• Senate Republicans Want to Get Rid of Whitaker
• Texas Businessman Sues, Challenges Whitaker's Legality
• Trump's Lawyers Have Finished Answering Mueller's Written Questions
• Federal Judge Orders Trump to Restore Jim Acosta's Press Pass
• CIA: Khashoggi Killed on Mohammed's Orders
• Lindsey Graham Will Chair the Senate Judiciary Committee
• If Not Pelosi, then Who?
On Thursday, it seemed that some of the unresolved contests from last week might linger on for weeks or months. By Friday, that was looking much less likely, as several of the messiest contests took big steps toward their denouements.
Starting with Georgia, it was very probable that Stacey Abrams (D) was not going to outpoll Brian Kemp (R) in the gubernatorial election. Nor was it likely that his percentage of the vote was going to dip below 50.0%, forcing a runoff election. Her only real hope then, was to persuade the courts that the election was so badly compromised that a new election was necessary. It is possible for a judge to so order, but the courts are very reluctant to take that step, for obvious reasons. And even if Abrams was able to pull that off, she would still have to win the second election, which is no small feat for a member of a party known for poor turnout in non-presidential contests. Meanwhile, assuming she has future political aspirations, the whole affair would not be great for her image, particularly if she came up short. Anyhow, Abrams ran through the cost-benefit analysis, and decided that her best move was to throw in the towel. And so, she did so Friday afternoon. It's likely we haven't heard the last of her, though. For example, Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) has a middling approval rating (46%) and is up for reelection in 2020. Abrams could decide she likes her chances against him in a presidential year.
In Florida, meanwhile, the writing is on the wall, even if Sen. Bill Nelson (D) has not been willing to read it yet. The gap between him and Rick Scott (R) was much larger than could possibly be overcome in a recount, which means that, like Abrams, he needed some help from the courts. Not necessarily a new election, but several favorable rulings about disputed ballots. That help is not coming, as a number of motions from his campaign were rejected by judges on Friday. In particular, U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker dealt a heavy blow to Nelson's hopes when he ruled that mail-in ballots had to be delivered to the state by 7:00 p.m. Saturday, and that it was not enough for them to merely be in the post office. Democrats not named Bill Nelson have admitted he has no path forward. And since the gap between governor-elect Ron DeSantis (R) and Andrew Gillum (D) was even larger than the one between Scott and Nelson, this presumably means that race is over, too.
Moving on to UT-04, Rep. Mia Love (R) got some good news Friday, as she has moved into the lead in her race against Ben McAdams (D). She's now ahead by 419 votes out of 257,593, or 0.2%. This may come as a surprise to readers of this site, who know that provisional/absentee ballots tend to break Democratic, something that has been especially true this year. However, what they are counting in Utah right now are actually regular ballots, a process that has gone slowly as the Beehive State adapts to two newly-adopted policies: mail-in voting for everyone (in 27 of 29 counties), and same-day registration. Once that process is complete (94% have been counted so far), then the Utahns will move on to counting the provisional ballots. There are 34,000 of those, and it's likely they will break in McAdams' favor. So, even though he would certainly prefer to be in the lead, he's still in ok shape.
And finally, the other House race that saw significant movement on Friday was CA-39, where Gil Cisneros (D) has extended his lead over Young Kim (R) to more than 3,000 votes, or 1.5% of the total. Kim accused Cisneros of "harassing and intimidating" vote counters, though she was unable to explain exactly what she meant by that, or what her evidence is. In any event, this one is likely to be called very soon, which means that we could finish the weekend with just two or three House races still in the air, and everything else resolved. (Z)
After waiting a week to see which way the wind is blowing, Senate Republicans are starting to sense that it would be better if Donald Trump were to follow the Constitution and send them a nominee to confirm for attorney general. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) even predicted that the current (unconfirmed) AG, Matthew Whitaker, "is not going to be there long." Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), seconded the idea of replacing Whitaker by saying: "It would be helpful to start moving...so we can have that person in place as soon as possible."
