• McConnell Formally Admits Defeat on Health Care and Cancels the Vote
• Corker Won't Run for Reelection in 2018
• IRS Is Now Sharing Information with Mueller
• Blumenthal: Flynn and Manafort Will Be Indicted
• What Is Pruitt up To?
• Acting DEA Head Departs
Yesterday, former Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore crushed Sen. Luther Strange (R) in the Alabama primary runoff for Jeff Sessions' old seat. On average, the polls had Moore winning by 9.2 points, and he won by...9.2 points, 54.6% to 45.4%. On Dec. 12, Moore will face Democrat Doug Jones in the final round of voting.
Of course, Moore wasn't the only winner and Strange wasn't the only loser on Tuesday. Here are some of the others:
- Steve Bannon: Moore was Bannon's horse, and he won in a walk. When Bannon was in the White House, he couldn't actually get anything done; back in the publisher's chair at Breitbart, he may actually have increased his influence. He's going to feel emboldened by Moore's victory, particularly if Moore also triumphs in December. Bannon is going to try to recruit and support outsider candidates next year, and even when he can't do that, he's going to throw bomb after bomb at "establishment" candidates. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Dean Heller (R-NV) should get their flak jackets (and probably their resumes) ready, and it's also possible that a Deb Fischer (R-NE), a Roger Wicker (R-MS), or an Orrin Hatch (R-UT) might end up in Bannon's sights as well. In fact, it wouldn't be a big surprise if one or more of these individuals joins Bob Corker (R-TN; see below) in throwing in the towel because they don't want to deal with the frustrations and expense of a knock-down, drag-out primary.
- Donald Trump: Roy Moore ran on a number of ideas, among them: draining the swamp, Islamophobia, thinly-veiled dog-whistle racism, thinly-veiled sexism, money for the military, tax cuts, anti-immigrant sentiment, and anti-globalism. He was outspoken and outrageous, and dominated coverage of the campaign. In other words, he ran as Donald Trump. Ergo, the President's methods and message were validated, at least in this ruby red state.
- Doug Jones: Normally, a Democrat has no business thinking about victory in an Alabama Senate election. At least, not in the 21st century. However, Jones now has a puncher's chance. If he is to triumph, which is still a longshot, several things will presumably need to happen. First, he will have to become the latest Democratic grassroots cause célèbre, and rake in the donations. Second, he will have to get the black vote to the polls. The last time Alabama had an election in a non-presidential year (Jeff Sessions' last win), it took about 800,000 votes to prevail. There are 1.1 million black people in Alabama, of whom about 800,000 are eligible to vote. It is hard to see how Jones wins without at least half of those. And finally, it would be very helpful if Moore really put his foot in his mouth sometime in the next couple of months. The Republican has already been linked to some pretty unsavory things in the last few weeks, like referring to the "yellow and red" people, and it didn't hurt him, so he'd have to come up with a real whopper. Maybe if an n-word or two slip out, it will cause some college-educated Alabama Republicans to hold their noses and vote Democratic.
- The Democratic Party: Moore would be unmanageable if seated in the Senate, and the more loose cannons the GOP leadership has to deal with, the harder it gets to accomplish anything. And it's already been hard enough, obviously. In particular, Moore has made clear that he's on the same page with Rand Paul (R-KY) with Obamacare: No compromises; only a full repeal is acceptable. So, that near-impossible challenge for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) may soon get even more impossible. Meanwhile, Steve Bannon isn't going to limit his interest to challenging incumbent Republican senators. He's also going to support flame-throwing Republicans in primaries where the winner will face an incumbent Democrat. This will damage, and may even knock off, some more mainstream Republican hopefuls. And while a far-right candidate like Moore was able to win in Alabama, it's much less likely that someone like him can topple an incumbent Democrat in states like Montana or West Virginia or Missouri. So, the blue team's chances of holding serve in the 2018 elections, or maybe even picking up a seat or two, just got better.
- The GOP Establishment: Mitch McConnell invested a lot of money in Luther Strange; he might as well have shoveled that cash into his fireplace. There is now every chance that a fragile Senate coalition that can afford only a couple of defections on any given vote is now going to be saddled with three or four or five loose cannons. Put another way, if the GOP couldn't get anything done in their first nine months of holding both houses of Congress and the White House, their odds aren't going to get better if and when Moore is seated. Even worse, however, is that Moore's victory provides a template for running a campaign that could be truly poisonous for the GOP. If a bunch of Moore/Trump clones win in 2018, the divide between wings of the Party will become Grand Canyon-like. And even if they don't win, the GOP risks being branded the party of bigots and reactionaries, which would play right into the Democrats' hands as they try to attract the votes of young people, Latinos, women, etc. in 2020.
