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TWO OF A KIND: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spent some time at the White House yesterday, standing beside someone he'll likely have to bear hug until Election Day 2020.
Fortunately, the feeling is mutual — President Trump and McConnell celebrated one of their mutual accomplishments: stacking the courts with Trump's judicial appointees and reshaping the federal judiciary. Trump sang the leader's praises and projected a sunny optimism about McConnell's 2020 chances — on Twitter and IRL — despite Gov. Matt Bevin's (R) probable loss in Kentucky the night before.
Their success in the courts is often cited by the two pols, and a topic they are likely to frequently tout during the 2020 campaign in which both of them will be on the ballot — along with the Senate GOP majority:
- “In addition to Justices Neil M. Gorsuch — who filled a vacancy that was created 11 months before Obama left office — and Brett M. Kavanaugh, Trump has nominated 112 district court judges and 44 judges to the appellate courts,” our colleague Seung Min Kim reports.
- “I think there's nobody that's ever done a better job ever, than Mitch McConnell,” Trump told the group gathered in the East Room of the White House.
The alliance: “Despite supremely different demeanors and initial skepticism of one another, Trump and McConnell have developed one of the most powerful alliances in Washington that continues to endure, despite political setbacks like Bevin’s apparent loss,” Seung Min writes.
The symbiotic relationship will be key for McConnell, whose race next year against ex-fighter pilot Amy McGrath (D) will be hard fought. Republicans and even some Democratic operatives conceded that defeating the majority leader in a (mostly) ruby red state will likely be an impossible task.
- “Hope springs eternal but I’m not so sure it’s going to be possible to take Sen. McConnell down,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and longtime top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). “He can raise money hand-over-fist and despite the fact he is unpopular in the state, Trump still is popular.”
- “Bevin's loss is definitely a wake up sign to them, even though his people will say otherwise,” a Republican operative told Power Up.
- But Bevin was a (hated) outlier. Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) had this to say to Seung Min about Bevin: “I wasn’t surprised. I had been telling people privately since early January that I didn’t think Bevin could be reelected with his historically low approval ratings. You can’t treat people the way he treated people for four years and expect to be reelected. And it wasn’t just the teachers. It was judges. It was mayors. It was the media, you know, heads of trade associations, university administrators. I mean, it goes on and on and on. If you disagreed with him, you were chastised, publicly.”
- Manley likened McConnell's race to Reid's 2008 contest against Sharron Angle: “Like Sen. McConnell, Senator Reid, when he was up in 2008, was very unpopular,” Manley told Power Up. “For Reid then, the good news was that the candidate — Sharon Angle — was one of the worst anyone has ever seen.” (McGrath is considered a good candidate).
- The GOP operative said it's a given McGrath will raise significant money — no matter what: “If you’re running against the leader of the party, it doesn’t matter how good or bad she is.”
WATCH: Reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal Phillip Bailey joins Chuck to discuss yesterday’s elections in Kentucky. #MTPDaily@phillipmbailey: “Andy Beshear’s win was not surprising to a lot of folks here in Kentucky.” pic.twitter.com/vRinOZjFJm— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) November 6, 2019
🚨: More troubling is what is in store for McConnell's vulnerable senators who are facing deteriorating support in suburban counties — how McConnell balances what he needs to do at home with what he needs to do to remain majority leader.
"The question is what happens when Trump continues to be more radioactive in the suburbs or in some states that have traditionally leaned Republican in the past,” Manley argued.
- One gloomy Republican strategist offered The Post's great Dan Balz a candid assessment of the GOP's plight after its continued shellacking in the suburbs on Tuesday night. “This is an overwhelming Trump phenomenon...Trump has accelerated everything. There is no path in a swing, suburban district for a Republican — male, female or minority … It’s not a challenge, it’s a hill … There’s no strategy to climb it.”
- “White men with white hair”: Another strategist told Balz that if the GOP loses more suburban swing districts in 2020, “the diversity of the Republican conference in the House will be reduced to 'white men with white hair and white men with gray hair and a few token women, and when [Rep.] Will Hurd [Tex.] leaves, no African Americans and only a couple of Latinos.'"
- “To be clear, I’m waiting to see if Trump continues to tank to see if anything McConnell will try to do to distance himself from the president,” Manley said. “
Threading the needle: A second GOP operative who works on a Senate race told Power Up that McConnell's work on judges has given members space to disagree with Trump on other issues, i.e. to “make sure that his members have the opportunity to find ways to show who they truly are on a given issue."
