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Opinion

Nancy Pelosi Is the Best Woman for the Job

By Donald S. Beyer Jr.
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Democrats are not on the cusp of winning a Senate seat in Mississippi. But if we learned anything over the last two years, it’s that Republicans find new ways to make special elections more close and exciting than they should be.

First of all, go read Stu Rothenberg’s column on the race and the dynamic. He does a good job of laying out the electoral challenge in front of former Democratic Rep. Mike Espy, even if appointed GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith is not a stellar candidate.

My colleague Leah Askarinam offers a deep dive into the Nov. 27 runoff — from how the special election came about to the dynamics at play in the jungle primary earlier this month to all the latest developments — in the latest issue of Inside Elections

After reading both pieces, you should come to the conclusion that Hyde-Smith is likely to win this race. But because of the strange timing of the election (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving) and a lack of polling data on the race, there is enough uncertainty to change the rating from Solid Republican to Likely Republican.

Also Watch: Senate Republicans Talk Leadership Team and Special Counsel Protections

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President Donald Trump again broke with U.S. intelligence Tuesday, this time siding with senior Saudi leaders and their denials they ordered the killing of a Washington Post journalist.

It came in a most unusual written statement from the White House, issued as the press corps on duty ahead of Thanksgiving gathered in the Rose Garden for the generally light-hearted turkey pardoning.

“King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi,” Trump said in a White House statement that began with these unusual lines: “America First!” and “The world is a very dangerous place!”

Trump himself often uses those lines.

The consensus has been that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and it has been reported the CIA concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is to blame for the murder. Trump, however, is personally leaving it open to speculation.

“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in the statement, essentially absolving the Saudi leaders of any blame.

He acknowledged members of Congress want to enact tough penalties on the Saudi government, and said he would listen to ideas, but he did not announce any additional action he will take now.

“That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran,” Trump said.

Trump revealed the Saudi leaders used a phrase he employs in his battle with American media outlets in describing their view of Khashoggi.

“Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an ‘enemy of the state’ and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that — this is an unacceptable and horrible crime,” the President said.

The president also issued caveats for any legislation both chambers might send him to punish the Saudis.

“I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction — and they are free to do so,” Trump said. “I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America.”

That also seems to mean that even if lawmakers were to make a move as part of a broader piece of legislation, he might decide to use authorities as commander-in-chief to basically ignore them perhaps through a signing statement.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee member Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., ripped the president soon after he announced his decision to believe the senior Saudis.

“President Trump’s refusal to accept the CIA’s assessment that MBS not only knew about but ORDERED the assassination of #Khashoggi is a betrayal of the American intelligence community and yet another clear indicator of his disdain for freedom of the press,” she tweeted.

That panel is among those expected to most aggressively investigate Trump and his administration once Democrats take control of the chamber in January.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

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One of the staunchest opponents of marijuana decriminalization in Congress, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, changed course on Tuesday, endorsing nationwide legalization in a Boston Globe editorial.

“I believe we must implement strong, clear, and fair federal guidelines. To do that requires us to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and legalize it at the federal level,” the Massachusetts congressman wrote, citing its value to public health and racial inequities in how laws on pot are enforced. 

While Kennedy bemoaned the patchwork of state marijuana laws across the U.S., he wrote that “our federal policy on marijuana is badly broken.”

That stance represents a reversal for the 4th District Democrat, who voted against a 2015 provision to claw back the powers of the Department of Justice to pursue medical marijuana businesses in states that have legalized them.

Kennedy said his reluctance on decriminalization stemmed from concerns that marijuana could become addictive for people with a history of substance abuse and adolescents. 

“I’ve seen the devastating effects of drugs that are used and abused. I’ve met family after family torn apart by addiction,” Kennedy wrote. 

But critics have pointed out that Kennedy previously wanted even non-addictive cannabinoids out of reach. In 2015, he opposed a narrow, bipartisan bill to shield children with seizure disorders who use non-psychoactive cannabidiol extracts from the Drug Enforcement Agency, according to Marijuana Moment, an online magazine in favor of legalization. 

