Trump ousts Ses­sions, vows to fight Democrats if they launch probes

Stabroek News - - WORLD NEWS -

WASH­ING­TON, (Reuters) - Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump forced out his at­tor­ney general on Wed­nes­day and threat­ened to fight back if Democrats use their new ma­jor­ity in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to launch in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his ad­min­is­tra­tion and fi­nances.

Trump came out swing­ing a day after his Repub­li­cans lost con­trol of the House, and fol­lowed through on re­peated threats to re­move At­tor­ney General Jeff Ses­sions.

Ses­sions, a 71-year-old for­mer U.S. se­na­tor from Alabama, was an early and loyal sup­porter of Trump but drew his fury when he re­cused him­self from an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 White House cam­paign.

His de­par­ture was the first in what could be a string of high-pro­file ex­its as Trump re­shapes his team to gird for his own 2020 re-elec­tion ef­fort. The Repub­li­can pres­i­dent named Ses­sions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whi­taker, as act­ing at­tor­ney general and said he would nom­i­nate some­one for the job soon.

Trump’s move prompted sharp crit­i­cism from Democrats, who said he was seek­ing to un­der­mine the Rus­sia probe.

Nancy Pelosi, the House Demo­cratic leader who could be the next speaker, said in a state­ment posted to Twit­ter that Ses­sions’ ouster was a “bla­tant at­tempt” to un­der­mine the Rus­sia probe. She urged Whi­taker, who now over­sees Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller and has ar­gued Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion has gone too far, to re­cuse him­self from any in­volve­ment.

Dur­ing a com­bat­ive news con­fer­ence in which he tan­gled with re­porters, Trump trum­peted his role in Repub­li­can gains in Tues­day’s midterm con­gres­sional elec­tions, and warned of a “war­like pos­ture” in Wash­ing­ton if Democrats in­ves­ti­gated him.

Democrats will now head House com­mit­tees that can probe the pres­i­dent’s tax re­turns, which he has re­fused to turn over since he was a can­di­date, pos­si­ble busi­ness con­flicts of in­ter­est and any links

be­tween his 2016 cam­paign and Rus­sia, a mat­ter be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by Mueller.

Trump said he could fire Mueller if he wanted but was hes­i­tant to take that step. “I could fire every­body right now, but I don’t want to stop it, be­cause po­lit­i­cally I don’t like stop­ping it,” he said.

Moscow de­nies med­dling. Trump, call­ing the Mueller probe a witch hunt, has re­peat­edly said there was no col­lu­sion.

Trump was buoyed yes­ter­day by vic­to­ries that added to the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the U.S. Se­nate, telling re­porters at the White House that the gains out­weighed the Democrats’ takeover of the House. The ex­panded Se­nate ma­jor­ity could make it eas­ier for Trump to con­firm a new at­tor­ney general, who will need a ma­jor­ity of votes in the 100-seat cham­ber.

Trump added that he was will­ing to work with Democrats on key pri­or­i­ties but felt any House in­ves­ti­ga­tions of his ad­min­is­tra­tion would hurt prospects for bi­par­ti­san­ship.

“They can play that game, but we can play it bet­ter,” Trump said. “All you’re go­ing to do is end up in back and forth and back and forth, and two years is go­ing to go up and we won’t have done a thing.”

The di­vided power in Congress com­bined with Trump’s ex­pan­sive view of ex­ec­u­tive power could herald even deeper po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion and leg­isla­tive grid­lock in Wash­ing­ton.

There may be some room, how­ever, for Trump and Democrats to work to­gether on is­sues with bi­par­ti­san sup­port such as a pack­age to im­prove in­fra­struc­ture, pro­tec­tions against pre­scrip­tion drug price in­creases and the push to re­bal­ance trade with China.

“It re­ally could be a beau­ti­ful bi­par­ti­san sit­u­a­tion,” Trump said.

He said Pelosi had ex­pressed to him in a phone call a de­sire to work to­gether. With Democrats mulling whether to stick with Pelosi, who was speaker when the party last con­trolled the House, or go in a new di­rec­tion, Trump wrote in a tweet ear­lier on Wed­nes­day that she de­served to be cho­sen for the po­si­tion.

Pelosi, at a Capi­tol Hill news con­fer­ence be­fore news of Ses­sions’ de­par­ture, said Democrats would be will­ing to work with Trump where pos­si­ble. But she added: “We will have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to hon­our our over­sight re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and that’s the path we will go down. We again (will) try to unify our coun­try,” she said.

The Democrats fell short of a tidal wave of voter sup­port that would have won them con­trol of both cham­bers of Congress. But in the 435-mem­ber House, the party was headed for a gain of about 30 seats, be­yond the 23 they needed to claim their first ma­jor­ity in eight years.

