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On the roster: Will Dems do worse at checking Trump than GOP did? - McCarthy wins by a mile - Dem House gains reach 38, may rise further - Justice defends interim boss Whitaker - Next stop, Tudor’s Biscuit World
WILL DEMS DO WORSE AT CHECKING TRUMP THAN GOP DID?
Americans have just given Congress the same mandate they did in the previous three midterm elections: To act as a check on the president.
We know voters have a strong preference for divided government, evinced in midterm results almost every four years.
A new poll out today from Monmouth University confirms the fact, with 72 percent of respondents, including more than half of Republicans, saying that “keeping President Trump in check” should be at least somewhat of a priority for the new Congress.
Opposition to Trump help drive what is already the largest gain in House seats for Democrats since Watergate – 38 and potentially still rising as eight races remain unresolved. Contrary to the imaginings of Republicans who have posited that it was the GOP’s lack of cooperation with Trump that cost the party the House, the message from voters is unambiguous.
(And before you tell us about what will likely end up being a net gain of two Senate seats for Republicans, we would observe that given the terrible map for Democrats this cycle, that’s not exactly a bumper crop.)
Just as Republicans eight years ago could rightly do, it is enough for Democrats with their new, stout majority to follow voters’ wishes by obstructing the priorities of the agenda of the president and his party.
Even if the message is clear, we wonder if Democrats will actually prove to be less effective at constraining Trump than Republicans have been.
Trump’s first two years in Washington followed a fairly predictable cycle. Trump would propose, say or threaten something that sounded outlandish. Republicans would, in public and in private, find ways to constrain him.
Get rid of the super majority threshold in the Senate? Nope. Fire Robert Mueller? Unh-uh. Lifting sanctions on Russia? Fat chance. Government shutdown with one party control? Puh-leze.
Now, don’t fall into the Sasse trap here. Yes, Republicans enthusiastically championed many things that Trump sought, but many of the things that Trump sought were accommodations to skeptical conservatives in the first place (e.g. judicial appointments) or shared priorities (e.g. tax cuts).
When Republicans, like Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., have pushed back against Trump, a common refrain from Democrats is to point out that they vote with him so often. But vote scores miss a key part of the relationship between a president and Congress. You don’t get to vote against what never comes to the floor, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the one who gets to make those decisions.
We will never know all the things that McConnell and outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan prevented from happening. Certainly they proved proficient at redirecting Trump’s energies on many occasions. The lure of the tax cut and other Trump policy priorities proved effective tools for managing up. When the president was forced to choose between tearing the Senate asunder over his war with the Justice Department or pushing economic stimulus, he chose stimulus.
Democrats are promising to boldly confront Trump, but at least on the legislative front, they do not have much to offer. Republicans already achieved one-party gridlock on almost everything other than confirming nominees. If Trump is stymied already, what’s the big deal about intransigence in a Democratic House?
Democrats are also promising to use oversight powers to act as a check on the president. But ask yourself how likely Trump is to respect the separation of powers or Congress as a legitimate, co-equal branch of government? The disrespect the Obama administration showed to the Republican House will be kids’ stuff compared to the scorn and discredit with which Trump will treat Democrats.
We imagine federal courts will be quite busy sorting all of that out for years to come.
Early on, we argued that Trump, like his predecessors in 2012, 1996 and 1982 would benefit from a midterm defeat. It not only will give him something to run against, but also let him off the hook for promises not kept.
We’d like to add a proviso, however.
Most of the past 120 years in American history has been marked by the expansion of executive power. From Theodore Roosevelt on down, presidents have treated our federal system as a hindrance to effective, modern governance. Congress, in a prolonged period of cravenness that would have shocked the Founders, has mostly acceded to these demands. The “pen and phone” usurpations of the previous president were just the latest in a long-running power grab by the executive branch.
If Democrats cannot find some carrots to lure Trump, their sticks will not be effective. He is certainly prepared to ignore Congress except to diminish it. And there lies the trouble for Trump in 2020.
