The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Turbulence in the West Wing as shakeup looms




Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report and it’s Wednesday! 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.

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features Rep.-elect Veronica Escobar (D-Texas); Thomas Welle, a Denver, Colo., manager with the National Fire Protection Association, on the California wildfires; and Patrick Murray, with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, talking about veterans’ difficulties receiving federal benefits.


Tune in for the finale of Survivor: White House edition.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpComey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' Congress to get election security briefing next month amid Intel drama New York man accused of making death threats against Schumer, Schiff MORE has overseen an unusually high amount of turnover in his first two years in office and appears now to be on the verge of a senior staff shake-up after the GOP endured a midterm elections drubbing.

Washington media outlets were consumed on Tuesday by rumors and drama coming out of the West Wing, and surprisingly, the East Wing, which is occupied by first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report — Sanders, Dems zero in on Super Tuesday The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats duke it out during Nevada debate Melania Trump receives university's 'Woman of Distinction' award amid pushback from students MORE and her staff.

Chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE is reportedly on thin ice after running crossways with the first lady and a “widening array of White House officials,” according to NBC.

Jordan Fabian can report that the president is already sizing up Kelly’s replacement. Vice President Pence’s politically-ambitious, 36-year-old chief of staff Nick Ayers is said to be waiting in the wings (The Hill). The vice president’s staff, traveling with Pence in Singapore, dismissed questions today about Ayers as “palace intrigue.”

Ayers has several high-profile backers in the White House, including Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Democrats duke it out during Nevada debate Blagojevich heaps praise on Trump after release from prison The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms MORE and Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpManufacturers group kicks off campaign to close the industry's skills gap Fed chief issues stark warning to Congress on deficits Rally crowd chants '46' for Donald Trump Jr. MORE, but he’s also accumulated a long list of enemies in his fast rise through GOP politics.

Kelly isn’t the only White House official to reportedly have run afoul of the first lady.

National security adviser John Bolton’s top deputy Mira Ricardel’s status is very much in question after Melania Trump’s office released a blistering statement on Tuesday demanding she be fired.

“It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.” – Melania Trump’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham.

There is some confusion as to whether Ricardel has already been fired or has been given a grace period to clean out her office.

Either way, Kelly and Ricardel wouldn’t be the first West Wing officials to be ousted after clashing with a first lady. According to NBC, “such disputes are tough to overcome”:

Nancy Reagan was at odds with President Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff, Donald Regan, which ultimately helped orchestrate his departure. And Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonComey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' Trump dismisses reports of Russian meddling, labels them Democratic 'misinformation campaign' The new American center MORE was at odds with President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMeghan McCain after Gaetz says Trump should pardon Roger Stone: 'Oh come on' Enlightening the pardon power The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats duke it out during Nevada debate MORE’s chief of staff over her large role in policy decisions.”

Here’s a fun lead from The New York Times in 1987:

“Two of President Reagan's closest advisers, Nancy Reagan and Donald T. Regan, have apparently reached the point where they cannot stand each other.”

Meanwhile, multiple media outlets are reporting that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenActing DHS secretary says he expects Russia to attempt to interfere in 2020 elections House Homeland Security rip DHS's 'unacceptable' failure to comply with subpoena Trump puts Kushner in charge of overseeing border wall construction: report MORE will be ousted shortly, despite Kelly’s efforts to protect her.

And two Cabinet officials, Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeInternational hunting council disbands amid litigation Europe deepens energy dependence on Russia Overnight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis Ross2020 census to run ads on 'Premio lo Nuestro' Can the US slap tariffs on auto imports? Not anymore On The Money: Slowing economy complicates 2020 message for Trump | Tech confronts growing impact of coronavirus | Manufacturing rises after five-month contraction MORE, have attracted the attention of Democrats for alleged ethics violations and may not be long for this administration.

The turmoil comes less than a week after Trump shocked Washington by firing former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOn the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump Trump looms as flashpoint in Alabama Senate battle Trump tweets test Attorney General Barr MORE. Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyNikki Haley hires Heritage Action chief to run her policy group Latest Bolton revelations are no game-changer Is Mike Pence preparing to resign, assume the presidency, or both? MORE, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has also announced she’ll be departing soon.

