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An exam room at the Whole Woman's Health clinic, in McAllen, Texas on March 4, 2014. (Photo by Jennifer Whitney/The New York Times/Redux)

Trump thinks he's come up with a 'solution' to the abortion debate

11/08/18 08:40AM

Few issues divide Americans the way the debate over abortion right does. The contentious dispute is very likely to get worse before it gets better.

Not only have Republicans pushed the Supreme Court to the right, making it easy to imagine the demise of the Roe v. Wade precedent, but the political fight continues to intensify. Just this week, voters in West Virginia approved a ballot measure banning abortion just as soon as the Supreme Court allows for such a ban, while voters in Alabama passed a "fetal personhood" policy extending legal rights to "unborn life."

Neither measure has the force of law, at least not yet, but they're not just symbolic efforts, either. In effect, West Virginia and Alabama took steps to prepare for a post-Roe landscape.

It's against this backdrop that someone at yesterday's White House press conference asked Donald Trump about his efforts to "defend the rights of unborn children."

Q: How are you going to push forward your pro-life agenda?

TRUMP: Just going to push. I've been pushing. I've done a very good job, too. Very happy with me. But it's a tough issue for the two sides. There's no question about it.

Q: But what are you going to do to --

TRUMP: There is great division -- what am I going to do? I won't be able to explain that to you, because it is an issue that is a very divisive, polarizing issue. But there is a solution. I think I have that solution, and nobody else does.

Really? After generations of debate over reproductive freedoms, Trump believes he's the president who's uncovered a "solution" that no one else has come up with? And he just happened to blurt this out in response to a question at a press conference?

I suppose anything's possible, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and argue that he's making this up.

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Trump taps partisan loyalist to oversee Justice Dept, Mueller probe

11/08/18 08:00AM

After Attorney General Jeff Sessions stepped down yesterday at Donald Trump's insistence, the Justice Department obviously needed an acting A.G. Under normal circumstances, the post would be temporarily filled by a deputy attorney general who'd have the relevant experience and the benefit of having been confirmed by the Senate.

As Rachel explained on the show last night, Trump chose a very different course.

With Jeff Sessions now out as attorney general, President Donald Trump's choice to fill his shoes, at least temporarily, is in the position to have a significant impact on the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

Matthew Whitaker, who has served as Session's chief of staff since late 2017, has been tapped to become acting attorney general and will therefore take over the role of overseeing Mueller's probe from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The game of musical chairs at the DOJ may seem like bureaucratic trivia. It's not. To fully appreciate the scope of the dilemma, it's important to understand who Matt Whitaker is.

After serving as a U.S. Attorney during the Bush/Cheney era, Whitaker more recently was basically a professional pundit who appeared on television quite a bit -- it's probably how Trump came to learn of his work -- where he was a frequent and harsh critic of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal.

In fact, Whitaker went so far as to call the probe, in Trump-esque language, "Mueller's lynch mob."

In one especially memorable TV appearance, Whitaker described a scenario to CNN in which Sessions would be replaced, and his successor would reduce the special counsel's office's budget "so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt."

As of last night, Whitaker now oversees the Mueller investigation.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 11.7.18

11/07/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* He's correct: "Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Wednesday, moments after Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned at President Trump's request, that protecting special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is paramount."

* This process isn't going well: "North Korea called off planned nuclear talks in New York with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, dealing a setback to a rocky diplomatic process and lowering hopes for progress on denuclearization."

* Didn't the White House say Wall Street was worried about Democratic gains? "Wall Street came out of the gate strong on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average seeing an immediate gain of 277 points at the opening bell and topping 400 by mid-afternoon. The Nasdaq was up by 2 percent in early afternoon trading, and the S&P 500 spiked by around 1.5 percent."

* Hmm: "Special counsel Robert Mueller's probe has expanded to include a filmmaker who interviewed Roger Stone for a documentary about alternative media and censorship called 'Sensational' in 2017. David Lugo told NBC News he testified before a Washington grand jury in October about Stone and Stone's alleged backchannel to WikiLeaks, comedian and activist Randy Credico."

* What prompted the change? "The U.S. military mission at the U.S.-Mexico border will no longer be called 'Operation Faithful Patriot,' according to officials. The formerly named 'Operation Faithful Patriot' is a deployment of nearly 5,200 troops, who joined 2,000 troops already stationed at the U.S.-Mexico border."

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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-RUSSIA

Why Jeff Sessions' ouster as attorney general is so important

11/07/18 04:20PM

A couple of months ago, Donald Trump sat down with The Hill and could barely contain his contempt for Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "I don't have an attorney general," the president said at the time. "It's very sad."

