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Democrat Holds Slim Lead In Pennsylvania District Trump Won By Nearly 20 Points

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Democrat Conor Lamb declares victory early Wednesday, but the special U.S. House race may end up with a recount.

Democrat Conor Lamb held a slight vote lead over Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone early Wednesday in a race that will likely end in a recount.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Lamb edged out Saccone by a mere 579 votes, but officials early Wednesday were still counting thousands of absentee and provisional ballots

The Associated Press said late Tuesday that it was not declaring a winner because the race was too close to call, but Lamb declared victory early Wednesday morning.

There is no automatic recount on the congressional district level in Pennsylvania, according to state law. Candidates can, however, petition for a recount within five days after counties complete their vote computations.

“I would rather be in Lamb’s shoes right now,” former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said late Tuesday on CNN.

About 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, Saccone came downstairs from the war room with his wife, Yong, his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. “I just came down to let you know, we’re still fighting the fight,” he said. “It’s not over yet.”

At one point a woman in the crowd yelled out, “There was some monkey business going on at the voting polls, Rick!”

Saccone thanked his supporters and let them know they could go home, because his campaign would be working late into the night.

Yet, win or lose, the result represents massive progress for the Democratic Party. It reflects the heightened enthusiasm of the party’s liberal base ahead of the 2018 congressional midterms, and it also signals dissatisfaction of many voters with President Donald Trump. The commander in chief carried the district by nearly 20 percentage points in the 2016 election.

“The congressional map for potentially competitive races has just gotten a whole hell of a lot bigger,” said Mike Mikus, a western Pennsylvania-based Democratic consultant. “If I’m the Republicans, I’m terrified. If I’m the Democrats, I’m very energized looking toward November.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee claimed victory Tuesday night before a winner had been declared. Ben Ray Luján, the chair of the group, said the results should “terrify Republicans” who spent millions to defeat Lamb.

“We have incredible candidates with deep records of service running deep into the map this year, and it’s clear that these Republican attacks are not going to stick,” he said.

Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District opened up in October when eight-term incumbent Republican Tim Murphy resigned under pressure. Murphy, who publicly opposed abortion rights, was caught encouraging a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair to get an abortion during a pregnancy scare.

Murphy enjoyed a virtually unshakable hold on the southwestern Pennsylvania district, running unopposed in the two previous elections. The district, which was heavily gerrymandered to favor Republicans, covers a vast swath of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Doug Heye, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said Tuesday’s result served as a warning sign for the GOP come November even if Saccone retains the seat.

“Regardless of who ultimately wins, this is not a good result for the GOP. Look for more retirements to come,” Heye tweeted, referring to the growing number of Republican lawmakers headed for the exits.

Much of the national commentary on Lamb’s race has centered on how he used his Catholic faith, background as a Marine and moderate positions on guns, coal and fracking to find favor with the district’s culturally conservative voters.

But Lamb also had a laser-like focus on kitchen-table economics, particularly with his promises to protect Social Security and Medicare. 

And in a district where nearly one in four voters is a union member, Lamb made his support for organized labor a leading theme of his campaign. He promised to protect collective bargaining rights, signed onto a bipartisan fix for the underfunded coal miners’ pensions and supported efforts to “level the playing field” for American manufacturing.

In his courtship of union voters, Lamb had a helpful foil in Saccone. Although former Rep. Tim Murphy enjoyed a solid working relationship with unions, Saccone had a resolutely anti-union record, which included  a host of controversial state House votes and support for the so-called “right-to-work” laws that are a third rail for unions.

It’s a good win for the labor movement.Tim Waters, United Steel Workers

Labor unions, which have sometimes been divided in their electoral efforts, united passionately behind Lamb. They conducted a massive effort to inform their members why they believed Lamb was the right candidate and Saccone was unacceptable. 

The United Steel Workers alone contacted all 20,000 of its members in the district at least once, according to the union’s political director Tim Waters.

“It’s a good win for the labor movement,” Waters said. “This is a union district and Republicans decided that because of the [district] lines they could come here to our backyard and run a blatantly anti-union candidate.”

