The Trump administration has bolstered its campaign to deport criminal illegal immigrants by getting countries to stop blocking the transfers and take them back, according to key Homeland Security officials.

Led by its success in getting Iraq to shift gears, the administration is looking to cut the number of "recalcitrant nations" even further as it speeds up the arrest of illegal immigrants and visa overstayers who have criminal records.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said the Obama and Trump administrations, in a combined effort from the departments of state and homeland security, have cut the number of recalcitrant nations in half.

"Working with our partners at the Department of State, ICE has made significant progress over the past year to improve cooperation on removals – including reducing the number of recalcitrant countries from 23 in May 2016 to 12 in May 2017," an ICE official told the Washington Examiner. "The recent agreement with the government of Iraq is one example, and we will continue our efforts to encourage greater cooperation."

While some consider forcing recalcitrant nations to take U.S. deportations low-hanging fruit, the foreign governments can be stubborn. As a result, the Trump administration has decided to play hardball, as in the case of Iraq, which got off the president's travel ban list partly by ending its policies of barring the return of criminals.

But recently, U.S. courts have interfered, raising another hurdle to the administration's plans. Last month, for example, courts blocked the administration from deporting more than 1,000 Iraqis with horrific criminal records, claiming they might face threats back home.

"ICE is currently reviewing the judge's order to determine the appropriate next steps," said ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen.

Still, the administration's efforts have won applause among groups eager to enforce immigration laws.

"The Trump administration has already made significant progress in just 150 days," said Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies. But, she said, the administration will have to make good on threats to punish countries that balk at taking back criminals, including murderers and drug dealers.

"I am confident that the number of deadbeat countries can be reduced even further – for starters, China and Hong Kong should be the focus of pressure. On the at-risk list, there is no way places like Bermuda should be stiff-arming us. Others, like Brazil, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan, have a lot to lose if they don't cooperate more fully. There are plenty of visa programs that could be turned off in a heartbeat if they do not improve very soon," Vaughan suggested.

Dale Wilcox, executive director of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, heralded the change in how the Trump administration has approached the issue compared to the Obama White House.

"ICE, along with the State Department, has the legislative authority to punish these countries. However, it was almost never been used in past administrations. That's now changing," he said.

2018 poised to be first with no Senate retirements

With no sitting U.S. senator planning to bow out of the upcoming elections, 2018 is poised to be the first since popular elections were ordered 104 years ago with no retirements, a sharp detour from recent elections.

Over the past 25 years, an average of seven senators facing re-election have decided to retire instead, but so far nobody wants to leave the swamp next year.

"Thus far, none of the 33 incumbents have announced that they won't be running for re-election, which raises the question of whether or not such a scenario has ever played out during the direct election era," said Eric J. Ostermeier, who runs the Smart Politics blog for the University of Minnesota's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

At least two senators did not seek another term in the 52 election cycles since the passage of the 17th Amendment requiring a popular vote, according to his research.

In four cycles, just two senators didn't run. In four others, 10 or more retired: 1978, 1996, 2010 and 2012.

Control of the Senate and the war over President Trump are driving the 2018 cycle. Two senators were expected to retire — Utah Republican Orrin Hatch and California Democrat Dianne Feinstein — but they signed up for another bid for a six-year term.

Ostermeier said four others are "playing coy."

Drudge, Limbaugh credited for ‘voter insurrection,' Trump win

A handful of conservative media, including the Drudge Report and radio talker Rush Limbaugh, are being singled out for instigating the 2016 "voter insurrection" that helped Republican Donald Trump foil Democrat Hillary Clinton's sure-bet march to the White House.

In his upcoming book, Wisconsin conservative radio host Charles J. Sykes gives rare credit to Drudge, "one of the top five media publishers in the country." He calls the website, which attracts 1 billion hits a month, "effectively the assignment editor for much of talk radio, many right-leaning websites and a significant portion of the Fox News channel."

While Sykes, a never-Trumper, is critical of Drudge for linking to alt-right sources such as Alex Jones' and World Net Daily, he concedes that it hasn't resulted in a "loss of influence."

Ditto for Rush: "Along with Fox News, Breitbart and Drudge, Limbaugh was [the] loudest and most influential voice setting the table for a voter insurrection."

His book, "How the Right Lost its Mind," published by St. Martin's Press, is due out in October.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at