TPM News

President Donald Trump on Tuesday tweeted his congratulations to Democratic Sen.-elect Doug Jones (D-AL), calling Jones’ victory “hard fought.”

Trump had endorsed Republican Roy Moore in the general election, after endorsing interim Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) in the Republican primary. Both men endorsed by the President lost in deep-red Alabama.

Trump campaigned hard against Jones, tweeting frequent attacks against him and in support of his opponent, despite revelations that Moore allegedly initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old and sexually assaulted a 16-year-old as an assistant district attorney, among other allegations.

Trump recorded a robocall for Moore and invited Alabamians to a nearby rally in Pensacola, Florida, among a slew of other appeals, all to no avail.

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The chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee urged Alabama’s newly elected Democratic senator, Doug Jones, to “do the right thing” and vote with Republicans.

“Tonight’s results are clear — the people of Alabama deemed Roy Moore unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate,” Cory Gardner said in a statement. 

“I hope Senator-elect Doug Jones will do the right thing and truly represent Alabama by choosing to vote with the Senate Republican Majority.”

Gardner was one of the strongest Republican voices in the Senate calling for the Republican candidate in the race, Roy Moore, to drop out following several reports that he made inappropriate sexual advances on teenagers as an assistant district attorney, including alleged sexual assault. 

Gardner cut off NRSC funding to Moore’s campaign and said he would support the Senate expelling Moore if he were elected.

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Democrat Doug Jones will be Alabama’s next senator after one of the wildest races in recent memory, giving Democrats a crucial seat in the chamber and opening a real if narrow path to retaking Senate control next year.

Jones lead accused child molester and GOP nominee Roy Moore by 49.6 percent to 48.8 percent with 89 percent of precincts reporting, according to the New York Times returns. The Associated Press has called the race, as have several TV networks.

Jones’s improbable victory was made possible when multiple women came forward to accuse Moore of sexual misconduct towards them when they were teenagers. Those allegations plunged the race into chaos and gave his party a rare chance at seriously contesting a race in deep red Alabama, where no Democrat has won a major statewide office since 2006.

His win narrows Republicans’ edge in the Senate to 51-49, leaving even less room for error on legislation and giving Democrats a real chance at winning back control of the chamber next year in spite of a brutal map where they’re mostly on defense.

Democrats now just need to hold serve in the 10 states that Trump won where they’re defending incumbents, and pick up swing-state Nevada and Arizona, to win back control. That appears doable if tough in the current political environment.

The result is likely to further inflame tensions between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Trump. McConnell disavowed Moore’s campaign, called for him to drop out and refused to spend to help him after the allegations surfaced, while Trump rode to his rescue with rallies and money from the Republican National Committee after refusing to help push him out of the race. Both will likely blame the other for the disastrous result, further fueling fights within the party that will play out in a number of Senate primaries.

It’s also a blow to former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who threw his support hard behind Moore in the primary and stuck by him through the race. Bannon has promised support to a rash of populist firebrands in GOP primaries, but it might be harder to convince voters to back his candidates after the debacle in Alabama, where he was one of Moore’s most visible supporters.

The infighting between the factions began even before final results were in — and escalated as soon as the race was called for Jones.

“This is a brutal reminder that candidate quality matters regardless of where you are running,” Steven Law, the head of the pro-McConnell Senate Leadership Fund, said in a statement immediately after the AP called the race. “Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the President of the United States into his fiasco.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-CO) was direct, saying Alabama voters “deemed Roy Moore unfit to serve” before calling on Jones to vote with the GOP.

Trump himself was gracious in his loss.

But some of his supporters weren’t happy.

“I hate the fact that Doug Jones ran a gutter-style campaign instead of addressing the issues. This man hasn’t been charged with anything, he’s always been a man of faith,” Trump Alabama state chairman Perry Hooper, who was at the Moore election event, told TPM.

Hooper then turned on Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the most prominent Alabama Republican who publicly refused to back Moore.

“It’s upsetting being a Trump guy, it’s a setback to Alabama… and there’s a lot of people upset with Sen. Shelby, I’ll tell you that,” he said.

