The Weekend That Was

President Donald Trump says he “very easily” answered written questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, though he speculated that the questions had been “tricked up” to try to catch him in a lie.

Trump said he has no plans to amend the U.S. Constitution in order to run for a third term.

Nearly two decades after voting problems in a handful of Florida counties paralyzed the nation, America’s election grid this month remained a crazy patchwork of inconveniences, confusion and errors, both human-made and mechanical.

The Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to American officials.

A top White House official responsible for American policy toward Saudi Arabia resigned – a move that may suggest fractures inside the Trump administration over the response to the brutal killing of Khashoggi.

Trump acknowledged Friday he shouldn’t have skipped a Veterans Day event honoring the nation’s fallen soldiers, marking a rare showing of regret from the typically remorseless commander-in-chief.

The standoff over Nancy Pelosi’s bid to regain the gavel intensified as Democrats left Washington for the Thanksgiving break, and Trump jumped in Saturday offering to “perform a wonderful service” by rounding up Republican votes for Pelosi’s speaker candidacy.

Democratic Staten Island Congresmsan-Elect Max Rose will not “under any circumstances” vote for Pelosi for speaker, his campaign manager reaffirmed.

In recent weeks, with his electoral prospects two years from now much on his mind, Trump has focused on the person who has most publicly tethered his fortunes to him. In one conversation after another he has asked aides and advisers a pointed question: Is Vice President Mike Pence loyal?

Amid a numbing succession of mass shootings, gun control groups outspent the National Rifle Association in the midterm election cycle, federal filings and additional reporting indicate, upending the usual order in the partisan battle over gun use.

A federal judge on Friday ordered the Trump administration to restore the press credentials of Jim Acosta of CNN, handing the cable network an early win in its lawsuit against the president and members of his administration.

Trump arrived in Northern California on Saturday to see firsthand the grief and devastation from the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century amid confusion over how many people remain unaccounted for.

The wildfires that have laid waste to vast parts of California are presenting residents with a new danger: air so thick with smoke it ranks among the dirtiest in the world.

Raging flames on both ends of the state have killed 74 people so far, and officials estimate as many as 1,011 were still unaccounted for late Saturday – but one official called that list “dynamic.”

Democrat Stacey Abrams begrudgingly acknowledged Friday that Republican Brian Kemp will be Georgia’s next governor — but she refused to officially concede the race and pledged to launch a lawsuit against the “gross mismanagement of this election.”

Democrat Andrew Gillum ended his hard-fought campaign for Florida governor on Saturday, just hours before counties must turn in their official results following days of recounting ballots.

Republican governor Bill Scott eked out a victory over Democrat incumbent Bill Nelson in the race for Senate in Florida following a hand recount of the votes nearly two weeks after the midterm elections.

Browns general manager John Dorsey said last week that he was open to hiring a woman as Cleveland’s next head coach, and one prominent name is on the team’s wish list to interview: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In the culmination of a fierce rivalry between the two men, de Blasio fired Mark Peters, the head of the NYC Department of Investigation, on Friday – the first time in the agency’s 145-year history that its leader was booted by City Hall.

The firing takes effect Wednesday – the day before Thanksgiving – so Peters can “make a public explanation,” which is a requirement of the City Charter. Peters issued a statement saying he would take that opportunity.

The mayor named Margaret Garnett, the state’s executive deputy attorney general for criminal justice and a former federal prosecutor, to replace Peters at the Department of Investigation. Her appointment must be approved by the NYC Council.

Letitia James, the public advocate and incoming state attorney general, denounced Peters’ firing as “Trump-like behavior” and called on the NYC Council to hold hearings to ensure that ongoing investigations of the administration aren’t swept under the rug.

The NYT: “Mr. de Blasio appointed Mr. Peters and has the authority to fire him. But the city has benefited from Mr. Peters’ tenure. Mr. de Blasio’s administration needs rigorous oversight, just as much as the administrations of his predecessors did.”

The New York metro region was all but paralyzed by an early winter storm that led to recriminations and second-guessing Friday about what exactly went wrong.

NYC’s flaky response to last Thursday’s surprisingly heavy snowfall left some legislators wondering if Sanitation Department boss Kathryn Garcia has too much on her plate, and say her job should be re-evaluated.

NYC Schools chief Richard Carranza deserves an F for his handling of the snowstorm aftermath, angry parents said, because he refused to cancel or delay classes, even though countless students endured hours-long rides home the night before, some that lasted past midnight.

More >

Extras

In a rare move, Mayor de Blasio on Friday fired Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters.

