Combative Trump brawls with media and slams his own party

US President Donald Trump, Photo Date: 10/19/2018 / Cropped Photo: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0 / (MGN)
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By: CBS News
November 7, 2018

President Trump opened his first press conference after the midterm elections — the longest press conference of his presidency — with talk about bipartisanship, but he quickly turned combative, sparring with reporters.

Mr. Trump had laudatory words for Nancy Pelosi, who could once again be speaker of the House, saying they can work together. But he also blasted members of his own party and reporters, including telling African-American reporter that she asked a "racist question" when she asked about why he described himself as a "nationalist," and telling CNN's Jim Acosta that he should be "ashamed" of himself and said that CNN is an "enemy of the people" when it reports "fake news."

The Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives in Tuesday's election, and Mr. Trump began by framing the results as a "success" and emphasizing his role in helping the GOP maintain control of and even gain seats in the Senate.

"We saw the candidates I supported achieve tremendous success last night," Mr. Trump boasted. "We picked up a lot," he said. The president also talked about Republican candidates like Reps. Barbara Comstock of Virginia and Pete Roskam of Illinois, who eschewed the Trump "embrace," and he suggested this may have been a contributing factor to their losses.

"On the other hand you had some that decided to let's stay away, let's stay away," Mr. Trump said. "They did very poorly. I'm not sure that I should be happy or sad. But I feel just fine about it. Carlos Curbelo. Mike Coffman. Too bad, Mike. Mia Love. I saw Mia Love, she called me all the time to help her with a hostage situation, being held hostage in Venezuela. But Mia Love gave me no love, and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.

"And Barbara Comstock was another one I mean I think she could have won that race, but she didn't want to have any embrace. For that I don't blame her. But she uh, she lost, substantially lost. Peter Roskam didn't want the embrace, Erik Paulsen didn't want the embrace and in New Jersey I think he could have done well but didn't work out too good. Bob Hugin, I feel badly because I think that's something that could have been won, that's a race that could have been won. John Faso. Those are some of the people that you know decided for their own reason not to embrace whether it's me or what we stand for, but what we stand for meant a lot to most people."

He also said that "I retired" Jeff Flake, the Senate Republican from Arizona who has criticized him.

His tone was friendlier towards Pelosi, whose comments on bipartisanship he said he appreciated. Mr. Trump also said he thought it was possible that divided government could be productive and produce stronger legislation.

"It really could be a beautiful" bipartisan relationship, Mr. Trump mused. Though he expressed optimism about working with the new Democratic majority in the House, realistically, divided government is still likely to make it more difficult for Mr. Trump to move his agenda through Congress unless he's willing to compromise. But he did call Pelosi to congratulate her Tuesday night when it was clear the House had flipped, and he even had a conciliatory tweet for her Wednesday morning.

"In all fairness, Nancy Pelosi deserves to be chosen Speaker of the House by the Democrats. If they give her a hard time, perhaps we will add some Republican votes. She has earned this great honor!"

CBS News' Major Garrett asked whether the president was prepared to shut down the government over the funding of the southern border wall he campaigned on building.

"I speak to Democrats all the time. They agree that a wall is necessary," Mr. Trump said.

He was noncommittal about whether he would shut down the government over funds for the wall. The funding for the Homeland Security Department, which would oversee the building of the wall, expires on Dec. 8.

Garrett also asked about the possibility of changes in his Cabinet following the midterms. "We're looking at different people for different positions," adding that he is mostly "extremely happy" with his Cabinet, singling out Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for praise.

Mr. Trump then became angry with CNN reporter Jim Acosta when he wanted to continue questioning the president about the caravans making their way north through Mexico, and Mr. Trump wanted to end the questioning.

"CNN should be ashamed of itself for you working for them. You should be ashamed of yourself," he admonished Acosta. "The way you treat Sarah Huckabee is horrible."

He also said, "When you report fake news, as CNN does a lot, you are an enemy of the people." The president told another reporter to "sit down" after he had called on another reporter.

The president was asked about the special counsel's Russia investigation. He said, "I could have ended it anytime I wanted. I didn't," he said. And he went on to say "I think it's very bad for my country, I'll tell you. I think it's a shame."