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Thursday's Mini-Report, 11.15.18

11/15/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Sounds about right: "A federal judge blasted Florida legislators and election officials during a Thursday hearing to extend the recount deadline in Palm Beach County, saying the state is 'the laughingstock of the world election after election and we chose not to fix this.'"

* Rising death toll: "Authorities made public a list of 297 people still unaccounted for Wednesday night as they announced that the number of people who had been killed in the deadliest wildfire in California history had grown to 56."

* A Senate version of this still needs to be drafted: "President Donald Trump pledged his support for a major overhaul of sentencing laws and prisoner re-entry programs at the White House on Wednesday."

* A story that keeps getting worse: "Acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker received early warnings that customers were complaining that an invention-marketing company he advised might be a fraud, according to several people familiar with his role, but Whitaker vigorously defended the company and remained on its board until joining the Justice Department in 2017."

* Hmm: "Six days before WikiLeaks began releasing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails, Roger Stone had a text message conversation with a friend about WikiLeaks, according to copies of phone records obtained exclusively by NBC News."

* Ricardel's ouster: "Melania Trump got her wish when the Trump administration said Wednesday that Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel was leaving the White House a day after the first lady called for Ricardel to be fired."

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Trump: GOP 'didn't really have a majority' the last two years

11/15/18 04:17PM

Listening to the Republicans' pre-election message a few months ago, I made the case that GOP officials and candidates were acting as if they haven't been in the majority for the last two years.

Yesterday, Donald Trump sat down with The Daily Caller and argued that Republicans actually weren't in the majority the last two years.

The far-right website, in an exclusive Oval Office interview, asked the president about whether he's prepared to force a government shutdown over immigration policy. The president said he "may be" willing to do exactly that. His answer then meandered to complaining about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, the Clinton Foundation, and his success in "terminating a lot of the Obamacare."

But Trump then added this gem:

"Don't forget, I didn't really have a majority. I had one senator. And I had a few Republicans in the House. You know, a very small number."

The week after Election Day 2016, when it became clear that Republicans would control all of the levers of federal power for a while, the Washington Post published a piece documenting "just how dominant Republicans are in America" heading into 2017.

A few days later, Real Clear Politics declared that the Republican Party was, in the wake of Trump's election, "the strongest it's been in 80 years."

That was two years ago this week. Now, Trump reflects on the landscape, and thinks Republicans "didn't really have a majority."

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Trump admin struggles to explain why troops are deployed to the border

11/15/18 12:48PM

Defense Secretary James Mattis visited with U.S. troops deployed to the southern border yesterday, and he conceded that the military mission is "non-traditional" because the mission is on American soil. But perhaps the most interesting moment of the Pentagon chief's time with the servicemen and women came during the Q&A. BuzzFeed reported:

"What are the short and the long-term plans of this operation, sir?" asked another young soldier.

"Short term right now, you get the obstacles in so the border patrolmen can do what they gotta do," Mattis responded.

"Longer term, it's somewhat to be determined," he said, adding that "if we were in war right now, you'd be asking the same question" and that the mission was a "dynamic, unpredictable kind of thing."

As part of the same answer, Mattis added, "We'll just have to see what the situation develops in, and then we'll get you an answer."

Oh. So the United States deployed thousands of troops for an operation that will cost taxpayers "at least $220 million" by the end of the year. The servicemen and women are there to stop a caravan of Central American migrants, who are still not near the border, and many of whom will never arrive at the border.

Asked to explain what the mission hopes to accomplish, the Secretary of Defense yesterday seemed to be reduced to effectively telling the troops, "We'll have to get back to you on that."

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.15.18

11/15/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* In Maine's 2nd congressional district, a federal judge this morning rejected Rep. Bruce Poliquin's (R) request to force the Maine Secretary of State to stop the ranked-choice runoff process.

* As of this morning, the Democratic lead in the U.S. House popular vote is up to 7.2%, though it may yet inch higher. For comparison purposes, note that in 2010 -- which was widely seen as a GOP "wave" cycle -- Republicans won the U.S. House popular vote by 6.6%.

