Battle lines drawn as Trump threat­ens Democrats

Com­bat­ive news con­fer­ence sets scene after elec­tions re­sult in split Congress

The New Zealand Herald - - World - Philip Rucker and Robert Costa PBS NewsHour — Wash­ing­ton Post

Wash­ing­ton has plunged into po­lit­i­cal war fol­low­ing split de­ci­sion by US vot­ers in the Midterm elec­tions, with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump yes­ter­day oust­ing his At­tor­ney General and threat­en­ing to re­tal­i­ate against Democrats if they launch in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his per­sonal con­duct and pos­si­ble cor­rup­tion in the Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The rapid shift to battle sta­tions sig­nalled the start of what is likely to be two years of un­remit­ting po­lit­i­cal com­bat as Trump po­si­tions him­self for re-elec­tion. For the first time, Trump will be forced to nav­i­gate di­vided govern­ment as Democrats, who on Wed­nes­day won the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, pledge to be a check on his power and face pres­sure from their lib­eral base to block him at ev­ery turn.

The ac­ri­mony was punc­tu­ated by Trump’s bom­bast as he re­fused to show con­tri­tion or take re­spon­si­bil­ity for his party’s washout in many sub­ur­ban ar­eas where vot­ers who pre­vi­ously backed Repub­li­cans re­jected the Pres­i­dent’s hard­line pol­i­tics.

Demo­crat House mi­nor­ity leader Nancy Pelosi, who is poised to lead the new Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity as speaker, said her cau­cus would use its sub­poena author­ity to pur­sue sweep­ing over­sight of the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“We will have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to hon­our our over­sight re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and that’s the path that we will go down,” she told re­porters. But, she added, Democrats would do so in the in­ter­est of “try­ing to unify our coun­try”.

Demo­crat Se­nate mi­nor­ity leader Charles Schumer, whose party lost seats in the up­per cham­ber, none­the­less cheered the House tri­umph and said, “There’s now a check on Don­ald Trump, and that is great news for Amer­ica.”

Fol­low­ing Wed­nes­day’s Midterms, some al­lies said, Trump was both em­bold­ened — be­cause he be­lieved he had helped ex­pand the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate — and ap­pre­hen­sive, be­cause he would no longer be able to bend all of Congress to his will. But un­like his pre­de­ces­sors who ac­knowl­edged a “shel­lack­ing” (Barack Obama in 2010) or a “thump­ing” (Ge­orge W. Bush in 2006) after Midterm losses, Trump spun his own re­al­ity by claim­ing “very close to com­plete vic­tory”.

Trump said in a wide-rang­ing and of­ten sharp-tongued news con­fer­ence that any hope for bi­par­ti­san deals would evap­o­rate if House Democrats use their new power to in­ves­ti­gate him or his Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Such ef­forts, he said, would pre­cip­i­tate “a war­like pos­ture”.

House Democrats have said they plan to be­gin a se­ries of in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the Pres­i­dent, in­clud­ing is­su­ing a sub­poena for his tax re­turns, which he has for years re­fused to re­lease. Trump said he would re­spond by us­ing the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Se­nate as a cud­gel, in­struct­ing his al­lies there to in­ves­ti­gate al­leged mis­con­duct by Democrats.

“They can play that game, but we can play it bet­ter, be­cause we have a thing called the United States Se­nate,” Trump said. “They can look at us, then we can look at them and it’ll go back and forth. And it’ll prob­a­bly be very good for me po­lit­i­cally . . . be­cause I think I’m bet­ter at that game than they are, ac­tu­ally.”

Trump has told ad­vis­ers that he in­tends to ex­ploit di­vi­sions among House Democrats, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior White House of­fi­cial. He be­lieves he can pit Pelosi and oth­ers who are in­ter­ested in mak­ing deals with him on poli­cies like in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing against those who rose to of­fice in­tent on block­ing his agenda and, per­haps, be­gin­ning im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings.

The Pres­i­dent’s al­lies ar­gued that Democrats were over­es­ti­mat­ing their man­date from Wed­nes­day’s elec­tions and would emerge as a use­ful po­lit­i­cal foil for Trump as he seeks re-elec­tion.

Dur­ing his re­mark­ably com­bat­ive news con­fer­ence in the East Room of the White House yes­ter­day, Trump re­peat­edly lost his cool as he an­swered ques­tions from jour­nal­ists for 86 min­utes. He called CNN’s Jim Acosta “a rude, ter­ri­ble per­son”, snapped at Peter Alexan­der of NBC News and di­rected April Ryan of Amer­i­can Ur­ban Ra­dio to “sit down”. And when Yamiche Al­cin­dor of

asked the Pres­i­dent whether by iden­ti­fy­ing as a “na­tion­al­ist” he also was em­brac­ing the la­bel “white na­tion­al­ist”, he told her re­peat­edly, “That’s such a racist ques­tion”. “To say what you just said is so in­sult­ing to me,” Trump re­sponded to Al­cin­dor, who is black.

After de­mon­is­ing Democrats in apoc­a­lyp­tic terms and at­tack­ing Pelosi on the cam­paign trail, Trump said yes­ter­day, “The elec­tion’s over. Now every­body is in love.”

But he drowned out his own call for unity within hours by an­nounc­ing via Twit­ter the sud­den ouster of At­tor­ney General Jeff Ses­sions, who said in his res­ig­na­tion let­ter that the Pres­i­dent had di­rected him to re­sign.

The two par­ties plunged into a fierce dis­agree­ment over whether the Pres­i­dent was ob­struct­ing jus­tice by

re­plac­ing Ses­sions with act­ing at­tor­ney general Matthew Whi­taker, who im­me­di­ately as­sumed con­trol over spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion. The in­quiry had pre­vi­ously been over­seen by Deputy At­tor­ney General Rod Rosen­stein.

Democrats in­di­cated that the fir­ing of Ses­sions would be one of their top in­ves­ti­ga­tion tar­gets — and warned of a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis.

Demo­cratic Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Adam Schiff, who is set to take over as chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, said the Mueller probe was in “new and im­me­di­ate peril”. “In­ter­fer­ence with the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion would cause a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis and un­der­mine the rule of law,” Schiff said. “If the Pres­i­dent seeks to in­ter­fere in the im­par­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice, the Congress must stop him. No one is above the law.”

Nancy Pelosi

Charles Schumer

Photo / AP


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