A Se­nate ma­jor­ity would have al­lowed Democrats to ap­ply even firmer brakes on Trump’s pol­icy agenda and given them the abil­ity to block any fu­ture Supreme Court nom­i­nees.

House Democrats could force Trump to scale back his leg­isla­tive am­bi­tions, pos­si­bly doom­ing his prom­ises to fund a bor­der wall with Mex­ico and pass a se­cond ma­jor tax-cut pack­age. Leg­is­la­tors could also de­mand more trans­parency from Trump as he ne­go­ti­ates new trade deals with Ja­pan and the Euro­pean Union.

“To­day is more than about Democrats and Repub­li­cans; it’s about restor­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion’s checks and bal­ances to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Pelosi told sup­port­ers at a vic­tory party on Tues­day night.

Trump also mocked Repub­li­can can­di­dates who had re­fused to back his poli­cies and ul­ti­mately lost their races, such as U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Bar­bara Com­stock of Vir­ginia.

“They did very poorly. I’m not sure that I should be happy or sad but I feel just fine about it,” he said.

GRID­LOCK? U.S. stocks jumped on Wed­nes­day as in­vestors, who of­ten fa­vor Wash­ing­ton grid­lock be­cause it pre­serves the sta­tus quo and re­duces un­cer­tainty, bought back into a mar­ket that had its worst month in seven years in Oc­to­ber.

The Dow Jones In­dus­trial Av­er­age ended up 2.13 per­cent on Wed­nes­day, while the broad-based S&P 500 in­dex rose 2.12 per­cent. The dol­lar in­dex, a mea­sure of the green­back against a bas­ket of cur­ren­cies, was slightly weaker.

A Demo­cratic-con­trolled House could ham­per Trump’s at­tempts to fur­ther his pro-busi­ness agenda, fu­el­ing un­cer­tainty about his ad­min­is­tra­tion. His cor­po­rate tax cuts and the dereg­u­la­tion that have played a large hand in the U.S. stock mar­ket’s rally since the 2016 elec­tion, how­ever, are likely to re­main un­touched.

Democrats will use their new ma­jor­ity to re­verse what they see as a hands-off ap­proach by Repub­li­cans to­ward Trump’s for­eign pol­icy, and push for tougher deal­ings with Rus­sia, Saudi Ara­bia and North Korea.

For­eign pol­icy has been an area that Trump has ap­proached in a very per­sonal way, some­times an­tag­o­niz­ing al­lies such as Canada, while mak­ing what crit­ics see as un­duly warm over­tures to tra­di­tional U.S. ri­vals or foes.

Tom Perez, chair­man of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, said Democrats could work with Repub­li­cans to pro­duce a long-awaited bill to up­grade the na­tion’s roads, bridges and air­ports.

“Of course, we want to work in a bi­par­ti­san fash­ion. I think we can get an in­fra­struc­ture bill,” he said.

Trump had hard­ened his rhetoric in re­cent weeks on is­sues that ap­pealed to his con­ser­va­tive core sup­port­ers. He threw him­self into the cam­paign, is­su­ing warn­ings about a car­a­van of Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants headed through Mex­ico to the U.S. bor­der and con­dem­na­tions of lib­eral Amer­i­can “mobs” he says op­pose him.

DEMO­CRATIC PROBES Ev­ery seat in the House was up for grabs on Tues­day and opin­ion polls had pointed to the Demo­cratic gains. The party with the pres­i­dency of­ten loses House seats in midterm elec­tions.

The Repub­li­cans had an ad­van­tage in Se­nate races be­cause elec­tions were held for only 35 seats in the 100-mem­ber cham­ber and many of them were in states that of­ten lean Repub­li­can.

Repub­li­cans built on their slim Se­nate ma­jor­ity by sev­eral seats and ousted at least three in­cum­bent Democrats: Joe Don­nelly in In­di­ana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Claire McCaskill in Mis­souri.

In Florida, Demo­cratic Se­na­tor Bill Nel­son was trail­ing his Repub­li­can ri­val, Gover­nor Rick Scott, by a slim mar­gin, with the pos­si­bil­ity of a re­count loom­ing. Repub­li­can Martha McSally was lead­ing Demo­crat Kyrsten Sinema in the U.S. Se­nate race in Ari­zona with some votes still to be counted.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump (left) forced out his at­tor­ney general Jeff Ses­sions (right) on Wed­nes­day and threat­ened to fight back if Democrats use their new ma­jor­ity in the US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to launch in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his ad­min­is­tra­tion and fi­nances.

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