Dem 48
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GOP 52
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Note: The pop-up boxes over the map for states with a 2018 Senate election now show the other senator.

Trump Is Not Considering Firing Mueller

Yesterday President Donald Trump said that he was not considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller. Actually, he doesn't have the legal authority to do so, and would have to mow down much of the top of the Justice Dept. to find someone willing to wield the hatchet. There has been a lot of speculation recently that he was preparing to do so, since his lawyers and supporters have all but called for Mueller's head on a platter. For example, his lawyer Kory Langhofer said that Mueller obtained transition team emails illegally, implying that Mueller should be fired for breaking the law.

Of course, Trump could change his mind at any moment and try to fire Mueller anyway. It is not known why he made the statement yesterday. Possibly people in the White House told him that doing so would repeat the Saturday Night Massacre that brought down Richard Nixon and would likely get Trump impeached. He probably doesn't know what everyone else in D.C. knows, namely, that most Republicans in Congress would prefer Mike Pence as president. (V)

Last-Minute Perk for Real Estate Tycoons Ended Up in Tax Bill

This weekend, the folks at the International Business Times were taking a look at the GOP tax bill, and they noticed something interesting: In the individual bills passed by both the House and the Senate, the 20 percent deduction for "pass-through" entities was limited to businesses that hire (and pay) many employees—construction firms, for example, or large medical practices. In the final version of the bill that was put together by the conference committee, however, this privilege has been extended to firms whose primary stock in trade is real estate. For real estate firms, generally speaking, wages do not make up a large portion of their costs, since most of their money is invested in land and in buildings.

This change to the bill raises unpleasant questions for the GOP on two fronts. First, the justification for the deduction is that it will "create jobs." Even when it comes to labor-intensive operations, it's unclear as to whether or not it really works that way. However, when it comes to capital intensive operations, there's no question that it doesn't work that way. And so, the stealth addition certainly makes it seem like "job creation" was just a convenient cover story.

Beyond that, however, is the fact that some key people in Washington stand to benefit handsomely from this new provision. There's a fellow who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, for example, who has invested a little bit in real estate. The two wealthiest Republicans in the Senate also have extensive real estate holdings. That would be Jim Risch (R-ID) and...Bob Corker (R-TN). Corker, who switched to a "yes" vote at the last minute for reasons he could not clearly explain, is shocked—shocked!—that the provision found its way into the bill, and says he wants answers as to how it happened. And while he's waiting on pins and needles for a response from conference committee chair Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), perhaps Corker will pay a quick visit to his accountant. (Z)

Congress May Shut the Government Down Despite Itself

The Senate is controlled by the GOP. And the House is controlled by the GOP. That should make it pretty easy for the GOP to get things done but, as we have learned in the past year, that's far from the case. House Republicans are more conservative, on the whole, than Senate Republicans and they have a larger majority to work with. So, they tend to hew rightward, while the Senate tends to hew more towards the center. That dynamic may well lead to a shutdown when the government runs out of money next week.

The basic problem, as Politico's Rachael Bade, Seung Min Kim, and Jennifer Haberkorn point out, is that the House leadership has committed to things that the Senate won't go for, and the Senate leadership has committed to things that the House won't go for. Most obviously, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has declared that his chamber won't approve funding to stabilize the health care sector. He's even suggested that the House will pass a "no money for health care" spending bill and then leave town, giving the Senate a "take it or leave it" option. The problem is that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised members of his caucus, most obviously Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), that health care stabilization legislation would be passed. Further, even if McConnell had not made such commitments, he knows he needs eight Democratic votes to pass a budget (nine if Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, is absent; see below), and that he won't get them without some Democratic priorities being taken into consideration. Beyond health care, there are several other contentious issues, like the Dreamers, and relief funding for Puerto Rico.

