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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  House Passes the Tax Bill
      •  More Trouble for Kushner
      •  Six Possible Outcomes for the Alabama Senate Race, Ranked
      •  Not Everyone Is Fleeing from Roy Moore
      •  Republicans Are Getting Nervous about 2018
      •  Menendez Escapes--For Now
      •  Franken Groped and Kissed a Woman Without Her Consent

House Passes the Tax Bill

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the Republicans' tax bill by a margin of 227 to 205. No Democrat voted for it and 13 Republicans voted against it. Of the Republican naysayers, three are from California, four are from New Jersey, Five are from New York, and one is from North Carolina. The representatives from California, New Jersey, and New York object to eliminating the deduction for state income taxes, which are especially high in their states.

The Senate probably will ignore the bill since it is working on its own bill. If the Senate passes its bill, a conference committee will be tasked with coming up with a single bill that will go to an up-or-down vote in both chambers.

The House bill lays bare the Republicans' priorities. The large tax cut for corporations is permanent, but the tax cuts for middle-class taxpayers is temporary and will automatically expire on Jan. 1, 2026. This maneuver was necessary to be able to pass the bill using the Senate's budget reconciliation procedure, which requires only 50 senators to vote "yes."

An analysis by the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation shows that starting in 2021, people earning less than $40,000 would pay more taxes. Starting in 2027, most taxpayers earning less than $75,000 would pay more. Needless to say, the Democrats are going to be screaming until Election Day next year that all the Republicans care about is reducing taxes for big corporations. For people, not so much. Republicans are going to have to argue that the tax cut will generate so much new economic growth that everyone will be better off. The historical evidence does not support that thesis. Bill Clinton raised taxes and the economy took off. George W. Bush cut taxes and the economy tanked. Barack Obama raised taxes and the economy took off again. Most economists think that taxes don't really play that big a role in driving the economy and other factors are much more important.

Now the action moves to the Senate, where the Republicans' margin is much smaller. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is already on record as being against the Senate bill and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) doesn't like the de facto repeal of the ACA mandate in the Senate bill. If one more Republican defects, the bill won't pass the Senate. Several wavering senators, including Bob Corker (TN), John McCain (AZ), and Lisa Murkowski (AK) haven't taken a stand on it yet. There's also talk of a mysterious "Gang of Four" that is discussing the possibility of coming out against the bill together, and thus presenting a united front. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and James Lankford (R-OK) are reportedly two of the four; the other two are unknown. Even if some kind of bill passes, the Senate-House conference committee is going to struggle to get something that can pass both chambers. If the final vote comes after Dec. 12, Roy Moore or Doug Jones could end up being the deciding vote, depending on what happens in Alabama. (V)

More Trouble for Kushner

It turns out that Donald Trump Jr. wasn't the only one thinking about Wikileaks during the campaign. First Son-in-law Jared Kushner also received several e-mails about Clinton-related dirt that the site might have, and about the possibility of a "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite." Of course, receiving problematic e-mails is not, in and of itself, a problem. Everyone gets e-mails they did not solicit. However, Kushner has two issues: (1) He forwarded the messages to other members of the campaign, which certainly implies that he was interested, and (2) He conveniently "forgot" to turn the messages over to Congress when they asked him to disclose all Russia-related communications.

Apparently, it did not occur to Kushner that the other folks in the e-mail chain are also under investigation, and that they might be more, thorough with their disclosures. In any event, the Senate Intelligence Committee is now aware of the gap in the e-mail record, and they want the missing messages. Kushner's attorney has hinted that his client (and his client's father-in-law) may try to invoke executive privilege. We'll know how it turns out shortly after Thanksgiving, because that is the deadline for Kushner to comply. (Z)

Six Possible Outcomes for the Alabama Senate Race, Ranked

Washington Post reporter Amber Phillips has gone out on a limb and not only listed six possible outcomes of the Alabama Senate Race between Roy Moore (R) and Doug Jones (D), but also ranked them from least likely to most likely. Here's how she sees it:

  1. Moore drops out: This is the least likely scenario because Moore is defiant to his core. He doesn't give a hoot what Senate Republicans or anyone else thinks about him. Maybe if Donald Trump were to demand that he drop out, he might consider it, but considering that Trump campaigned against him in the primary, why should he do what Trump wants? And even if he dropped out, his name would stay on the ballot, although votes for him wouldn't count. In any event, Trump doesn't seem to be in the mood to insist that Moore get out. Yesterday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump thinks that the people of Alabama should decide who they want to represent them in the Senate. After all, it's not like it's the President's job to lead.

