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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump: No Change to Your 401(k)
      •  Trump Feuds with Military Widow
      •  Republicans Don't Trust Trump as a Negotiator
      •  Democratic House Candidates Are Pulling in Serious Money
      •  Russians May Have Hundreds of Troll Networks Targeting the U.S.
      •  EPA Silences Scientists
      •  Feinstein Readies for Battle

Trump: No Change to Your 401(k)

Yesterday, President Donald Trump sent out this tweet:

Why is this significant? Well, because Republicans in Congress who are working on changing the tax code need more revenue in order to make their plan revenue neutral, something required if they want to pass it with only 50 votes in the Senate and also make it permanent. One of the ways they have found to generate a lot more revenue is to limit individual contributions to 401(k) plans. One number that has been bandied about is bringing the maximum contribution down from $18,000 ($24,000 for workers over 50) to $2,400. With the virtual disappearance of the defined-benefit pension, 54 million Americans have turned to 401(k) plans. The tax break for contributions costs the government over $100 billion a year. If the maximum contribution were slashed to $2,400, it could generate a trillion dollars of revenue for the government over the next 10 years, although it would cost the government about the same amount down the road since people would likely switch to ROTH IRAs, which are funded by post-tax contributions. But Republicans don't care about "down the road." They care about revenue neutrality in the next 10 years in order to make the tax cuts permanent using the Senate's budget reconciliation rules.

In 129 characters, Trump has taken a trillion dollars worth of revenue off the table. That is $7.75 billion per character. Of course, a tweet is not a law. It is today's thought and may not be tomorrow's thought. If Congress passes a tax-cut bill that slashes corporate taxes, individual taxes for rich people, and eliminates the alternative minimum tax (which cost Trump $31 million in 2005) but finances the cut by reducing the 401(k) limit to $2,400 or even less, it is almost inconceivable that Trump would veto the bill. He would simply say that sausage making is never pretty and on the whole the bill is worth signing.

Of course, the tweet might influence members of Congress to oppose changing the 401(k) limit, but since Republicans want to make the tax cut permanent, they need to find revenue somewhere. An alternative proposal that is now floating around is to allow middle-class taxpayers to take the full $18,000 or $24,000 deduction but reduce it for rich people, however defined. But that reduces revenue appreciably and the goal of the new limit was to raise a trillion dollars. So assume everything is still on the table. (V)

Trump Feuds with Military Widow

Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Niger casualty Sgt. La David Johnson, finally broke her silence about the now-notorious phone call she got from Donald Trump. This is what she had to say:

The president said that he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyways and I was—it made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it. He couldn't remember my husband's name. The only way he remembered my husband's name was because he told me he had my husband's report in front of him and that's when he actually said 'La David.' I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband's name and that's what hurt me the most because if my husband is out here fighting for our country, and he risks his life for our country, why can't you remember his name? And that's what made me upset and cry even more because my husband was an awesome soldier.

In other words, Johnson confirmed everything that Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) reported last week.

This rather forceful statement effectively left Trump with three options. The first was to offer some form of apology, even a mild one like, "I regret you took it that way" and the second was to ignore the story. Of course, the President is essentially incapable of either of these, which left us with option three: Continue to insist that he is in the right. So, that's what he did via Twitter, just an hour after Johnson's remarks were made public:

There are only two ways to interpret Trump's response: (1) "We had very different experiences during that conversation, and if she did not see it as I did, that is not my problem," or (2) "She is lying." Either is troublesome.

It is clear that there are few, or no, limits to what Trump can say and do and still keep the support of his base. Given that his supporters are largely very patriotic folks who care deeply about showing respect for the military—which is why it's so important for NFL football players to stand during the anthem—one might guess that feuding openly with a grieving military widow would be one thing that would not be tolerated. However, Trump sparred with a Gold Star family before, and suffered no ill-effects. In that case the family was Muslim, and in this case the family is black, so that may have something to do with the free pass the President seems to be getting. The Donald would have to spar with a white Gold Star family in order to put that thesis to the test, but the odds are very good that he'll never go there. He knows what side his (white) bread is buttered on. (Z)

Republicans Don't Trust Trump as a Negotiator

Despite making his negotiating skills a key selling point during his campaign, Donald Trump has proven to be a weak negotiator. Remember how he was going to make Mexico pay for his wall? Mexico's current and past presidents have just laughed at the idea. When Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) told Trump that he had reached a deal with the HELP Committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Parry Murray (D-WA), Trump said he supported the deal. A few hours later he was against the plan. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) struck a deal with Trump on allowing the dreamers to stay in the U.S.—until Trump repudiated the deal. It's been the same with health care and other issues.

