By Catherine Lucey, Jonathan Lemire, and Darlene Superville
WASHINGTON (AP) — As Washington came to grips with its new divided reality, President Donald Trump on Wednesday reveled in his party’s Senate victories, mocked members of his own party who lost after not seeking his support and even suggested he may be able to govern more effectively after losing a chamber of Congress.
Trump faces the prospect, starting early next year, of endless investigations after Democrats formally take control of the House, along with stymied policy efforts and fresh questions about the resilience of his unorthodox political coalition. Still, he celebrated Republicans’ success in retaining the Senate and seemed to blame losing GOP candidates for distancing themselves from him and his unorthodox methods.
He took an unabashed victory lap and, despite the split decision, declaring in a free-wheeling, combative, 90-minute White House news conference that “I thought it was very close to complete victory.” He also belittled the number of high-profile Democrats, including his predecessor, who crisscrossed the nation to support their candidates, while suggesting that he alone was responsible for the Republican triumphs.
“I only had me. I didn’t have anybody else,” Trump said.
Though boasting that Republicans appear likely to hold the highest number of Senate seats in 100 years, Trump was quick to distance himself from his party’s failure to maintain control of the House. In a remarkable scene, he called out defeated Republicans by name — “Too bad, Mike” at one moment, “Mia Love gave me no love and she lost” at another — and blamed them for not embracing his agenda.
“Candidates who embraced our message of lower taxes, low regulation, low crime, strong borders and great judges excelled last night,” said Trump. “On the other hand, you had some that decided to, ‘Let’s stay away. Let’s stay away.’ They did very poorly. I’m not sure that I should be happy or sad, but I feel just fine about it.”
The president’s rebuke was felt on Capitol Hill. Rep. Ryan Costello, a Republican from Pennsylvania who announced his retirement earlier this year, tweeted his displeasure with the president’s diatribe, writing that his colleagues have had to “bite ur lip more times you’d care to; to disagree & separate from POTUS on principle & civility in ur campaign; to lose bc of POTUS & have him piss on u. Angers me to my core.”
Trump suggested there could be room for bipartisanship, declaring that Democrats — who made opposing him a centerpiece to their campaign — would, in fact, be eager to work with him on issues like infrastructure. But the olive branch he extended was studded with thorns as he declared that Republicans would retaliate if Democrats use their control of the House to issue subpoenas to seek his tax returns and investigate his business dealings, his Cabinet’s conduct and his campaign’s ties to Russia.
“They can play that game, but we can play it better. Because we have a thing called the United States Senate,” Trump said. “If that happens, then we’re going to do the same thing and government would come to a halt and we’re going to blame them.”
But the White House news conference was also quickly overtaken by Trump’s ongoing attacks on the media, as the president repeatedly flashed his temper as he insulted several reporters by name, interrupted their questions, ordered some to sit down and deemed one inquiry “racist.” He also sidestepped repeated questions about upcoming staffing changes in his West Wing or Cabinet — including the fate of embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions — but hinted that moves could be coming soon.
On Tuesday, the president telephoned House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a conversation that her office said included congratulations and a nod to her pitch for bipartisanship. And on Wednesday, he said she deserves to be House speaker.
“I give her a lot of credit. She works very hard and she’s worked long and hard. I give her a great deal of credit for what she’s done and what she’s accomplished,” Trump said.
Widely viewed as a referendum on Trump’s presidency, Tuesday’s results offered a split decision that revealed deep tensions in the American electorate — a rift that could easily widen during two years of divided control of Congress. Trump’s aggressive campaign blitz, which paid off in some key victories, suggests he is likely to continue leaning into the fray.
Control of the House gives Democrats the ability to launch investigations into the president and stifle his agenda, but White House aides called on them to reach across the aisle.
“I don’t know that there will be much of an appetite for Democrat lawmakers to spend all of their time, or most of their time or even a fraction of their time investigating, instigating, trying to impeach and subpoena people,” said Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.
In addition to his conversation with Pelosi, Trump called Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as other candidates he backed during the race, the White House said. And he downplayed reports of voter irregularity and suppression, particularly in Georgia, instead saying, “I heard it was very efficient in Georgia.”
Trump had aggressively campaigned in the closing days of the race, his focus on boosting Republicans in states he carried in 2016.
In the three races he targeted on the final day, Trump’s picks won Tuesday night, with Republican Mike Braun defeating Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Republican Josh Hawley defeating Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine defeating Democrat Richard Cordray in the race for Ohio governor.
The White House for days has stressed the historical headwinds it faced: In the last three decades, 2002 was the only midterm election when the party holding the White House gained Senate seats. And only twice in the past eight decades has the president’s party picked up House seats in the midterms.
Trump’s shadow loomed large over the results. Nearly 40 percent of voters cast their ballots to express opposition to the president, according to AP VoteCast, a national survey of the electorate, while about 25 percent said they voted to express support for Trump.
Overall, more voters disapproved of Trump’s job performance than approved — a finding that is largely consistent with recent polling. Voters scored Trump positively on the economy and for standing up “for what he believes in.” But the president received negative marks from voters on temperament and trustworthiness.
Still, about one-third of voters said Trump was not a factor in their votes.
Trump’s scorched-earth campaigning came to define the 2018 campaign. In the final days, he sought to motivate supporters with the battle over the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Returning to his immigration-heavy 2016 playbook, Trump went on to unleash his full fury on a caravan of migrants slowly making their way to the southern border. His take-no-prisoners approach troubled many Republicans seeking to appeal to moderate voters in suburban House districts, but Trump prioritized base voters in the deep-red states that could determine the fate of the Senate.
Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.
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