  2. A new election is held: Republicans are toying with the idea of asking Sen. Luther Strange (R) to resign his Senate seat in the hopes this would trigger a new election. However, knowledgeable legal analysts say that all that would happen if Strange resigns is that Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL) would name a new temporary senator, who would serve until the results of the Dec. 12 election were certified. If the Republicans go down this road, both Moore and Jones will join hands and sue the Alabama governor if she calls for a new election. Probably they will win in court, because there is no basis in law for calling for a new election.

  3. The state party forces Moore out: The Alabama Republican Party has the authority to force Moore out of the race but it hasn't done so yet and probably won't (see below). If it did, many of Moore's supporters would be furious and probably vote for him anyway.

  4. Some other Republican launches a write-in campaign: To win a write-in campaign, a candidate would need universal name recognition in Alabama and already be very popular. Robert E. Lee breathed his last in 1870, which means the only living person who meets those criteria is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. To date, Sessions has shown little interest in this option. Furthermore, he knows that if he enters the race and Moore is stubborn enough to stay in, they would split the vote and elect Jones. Sessions doesn't want to be responsible for that.

  5. Moore stays in and wins or loses: If no shenanigans happen and the election takes place on Dec. 12 as scheduled, Moore will either win or lose. If he loses, Doug Jones will be sworn in as soon as the vote is certified. If Moore wins, he will be sworn in. If the Republicans do nothing, then Moore will serve out Sessions' term until Jan. 2021. Of course, he could run for reelection in 2020 if he wants to and he might win.

  6. Moore wins and is expelled from the Senate: This is the most likely option, but if it comes to pass, there will be a lot of fireworks. The last time the Senate expelled a member was in 1862, for treason against the United States. The problem here is that to expel Moore, the Senate ethics committee has to hold what is essentially a trial. Moore could and would argue that (1) he has done nothing wrong, and (2) there is no basis in law for expelling a senator for acts undertaken before becoming a senator. The whole process could take months. If successful, there would be a new special election—and Moore would be free to run again. The last thing the Republicans really want is that the news for all of 2018 is about Roy Moore.

So as we and just about everyone else has pointed out, there are no good options for the Republicans except trying to get Moore to drop out, and Quin Hillyer, a conservative columnist in Mobile, AL, has said of Moore: "He's more stubborn than five mules on a bad day." One possibility that no one seems to have suggested is that Trump hire him to work for the Trump Organization on a 4-year contract for a salary of $10 million per year. But Trump seems to be too cheap to do that. (V)

Not Everyone Is Fleeing from Roy Moore

Many powerful and high-profile Republicans would like to be rid of Roy Moore forever, given his renegade nature, and the harm he may do to the GOP brand. But the only Republicans who really matter are the ones who run the GOP's state-level machinery in Alabama. And on Thursday, those folks made clear that they remain behind Moore. As a practical matter, this ends any attempt to kill Moore's candidacy without his consent. The only people with a legal basis to actually boot him are the Alabama Republicans, and they clearly do not intend to do so. Similarly, for a write-in campaign to work, it would almost certainly require the Alabama GOP's full-throated support (and their voter lists). That support is not forthcoming.

Clearly, the ALGOP Steering Committee believes two things. The first is that Moore has the backing of enough Republicans to still win the election. The second is that Moore is still better than a pro-choice Democrat. This seems inconceivable to many folks outside the state, but the basic calculation being made by many Alabamians is pretty simple: "Moore may be a sexual predator, but Jones is pro-choice, and killing babies is worse than some unwanted touching." National Democrats might be wise to learn a lesson here about the possibility of winning elections in deep red states if they insist on "pro-choice" as a litmus test.

