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Wake Up To Politics - November 15, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, November 15, 2018. 719 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.


Leadership elections: Congressional Republicans and Senate Democrats held leadership elections on Wednesday. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) easily dispensed with a challenge from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a member of the hardline Freedom Caucus, to become House Minority Leader in the next Congress. In the upper chamber, Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-IL) were re-elected by voice vote as Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, respectively. The top rungs of all three caucuses remained mostly unchanged, although Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) became the chair of the House GOP Conference (a position once held by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) became vice chair of the Senate GOP Conference. Ernst will be the first woman in eight years to join the Senate Republican leadership.

Next up: House Democratic leadership elections on November 28. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who has led the House Democrats since 2003, is expected to easily win support from a majority of the caucus in her bid to become Speaker. However, that will only make her the caucus' nominee: when the new Congress reconvenes, she must also receive support from a majority of the entire chamber in order to be elected Speaker. According to the Washington Post, 17 Democrats have signed a letter formally pledging not to support Pelosi on the floor in January; if Democrats hold 232 seats in the next Congress (the number of races they've won, plus those they are leading in), she could only afford to lose 14 Democrats to remain above 218 votes, a majority (assuming no Republican votes against her and every member votes).

The first potential Pelosi challenger emerged on Wednesday, with Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) telling the Cleveland Plain Dealer that she is mulling a run for the position. "When you look at the people who support this party the most, they are women and African-Americans and especially African-American women," Fudge said. "We keep talking about diversity, but there is nothing diverse about the top of our ticket. We have to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk."

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), a leader of the anti-Pelosi faction, cheered Fudge's potential bid, tweeting that he had "full faith in her ability to lead our new Congress to its fullest potential."

Flake: Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is promising to bring fireworks to the lame-duck session, his final months in Congress. Flake sought to hold a vote on Wednesday on a bipartisan bill protecting special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocked the measure. In response, Flake announced that he would "not vote to advance any of the 21 judicial nominees pending in the Judiciary Committee, or vote to confirm the 32 judges awaiting a confirmation vote on the floor" until the Mueller bill is given a floor vote in the Senate.

The Judiciary Committee is composed of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, so opposition from Flake would ensure that the 21 nominees would go to the floor with an unfavorable recommendation; if he votes "no" on the nominees awaiting a floor vote, Vice President Mike Pence would be needed to confirm them with a tie-breaking vote.

Flake said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions' ouster hastened the need for legislation protecting Mueller. "With the firing of the attorney general, and, in my view, the improper installation of an acting attorney general who has not been subject to confirmation by this body, the president now has this investigation in his sights, and we all know it," the outgoing Arizona Republican said.

White House

Criminal justice reform: President Trump endorsed a bipartisan criminal justice reform package on Wednesday. According to the Washington Post, the legislation "includes language that lowers mandatory minimum sentences for drug felonies, including reducing the 'three strikes' penalty from life behind bars to 25 years" and "retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduces the disparity in sentencing guidelines between crack and powder cocaine offenses."

Ricardel: The White House announced on Wednesday that deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel would "transition to a new role within the administration," a day after First Lady Melania Trump's office released an extraordinary public statement calling for Ricardel's dismissal. According to the New York Times, the conflict between Ricardel and the First Lady's office originated due to a "dispute over airplane seating" during the First Lady's trip to Africa last month. Ricardel, national security adviser John Bolton's top deputy, had reportedly also clashed with White House chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

--- According to a Wake Up To Politics tally, Ricardel is the 30th individual with the prestigious rank of Assistant to the President to depart the Trump White House, and the fifth deputy national security adviser.

Acosta: Lawyers for the Trump administration and CNN squared off in federal court on Wednesday in the network's lawsuit calling for correspondent Jim Acosta's suspended credentials to be reinstated. Justice Department attorney James Burnham argued that the president had expansive authority to revoke journalists' access to the White House. "If the president wants to exclude all reporters from the White House grounds, he clearly has the authority to do that," Burnham said. U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly is set to rule at 3pm today on CNN's request for a temporary order that would immediately restore Acosta's credentials, which the White House revoked last week after he sparred with President Trump at a press conference.

Election Central

Florida: Each of Florida's 67 counties is supposed to complete machine recounts for the state's governor, Senate, and agriculture commissioner races by 3pm today. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who is trailing Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) by about 12,000 votes in his race for re-election, has asked U.S District Judge Mark Walker to push the deadline back to ensure each county can finish counting ballots; a hearing on the matter has been scheduled for 9am. Judge Walker also ruled this morning to give about 4,000 Floridians whose ballots were rejected due to mismatched signatures until 5pm on Saturday to resolve those issues. Gov. Scott's campaign plans to appeal that decision.

2020 Central: Attorney Michael Avenatti, who has parlayed his representation of adult film actress Stormy Daniels into a prospective 2020 presidential bid, was arrested on Wednesday in Los Angeles and booked with a felony domestic violence charge. "I DID NOT commit domestic violence nor have I ever committed domestic violence," Avenatti tweeted after being released on a $50,000 bail. However, the Los Angeles Police Department said the alleged victim in the case had been visibly injured, although it was unclear what the victim's relationship to Avenatti was.

The Russia investigation

Stone: Two new reports on longtime Trump associate Roger Stone...

NBC News: "Six days before WikiLeaks began releasing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, Roger Stone had a text message conversation with a friend about WikiLeaks, according to copies of phone records obtained exclusively by NBC News."

Wall Street Journal: "Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office is exploring whether longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone tried to intimidate and discredit a witness who is contradicting Mr. Stone’s version of events about his contacts with WikiLeaks, according to people who have spoken to Mr. Mueller’s investigators."

--- Both stories are about radio personality Randy Credico (the WikiLeaks backchannel in the NBC report and the witness being intimidated in the WSJ report). Credico told Wake Up To Politics on Wednesday that the messages published by NBC News are "all taken out of context," adding that "Stone only provided a fraction of the text messages between him and me in 2016"; he urged Stone to "release them all." Credico did not respond to a request for more information on what the other text messages showed.

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White House schedule

POTUS: At 12pm, President Trump visits the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., the oldest post in the U.S. Marine Corps, with his wife Melania. At 1:30pm, he delivers remarks at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building about "supporting veterans and military families." At 2:45pm, he meets with Senate Republican leadership in the Oval Office.

VP: Vice President Mike Pence is in Singapore, where it is currently nighttime. Overnight (in the U.S.), he addressed the 6th U.S.-ASEAN Summit, met with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, participated in meetings of the East Asia Summit, and held a meet-and-greet with the U.S. embassy staff in Singapore and their families.

--- Two pieces of news from the Vice President's trip: he told NBC News that President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet for a second summit in 2019, and Pence's office says he had a conversation with Russian president Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the East Asia summit in which the VP "directly addressed Russian Russian meddling in the 2016 election."

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate convenes at 10am today. At 12:15pm, the chamber votes on a resolution authored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) that would cut off U.S. arms sales to Bahrain. At 1:45pm, the chamber votes on confirmation of Michelle Bowman to be a member of the Federal Reserve board of governors.

House: The House convenes at 10am today. The chamber is expected to debate a resolution removing the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list. No votes are scheduled.

*All times Eastern