×
August 20, 2018

A memo for Democratic candidates from debate strategists Ron Klain and John Neffinger advises an aggressive approach to messaging in the 2018 midterms. The document, obtained by Axios, advises Democrats to stay on the offensive this year, to "smile ... and attack."

"Debates are much more confrontational now," argues Klain, who has worked with every Democratic presidential nominee since 1992. "The emphasis has shifted from persuading undecided voters to motivating your own supporters, and showing your supporters you'll fight for what you believe in."

That means goals like "staying above the fray" or "just getting my own message out" aren't good enough, the memo argues. This is not a time for going high when opponents go low.

Strategies thus include maintaining a small smile to look like you are the candidate having the most fun; preparing one-liner comebacks, especially if you're facing a Trump-y candidate who has a few favorite phrases; resisting the urge to play fact-checker on stage; and ending answers with direct attacks on the opponent. And when shaping the post-debate coverage, the memo concludes, "[l]ook for specific issues raised in the debate, especially (but not exclusively) gaffes or odd answers or behavior by your opponent." Bonnie Kristian

2:25p.m.

The "caravan" used to make a near-daily appearance in President Trump's vocabulary. But political discussion of the migrant group rolled away as quickly as it arrived, and the word "caravan" hasn't been seen on Trump's Twitter feed since Halloween, CBS News' Kathryn Watson points out.

The real caravan, though, has not exactly disappeared. It's still a group of about 3,600 Central American migrants headed through Mexico to claim asylum in the U.S., NPR reports. And it's in Guadalajara, still more than 1,000 miles from reaching the border, because it opted for a "safer, longer route" to cross just south of San Diego in Tijuana, Fox News reports. A small group of largely LGBT migrants arrived in Tijuana by bus Tuesday, splitting off amid discrimination from other caravan members, they tell The Washington Post.

While Trump may have forgotten about the caravan, perhaps because Election Day is over, the troops he directed to the border haven't. Thousands of troops spent Veterans Day waiting at the border for the caravan's arrival, and will likely be there through Thanksgiving, The New York Times reports. And seeing as they've mostly been tasked with work the National Guard already has under control, veterans say the Army will likely have a morale issue on its hands.

Trump, meanwhile, has moved on to other migrant-blocking, border-strengthening measures — with very limited mentions of the caravan he once considered of peak importance. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:37p.m.

Remember that anonymous op-ed in The New York Times that sent shock waves through Washington in September? Its author was never publicly identified, but Omarosa Manigault Newman claims the Trump administration solved the mystery behind closed doors.

Manigault Newman, a former White House communications aide, told MSNBC Wednesday that she has heard "from my sources" that the Trump administration identified the op-ed writer and has "quietly removed them from the administration." She also said, citing "rumors," that the White House has been relatively quiet about the whole situation because of "how high-level that person is supposed to have been."

The anonymous Times op-ed came from a senior Trump administration official, who claimed there was a "quiet resistance" among officials in the administration who are "working diligently from within to frustrate parts of [Trump's] agenda and his worst inclinations." After its publication, the White House reportedly began a frantic internal search to find out who wrote it, with the president at one point narrowing his list of suspects down to 12. But after a while, the op-ed buzz faded, and there was never any additional reporting about its author.

Manigault Newman had previously floated the idea that Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, could have written the op-ed, although considering Ayers is still working in the White House and is, in fact, reportedly the leading candidate to replace Chief of Staff John Kelly, her latest update contradicts that theory. However, she maintains that the op-ed's language is similar to "something that would come out of Pence's shop." Watch her comments below. Brendan Morrow

12:28p.m.

Fox News is taking press room solidarity to a new level.

After President Trump's administration stripped Jim Acosta, CNN's chief White House correspondent, of his press pass last week, the network filed a lawsuit alleging a handful of Trump officials violated Acosta's First and Fifth Amendment rights. And in a Wednesday statement, Fox News President Jay Wallace revealed the network would file an amicus brief on CNN's behalf.

At a Nov. 7 press briefing the morning after Election Day, Acosta refused to give up his microphone after Trump blew off his questions about the migrant caravan. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later accused Acosta of "placing his hands on" an intern who tried to take the microphone, and tweeted a doctored video of the incident. Sanders didn't mention the allegation again on in a Wednesday statement.

Fox News was the first to announce it would file brief to support CNN's lawsuit on Wednesday, and a gaggle of press organizations quickly followed.

Fox News previously sided with CNN after reporter Kaitlan Collins was banned from a Rose Garden event in July. Fox News' Bret Baier also supported CNN after a February 2017 press room banning, comparing it to when CNN and The New York Times backed Fox News after former President Barack Obama's administration tried to block the network from a press event. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:59a.m.

