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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Tax Bill Is Moving Forward
      •  Tillerson May Be on the Way Out
      •  How Trump Manipulates the News
      •  Trump Feuds with May, Britain
      •  Trump to Hold Rally that Has Nothing to Do With Moore
      •  Pelosi Gets Permission to Call for Conyers to Resign from the House
      •  Manafort Makes Bail

Tax Bill Is Moving Forward

The Republican tax bill got a big boost yesterday when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) announced that he was supporting the bill. McCain used to be a maverick. In 2001 and 2003, he voted against the Bush tax cuts because they would balloon the deficit. This bill will too, but McCain gave some vague remarks about how economic growth would ease the deficit issues, even though that was not the case after the Bush tax cuts and virtually no economist believes it will reduce the deficit this time, either. He also gave a dramatic vote against repealing the ACA last summer but even though this bill goes partway in that direction (and will cause an estimated 13 million people to drop insurance and cause premiums to zoom up for the rest), McCain is for the bill. He is suffering from an aggressive form of brain cancer and this may be his last big vote. If it is, his legacy is going to be: "Party first."

McCain apparently missed the news that the Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan body, has scored the bill and concluded that new growth will offset $400 billion of the $1.5 trillion costs over 10 years, thus increasing the deficit by over a trillion dollars. The Senate leadership pooh-poohed the JCT report and said the bill will grow the economy more than the report said it will.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is moving toward "yes" but isn't quite there yet. She said that a precondition for getting her vote is that the Senate would have to pass the Alexander-Murray bill and the Collins-Nelson bill. The former gives money to insurance companies that have a disproportionately large number of sick customers. The ACA already has a provision to do precisely that, but Donald Trump doesn't want to give them the money, so Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) drew up a bill that would enshrine the payments in law, at least for two years.

The latter bill creates high-risk pools for sicker people and provides $4.5 billion in funding for the first two years. High-risk pools have been a Republican goal for years. The basic idea (although rarely stated so bluntly) is to have two insurance pools. The first one would be for healthy people (about 80% of the population) and would operate under market principles. The second one would be for sick people (about 20% of the population) and would be subsidized by specific appropriations. Politically, this would be a winner for Republicans because 80% of the voters, would see their premiums drop and would be very happy. In theory, if the high-risk pool were adequately funded, that would be fine, except that was never the intention. The real plan is for Congress to appropriate a specific dollar amount each year for the high-risk pool to cover all treatments for all patients. If the money runs out in, say, April, patients would be told to come back next January. Of course these people would probably not vote for Republicans (and might pretty soon stop voting at all), but if Republicans could get 80% of the votes, they would be very pleased.

But things are a bit more complicated than this because House conservatives have made it very clear they will not support Alexander-Murray. To them, this is bailing out the insurance companies. When asked about Alexander-Murray, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) of the House Freedom Caucus said: "We haven't repealed Obamacare, we haven't cut taxes yet, and we haven't started construction on the border security wall like we told the voters. But before we get any of that stuff done we're going to bail out insurance companies in the spending bill?" That's a complicated way of saying "no." So if Collins insists on passing Alexander-Murray and the Freedom Caucus blocks it in the House, something has to give.

Before it can get to that point, however, the current iteration of the bill must make it through the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) thought he'd be able to get that done by the end of the day Thursday, but a late fly flew into the ointment. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has insisted that he will not allow the deficit to grow by one penny, much less 100,000,000,000,000 pennies. To assuage him, the GOP planned to put a clause in the bill that would automatically raise taxes if the predicted economic growth does not materialize. However, around 4:30 p.m. ET, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that such a clause is not kosher. So, Corker's vote is now in serious doubt, and McConnell had to pause the voting process while Republicans scrambled to find another way to keep the Tennessee Senator on board. In addition, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who, like Corker, is a free man since he is not running for reelection, is also a deficit hawk and not committed to the bill yet. As if that weren't enough, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) wants bigger tax cuts for pass-through businesses, like the one he owns. McConnell's fabled legislative skills will be sorely tested today. (V & Z)

Tillerson May Be on the Way Out

The New York Times is reporting that within a few weeks Donald Trump will force out Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Trump won't fire Tillerson directly since he is actually afraid to fire people in real life, but he can get Chief of Staff John Kelly to wield the hatchet when the time comes. Though the preferred option, according to late-breaking news on Thursday, is to shame the Secretary so much that he resigns.

In the course of a year, Trump has gone from liking Tillerson a lot to not liking him at all, despite Tillerson's taking a sledge hammer to the State Dept., something Trump strongly approves of. T-Rex has committed multiple sins as far as Trump is concerned. Probably the biggest one is calling him a "moron" in a private conversation that leaked out. But he has also disagreed with Trump on North Korea, Iran, Qatar, and NATO. In effect, Trump wants to be his own secretary of state.

