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

House, Senate Pass Tax Bill

By a vote of 227 to 203, the House passed the Republicans' tax bill today. Twelve Republicans joined all the Democrats in opposing it. Protesters interrupted the debate multiple times, but in the end, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) made good on his promise and passed the bill. Here is a list of the Republican defectors.

District Representative PVI
CA-49 Darrell Issa R+1
NJ-02 Frank LoBiondo R+1
NY-19 John Faso R+2
NJ-11 Rodney Frelinghuysen R+3
NJ-07 Leonard Lance R+3
NY-11 Dan Donovan R+3
NY-02 Peter King R+3
CA-48 Dana Rohrabacher R+4
NY-21 Elise Stefanik R+4
NY-01 Lee Zeldin R+5
NJ-04 Christopher Smith R+8
NC-03 Walter Jones R+12

With one exception, all the Republican defectors are from California, New Jersey, or New York, all high-tax states where many people are going to see a tax increase next year. To make it worse, all but one of these (Smith) are from swing districts, which puts them on the Democrats' list of top targets. Whether "I voted against the bill" is going to save their seats is doubtful. Many of their constituents are going to be hopping mad and since they can't vote Paul Ryan out of office, second choice is likely to get rid of their own representative. These representatives' only consolation is that the 23 Republicans from California, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York who voted for the bill are going to be in even hotter water.

Once the House had its turn, then the ball was in the Senate's court. It passed the bill too, on a strictly party-line vote of 51-48 (Republican #52, John McCain, is home in Arizona recuperating from chemotherapy). While the bill was in the Senate, it had its "Byrd Bath," wherein Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled on whether or not the legislation is in compliance with the Byrd Rule. The Rule puts constraints on what kind of things can and cannot be done via the reconciliation process. As a result of MacDonough's judgments, the Senate had to strip certain provisions—for example, a passage that allowed college savings accounts to be used for home-schooling expenses. As a consequence of this, the House will have to vote on the bill again. There is no question that Paul Ryan knew this would happen, and undoubtedly the re-vote will take place this morning, with the result that the bill should be on the President's desk sometime this afternoon for his signature. So, the GOP will make its Christmas deadline with three or four days to spare. Jingle all the way.

Public opinion strongly opposes the bill, with 55% opposing it and only 33% supporting it. A large majority (66%) say it favors the rich. Among Republicans, 27% think it favors the wealthy, among independents, 64% think it favors the wealthy, and among Democrats, a full 95% think it favors the wealthy. Almost four in 10 (37%) say their own family will be worse off if the bill becomes law. Only 21% say they will be better off. On the other hand, 63% think the bill will leave the President and his family better off. Needless to say, the Republicans have just written the Democrats' 2018 platform. (V & Z)

Mystery Solved? Maybe "Corker Kickback" Was Actually "Hatch Kickback"

Many people have been wondering: (1) Who added the last-minute text giving real estate investors a special tax break, and (2) Was this related to Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), a deficit hawk and major real estate investor, changing his vote from "no" to "yes" even though the final bill explodes the deficit as much as the original one? The author of the patch to the bill wasn't some gnome or monkey, but Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and he had two good reasons to throw that passage in, unrelated to Corker. First, his wife owns a real estate LLC worth up to $500,000 that earned $15,000 in 2016. She would benefit from the new rule. Second, donors from the real estate industry gave more than $515,000 to Hatch's reelection campaign in 2012, and naturally, they expected some return on their investment. So another explanation of how the real estate deduction got into the bill is that Hatch snuck it in for his own personal benefit rather than Corker's.

As to why Corker suddenly switched sides, that may be related to John McCain and his unexpected return to Arizona for medical treatment. It is possible that when Corker voted "no" on the Senate bill, he was just grandstanding, knowing that his vote didn't matter. But when push came to shove with McCain absent, if Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) voted no, Corker would have been the deciding vote. He might have decided (or been told) that making a symbolic stand against raising the deficit is one thing, but actually killing the bill is something very different, and that was a bridge too far.

Perhaps relevant (but who knows) is that Corker hid at least $3.8 million in real estate income from his Senate disclosure forms from 2007 to 2014. Having real estate investments is perfectly legal, but lying about them on your disclosure forms is not. Corker hastily filed dozens of corrections last Friday. (V)

Trump Could Do Something Worse Than Fire Mueller: Fire Rosenstein

With all the talk about Donald Trump possibly firing special counsel Robert Mueller, there is actually something Trump could easily do that is worse than firing Mueller: Firing Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. First of all, Trump doesn't have the legal authority to fire Mueller, so he would first have to fire most of the top staff of the Justice Dept. until he found someone willing to do the job. This would be Saturday Night Massacre II and would probably lead to Trump's impeachment for obstruction of justice. But there is something much simpler that he could do that would be almost as good, namely replacing Rosenstein with someone who wanted to muzzle Mueller without too much commotion.