* As thing stand, there are eight undecided U.S. House races, two pending gubernatorial races, a U.S. Senate race in the midst of a recount, and one U.S. Senate special election which is 10 days away.

* Speaking of uncalled races, the secretary of state contest in Georgia is headed for a runoff, and as Brian Kemp has made abundantly clear, this is an office the public should take seriously.

* Bothered by DNC Chairman Tom Perez's role in diminishing the power of superdelegates, the Congressional Black Caucus this week approved a "no confidence" resolution on his role.

* California has 53 congressional districts, and it looks like Republicans will end up holding just 8 or 9 of those seats. A Washington Post  report noted, "The last time Democrats held as high a percentage of California's House seats, the Civil War was raging."

* On a related note, New Jersey has 12 congressional districts and Democrats will soon hold 11 of the seats. It's the worst showing for Republicans in the Garden State since 1912.

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Image: Matt Whitaker

Trump says more than he should've about his acting Attorney General

11/15/18 11:34AM

Donald Trump sat down yesterday with two reporters from a far-right website called The Daily Caller, and early on in the interview, the president was asked about his search for Jeff Sessions' permanent successor as the attorney general. Asked about possible nominees, Trump immediately insisted that his acting A.G., Matthew Whitaker, is "a very respected man."

But as the president's answer continued to unfold, Trump ended up accidentally telling the truth about what was on his mind.

"I knew [Matt Whitaker] only as he pertained, you know, as he was with Jeff Sessions. And, you know, look, as far as I'm concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. It should have never been had.

"It's something that should have never been brought. It's an illegal investigation. And you know, it's very interesting because when you talk about not Senate confirmed, well, Mueller's not Senate confirmed.

"He's heading this whole big thing, he's not Senate confirmed. So anyway...."

In case there's any ambiguity, when Trump referenced the "investigation," he was referring to the investigation into the Russia scandal. Mueller, of course, referred to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The Daily Caller's question, however, had nothing to do with the scandal or the ongoing probe. The reporter asked about Whitaker and the search for a new attorney general nominee.

It was Trump who heard that question and immediately started connecting Whitaker's appointment to the president's belief that the Mueller investigation is "illegal."

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Nancy Pelosi (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Why the arguments against Nancy Pelosi fall short

11/15/18 11:04AM

Once it became clear last week that House Democrats would reclaim their majority on Capitol Hill, it was widely assumed that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would once again wield the Speaker's gavel. Some of those assumptions, however, may have been premature.

The Washington Post  reported overnight:

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday faced solid opposition from at least 17 Democrats and encountered a significant bloc of undecided women in her bid for speaker, setting the stage for an intense battle over who will ascend to one of the most powerful positions in Washington.

After a campaign in which some Democrats prevailed in competitive districts by promising to oppose her, a coalition of incumbents and newly elected members have denied her a smooth path to the speakership.

Pelosi and her allies are confident that she'll prevail. The Californian's Democratic detractors are confident they'll block her path. They can't both be right.

The drama is likely to intensify between now and the official vote on Jan. 3, but in the meantime, it's worth pausing to question why in the world Pelosi's ascension isn't automatic.

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Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., speaks during the news conference at the Capitol with other members of the Heroin Task Force on combating heroin abuse on Thursday, April 21, 2016.

Congressman who rescued GOP health care plan loses re-election bid

11/15/18 10:00AM

In a year in which Democrats invested most of their energies into health care, the outcome of the race in New Jersey's 3rd congressional district serves as a capstone of sorts for the 2018 cycle.

New Jersey officially has another Democrat headed to Washington. The Associated Press officially declared on Wednesday newcomer Democrat Andy Kim defeated incumbent Republican Tom MacArthur in the 3rd congressional district. [...]

Kim, 36, who had never run for elected office before, was a civilian advisor to military leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq and national security aide in Democratic President Barack Obama's administration.