In case we needed confirmation that the ALGOP Steering Committee is right, and that the base is still with Moore, a dozen prominent religious leaders from the state gathered for a press conference Thursday afternoon. In amongst much talk of "fake news," and "communist Democrats," and "homosexualist gay terrorists," the 12 men made very clear that they are still behind their candidate. They even figured out what a hashtag is, and had #SupportRoyMoore displayed prominently.

Given the unwavering support of the state party and the evangelicals, then, possibilities 3-6 on Amber Phillips' list above now seem pretty remote. It's possible that new revelations could change the calculus, but that seems unlikely—is 10 or 12 accusers a tipping point when 8 (including some with evidence) were not? The smart money says that it's going to be Jones vs. Moore, as expected, and that Moore wins unless the Democrat does a great job of rallying his base, and a good job of peeling off a few moderate Republican voters. (Z)

Republicans Are Getting Nervous about 2018

Off-year elections are idiosyncratic, and are also few in number. So, the data they provide is not of the best quality. However, it's also the only data available, and so those who are trying to read the 2018 tea leaves have to take it and run with it. And given that, well, Republicans are starting to get very anxious about what's going to happen when voters go to the polls a year from now.

This week, the Republican Governors Association gathered in Texas, and the main topic of discussion was what happened in Virginia. Their concern is not just that Democrat Ralph Northam won the governor's mansion, but that he won it easily, despite running a fairly lousy campaign. "Just simply the intensity of the opposition—I think that's what was reflected in the Virginia vote," said Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR). "That should be a wake-up call to all of our supporters in the elections next year." Other governors, including Scott Walker (WI) and Rick Scott (FL) agreed with that general assessment. The problem is that "get our voters to the polls" is easily said, but not always so easily done.

And in case the GOP folks needed some more things to worry about, they got them this week. To start, Allison Ikley-Freeman was elected to an open seat in the Oklahoma State Senate on Tuesday. Ikley-Freeman is 26 years old, Democratic, and gay. We're still checking our copy of the King James Bible, but we're pretty sure that "Lesbian Democrat wins election in Oklahoma" is one of the Seven Seals of Revelation that portends the coming of the apocalypse. Ikley-Freeman's district went for Donald Trump by 40 points, but now she has become the fourth Democrat this year to flip a seat in the Oklahoma Senate. Inasmuch as Barack Obama never managed to win a single county in the Sooner State, making Oklahoma the only state to shut him out in that way, this Democratic surge in a ruby-red stronghold has to be worrying for the GOP.

And speaking of Obama, a new Fox News poll has some more distressing news for Republicans, particularly the one who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In the poll, 52% of respondents said that they approved of the job that Barack Obama did as president, while 49% said they approved of Donald Trump's performance as president. That's within the margin of error for the poll, which means it's effectively a statistical tie. So what's the problem for Trump and the GOP? Well, the poll was conducted in...Alabama, among likely voters. Just one year ago, that state went for Trump by 28 points, giving him 62% of their votes. If he runs again, his opponent—whoever they may be—is not going to be as hated in the Yellowhammer State as Hillary Clinton is. Given his shrinking margin of error, it's not a surprise that Trump is loath to take a side either for or against Roy Moore. (Z)

Menendez Escapes--For Now

The judge trying the corruption case of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has declared a mistrial because the jury was hopelessly deadlocked. Menendez has admitted taking favors from a wealthy doctor, Salomon Melgen, but claims he and the doctor are personal friends and the gifts weren't bribes. Ten of the jurors thought Menendez was not guilty of any crimes, but two thought he was guilty on most of the 18 charges. That probably gives us a pretty good sense of the makeup of the jury, politically. The trial went on for 11 weeks.

The prosecution could ask for a retrial, but they would have the same problem again. Fundamentally, there is no smoking gun. There are no letters or emails or handwritten notes or anything from Melgen saying something like: "Senator, if you solve my dispute with Medicare, I will give you x, y, and z." So the case rests entirely on circumstantial evidence. The jury wasn't convinced there was a quid pro quo there.