The expectation is that when Pompeo moves over to the State Dept., Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) will be named the new director of the CIA. Cotton served one term in the House before getting elected to the Senate in 2014. He has no background in intelligence gathering or analysis, but Trump likes him personally and also his hard-line views on many topics, for example:

  • On surveillance: Cotton believes the NSA should be able to spy on Americans without a warrant to catch terrorists
  • On election security: Cotton doesn't believe that connecting voting systems to the Internet is irresponsible
  • On waterboarding: Cotton doesn't believe waterboarding is torture and is in favor of it to obtain information
  • On Iran: Cotton fiercely opposes the deal Barack Obama made with Iran to keep it from obtaining nuclear weapons
  • On Russian interference in the election: Cotton doesn't believe the CIA's analysis that Russia meddled in the 2016 election

In short, Cotton is about as hard line as you can get and is a very strong Trump supporter. What's not to like here? If he is nominated and confirmed, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) will name an interim replacement to serve until a 2018 special election to choose someone to serve out Cotton's term. (V)

How Trump Manipulates the News

Donald Trump has discovered a secret formula for manipulating the news. It works like a charm every time. Jim VandeHei, a cofounder of Axios, has uncovered the formula now. It works like this:

  • Early in the morning Trump throws a Twitter bomb and within minutes it is retweeted thousands of times
  • The outrage machine kicks in on "Morning Joe" but also with journalists on Twitter saying Trump is lying
  • The cable beast awakens with journalists analyzing the explosive tweet on Fox/CNN/MSNBC ad infinitem
  • The fringe kicks in, generally with Breitbart leading by supporting Trump and mocking MSNBC
  • Opinions solidify. By evening Fox goes hard right and MSNBC goes hard left, tucking everyone in with their "truth"
  • Rinse and repeat the next day

There is no easy way to stop this cycle since the purpose of the Twitter bombs is to get attention and keep the Trump base angry. The journalists on both sides take the bait every time, like dangling catnip in front of a cat. (V)

Trump Feuds with May, Britain

On Wednesday, Donald Trump retweeted three Islamophobic videos from a convicted British bigot named Jayda Fransen. Prime Minister Theresa May was not thrilled that Trump gave the videos or Fransen the visibility that comes with presidential attention, and issued a mild rebuke through a spokesperson. Of course, any time Trump becomes aware of criticism—no matter from whom it comes or how mild it is—he has to respond. And so:

At this point, it is hard to imagine any circumstance under which Trump might turn the other cheek. Maybe if Ivanka took a knee during the national anthem.

In any case, the British public is not pleased, either with Trump's retweeting, or with his presumption in attacking their prime minister. Many of them don't love May, but only they get to kick her around. On Thursday, several MPs blasted The Donald in the House of Commons, and May herself said she had no regrets about her response. A sizable percentage of Britons would like to see Trump's invitation to make a state visit be rescinded; London mayor Sadiq Khan is leading the charge. That probably won't happen, simply because the UK needs the US, even if it means holding their collective noses and dealing with The Donald. On the other hand, May currently leads a fragile coalition government, and if she needs to score some brownie points with the British public, who knows what might happen? (Z)

Trump to Hold Rally that Has Nothing to Do With Moore

Donald Trump has semi-endorsed Roy Moore's bid to be the next senator from Alabama, but has said he will not campaign for the former judge. This is apparently the Trumpian version of a principled stand on the issue of child molestation.

In an unrelated piece of news, the White House announced Thursday that Trump will hold yet another campaign rally on December 8—four days before the Alabama election. And that rally will be held in Pensacola, Fla.—just 25 miles from the Alabama border. The administration will spend the next week pretending that is merely a coincidence. But given Trump's shoot-from-the-hip style at these rallies, there is little chance that he will manage to go an hour or two without mentioning Moore, and thus shooting the whole scheme in the foot. In fact, it wouldn't be entirely shocking if Moore made a "surprise" appearance. If so, that would be the most extraordinary collection of lecherous behavior that has ever been gathered together, with the possible exception of when Anthony Weiner dines alone. (Z)

Pelosi Gets Permission to Call for Conyers to Resign from the House

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi knows that if she calls for embattled Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) to resign, she will be in a stronger moral position to attack Republicans who have been accused of sexual harassment. The problem is that Conyers is one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus and if she calls him out, Conyers might call her a racist. Yesterday, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), the highest ranking black person in Congress, called for Conyers to resign, effectively giving Pelosi permission to call for Conyers to leave the House, something she did as well. Conyers already stepped down from the House Judiciary Committee, where he was the ranking member, but he has so far refused to consider resigning from the House. He did say, however, that he will not run for reelection in 2018.

Conyers' district has a PVI of D+33, so the Democrats could nominate a yellow dog and she would win. But only if there is an election. Michigan law states that when there is a vacancy in the U.S. House, the governor, currently Rick Snyder (R), is to call a special election. However, there is no time limit, so Snyder could simply leave the seat open until the Nov. 2018 election, at which time there would be two elections: a special election for the last 2 months of Conyers' term and a regular election for a 2-year term beginning in January 2019. This might be confusing to the voters. The Democrats might have to find a yellow dog and an orange dog to run.