- Donald Trump: Trump as political strategist was vindicated on Tuesday night, at least for the moment. Trump as politician, on the other hand, suffered a huge defeat. The Donald went all-in on Luther Strange, both in person and via Twitter, and the election wasn't close. By all evidences, Trump—despite his claims to the contrary—barely moved the needle. Whatever political capital he still had just shrunk dramatically, as every Republican in Washington who is running in 2018 learned that you don't really need Trump's support or endorsement. Even if someone is running in Trump country (say, the Dakotas), they can run as the candidate of Trumpism, even if they aren't the candidate of Trump. So, we can expect more instances of Republicans breaking ranks with the President in the next year.
- The People of Alabama: Moore is, in many ways, a throwback to Woodrow Wilson, who cared fairly little for Americans who were not exactly like him (white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant). In theory, a U.S. senator is supposed to be an advocate for all the citizens of their state, but the black, gay, Democratic, and non-Christian folks living in Alabama shouldn't hold their breaths. Meanwhile, even the people who like what Moore stands for and who voted for him for aren't going to get much out of the bargain. His ideas—resuming the ban on gay marriage, military patrols of the U.S. border, cutting the federal budget by half, leaving the U.N., shutting down Planned Parenthood—are so far-right that they are non-starters at the national level and aren't going to go anywhere.
- The People of the United States: Roy Moore is a theocrat who places the Bible above the Constitution. He is more than willing to embrace nutty ideas without evidence, just because he would like them to be true. If his personal views and feelings are in conflict with his duty and with the law, he will choose his personal views and feelings every time. All of these things would have horrified the men who wrote the Constitution. And if Moore wins in December, he will have a platform, along with a lot of power, to hold the U.S. government hostage to his philosophy. This will be particularly true if he starts teaming up with Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz (R-TX), and/or Mike Lee (R-UT) to form Senate version of the House Freedom Caucus (HFC). Again, Moore won't actually get anything done, any more than HFC chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) has gotten anything done, but he will certainly be able to gum up the works.
We're not the only ones to approach Tuesday's election in this way; see the Washington Post and Vox for alternative lists of winners and losers. Normally, the winter months of a non-election year should be the doldrums for American politics, but this situation should certainly give us some real drama between now and the time that Alabamians go to the polls in December. (Z)
Mitch McConnell is very good at counting to 50 and he didn't make it, so he canceled the vote on the latest modified health-care bill, the one with lots of special freebies for recalcitrant senators. The votes simply weren't there, so he abandoned repealing the ACA, probably until at least 2019, when he hopes the Republicans can hold on to enough Senate seats to try again.
McConnell said it was time to move on to tax reform, another project that won't be easy. Many people expect it to be harder than health care, because most companies don't care much about the individual health-insurance market one way or the other, but all of them care very much about taxes, and not all of them have the same interests. There could be fights between companies that import and those that export, battles between senators from high-tax states and those from low-tax states, disagreements about whether cutting individual rates is more (or less) important than cutting corporate rates, and especially struggles about how to pay for any tax cuts in order to make the cuts permanent. The latter is an issue because tax cuts that are passed using the Senate reconciliation procedure must be revenue neutral over a 10-year period, so big cuts in corporate or individual rates have to be paid for somehow or they will vanish like the morning dew in 10 years.
Another big problem is that the public does not want what the Republicans are likely to be selling. Donald Trump is expected to reveal his tax wishes today, and most insiders expect him to call for a major cut in the corporate income tax. A recent poll shows that 60% of Americans believe corporations pay too little in taxes, so selling a big tax cut will be an uphill climb. In addition, insiders expect Trump to call for a reduction of the top marginal rate from 39.6% to 35%. The sales job here will be even worse, as only 12% want a tax cut for the rich. So in addition to multiple internal battles, Republicans are going to try to do something that large majorities of voters are strongly against. That doesn't make it any easier. (V)
Sen. Bob Corker annouced yesterday that he will not run for a third term next year. His departure is a major hit for the GOP. To start with, Tennessee is a fairly red state, so each of the state's six Republican representatives probably envisions himself or herself (yes, some of them are woman) as the next senator. In fact, one of the two women in the Tennessee House delegation, Marsha Blackburn, basically announced her run within 15 minutes of Corker's statement. Some of the state-level officials might run, too. Throw in a few state senators who would prefer being a U.S. senator and the primary could get very messy. Some of them are pro-Trump and others are anti-Trump, which would give it an ideological tinge as well, making the healing process after the primary harder.