Though there are still some uncounted provisional ballots in the district, Kim's advantage reached a point yesterday that the GOP congressman called his Democratic challenger last night to concede.

And while this may not have been one of the nation's most closely watched U.S. House races, for those who followed the health care debate closely, MacArthur's fate was of special interest.

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

Trump claims to know about 'the inner workings' of Mueller's probe

11/15/18 09:20AM

This morning was hardly the first time Donald Trump threw a little Twitter tantrum directed at Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into the Russia scandal. But in a pair of presidential tweets, Trump said something today that broke new ground.

"The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess. They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want. They are a disgrace to our Nation and don't care how many lives the ruin.

"These are Angry People, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller, who worked for Obama for 8 years. They won't even look at all of the bad acts and crimes on the other side. A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!"

At this point, there are all sorts of things we could focus on. We could note the irony of this president, whose White House is beset by chaos, accusing others of running a messy operation. We could explain that Robert Mueller, in reality, has no meaningful conflicts of interest. We could note that Mueller actually served as FBI director for eight years under George W. Bush, and stayed on for four more years under Barack Obama.

But as interesting as those tidbits may be, let's not miss the forest for the trees. According to Trump, he now has knowledge about the "inner workings" of the special counsel's team and their probe.

And how, pray tell, does the president know anything about the inner workings of the Mueller investigation?

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A man walks through a grocery store in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Trump's unfamiliarity with grocery stores causes trouble (again)

11/15/18 08:40AM

Donald Trump's embrace of conspiracy theories is central to his worldview, and the president -- who still thinks he would've won the popular vote were it not for non-existent fraud -- is especially fond of conspiracy theories related to voting.

With this mind, Trump told a far-right website yesterday, "When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It's really a disgrace what's going on."

It's tempting to say there's "no evidence" to support such nonsense, but in this case, that won't cut it. Even Republicans who peddle absurd voter-fraud claims don't believe illegal ballots are being cast by people in disguises. For the president to say out loud that this is "what's going on" is plainly bonkers, even by 2018 standards.

But it's Trump's remedy that stood out.

In another part of the Daily Caller interview, Trump made a case for a national voter ID law that would purportedly solve the problem of voter impersonation.

"If you buy a box of cereal -- you have a voter ID," he said. "They try to shame everybody by calling them racist, or calling them something, anything they can think of, when you say you want voter ID. But voter ID is a very important thing."

Oh good, the president has made the transition from "serial liar" to "cereal liar."

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Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., stops to speak with a reporter as he arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy luncheon, May 12, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

To protect Mueller, GOP senator announces a hardball tactic

11/15/18 08:00AM

With Donald Trump having appointed an acting attorney general who's staunchly opposed to Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal, there's renewed interest on Capitol Hill in bipartisan legislation to protect the special counsel and his probe. The measure easily cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in April, and has sat on a shelf gathering dust ever since.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has refused to allow a vote on the bipartisan proposal -- he's dismissed it as "unnecessary" -- and the Republican leader blocked a similar effort on the floor again yesterday. That's when Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) did something interesting.

Flake said on Wednesday that he would oppose all judicial nominees coming through the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate floor until Majority Leader Mitch McConnell puts a bill protecting special counsel Robert Mueller up for a vote.

"I have informed the majority leader I will not vote to advance any of the 21 judicial nominees pending in the Judiciary Committee or vote to confirm the 32 judges awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor until ... [the bill] is brought to the full Senate for a vote," Flake said in a speech at the Capitol.

As Rachel explained on the show last night, Flake's gambit puts at risk 21 Trump judicial nominees currently pending in the Judiciary Committee -- where Republicans have an 11-to-10 majority -- and an additional 32 judicial nominees awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor.

There are very few things Mitch McConnell and his leadership team care more about than confirming the White House's far-right judges, which means Flake no doubt captured the GOP leadership's attention yesterday afternoon.

The question, of course, is what happens now.

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