The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Dems prepare to aggressively wield new oversight powers

 

 

 

Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report and it’s Monday (a federal holiday)! 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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Democrats are about to open the floodgates on investigations into President TrumpDonald John TrumpFamily says Trump travel ban preventing mother from seeing dying son Saudi Arabia rejects Senate position on Khashoggi killing Five things to know about the Trump inauguration investigation MORE.

The party doesn’t take over the House until January, but it’s already devising battle plans for how it will use the House majority and oversight powers to hold the Trump administration accountable.

The aggressive posture has provoked questions about whether the Democrats’ eagerness to investigate Trump will distract from the kitchen-table issues they ran on during the midterms. 

“We are responsible. We are not scattershot. We are not doing any investigation for a political purpose but to seek the truth. So I think a word that you could describe about how Democrats will go forward in this regard is, it will be very strategic.” – Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrump finds himself isolated in shutdown fight Key Trump aide on willingness to shut down government over wall: ‘If it comes to it, absolutely’ Impatience, exuberance will define new Congress MORE (D-Calif.), the likely next Speaker of the House, on CBS News’s “Face the Nation”

Democrats insist they’ll be able to legislate changes that will help Americans, while at the same time pinning the White House to the ground with oversight. But with a Republican in the White House and a GOP-controlled Senate, any bill that becomes law will have to be bipartisan.

The New York Times: Democrats didn’t let Trump distract them during their campaigns. That will be harder now. “Don’t chase every ball that he throws.”

In appearances across the Sunday news shows, Democrats detailed the myriad ways they intend to flex their new oversight powers in the months ahead.

The confrontation starts with the Department of Justice and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who Democrats say was installed as part of an effort to undermine special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE.

On Sunday, Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the likely incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCummings: DOJ should 'definitely' reconsider laws against indicting sitting president On The Money: Trump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming | Trump names Mulvaney acting chief of staff | China agrees to 3-month freeze of auto tariffs | Dem to seek Deutsche Bank records of Trump's personal finances Schiff plans to obtain Deutsche Bank records of Trump's personal finances MORE (D-Calif.), the likely incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, threatened to subpoena Whitaker.

“If he doesn't recuse himself, if he has any involvement whatsoever in this Russia probe, we are going to find out whether he made commitments to the president about the probe, whether he is serving as a back channel to the president or his lawyers about the probe, whether he's doing anything to interfere with the probe. Mr. Whitaker needs to understand that he will be called to answer. And any role that he plays will be exposed to the public.” – Schiff on NBC’s “Meet the Press”

Trump has not said when he intends to nominate a full-time replacement for former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump: Sessions 'should be ashamed of himself' for allowing Russia probe to proceed Interior chief Zinke to leave administration Trump, Christie met to discuss chief of staff job: report MORE, who was forced out last week.

House Democrats are expected to push legislation to protect Mueller, although that effort would likely get stuck in the GOP-held Senate.

“Mueller is not going to be stopped. It's going to continue and it should continue … If it continues … why protect something that's actually continuing?” – Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenators offer measure naming Saudi crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi slaying Can a rising tide of female legislators lift all boats? Setting the record straight about No Labels MORE (R-Colo.) on NBC’s “Meet the Press”

Still, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats must stand up for Israel Retired Gen. McChrystal: Sending troops to build wall could be seen as ‘misuse of power’ ‘It’s called transparency’ works for Trump on TV, not so much on campaign finance MORE (D-N.Y.) is threatening a government shutdown by tying legislation protecting Mueller to a must-pass spending bill next month.

The Hill: Dems race to protect Mueller.

Laurence H. Tribe: Whitaker’s appointment was unconstitutional.

Beyond focusing on the DOJ, Democrats want to obtain and release the president’s tax returns. They may turn their attention to his personal and business practices, as well.

The Wall Street Journal: Trump played central role in hush payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, potentially violating campaign finance laws.

