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

Health-Care Industry Gets Involved in the Tax Bill

A quote often attributed to Albert Einstein (probably apocryphally) is: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Maybe the Senate Republicans should take a look at this. After months of failures while trying to repeal the ACA, they are trying to kill it again (albeit more stealthily). The newly revised Senate tax bill changes the fine for not being insured to $0, which is probably a good way to kill the ACA.

So what happened? Not surprisingly, almost all the big players in health care, including the insurance companies, the hospitals, and the doctors have now come out against the tax bill. Their arguments are the same as they were when the Republicans were trying to pass stand-alone ACA repeal bills. Basically, millions of people would be left uninsured, premiums for the remaining people would skyrocket, and the entire health-care system would be at risk.

If the tax bill goes down in flames due to the sneaky attempt to repeal the ACA via the back door, the recriminations from companies that really wanted the corporate tax cut and wealthy individuals who wanted a personal tax cut but who don't care about the ACA one way or another are going to be immense. They are going to say that an achievable goal was thrown away to achieve an unrelated goal that the vast majority of the country opposes. (V)

First Republican Senator Opposes the Tax Bill

The problem with the newly revised Senate tax bill—or any tax bill, for that matter—is that it affects almost everyone, and some minor provision can be a huge obstacle for people who care about it. If one of them is a U.S. senator, well, there can be a problem. In this case, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is unhappy with how the bill treats pass-through businesses, such as S corporations. Johnson's gripe is that businesses organized as legal corporations get a lower tax rate than small businesses that are not organized as corporations. Before getting into politics, he started a small business, so he is very sensitive to the needs of small businesses, although some pass-throughs, such as the Trump Organizations, are quite large. What Johnson wants is a level playing field for all businesses, no matter how they are legally organized. It is hard for the leadership to give Johnson what he wants (lower rates for small businesses) because that would cost a lot of money, which would have to be found somewhere, not an easy task.

As we get closer to voting on the bill, it is likely that different senators are going to complain about different aspects of it. One doesn't like how it treats pass-throughs, another doesn't like de facto repealing the ACA mandate, still another doesn't like repealing the deductions for state and local taxes, and suddenly the majority vanishes. And nobody knew that tax cuts could be so complicated (except everyone who has tried since 1986).

The following scenario should give Republicans nightmares. Suppose it becomes clear the tax bill can't pass by the date of the Alabama special election (Dec. 12). Further suppose that Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) joins Ron Johnson in announcing her opposition to the bill. Then Roy Moore becomes the deciding vote, leaving Republicans with these choices:

  • Support Moore, pass the tax bill, and be punished by the voters in 2018
  • Oppose Moore, let Democrat Doug Jones be seated, have the tax bill fail, and be punished by the donors in 2018

All of Mitch McConnell's supposed legislative skills are going to be needed to pull a rabbit out of a hat here. (V)

Former Defense Secretaries Oppose the Tax Bill

Three of the four men who served as Secretary of Defense under Barack Obama—Leon E. Panetta, Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter—are also opposed to the GOP's tax bill(s). They sent a letter to the leaders of Congress warning that passage would mean dire things for the future of the U.S. military. "Tax relief without fiscal discipline will inevitably add to the national debt," they declared. "That increase in the debt will, in the absence of a comprehensive budget that addresses both entitlements and revenues, force even deeper reductions in our national security capabilities." They specifically pointed out the two recent destroyer accidents as examples of what can happen when funding for training is inadequate.

Because all three men worked for Obama, one might assume that Congressional Republicans will pay little attention to their words. Not so fast, though. First, all three are Washington insiders, and all have extensive connections within both parties. Second, while Panetta and Carter are Democrats, Hagel is a Republican, having served as senator from Nebraska before his time leading the DoD. Third, the particular argument they are making tends generally to be a Republican talking point. Given how thin the Republicans' margin of error is on this tax bill, all it takes is for a few Representatives (or just a couple of Senators) to get spooked about looking anti-military, and the whole effort is in big trouble. (Z)

Moore Saga Continues to Develop Rapidly

One of the advantages in running for office as part of a special election, in a state that insists on holding its special elections on a different day than other states' special elections, is that you get to be the center of attention. One of the disadvantages in running for office as part of a special election, in a state that insists on holding its special elections on a different day than other states' special elections, is that you can't avoid being the center of attention. Would-be Alabama senator Roy Moore is learning the latter part of that the hard way, as his ongoing sex scandal continues to dominate the headlines.

