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The Wednesday afternoon massacre
Just hours after the polls closed, President Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump has had it in for Sessions ever since March 2017, when Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. That decision, in turn, led to the appointment of Robert Mueller.
Trump's move, which has been telegraphed for months, is an apparent effort to curtail Mueller's investigation just as it reaches a critical stage. Mueller is expected to either issue additional indictments or produce a report, which the Justice Department will have to decide whether or not to make public.
Trump announced that Sessions would be replaced, on a temporary basis, by Matthew G. Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff.
According to Bloomberg, Trump has removed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein from his role overseeing Mueller's investigation. Whitaker is now in charge. If that report is accurate, Whitaker will be able to block Mueller from issuing any indictments Whitaker believes are outside Mueller’s purview.
The move is reminiscent of the Saturday Night Massacre, when President Richard Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliott Richardson to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. Then Nixon issued the same directive to Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who also refused and resigned. In the end, Solicitor General Robert Bork fired Cox.
John Dean, Nixon's former White House Counsel, said Wednesday's events were worse.
"Unlike the Saturday Night Massacre...that was sort of a culmination of disregard for the president's direction not to go after his tapes. Here, this seems to be planned like a murder," Dean said on CNN.
Meet the new boss
Whitaker's appointment is notable because he has been an outspoken critic of Mueller.
Shortly before joining the Justice Department, Whitaker wrote a column in August 2017 entitled, "Mueller's investigation of Trump is going too far."
In the piece, Whitaker argued that "investigating Donald Trump's finances or his family's finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else. That goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel."
Mueller is "only authorized to investigate matters that involved any potential links to and coordination between two entities -- the Trump campaign and the Russian government," Whitaker writes. This cramped definition of Mueller's authority has been rejected by the courts. Paul Manafort unsuccessfully made the same argument in an attempt to get the charges against him dismissed.
On Twitter, Whitaker favorably cited a piece describing Mueller's investigators as a "lynch mob."
He also shared an article exploring how Trump could fire Mueller, including through the appointment of an acting Attorney General.
Whitaker defended Trump's role in dictating a false statement about his son's meeting in Trump Tower with Russian operatives.
In July 2017, Whitaker suggested that an acting Attorney General could reduce Muller's "budget to so low that his investigations grind to almost a halt."
Whitaker also chaired Sam Clovis' campaign for Iowa State Treasurer. Clovis is a witness in the Mueller investigation
What Whitaker can do with Mueller
Whitaker could attempt to fire Mueller for cause, but he also has a lot of options to kneecap the investigation without resorting to such a drastic measure. The tools at Whitaker's disposal were detailed in a September article by Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes:
The biggest and most frequent opportunity to obstruct the investigation comes in the broader consultation requirement. Throughout the investigation, the regulation requires that the special counsel “shall consult with appropriate offices within the Department for guidance with respect to established practices, policies and procedures of the Department, including ethics and security regulations and procedures.” The special counsel is also required to notify the acting attorney general “of events in the course of the investigation in conformity with the Departmental Guidelines with respect to Urgent reports.” In practice, that means Mueller has to tell the acting attorney general about any “major developments,” like filing criminal charges, in advance.
Such information-sharing alone could be a problem if sensitive law enforcement information improperly made its way to the White House—much less to subjects of the investigation. Beyond such obviously improper conduct, however, an acting attorney general could determine under the rules that a proposed action should not be pursued at all.
In 2016, Whitaker wrote an op-ed saying that he would indict Hillary Clinton, something Trump has called for repeatedly. Previously, Whitaker headed up the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, an organization that spent much of its time investigating Clinton.
Schumer calls for Whitaker's recusal
In short order, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called for Whitaker to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
"Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general," Schumer said.
Republicans are "concerned"
We have been told for nearly two years that if Trump moved to undermine the Mueller investigation, as he did on Wednesday, Republicans would spring into action and protect Mueller's independence.
Instead, a couple of Republican Senators issued milquetoast tweets expressing "concern."
This is not a game
It's easy to forget if you flipped on cable news on Tuesday night, but elections are not a game. Republicans and Democrats are not competing against one another in a sporting competition. The outcomes have real consequences in the lives of Americans, and people around the world.
Very little of this is discussed on election night.
Instead, pundits use math and amateur psychoanalysis to figure out "what it all means." As soon as that process is complete, the discussion quickly shifts to what the results of this election mean for the next election -- skipping over the next two years.
I propose an alternative framework: The true meaning of the election can be found in how it impacts real people.
A big expansion in health care for those who need it most
There were three red states with ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid eligibility, which is an option for states under Obamacare. Voters in all three states -- Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah -- voted in favor of expansion. Support was particularly strong in Idaho, where 61% of voters supported the initiative.
As a result, hundreds of thousands of low-income people who need health care will now be able to get it. And it could just be the beginning.
In Kansas, the legislature previously approved Medicaid expansion, but it was vetoed by former Republican Governor Sam Brownback. On Tuesday, Kansas voters elected Democrat Lauren Kelly, who supports expansion, as their new governor. It means that Medicaid expansion is now a real possibility in the state.
Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion last year, but their Republican Governor, Paul LePage, has been doing everything he could to obstruct the process. At one point, LePage said he'd rather go to jail than expand Medicaid to more people in his state. Maine's new governor, Democrat Janet Mills, supports expansion.
All told, it's likely that 500,000 people will have health care because of what happened on Tuesday night.
Not only does this mean better health outcomes for the newly insured, but a better financial situation. Studies show that people who live in states that expand Medicaid carry less debt. This makes sense. Health care is expensive.
Democrats recapturing the House makes it effectively impossible for Trump to repeal Obamacare over the next two years. The more red states that expand Medicaid, the more politically treacherous full repeal becomes for Republicans.
Basic rights for all Floridians
Last night, Floridians overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4, which restores the right to vote to about 1.5 million ex-felons. Previously, after completing their sentences, Floridians have "been forced to appeal to the governor and his Cabinet for the restoration of their voting rights." Governor Rick Scott effectively halted this process, restoring the rights of just 3,000 people since 2011.
There is a lot of speculation that this will make the electorate more favorable to Democrats in future elections. That's possible. But it's also not the primary reason why Amendment 4 is important.
Voting is a fundamental right of citizenship. Restoring the right to vote for 1.5 million people is a powerful affirmation of their worth and humanity. It's communicating to about 10% of Florida's voting population -- including 20% of otherwise eligible African-Americans -- that they are full members of society who will not be perpetually stigmatized by the state.
That means something, regardless of who they vote for -- or even if they vote.
Show me the money
In Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill lost in one of the more disappointing defeats of the night for Democrats. But her defeat is unlikely to make an immediate difference in the day-to-day lives of Missourians. Republicans controlled the Senate on Monday, and they control the Senate today.
Something that will help the working people of Missouri was the passage of Proposition B, which will increase the state's minimum wage from a paltry $7.85 per hour to $12. When it is fully implemented in 2023, the measure is projected to boost wages for 670,000 workers. The average pay increase will be $1520.
The increased purchasing power is also expected to boost local businesses, which is why more than 700 companies in the state supported the move.
Voters in Arkansas passed a similar measure, raising their state's minimum wage from $8.50 per hour to $11. It will boost wages for one-quarter of all workers -- about 300,000 people -- in Arkansas, one of the nation's poorest states. Those workers will see, on average, $1485 more in their paychecks.
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