Thursday morning news: November 15, 2018

House and Senate lawmakers reelect leaders » Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell welcomed the newest Republican additions to the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.

MCCONNELL: I’ve been through a few of these over the years. It’s a lot better to have a big freshman class than not. And so we’re here this morning to welcome our six new Republican senators. 

Hours later, Senate Republicans voted to keep McConnell as their leader.

Meantime, Democrats in the Senate voted to stick with Chuck Schumer as minority leader.

SCHUMER: Where do Senate Democrats go from here? We’re gonna be relentlessly focused on the issues that matter to the people. 

While Republicans are keeping their majority in the Senate, they’ll soon be the minority in the House. Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan challenged California’s Kevin McCarthy for leadership.

JORDAN: We lost so many races by the slimmest of margins. If we get the things done that we told them we were gonna do, I think we win many of those races. 

But Jordan’s bid fell short. House Republicans re-elected Kevin McCarthy as leader.

House Democrats plan to elect their leaders after Thanksgiving. Current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says she has enough support to once again take the speaker’s gavel. But a group of Democrats who say they want a change at the top, claim they have enough votes to block her.

FL Gov. Rick Scott arrives in Washington as recount continues » Among the new additions McConnell welcomed to Washington yesterday was Florida Governor Rick Scott. He has claimed victory after narrowly edging out incumbent Democrat Senator Bill Nelson in the original election tally.

But officials in Florida continue to recount the votes. And with a margin of less than 13,000, just two-tenths of 1 percent. Nelson said until the recount’s complete, Scott hasn’t won anything.

NELSON: This process is about one thing: protecting the right of every Floridian to have their ballot counted and to count as they intended it. 

Nelson said Scott “has been using his power as governor to try to undermine the voting process.”

White House announces support for criminal justice reform plan » President Trump on Wednesday announced his support for a bipartisan bill that represents the first major rewrite of criminal justice sentencing laws in a generation. Speaking at the White House, the president urged members of Congress to send the “First STEP Act” to his desk.

TRUMP: Americans from across the political spectrum can unite around prison reform legislation that will reduce crime while giving our fellow citizens a chance at redemption. 

The First STEP Act would boost rehabilitation efforts for federal prisoners and give judges more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders.

DOJ says Whitaker appointment legal » The Department of Justice issued a statement Wednesday supporting President Trump’s choice for acting attorney general. WORLD Radio’s Leigh Jones reports.

LEIGH JONES, REPORTER: The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel said in its opinion that the president’s appointment of Matt Whitaker to head the Justice Department is legal and proper. The 20-page memo stated the appointment is consistent with the Vacancies Reform Act of 1998. It said the president does not need Senate approval to appoint someone to the position on an interim basis.

The White House says Whitaker is merely a placeholder until the president chooses a nominee to replace former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He stepped down last week amid pressure from the president.

Democrats continue to call on Whitaker to recuse himself from the Russia probe. Many Democrats and some Republicans have expressed concern Whitaker could undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Leigh Jones.

National Guard joins search for fire victims as Interior Sec. tours carnage » With scores of people still missing in Northern California, National Guard troops are lending a hand. They searched through charred debris on Wednesday looking for more victims of the state’s deadliest wildfire ever.

At least 50 people have now died in the most recent outbreak of wildfires.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke toured the destruction in California yesterday.

ZINKE: Each trip I say this is the worst fire I’ve seen. And now we’re here today, and this is the worst fire I have seen. 

Zinke said there is no single cause of worsening wildfires in the West.

President Trump faced criticism earlier this week for blaming mismanagement of forests in California.

Governor Jerry Brown blames climate change as the primary cause.

BROWN: We’re going to have more difficulties. Things are not going to get better. They’re going to get more challenging because of the continuing alteration of the climate—lack of moisture, early snowmelt, and faster winds. 

Brown issued an executive order on Wednesday that he said will cut red tape and speed up recovery efforts in the affected areas.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., arrives at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, as Senate Republicans are facing renewed pressure to pass legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. 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 WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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