President TrumpDonald John TrumpMidterms: The winners and losers GOP Rep. Mike Bost wins reelection in Illinois Sisolak becomes first Dem to win Nevada governor race since 1994 MORE on Wednesday sought to show he remains in charge of Washington one day after his party lost control of the House in the midterm elections.
Trump kicked off a long-anticipated Cabinet shakeup by forcing out Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsElection fallout: What to watch for now The Hill’s Morning Report — Judgment Day: New data suggest big Dem gains in House, governors’ races Election Countdown: Trump frames midterm as referendum on presidency | Senate seats most likely to flip | Huge turnout raises Dem hopes | Controversy over Trump ad | Weather forecast has storm headed to key states | DOJ to monitor voting in 19 states MORE, a move that immediately set up a high-stakes confrontation with congressional Democrats over the Russia investigation.
The announcement came just hours after the president held court at a rare solo news conference at the White House, where he sparred with reporters who pressed him over his divisive rhetoric, warned Democrats about investigatory overreach and painted the midterm results as a validation of his political skills.
“I’ll be honest, I thought it was very close to complete victory,” Trump said during the 86-minute press conference in the East Room.
After severe midterm losses in 1994, former President Clinton had to convince Washington he remained relevant in the Newt Gingrich era.
Trump is far from that spot, as the GOP’s expansion of its Senate majority will make it easier to win confirmations for successors to Sessions, other Cabinet officials and conservative judges.
At the same time, Democrats picked up not only the House majority but also seven governor’s mansions, as voters signaled a desire to put a check on Trump and the GOP.
Trump is now confronting a new political reality after two years of one-party rule in the nation’s capital.
House Democrats will have subpoena power to conduct aggressive investigations of Trump’s personal finances, his business empire, his actions in the Russia probe and corruption in his administration. To get anything done legislatively, Trump will have to work with the new Democratic Speaker — likely Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D’Alesandro PelosiMidterms: The winners and losers Ryan on midterms: ‘Tonight history has repeated itself’ Election fallout: What to watch for now MORE (Calif.).
Despite those losses, Trump appeared to revel in the notion that he is remaking the GOP in his image, shaming a long list of Republicans who declined to “embrace” him and will no longer be in Congress.
“In Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMitt Romney wins Senate race in Utah GOP to retain Senate majority Legal fights over voting rights tighten already-close races MORE‘s case, it’s me, pure and simple. I retired him. I’m very proud of it. I did the country a great service,” Trump said of the outspoken Trump critic who did not run for reelection as Arizona senator.
The president, who relishes his ability to keep his opponents off-balance, showed he is prepared to use House Democrats as a foil if they wield their power in the majority against him.
Trump heaped praise on Pelosi and raised the possibility of working together in a “beautiful, bipartisan type of situation” on areas where they have common ground.
“Had we kept [the House], it puts us in a very tough position,” said the president, who was sporting a solid blue tie. “Now, we have a much easier path, because the Democrats will come to us with a plan for infrastructure, a plan for health care, a plan for whatever they are looking at and we’ll negotiate.”
But Trump warned Democrats he would adopt a “warlike posture” if they decide to investigate him.
“They can play that game, but we can play it better, because we have a thing called the United States Senate,” Trump said, suggesting the GOP majority could launch counterinvestigations against Democrats.
“It’ll go back and forth. And it’ll probably be very good for me politically. I could see it being extremely good politically, because I think I’m better at that game than they are, actually,” the president added.
Democrats on Wednesday appeared undeterred by Trump’s threats. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the soon-to-be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, all but guaranteed his panel would investigate Sessions’s firing.
“We will be holding people accountable,” Nadler tweeted.
Pelosi called on Sessions’s interim replacement, Matthew Whitaker, to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe due to his past criticism of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE.
Before announcing Sessions’s ouster, Trump told reporters he would not mind if the Russia investigation continues even as he repeated his belief it is a “disgrace” and an “embarrassment to our country.”
“I could fire everybody right now. But I don’t want to stop it because politically, I don’t like stopping it,” he said.
Exactly how the next two years of divided government will play out remained unclear as the dust settled from Tuesday’s contests.
Pelosi sought to strike a balance at her first post-election news conference, saying Democrats “believe that we have a responsibility to seek common ground where we can” with Trump and Republicans in Congress on issues ranging from infrastructure to prescription drug pricing.
But she also said the Democratic caucus “does not intend to abandon or relinquish our responsibility” for oversight in the new Congress.
“This doesn’t mean we go looking for a fight,” Pelosi said. “But if we need to go forward, we will.”
The exact makeup of Congress also remained in flux as of Wednesday afternoon. Democrats have won 223 House seats and Republicans claimed 196, with 16 races still undecided, according to The Associated Press.
The final count is likely to leave Democrats with a narrow majority in the lower chamber, and some new members have complicated Pelosi’s path to reclaiming the Speaker’s gavel by vowing not to support her in leadership elections.
In the Senate, Republicans have netted two seats and are leading competitive races in Florida and Arizona. Democratic Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterMidterms: The winners and losers Senate GOP beats expectations with expanded majority GOP to retain Senate majority MORE (Mont.) fended off a tough challenge that took a prime GOP pick-up opportunity off the table.
As Trump confronted the reality of a divided Washington, he gave lip service to unifying the country but also made it clear he won’t change his combative style.
Trump snapped at reporters throughout his news conference, becoming especially angry with CNN’s Jim Acosta over a line of questioning about the migrant caravan.
“You are a rude, terrible person,” Trump told Acosta, pointing repeatedly at the reporter.
The president later accused PBS NewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor of posing a “racist question” for asking Trump whether his embrace of nationalism was sending positive signals to white nationalists.
“I’d be very good at a low tone,” Trump said. “But when things are done not correctly about you, written about you, said about you on television, on wherever it is, you have to defend yourself.”