The Hill's Morning Report — Washington resets after midterms, Sessions fired

 

 

 

Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report and it’s Thursday! Our daily email gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch, co-created by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger. (CLICK HERE to subscribe!) On Twitter, find us at @joneasley and @asimendinger.

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Washington’s post-election “Kumbaya” moment lasted all of about two hours on Wednesday, when talk of bipartisanship and unity was shattered by President TrumpDonald John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report MORE’s announcement that he had ousted Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsJustice Dept. considering replacing outgoing US attorney in Brooklyn with Barr deputy: report Tuberville campaign bus catches fire in Alabama Doug Jones cuts pro-mask campaign ad: 'Our health depends on each other' MORE.

The Hill: Sessions out at Justice Department.

READ: Sessions’s resignation letter.

Lawmakers were still assessing the political fallout from Tuesday’s midterm elections when news of Sessions’ ouster spread across Washington, reigniting fears on both sides of the aisle that the move was an effort by Trump to interfere with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s probe.

 

 

 

 

Trump has installed former U.S. Attorney Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. Whitaker most recently served as Sessions’s chief of staff. The Department of Justice says Whitaker, not Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinSupreme Court to hear dispute over Democrats' access to Mueller materials Republicans release newly declassified intelligence document on FBI source Steele GOP's Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst MORE, will oversee Mueller’s probe going forward.

The Hill: 5 things to know about the new acting attorney general.

The New York Times: Sessions executed the agenda of a president who could not look past an early betrayal.

 

 

Earlier in the day, at a freewheeling and contentious East Room press conference, the president said that if he wanted to fire Mueller, he could, but that he doesn’t intend to do so at this time.

Still, Democrats leaped into action, demanding that Whitaker recuse himself from the Mueller probe – he’s written op-eds in the past that were critical of the investigation – and warning the president against further actions.

Whitaker: Mueller’s investigation of Trump has gone too far.

Whitaker (writing for The Hill): Trump was right to fire former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyBolton book sells 780,000 copies in first week, set to surpass 1M copies printed The Seila Law case: Liberty and political firing A new age of lies? MORE.

The difference now is that Democrats will take control of the House in January. Passing legislation to protect Mueller could be one of the first actions Democrats take under the leadership of House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMilitary bases should not be renamed, we must move forward in the spirit of reconciliation Pelosi: Trump 'himself is a hoax' Women must continue to persist to rise as political leaders of America MORE (D-Calif.), who expects be the next Speaker of the House.

 

 

The New York Times (editorial board): Trump strikes at Justice, installs lawman he can control.

Meanwhile, party leaders on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue were scrambling to adjust to the new political landscape and fallout from the Nov. 6 elections.

At a nearly 90-minute press conference from the White House, Trump took the unusual step of publicly mocking moderate Republican candidates who lost elections to Democrats on Tuesday, asserting they should have been more loyal to him to woo voters.

The president said he was optimistic he could work with “Nancy,” but warned Democrats that if they use their oversight powers to investigate his administration he’d retaliate with a “war-like posture” and investigations of his own.

“They can play that game, but we can play it better.” — Trump

The Hill: Trump seeks to show he’s in charge of Washington.

Pelosi held her own press conference – it had to be delayed because Trump’s ran so long – in which she insisted Democrats would not be solely focused on investigating the president, and rather would look for areas of bipartisan agreement, while remaining focused on kitchen-table policy issues, including health care.

Still, Pelosi said the Democrats do not “intend to abandon or relinquish our responsibility” for oversight in the new Congress. 

“This doesn't mean we go looking for a fight. But if we need to go forward, we will.” — Pelosi

The Associated Press: Newly empowered Dems take aim at Trump business conflicts
Bloomberg: Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersOn The Money: Mnuchin, Powell differ over how soon economy will recover | Millions fear eviction without more aid from Congress | IRS chief pledges to work on tax code's role in racial wealth disparities Millions fear eviction without more aid from Congress House approves statehood for DC in 232-180 vote MORE (D-Calif.) says Democrats will probe Trump’s bank ties.

As the drama unfolded, election returns from tight races rolled in from across the country and lawmakers positioned themselves for leadership positions in the next Congress.

