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Trump mocks GOP losers who kept their distance from him

WASHINGTON — Rejecting any hint of a setback, President Donald Trump on Wednesday mocked members of his own party who were defeated in the midterm elections after distancing themselves from him and suggested that the Republicans' loss of a House majority could turn out to be "extremely good" for him politically.

Trump dissected the elections in a combative White House news conference that stretched to nearly 90 minutes as he put a defiantly glossy sheen on the mixed midterm results and stressed his party's victories in the Senate.

"I thought it was very close to complete victory," Trump said, adding that he would "almost have to think about" whether he would have preferred Republicans to retain a slim majority in the House instead of their outright loss. Candidates who embraced his message "excelled," and those who didn't faltered, the president added, ticking off a selective list of defeated Republicans to support his point.

The president's post-election readout showed his determination to put a positive spin on midterms that will bring an end to GOP control of Congress and open him to Democratic-led investigations in the House. And it made clear the extent to which Trump has remade his party to his own specifications, as he suggested that those who survived were indebted to him, a president who prizes loyalty above all else.

The results, Trump argued, were proof of his ability to turn out voters. But his message also appeared to alienate well-educated voters — especially women — in the suburbs. Democrats surged to their new House majority by picking up seats in more affluent and highly educated suburban districts.

Between his sharp jabs at the press, Trump took credit for Republican wins in the Senate, claiming his "vigorous campaigning stopped the blue wave" that never fully materialized. He was quick to distance himself from losing GOP House members who had been critical of his heated rhetoric, citing Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, among others.

"Too bad, Mike," Trump said of Coffman, before turning on Utah's Mia Love, whose race remained too close to call.

"Mia Love gave me no love and she lost," Trump said.

Meanwhile, Trump and congressional leaders talked bipartisanship Wednesday but then bluntly previewed the fault lines to come. Trump threatened to go after House Democrats who try to investigate him, while Rep. Nancy Pelosi said her party would be "a check and balance" against the White House.

Trump said he was interested in working with House Democrats but was ready to respond if he felt he was being ill-treated.

As long as Republicans have controlled both houses of Congress, Democrats have been hampered in pursuing any significant probes of Trump and his administration, and he made it clear he expects the Senate to follow that course.

"They can play that game," he said of possible House Democratic investigations, "but we can play it better, because we have a thing called the United States Senate."

On Capitol Hill, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats must decide how much "harassment" they want to pursue against Trump, while suggesting there could be limited opportunities to work across the aisle. And Pelosi, who is expected to run for a second stint as speaker when Democrats take the House majority in January, said the party has "a responsibility to seek common ground where we can." But she added, "Where we cannot, we must stand our ground."

Also, the White House on Wednesday suspended the press pass of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta after he and Trump had a heated confrontation during a news conference.

They began sparring after Acosta asked Trump about the caravan of migrants heading from Latin America to the southern U.S. border. When Acosta tried to follow up with another question, Trump said, "That's enough!" and a female White House aide unsuccessfully tried to grab the microphone from Acosta.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement accusing Acosta of "placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern," calling it "absolutely unacceptable."

The interaction between Acosta and the intern was brief, and Acosta appeared to brush her arm as she reached for the microphone and he tried to hold onto it. "Pardon me, ma'am," he told her.

Acosta tweeted that Sanders' statement that he put his hands on the aide was "a lie."

CNN said in a statement that the White House revoked Acosta's press pass out of "retaliation for his challenging questions" Wednesday, and the network accused Sanders of lying about Acosta's actions.

"(Sanders) provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened. This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better," CNN said.

Journalists assigned to cover the White House apply for passes that allow them daily access to press areas in the West Wing. 

The news conference marked a new low in the president's relationship with journalists.

"It's such a hostile media," Trump said after ordering reporter April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Networks to sit down when she tried to ask him a question.

Election analysis
Steve King relishes close win after wave of political attacks

SIOUX CITY -- After narrowly avoiding the first election loss in his long career, Rep. Steve King took to the podium early Wednesday to thank his supporters for standing behind him as he weathered a deluge of vicious political attacks.

"We may have lost in a landslide if it weren't for prayer," the Republican 4th District congressman told a crowd of more than 100 at the Stoney Creek Inn in Sioux City.

In a defiant victory speech, King lashed out at his critics, who he said attempted to "Kavanaugh-ize me, like this state has never seen, and like maybe America has never seen."

King, an eight-term incumbent widely known for his outspoken views on illegal immigration and Western Civilization, spent the final days of his campaign defending his remarks on race and support for political candidates and parties with ties to white supremacy.

