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Wake Up To Politics - November 14, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, November 14, 2018. 720 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Administration officials in limbo as Trump continues to mull major shakeup

A Homeland Security Secretary on her way out. A chief of staff hanging by a thread. And a national security aide publicly admonished by the first lady's office. Or, just another day in Trumpworld.

The swirling staffing drama of the Trump administration seemed to reach a high point on Tuesday, as reports increased that the president was considering a major shakeup of his White House staff and Cabinet. According to multiple news outlets, President Donald Trump's dismissal of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is imminent, a move that could also lead to the exit of White House chief of staff John Kelly.

According to the New York Times, Trump "is almost certain to fire" Nielsen, who he has long viewed as failing to fully enforce his aggressive immigration agenda; per the Times, removing Nielsen is seen "inside the White House...as a way for [the president] to push out [Kelly] without directly firing him." Despite the tagline on his (pre-White House) reality show ("You're fired"), Trump is known to shy away from firing people in-person, much preferring them to quit on their own. Kelly, who preceded Nielsen as DHS secretary, is one of her few allies within the administration; the two have long been expected to depart together, although Kelly has said publicly that he plans to stay at the White House through the 2020 election.

But NBC News reported on Monday that Kelly's long-rumored departure may be expedited by recent clashes with the office of First Lady Melania Trump "over staffing issues and travel requests." The report came as the First Lady has apparently been asserting herself more on the personnel front: on Tuesday, her office took the extraordinary step of releasing a statement calling for the firing of deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel. "It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that [Ricardel] no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House," the first lady's communications director said in a statement.

Ricardel — a former George W. Bush administration official whom national security adviser John Bolton tapped as his deputy in May — is reportedly unpopular throughout the White House. According to the Washington Post, she has "berated colleagues in meetings, yelled at military aides and White House professional staff, argued with Melania Trump regarding her recent trip to Africa and spread rumors about Defense Secretary Jim Mattis." The Post also reported that Kelly has "sought for months to oust Ricardel."

But as of this morning, she remains in her high-ranking national security position, joining Nielsen and Kelly in a familiar limbo previously occupied by Trump administration officials Jeff Sessions, H.R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson, Reince Priebus, and others. Replacements are already being floated for both Nielsen and Kelly: according to Politico, candidates being considered to lead DHS include former acting Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director Thomas Homan, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administrator David Peksoke, and Mag. Gen. Vincent Coglianese.

Meanwhile, multiple news outlets again reported on Monday that Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, is seen as the leading replacement for Kelly if he is fired or steps down. According to the Times, Trump has discussed the position with Ayers, who is favored by Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who both serve as White House senior advisers.

--- As he apparently remakes his administration behind the scenes, President Trump has slipped out of public view, replacing his pre-midterm blitz of campaign rallies and media interviews with a series of schedule cancellations. According to the Los Angeles Times, the president "has retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment" in recent days, as anxiety increases about special counsel Robert Mueller and the incoming Democratic House.

--- According to CBS News, "new indictments" are expected to be coming from Mueller's prosecutors soon. Jerome Corsi, an associate of longtime Trump aide Roger Stone, said Monday that he is anticipating an indictment; Donald Trump Jr. has reportedly expressed similar fears privately. Meanwhile, the president reportedly met with his lawyers on Monday to discuss answers to a series of written questions from Mueller's team; according to CNN, "the answers could be submitted to the special counsel in the coming days."

--- "This is a week where things could get really dicey," a senior White House official told the Washington Post, in a piece titled, "Five days of fury: Inside Trump’s Paris temper, election woes and staff upheaval."

CNN sues White House over Jim Acosta's credentials

CNN filed a lawsuit against President Trump and top White House aides on Tuesday, demanding the restoration of the network's chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta's credentials.

Acosta's access to the White House was cut off last week when the administration suspended his Secret Service "hard pass" after he refused to hand over the microphone as he questioned the president at a White House press conference; the Trump administration claimed he placed his hands on an intern attempting to take the microphone, although video evidence did not support that account.

"While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone," CNN said in a statement. "If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials."