Democrats were jubilant — starting with Jones.

“We have shown the country the way that we can be unified. … At the end of the day, this entire race has been about dignity and respect,” Jones said to a jubilant crowd in Birmingham. “This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency, and making sure everyone in this state, regardless of which zip code you live in, is going to get a fair shake in life.”

But even after the race was clearly over, Moore’s campaign wasn’t ready to concede defeat.

“Some people have called the race. We’re not calling it yet. … And it could be a while,” Moore adviser Rich Hobson said at 9:40 p.m. central time before asking supporters to pray.

Jones is a relatively liberal Democrat who’s likely to stand with his party on most issues for the next few years. He’s pro-choice, believes in climate change and holds progressive views on civil rights, LGBT rights and immigration.

He’s also been critical of the GOP tax bill, putting additional pressure on Republicans to pass the legislation before the end of the year, when he’ll replace appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) in Congress. Strange was appointed to the seat when President Trump picked Jeff Sessions to lead the Department of Justice, and lost to Moore in the primary in spite of huge spending by McConnell and his allies.

Jones is a former U.S. attorney who is best known in Alabama for successfully reopening a decades-old case and prosecuting the Ku Klux Klansmen who bombed a Birmingham church in 1963, killing four little girls.

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Tensions have started to build underneath the sounds of smooth jazz at Roy Moore’s election night party as updated results have Democrat Doug Jones closing in on Moore.

Moore was clinging to a narrow lead of 49.5 percent to 49 percent lead — less than 5,000 votes —shortly after 9 p.m. CT on Tuesday — when a jazz saxophonist wrapped up his cover of Carlos Santana’s “Smooth” and a few other gems and was met with nervous silence from the audience. Moore’s lead in the raw vote count had been shrinking all evening. County-by-county results indicated a nail-biter of a race — and the more urban, more Democratic counties had more of the outstanding vote.

“We’re hanging on, 81% of the vote, we need some more,” a Moore surrogate who’d been keeping the crowd warm all night said as a once-raucous crowd tittered nervously.

“Call it!” someone in the crowd yelled a few minutes later after a family band came onstage to sing “America the Beautiful.”

“I want to call it,” he joked back.

But the once-excited crowd’s happy chatter had dimmed to a dull murmur. And at 9:15 p.m. CT, the crowd fell silent as Jones pulled ahead, with the sad sounds of “Amazing Grace” playing in the background.

Black turnout has been higher than most experts expected — and significantly higher than white turnout in some crucial counties. That’s helped Jones claw his way into a virtual tie.

The race appears headed for a photo finish, with even expert prognosticators unclear who will win.

For those watching at home, under Alabama law any election narrower than 0.5 percent of the vote triggers an automatic recount. Get your popcorn.

If y’all continue to keep the faith,” the Moore surrogate told the crowd, “we’re going to get this thing.”

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As polls closed in Alabama Tuesday night in the special election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat, NBC News, CNN and Fox News all described the race as “too early to call.”

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Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore on Tuesday barred Washington Post reporters from his election night event, the paper confirmed to TPM. 

“We were denied credentials and when our reporters asked to enter they were told no,” Post spokesperson Kristine Coratti told TPM in an email.

The Associated Press reported that a spokesperson for Moore, Hannah Ford, “confirmed the newspaper is not being granted press credentials.”

“The campaign told the newspaper it had reviewed its request and was denying them,” AP reported.

The Post was the first to report on accusations of sexual misconduct against Moore: On Nov. 9, the Post reported that Moore had allegedly initiated sexual contact with then-14-year-old Leigh Corfman when he was an assistant district attorney, among other allegations. Multiple accusers came forward against Moore following that report.

This post has been updated.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — As Alabama votes to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the choice between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones has taken on outsized significance. Moore has faced allegations of sexual misconduct with teenagers, dividing the GOP and giving Democrats hope of picking up a seat in a reliably red state. But the stakes for both parties extend beyond Alabama. Here is what to look for in Tuesday night’s results:WHAT IS THE TRUMP DRAW?