If he succeeds in making the Democratic House irrelevant and Republicans lose what tether that remains on the chief executive, voters may well feel the need for change at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
It’s easy to imagine that without having to worry even a bit about legislation and the first string of senior administration officials leaving, Trump will be even more unpredictable and more prone to use his executive authority when he feels frustrated than he has been before.
If voters sent dozens more Democrats to Washington to act as a check on Trump and they fail to deliver results, the electorate will do what it hasn’t since 1994 and change horses in midstream.
THE RULEBOOK: BUCKLE UP
“A turbulent faction in a State may easily suppose itself able to contend with the friends to the government in that State; but it can hardly be so infatuated as to imagine itself a match for the combined efforts of the Union.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 27
TIME OUT: SHANDLING’S ALL STARS
ESPN: “During his 40-year comedy career, Garry Shandling created two of the most iconic and influential TV shows of all time. But instead of following ‘It's Garry Shandling's Show’ and ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ with another television masterpiece, Shandling worked on something else: a pickup basketball game. During the 25-year run of the weekly Sunday game, until Shandling's death at age 66 in 2016, it was attended by celebrities such as Sarah Silverman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow, who directed the recent HBO documentary ‘The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling.’ But Shandling's was not a ‘Hollywood’ game. Participants weren't allowed to network there or talk about it afterward. ‘It was ‘Fight Club’ with better jokes,’ says Shandling's writing partner Suli McCullough. The players respected this to protect the singular refuge Shandling carefully constructed. Those Sundays yielded friendships that are responsible for some of the best television and film of the past 20 years. As director Alex Richanbach says, ‘This group of people found a little family in Los Angeles because we all have the same comedy dad.’”
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Trump job performance
Average approval: 42.6 percent
Average disapproval: 53.2 percent
Net Score: -10.6 points
Change from one week ago: up 0.4 points
[Average includes: Monmouth University: 44% approve - 49% disapprove; Gallup: 38% approve - 56% disapprove; NBC News: 46% approve - 52% disapprove; CNN: 41% approve - 57% disapprove; ABC News: 44% approve - 52% disapprove.]
MCCARTHY WINS BY A MILE
Roll Call: “House Republicans on Wednesday elected Rep. Kevin McCarthy as their minority leader over Rep. Jim Jordan, a decision that improves the chances that one day the California Republican might be speaker. McCarthy has vowed to lead Republicans back into the majority over the next two years. If he succeeds, the chances that he’ll be elected speaker are significantly higher than they were had Republicans held the majority this year. That’s the upshot of the GOP’s loss last week. McCarthy’s ability to secure 218 floor votes to be elected speaker was in question, but he was always expected to easily win a majority of the Republican Conference’s support. Since the latter is all it takes to be elected minority leader, McCarthy’s victory Wednesday was never really in question. McCarthy’s ascension to the top Republican spot is still significant though, because he had tried and failed to rise before. This time McCarthy’s colleagues pushed him to the top in a 159-43 vote.”
Schumer, McConnell re-elected - CNBC: “The slate of Senate leaders for both major political parties will be picked in closed-door elections Wednesday, and while most of the top brass are expected to hold onto their power, a few key shifts are expected. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., cruised to re-election as majority leader. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was re-elected minority leader, NBC News reported. Both leaders were all but assured to retain their positions in the wake of the midterm elections last week, where Republicans expanded their gains in the Senate by defeating multiple red-state Democrats. The majority leader is the highest-ranking member of the Senate, followed by the majority whip. The two leaders represent the Republican Party on the Senate floor and gather votes for legislation. The policy committee chair leads the committee's research efforts for Republican senators, while the conference chair and vice-chair manage the party's communications strategy.”