In the end, there are three possible outcomes here. The first is that the leaders of the two chambers get together and work things out. Not a lot of time left for that, however, especially since the tax bill isn't actually a done deal yet. The second is that they kick the can down the road again, and agree to fund the government for a few weeks and then deal with the budget in January. The third is a shutdown. Though the Democrats are the minority party, they hold a fair number of the cards here. Since they have already bowed to pressure twice, they might decide they like the added "motivation" that the looming Christmas holiday provides. In that scenario, they can reasonably claim that they tried to work with the GOP, but that the GOP couldn't get its stuff together, and it was necessary for the Democrats to put their collective feet down and insist that the budget can't be put off forever and that an agreement must be reached. That would be a very high-profile game of chicken—or turtle, if you prefer—and the Republicans might very well be the ones who blink. One way or another, we'll presumably know by the end of the week. (Z)

Trump Is Looking Forward to Campaigning in 2018

It is no secret that Donald Trump loves campaigning much more than he loves governing. So he is planning to govern less and campaign more in 2018. He has told aides that he is looking forward to traveling and campaigning with Republican candidates in the midterms. His staff has already met with 116 candidates for office, some of whom may relish having Trump come and help them.

On the other hand, given his approval ratings in the mid-30s, other candidates may dread having him campaign with them. His getting involved in a number of House races could easily tar all Republican House candidates with him and hand the House to the Democrats. His close friend, Chris Ruddy, understands this and has told Trump to move to the center and become the old Donald Trump—a bipartisan dealmaker. Trump is unlikely to follow his friend's advice, though.

Another problem as Trump hits the campaign trail is that in many races, he and Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon may be on opposite sides during primaries. Hitting Bannon and being hit back can't help the GOP. Also, Bannon is likely to win some of those primaries. If he wins enough (and Trump loses enough), Trump's political capital will be close to zero in January 2019. Not that it's much above zero right now. (V)

McCain Is Increasingly Frail

John McCain, who has an aggressive form of brain cancer (primary glioblastoma), appears increasingly frail according to multiple sources in the Senate who know him. The 81-year-old used to speak up at Republican lunches, but no longer does that. He uses a wheelchair. He recently had two other operations, one to remove a blood clot and one to repair his Achilles tendon. He is returning to Arizona and won't vote on the GOP tax bill. His daughter, Meghan McCain tweeted: "My father is doing well." She is no doubt a dutiful daughter, but she is lying. He wouldn't miss the tax bill vote if he were at all capable of going to the Senate and voting. McCain has served his country with devotion for six decades, but the end is nigh.

If McCain should die or resign in the next 6 months or so, Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) would appoint a temporary senator and call a special election in Nov. 2018. Currently two Republicans, Kelli Ward and Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), are running for the seat of retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). It is possible that one of them might switch to the special election and run against whomever Ducey appoints. This might increase the chances of Ward becoming the Republican nominee in one of the races, something the Republican establishment wants to prevent at all costs (and that Steve Bannon wants to achieve at all costs). Most observers see Ward as unelectable in a general election against a strong Democrat, even in Arizona. If the Democrats could pick up one seat in Arizona and also beat Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) or pick up the open seat in Tennessee, plus hold all their own seats, they would have a slim majority in the Senate in 2019. (V)

Jones Is Not Calling for Trump to Resign

Senator-elect Doug Jones (D-AL) yesterday told CNN: "I don't think that the president ought to resign at this point." Many other Democrats have called for Trump's resignation on account of his sexual misconduct with over a dozen women. In part, Jones knows that many of his constituents like Trump, so calling for him to step down will make his already difficult 2020 reelection bid even tougher. But he also has a point when he says the voters knew about Trump's behavior before the election and many of them either didn't believe the women or didn't care. (V)

Cruz Is No Trump

There are a lot of ways in which that headline is true. One of them is that while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) tried to be the guy who shoots from the hip and doesn't care what anyone thinks, he was a rank amateur at playing that role compared to Donald Trump. This weekend provided another reminder, as the Texas Senator tried to start a Twitter squabble with actor Mark Hamill, who is currently starring as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and who is an outspoken supporter of net neutrality.

It's remarkable that Ted Cruz thinks that anyone in this galaxy (or even in a galaxy far, far away) might believe he's opposed to corporations having too much power. The condescending tone was also a dubious choice. Even worse than that, however, is that Hamill's name (and thus his Twitter handle) has one 'm' and not two. Cruz has also forgotten, it would seem, that he has set himself up for permanent Twitter ridicule by accidentally (?) liking a porn video earlier this year. Anyhow, all of these things set the pins up for Hamill; all he had to do was knock them down:

That's game, set, and match to the Jedi knight from Tatooine. (Z)