To start, three more women have come forward to accuse Moore of predatory behavior. Gena Richardson says that he approached her at the Gadsden Mall in fall of 1977, just before her 18th birthday, and asked for her number. She declined, and then was shocked several days later when he called her at her high school. She declined a second date request then, but agreed to a third when Moore "happened" to bump into her at Sears a few days later. Following a movie, she says that Moore gave her a "forceful" kiss that left her scared. "I never wanted to see him again," said Richardson. Kayla McLaughlin, who was a friend of Richardson's at the time, confirmed the details to the Washington Post.

Meanwhile spoke to Tina Johnson, who said when she visited his law office in 1991 to deal with a child custody matter, Moore made numerous uncomfortable comments and then grabbed her buttocks. The website confirmed that Johnson's story checks out, namely that she did file a custody case in 1991 with Moore as counsel of record. With Richardson, McLaughlin, and Johnson added to the list, it brings the number of accusers to eight.

Meanwhile, Moore (and his attorney) took their best shot at meeting Sean Hannity's challenge, and explaining how Beverly Young Nelson—a woman that Moore claims he never met, and does not know—somehow has his signature in her yearbook:

Roy Moore signature

The story they are going with (which is really their only option): It's a forgery. In a letter to Hannity in support of this position, Team Moore pointed out several "clues" proving the inscription is fake: (1) The numeral 7s in "Christmas 1977" are noticeably different than in "12-22-77," (2) Moore was Deputy District Attorney at the time, and not District Attorney (and therefore, 'D.D.A.' and not 'D.A.' as signed), and (3) The printing of 'Olde Hickory House' does not match the rest of the writing. In view of these supposed discrepancies, they have demanded that the yearbook be given to a handwriting expert for analysis.

These "clues" are so feeble, it's remarkable that Moore's attorney allowed him to let loose with them, as opposed to just going with a generic "it's fake." Among the obvious counterpoints that present themselves:

  • The 7s are, in fact, not especially different
  • When abbreviating (a.k.a., saving time and space), it is common to simplify as fully as possible
  • It's also quite believable that someone with Moore's ambition and ego would exaggerate his rank a bit
  • Printed handwriting invariably looks different from cursive, often dramatically so
  • It's also well within the realm of possibility that Nelson annotated the inscription in 1977 as a reminder of its genesis
  • Moore's entire "theory" is predicated on the notion that a forger would be dumb enough to add needless detail like "Olde Hickory House" or including the word "Christmas" twice, and would then tip his hand by switching handwriting styles. In fact, an actual forger would avoid needless detail, and would surely not forget to use the same basic writing throughout. Actual forgers operate on the same principle as any other good liar: Keep it simple, stupid.

The good news for Moore is that he managed to shut Sean Hannity up. On his program on Thursday, Hannity read Moore's letter, and while the host declined to endorse it (don't want to aggravate the advertisers any further!), he also declined to critique it, telling Alabamians that Moore's fate, "shouldn't be decided by me." Biologists are working around the clock to figure out exactly which phylum Hannity belongs in, since it's clearly not vertebrata.

While Sean Hannity might have been kept at bay, however, Moore was not so lucky with Yellowhammer, Alabama's pre-eminent arch-conservative news source. Last week, the site published several articles by J. Pepper Bryars defending the GOP senate candidate, including this one with the headline "Alabama's conservatives shouldn't rush to join the frenzied attack on Roy Moore" and this one that declares that, "[O]ne thing is for sure: Alabamians won't believe anything printed in the Washington Post." On Tuesday, however, Bryars posted a piece in which he writes, "the judge is lying, and the accusers are telling the truth," and, "I may not believe everything written in the Washington Post, but I do believe my own eyes and ears. And on Monday afternoon I witnessed an incredibly brave and convincing woman tell the world about when Moore sexually assaulted her when she was in the 10th grade." Bryars, who also laments that he's stuck voting for "an extreme pro-choice Democrat being elected to the United States Senate who could hold the deciding vote to confirm the next one or two justices," may not speak for all Alabama voters, but he surely must speak for some of them.

It's not looking so good for Moore in terms of other allies, either. Donald Trump is back in the U.S., and has thus far declined to speak out about Moore, though insiders say he believes the accusations, and is just waiting to see what the polls tell him. That means that the President probably won't be throwing a life preserver to the Alabamian. First Daughter Ivanka Trump, meanwhile, was not so cautious. She blasted Moore, and declared that, "There's a special place in hell for people who prey on children." Not helping matters on the White House front is the fact that Cliff Sims, the CEO and founder of the aforementioned Yellowhammer, is currently serving in the White House as a special adviser to the President, and is presumably giving him some Moore-unfriendly thoughts about what conservatives think of all this. There is even scuttlebutt that Steve Bannon is thinking about jumping ship. In short, the Judge may soon be left with no prominent Republicans left to beat the drum for him, and many prominent Republicans looking to beat him.

