I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, November 13, 2018. 721 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congress returns for lame-duck session
Both chambers of Congress reconvene in Washington today for the final legislative weeks of the year after the elections, known as the "lame-duck session."
The main order of business facing lawmakers is a December 7 spending deadline, when the Department of Homeland Security and several other federal agencies are set to run out of money. President Donald Trump is expected to reprise his perennial demand for Congress to fund his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, accompanied by his familiar threat to shut down the government if wall funding isn't including in the spending bill. According to the Washington Post, Trump is expected to request at least $5 billion for the fiscal year to fund construction of the border wall.
Congressional Republicans have so far been able to persuade Trump to hold off on his shutdown threats while only allocating minimal funds to the wall proposal, but now that the midterm elections are over, the president is likely to insist on full funding. The spending fight will be the final test of the outgoing Republican majority in the House, and the first sign of how the incoming Democratic majority will negotiate with Trump.
"We need the money to build the wall — the whole wall, not pieces of it all over," President Trump said at a press conference last week, declining to rule out a government shutdown if he doesn't get his way.
Meanwhile, Democrats are also hoping to use the spending bill to attach a provision protecting special counsel Robert Mueller. Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said last week that he plans to use the lame-duck session to call for a vote on the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, which was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. The bill would prohibit a special counsel from being fired without cause, and allow special counsels to challenge their dismissal in federal court.
The spending bill is also expected to include disaster relief dollars for California, amid raging wildfires that have resulted in at least 42 deaths.
Democrats and Republicans will also pick their leaders for the next Congress in the coming weeks. House Republicans will vote for their leaders on Wednesday: Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Steve Scalise (R-LA), and Liz Cheney (R-WY) are expected to be chosen as Minority Leader, Minority Whip, and Conference Chair, respectively.
Meanwhile, House Democrats will hold their leadership elections on November 28: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has no challengers yet in her campaign for Speaker. Pelosi is already "moving aggressively to snuff out a challenge," according to the Washington Post, shoring up support among key Democratic constituencies; per Politico, she has also made "gender a central part of her bid," warning colleagues against ousting a woman after a year in which a record number of female lawmakers are heading to Capitol Hill. Pelosi, 78, has led the House Democratic Caucus since 2003, including a four-year stint as Speaker from 2007 to 2011.
Other legislation lawmakers are trying to pass before the end of the year include a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill. According to the New York Times, a group of senators from both parties reached a tentative deal on Monday, agreeing on a measure that would be "the most substantial rewrite of the nation’s sentencing and prison laws in a generation, giving judges more latitude to sidestep mandatory minimum sentences and easing drug sentences that have incarcerated African-Americans at much higher rates than white offenders." White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, a champion of criminal justice reform, is expected to brief President Trump on the legislation today, the Times reports; if Trump signs off, the measure would be likely to receive passage in the coming weeks.
Negotiations will also continue on a new five-year farm bill, which lawmakers hope to hammer out before the lame-duck session ends. According to the Wall Street Journal, "lawmakers [have] tussled for weeks over various provisions in the bill, including whether to tighten work requirements for food-stamp recipients."
The Trump Administration
Whitaker: Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, who was appointed by President Trump last week to replace Jeff Sessions, will consult with Justice Department ethics officials about possibly recusing himself from oversight of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, a spokesman said Monday. "Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is fully committed to following all appropriate processes and procedures at the Department of Justice, including consulting with senior ethics officials on his oversight responsibilities and matters that may warrant recusal," Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said.
Congressional Democrats have called for Whitaker to recuse himself, citing his past criticisms of the probe and his ties to a key grand jury witness; in a letter to Justice Department ethics chief Lee Lofthus on Monday, seven leading House and Senate Democrats demanded to know what ethical guidance Whitaker had been given related to the Russia probe. The same ethics officials counseled Sessions to recuse himself from the investigation shortly after taking office, which led to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's oversight of the investigation until Whitaker took office last week.
Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, Whitaker also faces a court challenge from the state of Maryland asking a federal judge to rule that Whitaker cannot serve as Acting Attorney General because he has not been confirmed by the Senate to a position in the Justice Department. Per the Wall Street Journal, the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel is expected to publish a legal opinion as early as today defending the constitutionality of Whitaker's appointment.
Nielsen: President Trump has decided to remove Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the Washington Post reports. According to the report, Nielsen's departure could come as soon as this week, the next casualty in Trump's post-midterm Cabinet shuffle. Nielsen, a top ally of White House chief of staff John Kelly, has long frustrated Trump by "what he views as [her] lackluster performance on immigration enforcement and is believed to be looking for a replacement who will implement his policy ideas with more alacrity," according to the Post. Kelly is reportedly pushing for Nielsen to remain in office, although his future in the White House is shaky as well. Despite Trump's private ruminations that she hasn't been tough enough on the issue, Nielsen's nearly one-year tenure at DHS has been marked by her vocal defense of Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, becoming the face of his short-lived child separation initiative this June.
AZ-SEN: Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) was declared the winner in Arizona's Senate race by the Associated Press on Monday. With 99% of precincts reporting, Sinema defeated Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), 49.7% to 48%, a difference of 38,000 votes, or 1.7%. Sinema will succeed outgoing Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who is retiring after one term in the Senate, in which he emerged as a leading Trump critic within the Republican Party.