A second problem is that defending an open seat is always tougher than when an incumbent is running for reelection. Although Tennessee leans Republican, it is not Wyoming. Since 1967, the governors have strictly alternated, with a Democrat following a Republican following a Democrat following a Republican and so forth. Consequently, of the past eight governors, four have been Democrats and four have been Republicans. In recent years, most senators from Tennessee have been Republicans, though Democrats Jim Sasser and Al Gore managed to get themselves elected to the Senate, with Sasser pulling it off three times. In short, while the Republicans are favored, if there is a bloody Republican primary that an extreme right-wing candidate wins and the Democrats nominate a decent candidate, then at the very least the Republicans will be forced to spend money to hold a seat that should have been a freebie. And at worst, the GOP could lose the seat.
Why did Corker call it quits? He has had a few spats with Donald Trump and he probably didn't like that. Corker ran for the Senate in order to legislate, not fight with his own party, and he clearly understands legislating is not in his future, so why bother? Also, Breitbart News CEO Steve Bannon has threatened to finance a primary opponent, and Corker probably had no stomach for a fierce ideological primary. The bottom line here is the Republicans have a problem on the horizon where there wasn't one yesterday. (V)
The IRS is now sharing information with special counsel Robert Mueller's team. Mueller is going back more than 10 years to see if former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort or former NSA Michael Flynn committed any financial crimes, such as tax evasion or money laundering. Both of them are known to have received large amounts of money from Russia or its allies, and in Manafort's case, much of it off the books, which could lead to both tax evasion and money laundering charges. The IRS is not allowed to just hand over someone's tax returns without a grand jury subpoena, but since Mueller has already impaneled a grand jury (actually, two of them), he could certainly get subpoenas if he wants them, and he presumably did. It is not known if Mueller has subpoenaed Trump's tax returns, but most likely if he wanted them, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would have to approve. (V)
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). a former Connecticut attorney general and not someone giving to grandstanding, said yesterday that he is 99% certain that Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn will be indicted by Robert Mueller. He also said others in Trump's orbit might be indicted as well. Blumenthal is not on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and doesn't have direct access to what the Committee has discovered, so it is not clear what prompted him to make that statement. (V)
Whatever EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is doing, it's not protecting the environment. Beyond that, however, he's doing everything he can to keep his activities a mystery. He forbids note-taking at staff meetings, and is the only cabinet officer to have a round-the-clock security detail. Now comes news that he's going to spend $25,000 building a soundproof area in his office, so that there is no chance that he will be heard by eavesdroppers. The EPA already has a space like this, for when classified information is being discussed, but it's a conference room in the middle of the department's headquarters. The new space will be for the exclusive use of the Administrator.
Clearly, Pruitt wants as much secrecy as is possible, coupled with the smallest paper trail possible. If that is not a formula for shady behavior and corruption, we don't know what is. If there is any question on that point, one need only imagine what the response from Republicans would be if the headline was, "Hillary Clinton forbids note-taking at meetings, has soundproof office to maintain secrecy." Sean Hannity might literally have a coronary. (Z)
Chuck Rosenberg has been running the Drug Enforcement Agency on an "interim" basis since May of 2015. Though appointed to that post by Barack Obama, the longtime criminal prosecutor and close friend of James Comey is basically apolitical, and if anything is a moderate Republican. However, he's seen enough from the Trump administration, and is weary of serving this president, so has resigned, effective at the end of this week.
Rosenberg's main complaint, not surprisingly, is Trump's lack of respect for law and order. The soon-to-be-ex administrator first made headlines back in July, when he instructed his staff to ignore the President's suggestion that officers "please don't be too nice" when dealing with crime suspects. So, this day was coming, sooner or later. Meanwhile, we're drawing nearer and nearer to the one-year mark of the Trump presidency, which many staffers have already privately conceded is their planned separation date. Given that Congress has only about 50 more days in session between now and Trump's one-year anniversary, and is going to be very busy with things like the federal budget, the President could literally take years to fully staff his government, between jobs that have yet to be filled, and jobs that will have to be filled a second (or third, or fourth) time. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
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