Cleanup efforts are underway across the Big Apple after the first snowfall of the season downed trees and brought the Thursday evening commute to an icy halt.

Tesla offered a tour inside its western New York factory — as long as cameras didn’t come along.

Serve America Movement, the ballot line that former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner ran on, has won its consolation prize: Ballot status for another four-year term.

A Cuomo spokeswoman on Friday wrote a letter to the Syracuse editorial board taking the newspaper to task for endorsing Republican Marc Molinaro after the governor won the city of Syracuse.

Can de Blasio be both a progressive and a booster of Amazon, a company led by one of the world’s richest men?

A judge ruled on Friday that the White House should reinstate the press pass of CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

President Donald Trump made an off-color joke about the sex life of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during the ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Higgins Reiterates He Won’t Support Pelosi For Speaker

Buffalo Democratic Congressman Brian Higgins has been relatively vocal this year about his lack of support for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The Democrats will take the majority for the first time in nearly a decade in January. Higgins said his opinion has not changed.

“It’s a preference that I have to see real reform in the House of Representatives,” he said. “I will not be voting for her but I want to see changes in the way this place operates.”

Higgins said both Democratic and Republican leaders have consolidated power while taking influence away from individual members and committees. He said the election of a new speaker is a chance to seize some of that power back.

“(There’s) a lot of buzz about Karen Bass out of California but I think there are plenty of candidates that should emerge as a potential speaker candidates that could put the votes together, given their geography, given the caucuses that their involved in. I just think we need a change,” Higgins said. “We’ve had the same leadership for 16 years and too much power has been consolidated under the leader and not enough power has been exercised by the individual members who were sent to Washington to represent 725,000 people.”

The congressman said, because whoever is elected needs a full majority, it gives lots of different caucuses leverage points. He said each of them will likely have their own priorities.

 

Flanagan To Remain Republican Leader

Sen. John Flanagan will remain the leader of the Republican conference in the state Senate as the conference will move to the minority for the first time since 2009.

Flanagan received 14 votes, with nine members backing Sen. Cathy Young, a western New York lawmaker who led the conference’s political fundraising efforts.

Republicans lost eight seats this month and could have as few as 23 members in the 63-member chamber next year.

“Right now we’re at a pivotal moment and we need to make adjustments to how we go along,” Young said after the vote. “We all need to work together. We need to unify behind each other because we certainly have some very challenging times ahead.”

The vote was preceded by a debate among Republicans over whether there is a need to have an upstate lawmaker lead the conference after a decade of a Long Island member at the top post. Flanagan, who gained the backing of both upstate members and his two fellow Long Islanders in the GOP conference, insisted he would be able to work as a statewide leader.

“I don’t mince my words. If I think the governor is doing something great, I’ll say so,” Flanagan said. “But I’m scared to death what’s coming.”

With Democrats holding large majorities in the state Senate and the Assembly, lawmakers are expected next year to push for a variety of measures, including single-payer health care, tax increases on the rich and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants — proposals Republicans have campaigned against.

“The governor owns this. He’s all in on all of this,” Flanagan said. “I will match my ability to articulate our positions with anybody.”

Cuomo Is Not Running For President

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not running for president in 2020.

The evidence of a Cuomo 2020 bid — ramping up a campaign effort with trips to New Hampshire, a sudden interest in corn subsidies — is just not there.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has visited New Hampshire, has also hedged about running, a reverse from her pledge during his re-election bid that she would serve out her six-year term.

Cuomo, however, has not been hedging or winking or even shrugging about running for president.

He was pressed on it today in an interview with WAMC’s Alan Chartock about the potential of facing off against Gillibrand in a Democratic primary.

Cuomo, who said he and Gillibrand are friends and he respects her, also said, “I want to be governor, though.”

In his public comments since Election Day, Cuomo hasn’t really commented on broad-based national issues, but the coming 2019 legislative session. He has not shifted his view of single payer health care and the cost impact it would have on New York. He thinks lawmakers deserve a pay raise, but only if they ban outside income and “perform” — ie, approve budgets by the April 1 deadline.

Now, things can change. There’s still plenty of time for Cuomo to put together a campaign infrastructure and take those trips to early primary states.

His critics think he is running for president. Perhaps even some of his supporters would like him to. Maybe he has the ambition to be president, but that is different from actually running for president.

But, for now, Cuomo is not running for president.

Moody’s: Restraints In School Aid Needed For Spending Cap

New York’s budget gap stands at $400 million if spending is capped at a 2 percent increase, but school aid would also have to be limited to a 3.6 percent hike as well, an analysis by Moody’s released on Friday found.

