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After Major Political Defeat In The House, Trump Moves On By Pushing Sessions Out


President Trump is trying to move on from a major political defeat yesterday when Democrats won control of the House. His first big move - pushing out Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The news came shortly after Trump wrapped up a wild roller coaster of a press conference, in which he declared victory in spite of the losses. NPR's Tamara Keith was on that roller coaster and joins us now from the White House. Hey, Tam.


CHANG: All right, let's start with Sessions. Trump has publicly berated this guy for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. So with Sessions out, what happens with the special counsel's probe?

KEITH: Yeah. President Trump believes that Jeff Sessions' decision to recuse himself early on led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller and put a cloud over his presidency. So Sessions' resignation letter indicates that this was not really a resignation. He writes, quote, "at your request, I am submitting my resignation."

The man who will replace Sessions, at least temporarily, is named Matthew Whitaker. He was Sessions' chief of staff and has, in writing, been a critic of the special counsel investigation that he will now, apparently, oversee.

At a press - at this press conference that President Trump held, before the news came out, he was asked about the special counsel investigation, and his answers were far from clear. At one point, he spoke about the investigation in the past tense. Other times, he called it a wasteful witch hunt that he then said he would leave alone.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I could fire everybody right now, but I don't want to stop it because, politically, I don't like stopping it. It's a disgrace. It should've never been started because there was no crime.

CHANG: OK. Now, the Russia investigation was just one of many topics Trump addressed in his press conference. Would it be safe to say he tried to put a positive spin on the midterm election results?

KEITH: He used his power of positive thinking. But...

CHANG: His favorite book.

KEITH: Yes, exactly. But I also just have to say that this was a very contentious press conference where he told reporters to sit down, told them that they were rude. He even accused one reporter of asking a racist question.

But then, and amongst all of that, he claimed to have defied history because Republicans gained seats in the Senate. And he even went as far as saying that Democrats having control of the House would be better for him.


TRUMP: I thought it was a very close-to-complete victory when you look at it from the standpoint of negotiation, when you look at it from the standpoint of deal-making, because it's all about deal-making.

CHANG: It's all about deal-making.

KEITH: It is all about deal-making. He is talking there about the prospect of working with House Democrats and Senate Republicans to maybe even get things done on policy, like infrastructure. But...

CHANG: Heard that one before.

KEITH: We have heard that one many times before. But, you know, in the same breath he was talking about bipartisanship, he also was telling Democrats that they shouldn't investigate his administration. And he said that if things don't work out, he'll just blame the Democrats.

CHANG: Now, he called Tuesday, quote, "very close to a complete victory." You've been looking at the president's endorsements and how his various favorite candidates fared. Can you just give us a rundown of the scorecard?

KEITH: Yeah. So I looked at the candidates that he tweeted endorsements of - 41 of them won, 31 of them lost and 11 races still haven't been called yet.

One race that President Trump was very invested in was the Montana Senate race. And today, Democrat Jon Tester - the race was called for him. He squeaked by with a victory, even though President Trump campaigned in that state four times this year.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.