Sinema, a three-term congresswoman who sought to portray herself as a moderate Democrat in the traditionally Republican state, is the first Democrat to be elected to the Senate from Arizona since 1988. She is also the first female senator from Arizona and the first bisexual senator in U.S. history.
With the loss in Arizona, Republicans are so far poised to control 51 Senate seats in the next Congress to Democrats' 47. The two races yet to be decided: Florida, where a recount is underway (Republican Rick Scott led in the initial returns), and Mississippi, where a runoff will take place on November 27. The Republican incumbent, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), has attracted controversy after making a comment Sunday about a "public hanging"; her Democratic opponent, Mike Espy, who is African-American, called the remark "reprehensible."
The Russia investigation
Corsi: Conservative activist and author Jerome Corsi, an associate of longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, said Monday that he expects to be indicted for perjury as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
Corsi is one of many Stone associates who has been interviewed by Mueller's prosecutors to probe whether Stone received inside information about WikiLeaks's plans to publish Hillary Clinton's emails during the 2016 campaign. NBC News reported last month that Mueller's office "has obtained communications suggesting that [Corsi] might have had advance knowledge" about the WikiLeaks emails.
Corsi told listeners of his daily live-stream that he has cooperated with Mueller's prosecutors (turning over two computers, his cell phone, and email accounts, and sitting down for six interviews totaling 40+ hours), but said he has been told he will be charged. "I'm going to be indicted," he said. "That's what we've been told."
"I anticipate being indicted on a charge of some form of lying," Corsi added, although he said: "I think my crime really was that I supported Donald Trump." It is unknown whether Corsi, the former Washington bureau chief of conspiracy theory site InfoWars, had indeed been told to expect an indictment by Mueller's team.
Out today: "Becoming" by Michelle Obama
Former First Lady Michelle Obama's highly-anticipated memoir, "Becoming," hits shelves today. What to expect, via the Washington Post:
"In the 426-page book, Obama lays out her complicated relationship with the political world that made her famous. But her memoir is not a Washington read full of gossip and political score-settling — though she does lay bare her deep, quaking disdain for Trump, who she believes put her family’s safety at risk with his vehement promotion of the false birther conspiracy theory.
"'The whole [birther] thing was crazy and mean-spirited, of course, its underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed. But it was also dangerous, deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks,' she writes. 'What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk. Andforthis I’d never forgive him.'
..."She also shares intimate details for the first time, for instance, that she and her husband had trouble getting pregnant, suffered a miscarriage, and that both daughters were conceived through in vitro fertilization. And that she did a great deal of this while her husband was away serving in the state legislature, leaving her to administer the shots that are a part of that process herself."
White House schedule
POTUS: At 11:30am, President Trump receives his intelligence briefing. At 1:45pm, he participates in the Diwali ceremonial lighting of the Diya.
--- A light schedule often means heavy tweeting. Already this morning, President Trump has attacked French President Emmanuel Macron in a series of tweets, after Macron's rebuke of nationalism in Paris last week. "The problem is that Emmanuel suffers from a very low Approval Rating in France, 26%, and an unemployment rate of almost 10%... By the way, there is no country more Nationalist than France, very proud people-and rightfully so!" Trump tweeted. A minute later, the president added: "MAKE FRANCE GREAT AGAIN!" Trump also tweeted this morning about his decision not to visit an American military cemetery during his visit to France over the weekend, claiming that he suggested driving when rain precluded use of his helicopter, but the "Secret Service said NO."
VP: After wrapping up a stop in Japan, Vice President Mike Pence now heads to Singapore, where he is set to attend the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit.
Senate: The Senate convenes at 3pm today. At 5:30pm, the chamber will hold a procedural vote on legislation reauthorizing the Coast Guard.
House: The House convenes at 2pm today. The chamber is set to vote on 15 bills:
- H.R. 2740 – Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2017
- H.R. 4033 – National Geologic Mapping Act Reauthorization Act
- H.R. 5787 – Strengthening Coastal Communities Act of 2018, as amended
- H.R. 6064 – To rename the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge as the Congressman Lester Wolff National Wildlife Refuge
- H.R. 5636 – Flatside Wilderness Enhancement Act, as amended
- S. 440 – To establish a procedure for the conveyance of certain federal property around the Dickinson Reservoir in the State of North Dakota
- S. 2074 – To establish a procedure for the conveyance of certain Federal property around the Jamestown Reservoir in the State of North Dakota, and for other purposes
- H.R. 6146 – Cottonwood Land Exchange Act of 2018, as amended
- H.R. 2615 – Gulf Islands National Seashore Land Exchange Act
- H.R. 5706 – World War II Pacific Sites Establishment Act
- H.R. 6666 – To authorize the Secretary of the Interior to grant to States and local governments easements and rights-of-way over Federal land within Gateway National Recreation Area for construction, operation, and maintenance of projects for control and prevention of flooding and shoreline erosion
- H.R. 6651 – PEPFAR Extension Act of 2018, as amended
- H.Res. 1055 – To affirm strong United States-Liberia ties and support for democratic principles, and call for full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia
- H.Res. 1052 – Affirming United States-Australia cooperation on space research, exploration, and utilization
- H.R. 6018 – Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership Act of 2018, as amended
*All times Eastern