The nature of the district made the race something of a “litmus test” on the political resonance of unions ― and unions passed that test with flying colors, according to Waters.

Although there is not detailed enough data to document exactly how votes broke down based on union membership, several working-class precincts where labor has a large presence went from voting for Trump to voting for Lamb.

In Burgettstown, a hamlet in a Washington County school district where just 15 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, 56 percent of residents voted for Trump in 2016. On Tuesday, the exact same percentage of the town’s residents voted for Conor Lamb.

Likewise, in a part of the rural coal mining town of Waynesburg, where Lamb held one of his final rallies, 57 percent of residents voted for Trump and 54 percent backed Lamb.

“If you look at his win and what happened recently with teachers unions in West Virginia, the labor movement is resurgent,” said Krystal Ball, founder of the People’s House Project, which recruits and advises candidates in GOP-held districts in the Midwest and Appalachia. “I hope the Democratic Party is smart enough to know their best friends and allies are in the labor movement.”

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Trump Ousts Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson

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Trump regularly undermined Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts.

Rex Tillerson is out as secretary of state after just 14 months on the job.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday tweeted that he is replacing Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, minutes after The Washington Post first reported that he had ousted Tillerson.

Tillerson’s departure comes amid reports of his disappointment with the turbulent atmosphere in President Donald Trump’s White House, as well as mounting criticism of his performance as the country’s leading diplomat and his drastic reduction of civil servant positions at the State Department. 

His job security had always seemed precarious, but on Nov. 30, The New York Times reported that the White House was considering forcing out Tillerson and replacing him with Pompeo.

The White House and State Department pushed back on the report, but that day, neither Trump nor White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would definitively say whether the president had confidence in Tillerson.

“He’s here. Rex is here,” Trump told reporters.

“When the president loses confidence in somebody, they’ll no longer be here,” Sanders said at that day’s White House press briefing.

Trump and Tillerson’s relationship has long been filled with tension. Tillerson reportedly considered resigning after Trump’s widely criticized speech to the Boy Scouts of America in July.

On Oct. 4, NBC News reported that Tillerson called Trump “a moron” during a meeting with top officials over the summer.

Following the report, Tillerson held an unusual press conference, in which he showered Trump with praise, affirming that the president is “smart.”

Notably, he did not dispute whether he called Trump “a moron,” leaving that job to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, who claimed that “the secretary does not use that type of language.”

Attacking the reporting as “phony,” Trump later said he appreciated Tillerson’s comments and that he had “total confidence in Rex.”

But less than a week later, he suggested in a Forbes magazine interview that if the story were true, he should “compare IQ tests” with Tillerson.

“And I can tell you who is going to win,” he added.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed Trump’s comment was “a joke” and said that he “never implied that the secretary of state was not incredibly intelligent.”

Trump has repeatedly undermined Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts in attempting to quell North Korea’s nuclear aggression, with the two men often contradicting each other and the president lambasting Tillerson on Twitter.

Tillerson’s days as secretary of state seemed numbered from the start. 

A government outsider lacking diplomatic experience, he arrived at Foggy Bottom after decades at Exxon Mobil Corp., rising from engineer in 1975 to chairman and CEO in 2006, overseeing vast expansion of the company’s operations worldwide. 

Trump picked Tillerson for the State Department job after a lengthy public vetting of prominent candidates, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Tillerson faced opposition during his Senate confirmation process, with lawmakers expressing concerns over his lack of experience in government and diplomacy, and strong ties with Russian leader Vladimir Putin from years of business in the country.  

Even Tillerson himself had been reluctant to accept the position. “I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,” he admitted to the conservative news outlet Independent Journal Review in March.

“My wife told me I’m supposed to do this,” he responded when an aide asked him why he accepted the position anyway. 

Once in office, Tillerson sought to reorganize the State Department and prioritize its activities toward business and security. He publicly illustrated the pivot after weeks on the job, opting to skip the presentation of the department’s annual human rights report.