Democratic leaders say they’ll examine allegations the president sought to use his federal authority to crack down on the news media.

Schiff and Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsIncoming House Oversight Committee chairman: First hearing will not be 'what a lot of people expect' Cummings: DOJ should 'definitely' reconsider laws against indicting sitting president Will Congress score headlines or legislative wins in next session? MORE (D-Md.), likely the next chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, say they’ll investigate Trump for urging the postmaster general to double shipping rates for Amazon, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post.

They also say they’ll look into Trump’s efforts to block a merger between AT&T and Time Warner, which Democrats believe was aimed at punishing CNN.

And Democrats are champing at the bit to take on the president’s Cabinet, which has been beset by controversies, scandals and turnover from the start.

> Scandal-plagued Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump visits Arlington National Cemetery for wreath-laying Zinke blames 'false' attacks in resignation GOP lawmaker jokes about Trump's next Interior chief: It's going to be Mulvaney MORE might be gone before Democrats get a crack at him.

The Washington Post: Zinke is Cabinet official most vulnerable to Dem probe.

Politico: Zinke prepares to leave Trump’s Cabinet.

> Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossReplacing unpopular steel tariffs with quotas is even worse for US energy Judge refuses to pick sides in Census dispute, schedules trial Ross: I don't know who started 'rumor' about travel warning for China MORE, whose business deals have attracted scrutiny since he joined the Cabinet, might also be replaced before Democrats take over.

CNBC: Trump could replace Ross before they year is out.

> Democrats plan to put the president’s energy policies under the microscope, with a focus on climate change. And they’ll dig into Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryTrump names Mulvaney acting chief of staff Chris Christie declines White House chief of staff role Trump says he's down to five candidates for chief of staff MORE’s relationships with outside groups and advisers.

Bloomberg: Perry won’t be able to hide from gavel-wielding Democrats.

As part of their focus on energy and the environment, Democrats will take aim at the Environmental Protection Agency, currently under the leadership of acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

> Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosDeVos to cancel 0M in student loan debt after court loss A sea change for sexual conduct on campus Job satisfaction down at nearly 60 percent of federal agencies MORE is despised on the left and certain to be a top target for Democrats.

Politico: Democrats expected to ramp up oversight of DeVos.

> During the midterms, Democrats focused their closing arguments on health care coverage and costs. That means Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma will be on the hot seat. That’s particularly true with Rep.-elect Donna Shalala (D), the former HHS secretary, who will represent her South Florida district in Congress.

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LEADING THE DAY

CAMPAIGNS & POLITICS: The 2018 midterms aren’t over yet.

In Florida, a recount is underway, with lawsuits and counter-lawsuits piling up and allegations of malfeasance flying.

The Miami Herald: Florida counties race to recount votes by Thursday deadline.

The Associated Press: Mishaps, protests and litigation overshadow Florida recount.

In the Senate race, Gov. Rick Scott (R) leads Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonMcCaskill: 'Too many embarrassing uncles' in the Senate Bill Nelson uses farewell address to remind colleagues ‘no one person is above the law’ Coal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee MORE (D) by more than 12,000 votes.

In the governor’s race, former Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) leads Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum (D) by more than 33,000 votes.

Election officials have five days to complete the recount. The clock started ticking on Sunday.

Both races tightened to the point that recounts were triggered based on the late vote tally coming out of Broward County. The election supervisor there, Democrat Brenda Snipes, is under pressure and has become a target for Republicans for past vote-counting controversies.

The Sun Sentinel: Snipes’ long history of controversies.

 

 

One other Senate race is still too close to call, but it appears that Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is on track to defeat Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArizona governor eyes several possible Kyl replacements The Hill's 12:30 Report – Cohen says Trump knew payments were wrong | GOP in turmoil over Trump shutdown threat | Kyl to resign from Senate at year's end Jon Kyl to resign from Senate on Dec. 31 MORE (R-Ariz.), flipping the state to Democrats.