Kennedy has also come under fire for his relationship to the pharmaceutical industry. He earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock value from investments in Gilead Sciences Inc., which was the subject of a congressional probe into drug price gouging. He sponsored legislation that may have revised the Centers for Disease Control’s opioid prescribing guidelines, which were opposed by drugmakers.

His cousin, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, founded an organization aimed at stalling momentum towards decriminalization, and has also been criticized for his ties to the pharmaceutical industry, including the makers of anti-opioid drugs. 

Six in 10 Americans support legalizing marijuana, including a majority of Republicans, according to recent polling.

Watch: New Lame Duck, Same Lame Congress: Congressional Hits and Misses

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OPINION — When Nancy Pelosi’s supporters talk about her strengths for the job of speaker, “counting votes” is usually right at the top of the list. But counting hardly describes the process that Pelosi has deployed for the last 16 years as the Democratic leader in the House to pass more landmark pieces of legislation than any other sitting member of Congress.

Part kindly godmother (think baby gifts and handwritten notes), part mentor, part shark, part party boss, Pelosi’s uncanny ability to move legislation may be the most important, yet least discussed, aspect of the Democrats’ internal debate about who should lead them into the future.

Is Pelosi polarizing? Of course, but that’s what Republicans have gotten in return for the $100 million of ads they ran to define her. Is she too old? The late Sen. Strom Thurmond wasn’t too old to chair the Senate Armed Services Committee, even when he was 20 years older than Pelosi is today. Is she the breath of fresh air some freshman Democrats are looking for in their leadership? Maybe not, but do they want to feel good or pass bills? If passing bills is the goal, Washington veterans are scratching their heads about why Pelosi isn’t these new Democrats’ first choice for speaker instead of their last.

The votes that Pelosi has pushed through in her career reads like a wish list for liberals even today — the Affordable Care Act (complete with protections for pre-existing conditions); the DREAM Act to give legal status to undocumented immigrants brought here as minors; the Equality Act extending civil rights protections to LGBTQ Americans; and the cap-and-trade bill to reduce greenhouse emissions, which remains the only climate change legislation ever passed by a house of Congress. The blame for the fact that several of those bills never became law rests on the shoulders of many Democrats in Washington, but Pelosi isn’t one of them.

Watch: Pelosi Talks Midterm ‘Wave,’ Says She Has Votes for Speakership

A look under the hood of the Pelosi whip operation reveals a give-take-and-twist that she learned at the knee of her father, Tom D’Alesandro, a congressman and later mayor of Baltimore. As an old-school pol, he kept a detailed “favor file,” to track constituents who asked for, received, and ultimately owed a favor back to the operation. To practice her penmanship as a girl, Pelosi helped keep the list by writing name after name after name on long yellow sheets of paper. The politics of the personal defines Pelosi’s approach today.

“I think she is just willing to use every tool at her disposal to take away reasons you can’t be with her,” one Democratic chief of staff said. Those tools start with carrots, before the votes are ever on the calendar. Calls, notes, checks and fundraisers come during campaigns; face-to-face check-ins follow on the Hill.

Leading up to major votes, Pelosi wants to know what it would take to get members to yes. Before the House debate on the ACA, she convened simultaneous groups of lawmakers in separate conference rooms in the Capitol and shuttled between the two to hammer out their differences. Heading into the vote for the Equality Act, Pelosi’s staff gave her a list of 62 members who had not committed to vote for the bill to see which ones she wanted to call herself. “I’ll take them all,” she said.

“You can almost hear the ‘Jaws’ soundtrack when she’s hunting votes on the floor,” said a person who knows Pelosi’s tactics well. Another said, “It’s click-click-click (meaning the sound of her heels walking in the marble hallways toward them), she’s coming for you.”

When direct appeals haven’t gotten the job done, Pelosi is known to turn to her outside game, activating anyone who knows a member and could change their minds.