Thousands of firefighters are continuing to battle northern California's Camp Fire, which has already claimed 48 lives, 130,000 acres, and 7,000 homes as of Tuesday night. But in the town of Paradise, efforts have shifted to recovering bodies from a charred landscape.

Coroners, cadaver dogs, and forensic specialists have arrived in the destroyed Butte County town, searching for remains they fear "will be burned beyond recognition and perhaps beyond identification," The New York Times reports. "As advanced as we are, we are literally down to buckets and shovels" to dig out bodies, a county sheriff's spokesman told the Times. Finding those remains is completely dependent upon dogs because, as one specialist put it, "How do you tell a bone from a rock at a certain point?"

Here's what the devastation looks like, in 5 photos. Kathryn Krawczyk

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

10:55a.m.

The Department of Justice on Wednesday released a memo defending President Trump's appointment of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker as constitutional.

When Trump forced Jeff Sessions out of the administration last week and replaced him with Whitaker, it set off some debate over whether the decision was actually legal, with the key concern being that Whitaker has not been confirmed by the Senate. On the one hand, some have argued Whitaker's appointment violates the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, which says principal officers of the United States must be confirmed by the Senate. Others, however, have argued Whitaker's appointment is constitutional and that as long as he's only there on a temporary basis, he doesn't qualify as a "principal officer."

Now, the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel has weighed in, saying that while "presidents often choose acting principal officers from among Senate-confirmed officers ... the Constitution does not mandate that choice," reports Bloomberg. The memo also argues that Whitaker's appointment is consistent with the Vacancies Reform Act because he was serving in a senior position at the Department of Justice for over a year before Trump selected him, CNN reports. Whitaker was Sessions' chief of staff at the Justice Department up until last week.

CNN also reports that Trump sought out legal advice about appointing a senior DOJ official as acting attorney general before he fired Sessions, although it's unclear when that conversation took place. Whitaker's appointment is the first time since 1866 that an acting attorney general has been appointed without Senate confirmation, Bloomberg reports. Brendan Morrow

10:19a.m.

The election recount in one key Florida county is going to stretch on even longer than expected, and it's all thanks to outdated voting machines.

Palm Beach County's election supervisor, Susan Bucher, said Tuesday night that nearly 175,000 early ballots would need to be recounted yet again because some of their machines overheated and produced incorrect tallies, The Miami Herald reports. This means they lost a day and a half of work, says The Washington Post. As a result of these technical difficulties, the recount is going to be further delayed, Bucher explained. She had already said the county would likely not be able to make the statewide deadline of Thursday at 3 p.m.

Recounts were ordered in Florida over the weekend after key races, including the closely-watched gubernatorial and Senate elections, came down to a margin of less than 0.5 percentage points. This legally requires a machine recount, which normally would need to be completed by Thursday, Nov. 15. A judge recently extended the deadline in Palm Beach to Nov. 20, although Secretary of State Ken Detzner is taking that decision to federal court, reports the Palm Beach Post. If the county misses the new recount deadline, it must submit its original count as the official result.

Officials in the county are working 24/7 to recount the ballots, Bucher says, but they only have eight machines there, per The Miami Herald. The outdated equipment being used was made by a defunct company and only allows for one race to be recounted at a time, The Palm Beach Post reports. $11 million has been set aside for new equipment, but it has yet to be purchased. Brendan Morrow

10:05a.m.

Facebook's employees are feeling the sting of the company's rough year.

After stocks fell and questions arose about data security, Facebook internally surveyed its employees to see how they were gauging the chaos. The results showed a massive drop in morale and worries that Facebook's moral compass had turned south, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Of Facebook's nearly 29,000 employees, only 52 percent said "they were optimistic about Facebook's future," the Journal reports via the survey. That's a 32 percent drop from this time last year. A similar portion of 53 percent "said Facebook was making the world better," dropping 19 percent from last year. Employees were also concerned the company was putting growth over innovation, and indicated they were thinking of leaving the company sooner than in years past.

Optimism may have been high a year ago, but it's not as if Facebook's situation was particularly rosy back then. Concerns over the site's spread of misinformation emerged right after the 2016 presidential election, but enthusiasm didn't drop significantly, the Journal notes. Instead, the Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke in early 2018, coupled with criticism of the company's leadership, seemed to trigger a morale landslide that first appeared in Facebook's April internal survey.

A spokeswoman acknowledged the "difficult period" Facebook has endured, but told the Journal people are still "pulling together to ... build a stronger company." Employees say they're noticing the darker mood, though it seemed to get brighter after last week's catastrophe-free midterm elections. Read more about Facebook's woes at The Wall Street Journal. Kathryn Krawczyk

See More Speed Reads