Add it all up, though, and Moore looks to be in some pretty deep doo-doo. He claims he's spent his whole life developing a close, personal relationship with God. If so, well, he should probably get ready to call in a few favors. (Z)

Could the Republicans Try a Constitutional Hail Mary?

The most prominent Republican who most wants to beat Moore is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is desperately casting about for ways to make that happen. The latest scheme: Have Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) resign. McConnell and other high-ranking Congressional Republicans are thinking that, just maybe, this would trigger a new special election, leaving the Moore-Jones contest moot. Needless to say, none of the laws governing special elections in Alabama (or anywhere else) anticipate these kinds of machinations, so any case that the Majority Leader and his allies might try to make would be on shaky legal ground, and would presumably be met by challenges from both Moore and Jones.

Prof. Rick Hasen of the University of California, one of the country's leading experts on election law, considers this ploy to be a violation of the Seventeenth Amendment. Hasen gives this argument, and would probably be prepared to give it in front of the (Alabama?) Supreme Court if need be. Suppose Luther Strange were to die this afternoon (e.g., of a heart attack from too much stress, traffic accident from distracted driving, whatever). Then Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL) could appoint another placeholder to represent Alabama in the Senate until the already-scheduled special election could take place. There is nothing in the Seventeenth Amendment that even vaguely suggests that the death or resignation of the temporary senator somehow invalidates the scheduled election that is already taking place (absentee ballots are already being sent in).

Hasen makes some points about the political aspects of these shenanigans:

  • Moore could run in the new election and still win
  • Why would Luther Strange put himself through the wringer for this?
  • Jeff Sessions wants no part of this

Assuming this ploy fails, the national Republicans will probably have to reconcile themselves with having either Moore or Jones in the Senate, neither of which is good for them. (V)

NRSC Poll Shows Jones Up by 12 Points

The bad news just keeps coming for Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. A new poll sponsored by the National Republican Senatorial Committee shows Moore at 39% and Jones at 51%. However, this poll might best be taken with a barrel of salt. The NRSC desperately wants Moore to drop out of the race. What better way to achieve this than convince Moore that he will lose badly? What is fishy here is that the story doesn't reveal who did the polling and doesn't show any crosstabs. Making up a couple of two-digit numbers, one of them larger than 50 and one of them quite a bit smaller than 50 isn't so hard. Better wait until more polls from known pollsters are published, complete with crosstabs. (V)

Bannon Sees the Republican Party as a Headless Chicken

Many people, including many Republicans, simply don't understand what Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon wants and why he supports crazy candidates like Roy Moore. Keith Koffler, who just published a book about Bannon, wrote a piece for The Hill trying to explain Bannon to the Republican Party. If they read it, they are not likely to get much comfort from it.

Bannon sees the Republican Party like a chicken whose head has been cut off and whose body and head are now functioning independently from each other. He believes that the majority of Republican voters are populist America-firsters who want to ban immigration, kill trade agreements, stop sending jobs overseas, and want the party to come out for working-class stiffs, megadonors be damned. He is also on board with the idea that white people are victims and their ideas abut God, guns, gays, and especially race, are under siege. He is sure the Republican political class doesn't oppose this because it isn't even aware of the shift in the base. His solution: Get rid of the entire party leadership, starting with Mitch McConnell. While an imperfect vessel, he sees Moore as someone who fundamentally will never take orders from McConnell, so he is the kind of person Bannon wants in the Senate. Hating McConnell is Bannon's main litmus test. If Moore happens to like teenage girls, so be it (or maybe not; see above).

