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Kasich: Midterm Turnout Suggests Opening for Independent Bid

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Thursday while he remains undecided about another presidential run, the midterm election results could suggest a greater opening for an independent or third-party candidate.

 

Kasich made his second trip this year to New Hampshire, where he finished second in the state’s leadoff Republican presidential primary in 2016.

 

“I’m encouraged every time I come back here,” he told reporters in Concord before meeting with supporters. “I know everybody’s wondering how I’m going to make a decision, when I’m going to make a decision. I don’t know, but what’s most important to me is that I can have a voice that can be a healing voice for the country.”

 

Asked about his previous speculation about running as a third-party or independent, Kasich said all options remain on the table.

 

“I think there’s a vast ocean in the middle. The middle has been numb, they didn’t know what to do. But they did something they haven’t done in 100 years, they voted. They turned out in unbelievable numbers to say we’ve had enough,” he said. “Where that takes us, I can’t quite tell. But if you have this big ocean in the middle, there’s perhaps a chance for something that’s unique in American history.”

 

Kasich elaborated a bit later in Manchester, noting the rapid pace of innovation in technology and medicine.

 

“In an era of all this change, why wouldn’t we think there could be fundamental political change?” he said. “The day will come, I think. When it will happen, I don’t know.”

 

The former congressman has been one of President Donald Trump’s most outspoken Republican detractors, and said the president will have a hard time getting re-elected as a divider. He said the midterm elections showed the Republican Party needs to change its message on separating families at the border, health care and other issues.

“To me, there is a very positive message. And that is: Americans don’t want the negativity. They don’t want the chaos. They don’t want the divide,” he said.

 

In contrast to Trump, who characterizes the media as an enemy of the people, Kasich spoke later at the annual First Amendment Awards given by Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. The school is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded by the late president and publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader.

 

“The press is the one thing that holds the rich and the powerful accountable so we normal citizens can make up our minds about the current state of affairs, about our culture, about the world, about what we can do, and think and take action about,” Kasich said.

 

Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of New Hampshire Republican Party, backed Kasich’s 2016 primary bid and wrote him in on the general election ballot rather than vote for Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton. He refused to vote for any midterm candidate who supports Trump, leaving him with a nearly blank ballot.

 

“The election results to me suggest that enough Republicans are disgusted with the Trump administration that it’s now costing other Republicans their chance to win,” he said.

 

Kasich noted while many Republican governors lost, Ohio elected another Republican to replace him.

 

“Why is that? A big factor is because no one was left behind in the state over the last eight years,” he said. “People in Ohio feel pretty good. They’re not angry. They don’t feel left out. They feel like why would I change, we’re going in the right direction.”

But back at home, the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly spent Thursday thumbing its nose at the absent governor . Lawmakers overrode Kasich’s veto of a measure expanding their power to revisit rules written and finalized by the government’s executive branch. The Ohio House also passed a “stand your ground’ gun bill and a restrictive heartbeat abortion bill like one Kasich vetoed in December 2016. Both measures still need to be voted on by the Ohio Senate before a bill reaches Kasich’s desk.

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Women Elected in Record Numbers in US State Legislative Races

Women’s winning streak in this year’s elections has extended to statehouses across the country. 

More than 2,000 women will serve in state legislatures when those chambers convene for their upcoming sessions, representing roughly a quarter of all state lawmakers across the country. That mark will eclipse the record of 1,875 who served this year, according to reports Thursday from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. 

The number could rise as ballot-counting concludes in close contests across the country. The Associated Press has not yet called 216 state legislative elections, races that include about 185 female candidates, according to the center. 

In another first, women could end up holding the majority in two state legislative chambers at the same time — the Colorado House and Nevada Assembly — according to tallies by the center and the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

“It’s about time,” said Lisa Cutter, a Democrat who won a Colorado House seat in her first bid for office. 

Her victory came in a state with a long history of electing women. In 1894, Colorado became the first state to have women in its state legislature, when three were elected to the House. 