The obvious problem is that Trump wants someone who is willing to fire, or at least greatly restrict, special counsel Robert Mueller while the senators know that doing so would create a firestorm and probably cause House Democrats to begin impeachment hearings. Finding someone who can please both Trump and the senators won't be easy. Every potential candidate knows that he will be in the hot seat from day 1. Some potential candidates who have been approached have been leery of taking the job. For example, Bill Barr, who was George H.W. Bush's AG, didn't say "no" point blank, but suggested the administration find someone else. Another name that has come up is Mark Filip, who was George W. Bush's deputy AG. These are respected men, but to get confirmed they would have to promise, in public and under oath, not to impede Mueller. Once that was done, two things would happen. First, the nominee would be confirmed by a large bipartisan majority. Second, Trump would go bonkers, since firing Mueller is the main thing he wants from the new AG.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is pushing for the appointment of Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. So are other Republicans. Other names that have come up are Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who bonded with Trump after he donated $25,000 to her reelection campaign (and she dropped an investigation of him), and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. However, some Republicans are concerned about whether Bondi or Christie could be confirmed.
There is also a flurry of activity around a bill that would protect Mueller by law. Democrats want it, and now Republican senators Jeff Flake (AZ), Susan Collins (ME), and Bob Corker (TN) have come out in favor of it. If put to a vote, it might actually pass. To prevent that, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refuses to bring it to a vote. Flake knows this, of course, and is proposing to attach the bill to the spending bill that must pass next month to prevent a government shutdown. It is doubtful if any others will agree to this, however. (V)
While Republicans (and Democrats) in Congress try to turn the screws on Donald Trump to come up with an actual AG nominee, Texas businessman Doug Haning decided to take matters into his own hands. On Friday, his attorneys filed a motion in federal court in St. Louis asking that a judge declare that Matthew Whitaker's appointment as acting AG was illegal.
The first issue in a case like this is that the plaintiff has to establish standing to sue. That is to say, they have to argue that they are directly affected by the matter in question. In Haning's case, he is facing a federal criminal trial in which he is charged with distribution of substandard pet food ingredients. Further, because the U.S. attorney for St. Louis recused himself from the matter (as he used to work for Haning), his replacement for purposes of court filings was...former AG Jeff Sessions. So, Haning has a pretty good argument that he is definitely affected by Whitaker's appointment, since Whitaker will presumably replace Sessions as the prosecuting attorney of record.
Legal experts say that Haning's argument has merit. Further, they predict that other defendants are going to follow in his footsteps, and file similar motions, even if they are less-closely linked to Whitaker than Haning is. If so, eventually one judge or another is going to find that Whitaker's appointment was indeed illegal, which will lead to an appeal, and would eventually dump the thing in the laps of the Supreme Court. This means that Donald Trump can get to it and find a permanent AG nominee, or he can put himself at risk of another high-profile embarrassment. Further, given that this is now the second lawsuit on this very matter (the first coming from the Maryland AG), it is now inconceivable that Whitaker would not be slapped with one or more injunctions if he was to try to fire Mueller. In short, the benefits to Trump of keeping the acting AG around are getting pretty small, and the costs are growing pretty substantial. Which means that Whitaker could be much more of a short timer than anyone imagined when he was elevated last week. (Z)
Yesterday, Donald Trump told reporters that he has finished answering Robert Mueller's questions and will submit them soon. He emphasized that he, not the lawyers, wrote the answers. It is certainly possible that he hand copied his lawyers' answers with his own pen, or else cut and pasted from their answers from a document they sent him. But there is zero chance that he made up the answers himself. Mueller is a smart guy and may well have posed questions to which he already knows the answers, just to see what Trump says. Trump's lawyers know this, of course, and no doubt have very carefully crafted answers that won't hang Trump for perjury or obstruction of justice later. There is no way Trump is capable of doing this on his own, despite his protestations to the contrary. (V)
Yesterday, federal judge Timothy Kelly, a Donald Trump appointee, ordered the White House to temporarily restore the press credentials of Jim Acosta. This is a victory for CNN and a defeat for Donald Trump, who yanked Acosta's pass because he doesn't like how CNN reports on him. The immediate result is that Acosta will be once again allowed in the White House for the moment, though there could be a trial and a potentially different result in a few months.