If Bannon get his way, we will see a fundamental realignment of the coalitions that form both parties, with FDR Democrats becoming Republicans and upscale suburban Republicans becoming Democrats. What we might have when the dust settles is coalitions that look like this:

  • Millionaires and billionaires
  • Libertarians (especially in the Interior West)
  • Working-class voters (especially in the Midwest and South)
  • Evangelicals
  • Alt-right millennials
  • Upscale professionals (especially in and around big cities)
  • Minorities and the poor generally
  • Single women
  • Socialist millennials

If this comes to pass, neither party will be able to govern, even if it gets complete control of the government, because the wishes of the various groups are so far apart. We are already getting a taste of that: the very wealthy and libertarians love free trade and immigration; working-class people hate it. For the Democrats, the problems are just as bad. The only realistic way to provide more government help for the poor is to tax affluent professionals and the rich, which is formula for big fights. Of course, Bannon may not succeed and we may end up with a different alignment. In politics, a week is a long time. (V)

Lots of Blowback on Potential Uranium Investigation

Earlier this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggested that he might appoint a second special counsel to look into the transaction wherein a group of Russians bought a Canadian company that processes American uranium. The notion among some on the right is that this is part of a complicated web of Russia-Clinton family-Clinton Foundation corruption, on par with (or worse than) anything Team Trump has done. It remains unclear whether Sessions was serious, or if he was merely trying to mollify Donald Trump, who desperately wants the distraction that such an investigation would provide.

If Sessions really is thinking this way, he may want to think again, because his staff at the Justice Department would not be happy. Justice is supposed to be above politics, so getting involved in a wild goose chase that is obviously motivated by partisanship would be entirely antithetical to the Department's mission and its esprit de corps. "To have the winning side exploring the possibility of prosecuting the losing side in an election—it's un-American, and it's grotesque," said John Danforth, a Republican who himself once served as a special counsel (looking into Waco). Peter R. Zeidenberg, also a one-time special counsel (Scooter Libby case), concurred: "I think the vast majority of people at DOJ would be completely disgusted and demoralized by it. They don't like feeling that they are political tools to be used by the president."

If that were not enough, Fox News' Shepard Smith also waded into the controversy with both guns blazing, taking time on his show to deconstruct the entire conspiracy theory bit-by-bit. He pointed out (as have we) that Hillary Clinton had little to no involvement with the transaction, certainly did not have sole veto or approval power, and that the supposed quid pro quo of "uranium approval" for "Clinton Foundation donation" centers on a man—Frank Giustra—who sold his stake in the Russian company three years before the uranium deal and a year-and-a-half before Clinton became secretary of state. Now, Smith is no Sean Hannity (in fact, the two dislike each other), but he is still a Fox News star. And if a Fox News star is poking Titanic-sized holes in a conspiracy theory, that certainly suggests how tenuous it is.

Should Jeff Sessions and/or Donald Trump want to cheer themselves up, though, there is one bit of "news" they are likely to enjoy. The staff of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" took to the streets of Los Angeles, and found a fair number of people who enthusiastically support the notion that Hillary Clinton should be impeached, ideally as soon as possible. Of course, she can't actually be impeached, because she currently holds no public office, but that's just a minor detail. (Z)

Kaine Wants to Abolish Superdelegates

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) is calling for the DNC to abolish the superdelegates in 2020. These are party officials who get to be delegates to the Democratic National Convention by dint of their holding high public office (now, or in the past) rather than being elected by the voters. The supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raged against the superdelegates in 2016 because they were almost all supporters of Hillary Clinton.

What Kaine didn't mention is the moderating influence the party regulars have on the process. If the Republicans had as many superdelegates as the Democrats did, Donald Trump wouldn't be president now. He wouldn't even have been the Republican nominee. Most likely, Jeb Bush would have been the nominee.

Why is Kaine saying this now? He is a fairly conventional moderate Democratic politician and certainly didn't oppose superdelegates during the primary campaign. Might he be trying to curry favor with Sanders supporters for some reason? Could that reason be related to some future election (and not his Senate campaign in 2018, for which he is already a shoo-in)? Time will tell. (V)

Trump Wades into UCLA Basketball Controversy

Last week, the UCLA basketball team was in China to play an exhibition match. Three of the players decided that since they were in a country known for its authoritarian government, 99% conviction rate in criminal trials, and draconian punishments, there was really no better time to practice their shoplifting skills. The trio was arrested, and put under house arrest. Lots of lawyers, and UCLA officials, and Pac-12 officials got involved, as did Donald Trump, who says it was he who persuaded Xi Jinping to release the players.