The only previous time women made up the majority in a state legislative chamber was in 2009 and 2010 in New Hampshire’s state Senate.

#MeToo movement 

The state lawmakers are part of a wave of women who ran and won this year for state and federal offices. They campaigned amid a spotlight on sexual harassment cast by the #MeToo movement, although polls showed that gender was only a minor concern for most voters. 

Improving access to health care, expanding early childhood development and boosting funding for K-12 education were cited as top priorities by many female candidates during this year’s campaigns. 

Doreen Gallegos, a Democrat who was easily elected to a fourth term representing a Las Cruces-area district in the New Mexico House, said she believes those topics will get increased attention by having more women in state legislatures. 

“There are certain issues that are closer to our hearts and our minds, maybe more than our male counterparts,” Gallegos said. 

Nationally, women led the Democrats’ return to control of the U.S. House of Representatives as the number of GOP women serving will be down from the current 23 to as few as 13. Overall, there will be at least 102 women in the House next year, an increase of at least 18 over the current mark. The peak number of women in the House at one time was 85, for a brief period in 2016. 

The U.S. Senate will have at least 23 women, tying the current total and record. That number would rise by one if Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith wins a runoff election in Mississippi next month. 

At the state level, at least nine women will be governors, tying the record set in 2004 and 2007. Ballots are still being counted in Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams is hoping to push the governor’s race to a runoff. 

Despite this year’s gains, American politics remain dominated by men, who will account for more than three-fourths of the seats in Congress and hold the governor’s offices in four-fifths of the states. 

It’s at the state legislatures where women will hold a slightly larger proportion of the 7,383 seats — at least 27 percent. 

Just one time, or ‘new norm’?

“We are very encouraged by these results. This is the largest increase in women’s representation in state legislatures we’ve seen in some time, after more than a decade of relative stagnation,” Debbie Walsh, direct of the Rutgers center, said in a statement. “The only question that remains is whether 2018 was a one-off or a new norm.” 

In Colorado, Cutter found an easier path than expected to winning a suburban Denver district previously held by Republicans, when incumbent Timothy Leonard dropped out of the race over the summer. 

An organizer of the 2017 Women’s March in Denver, Cutter said she anticipates a different course in the Colorado Legislature if one chamber is dominated by women. She expects issues such as health care and the environment to be more prominent and a better spirit of cooperation to prevail. 

“When more women are in power or at the table, you get better results,” she said. 

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US Senate Race in Florida Goes to Hand Recount

Florida’s U.S. Senate race is going to an automatic hand recount as a federal judge angrily told election officials they are making the state a global “laughingstock.”

Florida state law requires a hand recount if a machine count finds the margin of victory is less than 0.25 percent.

As of late Thursday, Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson trailed his Republican challenger, Governor Rick Scott, by 0.15 percent.

Election officials missed a Thursday deadline for recounting the ballots for the Senate, saying counting machines in Palm Beach kept breaking down.

Officials in Tampa Bay declined to turn in their recount result because it came up more than 800 votes short of the original Election Day tally.

Federal Judge Mark Walker refused to extend the deadline and berated election officials for not anticipating problems.

Both Democrats and Republicans have filed a number of lawsuits related to vote counting.

“We have been the laughingstock of the world election after election, but we’ve still chosen not to fix this,” an angry Walker said Thursday.

He was no doubt also thinking about the 2000 presidential election which had to be decided by the Supreme Court when a statewide vote recount in Florida was turning into a mess of confusion, charges, and counter charges.

Walker has also given voters until Saturday afternoon to correct their ballots if they weren’t counted because of mismatched signatures.

Florida officials testified in court that nearly 4,000 ballots had already been rejected by local election officials because the signatures mailed in didn’t match the signature on file. The new deadline would apply to many ballots likely cast by young Democratic voters.

A study conducted before the elections by the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida discovered mail-in ballots from young voters were more likely to be dismissed, partially because the young voters — who primarily use computer keyboards — have not used handwriting enough to develop a consistent signature.