In 2010, when Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly, a Notre Dame graduate, was slow to commit to voting for the ACA, Pelosi reached out to Father Theodore Hesburgh, the former president of Notre Dame, who in turn reached out to Donnelly. “I can’t believe you had Father Hesburgh call me,” Donnelly told her later. But it worked. Donnelly was a yes.

The year before, when Ohio Rep. Zack Space was similarly undecided on the climate bill, Pelosi called Greek-American donors for their help with Space, a descendant of Greek immigrants. Like Donnelly, Space voted yes. So did Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello, after a friend from elementary school called at the behest of the speaker’s office to convince him on the DREAM Act. “Someone I went to second grade with called and was like, ‘Tom, you might not vote for the DREAM Act? I know we haven’t talked in 32 years, but …” Perriello told Ezra Klein in 2010.

Whether it’s carrots, sticks, committee chairmanships or the threat of no committees at all, at the end of the day, “What the speaker wants, the speaker gets,” South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, a key Pelosi lieutenant, once said.

If there’s anything in Pelosi’s legislative strategy that she didn’t seem to see coming when she was speaker the last time around, it was losing the majority in 2011 amid complaints that she passed too much legislation, including bills that Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama couldn’t get through the Democratic Senate. But is today’s Democratic Party looking for a leader to soft pedal their agenda? It didn’t seem like it on Election Day.

If Pelosi is elected leader again, her team says she’ll focus on prescription drug prices, infrastructure, and government reform, all items that President Donald Trump has said he wants action on, but has failed to pass.

But it’s starting to look like the hardest vote Pelosi will have to whip at this point is her own race for speaker. Although the vast majority of the caucus is expected to support her, 16 veteran and incoming members released a letter on Monday saying they will oppose her efforts to take back the gavel. Although 16 isn’t remotely enough to win a speaker vote, it’s just enough to defeat one.

Cue the ‘Jaws’ soundtrack. There’s only one member of Congress who has shown she knows how to win a vote like this.

Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.

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U.S. stock markets continued to drop sharply on Tuesday, but the chief economic adviser to President Donald Trump insists the economy is not headed for a recession.

“I don’t even remotely agree with that,” Lawrence Kudlow told reporters when asked if he agrees with some top financial firms that the American economy is primed for a major slowdown after steady growth under President Barack Obama and faster growth under the Trump administration.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average at one point Monday was down 500 points before ending down 396 points. The Dow and other leading U.S. markets continued to decline on Tuesday. The Dow was down nearly 500 points (1.8 percent) just after 10 a.m. Tuesday, with the S&P 500 Index down 38.1 points (1.4 percent).

[Analysis: Buck Stops Here? Not So Much for President Trump]

Kudlow dubbed the downturn a “correction,” describing financial sector warnings of a recession as among the “weirdest” things he has been reading lately.

But the president has had plenty to say about U.S. markets and their growth in value under his watch.

“The stock market is way up again today and we’re setting a record, literally all the time,” Trump tweeted on in January, adding stocks under a President Hillary Clinton “would have gone down 50% from where it was.”

Trump continued to tout the value of American markets most of the year, especially at his campaign rallies into early October.

He frequently told the story of an unnamed man he met at a rally who thanked him for the state of the economy and the growth in his personal retirement account. Trump claimed the unidentified man was appreciative that his wife, who once considered him a “loser” on such matters — now sees him as a “financial genius.”

But the president has been mostly silent in recent weeks as markets turned downward.

A White House spokeswoman signaled the administration would have nothing else to say about the market drop.

[Awkward Moments from Donald Trump's Veterans Day Do-Over]

Brian Levitt of Oppenheimer Funds and Benjamin Mandel of J.P. Morgan agreed in a CNBC interview that what is most likely happening is a move toward “average” U.S. economic growth after months of “excellent” growth.

Trump used the state of the economy as a midterms selling point and aides had signaled he hopes it remains strong to boost his 2020 re-election campaign.

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Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette has dropped out of the race for majority whip, leaving South Carolina Rep. James E. Clyburn running unopposed to retain his No. 3 position in Democratic leadership. 