Alabama has once already proven the bounds of President Donald Trump’s political influence. He endorsed Moore’s GOP rival, Sen. Luther Strange, in the September primary, campaigning for him in Alabama hours before he was trounced by the state’s conservative voters. Now Trump has wagered a greater sum on Moore’s candidacy. The president resisted calls from his party’s senior leadership to abandon Moore after the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced. He directed the Republican National Committee to re-enter the race on Moore’s behalf, repeatedly attacked Jones, and recorded last-minute robo-calls on the Republican’s behalf. A GOP defeat in the deep-red state would speak to the limits of Trump’s ability to sway and motivate Republican voters.

WILL DEMOCRATIC TURNOUT EFFORTS PAY OFF?

In recent days, Democrats have pulled out the stops for Jones, including recorded calls from former President Barack Obama and visits from high-profile surrogates. They’re trying to boost turnout among those most likely to be aggravated by Moore’s controversial past, including black voters, and make inroads with suburban women_who proved to be pivotal to Democratic victories last month. Democrats are also hoping to win over moderate Republican voters who backed Moore’s primary rival, Sen. Luther Strange. Strong turnout and Democratic gains on both those fronts could point to trouble for Moore, and for the GOP going into next year.

WILL DEMOCRATS END THEIR SPECIAL ELECTION BAD LUCK?

Despite a ripe political climate, high-profile coverage and huge injections of cash, Democrats are winless in five contests for vacant Republican congressional seats this year. All have been held in reliably Republican strongholds, but the defeats have still taken their toll on a party in a struggle for its identity. Wins in Virginia, New Jersey and Maine in the November off-year election have provided some sorely needed optimism for the 2018 midterms, and a Senate seat pick-up in Alabama would add pep to the party’s step.

HOW WILL IT AFFECT RETIREMENTS?

Sensing a difficult midterm election looming, 16 Republican members of the House and two in the Senate have already announced they will not run again next year. The retirement gap_only six Democrats in the House and one in the Senate have said they won’t run_can be an early indicator of what’s to come in a midterm election. (A more even split of retirements exists for lawmakers retiring from Congress to seek other office.) Republican leaders are anticipating more retirements on their side from lawmakers in competitive seats where members are facing challenging and expensive contests. A Democratic victory statewide in Alabama could foretell a dire year ahead for Republicans, which could send more Republicans to announce their departures on their own terms.

WAS MOORE WORTH IT?

The Republican Party’s decision to maintain support for Roy Moore stands to be a defining choice for years to come. The party chose to embrace a one-time pariah for reasons of political expediency, and then doubled-down in the face of troubling allegations of sexual assault and harassment. For the president, it’s a matter of practicality_a loss would narrow the GOP’s thin majority in the Senate even further at a time when his agenda faces critical tests. But other Republicans worry it’s a short-term ploy that has sacrificed their moral authority and that may come back to haunt them in the coming year. Republican lawmakers have spent the past months struggling to answer questions about Moore and his long history of divisive comments, and should he win, his presence will loom large in the Capitol and on the campaign trail. If Moore keeps the Senate seat in Republican hands, it may justify the backlash for some GOP officials. If he loses, the GOP has stuck by a candidate despite accusations of sexual impropriety, and who has alienated vast swaths of the electorate, with nothing to show for it.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday softened America’s stance on possible talks with North Korea, calling it “unrealistic” to expect the nuclear-armed country to come to the table ready to give up a weapons of mass destruction program that it invested so much in developing. Tillerson said his boss, President Donald Trump, endorses this position.

Tillerson’s remarks came two weeks after North Korea conducted a test with a missile that could potentially carry a nuclear warhead to the U.S. Eastern Seaboard — a milestone in its decades-long drive to pose an atomic threat to its American adversary that Trump has vowed to prevent, using military force if necessary.

“We are ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk. And we are ready to have the first meeting without preconditions,” Tillerson said at the Atlantic Council think tank.

He said that the North would need to hold off on its weapons testing. This year, the North has conducted more than 20 ballistic missile launches and one nuclear test explosion, its most powerful yet.