Gains by Democrats 

Democrats, meanwhile, continue to gain seats in the House of Representatives, after taking back the lower chamber last week for the first time in eight years. Democrats now have a 230 to 198 edge, with seven races still undecided.

Jared Golden was declared the winner Thursday of a race in Maine against incumbent Republican Representative Bruce Poliquin. That contest represented the first test of a new state ranked-choice voting system, designed to prevent candidates in races featuring at least three contenders from winning office without majority support. Golden is a Marine veteran who campaigned on progressive policies such as Medicare for everyone.

The day after the election, U.S. President Donald Trump boasted that “It was a big day yesterday. The Republican Party defied history to expand our Senate majority while significantly beating expectations in the House.”

“It was very close to a complete victory,” he trumpeted.

As results rolled in on election night, it appeared Republicans might add three or four seats to their current 51-49 Senate majority.

But a Republican lead for a contest in the southwestern state of Arizona collapsed, giving Democrat Kyrsten Sinema a seat that been held by Republicans for 30 years.

With Senate races in Florida and Mississippi yet to be decided, Republicans at most will add two seats to their majority.

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Trump Ally McCarthy to Lead House Republicans

Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy easily won an internal party election Wednesday to take over the shrunken House GOP caucus, handing the seven-term Californian a familiar role of building the party back to a majority as well as protecting President Donald Trump’s agenda. 

With current speaker Paul Ryan retiring and the House majority gone, the race for minority leader was McCarthy’s to lose. But rarely has a leader of a party that suffered a major defeat — Democrats wiped out Republicans in GOP-held suburban districts from New York to McCarthy’s own backyard — been so handily rewarded. 

After pushing past a longshot challenge from Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, McCarthy will be tested by Republicans on and off Capitol Hill who remain angry and divided after their midterm losses and split over how best to move forward. 

“We’ll be back,” McCarthy promised, claiming a unified front for the Republican leadership team. He won by 159-43 among House Republicans. 

McCarthy, who has been majority leader under Ryan, acknowledged Republicans “took a beating” in the suburbs in last week’s national elections, especially as the ranks of GOP female lawmakers plummeted from 23 to 13. The GOP side of the aisle will be made up of 90 percent white men in the new Congress — an imbalance he blamed on billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s election spending to help Democrats. 

Bloomberg spent more than $110 million in the midterms. Two Republican women were defeated by candidates he supported, and both were replaced by Democratic women, said spokeswoman Rachel Nagler. 

Experienced

McCarthy has been here before, having helped pick up the party after Republicans last lost control of the House in 2006, leading them to the 2010 tea party wave that pushed them back into the majority. 

Trump, who is close to McCarthy but also friendly with Jordan, largely stayed on the sidelines in the intraparty House contest. The outcome gives the president two allies positioned to help him. 

While McCarthy provides an affable face for the GOP, Jordan, the former Ohio wrestling champ and a Fox News regular, will be fighting Democrats’ investigations into Trump’s businesses and administration. 

GOP Whip Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who was badly wounded in last year’s congressional baseball practice shooting and unanimously won his position Wednesday, said McCarthy “knows what he needs to do.” 

Rounding out the GOP leadership team as House Republican conference chairwoman will be Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was on hand to watch his daughter take over the same No. 3 spot that he held decades ago. “He told me not to screw it up,” she said. 

House Democrats put off until after Thanksgiving their more prominent contest, California Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s bid to regain the speaker’s gavel she held when the Democrats last had the majority. 

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky won another term leading Republicans and Chuck Schumer of New York won for Democrats. Both were selected by acclamation. 

Senate Republicans also welcomed the first woman to their leadership team in years, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, as they sought to address the optics of the GOP side of the aisle being dominated by men. Ernst called her selection as vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference, “a great honor.” 

In the House, Jordan and McCarthy shook hands after a testy two days of closed-door sessions, according to lawmakers in the room for Wednesday’s voting. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the Freedom Caucus chairman, called it a “gentlemanly” debate. 

