlackBerry wasn’t secure,” Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, said Wednesday. “The FBI and prosecutors ought to be very interested in these new materials.”


House Budget Goes in the Wrong Direction on Defense

Justin Johnson / @jus10j / March 16, 2016 /

Justin T. Johnson specializes in defense budgets and policies for The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for National Security and Foreign Policy.

The newly released House budget proposal would increase defense spending in future years, but for the 2017 fiscal year it goes in the wrong direction.

First, the good: In the 2018 fiscal year and beyond, the budget proposal would increase defense above current levels (although still below the Heritage Blueprint for Balance). Congress must increase the defense budget for a variety of reasons, and this budget would move in the right direction in future years.

But the bad news is significant.

The Budget Committee summary claims to increase national defense in 2017, but it actually relies on a gimmick that kicks the can down the road. The budget proposal provides $74 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding for defense, which is $15 billion more than President Barack Obama requested for defense.

This sounds like a funding increase for defense until we realize that the State Department Overseas Contingency Operations request is $15 billion. A total of $74 billion for the contingency account is the exact amount that President Obama requested for the departments of Defense and State combined.

In other words, the House budget proposal only results in an actual increase for the Department of Defense if the State Department is cut.

While cutting the State Department budget can be debated, this budget doesn’t actually make that choice. Instead, it leaves the decision for Republican leadership and the Appropriations Committee.

They will chose among three options: (1) keep defense at the current levels, (2) cut the State Department to some degree to increase defense, or (3) go back to a proposal floated last week to only fund military operations for the first part of the fiscal year.

If House Republican leadership sticks to their stated goal of passing regular appropriations bills, cutting the State Department is likely to be a roadblock in the Senate. That means that the House will either have to keep defense at its current underfunded levels, or go down the path of cutting funding for military operations.

Both of these are bad options. Defense needs to be increased. And cutting funding for military operations is a foolish idea.

Instead of going the wrong direction on defense, the House should consider a budget that decreases nondefense spending while increasing defense spending. Some call this breaking the firewall between defense and nondefense. The Budget Committee proposal actually breaks the firewall in fiscal year 2018 and beyond. If we can do it in the future, why not do it now?

The Blueprint for Balance proposes a defense budget of $661 billion for national defense and ongoing military operations but provides this money by cutting wasteful and low-priority programs outside of the military. This is the way to increase defense spending responsibly while getting reckless spending under control.


Rasmussen Reports

What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Bottom of Form

Saturday, March 19, 2016

While Democrats move closer to unifying behind Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, the leadership of the Republican Party continues to struggle with the specter of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

Support for all three of the remaining Republican candidates has grown with the narrowing of the field, but Trump still holds a double-digit lead over both his rivals for the GOP presidential nomination.

Following his latest round of primary wins on Tuesday, more Republicans than ever believe Trump will be their party’s presidential nominee this fall.

Belief in Trump’s eventual nomination now matches the latest findings in Rasmussen Reports’ monthly Hillary Meter: 60% of Democrats say Hillary Clinton is Very Likely to be their nominee, also a new high.

Democrats are already preparing for a Trump nomination because they want to win. The GOP elites are still fighting the voters in their own party seemingly without a clue what to do next, while winning appears to be the furthest thing from their minds.

The danger for Republicans is that 36% of the party’s voters say they are likely to vote for Trump if he runs as a third-party presidential candidate, with 24% who say they are Very Likely to do so.

Trump has been critical of so-called “political correctness” for restraining free speech. Fifty-two percent (52%) of Americans now believe there is less freedom of speech in America today.

Voters strongly believe candidates should tell it like it is, but most expect an increase in political violence this year, thanks in large part to Trump’s unvarnished populist message.

Trump has responded to critics of his abrasive campaign rhetoric by saying he would “gladly accept the mantle of anger” because the government is being run by “incompetent people.” Two-out-of-three voters (67%) are angry at the current policies of the federal government, and even more (84%) are angry at Congress.

Trump also boasts that he is largely self-funding his campaign because he thinks big contributors have too much influence over elected officials. Most voters agree that presidential candidates are more concerned with what their big donors think than with the concerns of the voters.

Half of voters consider their local government corrupt, but that’s nothing compared to what they think about their state government and the feds.

Sixty-six percent (66%) believe the federal government has become a special interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests.

The president this week nominated federal appellate court Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. He described Garland as “a centrist,” but conservatives quickly disagreed, with the National Rifle Association calling him “the most anti-gun nominee in recent history.”

Seventy-five percent (75%) of voters rate their constitutional right to own a gun as important, with 54% who say it is Very Important. 
Just one-in-three Americans (32%) now think stricter gun control laws will decrease violent crime.

Republican congressional leaders have told the president that they will not consider any Supreme Court nomination he makes. Nearly half (48%) of Republicans say they’d be more likely to vote for a senator who refuses to consider an Obama nominee, while slightly more Democrats (50%) say they’d be less likely to vote for that candidate.

Voters in surveys for years have been more likely to describe the U.S. Supreme Court as too liberal rather than as too conservative. Any newcomer nominated by the president isn’t likely to change that overall perception.

Obama continues to enjoy some of his best daily approval ratings in over a year.

Voters believe more strongly these days that the president of the United States is the leader of the world community and that the level of power he has is appropriate.

But just 33% believe the United States will still be the most powerful nation in the world by the end of the 21st century.

In other surveys last week:

— Only 27% of voters think the country is now heading in the right direction.

— Americans overwhelmingly believe they know the issues when they go to the polls but agree nearly as strongly that most others are not informed voters.

— Are voters jumping on the #hashtag politics bandwagon?

Subscribers to Rasmussen Reports receive exclusive stories each week for less than a dollar a



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