Voters Would Prefer Democrats to Control Congress

A new NBC/WSJ poll just out shows that 50% of registered voters would prefer the Democrats to control Congress and 39% would prefer Republicans to control it. This 11-point gap is the largest since 2008. Men prefer Democrats by 2 points but women want the Democrats in charge by 20 points. The under-35 set wants the Democrats by a margin of 69% to 21%, an astounding 48-point advantage. Given that voting patterns tend to be permanently set by the time a voter is 30 or so, this is not good news for Republicans in the long run. (V)

Democrat Accused of Inappropriate Conduct

One of the Democrats' top priorities in 2018 is PA-07. Hillary Clinton won it by 2 points in 2016 and it has a PVI of R+1. The current occupant of the seat is Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA). The leading Democratic challenger, State Sen. Daylin Leach, has now been accused of inappropriate comments and touching. A Democratic Party worker identified only as Emily said that once Leach held her upper arm for 10 seconds. At a fundraiser the next day, he touched her thigh, according to her report. Leach denies any inappropriate touching.

The DCCC now has to decide whether one unsubstantiated accusation is enough to derail a candidate who could very well knock off a Republican congressman. Of course, if six more women come forward, it is easier to make a call.

Going forward, there will undoubtedly be more cases where someone is accused of misbehavior by one accuser, with no other evidence, and party committees and others have to make a judgment on what to do. In this case, since the accuser worked for the Democrats, she has no obvious partisan motive . But the gates are now wide open to for people to make unsubstantiated reports of inappropriate behavior to try to take down a political opponent. Joe McCarthy is probably smiling in his grave. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec17 White House Unhappy that Mueller Has Transition E-mails
Dec17 Trump Simply Does Not Accept Russian Interference
Dec17 GOP Base Seems to Like Tax Plan
Dec17 Centers for Disease Control May or May Not Be Barred from Using Seven Words
Dec17 Trump Discussed Disney Deal with Murdoch
Dec17 Kihuen Won't Seek Re-election
Dec17 The Truth Is Out There?
Dec16 Blackmail Works
Dec16 MacDonough: Thou Shalt Not Do Politics in Church
Dec16 What's in the Tax Bill?
Dec16 Democrats Will Use Net Neutrality to Energize Millennials
Dec16 Trump's Popularity Is Plummeting
Dec16 Woman Drops Out of House Race on Account of Sexual Harassment Charge
Dec16 Another Dubious Judicial Nominee
Dec16 Trump Lawyers to Meet with Mueller
Dec15 Tax Bill Is Not Quite a Done Deal Yet
Dec15 FCC Votes to Kill Net Neutrality
Dec15 McCain Is in the Hospital
Dec15 Trump Breaks the Record for Appellate Judges Confirmed in First Year
Dec15 Has Ryan Had It?
Dec15 Farenthold Won't Run for Re-election
Dec15 There May Be a Recount in Alabama
Dec15 North Korea, Iran Situations Get Messier By the Day
Dec15 Tip: Don't Get a Job Anytime Soon Where You're Paid in Tips
Dec14 What the Alabama Exit Polls Tell Us
Dec14 Disquieting Numbers for the GOP
Dec14 It's Not My Fault!
Dec14 Democrats' Path to Winning the Senate in 2018 Is Now Wider
Dec14 House and Senate Conferees Agree on a Tax Bill
Dec14 Rosenstein: No Cause for Firing Mueller
Dec14 Trump Withdraws Judicial Nominees
Dec14 Only Half of Voters Say Sexual Misconduct Accusations against Trump Are Credible
Dec14 Tina Smith to Replace Franken in the Senate
Dec14 Heat is On Farenthold
Dec13 Alabama Declares: "No Moore"
Dec13 Trump Has a Really Bad Day
Dec13 Republicans Getting Closer to Tax Deal
Dec13 Democrats Back Down on Dreamers
Dec12 It Is Election Day in Alabama Today
Dec12 What Happens If Moore Wins?
Dec12 Judge Orders Alabama Voting Records Preserved
Dec12 Booker Will Also Be Tested Today
Dec12 Gillibrand Calls for Trump to Resign
Dec12 Missing from the Russiagate Probe So Far: Steve Bannon
Dec12 Trump Wants to Go Back to the Moon
Dec12 Transgender Soldiers Can Enlist
Dec12 Spicer Writing a Book
Dec11 Another Poll Shows Moore Leading Jones
Dec11 Moore Does Not Like Amendments 11-27
Dec11 Collins Says Senate Will Have a Tough Decision If Moore Wins