NOW COMES THE HARD PART. House Republicans barely passed their Senate counterparts’ budget blueprint Thursday afternoon in a squeaker, 216 to 212, with just one extra vote on top of the minimum they needed for a majority. The budget, which is really just a vehicle for a broader tax reform package, now allows Congress to write tax legislation that won’t be subject to a 60-vote Senate filibuster. But now comes the hard part of this process. The details. You have a major block of northeastern and western Republicans who are opposed to eliminating the mortgage interest and the state and local tax deductions, since eliminating either one to allow for a massive tax cut for the rich results in a massive tax increase on the middle class, and that will guarantee a rout in the midterms.
Moreover, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) “suggested a tax bill he is preparing to introduce could force changes to 401(k) plans and other retirement accounts, potentially bucking a promise from President Trump that those accounts would be left alone,” the Washington Post reports.
“Brady’s comments come just one week before he is planning to introduce his tax bill, which Republicans hope will lead to the most sweeping changes to the tax code in more than 30 years. But almost all of the key details of the tax bill remain a mystery. Again and again on Wednesday, Brady said the most pressing decisions have not been reached.”
Playbook: “There really is no deadline to get tax reform done. The end-of-the-year proclamations are silly, according to most of the people we talk to. This could — and many think it should — take time. It’s tough (just ask the WSJ’s Rich Rubin). It’s complicated. Congress is rewriting the entire tax code — and that affects everyone in the United States. Plenty of lawmakers tell us it should take something like six months.”
“At the end of the day, all the senior aides and lawmakers we speak to say that this remains, at best, a 60-40 proposition. Yeah, Republicans feel pretty good about where things are. But that’s mostly out of fear of losing their majorities. Many things can stop this process dead in its tracks.” Key takeaway: “Until Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell pull the plug, this thing is alive and kicking.”
Interviewing Trump, Lou Dobbs unlocked a trans-Hannity level of sycophancy https://t.co/WM6u6D9KsW
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) October 26, 2017
KELLY IS A TRUMPIST. New York Times: “For all of the talk of Mr. Kelly as a moderating force and the so-called grown-up in the room, it turns out that he harbors strong feelings on patriotism, national security and immigration that mirror the hard-line views of his outspoken boss. With his attack on a congresswoman who had criticized Mr. Trump’s condolence call to a slain soldier’s widow last week, Mr. Kelly showed that he was willing to escalate a politically distracting, racially charged public fight even with false assertions.”
“And in lamenting that the country no longer holds women, religion, military families or the dignity of life ‘sacred’ the way it once did, Mr. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general whose son was killed in Afghanistan, waded deep into the culture wars in a way few chiefs of staff typically do. Conservatives cheered his defense of what they consider traditional American values, while liberals condemned what they deemed an outdated view of a modern, pluralistic society.”
A REPUBLICAN IS IN THE WHITE HOUSE, SO WE ARE BACK TO NOT CARING ABOUT THE DEFICIT. Stan Collender: “The House Freedom Caucus — that self-professed paragon of fiscal rectitude and righteousness that in the past has opposed emergency relief aid for Americans devastated by natural disasters unless it was offset with spending cuts — today made it much easier for the multi-trillion dollar increase in the federal deficit and national debt that will be caused by the Trump tax cut to be enacted.”
“HFC could have completely stopped this from happening had it opposed the fiscal 2018 budget resolution when it was considered by the House this morning. That budget resolution will increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion or more and didn’t include the spending cuts HFC said was the price for its support when the House adopted its budget earlier this month.”
“But instead of deficit purity, the House Freedom Caucus didn’t oppose the budget resolution, as it has so many other deficit- and debt-increasing bills. It instead went along with legislation that will enable one of the biggest deficit and debt increases ever proposed to be considered under procedures that will make it much easier to enact.”
For Senator Graham, the ear of the president is more valuable than taking a stand against his irresponsibility. https://t.co/p0xRyt5izy
— Washington Monthly (@washmonthly) October 26, 2017
ITS ABOUT TO BE MUELLER TIME. National security expert Juliette Kayyem told Boston Public Radio that news from Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation will be announced within the next month. Said Kayyem: “I think it is safe to say that before Thanksgiving … something’s going to drop with Mueller. The pace is too much right now. Every 12 hours we’re now dealing with a piece of this story at a pace we haven’t seen.” Kayyem speculated that the pace of stories critical of Hillary Clinton represents “a recognition by the White House team” that Mueller is getting close to something substantive as a result of his investigation.