“Let’s just meet and we can talk about the weather if you want to. We can talk about whether it’s a square table or a round table if that’s what you are excited about,” Tillerson said. “But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face and then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map, of what we might be willing to work towards.”

Although Tillerson said the goal of U.S. policy remained denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, he added it was “not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program. They’ve too much invested in it. The president is very realistic about that as well.”

In public, Trump has been less sanguine about the possibilities of diplomacy with Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian government, which faces growing international isolation and sanctions as it pursues nuclear weapons in defiance of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. In October, Trump appeared to undercut Tillerson when he said he was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with the North Korea, just as Tillerson said the U.S. had backchannel communications with the North.

Trump, who has traded insults with Kim, kept up his tough talk on Tuesday. As he signed a $700 billion defense authorization bill that includes additional spending on missile defense, he referred to North Korea as a “vile dictatorship.”

“We’re working very diligently on that — building up forces. We’ll see how it all turns out. It’s a very bad situation — a situation that should have been handled long ago by other administrations,” Trump said.

Tillerson did not indicate that North Korea had signaled a new readiness to talk, but said that “they clearly understand that if we’re going to talk, we’ve got to have a period of quiet” in weapons tests.

Tillerson stressed that the U.S. would not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea, as it flouts international norms and might spread weapons technology to non-state groups in ways that other nuclear powers have not.

In a rare admission of discussion of a highly sensitive topic, Tillerson said Washington has discussed with Beijing how North Korea’s nuclear weapons might be secured in case of instability there.

“The most important thing to us would be securing those nuclear weapons that they have already developed and ensuring that nothing falls into the hands of people who we would not want to have it. We’ve had conversations with the Chinese about how that might be done,” Tillerson said.

It appeared to the first public recognition from an administration official that the U.S. has discussed North Korean contingencies with China, which fought with the North against the U.S. in the 1950-53 Korean War. The Trump administration has held a series of high-level dialogues with Beijing this year, and U.S. and Chinese generals held rare talks in late November about how the two militaries might communicate in a crisis although U.S. officials said the dialogue wasn’t centered on North Korea.

Tillerson said that the U.S. has assured China that in the event that American troops had to cross northward of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, it would retreat back south once stability returned.

“That is our commitment we made to them. Our only objective is to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, and that is all,” Tillerson said.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Tillerson’s proposal for direct talks with North Korea without preconditions was overdue and a welcome shift in position, but both sides needed to demonstrate restraint.

“For North Korea that means a halt to all nuclear and ballistic missile tests, and for the United States, refraining from military maneuvers and overflights that appear to be practice runs for an attack on the North,” Kimball said. “If such restraint is not forthcoming, we can expect a further escalation of tensions and a growing risk of a catastrophic war.”

Last week, the United States flew a B-1B supersonic bomber over South Korea as part of a massive combined aerial exercise involving more than 200 warplanes. North Korea says such drills are preparations for invasion.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Tuesday narrowly confirmed one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees despite a rare “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association.

On a party-line vote of 50-48, the Republican-led Senate backed Leonard Steven Grasz to serve on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Grasz served for more than 11 years as Nebraska’s chief deputy attorney general and was general counsel to the Nebraska Republican Party.

In one opinion he helped craft, he said the legacy of the landmark abortion rights ruling Roe v. Wade was its “moral bankruptcy.” Another opinion he helped write warned of the “grave danger” of the Nebraska Supreme Court recognizing same-sex marriages from other states, and he advised that legislation refusing to recognize same-sex marriages could be defended against a constitutional challenge.

Some liberal advocacy groups fear Grasz will be hostile to abortion rights and laws protecting gays from discrimination.

Culture wars are hardly new when it comes to debates over the federal judiciary, but the battle over Grasz’s confirmation has additional acrimony as the GOP demonstrates its resolve in getting Trump’s nominees lifetime appointments.

Republicans have dismissed the ABA as a partisan interest group and described its rating as a “hit job.” Democrats said Republicans are adopting the Trump playbook: “If you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, pushed through Grasz’s nomination on a party-line vote last week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., moved swiftly for a full Senate vote.

