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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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Protesters gather outside the state Capitol in Madison, Wis. on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011.

Democrats find their footing in several Rust Belt states

11/07/18 10:05AM

Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Democrats weren't just optimistic because of the polls. They also spent quite a bit of time fiddling with sites like 270 to Win, exploring different scenarios with the electoral college, and concluding that Donald Trump's path to the White House simply didn't exist.

After all, the Clinton/Kaine ticket could lose several of the battleground states Barack Obama had won at least once -- Florida, Ohio, Iowa, and North Carolina -- and still win the election thanks to the "blue wall" in the Rust Belt.

Before 2016, in six of the previous six presidential elections, Michigan and Pennsylvania had voted Democratic. In Wisconsin, it was seven of the previous seven. So long as these three states remained in the "blue" column, Hillary Clinton would be the next president.

We now know, of course, that this didn't happen. Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin each went "red."

Two years later, these same three states appeared to swing back in the other direction.

Michigan: Voters in Michigan elected a Democratic governor, re-elected a Democratic U.S. senator, and picked up enough state Senate seats to end the GOP's supermajority. Though some votes are still being counted, Democratic candidates also appear to be well positioned in the race for state attorney general and in the closely watched race in the 8th congressional district, which appears set to flip from "red" to "blue."

Pennsylvania: Voters in Pennsylvania re-elected a Democratic governor, re-elected a Democratic U.S. senator, and erased the GOP's supermajority in the state Senate. Democrats also appear to have flipped four congressional districts in the state from "red" to "blue."

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A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Health care was on the ballot in 2018, and it won big

11/07/18 09:20AM

It was just a few weeks ago when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said out loud what was widely assumed to be true: if Republicans held onto their congressional majorities, the GOP would try again to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Last week, Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, endorsed a similar strategy.

That plan is now dead. With Democrats retaking the House majority, the Affordable Care Act had a good day at the ballot box. Republicans may yet be able to undermine the nation's health care system, but they'll need to rely on the courts because voters just ended the repeal crusade.

For health care advocates, that's just the start of the good news.

Three red states approved Medicaid expansion in Tuesday's midterm elections, changes that will potentially cover hundreds of thousands more low-income Americans, NBC News projected.

Voters in Utah, Nebraska and Idaho were all expected to pass ballot measures to broaden the federal and state health insurance program, according to NBC.

All told, as a result of these ballot measures, more than 300,000 low-income Americans are poised to gain health care coverage. The new total of states that have embraced Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act will now grow to 36.

It gets better: with Democrats winning big in Maine, and Gov. Paul LePage (R) exiting the stage, the future for Medicaid expansion in the state appears bright, and in Kansas, where voters elected a Democratic governor, it's likely we'll see the Sunflower State join the club.

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House 'popular vote' gives Democrats something to brag about

11/07/18 08:48AM

In the 1994 midterms, Republicans posted huge gains and took control of Congress. Time magazine published a cover image of a powerful, triumphant elephant crushing a donkey, under a headline that called it a "GOP stampede."

Republicans had reason to crow at the time: by a 7.1% margin, American voters had backed GOP candidates over Democratic candidates.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, Democrats apparently won the House "popular vote" by 7%.

I realize Republicans, benefiting from a Senate map that was almost comically titled in their favor, are thrilled to see their majority grow in the upper chamber. I can also appreciate why many Democrats were disappointed to see some heartbreaking losses in key contests, especially in Florida.

But the scope of the House Democratic victories was rather extraordinary. I put together the above chart based on the findings from Princeton's Sam Wang, who highlighted the popular-vote gap in House races in several recent cycles.

House Republicans, for example, had excellent years in 1994 and 2010, but House Democrats kept pace with these tallies.

Some observers will no doubt ask in response, "Then why didn't Democrats win even more seats?" The answer is a familiar one: between Republican gerrymandering and concentration of Democratic votes in urban areas, the party faced an enormous challenge even trying to take back the House of Representatives.

But they did anyway.

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

Why the new House Democratic majority will make Trump miserable

11/07/18 08:00AM

In April, Donald Trump hosted a dinner with Republican congressional leaders, who tried to deliver a stern warning to the president about the 2018 midterm elections. They were concerned about the party's hold on congressional power, and as the New York Times  reported, GOP leaders feared Trump did not "grasp the gravity" of the situation.

If [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's] warning was not clear enough, Marc Short, the White House's legislative liaison, used the dinner to offer an even starker assessment. The G.O.P.'s House majority is all but doomed, he said.

But Mr. Trump was not moved. "That's not going to happen," he said.

That's exactly what happened.

If his tweets this morning are any indication, the president appears to be taking a victory lap, due entirely to the fact that Republicans, taking advantage of the most favorable Senate map in American history, expanded their majority in the upper chamber. Trump, at least publicly, considers this year's midterms a "tremendous success" and a "big victory" for the GOP.

Whether or not he genuinely believes this is unclear, but if the president is feeling some optimism in the wake of the results, he's kidding himself.

To the extent that the White House has a legislative agenda, it is now effectively dead. Making matters worse, rejecting Trump's far-right proposals isn't the only way the new Democratic majority in the House is going to make Trump quite miserable.

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