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Wake Up To Politics - November 12, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, November 12, 2018. 722 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

House Democrats prepare to take charge

After eight years in the minority, House Democrats are beginning to lay out their top priorities as they prepare to reclaim the chamber's majority in January.

Incoming Democratic committee chairmen have already started planning to hit the ground running when it comes to investigating the Trump Administration, expected to be a chief focus of the new majority. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who is expected to chair the House Judiciary Committee, signaled on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that the president's recent ouster of Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be their first investigative avenue. "Well, the very first thing, obviously, is to protect the Mueller investigation," he said, adding that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, who was appointed to take Sessions' place on an interim basis, would be "our very first witness" summoned.

Beyond the Russia probe, Democrats are also gearing up to launch a broad slate of investigations. According to NBC News, they are planning to use more than 100 requests for information that were rejected or ignored by Republican committee chairs in the last two years "as a template to map their approach to oversight in the new Congress." The topics covered include "the rise of white supremacist violence; the administration’s treatment of undocumented immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border; and Trump family conflicts of interest, including potential violations of the Emoluments Clause to the U.S. Constitution that prohibit a president from profiting from the office." Even with that roadmap available to them, the Trump White House is thought to be "unprepared to defend itself" against the coming investigations, according to Bloomberg.
Nadler also said on CNN that his panel would probe President Trump's participation in hush payments arranged during the 2016 campaign for two women claiming to have had affairs with him, following a Wall Street Journal report covering the extent of Trump's involvement. The report also stated that federal prosecutors are gathering evidence that Trump's participation amounted to a violation of campaign finance laws, which Nadler said "might very well be an impeachable offense," although he warned that "we're far from that right now."

House Democrats also plan to investigate whether President Trump used "the instruments of state power to punish the press" by probing administration actions targeting the owners of the Washington Post and CNN, incoming Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) told Axios.

And they are expected to ask for the president's tax returns, incoming Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) signaled to the Associated Press.

The list goes on and on: indeed, Axios has assembled a list of least 85 topics that Democrats are likely to target once they take control. But incoming House Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that subpoenas would be "used in a very methodical way" and only as a "method of last resort." He said: "I'm not going to war with anyone... I'm not going to be handing out subpoenas like somebody handing out candy on Halloween."

In an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also pointed to health care as a top issue for her caucus. "I'm staying as Speaker to protect the Affordable Care Act," she said. According to the Wall Street Journal, advancing gun control legislation is also expected to be a priority. Although some Democrats have announced plans to oppose Pelosi's campaign for the speakership in the next Congress, a challenger has yet to emerge, as her critics have struggled to find someone to lead an insurrection against the caucus' longtime leader. "You can't beat somebody with nobody," Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) told Politico.

--- The I-word: Even as Democrats raise the specter of expansive investigations into the Trump Administration, they are still hesitant to discuss impeaching the president. But Pelosi told The Atlantic that Democrats could still begin impeachment proceedings even if special counsel Robert Mueller opts against indicting Trump. "What Mueller might not think is indictable could be impeachable," she said.

--- Coming soon: Democrats face their first test in less than a month, before they even move into the majority. Funding for most of the government is set to expire on December 7, setting up a lame-duck spending fight that is expected to be dominated by President Trump's proposed border wall and provisions protecting the Mueller probe. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on CNN's "State of the Union" that congressional Democrats would attempt to tie a measure "that would prevent Mr. Whitaker from interfering with the Mueller investigation" to the must-pass spending legislation.

--- The new caucus: Democratic candidates have continued stocking up wins since election night; the Associated Press has now called 227 races in their favor, a 32-seat gain, to Republicans' 198. 10 districts remain uncalled: Democrats lead in three, Republicans are ahead in the remaining six. The latest GOP incumbent to go down was Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who is known for his pro-Russia views. The AP declared on Saturday that Rohrabacher had been defeated by Democrat Harley Rouda after 30 years in Congress.

Whitaker under pressure

Less than a week after becoming Acting Attorney General, Matt Whitaker has already faced immense pressure to recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference, due to his past commentary on the probe and ties to one witness in the investigation, former Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis. Whitaker has also faced questions over his connections to a Miami patent company that is currently under FBI investigation; federal investigators have reportedly sought his records related to the company, but he rebuffed a subpoena. In addition, some lawyers have challenged the constitutionality of Whitaker's appointment, claiming that the Acting Attorney General must be a Senate-confirmed official.

Despite the pressure, Whitaker has told associates that he has no intention of recusing himself from the Mueller probe, according to the Washington Post. However, he has also told associates that he won't cut off the investigation's funding, per Bloomberg.

--- President Trump has already attempted to distance himself from Whitaker. "I don't know Matt Whitaker," he told reporters on Friday; on Saturday, he emphasized on Twitter that they had "no social contact" and said that he played no role in selecting Whitaker as then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions' chief of staff, despite reports to the contrary.

Election Central

Florida recounts: Florida began recounts for the state's U.S. Senate and gubernatorial contests on Saturday, the first statewide recounts in its history. In the unofficial results, Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) led Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) by 12,600 votes (or 0.2%), while former Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) led Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum (D-FL) by 33,600 votes (or 0.4%) in the governor's race.

Scott filed three lawsuits against county election officials on Sunday, targeting Democratic strongholds Broward County and Palm Beach County, hours after accusing Nelson of attempting to "commit fraud to try to win this election." In turn, Nelson said Scott's lawsuit were an effort "to stop every legal vote from being counted." Each county must complete their machine recounts by Thursday, although the elections supervisor in Palm Beach County has called that deadline "impossible."

Meanwhile, in the gubernatorial race, Gillum withdrew his concession on Saturday, declaring: "This process is not over until every single vote is counted."

--- The Arizona Senate race and Georgia gubernatorial race are the other marquee contests that remain undecided. Here's a handy visualization of the margins in all four uncalled races, via the New York Times. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema has been expanding her lead over Republican Martha McSally in the Arizona Senate race; in Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams filed a lawsuit Sunday challenging the rejection of 1,000+ absentee ballots. Abrams continues to trail Republican Brian Kemp, who has already declared victory.

2020 Central: Failed West Virginia congressional candidate Richard Ojeda is expected to announce a run for president at 12pm today. Ojeda, a state senator, was the Democratic nominee in West Virginia's 3rd congressional district this year; he lost by 12 points on Tuesday, outperforming Hillary Clinton's performance in the district by 37 points, the largest such swing for any Democrat in the country. Ojeda, who supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primaries and then voted for Donald Trump in the general election, is known for his role in the West Virginia teacher strikes earlier this year.

--- Ojeda filed papers for a presidential campaign with the Federal Election Commision on Sunday, and has already launched a campaign website and his first biographical video. He is the second candidate to enter the 2020 Democratic presidential primary field, following Rep. John Delaney (D-MD).

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White House schedule

POTUS: President Donald Trump has no events on his public schedule today, after returning Sunday from Paris, where he joined other world leaders to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, although he received heavy criticism for skipping a cemetery visit, citing rain.

--- "Beware the days with no public schedule," the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey tweeted last night. Days when the president has no scheduled activities are known for a heavier-than-usual amount of tweeting; he has already sent four tweets this morning, opining on how the U.S. is treated unfairly by other countries and on the Florida recounts.

VP: Vice President Mike Pence is in Tokyo, Japan. Tonight, he is set to meet with Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Tarō Asō and Prime Minister Shinzō Abe.

Congress schedule

Both houses of Congress are on their last day of recess before starting the post-midterm lame-duck session.

*All times Eastern