The latest tally, after a new release on Sunday night of about 36,000 votes in Maricopa County put Sinema ahead by 32,640 (The Hill).

If Republicans hold on in Florida and Democrats triumph in Arizona, the GOP would hold a 53-47 majority in the next Congress, if Republicans win runoff in Mississippi, as expected, later this month.

A few notable takeaways as the final results are smoothed out from a wild midterms election. It appears that Democrats will end up flipping close to 40 GOP-held seats in the House:

The Hill: Democratic victories leave behind a more conservative GOP conference.

 

 

 

 

 

From NBC’s national exit polls:

> There was a 23-point gender gap. Democrats won female voters, who made up 52 percent of the electorate, by 19 points. Republicans won male voters by 4 points.

> Health care was by far the top issue for voters, followed by immigration and the economy.

> Democrats won independents by 12 points.

> Trump was a major factor. Thirty-eight percent of voters said they cast a ballot in opposition to Trump, while 26 percent said their vote was meant to express confidence in the president.

The Memo: Five lessons for 2020 from 2018.

More from the campaign trail … Calls rolling in among Democrats for Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) to run for president (The Hill) … 2020 candidates mean big headaches for Schumer (The Hill) … Daring or Defensive. Which path will Democrats take in choosing their 2020 presidential nominee? (The New York Times).

 

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

CONGRESS: House Democrats are organizing this week knowing they’ve notched the largest gain in Democratic seats since Watergate.

Lame duck: First things first — the current Congress has unfinished business as it returns to Washington this week. The lame duck session includes suspenseful deadlines and must-pass legislation, plus an ample menu of political dramas, including leadership elections and disagreements over funding (The Hill). And don’t forget self-driving cars, also among topics of discussion (Bloomberg).

Guns legislation: Democratic lawmakers would like to use their soon-to-be majority to strengthen federal gun laws in 2019. The issue has been off the table for eight years of Republican rule, as GOP leaders have sided with the powerful gun lobby in opposition to any new gun restrictions. Pelosi has vowed, if she’s elected Speaker, to move quickly on gun reforms that would face opposition in the GOP-controlled Senate and in the White House (The Hill).

House GOP conference in 2019: Centrist Republicans are set to exit Congress, while the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus will add to its membership (and perhaps its leadership) following the results of this month’s elections. Hoping to notch some bipartisan legislative wins ahead of 2020, the conservatives are expected to be less inclined to compromise with Democrats in charge of the House next year (The Hill).

National security: Key congressional issues to watch next year on foreign policy and defense (The Hill). Democrats are eager to check Trump, but will have to work with the GOP-led Senate.

Campaign finance reform: It’s an issue Democrats want to make a priority as they prepare to take control of the House, but cooperation from a Republican Senate is considered highly unlikely (The Hill).

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

Sad lessons from WWI a sober warning for U.S. and China, by Seth Cropsey, opinion contributor, The Hill. http://bit.ly/2DinsnE

Time to start planning for the 2020 presidential transition, by Heath Brown, opinion contributor, The Hill. http://bit.ly/2T6ihMJ

WHERE AND WHEN

The House and Senate will return to work on Tuesday.

The president, who returned from France on Sunday night with first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpFive things to know about the Trump inauguration investigation Melania Trump’s spokesperson rips CNN contributor’s ‘unnecessary attack’ on first lady The Hill's 12:30 Report – Cohen says Trump knew payments were wrong | GOP in turmoil over Trump shutdown threat | Kyl to resign from Senate at year's end MORE, has no official public schedule today.