Grasz is the 10th appellate court nominee of the Trump presidency to win confirmation. Two more appellate court nominees are expected to be voted on later this week.

By comparison, President Barack Obama had three appellate court judges confirmed in his first year.

Grasz was only the third nominee since 1989 to be unanimously deemed “not qualified” by the ABA. In that time, it has reviewed more than 1,700 nominees.

Since Grasz’s evaluation, Brett Talley has also been unanimously rated “not qualified.” Talley has been nominated to serve as a district judge in Alabama but has never tried a case in court. Grassley told CNN on Tuesday the White House “should not proceed” on the Talley nomination.

“If the White House goes forward with the vote, they’re going to lose,” responded Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, a member of the Judiciary Committee. “It doesn’t give me any joy to say that, but the man’s just not qualified.”

The ABA’s rating is based on information gleaned from interviews with other lawyers, the writings of the nominee and interviews with the nominee. An evaluator gathers the information and presents it to a committee made up of 15 lawyers representing every judicial circuit in the country. A second evaluator looks at the case if there is a possibility of a “not qualified” rating.

In written testimony to the Judiciary Committee, the evaluators explained that “a significant number” of Grasz’s peers raised concerns that his strongly held social views and deeply rooted political allegiances “would make it impossible for him to have an unbiased and open mind on critical issues.”

The ABA said it is critical to protect the identity of the people they interview so they will be candid.

“I can’t trust such a secretive process, especially when the ABA won’t even shed any light on with whom it spoke,” Grassley complained.

In most administrations, the ABA has been advised of proposed nominees before they have been announced publicly or their nominations have been sent to the Senate. That allowed any rating of “not qualified” to be considered by the president privately before a final decision. But the Trump administration has chosen to announce its nominees publicly before the ABA conducts its evaluation. President George W. Bush opted to go that route, too.

The Congressional Research Service said the number of nominees who received a “not qualified” rating ranged from a high of nine nominees during the Eisenhower presidency to no nominees who received such a rating during the presidencies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Obama.

Prior to Obama, George W. Bush had seven nominees rated as not qualified; Bill Clinton had four.

So far, the ABA has rated 57 of Trump’s nominees. Fifty-three came back as “well qualified” or “qualified.” Four have been considered “not qualified.”

Grasz told the committee that because of the nature of the ABA’s process, it was impossible to know the reasoning behind “these anonymous comments.” However, he said he represented the state in several high-profile cases involving controversial issues. In one such case, he assisted in the state of Nebraska’s defense of its partial-birth abortion ban before the U.S. Supreme Court. The court struck down the ban 5-4 because it placed an undue burden on a woman’s right to have an abortion and did not allow for exception in cases of threatened health.

“I fully understand the fundamental difference between serving as an advocate and a judge,” he said. “Advocates represent their clients’ interests. Judges must be neutral officials who apply the law as it exists and not according to any personal views or opinions.”

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A spokesman for Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore’s campaign on Tuesday appeared dumbfounded when asked whether he knew that there is no legal requirement for elected officials to be sworn in using a Christian bible.

“Judge Moore has also said that he doesn’t think a Muslim member of Congress should be allowed to be in Congress. Why? Under what provision of the Constitution?” CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Moore spokesman Ted Crockett.

Moore in 2006 said that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, should not be sworn in because Moore claimed the Quran was not compatible with the Constitution.

“Because you have to swear on the Bible,” Crockett responded. “You have to swear on a Bible to be an elected official in the United States of America. He alleges that a Muslim cannot do that ethically, swearing on the Bible.”

“You don’t actually have to swear on a Christian Bible. You can swear on anything, really. I don’t know if you knew that. You can swear on a Jewish Bible,” Tapper said. “The law is not that you have to swear on a Christian Bible.”

Crockett fell silent for several seconds.

“You don’t know that?” Tapper added.

Crockett remained silent for several more seconds, then said, “I know that Donald Trump did it, when we made him President.”

“Because he’s Christian and he picked it,” Tapper replied. “That’s what he wanted to swear in on.”

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