There's no great mystery as to why. Trump has been quite explicit in his belief that he expects his attorney general to be an extension of the White House political agenda. It's why the president was apoplectic about Sessions recusing himself from the investigation into the Russia -- Trump expected the A.G. to obstruct the probe in politically convenient ways -- and it's also why we saw the president recently suggest Sessions should go easy on two allegedly corrupt Republican members of Congress because it might interfere with the GOP's electoral plans.

It quickly became obvious that it was a matter of "when," not "if," the Alabama Republican would exit the stage. This afternoon, Trump and Sessions parted ways.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned Wednesday at President Donald Trump's request. The announcement -- made by Trump on Twitter -- came the day after the midterm elections. [...]

Given the bad blood, Sessions' departure after the midterms was no surprise. Trump was asked about Sessions' future at a lengthy press conference Wednesday afternoon. At the time, he declined to comment on whether Sessions would be leaving the administration, although Sessions resignation letter had been submitted earlier in the day.

A copy of Sessions' resignation letter is online here (pdf). The first sentence reads, "At your request, I am submitting my resignation."

Sessions is the sixth member of Trump's cabinet to resign, following EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, HHS Secretary Tom Price, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, VA Secretary David Shulkin, and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. (Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly also gave up his post, though he became White House chief of staff.)

None of those other members, however, drew Trump's ire the way Sessions did. Indeed, the attorney general has been at the center of multiple presidential tantrums, including a May 2017 incident in which the president called his attorney general an "idiot" and accused him of "disloyalty."

What's more, those other cabinet resignations won't have nearly the impact of Sessions' departure.

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Trump ridicules losing candidates from his own Republican Party

11/07/18 02:36PM

Not long after Donald Trump began his post-election press conference, the president did something a little unexpected: he publicly ridiculed a list of losing candidates.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday trashed losing Republican candidates who distanced themselves from him during the midterm elections.

"Mia Love gave me no love, but then she lost," Trump said at a White House news conference of the Utah Republican who failed in her House re-election bid on Tuesday. "Too bad."

He listed several other GOP lawmakers he said had rejected his "embrace" before falling to Democratic opponents: Reps. Carlos Curbelo in Florida; Mike Coffman in Colorado; Peter Roskam in Illinois; and Barbara Comstock in Virginia, among them.

Reflecting on the list -- which he literally read from prepared notes -- the president told reporters, "I'm not sure that I should be happy or sad, but I feel just fine about it."

In other words, Trump feels "just fine" about House Republicans losing their seats -- and their majority -- because these members had the gall to keep their distance from an unpopular and scandal-plagued president.

I'll confess, I don't recall ever hearing a president mock members of Congress from his own party after their defeats, but Trump seemed eager to do exactly that, largely as a way to immunize himself from blame. As he sees it, vulnerable House Republicans, many of whom represented districts Hillary Clinton won two years ago, ended up losing because they didn't tie their fortunes to his presidency.

The idea that these GOP incumbents would've lost by larger margins had they cozied up to Trump apparently hasn't occurred to him.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump holds press conference

As Dems take control of the House, Trump seems scared of investigations

11/07/18 12:51PM

As the day after Election Day was just getting underway, Donald Trump published an odd tweet that sounded a bit like a threat. The president said that if the new House Democratic majority investigates Team Trump, "we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else, at the Senate level."

This didn't make sense. For one thing, it's not the Senate's job to investigate the House. For another, the president made it sound as if he's aware of Democratic wrongdoing, which he's prepared to overlook as part of some kind of corrupt quid pro quo: if House Dems ignore his scandals, he'll make sure Republicans ignore theirs.

At a White House press conference today, Trump elaborated on this:

"They can play that game, but we can play it better. Because we have a thing called the United States Senate. And a lot of very questionable things were done between leaks of classified information and many other elements that should not have taken place.... I think I'm better at that game than they are, actually."

Again, if Trump has evidence of "very questionable" misconduct from lawmakers, he can pursue these lines of inquiry. But he seems to believe he can find some kind of leverage to avoid investigations.

Soon after, the president also quickly dismissed the idea of working with a divided Congress on public policy in the midst of investigations.

"You can't do them simultaneously, by the way. Somebody says, 'Oh, you can do 'em both.' No, you can't. Because if they're doing that, we're not doing the other, just so you understand. So we won't be doing that."

Got that? If House Democrats investigate Trump's scandals, Trump won't work with Congress on substantive issues. The president evidently wants the new House Democratic majority to choose between legislating and conducting oversight -- because in his mind, it has to be one or the other.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.7.18

11/07/18 12:00PM

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

* Though it took a little longer than expected, Bob Stefanowski (R) conceded Connecticut's gubernatorial race this morning, elevating Ned Lamont (D) to the office.