But the friendly talk papers over the infighting between the GOP’s conservative and moderate flanks as lawmakers dole out blame after the midterm election losses that handed House Democrats the majority. 

Many Republicans side with Jordan’s theory, which is that Republicans, despite a GOP monopoly on power in Washington, lost because they didn’t “do what we said” — including delivering Trump’s priority to build the border wall with Mexico. 

Staying on message

McCarthy made that argument, too, lawmakers said, suggesting that those who lost their races — or came close to losing — didn’t work hard enough to sell the GOP’s message. At one point, ads featuring McCarthy were running promoting Trump’s border wall. 

GOP Rep. Peter King of New York rose to object, saying his view was that Republicans lost ground over the GOP tax cuts that reduced deductions for some filers. The harsh immigration rhetoric that turned off suburban voters didn’t help, he said. 

“We used to own the suburbs,” King said. “Now we’re down to rural voters.” 

McCarthy relishes an underdog role. “We think he’s absolutely our best political strategist, our best fundraiser, our best recruiter,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. “And that’s job No. 1 in getting back to the majority.” 

But after eight years of GOP control, the tea party class of 2010 is long gone. So too are the “Young Guns” — former leader Eric Cantor and outgoing Speaker Ryan — who penned that strategy. Voters largely panned the party’s latest signature accomplishment, Trump’s tax cuts, and Republicans have all but abandoned the tea party promises to cut the deficit and repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law. 

Among those who opposed McCarthy, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky summed up his view of the Californian’s strengths and weaknesses. “He’s a savant at making friends,” Massie said. “Running the country, probably not so much.” 

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Trump Backs 1st Major Rewrite of Sentencing Laws in Decades

President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced his support for the first major rewrite of the nation’s criminal justice sentencing laws in a generation, but it remains to be seen whether the proposal can pass Congress.

Trump said the bill “will make our communities safer and give former inmates a second chance at life after they have served their time.” Trump hailed the deal as proof that “true bipartisanship is possible” — though no Democrats attended the White House announcement. 

Senators reached an agreement this week on bipartisan legislation that would boost rehabilitation efforts for federal prisoners and give judges more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders, particularly for drug offenses. The House approved a prison reform bill in May, but the proposed Senate package makes additional changes and adds the sentencing component. That means the House would need to revote on anything the Senate passes.

Criminal justice reform has been a priority of Trump’s son-in-law, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who has been working on the issue for months. Trump pushed for swift passage of the legislation, potentially during the lame-duck session of Congress.

“I’ll be waiting with a pen,” he said.

But members still haven’t seen the details, and time is running short.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. was cautious about the bill’s prospects Wednesday. He told reporters that GOP leaders would do a whip count to gauge the bill’s support once they have a final proposal in hand.

Still, he noted the Senate has other things it needs to accomplish in the final weeks of the year, including funding the government and passing a farm bill. He said Republicans would have to see how the criminal justice bill “stacks up against our other priorities” once a final agreement is reached.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called Trump’s announcement “an encouraging sign that we can achieve substantive reforms to our criminal justice system in this Congress.”

“Redemption is at the heart of the American Idea, and that’s what this is about,” he said.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking, said they hoped McConnell would hold a whip count after the Thanksgiving break. They also argued Trump’s support would move lawmakers to back the compromise and that more would sign on once legislative text is released.

The bill is a rare bipartisan endeavor in a typically log-jammed Congress and has attracted support from a coalition of liberal and conservative groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and groups backed by the political donors Charles and David Koch. Critics say current sentencing guidelines are unfair and have had a lopsided impact on minority communities.

“Did I hear the word bipartisan?” Trump joked during a Roosevelt Room event announcing his backing for the deal. “Did I hear that word? That’s a nice word.”

But even as he hailed the cooperation, Trump couldn’t resist a swipe at his former political opponents, saying the “Clinton crime law” disproportionality affected black Americans.

The Senate package overhauls some of the mandatory sentencing guidelines that have been in place since 1994 legislation approved by Congress and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton.

Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa released a joint statement, calling the endorsement “an important step in our shared effort to promote safe communities and improve justice.”

Grassley had said Tuesday the bill would be easier to pass after the departure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was ousted by Trump last week. Sessions was a longtime opponent of criminal justice reform and had been especially wary of efforts to overhaul sentencing laws.

“I think we have a commitment from the Justice Department now to work with us on it,” Grassley said.

The White House official called the timing coincidental.

The Senate approach would allow thousands of federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 the opportunity to petition for a reduced penalty. It would also lower mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. The life sentence for some drug offenders with three convictions, or “three strikes,” would be reduced to 25 years

But roughly 90 percent of prison inmates are held in state facilities and would not be affected by the legislation.

All but two Republicans voted for the House bill when it was overwhelmingly approved in May, 360-59. Democratic lawmakers supported the bill by about a 2-to-1 margin, but opponents voiced concerns that it did not go far enough in giving judges more discretion to make the punishment fit the crime.

The House bill directs the Bureau of Prisons to conduct assessments for every offender once he or she is sentenced and to offer rehabilitation plans designed to lower the chance of recidivism. The plans would include vocational training, education, counseling and substance abuse treatment.

The federal inmate population has been on the decline since 2013, when it peaked at just more than 219,000. The total now stands at about 181,400, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Still, that’s about triple the number of inmates in federal detention 30 years ago.

 

 

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Official: Citizenship Query Will Not Cause US Census Undercount

The U.S. Census Bureau’s top scientist on Wednesday insisted the bureau can get a full count of American residents during the 2020 census, despite the Trump administration’s addition of a question on citizenship.

The agency’s chief scientist, John Abowd, made the comments in testimony in federal court in New York, where a group of U.S. states, cities and civil rights groups have sued the administration to remove the question, arguing it could dissuade non-citizens from participating in the decennial census.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a Republican, announced the citizenship question in March, saying it was needed to enforce federal laws against voter discrimination.

But plaintiffs say that is a pretext, and they want U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who is hearing the case, to strike the question. They say Ross’ real motive is to scare immigrants into abstaining from the census, costing their mostly-Democratic communities political representation and federal aid.

Abowd’s testimony spanned two days and grew tense at times.

Closing arguments were tentatively set for Nov. 27.

On Wednesday, plaintiffs accused government lawyers of “ambushing” them with new evidence.

On Tuesday Abowd appeared to fight back tears when a plantiff lawyer said the Trump administration had decided to add the citizenship question well before asking him to study the matter.

Abowd admitted the question could lower the response rate and quality of data in the 2020 census, but said it will not cause an undercount because the bureau will follow up with non-responders. If that process requires more effort than expected, he said, enumerators can simply work harder.

“There is enough capacity in the current cost model” to “adjust their workloads,” Abowd said, citing a $1.7 billion contingency in the census budget.

He said the bureau will also rely on neighbors and existing government records to augment missing data.

Witnesses for the plaintiffs previously testified that such methods will not produce a full count.

An economist and Cornell University professor, Abowd is among the trial’s most compelling witnesses. Appointed to his Census role during the Obama administration, he advised against including the citizenship question earlier this year. But as a witness, he has had to defend it.

On Wednesday, when Abowd testified that the bureau was planning a new study on the impact of the citizenship question on the voluntary response rate of the census, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union objected.

“They’re trying to ambush us with new evidence,” attorney Dale Ho said, saying that the information should have been revealed during discovery.

The judge appeared to agree, saying he was “inclined to strike” Abowd’s testimony on the topic.

On Tuesday, Abowd appeared to hold back tears when Ho said Ross had withheld information from Abowd.

Abowd was asked to spend his holidays last December running an analysis on the pros and cons of adding the question. In fact, Ho said, Ross had decided months earlier that he supported its addition.

“From the beginning of the time I started my analysis through today, I’m just carrying out my obligations,” said an emotional Abowd.