- “There’s an opportunity,” to break away from the president, the operative told us. “We are in a much more polarized time. Days of massive ticket splitting are certainly over. But that doesn’t mean you can’t carve out a path that allows you to maintain some small sliver of independence.”
At The White House
IMPEACHMENT GOES PUBLIC: House Democrats plan to break open the impeachment inquiry with public hearings starting next week. Their first three witnesses, all foreign service officers with deep experience in Ukraine who've worked for both Republicans and Democrats, are expected to openly repeat shocking allegations made behind closed doors, our colleagues John Hudson, Mike DeBonis, Karoun Demirjian and Elise Viebeck report.
Private testimony released yesterday by House Democrats from acting Ukraine ambassador Bill Taylor gives us all a sneak peek into someone who is expected to be one of the star witnesses:
- Taylor did not hold back: "The vivid account by [Taylor] described a 'Washington snake pit' of bad actors who were willing to cut off aid to Ukraine as it battled Russian-backed separatists, a situation he described as a 'nightmare' scenario," our colleagues write.
- He pointed to Sondland: “'When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check,'" Taylor said E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland told him.
- "The 'check,' Taylor testified, was military assistance. And if Ukraine did not announce the launch of the investigations, Sondland told Ukrainian officials, 'We would be at a stalemate.'"
Here's who's on deck next week:
Meanwhile, the House backed down from a legal fight with senior Bolton aide: "House Democrats have withdrawn a subpoena for testimony from Charles Kupperman, a former top national security aide to [Trump], House lawyers told a federal judge in Washington," our colleagues Ann E. Marimow and Spencer S. Hsu report.
- Why the change of heart?: "Instead, the House said that in the interest of speed, it would look to the outcome of another case that is further along in judicial proceedings — that involving a subpoena to former White House counsel Donald McGahn.That case raises similar issues of whether the White House can bar high-ranking administration officials from testifying."
Rudy, Rudy!, Rudy?: "Three ominous words uttered in the Oval Office led two American diplomats on a journey that ended in a Capitol basement room as key witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry: 'Talk to Rudy,'" our colleague Josh Dawsey reports in a story examining how Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani became the driving force of the president's Ukraine policy.
Key stat: "In a sign of his disproportionate influence, Giuliani was cited by name 480 times during Sondland’s and Volker’s depositions — more than any Trump White House or Cabinet official. The lawyer was repeatedly described as inexplicably powerful and difficult to control."
In (possibly) related news: Giuliani is lawyering up, our colleague Rosalind S. Helderman reports. He announced his hires of three New York attorneys on Twitter.
Remember Roger Stone?: It's not directly related to the current impeachment inquiry, but the trial of former Trump adviser and self-proclaimed political dark arts master Roger Stone began Wednesday, our colleagues Spencer S. Hsu, Rachel Weiner and Devlin Barrett report. It is the last case filed by former special counsel Robert Mueller.
- Prosecutors allege Stone lied to Congress to protect Trump: They tied "the combative political consultant directly to President Tump by revealing a series of 2016 phone calls that they said showed Stone later lied to Congress “because the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,'" our colleagues write.
- Stone's lawyer made an unusual move: He "argued that his client never meant to lie to lawmakers about his efforts to gain insights about Democrats’ hacked emails ahead of the presidential election. In an unusual gambit, Stone’s lawyer Bruce S. Rogow argued that Stone’s public claims about connections to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks were false, and therefore he did not make false statements later to Congress.
- Part of the trial will involve "The Godfather: Part II": ... Because, of course. "'Do a Frank Pentangeli,' Stone texted to an associate set to testify about him before a Congressional committee in 2017. The message, according to prosecutors, was an attempt by [Stone] ... to advise his associate to mimic Pentangeli’s obtuseness, the New York Times's Corey Kilgannon reports. (Stone appears to left out how things turned out for Pentangeli.)
In the Agencies
BARR REFUSED TO SAY TRUMP BROKE NO LAWS ON UKRAINE CALL: "Trump wanted Attorney General William P. Barr to hold a news conference declaring that the commander in chief had broken no laws during a phone call in which he pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a political rival, though Barr ultimately declined to do so, people familiar with the matter said," our colleagues Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey and Carol D. Leonnig scooped last night.
- More details: "The request from Trump traveled from the president to other White House officials and eventually to the Justice Department. The president has mentioned Barr’s demurral to associates in recent weeks, saying he wished Barr would have held the news conference, Trump advisers say," our colleagues write.
- Why there's more to this story: "In recent weeks, the Justice Department has sought some distance from the White House, particularly on matters relating to the burgeoning controversy over Trump’s dealings on Ukraine and the impeachment inquiry they sparked."