* We still don't quite know who won Florida's U.S. Senate race, and with 0.4% of the vote separating Bill Nelson (D) and Rick Scott (R), we're apparently headed for a recount.

* On a related note, Arizona's U.S. Senate race hasn't yet been called, though Martha McSally (R) currently leads Krysten Sinema (D) by less than 1% of the vote. The Green Party candidate -- who dropped out last week -- received more than 2% of the vote.

* The only gubernatorial race that hasn't yet been called is in Georgia, where Stacey Abrams (D) appears to be trailing, though she hasn't yet conceded, and she still believes a runoff against Brian Kemp (R) is possible.

* The last I looked, Sen. Jon Tester (D) was trailing by about 0.3% in Montana, though as the New York Times' Nate Cohn noted this morning, there appears to be "a lot" of Democratic votes that haven't yet been counted.

* In Wisconsin, outgoing Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed a state law prohibiting second-place finishers from requesting a recount if they lost by more than 1%. As things stand, Walker apparently lost by 1.2%.

* Exact figures aren't yet clear, but it looks like turnout in this year's midterm elections reached record highs.

* The race hasn't been formally called just yet, but Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R), better known as Vladimir Putin's favorite congressman, is trailing in his re-election bid.

* In South Carolina's 1st congressional district, Katie Arrington defeated Rep. Mark Sanford in a Republican primary earlier this year, declaring at the time, "We are the party of President Donald J. Trump." Last night, Arrington lost to Joe Cunningham (D) in a district Trump won by 11 points.

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Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., speaks during the news conference on the New Democrat Coalition Immigration Task Force's release of "immigration reform principles" on Thursday, April 11, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Number of Democratic 'trifectas' nearly doubles in 2018 elections

11/07/18 11:20AM

When one party holds a state's governor's office and both of its state legislative chambers, the partisan control is generally known as a "trifecta." And in recent years, Republicans have racked up more than a few of them, while Democrats have had very few.

Yesterday, that changed.

Going into Election Day 2018, there were 26 GOP trifectas and just 8 Democratic trifectas. Yesterday, that total went down for Republicans and nearly doubled for Dems. Vox took note of some of the more notable changes for the "blue" team:

In Colorado, for example, Democrats now control the state Senate and maintained control of the House of Representatives, and Democrat Jared Polis won the governorship, giving the party the "trifecta" of power in the state.

There will also be a Democratic trifecta in New York after the party took back control of the state's Senate. Democrats have numerically had the majority there already, but for years there had been a group of Democratic senators who had broken off to caucus together and team up with Republicans.

Among the other new Democratic trifectas are Maine, Illinois, New Mexico, and Nevada. As things stand, the party's total has gone from 8 before yesterday to 14, including all of the continental West coast.

And while Republicans appear to have gained a trifecta in Alaska, the GOP also lost their stronghold in Kansas (where Democrat Laura Kelly won the gubernatorial race), Michigan (where Gretchen Whitmer won the gubernatorial race), Wisconsin (where Tony Evers won the gubernatorial race), and New Hampshire (where Democrats flipped both the state House and state Senate).

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A woman places her vote into the ballot box on March 5, 2016 in Bowling Green, Ky. (Photo by Austin Anthony/Daily News/AP)

Voting rights took a step forward in 2018 elections

11/07/18 10:42AM

It's been a while since voting-rights advocates had reason to celebrate, but the latest election results were clearly a step in a progressive direction. The most dramatic change occurred in Michigan.

Michigan ... passed a law significantly changing the way the state's political lines are drawn for congressional and state legislative districts. The amendment will take the power to draw those lines out of the hands of state lawmakers, as the Detroit Free Press explains, and put it into the hands of an independent redistricting commission made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and five people who identify with neither party.

The state also approved a wide-ranging amendment that will allow people to register to vote on Election Day and will institute automatic voter registration. It will also allow voters to request an absentee ballot for any reason.

Nevada also adopted automatic voter registration, bringing the new total of states with AVR to 16. Yes, that's only a third of the country, but given that automatic voter registration didn't exist in any states as recently as three years ago, it's a progressive reform that's clearly catching on quickly.

But it's not just AVR. Voters in Florida approved a measure to restore voting rights for many with prior felonies. In Kansas, voters rejected the gubernatorial candidacy of Kris Kobach, one of the nation's voter-suppression pioneers.

In Colorado and Missouri, voters agreed to overhaul the redistricting process to end gerrymandering. (Utah may have done the same thing, but votes on the state's Proposition 4 are still being tallied.)

In Maryland, voters agreed to allow same-day voter registration.

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