His Democratic opponent, J.D. Scholten, seized on the issue, arguing King carried more about international politics than the concerns of voters in Northwest and Northcentral Iowa. The first-time candidate attracted national attention and millions of dollars of out-of-state campaign contributions in the last weeks of the campaign. 

Two years after scoring a 23-point win over his Democratic opponent, King won Tuesday by just 10,500 votes, or 50 percent to 47 percent, in a district with 70,000 more Republican voters than Democrats. Scholten carried six counties, including the five most populous, Woodbury, Cerro Gordo, Story, Webster and Boone. The sixth was Floyd. 

But King held on in a night when two of the other two congressional seats in Iowa were flipped by Democrats, challengers Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer, knocked off incumbent Republicans David Young and Rod Blum, respectively. Democrat Dave Loebsack defeated Christopher Peters in Iowa's 2nd District.

The victory was the tightest of King's career. His only other scare came in 2012 when he beat Christie Vilsack, wife of former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, 53 percent to 45 percent.

In an interview with the Associated Press, King said he appeared to be cruising to an easy victory this year, with an internal poll showing him 20 points ahead of Scholten.

In unexpected attacks began after news reports surfaced in September and October about his stance on immigration — he was described in one as "the most anti-immigrant member of Congress" — and a trip he took to Austria and his meeting there with members of the Freedom Party, which is associated with a man once active in neo-Nazi circles.

Then, in an unprecedented move, Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the House Republican's campaign arm, condemned King for "completely inappropriate," actions and remarks, saying in a tweet, "We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms." 

King took aim at Stivers, R-Ohio, during his victory speech Tuesday night.

Stivers "was derogatory...about something that I never said," King told the audience. He "legitimized everything my opponents said about me...still we hung on."

With the Stivers-lead NRCC cutting off funds to his campaign, King, never a prolific fundraiser, was outspent more than 2-to-1 by Scholten, a first-time candidate.

Scholten said he pulled in $350,000 from over 7,500 individuals in a 24-hour period in late October, as national attention to King's recent controversies ramped up. Those were turned into more ads for Scholten, while King's first television spot didn't air until four days before the election.

Since he's had no need to run television ads in previous elections and hasn't had to raise money like other candidates, his campaign wasn't prepared to match the onslaught, King told the AP. He estimated he spent around $130,000 for advertising this campaign against Scholten's millions.

Just before noon Wednesday, King took to Twitter to hold forth again on his derision for the media and out-of-Iowa spending. 

"Thank you 4th District Iowans for rejecting the coordinated hit-job of the Leftist press," he said in a tweet. "You also proved this Congressional seat is not for sale when your votes wiped out the 'Green T$unami' of East & West coast billionaires." 

Scholten, a Sioux City native who played college and professional baseball, fell just short of pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the midterms. 

Scholten won his home county of Woodbury by nearly 3,000 votes, 53 percent to 44 percent. It was the first time King had lost the district's most populous county since he first ran for the House in 2002. Scholten's best showing came in Story County, home to Ames and Iowa State University, where he won 65 percent of the ballots.

Even in many of the bright red counties King carried Tuesday, his support fell sharply from previous elections. In heavily Republican Sioux and Lyon counties, King won 73.3 percent and 71.9 percent, respectively, but that was down from his 2016 totals in those counties of 83.5 and 82.2, percent respectively.

King also ran behind Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds in many 4th District counties. Reynolds, for instance, carried Woodbury County as she won a narrow victory over Democrat Fred Hubbell.

University of Northern Iowa Professor Christopher Larimer said he'll be looking to answer the intriguing question on whether independent voters were the people who were split ticket voters. Larimer in a Wednesday tweet said, No Party, or "NP voters likely a big part of the story and more needs to be done to understand their leanings. I will be interested to see the overall turnout numbers for NPs---if they were closer to partisans."

Despite the loss, Scholten said he was "damn proud" of his campaign team and for pushing the race to the point King was on the defensive. And, he suggested he may challenge King again.

After conceding Tuesday night, Scholten took to twitter to remind everyone that his Democratic heroes, former Iowa Congressman Berkley Bedell and  U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, both lost their first elections.

"You haven't seen the last of J.D. Scholten," he tweeted.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Steve King, Republican incumbent in Iowa's 4th Congressional District, right, talks to Bob Henderson, Iowa House District 14 candidate during an election watch party held in a Sioux City conference center Tuesday. King beat Democratic challenger J.D. Scholten by less than 11,000 votes.  

Sessions pushed out after a year of attacks from Trump

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pushed out Wednesday after enduring more than a year of blistering and personal attacks from President Donald Trump, who inserted in his place a Republican Party loyalist with authority to oversee the remainder of the special counsel's Russia investigation.