Whether or not that is true, only Xi really knows, and he's not talking. But the resulting vacuum gives Trump more than enough elbow room to take all the credit. And he doesn't just want credit, he wants thank yous, as he made clear in one of his very first post-Asia tweets on Wednesday morning:

It's a bit tacky for a president to refer to himself in the third person, as if he is the Queen of England, and also for him to so brazenly demand praise. However, "a bit tacky" is kind of The Donald's calling card, so this is hardly out of character for him. Further, he is once again telling young black men how they should behave, and chastising them for being ungrateful. So this is kind of like NFL national anthem controversy v2.0. Presumably, he sensed how this would play with the base (very well, judging from the Twitter comments). However, this one is not likely to have legs, since Trump got his three thank yous just a few hours later. Admittedly, they were in the form of pre-written statements, delivered with the same enthusiasm one usually associates with getting a root canal, but the tweet didn't say anything about the thanks being genuine or heartfelt. (Z)

Russian Trolls Stoked Voter Fear before the Election

An investigation by NBC News shows that Russian trolls were hard at work in 2016 trying to delegitimize the expected presidency of Hillary Clinton. The investigation was based on 36,000 tweets on Twitter, all of which originated from a single source but were spread over nearly 400 accounts. Many of them suggested that Clinton was going to win due to voter fraud. The tweets started on Aug. 11, 2016, and ended abruptly the day after the election. After it was clear Trump had won, there were no more tweets about voter fraud.

One account, from @Pamela_Moore13, showed a nearly naked woman holding an American flag. She identified herself as a pro-God conservative from Texas. Most likely, she was a small team of male Russian hackers in Moscow. The account had over 70,000 followers, and "her" tweets were retweeted by Donald Trump Jr., Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Ann Coulter, and Alex Jones. Most likely they did not realize they were "useful idiots" working in the service of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but they were. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov15 Senate Tax Bill Will Repeal ACA Mandate
Nov15 Sessions Has Trouble Remembering Things
Nov15 Five Ways the Alabama Senate Race Could End
Nov15 How Will Trump Handle Moore?
Nov15 Republican National Committee Drops Moore
Nov15 Hannity Is Feeling the Heat
Nov15 Alabama Democrats to National Democrats: Stay Out of This
Nov15 Moore Leads Jones in New Polls
Nov15 How American Politics Went Batshit Crazy
Nov15 Judicial Candidate May Be in Trouble
Nov15 The U.S. Stands Alone on the Paris Accord
Nov14 Fifth Woman Gives Explosive Testimony against Moore
Nov14 Mall Banned Moore in the 1980s
Nov14 McConnell Calls on Moore to Drop Out
Nov14 Cory Gardner Calls for Moore to Be Expelled from the Senate if He Runs and Wins
Nov14 Trump Jr. Had Contact With Wikileaks
Nov14 Justice Dept. May Appoint Second Special Counsel to Look into Uranium Deal
Nov14 Trump Taps Azar for HHS
Nov14 Huge Wave of Puerto Ricans Have Moved to Florida
Nov14 Menendez Jurors Are Deadlocked
Nov13 McConnell Fears He Is Going to Lose the Alabama Senate Seat
Nov13 Could Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL) Cancel the Alabama Senate Election?
Nov13 Advertisers Hit Hannity Where it Hurts
Nov13 Trump Should Resign, Says Kellyanne Conway
Nov13 Evangelicals, Southerners: Trump Gets It
Nov13 Senate Tax Bill Is in Trouble--in the House
Nov13 It Is Congress' Fault that Tax Reform Is So Hard
Nov13 Rundown of House Retirements
Nov13 Biden Clearly Planning 2020 Run
Nov12 Trump: I Believe Putin
Nov12 Moore Remains on the Hot Seat
Nov12 Let the Departures Resume
Nov12 GOP No Longer the Party of Environmentalism
Nov12 "America First" Means "America Alone"
Nov12 New Twitter Limit May Be Bad News for Trump
Nov12 How to Fix the Electoral College
Nov11 Republicans End Joint Fundraising with Moore
Nov11 Moore Fundraises Off Controversy
Nov11 Excuses for Moore Are Pretty Flimsy
Nov11 New Poll Shows Moore and Jones Tied
Nov11 Could Jones Win This Thing?
Nov11 Ryan and McConnell Misspoke on Middle Class Taxes
Nov11 If the Tax Bill Fails, Republican Donors Will Flee
Nov11 Senate Judiciary Committee Approves a Judge the ABA Says Is Not Qualified
Nov10 Senate Releases Its Tax Bill
Nov10 Roy Moore Is Accused of Sexually Assaulting a 14-Year-Old Girl When He Was 32
Nov10 Miller Meets Mueller
Nov10 Wilbur Ross Feels the Heat, Again
Nov10 Jury Deliberation in Menendez Case to Start All Over Next Week
Nov10 Republicans Hold Virginia House of Delegates...For Now