Numerous media outlets, including Fox News, filed amicus briefs supporting CNN, as did the White House Correspondents' Association. The latter urged the court "to roundly reject the president's dangerous legal position." Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended her boss by saying: "Today, the court made clear that there is no absolute First Amendment right to access the White House." Actually, the judge didn't say that. The judge said that the Constitution does not create a right that allows reporters to enter the White House, but once the White House has decided to allow reporters on the premises, it cannot arbitrarily ban those reporters whose stories it doesn't like. (V)
No, not that one; he's been dead for over 1,000 years. The other one, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He would very much like the whole story of Jamal Khashoggi's brutal murder to go away, and Donald Trump unquestionably joins him in that sentiment. However, the CIA is not playing along. They have finished reviewing the available intelligence, including recordings made by the Turkish government, and on Friday announced that they are certain that Khashoggi was killed on bin Salman's direct orders.
The Saudi government, of course, rejected the CIA's conclusions, with a spokeswoman declaring that, "the claims in this purported assessment are false. We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations." In other words, nothing is going to happen to bin Salman, who could undoubtedly order 100 such killings and get away with it. However, this does make life a little less easy for Donald Trump. Among the first (and the few) diplomatic successes of his presidency was his early visit to the Kingdom of Saud. Now, he's hardly going to be able to do any more photo ops with a fellow who is not especially different from a mafia don. Meanwhile, the President's flaccid response to the whole matter could cause one or more congressional committees to take a close look at the Trump Organization's business ties to the Saudis. And who knows what they might find? (Z)
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has decided money trumps law (no pun intended), and will give up his position as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in order to take over the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee. That committee also has jurisdiction over trade, a huge issue back home. As a consequence, Sen. Lindsey Graham will get the gavel at the Judiciary Committee. Graham was an early opponent of Trump, but has come to love him.
Come January, Graham will be in charge of getting all of Trump's judicial nominees confirmed. He will also have jurisdiction over the Dept. of Justice, and thus over Robert Mueller. After meeting with AG Matthew Whitaker recently, Graham said: "As to Mueller investigation, I'm confident that it is not in jeopardy." (V)
Yesterday, we noted that current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) faces a challenge to her leadership, and thus to her plans to retake the Speaker's gavel on January 3. It's not clear how serious the challengers are, but—as the old saying goes—you can't beat somebody with nobody. They would need to find an alternative candidate who can get the 218 votes needed to be elected. It is not clear who might be able to pull that off, but here are some of the possible candidates:
Rep. Cheri Bustos: Representing IL-17, Bustos is 55 and has been in the House since 2013.
Pros: Bustos won re-election by 20 points in a district that Donald Trump won. So, she certainly has crossover appeal. She also helped formulate the Democrats' (successful) midterm strategy, and is a skilled fundraiser.
Cons: Beyond the fundraising, she has little experience with the tasks needed to be Speaker, like whipping votes or massaging parliamentary procedure. Her centrism will not play well with the Sanders wing of the Party.
Rep. Karen Bass: Representing CA-37, Bass is 65 and has been in the House since 2011.
Pros: She would be the first black person, and (of course) the first black woman to serve as speaker. She also has some experience as a speaker, having served in that role in the California State Assembly.
Cons: If "new blood" is the goal, electing a 65-year-old is not exactly turning things over to the youngsters. Though generally regarded as a progressive, Bass is pretty conservative on certain social issues, like LGBT rights. That won't please the young voters the Party is trying to get to the polls.
Rep. Adam Schiff: Representing CA-28, Schiff is 58 and has been in the House since 2001.