And Trump and CNN clashed (again) in the East Room, leading the press office to revoke White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s media credential (The Hill). The White House Correspondents’ Association issued a statement calling the suspension of the journalist’s Secret Service pass “a reaction out of line to the purported offense and ... unacceptable,” and CNN and Acosta protested (The Hill).

Here’s a look ahead after another chaotic day in Washington…

LEADING THE DAY

*** BREAKING … MASS SHOOTING *** At least 13 people are dead after a mass shooting inside a crowded Thousand Oaks bar late Wednesday night, with a gunman throwing smoke bombs and raining bullets on an event popular with college students (Los Angeles Times).

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ELECTIONS WRAP: A few more election results were finalized on Wednesday…

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterBipartisan Senate group offers bill to strengthen watchdog law after Trump firings Senate confirms Trump's watchdog for coronavirus funds Montana barrels toward blockbuster Senate fight MORE (D-Mont.) narrowly edged Republican Matt Rosendale to secure a third term. Trump despises Tester and made several trips to Montana in an effort to boost Rosendale, who fell short by about 10,000 votes. The Libertarian candidate in the contest, who flirted with withdrawing and backing Rosendale, received more than 13,000 votes.

There are still two outstanding Senate races that are too close to call. The Republicans lead in both.

In Florida, the race between Gov. Rick Scott (R) and Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA names DC headquarters after agency's first Black female engineer Mary W. Jackson NASA, SpaceX and the private-public partnership that caused the flight of the Crew Dragon Lobbying world MORE (D) triggered an automatic recount, although it will be difficult for Nelson to make up the estimated 30,000 votes that separate them.

In Arizona, Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Political establishment takes a hit as chaos reigns supreme MORE (R) leads Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) by about 15,000 votes.

Assuming both of those leads hold, the GOP majority in the Senate will go from 51-49 to 54-46 in January.

Trump on Wednesday cited the Senate results as evidence he had defied the midterm odds, although the results were mixed.

Trump’s rallies definitely helped GOP candidates flip Democratic seats in Missouri, North Dakota, Florida and Indiana. Notably, the Democratic incumbents in those states all voted against confirming Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMcGrath fends off Booker to win Kentucky Senate primary Trump's mark on federal courts could last decades Supreme Court rules US requirements on overseas NGOs do not violate free speech MORE.

The president looks formidable in the battleground states ahead of 2020, particularly in Florida and Ohio, where Democrats struggled on Tuesday night.

But the president could not pull Rosendale or Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (R-Nev.) across the finish line or keep Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' report | Climate change erases millennia of cooling: study | Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget McConnell on filibuster talk: Democrats want to 'vandalize' Senate rules MORE (D-W.Va.) from winning reelection.

The Memo: Why Trump thinks he won the midterms.

The Hill: McConnell riding high after a “very good day.”

In the House, the latest forecast from The New York Times has the Democrats with 229 seats and Republicans with 206. That could change, as about a dozen races are too close to call, so there might be some movement around the margins.

The New York Times: For both parties, a political realignment along cultural lines.

Now, the midterms are behind us, which means we’re in a presidential election cycle.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Trump made it official, asking Vice President Pence if he would be his running mate. Pence accepted.

Reuters: Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden chips away at Trump's fundraising advantage The Memo: Trump grows weak as clock ticks down Nina Turner addresses Biden's search for a running mate MORE leads Democratic field.

More from the campaign trail … Democrats added seven governorships on Election Day (U.S. News & World Report) … State elections reveal deeply divided America (The Hill) … House flip creates big headache for Interior secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog Overnight Energy: Trump officials may pursue offshore drilling after election, report says | Energy regulators to delay projects pending appeals | EPA union calls for 'moratorium' on reopening plans MORE (The Hill).

Perspectives and Analysis

David Frum: Democrats should be happy that Rep. Beto O’Rourke lost in Texas.

Kevin D. Williamson: What the midterm results mean.

Peter Baker: A partisan war awaits Trump. It might suit him.

Rahm Emanuel: How Democrats can build a new metropolitan majority.

Mark Penn: Trump needs to be a unifier now to succeed.