So far, calls for Sen. Al Franken (DFL-MN) to resign have come mainly from Republicans, although Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) said it is time for Franken to go. The Senate Ethics Committee has launched an investigation into his alleged behavior. Democrats are hoping that the Committee doesn't find too much and that this blows over. The odds are growing long, however, as two more women accused Franken of inappropriate touching on Thursday, bringing the total to six.

No report on today's sexual harassment charges would be complete without mentioning Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who has been sending dirty pictures of himself and sexually explicit messages to a Republican activist. He is currently married to his second wife. Barton, like Conyers, has said he won't run for reelection in 2018 but that he won't resign now. (V)

Manafort Makes Bail

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has reached an agreement with prosecutors to accept liens against four properties he owns as his bail. He and his lawyers argue that the value of the residences, once mortgages are subtracted, exceeds the required $11 million.

Clearly, Manafort is badly exposed; if not, he would not be considered such a big flight risk. $11 million is a hefty amount of bail for an accused white-collar criminal. By way of comparison, ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff's bail was $10 million. In any case, it's pretty clear that Manafort won't be fleeing the country. So, if he's got dirt on Donald Trump, then there are only three options left:

  1. Manafort takes the fall for The Donald, which is unlikely
  2. Manafort makes a deal, if he hasn't already, to save his own hide
  3. Trump tries to pardon Manafort, and the move likely backfires when New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) or Virginia AG Mark Herring (D) files charges at the state level, putting the indictee beyond the reach of a presidential pardon

Put another way, fleeing the country, going to the hoosegow for Trump, and a presidential pardon are all long shots. Which means that if Manafort has the goods, he's almost certainly going to sing. It's only a matter of when. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov30 Trump May Help Moore
Nov30 Has Alabama Lost Interest in the Moore Story?
Nov30 Trump Retweets Videos from Militantly Anti-Muslim Source
Nov30 House Republicans May Call Democrats' Bluff
Nov30 Donald Trump Jr. to Testify before House Panel Next Week
Nov30 Kushner Talked to Mueller about Flynn
Nov30 Now Leading the Anti-Opioid Effort: Kellyanne Conway
Nov30 Ex-Con Donald Blankenship Plans to Run against Manchin
Nov29 Schumer and Pelosi Cancel Meeting with Trump
Nov29 Senate Budget Committee Approves the Tax Bill
Nov29 Judge Allows Mulvaney to Run the CFPB
Nov29 Samochornov Testifies
Nov29 Trump Still "Doubts" Obama's Birth Certificate
Nov29 Heat is On Conyers
Nov29 Heat is On Moore, Too
Nov28 Tax Bill Is Hanging by a Thread
Nov28 CBO Rescores Tax Bill; Not Good News for the GOP
Nov28 Flynn Is Exposed Six Ways to Sunday
Nov28 Retired Marine Colonel Is Launching a Write-in Campaign for Alabama Senator
Nov28 Woman Tried to Trap WaPo into Running False Story
Nov28 Sanders Is Acting More and More Like a Presidential Candidate
Nov28 Trump Accuses Warren of Faking Her Heritage Although He Faked His for Years
Nov27 Conyers Steps Down from House Judiciary Committee
Nov27 Now Batting: Hope Hicks
Nov27 Tax Bill May Still Not Have the Votes
Nov27 Tax Bill May Kill a Future Infrastructure Bill
Nov27 Verdict: It's a Lawsuit over CFPB Leadership
Nov27 Surveillance Measure Is Up for Renewal
Nov27 Hoyer: House Yes, Impeachment No
Nov26 Showdown Over Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Leadership
Nov26 GOP Tax Bill is Very Unpopular
Nov26 Republicans Have Much to Worry About in 2018
Nov26 Mueller is Leaving No Stone Unturned
Nov26 Trump: Fox "Much More Important" than CNN
Nov26 "Persons of the Year" Troll Trump
Nov26 Bush Oldest President Ever
Nov25 Trump Should Be Nervous Now
Nov25 Budget Hawks Are Afraid All the Tax Cuts Will Be Made Permanent
Nov25 Latest White House Squabble: Tillerson vs. Ivanka
Nov25 Cordray Resigns as Head of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Nov25 Trump Says He Turned Down "Person of the Year"
Nov25 Will 2020 Be the Year of the Woman?
Nov25 Facebook Will Let People Check if They Fell for Russian Propaganda
Nov24 Manafort Has Been to Moscow at Least 18 Times
Nov24 Team Flynn No Longer Cooperating with Team Trump
Nov24 Donald Trump Jr. Reacts to Russiagate with Defiance
Nov24 Trump's Approach to Sexual Harassment Is Entirely Political
Nov24 Israeli Intelligence Was Warned that the Russians Have Leverage over Trump
Nov24 Obamacare Enrollments on the Upswing
Nov24 Ball Wins Feud with Trump