Pros: Schiff, as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, has been among the highest-profile members of the Trump resistance. He's also been groomed for eventual leadership by Pelosi.
Cons: He may prefer to remain a committee head, now that he'd have real power. Further, as a Pelosi loyalist, he would certainly not attempt to succeed her unless she stepped aside and gave her blessing. The problem is that, in that scenario, the anti-Pelosi folks would likely perceive him as Nancy 2.0.
Rep. Richard Neal: Representing MA-01, Neal is 69 and has been in the House since 1989.
Pros: Neal is charismatic, and exudes blue-collar Irish-Catholic charm. In other words, he's kind of a congressional Joe Biden, and he would certainly help the Party with Midwestern white working-class voters. He's also got serious leadership experience from his service on the Ways and Means committee, as well as his time as mayor of Springfield. He's known for his financial expertise, which could come in useful given the issues likely to be before the next Congress.
Cons: Another fellow who is not exactly a spring chicken. Further, though he's considered liberal on most issues, he's fairly conservative-leaning on abortion, which puts him out of step with most of his party. It's also hard to imagine that "old, white guy" is what most members of the Democratic caucus are looking for.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján: Representing NM-03, Luján is 46 and has been in the House since 2009.
Pros: A charismatic young Latino would check a lot of boxes that many Democrats would like to see checked. He's another skilled fundraiser and an excellent political strategist.
Cons: Though he's got some time as whip, his resumé is a little thin at this point. And he is another member who is probably a little too close to Pelosi for the anti-Pelosi crowd.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: Representing NY-08, Jeffries is 46 and has been in the House since 2013.
Pros: Jeffries would check a lot of the same boxes as Luján, except substitute 'black' for 'Latino.' He's close with Barack Obama, not so close with Pelosi, which would certainly suit some Democrats' fancy.
Cons: He has very little experience with any of the things a Speaker does. Further, he used to be a corporate lawyer, which is not likely to thrill the progressive wing of the Party, despite his left-leaning voting record.
Rep. Elijah Cummings: Representing MD-07, Cummings is 67 and has been in the House since 1996.
Pros: He's been a major thorn in the side of Republicans for years, even before he became a major Trump critic, thanks to his status as ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He's also charismatic and has many friends in the House.
Cons: You can have young, or you can have experienced, but generally not both. Hakeem Jefferies is young but not too experienced. Cummings is experienced but not too young. And, in his case, it's not merely a generational issue, it's also that he's got health issues that have some folks wondering if he's up to the physical demands of the Speakership.
Rep. Joe Kennedy III: Representing MA-04, Kennedy is 38 and has been in the House since 2013.
Pros: He's got an impressive background (Stanford, Harvard law, Peace Corps), charisma to spare, and a magic last name. He would make young voters happy due to his age, and very possibly older voters who remember his grandfather (Bobby) and great-uncles (John and Teddy) fondly.
Cons: While his pre-Congress resumé is impressive, he's a little inexperienced in governance for such a big promotion at this point in his career. He's also given no indication he's interested in the job.
Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Representing NY-14, Ocasio-Cortez is 29 and is about to begin her first term in the House.
Pros: Choosing her would make quite a statement for the Democrats in terms of breaking with the past. Women, young people, Latinos, and progressives would presumably be very pleased. She's very telegenic, and has shrewd political instincts far beyond her years. She would not be the first Speaker to assume office on her first day in office; Henry Clay pulled the trick, too. Of course, that was 208 years ago.
Cons: Since she has zero experience in politics, or in being in Congress, much less running Congress, she would be at a huge disadvantage trying to learn on the job. And if the blue team picks someone who identifies as a Democratic socialist, they can forget about the lower Midwest (Ohio, Iowa, Indiana, etc.). Though maybe not the upper Midwest, which has a pretty long track record of supporting progressive politics.
Stacey Abrams: Thanks to her concession (see above), she's formally out of office right now, but she does have 10 years' experience in the Georgia statehouse.