The move has potentially ominous implications for special counsel Robert Mueller's probe given that the new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, until now Sessions' chief of staff, has questioned the inquiry's scope and spoke publicly before joining the Justice Department about ways an attorney general could theoretically stymie the investigation.

Congressional Democrats, concerned about protecting Mueller, called on Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation in its final but potentially explosive stages.

That duty has belonged to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and closely monitors his work.

The resignation, in a one-page letter to Trump, came one day after Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives and was the first of several expected post-midterms Cabinet and White House departures. Though Sessions was an early and prominent campaign backer of Trump, his departure letter lacked effusive praise for the president and made clear the resignation came "at your request."

"Since the day I was honored to be sworn in as attorney general of the United States, I came to work at the Department of Justice every day determined to do my duty and serve my country," Sessions wrote.

The departure was the culmination of a toxic relationship that frayed just weeks into Sessions' tenure, when he stepped aside from the Russia investigation because of his campaign advocacy and following the revelation that he had met twice in 2016 with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Trump blamed the recusal for the appointment of Mueller, who took over the Russia investigation two months later and began examining whether Trump's hectoring of Sessions was part of a broader effort to obstruct the probe.

The investigation has so far produced 32 criminal charges and guilty pleas from four former Trump aides. But the work is not done and critical decisions await that could shape the remainder of Trump's presidency.

Mueller's grand jury, for instance, has heard testimony for months about Trump confidant Roger Stone and what advance knowledge he may have had about Russian hacking of Democratic emails. Mueller's team has also been pressing for an interview with Trump. And the department is expected at some point to receive a confidential report of Mueller's findings, though it's unclear how much will be public.

Separately, Justice Department prosecutors in New York secured a guilty plea from Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who said the president directed him to arrange hush-money payments before the 2016 election to two women who said they had sex with Trump.

Trump had repeatedly been talked out of firing Sessions until after the midterms, but he told confidants in recent weeks that he wanted Sessions out as soon as possible after the elections, according to a Republican close to the White House who was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.

The president deflected questions about Sessions' expected departure at a White House news conference Wednesday. He did not mention that White House chief of staff John Kelly had called Sessions beforehand to ask for his resignation. The undated letter was then sent to the White House.

The Justice Department did not directly answer whether Whitaker would assume control of Mueller's investigation, with spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores saying he would be "in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice."

Rosenstein remains at the department and could still be involved in oversight. Trump said Wednesday that he did not plan to stop the investigation.

Without Sessions' campaign or Russia entanglements, there's no legal reason Whitaker couldn't immediately oversee the probe. And since Sessions technically resigned instead of forcing the White House to fire him, he opened the door under federal law to allowing the president to choose his successor instead of simply elevating Rosenstein, said University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck.

That left Whitaker in charge, at least for now, though Democrats, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, said he should recuse himself because of his comments on the probe. Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said he wants "answers immediately" and "we will hold people accountable."

Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney from Iowa who twice ran unsuccessfully for statewide office and founded a law firm with other Republican Party activists, once opined about a scenario in which Trump could fire Sessions and then appoint an acting attorney general who could stifle the funding of Mueller's probe.

In that scenario, Mueller's budget could be reduced "so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt," Whitaker said during an interview with CNN in July 2017 before he joined the Justice Department.

UPDATED: Military aircraft makes emergency landing at Sioux Gateway Airport

SIOUX CITY -- A military aircraft that had lost part of its canopy safely made an emergency landing Wednesday at Sioux Gateway Airport.

The pilot was not injured.

The 185th Air Refueling Wing, Iowa Air National Guard in Sioux City was notified by an Air National Guard A-10 at about 12:30 p.m. of an in-flight emergency. The pilot, a member of the Idaho Air National Guard, reported a partial loss of the aircraft's canopy, Capt. Jeremy McClure, of the 185th ARW, said in a news release.

The pilot was able to land the aircraft without incident. He was evaluated by medical personnel, McClure said.

Airport operations manager John Backer said emergency personnel, including the 185th fire department, responded to the landing.

"We did everything normally as if it was a regular in-flight emergency," Backer said.

The A-10 is assigned to the Indiana Air National Guard's 122nd Fighter Wing in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and had been on loan with the Idaho Air National Guard's 124th Fighter Wing in Boise, Idaho. The aircraft was being flown from Boise to Fort Wayne with a planned stop in Sioux City for fuel, McClure said.

An Air National Guard investigation team is en route to Sioux City to investigate the incident.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Western Christian players celebrate a point against Treynor in Class 2A quarterfinal-round state volleyball action in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. Sioux City Journal Photo by Justin Wan