The deputy AG is Mueller's boss because AG Jeff Sessions has recused himself. Rosenstein has taken a hands-off position with respect to Mueller and let him do what he wants without interference. If Trump fired Rosenstein and replaced him with (an acting) deputy AG, Mueller's new boss could insist that Mueller report to him every day with his plans for tomorrow, which the new acting deputy AG could veto. He could insist on seeing every subpoena and request for information in advance and veto them all. He could make Mueller's life hell and prevent him from making progress. This could all be done under the radar without anyone in Congress calling for the new deputy's head. It might be the ideal way to block Mueller without making waves.

On the other hand, you don't get to the point that Mueller has gotten to in life without being able to sidestep a few landmines. Remember that a lot of Donald Trump's current trouble is a result of the fact that former FBI director James Comey was clever enough to document his conversations with the President, and then to arrange for some of that information to leak. Well, Mueller is a savvy former FBI director, too. (V)

James Clapper: Putin is Handling Trump Like an Asset

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is handling Donald Trump like an "asset." Putin was a lieutenant colonel in the KGB before he retired, and his job there was to recruit and manage "assets," people who would either spy or take actions that their KGB masters wanted them to take. Assets vary greatly and can be politicians, political organizers, academics, journalists, web operators, business executives, and others who are in a position to further Russia's interests, often without realizing what they are doing. Clapper feels that Putin is using his extensive knowledge of how to manipulate people to get Trump to do his bidding without being aware of how he is furthering Russia's interests rather than America's. It is a startling claim, especially from a former spymaster who understands all too well how the game is played. (V)

Of Dreamers and Fences

Democrats have abandoned their plan to demand that the so-called "dreamers" get to stay in the U.S. in return for not shutting the government down just before Christmas. The new plan is to shut it down in January—unless a deal can be made. However, senators and White House officials are actively working on a bipartisan compromise to avoid the shutdown altogether. Roughly speaking, the nature of the compromise is that the dreamers get to stay but extra security is added to the border with Mexico.

Nevertheless, there are sticky issues on both sides of the equation. One key one is whether the dreamers can eventually become citizens, and thus get the right to vote. Democrats want this and Republicans don't. Another one is whether the border will be beefed up with more fencing, like what is already there, or with a great big beautiful concrete-and-steel Wall. Other immigration issues could also play a role, such as an overhaul of the asylum system and what to do about refugees.

A central issue is how Donald Trump will respond to any deal worked out by the bipartisan group of senators. If he insists on "no amnesty" and a great big Wall, there won't be a deal. It will be up to his chief of staff, John Kelly, to convince him that whatever the senators agree to is a "big win" for him. Come to think of it, Trump may be Kelly's asset as well as Putin's. (V)

Democrats Have a Southern Strategy of Their Own

What do these people have in common: John Bel Edwards, Roy Cooper, Ralph Northam, and Doug Jones? Answer: They are all Democrats who have won major contested statewide elections in the South in the past 2 years. If the Democratic Parties in Southern states weren't dead, they were certainly in deep hibernation in many states ever since Richard Nixon first embarked on his "Southern strategy," which was essentially a dog whistle appeal to white racism.

That may be rapidly changing now, because the Democrats are starting to develop their own Southern strategy. It could be called the 3M strategy: Appeals to minorities, millennials, and moderate Republicans (especially well-educated white suburbanites who can't stand Donald Trump). This is a variation of the Obama coalition, but fine-tuned for consumption in the South by emphasizing economic, rather than cultural, issues. Doug Jones won in Alabama despite being pro-choice, because while he never hid his position on abortion, he ran on local and economic issues, not cultural ones. What worked in Alabama has a chance of working elsewhere in the South. The big message from the Alabama election was that turning out black voters in huge numbers while making a pitch that doesn't scare white college-educated professionals can be a winner. It is simply a matter of arithmetic. In increasingly many states, the number of minorities plus millennials plus white college-educated Republicans is close to or exceeds the number of evangelicals plus blue collar voters. Let's look at the basic demographics plus education in the South.

State White Black Latino Asian College
Texas 43% 12% 38% 5% 28%
Georgia 52% 32% 10% 4% 29%
Florida 55% 15% 26% 3% 27%
Mississippi 58% 37% 3% 0% 21%
Louisiana 59% 32% 5% 2% 23%
North Carolina 61% 21% 10% 3% 28%
Virginia 61% 18% 11% 7% 36%
South Carolina 65% 26% 5% 2% 26%
Alabama 66% 27% 4% 0% 24%
Arkansas 72% 15% 7% 0% 21%
Tennessee 73% 17% 6% 2% 25%

If we look at the table, which is sorted on column 2, we see that Texas may be ripe for the plucking eventually, although Latinos are not quite as loyal to the Democrats as blacks. Minorities are already a majority and the state has a relatively large number of people with bachelors' degrees or higher. In contrast, Arkansas is largely white and poorly educated. Although Alabama scores badly on both counts for Democrats, Jones won there because he faced a deeply flawed candidate and Democratic wins there may not be repeatable. But Georgia and Florida may be approaching the tipping point, especially Georgia since it has an exceptionally large black population and a highly educated population. Virginia has already tipped, largely due to the extremely large number of college-educated voters in Fairfax, Loudon, and Prince William Counties. In short, If Democrats can find the right candidates in a number of Southern states, they may well be able to come back from nowhere in them. (V)

Democrats May Have Ended Republican Control of the Virginia House of Delegates

In a recount yesterday, Shelly Simonds (D) appears to have beaten David Yancey (R) by a single vote in the recount of district 94 in the Virginia House of Delegates. Before the recount, Yancey was ahead by 10 votes. The totals still need to be certified.