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

CONGRESS: There was as much speculation in Washington on Wednesday about congressional investigations as about legislation in 2019, a byproduct of the capital’s long experience with divided government and realistic acknowledgement that narrow House and Senate majorities restrict maneuvering room.

But in the early hours after election returns became clearer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell'Comrade' Trump gets 'endorsement' from Putin in new mock ad by Lincoln Project ACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants Carville repeats prediction that Trump will drop out of race MORE (R-Ky.) celebrated the idea of common ground, while Trump and likely Speaker-to-be Pelosi spoke to one another about collaborating on infrastructure, a kind of evergreen bipartisan aspiration since 2017 that in its nitty gritty details always runs aground between the parties.

Democratic lawmakers who expect to chair major House committees next year shrugged when the president warned that his cooperation on legislation hinged on whether they investigate him. They will.

The Washington Post: Newly empowered, House Democrats plan to launch immediate investigations but are wary of impeachment.

McConnell offered a new term for congressional oversight — the kind of oversight favored by his party during the impeachment and acquittal of former President Clinton and while probing U.S. deaths in Benghazi and operations of the Justice Department under former President Obama. McConnell called such scrutiny “presidential harassment,” suggesting that House Democrats might commit political malpractice if they dig into Trump’s tax records and subpoena officials in the administration.

The Hill: McConnell reaches out to Pelosi about working together on bipartisan infrastructure and lowering drug costs.

The Hill: Congressional efforts to combat high drug prices just got a new lease on life with Democratic control of the House in 2019. And drug companies are on red alert.

The Hill: McConnell also vowed to work on Trump’s desire to achieve more funding this year for a border wall, a flashpoint between Democrats and Republicans. At a news conference on Wednesday, Trump refused to rule out a partial government shutdown after a Dec. 7 deadline.

TIME: Democrats won the House and sketched out their upcoming agenda.

Republicans are expected to hold leadership races when they return to Washington after Veterans Day. House Democrats may elect their leaders in the final week of November.

The Hill: Top Democrats announce their leadership intentions.

The Hill: Pelosi appears to be on track to reclaim the Speaker’s gavel, although she lacks the cushion needed to guarantee a return to the top job. Some within her caucus told voters during their campaigns that they would not support Pelosi for Speaker and prefer younger leaders and newcomers to Congress. Pelosi has several weeks to cement her support. The Wall Street Journal reported on her comeback, “eight years in the making.”

Trump has on occasion praised Pelosi as tough and effective, while also skewering her liberal political pedigree. On Wednesday, he tweeted that Pelosi is such a political goldmine in the eyes of some in the Republican Party, his congressional allies might try to vote for her to be Speaker (an impossibility under the rules).

 

 

The Denver Post: Rep. Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteShort-term health plans leave consumers on the hook for massive medical costs, investigation finds White House shifts focus from coronavirus Administration rolls back pollution standards amid a global pandemic MORE (D-Colo.), chief deputy whip in the Democratic caucus for the past seven congresses, announced she is seeking the Democratic whip post. If elected by her brethren, she would be the first Democratic lawmaker from the Mountain West to ascend to leadership and only the second woman to serve as whip.

Seattle Times: Washington Democratic Reps. Suzan DelBeneSuzan Kay DelBeneThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump, GOP on defense as nationwide protests continue Expanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support House Democrats press Treasury on debit cards used for coronavirus relief payments MORE and Denny HeckDennis (Denny) Lynn HeckExclusive: Guccifer 2.0 hacked memos expand on Pennsylvania House races Heck enjoys second political wind Incoming lawmaker feeling a bit overwhelmed MORE will compete to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democrats’ political arm tasked with enlarging the majority in 2020.

The Hill: Across the aisle, outside conservative groups are calling for House Republicans to replace the entire GOP leadership team, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcCarthy to offer bill withholding funds from states that don't protect statues McCarthy calls on Pelosi to condemn 'mob violence' after toppling of St. Junipero Serra statue The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Stagwell President Mark Penn says Trump is losing on fighting the virus; Fauci says U.S. 'going in the wrong direction' in fight against virus MORE (R-Calif.) and Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseCheney clashes with Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up MORE (R-La.). The push for an overhaul emerged as House Freedom Caucus leader Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanGOP-Trump fractures on masks open up Democrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers Comer tapped to serve as top Republican on House Oversight MORE (R-Ohio) announced on Hill.TV his bid to be minority leader next year in a challenge to McCarthy, who is running for the post (The Hill).