Without the cap in place, the budget gap is about $3.1 billion in the fiscal year beginning April 1, a 25 percent decline from previous projections.

But the education growth complicates the picture given the formula-based benchmark tied to personal income growth.

If education aid increases by 6.1 percent, the revised benchmark of personal income growth, the budget gap grows by $500 million. The Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo does have the ability to approve school aid lower than that benchmark, however. The index is not meant to be a hard cap, but essentially created a floor for education spending increases.

Cuomo has pledged once again to cap state spending at a 2 percent increase over last year, directing his agency chiefs earlier this year to submit budget proposals with the cap in mind.

Carrot And Stick Approach Possible For Pay Raise

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday in a radio interview pointed to a little-noticed codicil in the legislation that could lead to the first legislative pay hike in 20 years.

The measure provides for the Legislature to meet performance benchmarks as a pay increase is phased in, including the passage of on-time budgets as well as other reform provisions, such as a ban on outside income.

“The Legislature has performance as one of the criteria for the raise,” Cuomo said in an interview on WAMC this morning. “It talks about timely passage of the budget, it talks about reforms. I’ve said quite publicly that yes there should be a raise and yes, there should be reforms.”

Those performance benchmarks would also be tied to the pay increase not just for lawmakers, but also Cuomo’s department and agency commissioners, who also have not received a salary hike in recent years. Cuomo has long decried the lack of a pay hike for his cabinet, which he said has made it difficult to attract new talent to the state.

In many instances, departments are led by those with the title of deputy or executive deputy in order to have a salary not set by state statute.

Lawmakers earn a base pay of $79,500, though many earn more with legislative stipends for leadership and committee posts.

“I do believe they deserve a raise as I’ve said repeatedly,” Cuomo said in the interview. “I do believe there should be reforms. I do believe there should be a banning of outside income like the Congress, like the New York City Council, because I do believe that is a fundamental conflict of interest.”

The pay commission is set to release its report by Dec. 10. If lawmakers do not act after that by the end of the year, the recommendations are set into law.

Senate GOP To Decide Future Of Conference

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Republicans will meet today to determine the future course of its conference as they prepare for life in the minority: Either keep John Flanagan leader or go potentially with an upstate member like Sen. Cathy Young.

Flanagan is seeking re-election with a smaller and far more diminished GOP bloc in the state Senate after the party lost key races on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley on Election Day.

Young has the public backing of a handful of upstate legislators who did not back Flanagan’s first push for majority leader in 2015, when he replaced the scandal-scarred Dean Skelos.

Republicans haven’t had an upstate resident lead them since Sen. Joe Bruno’s tenure, which ended in 2008.

Conservatives have chafed at the leadership of Long Island Republicans, which they allege has created a relationship with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo far too amenable on issues like spending, taxes, the minimum wage and gun control.

But Cuomo’s relationship with Senate Republicans in the last several years has soured as Democrats appeared likely to gain a working majority in the chamber and the governor faced pressure from liberals to help the party gain power.

Nevertheless, Flanagan could still be re-elected leader later today. He has the backing of Sen. Fred Akshar, a Binghamton Republican who had been considered a potential successor.

Buffalo Budget Problems?

From the Morning Memo:

The Buffalo mayor and comptroller appear to be at odds over the state of the city’s financial situation.

Comptroller Mark Schroeder released a report Thursday claiming the city operated at a $23 million loss during the last fiscal year. He said in order to fill the gap, the administration once again tapped into reserves.

Schroeder has consistently criticized the mayor’s balance for having a structural imbalance and said there aren’t anymore unassigned funds to dip into if revenues fall short for the current budget.

 “The city has squandered more than $107 million of its reserves in the past eight years,” he said. “The reserves at a such a low level right now, there won’t be enough to fill budget deficits moving forward.”

The Mayor’s Office, however, maintained the year end financials did not include any gaps or use of reserve funds that weren’t anticipated. It claimed if not for the loss of $7 million in casino revenue from the Seneca Nation of Indians, the city would have been in the black this year.

“As we have stated many times, we are confident that there will be an end to this impasse shortly and that we will receive the monies that are owed to the City. Any surplus funds will be redeposited into the Unassigned Fund Balance,” city spokesperson Mike DeGeorge said. “We also disagree with the assertion that any City funds have been ‘squandered’. We remain a stronger, smarter, safer City that continues to grow and provide quality services and greater opportunities for all of our residents.”