If Menendez had been convicted, there would have been enormous pressure on him to resign and allow Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) to appoint a Republican to his seat. That won't happen now. If there is a new trial, it won't be until next year, by which time governor-elect Phil Murphy (D) will be in the governor's mansion in Trenton. Even if Menendez is forced out, Murphy will then just name another Democrat to his seat. Nevertheless, even absent another trial, Menendez isn't home free. He is up for election in 2018 and the voters could decide they have had enough of him. Of course, it is possible that some other Democrat challenges him in a primary, in an attempt to get rid of him without endangering the seat in blue New Jersey. (V)

Franken Groped and Kissed a Woman Without Her Consent

Sen. Al Franken (DFL-MN) is the latest high-profile figure to be accused of sexual misconduct. Leeann Tweeden, a radio broadcaster in Los Angeles, said yesterday that on a 2006 overseas trip, Franken groped and kissed her against her will. She also tweeted a photo of him possibly touching her breasts while she slept. In the photo, Franken is looking right at the camera and smiling, so he possibly isn't actually touching her and did it thinking it was very funny. Tweeden says that when she discovered the photo later, she didn't think it was the slightest bit funny. Franken has apologized for the incident. Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants the Senate ethics committee to investigate, something that Franken says he supports. Franken's name has popped up on various lists of potential presidential candidates for 2020, but he is unlikely to appear on any lists from here on out.

Roy Moore has grabbed onto this incident to make a point about Mitch McConnell, who is only slightly more popular than the devil in Alabama:

  • A photo proves Franken groped a woman and McConnell says it should be investigated
  • There is no evidence against me and McConnell says I have to quit the race

Given how hated McConnell is in Alabama, this argument might actually work there.

Moore isn't the only one to seize upon the story, either. Donald Trump, who never misses a chance to gloat when a Democrat is on the hot seat, sent a couple of tweets on the matter:

Leaving aside that the "Frankenstein" joke is second-grade level humor, and that Trump apparently cannot spell "Frankenstein," the incongruities here are really quite stunning. First, it really is remarkable that Trump can keep a straight face while lecturing someone else about being a hypocrite on sexual assault. He is probably right that someone who is guilty of that offense probably should not be preaching to others. However, he conveniently overlooks that whatever evidence exists regarding the Senator's bad behavior, ten times as much evidence exists regarding The Donald's bad behavior. Further, Trump has yet to say a word about Roy Moore's recently-revealed sexual proclivities. So, is the president suggesting that an aggressive kiss and a tacky photo involving an adult is actually worse than molesting a 14-year-old? Or is he telling us that sexual assault is only problematic when done by a Democrat?

Incidentally, the Lesley Stahl reference involves a magazine article (not a tape) from 1995, while Franken was working on "Saturday Night Live." While he was being shadowed by a reporter for the New Yorker, Franken and his co-writers on the show discussed (and dismissed) the idea of a Lesley Stahl rape bit. This matter was a major point of contention during Franken's first Senate campaign, but had faded into the background prior to Thursday. Trump—or, more likely, Fox News—has some very skilled dirt diggers on the payroll.

Finally, we would not be doing our job if we did not report that a few questions have been raised about Tweeden and her narrative. There have been a few whispers—none yet from reliable sources—that the photographer who took the photo says it was staged, and that Tweeden was not asleep and was in on the "gag." It is also the case that Trump insider Roger Stone seemed to know about the story a day before the news broke. Given that Tweeden is an outspoken and die-hard Trump supporter, it raises at least a few questions about how and why Stone knew in advance, if indeed he did. If Franken somehow was the victim of a conspiracy, it is odd that he would not say so, but it is also the case that those who deny or obfuscate often end up in more trouble than those who just apologize. In any event, it is at least possible that the story heads in some unexpected directions in the next few days. (V & Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov16 Health-Care Industry Gets Involved in the Tax Bill
Nov16 First Republican Senator Opposes the Tax Bill
Nov16 Former Defense Secretaries Oppose the Tax Bill
Nov16 Moore Saga Continues to Develop Rapidly
Nov16 Could the Republicans Try a Constitutional Hail Mary?
Nov16 NRSC Poll Shows Jones Up by 12 Points
Nov16 Bannon Sees the Republican Party as a Headless Chicken
Nov16 Lots of Blowback on Potential Uranium Investigation
Nov16 Kaine Wants to Abolish Superdelegates
Nov16 Trump Wades into UCLA Basketball Controversy
Nov16 Russian Trolls Stoked Voter Fear before the Election
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