Vice President Pence and Karen PenceKaren Sue PenceThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — What the Michael Flynn news means Pences get book deal for more Marlon Bundo stories The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump defends 2016 Russia business dealings | North American leaders sign new trade pact | Clinton doesn't tamp down 2020 talk MORE are to arrive in Tokyo, Japan, today. The vice president will be there for bilateral discussions, including about trade. Pence’s week-long trip will also take him to Singapore and Papua New Guinea for the Asia Pacific Economic (APEC) forum and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit. He’s accompanied in Asia by White House national security adviser John Bolton. Before departing, Pence placed an op-ed in the Washington Post: “The United States seeks collaboration, not control, in the Indo-Pacific.” En route to Tokyo, Pence told reporters, I know the president's looking very much forward to meeting with [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] in Argentina at the G20. And we continue to remain hopeful that these issues, and economic barriers, military actions in the South China Sea and other issues can be resolved.”

The Washington Post: Nation’s capital honored veterans 100 years after the end of World War I.

 

 

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program starting at 8 a.m. features interviews with retired Army Drill Sergeant John Burk and David Chipman, an aide to former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), on the recent shooting in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Carolyn DeWitt, the president of Rock the Vote, and Catherine Vaughan, the founder of Flippable, discuss takeaways from the midterm elections. http://thehill.com/hilltv

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ELSEWHERE

> Wildfires: In California, the death toll stands at at least 31 this morning after wildfires whipped by Santa Ana winds continued to consume more than 109,000 acres in different parts of the state, leaving the town of Paradise incinerated and torching 177 homes and parts of Malibu, Calif., as well as working-class suburbs of Los Angeles (The Los Angeles Times). …Scores of people remain missing as a search for bodies continues ...  Paradise High School principal Loren Lighthall, who lost his home but escaped the fire along with his wife, seven children and dog, on Sunday described his town’s apocalyptic devastation to NPR HERE: “There's literally no place to live in Paradise. There's no homes. There's no temporary shelters. There's no motels. There's nothing.”  ... The Paradise disaster is believed to be the most destructive fire in California’s natural-disaster-prone history.

 

 

> Medicaid: More states may expand Medicaid next year as advocates seek to capitalize on momentum after Nov. 6, when Democratic candidates appealed for voter support and for Medicaid expansion — and won governorships in Wisconsin and Kansas. Three conservative states last week voted to extend coverage to low-income adults (The Hill).

> D.C. public education: A heart wrenching story about two 20-something teachers and why so many young educators leave Washington, D.C., schools in droves (Washingtonian).

> A novel deadline: In November, the 20th year of national novel writing month is billed as writing boot camp combined with a global party. This year, the project, underway since September, hoped for more than 400,000 participants including more than 95,000 K-12 students and educators, all trying to complete a 50,000-word novel by Nov. 30. Writers are nearly halfway to their one-month deadline. Check in on the progress HERE.

 

THE CLOSER

And finally … Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaRegina King says she'd be honored to portray Michelle Obama in a movie Michelle Obama jokes Barack's message of hope began with being late for dinner Michelle Obama does Fortnite 'orange justice' dance with Santa MORE ... During a winter filled with ticketed, big-arena discussion events and interviews around the country, the former first lady is selling “Becoming,” her memoir.

Her book launch begins Tuesday night in her home turf, Chicago, followed by appearances in D.C. Nov. 17 and 25, with similar events in many more cities through December.

Early book reviews made a splash with banner headlines (“candid and revealing”) and helped sell thousands of copies before the release date (The Washington Post).

In early 2017, the former first lady and former President Obama signed a lucrative joint book deal reportedly worth more than $65 million (Vox), with a “significant portion” pledged to charity. The 44th president, a veteran bestselling memoirist, will follow his wife next year with a much-anticipated published account of his presidency, just in time for Democrats’ 2020 dreams of the White House.

 

 

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CORRECTION: On Friday, reader Sandy Sycafoose correctly answered the five quiz questions, earning a mention in the Morning Report. Unfortunately, we mentioned Sandy in the wrong paragraph, lumping her in with the candidates who died while running for office but were elected anyway. To borrow from Mark Twain, the reports of Sandy’s death have been greatly exaggerated. She is a loyal reader and regular winner of the weekly quiz contest, not a deceased congressional candidate. Welcome back to the land of the living, Sandy!

 

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