The Washington Post: Five days of fury: Inside Trump’s bad Paris temper, outburst at British Prime Minister Theresa May, election woes and staff upheaval.

The Brookings Institution: Tracking high turnover in Trump’s administration.

The New York Times/Partnership for Public Service: Turnover within the Trump administration has been unprecedented.

More from the White House and administration … Trump nominates Neomi Rao to replace Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughNikki Haley hires Heritage Action chief to run her policy group Susan Collins in statistical tie with Democratic challenger: poll A disgraced Senate and president have no business confirming judges MORE on the U.S. Court of Appeals (The Hill) … Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisFed chief issues stark warning to Congress on deficits Why US democracy support matters Hillicon Valley: DOJ indicts four Chinese military officers over Equifax hack | Amazon seeks Trump deposition in 'war cloud' lawsuit | Inside Trump's budget | Republican proposes FTC overhaul MORE travels to McAllen, Texas, to visit troops placed at the southern border because of the migrant caravan moving through Mexico (CNBC) … Trump will nominate former CENTCOM Commander John Abizaid to be the new ambassador to Saudi Arabia (CNN) … Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker’s business dealings are attracting scrutiny (The Associated Press) … Democrats are in murky legal water with Whitaker lawsuits (The Hill).


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CONGRESS: Trump often says he admires congressional Democrats because “they stick together.” But unity and lockstep adherence to tribal authority are easier to pull off in the minority than in the majority, as Tuesday’s events among Democrats showed.

Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCongress to get election security briefing next month amid Intel drama New York man accused of making death threats against Schumer, Schiff Twitter, Facebook split on manipulated Bloomberg video MORE (D-Calif.) wants to wield the House gavel as Speaker again next year, but to nail down the votes to do that, she’s cajoling the naysayers and young mavericks among the incoming Democratic conference.

Exhibit A: 10 Democrats within the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus say they won’t support Pelosi or any other Speaker candidate without a written commitment to change House rules to empower rank-and-file lawmakers. A small group of rebellious Democrats who want to block Pelosi’s ascension are watching the behind-the-scenes maneuvering closely (The Hill).

Exhibit B: 150 protesters demanding action on climate change blocked access to Pelosi’s office on Tuesday, including democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, of New York, who was elected this month to join House Democrats in January (The Hill). She’s a magnet for media attention and a liberal firebrand. [Ocasio Cortez also blasted lucrative New York tax breaks and pointed up fears of gentrification in Amazon’s planned new headquarters to be located in New York City (The Hill)].

On Tuesday, more than 50 activists were arrested in the Capitol. Pelosi issued a statement of staunch solidarity, saying she was “inspired” by the “energy” and activism evident in her office.

“I have recommended to my House Democratic colleagues that we reinstate the select committee to address the climate crisis. House Democrats ran on and won on our bold campaign for a $1 trillion investment in our infrastructure that will make our communities more resilient to the climate crisis, while creating 16 million new good-paying jobs across the country.” — Pelosi



And speaking of climate change, the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, founded in 2016, lost half of its GOP members as a result of the Nov. 6 elections. Rules call for a 1:1 Democrat-to-Republican membership. What now? (WBUR radio).

The Atlantic: Pelosi-dominated House hurts young Democrats.

The Hill: The most diverse Congress in history will arrive for work early in January. It’s a group that more accurately reflects the makeup of the United States, features the largest number of women ever elected to serve in the House, and tilts the chamber toward younger and more liberal politicians.


Criminal justice reform advocates in Congress have reached a deal to pair a House-passed prison reform bill with some sentencing reforms, according to a GOP aide. Passage of a package is up to Trump, who is seen as key to winning over enough Republicans to send a bill to his desk (The Hill). The president will announce his support during an event today (CNN).

Anti-sexual harassment legislation that would govern how workplace accusations are handled on Capitol Hill by members of the House and Senate has stalled. Now former Hill staff members are urging lawmakers to adopt real reforms in the remainder of this Congress (CNN).


CAMPAIGNS & POLITICS: Election officials in Florida are rushing to meet deadlines for recounts in the Senate and governor’s races amid a flurry of legal action by the candidates.