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Mattis Defends Mexico Border Deployment in First Troop Visit

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis defended the deployment of thousands of troops to the border with Mexico as he traveled there on Wednesday, saying the mission was “absolutely legal” and justified, and that it was improving military readiness.

President Donald Trump’s politically charged decision to send U.S. troops to the Mexico border came ahead of U.S. midterm congressional elections last week, as Trump sought to strengthen border security as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration.

Trump’s supporters, including Republicans in Congress, have embraced the deployment.

But critics have assailed the decision, calling it a political stunt to drive Republican voters to the polls. They have scoffed at Trump’s comparison of caravans of Central American migrants, including women and children, to an “invasion.”

Mattis, speaking to a small group of reporters traveling with him, rejected criticism and said the deployment was the right thing to do.

“It’s very clear that support to border police or border patrol is necessary right now,” Mattis said, noting that that was the assessment of the Department of Homeland Security.

He added the deployment was deemed legal by Trump administration attorneys and was improving readiness by giving troops more experience in rapid deployment.

The visit took Mattis near the Texas town of Donna, where U.S. troops have set up a base camp near a border crossing point with Mexico. General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the head of U.S. Northern Command, greeted him as he landed.

Mattis said U.S. soldiers were making rapid progress erecting barriers along the border and estimated the first, construction phase of the U.S. military effort could be completed within 10 days.

“I would anticipate with what we’ve been asked to do so far, probably within a week to 10 days, we’ll have done what’s needed,” Mattis told the reporters. “Of course, it will be a dynamic situation and there will be new requests coming in.”

Mattis said the U.S. military was also rehearsing helicopter operations to help support U.S. border personnel, potentially flying them to new locations if the caravans of migrants shift direction.

The deployed U.S. troops are not expected to directly interact with migrants, most are unarmed, and they are only assigned tasks that support U.S. border personnel, including building temporary lodging.

Scrutiny From Congress

Trump’s Democratic opponents have threatened to investigate the matter once they take control of the House of Representatives early next year after gaining a majority in the House in the midterm elections.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Homeland Security, told Reuters that Trump had used the military “as a prop to stoke fear and score political points.”

“We will soon be finally able to conduct oversight of this gross abuse and the President’s many failed border security policies,” said Thompson, who is expected to lead the committee when the Democrats take control of the House

It is unclear how long the deployment will last. Mattis initially authorized it through mid-December but it could be extended.

Mattis estimated about 5,900 troops were participating in the border mission. The U.S. military has offered a breakdown accounting for 5,600 of them, estimating about 2,800 troops in Texas, 1,500 in Arizona and another 1,300 in California.

Asked whether troops’ families should expect their loved ones to remain deployed through Thanksgiving or even Christmas, Mattis declined to speculate.

“We are a 365-day-a-year military. Rain or Shine. Light or dark. Cold weather or hot weather,” he said, declining to estimate costs of the deployment until he had better data.

Trump railed against illegal immigration to win the 2016 presidential election and has shown no signs of easing up on the issue in the wake of last week’s vote.

Last week, he effectively suspended the granting of asylum to migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, seeking fresh ways to block thousands of Central Americans traveling in caravans from entering the United States.

Mattis compared the mission to other deployments in the past, largely comprised of U.S. National Guard, during Democratic and Republican administrations.

“We determined that the mission was absolutely legal and this was also reviewed by Department of Justice lawyers. It’s obviously a moral and ethical mission to support our border patrolmen,” Mattis said.

“There’s nothing new under the sun.”

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2 US Senators to Defy Republican Leader on Mueller Protections

Two U.S. senators, defying opposition from top Republicans, vowed on Wednesday to push for action on a bipartisan measure that would protect a federal investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election.

Republican Senator Jeff Flake and Democratic Senator Chris Coons said they would take to the Senate floor at around 4:15 p.m. EST, to ask for their colleagues’ consent to allow a vote that could anger President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly dismissed the federal probe as a “witch hunt.”

But the move was unlikely to succeed. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is firmly against the idea of voting on a measure to protect the investigation, according to an aide.