As a consequence of his constant flip-flopping, Republicans in Congress no longer trust him. When lawmakers come to realize that the president's word means nothing, it means they will cease to try to negotiate deals with him because they don't believe he will uphold his end of them. That hugely reduces his power, because the people he is talking to simply don't believe what he says. Throw in the fact that Trump tends to follow the advice of the last person he talked to, and he comes off as a surprisingly weak negotiator, who so far has gotten little of what he asked for and is not likely to get much in the future. (V)

Democratic House Candidates Are Pulling in Serious Money

An analysis of FEC data by Politico shows that at least 162 Democrats running for 82 Republican House seats have raised a minimum of $100,000. That's four times as many Democrats who reached the $100K mark at this point before the 2014 or 2016 elections. It is even twice as many as Republicans had at this point before the 2010 elections, when a huge wave swept Republicans into power in the House. To make it worse, nearly three dozen Republican incumbents have Democratic challengers who outraised them in Q3 2017. Jason Roe, a Republican strategist, is worried, saying: "These first timers are printing money."

As one example, Rep Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) has never gotten less than 58% of the vote in 12 House elections. Suddenly he has three Democrats running against him, each of whom has already brought in more money than any challenger that Frelinghuysen has ever faced. Of course, they are going to have to spend a lot of it on an expensive primary, but whoever wins probably can go back to the well and get some more from the same sources that lavished it on him in the first place.

On the other hand, the RNC has outraised the DNC by a large amount this year. The RNC now has $44 million in the bank. The DNC has $7 million. Many of the RNC donors are first-time small donors, a demographic that has previously been the Democrats' strength. (V)

Russians May Have Hundreds of Troll Networks Targeting the U.S.

McClatchy is reporting that Russia may have hundreds of troll networks trying to influence U.S. politics and voters. One of the biggest is in St. Petersburg, where nearly 100 young Russians work around the clock posing as Americans and writing blogs and posting comments that reflect the views of Vladimir Putin. The center is bankrolled by oligarch Veygeny Prigozhin, one of Putin's long-time cronies. Many other such troll farms exist, some of them outside Russia.

The effects of these troll farms are not limited to posting and commenting on fake news. One of them managed to dupe Americans into attending about 40 rallies around the country on topics ranging from Muslims to civil rights. In many cases they operate by spurring U.S. activists to (unknowingly) work for them. For example, in October 2016, in the key swing state of North Carolina, the trolls managed to get Charlotte activist Conrad James to organize a rally for them.

The trolls were instructed to put out messages that agreed with Donald Trump's views on social issues, which is how they were able to co-opt American activists who supported Trump to do their bidding. The trolls did their work with tiny budgets. For example, they spent a mere $100,000 on 3,000 fake ads on Facebook. Then hundreds of trolls "liked" the fake news to get it widely circulated. Most likely the McClatchy report is only the tip of the iceberg. (V)

EPA Silences Scientists

The modern GOP, and in particular the Trump administration EPA, desperately want to kill any and all talk of global warming and climate change. The politics here are clear enough; the party and the President get a fair bit of funding from corporate interests (particularly fossil fuel producers) and the kinds of rules and policies that would be needed to fight global warming would hurt their bottom lines.

In pursuit of this goal, the EPA has gone to extremes in the past nine months, such as scrubbing all global warming-related information from their website, and having a politician review all grant requests to make sure they are "appropriate." On Monday, we learned of a new strategy: EPA scientists are now being barred from attending academic conferences. It's not so easy to be a researcher if you can't, you know, share your research, so the larger goal is presumably to compel the scientists' resignations. Perhaps, once that is accomplished, they can move on to removing the 'P' from the agency's name. (Z)

Feinstein Readies for Battle

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is a wily, battle-tested political veteran. She's a Democrat who represents a very blue state. She's also got sky-high name recognition and millions of dollars in the bank. All of these things being true, she should be as big a slam dunk in her re-election bid as is possible in American politics. However, thanks to Donald Trump, she's now staring down the barrel of the most difficult campaign of her Senate career. Not from a Republican challenger, but from the left, due to voters who feel she hasn't done enough to fight back against the President.