Broward County has been the focus of most of the disputes, but officials there say they’ll make Thursday’s deadline to complete the recount.

Palm Beach County apparently will not. A judge has authorized an extension until Nov. 20, according to The Palm Beach Post.

Florida is home to the final 2018 Senate race that has yet to be called. If Gov. Rick Scott (R) holds on to his lead of about 12,500 votes over Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lobbying world Bottom Line MORE (D), it would give the GOP a 53-47 majority in the Senate.

The governor’s race in Georgia is also still undetermined, although Republican Brian Kemp leads by about 57,000 votes over Democrat Stacey Abrams.

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that Georgia’s Gwinnett County violated the Civil Rights Act in its handling of absentee ballots, likely extending the process (The Hill).

Looking ahead to 2020, a majority of voters in a Hill.TV/HarrisX survey said Trump should face a primary challenger in his reelection bid (The Hill).

Will outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) oblige? Kasich is traveling today to New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state, to meet with supporters. There's also been speculation Kasich could run as an independent. He only won one state in the 2016 GOP primary: his home state of Ohio.



On the Democratic side, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPoll: Bloomberg stalls after Vegas debate Bloomberg campaign: Vandalism at Tennessee office 'echoes language from the Sanders campaign and its supporters' Democratic strategist says Biden 'has to' get second place in Nevada MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPoll: Bloomberg stalls after Vegas debate Prominent Texas Latina endorses Warren Bloomberg campaign: Vandalism at Tennessee office 'echoes language from the Sanders campaign and its supporters' MORE (I-Vt.) lead the expanding field of potential 2020 challengers (The Morning Consult).

One big-money entrant could roil the field – former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg laid out his timeline to decide on a run during an interview with The Associated Press.

More campaigns and politics … House GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses (The Hill) … The midterm elections advanced what may be a long-running realignment in which suburban voters are siding with Democrats against a president they loathe (The Hill) … 2020 politics make immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck (The Hill).

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Who gets to live in “Victimville”? by Monica Lewinsky, Vanity Fair.

House Republicans need a history lesson in the battle over their next leader, by Joshua Spivak, opinion contributor, The Hill.


The House convenes at noon for legislative business. Republicans will hold their leadership elections at 1 p.m. Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Randal Quarles testifies at 10 a.m. to the House Financial Services Committee (and appears on Thursday before the Senate Banking Committee) about the board’s recent supervisory and regulatory actions. Quarles, as the Fed’s top supervision official, is required by statute to report semiannually to Congress (Regulatory Report).

The Senate meets at 2 p.m. to consider a Coast Guard reauthorization package and the nomination of Michelle Bowman to be a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

The president has lunch with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dem anxiety grows ahead of Super Tuesday Pompeo expects US-Taliban agreement to be signed on Feb. 29 The Hill's Morning Report — Sanders, Dems zero in on Super Tuesday MORE.

Vice President Pence is in Singapore at the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In Asia, he said it is up to China to avoid a new Cold War, and he criticized the Myanmar government, saying its handling of the Rohingya is “without excuse” (ABC News and The Associated Press). The vice president urged Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to pardon two Reuters journalists imprisoned on charges of obtaining state secrets last year, according to his spokesman.

Interior’s Zinke is visiting wildfire-ravaged California today and Thursday.

The 74th annual Radio & Television Congressional CorrespondentsAssociation dinner at 7:30 p.m. in Washington features a keynote address by retiring Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcSally ties Democratic rival Kelly to Sanders in new ad McSally launches 2020 campaign Sinema will vote to convict Trump MORE (R-Ariz.). 

The Committee to Protect Journalists at 7 p.m. salutes its 2018 International Press Freedom Awards recipients at the National Press Club. Four women who are receiving this year’s awards are:

  • Amal Khalifa Idris Habbani, a freelance journalist and contributor to the Sudanese news outlet Al-Taghyeer, who has been repeatedly harassed and detained by Sudanese authorities in connection with her coverage of protests and official wrongdoing;
  • Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, one of Vietnam's most prominent independent bloggers, who was sentenced to a 10-year prison term on charges of “propagandizing against the state” and recently freed;
  • Luz Mely Reyes, an investigative reporter who has covered politics in Venezuela for more than 25 years and co-founded the news website Efecto Cocuyo;
  • Anastasiya "Nastya" Stanko, a broadcast journalist who, along with her cameraman, was taken hostage for two days while reporting on the war in eastern Ukraine and on human rights violations by police and security forces.