During his tenure, the department faced drastic budget cuts and a crucial leadership vacuum. Amid massive international challenges like North Korea’s nuclear arms race and the war in Syria, Trump proposed cutting the State Department budget by nearly one-third. Dozens of vacancies remained unfilled, including top deputies, because of White House refusal to accept Tillerson’s picks. 

Tillerson and the White House also clashed on policy and messaging.  

As a diplomatic crisis in Qatar unfolded, Trump directly undermined Tillerson’s calls for calm, expressing support for Saudi Arabia’s economic and diplomatic blockade of the Gulf state, and accusing Qatar of funding terrorism.

In an August interview, Tillerson declined to defend Trump’s support for “America’s values,” telling Fox News that “the president speaks for himself.” The questioning arose during a conversation about Trump’s much criticized response to violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier that month, when counterprotesters clashed with hate groups protesting the planned removal of a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

From the White House, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, often ran a parallel track of diplomacy ― traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories to explore ways to revive peace talks, and interacting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. 

Sources told CNN in July that Tillerson was becoming increasingly frustrated with the White House. In late August, Axios reported that Trump was losing patience with his secretary of state, in part because key roles at the department still remained unfilled more than eight months into Trump’s presidency. A State Department spokesperson told Axios that Tillerson was working to fill the vacancies but that the White House was effectively sitting on his recommendations. 

Nauert had repeatedly insisted Tillerson was not considering resignation. Asked if a July vacation indicated Tillerson wanted to step away from the spotlight, Nauert said the secretary was “just taking a little time off” after that month’s G-20 summit.

Tillerson, like Trump, wasn’t a fan of reporters’ questions, doing away with the State Department’s daily briefing and limiting media access during his foreign travels. 

He said he wasn’t “a big media press-access person,” when he allowed just one journalist ― a reporter from the Independent Journal Review ― to accompany him on a visit to South Korea. The move backfired. American journalists were unable to challenge an embarrassing report in the Korea Herald that the secretary had canceled a dinner with South Korean officials because he was fatigued. 

Tillerson is just the latest to step down in the Trump administration. In September, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign, after he used taxpayer-funded private jets on numerous occasions.

National security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to step down in February  following revelations that he discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador before Trump’s inauguration. 

On May 9, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been leading an investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the presidential election.

Mike Dubke, White House communications director, resigned later in May after months of chaos in the press shop. Press secretary Sean Spicer quit in July, after the president appointed Anthony Scaramucci as the new communications director. Scaramucci resigned after just 10 days, amid a spate of departures that included White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and, less than a month later, chief strategist Steve Bannon.

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GOP Rep. Tom Rooney Breaks Ranks On Russia Report: ‘We’ve Lost All Credibility’

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House Intelligence Committee member says “there is evidence” Russians worked to help Trump.

A GOP member of the House Intelligence Committee is breaking ranks with his fellow Republicans over a contentious report released Monday on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties to the campaign of Donald Trump

Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) told CNN that “there is evidence” the Russians worked to help Trump. 

“I don’t know that necessarily there was a full-fledged campaign to do everything that they could to help elect Donald Trump,” he added. “I think that their goal was chaos.”

The draft report released by his fellow Republicans on Monday claims otherwise, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the election but not with the goal of aiding Trump. 

"We've gone completely off the rails, and now we're just basically a political forum for people to leak information to drive the day's news. ... We've lost all credibility" - Rep. Tom Rooney on the Republican decision to end the House Russia investigation.

However, he also justified ending the committee’s investigation.  

“We’ve gone completely off the rails, and now we’re just basically a political forum for people to leak information to drive the day’s news,” Rooney said. “We’ve lost all credibility, and we’re going to issue probably two different reports, unfortunately.”

He was referring to the likelihood that the committee’s Democratic members will issue their own report challenging the findings. 

“GOP just shut down House Intel investigation, leaving questions unanswered, leads unexplored, countless witnesses uncalled, subpoenas unissued,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who also sits on the committee, wrote on Twitter. 

Rooney, who announced last month that he will not seek reelection, said he hopes the recommendations of the report could help protect this year’s midterm elections. 

“Hopefully we can help salvage something positive out of it.”  

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