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington; the network is seeking a temporary restoration of Acosta's access to the White House, as well as a permanent declaration that he cannot be barred again under the First and Fifth Amendments. According to Politico, CNN is "likely to prevail" in the court battle, pointing to past cases where judges have protected journalists' access; the case hinges on whether Acosta is found to pose a security threat to the president. If he isn't, and the baring of access is found to be due to objections to his coverage, Acosta's "hard pass" will likely be restored.

Judge Timothy Kelly, the Trump appointee who has been assigned to the case, has ordered the government to respond to CNN's motion for a temporary restoration by 11am today; a hearing on the motion is scheduled for 3pm. One of CNN's lawyers in the case is Ted Olson, who served as solicitor general under George W. Bush and was once under consideration to join President Trump's legal team.

"This is just more grandstanding from CNN, and we will vigorously defend against this lawsuit," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement, accusing Acosta of "inappropriately refus[ing] to yield to other reporters" at last week's press conference. Notably, she seemed to drop the claim that Acosta had physically manhandled the intern, the original reasoning behind his suspension.

Election Central

2018 results: One week after Election Day, returns continue to come in from across the country. Currently, the Senate stands at 51 Republicans to 47 Democrats, with seats in Florida and Mississippi yet to be decided, while the House stands at 228 Democrats to 198 Republicans, with nine seats up for grabs. Governorships in Florida and Georgia also remain contested.

Another House seat was called on Tuesday: Democrat Josh Harder's defeat of four-term Republican congressman Jeff Denham in California's 10th district. The race was Democrats' fourth pickup in the Golden State, with results in California's 45th district (Democrat Katie Porter vs. Republican Rep. Mimi Walters) and 39th district (Democrat Gil Cisneros vs. Republican Young Kim) also trending in their direction. Democrats currently lead in four of the nine House races remaining, and are seen as having a shot at winning six, making them likely to flip as many as 39 GOP seats, which would be a 234-seat majority.

--- "A Week After the Election, Democratic Gains Grow Stronger" (New York Times)

Leadership elections: Congressional Republicans are set to choose their leaders for the next Congress today. On the House side, current Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Freedom Caucus leader Jim Jordan (R-OH) are competing to become Minority Leader. McCarthy is heavily favored; according to Politico, President Trump has privately urged McCarthy to strike a compromise with his conservative challenger, which could include appointing Jordan as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee. Both McCarthy and Jordan are seen as top congressional allies of President Trump's.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), currently Majority Whip, is running unopposed to become Minority Whip. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is expected to join leadership as chairwoman of the House Republican Conference. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) is expected to be appointed chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

And on the Senate side, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has no challenges to staying atop the GOP conference. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) is expected to move up from conference chair to Majority Whip, replacing John Cornyn (R-TX), who is term-limited in the position. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, is set to succeed Thune as GOP Conference chair. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the conference vice chair, is expected to succeed Barrasso as head of the Policy Committee. Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) is expected to be elected chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).

The only contested Senate GOP leadership position is to succeed Blunt as conference vice chair; the candidates for the position are Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE).

--- Meanwhile, jockeying for the House Democratic leadership elections has already begun, although they will not take place until November 28. Democrats opposed to Nancy Pelosi's bid for Speaker say they are confident that they can block her, although the California Democrat has already been wooing Democratic freshman and no candidate has emerged to challenge her.

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White House schedule

POTUS: At 11:30am, President Trump receives his intelligence briefing. At 12:30pm, he has lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

VP: Vice President Mike Pence is currently in Singapore for the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit. Overnight, he held meetings with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc of Vietnam, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, and President Joko Widodo of Indonesia.

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate convenes at 2pm today. At 2:15pm, the chamber will vote on S.140, the Coast Guard reauthorization bill.

House: The House convenes at 12pm. The chamber is scheduled to vote on two pieces of legislation:

  1. H.Res. 1142: a resolution setting up consideration of a bill to remove the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list.
  2. H.R. 6666: a bill authorizing the Interior Secretary to grant state 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."

*All times Eastern