Graham will re-open Hillary email probe if he wins Judiciary nod - CNN: “Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday that he will investigate how the FBI handled the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections and Hillary Clinton's email controversy if he becomes chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. ‘Totally,’ the South Carolina Republican told CNN when asked if he would look into the FBI's handling of those probes. ‘The oversight function will be very much front and center.’ Graham has been a longtime critic of the FBI's handling of those investigations -- and has called for a second special counsel to investigate what happened. And if Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley steps aside from running the Senate Judiciary Committee to chair the Senate Finance Committee, as is widely expected, Graham would be poised to run the powerful panel that oversees the FBI. Graham's comments are the latest sign that the Senate GOP will be a counterbalance of sorts to House Democrats, who plan to end the House Republican probe into the FBI and launch a flurry of new investigations in their new majority next year.”
But Grassley may not be moving - Politico: “Chuck Grassley is still keeping his options open regarding which powerful committee he will helm next Congress, a decision that will have significant ramifications for his colleagues and for Congress as a whole. The Iowa Republican is deliberating whether to stay as Judiciary Committee chairman for another two years or whether to pursue the Senate Finance Committee chairmanship, which is opening up with the retirement of current chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Grassley has long said he would make his decision immediately after the midterms, presumably to see who captured the majority. But now he says he needs more time to talk to GOP senators that will be affected by his decision given the domino effect Grassley will produce either way.”
Kyl cagy on Senate stay - Politico: “Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday that he hasn't decided how long he'll serve as the late John McCain's appointed replacement and kept the door open to suggesting that Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) — who lost her Senate bid last week — serve out the remainder of his term. When Kyl agreed to step into the Senate seat earlier this year, he didn't address his future beyond this year and said he wouldn't run in a 2020 special election that's set to determine who will serve for the two years left in McCain's term. That has stoked speculation that McSally could get appointed to replace Kyl in the seat, giving her a potential leg up in the 2020 race. McSally conceded to Democratic Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema on Monday night in a video that congratulated her opponent after a bitterly fought campaign. Asked in a brief interview if he would suggest that McSally replace him, Kyl lauded the two-term House Republican but declined to address his own future.”
DEM HOUSE GAINS REACH 38, MAY RISE FURTHER
LAT: “California Republicans lost a fourth seat in the House on Tuesday as Democrat Josh Harder gained enough votes to oust GOP Rep. Jeff Denham in the San Joaquin Valley. Denham’s loss, projected by the Associated Press, came amid signs that two other Republican seats are also in growing jeopardy. The continuing tallies of hundreds of thousands of ballots cast in the Nov. 6 midterm election are consistently favoring Democrats, underscoring the increasingly bleak fortunes of the California GOP. In Orange County’s latest ballot count Tuesday, Republican Rep. Mimi Walters fell 261 votes behind her Democratic challenger, Katie Porter. Walters finished election night more than 6,200 votes ahead, but her lead steadily dwindled until it vanished on Tuesday. Young Kim, the Republican running to succeed GOP Rep. Ed Royce of Fullerton, saw her lead over Democrat Gil Cisneros shrink to 711 votes in the updated Orange and Los Angeles county tallies.”
[Ed. note: The folks at FiveThirtyEight are helpfully keeping track of all the races that remain undecided.]
Tallying machines overheat, adding more angst to Florida recount - AP: “Florida’s election recount drama is intensifying as lawyers return to court and tallying machines break down ahead of a Thursday deadline to complete reviews of the U.S. Senate and governor races. Amid the turmoil, Republican Gov. Rick Scott agreed to step down from the state panel responsible for certifying the final results. Scott is locked in a tight race with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and has already suggested fraud may be taking place in some counties. Critics have said Scott should have no role in overseeing the election given his close contest. Some of the recount trouble centers on the Democratic stronghold of Palm Beach County, where tallying machines have overheated. That’s caused mismatched results with the recount of 174,000 early voting ballots, forcing workers to go back and redo their work with no time to spare.”