“Many of my supporters have expressed concern about pressure they are receiving to return the three senior leaders to their posts without opposition,” DeGette said in a statement.  “We have enough work to do without this internal pressure. Therefore, I am withdrawing my bid for Whip at this time.”

DeGette had formally announced her bid for whip Nov. 7, after the midterm elections, but she said she had been talking to colleagues about her interest in the position for the better part of a year.

But her entry into the race still surprised and upset members of the Congressional Black Caucus who were backing Clyburn, especially since he was the only one of the top three longtime Democratic leaders to get a challenger. 

“I just find it interesting and insulting at the same time that he’s the one with opposition,” CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond said last week. 

The Louisiana Democrat said he had been getting calls from Civil Rights leaders who were upset about DeGette’s challenge to Clyburn, the highest ranking black member of Congress. 

Clyburn said he had received such calls as well but noted he did not believe that DeGette was running against him for racial reasons. He had a conversation with her on the floor early last week in which he said they discussed ensuring the race remained civil.

DeGette said when she decided to run she had thought Clyburn would be running for a higher position and so initially did not think she would be challenging him. Once it became clear he was running for whip, she said she stayed in the race because she thought she was qualified for the job and had garnered enough support that she thought she had a shot at winning. 

Richmond pushed back on DeGette’s assertion that she didn’t know Clyburn would run for whip, saying he made that clear to her in a conversation they had on the floor in September.

“I told her specifically … that if the leadership stays the way it is, Clyburn is going to run for whip,” he said. “She said, ‘do  you really think that’s the case.’ I said yes.”

DeGette said in her statement that she looks forward to continuing on as a chief deputy whip, an appointed role. Since the whip gets to pick his deputies, it would ultimately would be up to Clyburn to allow her to remain in that role.

House Democrats are scheduled to hold their leadership elections on Nov. 28.

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A top super PAC aligned with President Donald Trump is infusing the Mississippi Senate special election runoff with nearly $300,000 to help Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Hyde-Smith will face former Democratic Rep. Mike Espy, who also served as Agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration, in the Nov. 27 runoff. Neither cleared 50 percent in the Nov. 6 jungle primary, which saw two Republicans and two Democrats run together on the same ballot.

America First Action will run radio, television, and digital ads all across the state touting the president’s endorsement of Hyde-Smith and her record of voting in lockstep with his priorities since her April appointment to replace Sen. Thad Cochran, who retired for health reasons.

The ad features Trump’s remarks from a rally for Hyde-Smith earlier this year. 

“Cindy has voted with me 100 percent of the time,” the president says. “She’s always had my back. ... A vote for Cindy is a vote for me and ‘Make America Great Again.’” 

The spot also highlights Hyde-Smith’s endorsement from the National Rifle Association.

America First Action will also contribute resources for a get-out-the-vote phone call operation from Tuesday through the runoff election.

Trump himself is scheduled to headline two rallies on Nov. 26, the day before the election, in Tupelo and Biloxi.

He will be in Tupelo at 5 p.m. and then in Biloxi three hours later.

The special election winner gets to serve out the final two years of Cochran’s term. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the Mississippi special Senate election Solid Republican.

Hyde-Smith earned national headlines in recent days after the release of video showing her making controversial remarks. In one, she’s heard saying she’d be “on the front row” if invited by a supporter to a public hanging. In another, she indicated support for making it “just a little more difficult” for liberal college students to vote.

Her campaign has called the first remarks “an exaggerated expression of regard” for the supporter and said the latter comments were made in jest.

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

Watch: Senate Republicans Talk Leadership Team and Special Counsel Protections

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Forty years ago Sunday, a young Jackie Speier was shot and left for dead on an airstrip in Guyana, after helping her boss — Rep. Leo Ryan — rescue 25 cult members from a deadly cult commune known as Jonestown. Ryan was shot and killed that day, shortly before more than 900 members of the commune died of a mass suicide and murder.

Speier, who has been a member of Congress from California since 2008, joined Roll Call to listen to recently uncovered audio of an interview her former boss conducted with a cult escapee, just months before Ryan was killed in the so-called Jonestown massacre.

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