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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. http://thehill.com/hilltv

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

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president 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 TrumpJill Biden, Kate Middleton visit school together in first meeting Jill Biden wears 'LOVE' jacket 'to bring unity' to meeting with Boris Johnson White House gets back to pre-COVID-19 normality 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 Israel-Hamas ceasefire is holding — what's next? Eric Trump buys .2M home near father's golf club in Florida CDC's about-face on masks appears politically motivated to help a struggling Biden MORE and Ivanka TrumpIvanka TrumpMichael Cohen predicts Trump will turn on family after revelation of criminal probe Eric Trump buys .2M home near father's golf club in Florida Melinda Gates tapped divorce lawyers in 2019 after Epstein links to husband: report 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 ClintonTrump asks Biden to give Putin his 'warmest regards' Huma Abedin announces book deal Mystery surrounds Justice's pledge on journalist records MORE was at odds with President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonA modern electric grid is crucial to reach our clean energy climate goals Jeff Hauser: MacBride nomination is a return to administrations that ended 'rule-of-law' and 'rich-person accountability' Is Biden the new FDR or LBJ? History says no 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 NielsenLeft-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' House Republican condemns anti-Trump celebrities during impeachment hearing MORE will be ousted shortly, despite Kelly’s efforts to protect her.

And two Cabinet officials, Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden launches blitz for jobs plan with 'thank you, Georgia' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court sets in motion EPA ban on pesticide linked to developmental issues | Trump Interior Secretary Zinke files to run for Congress, again | Senate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill Trump Interior Secretary Zinke files to run for Congress, again MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossCommerce Department unit gathered intel on employees, census critics: report Former Trump officials find tough job market On The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits 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 SessionsTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says DOJ to probe Trump-era subpoenas of lawmaker records Democrats demand Barr, Sessions testify on Apple data subpoenas MORE. Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyPence slams Biden agenda in New Hampshire speech Vandalism at Rep. Mace's home sparks bipartisan outcry 9 Republicans not named Trump who could run in 2024 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 KavanaughGorsuch, Thomas join liberal justices in siding with criminal defendant Alyssa Milano says she could 'potentially run' for House in 2024 Overnight Defense: Supreme Court declines to hear suit challenging male-only draft | Drone refuels Navy fighter jet for the first time | NATO chief meets with Austin, Biden MORE on the U.S. Court of Appeals (The Hill) … Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden's is not a leaky ship of state — not yet Rejoining the Iran nuclear deal would save lives of US troops, diplomats The soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs 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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LEADING THE DAY

*** The Hill is now accepting 2018 nominations for its annual list of top lobbyists. Submit your nominations here: http://bit.ly/toplobbyists2018 ***

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 PelosiVaccinated lawmakers no longer required to wear masks on House floor Simmering Democratic tensions show signs of boiling over Pelosi signals no further action against Omar 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).

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

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 NelsonDemings raises million after announcing Senate bid against Rubio Russia threatens to leave International Space Station program over US sanctions Nikki Fried, only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, launches challenge to DeSantis 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 BidenPutin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting How the infrastructure bill can help close the digital divide Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy: Biden seeks to reassert US climate leadership | President to 'repeal or replace' Trump decision removing protections for Tongass | Administration proposes its first offshore wind lease sale On The Money: Democrats wary of emerging bipartisan infrastructure deal, warn of time crunch Out-of-touch Democrats running scared of progressives 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).

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

Who gets to live in “Victimville”? by Monica Lewinsky, Vanity Fair. http://bit.ly/2DB5X2J

House Republicans need a history lesson in the battle over their next leader, by Joshua Spivak, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2DkDhKr

WHERE AND WHEN

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 PompeoMike Pompeo Sunday shows preview: Infrastructure expected to dominate as talks continue to drag The triumph and tragedy of 1989: Why Tiananmen still matters Pence slams Biden agenda in New Hampshire speech 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 FlakeOn The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP Trump looms large over fractured Arizona GOP Why Republican politicians are sticking with 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.

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ELSEWHERE

> 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).

THE CLOSER

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.” http://bit.ly/2DfMgfX

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. http://bit.ly/2PvlAPK