- But Trump and Barr are apparently OK: "People close to the administration say Barr and Trump remain on good terms," our colleagues add.
Meanwhile, Jeff Sessions is planning to run for his old Senate seat: "Former attorney general Jeff Sessions plans to announce as soon as [today] that he will run for his old Senate seat in Alabama, according to three people familiar with his plans, setting the stage for a potentially contentious Republican primary with [Trump] at the center and control of the Senate possibly at stake," our colleagues Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey and Sean Sullivan report.
- The biggest question, WWTD?: What will Trump do? The president is the "wild card in the race," our colleagues write. "Trump never forgave Sessions for recusing himself from the Justice Department investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, frequently berating him on Twitter for a move he viewed as a betrayal."
- Trump has talked to McConnell about attacking Sessions: "... McConnell has shared that he also has concerns about Sessions running because it could create a messy primary contest for a seat Republicans feel they have to win, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the issue," our colleagues write. In the meantime, Trump has continued to trash Sessions privately.
- Sessions has spoken to neither Trump nor McConnell: But he is scheduled to appear on Tucker Carlson's show tonight. Trump will return to Alabama this weekend for the SEC showdown between LSU and Alabama.
Outside the Beltway
WHAT IS GOING ON IN KENTUCKY: Bevin is refusing to concede the race to state Attorney General Andy Beshear, despite trailing by just over 5,000 votes out of nearly 1.5 million cast.
So what happens now? Power Up asked national and state experts to take us through the process.
Bevin has requested a recanvass: This is not a recount. Kentucky does not have a formal recount threshold, like Florida, so almost any candidate can request a recount if he or she pays for it. But Kentucky law explicitly excludes gubernatorial elections from its recount law, so for now the best Bevin can do is request a recanvass.
- What's the difference between a recanvass and a recount?: Recount laws vary by state but can include the reexamination of individual ballots --- think the hanging chads of Florida circa 2000. Recanvassing just means reexamining the results generated by election machines. In short, it's not going to change a lot of votes, Joshua A. Douglas, an election law and voting rights professor at University of Kentucky Law School told Power Up. This will be done on Nov. 14, a week from today.
Here's the biggest thing: We still don't know what exactly Bevin means by "irregularities" that sparked the recanvass calls. The governor has yet to point to specific evidence directly related to the election, which is pretty important given that he was the only statewide Republican nominee to lose on Tuesday.
- Challenges rarely, if ever, overcome a margin as large as the current one: In a survey of statewide recounts from 2000-2015 (which as we noted technically doesn't apply in this instance, but it's still the best comparison), FairVote found the shift in votes was 0.0191% or what would be 300 votes in the Kentucky race.
- Even the largest most recent recount wouldn't cover it: FairVote found that race (a Vermont state auditor's election in 2006) changed about 0.11% percent of votes or what would be fewer than 1,600 votes in the Kentucky race.
- "I think a lot of people are a little nervous about what this means in terms of accepting defeat," Douglas said of Bevin's actions thus far. He encouraged the governor to "put up or shut up" whatever evidence of alleged fraud he has.
What if Bevin still doesn't give up?: As we said earlier, Kentucky law explicitly excludes gubernatorial races from its other recount procedures, so where does that leave us? The legislature. If Bevin wanted to do so, he could formally contest the election. This is an extremely rare step. He would have to do so by Nov. 25.
- A Kentucky gubernatorial election has not been contested since 1899. What followed is regarded as one of the saddest moments in America's sometimes violent-filled reactions to closely decided elections, Ohio State University law professor Edward Foley, who wrote the book on contested elections in America, told Power Up. (William Goebel, the Democratic candidate, was eventually declared the winner. But he was shot before the legislature voted and was sworn in as he was dying from his wounds. He served as governor for just three days.)
But a key Republican lawmaker has already hinted this could happen: Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said based on his staff's research the Republican-controlled legislature could determine the election, the Louisville Courier Journal's Phillip M. Bailey and Joe Sonka report.
- What would the legislature do?: 11 lawmakers would be randomly selected (8 from the House, 3 from the Senate) to hear the contest. The committee's decision would then go to the full legislature and a joint session would determine the final results.
How would Beshear be able torespond?: Go to court --- though there's no guarantee he would be successful. In the meantime, Beshear is proceeding with the usual process a governor-elect would follow. Sonka reports the Democrat has appointed the head of his transition team. Regardless of what happens, the state constitution requires the governor to be sworn in on the fifth Tuesday after the election or Dec. 10.