The Seneca Nation claimed it has fulfilled its obligation in a revenue sharing agreement with the state. It has not made a payment since Spring 2017 and the dispute is currently in arbitration.

The other cities where Seneca casinos operate, Niagara Falls and Salamanca, have also complained the loss of revenue has hurt their bottom line.

The Nation, which recently elected a new president, was not immediately available for comment.

Here And Now

Good morning and TGIF! Much of New York received its first significant snowfall of the season. Good luck with the morning commute.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany, with nothing public scheduled.

At 10 a.m., The Assembly Judiciary Committee holds a public hearing on electronic filing of court papers, Assembly Hearing Room, 250 Broadway, Room 1923, Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., “The Brian Lehrer Show” features NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who will take callers from listeners, WNYC.

At 11 a.m., Suffolk County Legislator Bill Lindsay III, state Sen.-elect Monica Martinez, Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino and others attend the groundbreaking ceremony of the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Navy SEAL Museum, 88 West Ave., West Sayville.

Also at 11 a.m., Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh holds a press conference with several community partners to welcome DocuPet, a municipal pet licensing service, and celebrate the opening of its U.S. headquarters, DocuPet Office, AXA II, 235 Harrison St., Syracuse.

Also at 11 a.m., “The Capitol Pressroom” features state Sen. Fred Akshar and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, WCNY.

At 11:30 a.m., the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation holds a public hearing on recycling, Roosevelt Hearing Room C, Legislative Office Building, second floor, Albany.

Headlines…

The snow hitting New York City during the afternoon in New York City turned into a real problem for people driving home.

There’s a looming budget crisis for the MTA as steep fare increases and service cuts are possible.

U.S. prosecutors, by accident, revealed they are preparing to indict Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Republican leaders in Washington want to avoid a debate over funding a border wall and a government shutdown, but President Trump remains a wildcard.

The Food And Drug Administration is moving toward a ban on menthol cigarettes, removing nearly a third of the cigarettes sold on the market.

The razor-thin recount in Florida’s U.S. Senate race is heading to a manual recount.

First Lady Melania Trump says she “remains committed to tackling” online bullying even though she has been criticized for it.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered election workers to recount all ballots by hand in the state’s tight race for US Senate, a move that Democrats hope will uncover thousands votes in an urban areas that tabulating machines may have missed.

The SUNY Board of Trustees appointed Dr. Mantosh Dewan as interim president of Upstate Medical University.

On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued to defend the multi-billion dollar deal, funded by New York taxpayers, to have Amazon bring 25,000 jobs to Long Island City in Queens.

Amazon’s move to Long Island City is, not surprisingly, creating a surge of interesting in Queens real estate.

Gov. Cuomo’s administration says it will not have to seek legislative approval for the tax breaks for Amazon through the public authorities control board.

Cuomo’s administration also sought to paint a rosy picture with the number of jobs Amazon is expected to create as it justifies the tax incentives.

Cuomo signaled he remained wary of a single-payer health care bill some lawmakers hope to pass next year with Democratic control of the Legislature.

The state is steering $250 million toward SUNY Poly, an investment that comes months after its former president was found guilty of bid rigging.

Former U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch has joined the transition team for New York Attorney General-elect Tish James.

Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon, says he’s remorseful over the murder and used hollow-point bullets to ensure he wouldn’t suffer.

The state Assembly held a hearing on election reform on Thursday, focusing mostly on bringing early voting to New York.

Republican candidates across New York suffered big losses on Election Night. The GOP stronghold of Staten Island tossed out the city’s lone Republican representative in Washington. Democrat Max Rose will take Dan Donovan’s place in Congress.

An historic beacon of freedom in New York Harbor is on the move. The Statue of Liberty’s original torch has been kept inside the pedestal since 1984.

New results are finally starting to come in for the 22nd Congressional District race. So far, at least, it’s shaping up to be good news for Democrat Anthony Brindisi, who held a small lead over incumbent Republican Claudia Tenney on election night.

State lawmakers and executive branch commissioners should receive a boost in their pay, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a radio interview on Thursday.

ROC the Future released its sixth annual State of Our Children report card Thursday and the data shows some modest gains when it comes to early education.

Members of the Rochester City Schools’ Board of Education responded to the findings and recommendations issued by Dr. Jaime Aquino just one day after the report was issued.

The Rochester police officer charged in police brutality case of Christopher Pate pleaded not guilty.

Close to 20 families from across Chautauqua County are registered with the homeschool co-op for the fall semester, which runs through mid-December. They meet weekly inside the Barker Library in Fredonia.

A Long Island school district is setting a two-package limit on ketchup.