The Hill: Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump lays low as approval hits 18-month low House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday MORE (R-Wyo.), daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, announced her candidacy to be chair of the House GOP Conference, highlighting what she said is a dire need to improve GOP communications.

“The Democrats have told us what they plan to do with the majority,” Cheney wrote to her colleagues. “Every member of our conference must be armed and ready to go on offense … deploying immediate rebuttals and pre-buttals to the Democrats’ false claims.”

The Morning Report is created by journalists Jonathan Easley jeasley@thehill.com & Alexis Simendinger asimendinger@thehill.com. Suggestions? Tips? We want to hear from you! Share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!

OPINION

Newly empowered House Democrats eyeing Trump need to learn from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, by Kris Kolesnik, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2QrNpVr

With House control, Democrats must now fight for the middle class, by Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2zx3cei

WHERE AND WHEN

The House and Senate will return to Washington to resume work on Tuesday.

The president will attend the investiture of Supreme Court Associate Justice Kavanaugh at the court. Back at the White House, he will meet with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report To support Hong Kong's freedom, remember America's revolution Senate passes sanctions bill targeting China over Hong Kong law MORE.

The Federal Reserve completes a two-day policy meeting with a statement at 2 p.m., and is expected to leave interest rates where they are.

U.S. jobless claims report will be released at 8:30 a.m., and is expected to add to an upbeat employment picture.

ELSEWHERE

> Financial markets: Stock market winners and losers following Tuesday’s election results (CNBC). “History has pointed to strong returns for equity markets when Congress is divided.” … Stocks climbed amid relief following elections outcome (Reuters).  

> Canada and trade: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will not participate in any signing ceremony for a trade agreement alongside Trump unless American tariffs on steel and aluminum are lifted, Canada’s ambassador to the United States says (CBC).

> North Korea: Trump expects to meet again with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un early next year, he said on Wednesday, adding that a meeting between Pompeo and North Korean officials, which was to have taken place this week, will be rescheduled (Reuters). … North Korea canceled the meeting, the Trump administration told South Korea, according to the foreign minister (Reuters).

> Marijuana: During pregnancy, fewer women are smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, but more are smoking marijuana, according to a report (Time).

 

 

THE CLOSER

And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by Tuesday’s midterm results, we’re eager for some smart guesses about elections and Congress.

Email your responses to jeasley@thehill.com or asimendinger@thehill.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit five correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.

In what year did the biggest midterm election wave in U.S. history take place?

  1. 2010
  2. 1932
  3. 1922
  4. 1894

Pelosi is expected to get a second stint as Speaker, making her the first and second woman to hold the position. Who was the longest-serving Speaker in U.S. history?

  1. Dennis HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: On statues and statutes Feehery: The more radicals try to remove history, the more the president looks to repeat it Feehery: How Trump can turn the protests into parades dedicated to making America great again MORE
  2. Thomas “Tip” O’Neill Jr.
  3. Sam Rayburn
  4. Newt Gingrich

Related to elections, what do these people have in common: Mel Carnahan, Carl Geary, Dennis Hof, Patsy Mink, Jenny Oropeza and Harry Stonebraker?

  1. Former House members who represented Hawaii
  2. Millionaires who self-funded losing campaigns
  3. Politicians who were elected to office after their deaths
  4. Candidates with the Green Party

On Tuesday, voters decided on divided government in Washington after the president enjoyed two years of Republicans being in full control. Which of these presidents enjoyed the longest streak of full party control?

  1. Republicans Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover.
  2. Republican George W. Bush.
  3. Democrats Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
  4. Democrats John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE and Lyndon Johnson.

For the first time ever, there will be more than 100 women lawmakers in the House. Who was the first woman to chair a congressional committee?

  1. Rep. Mae Ella Nolan (R-Calif.)
  2. Sen. Hattie Wyatt Caraway (D-Ark.)
  3. Pelosi
  4. Rep. Jeanette Rankin (R-Mont.).