JUSTICE DEFENDS INTERIM BOSS WHITAKER
Fox News: “The Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion Wednesday supporting President Trump’s appointment of Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general, despite criticism from Democrats who have questioned his qualifications to oversee the Russia investigation. In its opinion, the Office of Legal Counsel said that the president’s appointment of Whitaker to replace former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was consistent with the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (VRA) of 1998. ‘This Office previously had advised that the President could designate a senior Department of Justice Official, such as Mr. Whitaker as Acting Attorney General,’ the OLC said, noting that Whitaker has been serving at the Justice Department ‘at a sufficiently senior pay level for over a year.’ But a senior Justice Department official said this week that when reviewing Whitaker’s appointment, the OLC had to research back to 1866 to find a similar instance where a non-Senate confirmed individual sat as acting attorney general. The Justice Department wasn’t created until 1870, though an attorney general existed prior to that. The official told Fox News that the issue was ‘constitutionality’ of the appointment.”
Congress to clash over Mueller probe and border wall - Politico: “Congress is hurtling toward a brutal fight over government funding centered on a pair of contentious issues: President Donald Trump’s border wall and special counsel Robert Mueller. Democrats said Tuesday they might insist that language protecting Mueller's job security be included in a must-pass spending bill due by Dec. 7. With Mueller’s probe on Russian interference in the 2016 election winding down and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) loath[ing] to bring up a standalone Mueller-protection bill, Democrats argue it could be their last chance to shield the special counsel from Trump. Meanwhile, the president and his GOP allies are asking for a significant funding boost for border security in order for Trump to sign the government spending bill. Senate Republicans are advocating for $5 billion, while the outgoing House GOP majority has pushed for as much as $25 billion — figures that Democrats oppose absent a broader deal on immigration.”
Trump leaning toward compromise measure on criminal justice reform - WaPo
SupCo to hear Virginia redistricting case on racial gerrymandering - WaPo
AUDIBLE: BET THEY WANT TO START FROM THE SOUTH SIDE
“Please help these men realize this quest of civil service.” – Letter to the White House from federal inmate Jon Woods, a former Arkansas state senator who was the first state official to endorse Donald Trump but who was subsequently convicted of corruption, volunteering himself and 80 fellow inmates to go to the southern border and work on the president’s border wall.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“From a financial perspective, I had never so enthusiastically backed a candidate as I did Martha McSally. I think she lost for two reasons: (1) Like too many Republicans, she stood too close to Trump in order not to lose his [small?] core, but this cost her independents; (2) she let the consultants lead her into an ‘attack’ campaign mode that demeaned her more than it did her wacky opponent. It’s a real shame. ‘Never get in a mud-wrestling match with a pig; you’ll get dirty and the pig will have lots of fun.’” – John A. Johnson, Tucson, Ariz.
[Ed. note: I think there’s truth in what you say, Mr. Johnson. But I also wouldn’t understate some other factors. Your state is certainly changing, and not just because of immigration. Every year tens of thousands of Americans move to Arizona – some estimates say that as many as half a million Americans moved to Maricopa County alone in the past five years. And when they come, often from California and the Northeast, they bring their politics with them. Also don’t discount Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema. You may consider her “wacky,” but she ran a good, disciplined campaign and didn’t let herself get sucked into any number of the false controversies that could have capsized her effort. She also made a convincing case for herself as a moderate, despite ample evidence of her youthful exuberance for left-wing causes.]
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NEXT STOP, TUDOR’S BISCUIT WORLD
WaPo: “Rabid animals are, of course, no laughing matter. … So it was not surprising that when people in the city of Milton, W.Va., saw raccoons behaving weirdly, they involved the local police. Officers staked out the area where the suspect animals were hanging out, looking for any signs of the masked perpetrators. But when they caught two of them, they realized they were dealing with a different kind of issue. The raccoons weren’t rabid. They were drunk. The raccoons, apparently, had been feasting on crab apples that had fermented on the tree causing the small animals to walk around ‘staggering and disoriented,’ police said. ‘Turns out they appear to be drunk on crab apples,’ police said in their official statement to the community. The apprehended animals were held in custody and allowed to sober up in what can only be deemed a raccoon drunk tank. … They named one drunk raccoon Dallas and released both near the woods.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Ideas matter. Legislative proposals matter. Slick campaigns and dazzling speeches can work for a while, but the magic always wears off.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on Jan. 15, 2010.
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.