The journalists spend a week in Washington, D.C., before heading to New York for an awards ceremony.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the U.S. consumer-price index and real earnings report, both for October, at 8:30 a.m.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks at a Dallas Fed event in Texas at 6 p.m. ET.



> Amazon HQ+2: “National Landing” will be the name of Arlington County, Va., acreage that will become a massive new headquarters near the Reagan National Airport for Amazon and house 25,000 workers over the next decade (The Washington Post). Another new headquarters for the company will be located in New York City’s Queens neighborhood with roughly the same number of employees (The New York Times). Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced the plans on Tuesday in a statement.

> Wildfires: Forensic experts are searching in teams and with cadaver dogs for the remains of victims cremated by the fire that destroyed Paradise, Calif., hoping DNA can verify casualties (The Los Angeles Time).  … California officials say a large number of people remain missing; they expect the Camp fire death toll of 48 to rise. More than 1,000 people are living in shelters set up for evacuees after 7,700 homes were destroyed (The Associated Press). Two people have been killed by the southern California wildfire, which is still just partially contained.

> Economy: The strong U.S. economy is expected to spur global growth in 2019. “The data tell a happier story” than has been witnessed in headlines about trade wars and the volatile stock market in recent weeks (Bloomberg Businessweek).

> Food and Drug Administration: The FDA has ordered that six artificial flavors be taken out of the food supply over fears about safety (The Associated Press). ... In addition, e-cigarette maker Juul has halted sales for most of its flavored products under federal pressure (CNBC).


And finally …  the latest volley in the bitter feud between the White House and CNN.

CNN filed a lawsuit in district court against Trump and named White House aides, seeking to restore the media “hard pass” issued by the U.S. Secret Service to correspondent Jim Acosta, arguing the suspension a week ago of his credential violated rights under the Constitution and set a dangerous precedent for all journalists who cover a president (CNN).

"While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone," the network said. "If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials." CNN’s arguments are bolstered by First Amendment legal experts, other news organizations and associations that represent journalists’ interests.

In a statement, the White House dropped its initial and unsubstantiated accusation that Acosta used force against an intern in the East Room, and instead said the suspension of the press credential was an effort to raise an objection about a journalist who “refused to surrender a White House microphone.”

“This is just more grandstanding from CNN … CNN, who [sic] has nearly 50 additional hard pass holders, and Mr. Acosta is no more or less special than any other media outlet or reporter with respect to the First Amendment. After Mr. Acosta asked the president two questions — each of which the president answered — he physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern, so that other reporters might ask their questions. This was not the first time this reporter has inappropriately refused to yield to other reporters. The White House cannot run an orderly and fair press conference when a reporter acts this way, which is neither appropriate nor professional.”

The White House suspended Acosta's credentials following the third solo televised news conference of Trump’s nearly two-year-old presidency. Acosta did not immediately relinquish a hand-held microphone to the intern while posing two questions as Trump told him to sit down (The Hill).

The tempestuous relationship between the White House and CNN benefits both. The controversy attracts attention and ratings to the cable outlet and Trump’s supporters love to see him attack the news media. However, the friction remains frustrating for many other journalists who regularly cover the White House.



Bob Woodward, the famed author and Watergate investigative reporter, had this to say: “In the news media there has been an emotional reaction to Trump … Too many people for Trump or against Trump have become emotionally unhinged about this. The remedy [isn’t a lawsuit]. It’s more serious reporting about what he’s doing.”

Gallup finds the news media’s approval ratings hovering near historic lows. A new Morning Consult-Hollywood Reporter survey released Tuesday found that NBC’s Lester Holt, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC’s Robin Roberts and David Muir are the “most trusted” news hosts. The least trusted: Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and CNN’s Don Lemon.