Another party leader, Senate Republican whip John Cornyn, has said he favors an alternative measure that would simply put the Senate on record as backing the leader of the probe, Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The effort by Flake and Coons comes a week after Trump set off alarm bells among Democrats and some Republicans by forcing the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replacing him with Sessions’ former chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, a Trump loyalist who has criticized the  investigation.

Critics of the appointment say Whitaker could fire Mueller or undermine the investigation in some other way.

Flake, who is retiring from the Senate, and Coons want lawmakers to vote on a measure known as the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, which would ensure that Mueller could be fired only for good cause and provide him with recourse to challenge any  dismissal in federal court.

The legislation, which the Senate Judiciary Committee approved in a 14-7 vote in April, is supported by the panel’s chairman Chuck Grassley and another prominent Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham.

Democrats have called on Whitaker to recuse himself from the Mueller investigation. The Justice Department said on Monday night Whitaker would consult with ethics officials about any matters that could require him to recuse himself.

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Democrats Gaining as More US Votes Are Counted

U.S. vote counting is still going on, eight days after national congressional elections, with Democrats opposed to President Donald Trump gaining new ground with the latest results.

The day after the November 6 election, Trump said at the White House, “It was a big day yesterday. The Republican Party defied history to expand our Senate majority while significantly beating expectations in the House.

“It was very close to a complete victory,” he boasted.

As the results rolled in on election night, it appeared that Republicans might add three or four seats to their 51-49 Senate majority. But a Republican lead for a contest in the southwestern state of Arizona collapsed, giving Democrat Kyrsten Sinema a seat that been held by Republicans for three decades.

Now, with two Senate races yet to be decided in the southern states of Florida and Mississippi, Republicans at most will add two seats to their majority.

In the House of Representatives, Democratic candidates are faring even better.

Democrats reclaimed the House majority for the first time in eight years in the election night vote counting, and now have a 225-200 edge. But Democrats appear poised to add to their majority in the new Congress come January, leading in seven of the 10 undecided races where absentee and mail-in ballots are being counted, all in districts held by Republicans in the current Congress.

Ascendant Democratic leaders in the House have immediately vowed to hold investigations of Trump’s business connections with the government he oversees, examine his tax returns that he has refused to release, and call on Trump officials to justify government policies they have adopted in the nearly two years since Trump took office. While they have been in control of both chambers of Congress, Republican lawmakers rarely held hearings on Trump policies that presented the possibility of embarrassing the Republican president and his administration.

Trump is calling the nascent Democratic investigations “Presidential Harassment,” and said the prospective probes have given a headache to national stock exchanges this week, leading to stock price losses.

Races for governorships in Georgia and Florida remain undecided amid late vote-counting and recounts, as is the key Senate race in Florida, where Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, is holding on to a 12,500-vote edge over the incumbent Democrat, Senator Bill Nelson. In the Florida race, local election officials are under a Thursday deadline to complete their recount of votes. The Mississippi Senate race is headed to a runoff election on November 27.

In the Florida contest, Scott and Nelson have filed competing lawsuits on various aspects of the vote counting, but the state agency overseeing elections has rejected claims by Scott and Trump there was fraud in the election. Despite the uncertainty of the outcome, Scott attended meetings in Washington for new lawmakers.

Trump has provided a running commentary on the Florida contest, at one point suggesting that Scott, along with Congressman Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidate looking to succeed him as governor, ought to be declared the winners because they were ahead in the initial vote counting on election night.

“When will Bill Nelson concede in Florida?” Trump said on Twitter. “The characters running Broward and Palm Beach voting will not be able to ‘find’ enough votes, too much spotlight on them now!” Trump was referring to two Democratic strongholds along the Atlantic Ocean shoreline where Nelson, as more votes are counted, has cut into Scott’s lead.  

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Stung by Election Losses, House GOP Weighs Leadership Choice

Frustration, finger-pointing and questions spilled over a closed-door meeting of House Republicans Tuesday night as lawmakers sorted through an election defeat that cost them the majority and began considering new leadership for their shrunken minority.