Feinstein has already drawn at least one serious challenger in state senator Kevin de León, and she might get one or two more. The Hill contacted all of California's 39 Congressional representatives, and they—knowing what way the wind is blowing—were largely noncommittal about which candidate they are supporting. Only 12 lent their support to the Senator, one to de León, and the other 26 took no position or chose not to respond. That's very unusual for someone of Feinstein's stature.

Of course, Feinstein didn't get to where she is without knowing how to play the game. She's taking the threat seriously, and is preparing for to slug it out. The Senator is making sure the most important Democrats in California line up behind her, and she's working the phones with a fundraising goal of $30 million. She's not likely to get sent home by California voters, but it would not be a surprise to see her tack leftward in the next year and/or take a more public stand against the President on some issues. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct23 Trump Personally Interviewing U.S. Attorneys
Oct23 Khizr Khan Criticizes Trump and Kelly for Their Statements on the Niger Deaths
Oct23 Trump Administration Set to Create Another ACA Mess
Oct23 Is Mississippi the Next Alabama?
Oct23 Democrats Nervous about Virginia
Oct23 Another Republican Enters the Race for Corker's Seat
Oct23 Carter Wants to Go to North Korea
Oct23 McCain Keeps Poking the Bear
Oct22 Trump Unleashes Twitter Tornado
Oct22 Be Careful of Whom You Endorse, Mr. President
Oct22 Texas Democrats Liking Their Chances
Oct22 Trump Will Release JFK Documents After All, or Maybe Not
Oct22 Impeach Trump, Make $20 Million
Oct22 Alabama Senate Race Is Very Close. Or Isn't Close at All.
Oct22 Turmoil at Fox News
Oct21 Kelly Gets Sucked In
Oct21 Trump Working on Phone Calls to Soldiers' Families
Oct21 Congress Wants to Review Presidential War Powers
Oct21 Conservatives Willing to Bend in Order to Get Tax Cuts
Oct21 Trump Lifts the Curtain
Oct21 A Golden Age for Lobbyists
Oct21 JFK Assassination Secrets Likely to Remain Secret
Oct20 Numbers 43, 44 Slam Number 45
Oct20 Kelly Leaps to Trump's Defense
Oct20 Trump Commends Trump For Handling of Puerto Rico
Oct20 Trump Continues to Flog NFL
Oct20 Clinton Uranium Story Back in the Spotlight
Oct20 Will Senate Move Forward With Obamacare Stabilization?
Oct20 Cook Political Report Moves 11 Seats in Democrats' Direction
Oct19 Trump Shoots Himself in Both Feet
Oct19 Second Judge Rules Against Muslim Travel Ban v3.0
Oct19 Sessions Frustrates Senators
Oct19 Tiberi's Out
Oct19 Three Polls, Two Bad and One Good for Trump
Oct19 Bannon Tries to Hit McConnell Where it Hurts
Oct19 Why Trump Will Regret Passing Tax Reform
Oct18 Muslim Travel Ban v3.0 Blocked
Oct18 All Eyes on the Senate as Congress Takes up Taxes
Oct18 Temporary Agreement on Obamacare Subsidies Reached
Oct18 Trump Waves His Saber at McCain
Oct18 Trump Says Obama Did Not Call Kelly After His Son Died
Oct18 Trump Not as Rich as He Was Last Year
Oct18 Collins Being Investigated for Insider Trading
Oct17 Allies Try to Warn Trump About Impeachment Risk
Oct17 Trump Breaks Silence on Green Berets, Slams Obama
Oct17 Trump Campaign Subpoenaed By Sexual Harassment Accuser
Oct17 It's High Time to Get to Work on Opioids
Oct17 We're Moving Close to Open Season on Trump in the Senate
Oct17 North Korea Situation Appears Headed in the Wrong Direction
Oct17 Today in Ill-Conceived Jokes