Pros: Choosing someone just elected to Congress, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, would make a very big statement. Choosing someone who isn't even a member of the body, like Abrams, would make an even bigger statement. And, as we have pointed out many times, there is no rule that says the Speaker has to be a member of the House. Meredith Meisenheimer and Sue Altman, writing for the Washington Post, make the argument for Abrams, observing that she would be inspiring, would demonstrate that the Democratic Party is committed to moving away from "politics as usual," and would be a worthy foe for Donald Trump.
Cons: While it's certainly legal to choose Abrams, it may not be so wise for the Democrats to continue to escalate the arms race of breaking traditions and norms in Congress, the way Mitch McConnell has been doing for years. As with Ocasio-Cortez, her lack of experience would be a hindrance. And finally, 230 or so Democrats did not bust their rear ends running for Congress just to hand the most plum job of all to someone who was not elected.
Some of these picks are more unorthodox than others, but they all illustrate the basic dilemma: If there was a slam-dunk upgrade to Pelosi, that person would presumably already be Minority Leader and Speaker-in-waiting. If someone does knock off Pelosi, they will definitely come with their own collection of liabilities. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov16 Trump Growing (More) Unhinged
Nov16 Pelosi Faces Resistance
Nov16 Trump Nominates Lana Marks as Ambassador to South Africa
Nov16 U.S. Sanctions 17 Saudis for Khashoggi Murder
Nov16 No Ruling in Acosta Case
Nov16 U.S. Wants to Prosecute Assange
Nov15 Updates on House Races
Nov15 There Must Be Something in the Water
Nov15 Trump Intervenes in House Leadership Fight
Nov15 Cornyn Steps Down from Whip Role
Nov15 House Democrats Are Writing Their First Bill
Nov15 Outgoing Republican Legislatures Could Thwart Incoming Democratic Governors
Nov15 Fox News Backs CNN
Nov15 Flake Threatens to Block Judges if Mueller is Not Protected
Nov15 Avenatti Booked for Domestic Violence
Nov15 Thursday Q&A
Nov14 Maryland Sues Trump over Attorney General Pick
Nov14 CNN Sues Trump
Nov14 Trump Gets Deputy NSA Mira Ricardel Fired
Nov14 Judge Orders Georgia to Review Provisional Ballots
Nov14 Gerrymandering + Trump = Disaster for the GOP
Nov14 Election Turnout Was Awful, Compared to Other Countries
Nov14 How Good Were the Senate Polls?
Nov14 Democrats Knock Off Denham
Nov13 Kyrsten Sinema Wins
Nov13 Judge Denies Scott's Request for an Injunction
Nov13 Cindy Hyde-Smith Working Hard to Blow It
Nov13 Nielsen May Be Next To Go
Nov13 House Democrats Begin Deciding on What to Investigate
Nov13 Sherrod Brown Is Considering a Presidential Run in 2020
Nov13 Hillary Clinton Readying 2020 Run
Nov13 Will Tom Vilsack Run Against Joni Ernst in 2020?
Nov12 Trump Has Big Plans for the Lame Duck Session of Congress
Nov12 A (Little Bit of) Wall Is Being Built
Nov12 Kobach Ran a Lousy Campaign
Nov12 The FoxConn Con
Nov12 Jerrold Nadler Will Subpoena Matthew Whitaker on January 3
Nov12 Maxine Waters Also Has an Agenda
Nov12 Adam Schiff Wants to Know if Trump Took Action against the Media
Nov12 More on Arizona
Nov12 It Is Not Quite as Partisan as You Might Think
Nov12 Monday Q & A
Nov11 Where Things Stand in Unresolved Elections
Nov11 Can't Donald Trump Do Anything Right?
Nov11 Trump Jr. Thinks He May Be Indicted Soon
Nov11 Now, This Is How To Take a Joke
Nov11 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Beto O'Rourke
Nov10 Trump's Worst Week?
Nov10 Trump Claims He Doesn't Know the Man He Appointed as Acting Attorney General