Republicans complained about the unpopularity of the GOP tax law they blamed for losses in New York and other key states, some attendees told reporters after the meeting. Some in the meeting said Republicans should have tried harder to fulfill President Donald Trump’s priorities, like funding for the border wall with Mexico. They also warned that they need a new fundraising mechanism to compete with the small-dollar online donors that powered Democrats to victory.

“There’s a little rawness still,” Rep. Mark Walker, R-S.C., who is running unopposed for a down-ballot position as vice chair of the GOP conference, told reporters outside the meeting room. “But there’s an opportunity for us to come together and get single-focused on the message.”

With the speaker’s gavel now out of reach, GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Trump ally, is poised to take over as minority leader. But the Californian has struggled in the past to build support from conservatives. He faces a longshot challenge from Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus who has support from outside conservative groups and got a second-look during a nearly two-hour candidate forum Tuesday.

Trump has stayed largely on the sidelines ahead of closed-door elections Wednesday that will determine party leadership not only for House Republicans, but also for Senate Democrats and Republicans, and set the tone for the new Congress. Voting for the biggest race, Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s bid to return as the Democrats’ nominee for speaker, is later this month.

Jordan told reporters that he made a pitch to his colleagues at a sometimes-tense session in the Capitol basement based on three questions: “Why’d we lose, how do we get it back and what we’re up against.”

The former college wrestling champ said he told Republicans they need a fighter to confront Pelosi and her new majority.

“I think we’re entering a world we haven’t really seen,” he said, rattling off the names of the Democratic chairmen who are poised to investigate Trump. “It’s going to take an attitude and an intensity about standing up for the truth and fighting.”

Most GOP lawmakers, though, prefer McCarthy’s more affable approach, and he remained favored to win Wednesday. Accompanied by his wife, McCarthy entered the meeting room, telling reporters, “We’ve got a plan.”

GOP Whip Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who was gravely wounded in last year’s congressional baseball practice shooting and is running unopposed for another term in leadership, said McCarthy “knows what he needs to do” to win over his colleagues – and win back the majority – and is well-positioned to do both.

“You always look in the mirror and see what you can do better,” Scalise said as he entered the room. Republicans, he said, “need to do a better job of letting people know what we stand for.”

Rounding out the GOP leadership team will be Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who wants to bring a more aggressive stance to the GOP’s communications and messaging strategy in the No. 3 spot.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to win another term, but the most interesting race is for the No. 5 spot, where Republicans are poised to elect their first woman to leadership in almost a decade, as they try to smooth the optics of a GOP side that’s dominated by men.

Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer has made a bid for that spot “to help bring our party’s big tent together.” She faces GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa.

The rest of the GOP line-up is expected to shuffle slightly. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the GOP whip, is being forced out by term limits. That allows Sen. John Thune of South Dakota to move up to the No. 2 spot. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming and Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri take over the third- and fourth-ranking spots.

Senate Democrats are keeping their team headed by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, even though one of the two new Democratic senators-elect, Krysten Sinema of Arizona, has said she wouldn’t vote for him.

Newly elected Republicans will cast their first votes during closed-door meetings Wednesday even before they’re sworn into office as part of the new Congress in January.

Dan Meuser, a new Republican from Pennsylvania, said he’s talked with both McCarthy and Jordan in recent days about their plans for the new minority and has been giving his vote “a lot of thought.”

“I would say I have not made a decision yet,” said Meuser at freshman orientation. He said he’s “gotten close with Kevin McCarthy. I think very highly of him. I think he’s a very good conservative, he’s showed a lot of leadership. He’s certainly earned the position. On the same note, I think Jim Jordan’s a smart, tough, focused individual. So I respect him as well. So, yeah, we’ll see.”

And some just want to avoid more infighting as Republicans return to the minority for the first time in eight years.

“Whoever loses needs to get behind whoever wins,” said Rep. Steve Palazzo, R-Miss.

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