If Simonds' win holds, the Democrats will have picked up 15 seats in November, a historic win for them. This would leave the chamber split at 50-50. While Lieutenant governor-elect Justin Fairfax has the power to break ties in the state senate (which has 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats), he has no such power in the lower chamber. Nobody does. The House of Delegates is now in uncharted waters and some sort of power-sharing arrangement will have to be worked out. (V)

Voters Hate Their 2016 Choices Even More Today Than a Year Ago

Another measure of Donald Trump's approval ratings is out, and the President continues to chart new territory. According to CNN's accounting, he's at 35%, which is far and away the worst number for any president at the end of their first year in office (at least, since approval ratings were first tracked in the 1950s). To see how truly grim it is, however, take a look at this graphic:

Presidential Popularity

As you can see, only one president managed to be under 50% at the end of their first year (Reagan), and only one managed to dip below Trump's numbers at any point in their first year (Bill Clinton). Further, it is clear that Trump's trendline is headed downward, so this may very well not be rock bottom.

That is not to say that the American people are necessarily wishing they could have a do-over of last year's election, though. Well, maybe they are, but not with much enthusiasm. At the same time that Trump's approval numbers are cratering, Gallup has Hillary Clinton's approval at 36%. That, of course is only 1% better than The Donald. And, given the margin of error, it is effectively a statistical tie.

What's going on here? Generally, when "option A" goes sour, "option B" starts to look much better by comparison. Certainly, Barack Obama—whose approval numbers keep going up—is benefiting from this dynamic. The key to answering that question, it would seem, is to note that Bill Clinton's approval rating also took a big hit recently, dropping five points to 45%. The thing that the Clintons and Trump have in common, and that Obama does not, is the perception that they have participated in treating women badly (or in covering it up). Of course, the Clintons are not in office, and so their approval ratings don't matter much. Trump, on the other hand, is. And while his official story is that all of his accusers are lying, the public doesn't seem to be buying it. If the #MeToo moment lingers into 2018, and there's no reason to think it won't, then it's another reason that Trump could prove to be a millstone around the GOP's neck. (Z)

Disney World Unveils "Donald Trump"

Shortly before the inauguration, Disney World temporarily shut down its "Hall of Presidents" animatronic exhibit for retooling, and to add Donald Trump. They were theoretically supposed to reopen in June or July, and when that deadline was missed by many months, it gave rise to speculation that they weren't ever going to be reopen, because the Mouse just didn't want to deal with The Donald. That proved to be untrue, however, as the park finally unveiled their Trump this week. It is, in a word, horrific:

Animatronic Trump

Twitter, of course, had a field day; the most popular joke is that Jon Voight was the model for the figure. There's also an emerging conspiracy theory that Disney started work on a Hillary Clinton robot, and then had to adapt it when Trump won. Meanwhile, our guess is that Jimmy Swaggart was the model. Probably none of these theories are true; in fairness (?) to Disney's engineers, "Barack Obama" doesn't look at all like the 44th president, and "George Washington" looks more like Glenn Close:

Animatronic Obama and Washington

Clearly, creating a realistic robot-president is easier said than done. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec19 House Will Vote on the Tax Bill Today
Dec19 Tax Bill Could Cost Over $2 Trillion
Dec19 What Are the Republicans Thinking?
Dec19 Many Big Fights Expected in Congress This Week
Dec19 Why Are Trump's Allies Attacking Mueller?
Dec19 Trump Lays Out National Security Strategy
Dec19 U.N. Vote Isolates the U.S. Even More
Dec19 People Die in Train Wreck; Trump Searches for Angle
Dec19 Another Judicial Nominee Bites the Dust
Dec18 Trump Is Not Considering Firing Mueller
Dec18 Last-Minute Perk for Real Estate Tycoons Ended Up in Tax Bill
Dec18 Congress May Shut the Government Down Despite Itself
Dec18 Trump Is Looking Forward to Campaigning in 2018
Dec18 McCain Is Increasingly Frail
Dec18 Jones Is Not Calling for Trump to Resign
Dec18 Cruz Is No Trump
Dec18 Voters Would Prefer Democrats to Control Congress
Dec18 Democrat Accused of Inappropriate Conduct
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