Martin Longman: “It’s true that we’re seeing a pivot now. [S]omething has changed this week. It could be nothing more than the timing of the disclosure that the Clinton campaign indirectly funded the investigation that led to the Steele Dossier. But it could also signal that the Trump administration knows that something is coming down on them soon and that they need to change over from cooperating and legitimizing the investigation to undermining the independence of its conclusions.
I feel pretty confident that Mueller is preparing on his end as well, which is why I think we learned that they’re looking into John Podesta’s brother and his lobbying firm’s compliance issues. It wouldn’t do to indict Manafort for offenses that Tony Podesta also committed. If Mueller wants to avoid the appearance that he’s acting in a partisan manner, he’ll want to take a piece out of the Democrats’ hide, too. When I saw that Tony Podesta was under scrutiny, I took that as a sign that something is coming soon and that it will hit the Trump folks like a ton of bricks.
But I also expect the first salvos to be at Manafort and Flynn rather than at Trump. Unless they’re helping Mueller build a massive case against the president, I can’t see how they can escape criminal charges or why they wouldn’t be first in line. In a way, the longer they go without being indicted, the worse news it is for the administration.”
— Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) October 26, 2017
Jonathan Chait: “Having apparently decided that defending the Trump campaign against charges of collusion with Russian cyberattacks is an impossible task, the Republican Party has decided to go on offense. The House Intelligence Committee, putatively assigned to investigate collusion, is instead running a counter-investigation into Trump’s nemeses. Their argument, incredibly enough, is that the FBI and Robert Mueller are the real perpetrators of collusion with Russia. ‘No puppet, no puppet, you’re the puppet’ has become the new Republican argument against Mueller.”
“Their case, which is being quickly spread by Republican officeholders and conservative media, centers on the role of Christopher Steele, a respected retired British intelligence officer turned private investigator, and Fusion GPS, the firm for which he worked.”
— Slate (@Slate) October 26, 2017
TRUMP IS WEAK. SO WEAK. Elizabeth Drew: “This depiction of Donald Trump as a weak president would no doubt shock his ardent followers, especially since Trump usually covers his retreats with bluster. It might also be a surprise to those who have worried that he’s a would-be autocrat. It turns out that Trump has neither the wit nor the grit to seize power, and he may be too lazy and too uninterested in governing to make much of it if he did. (He can, however, empower by default cabinet officials who do know what to do with the power at their disposal—for example, Sessions.) But, except for his use of executive orders (often to countermand ones by Obama) and his cyber-bullying, Trump is essentially a passive participant in his own government.”
“His campaign against the press is of concern, but thus far he’s not taken action to curb its independence, nor have his threats to do so had any discernible impact on the rigorous job the press is doing of holding his presidency to account. In fact, all things taken together, it begins to seem as if the strongman of the rallies was a convenient deception, a figure that Trump invented but couldn’t maintain when it came to making actual decisions in the Oval Office.”
REX’S STATE DEPARTMENT COUP. “A leaked State Department document is alarming diplomats and others who say it shows the accumulation of power among a small and unaccountable group of senior aides to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The chart, obtained by Politico, illustrates the growing influence of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, which traditionally has served as an in-house think tank but which Tillerson heavily relies upon for day-to-day decision making.”
“Critics already complain that the office — led by Brian Hook, a powerful Tillerson aide not subject to Senate confirmation — accepts too little input from career diplomats, and the chart, which lays out a method to craft foreign policy, shows no explicit role for them. The chart appears to show a top-down approach in which ideas emanate from the secretary’s inner circle rather than bubbling up from diverse sources, including Foreign Service officers in the field.”
— Talking Points Memo (@TPM) October 26, 2017
THE GOP CIVIL WAR IS JOINED. “Allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared open warfare on Wednesday against Stephen Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and leader of an insurrection aimed at defeating mainstream GOP candidates in next year’s midterm elections,” the Washington Post reports.
“More than a year ahead of the 2018 congressional contests, a super PAC aligned with McConnell (R-KY) revealed plans to attack Bannon personally as it works to protect incumbents facing uphill primary fights. The effort reflects the growing concern of Republican lawmakers over the rise of anti-establishment forces and comes amid escalating frustration over President Trump’s conduct, which has prompted a handful of lawmakers to publicly criticize the president.”
QUITTING THE CIVIL SERVICE BECAUSE OF TRUMP. The Huffington Post runs an interesting interview with four career civil servants who quit their jobs rather than continuing to work under President Trump.
“All of them, at some point over the course of the last nine months, had left their posts within the current administration, having decided that they could better serve their country from outside the government than from within. They weren’t happy about quitting, either. They were civil servants who wanted to remain civil servants, who, except for one, had worked under presidents of both parties. They had disagreed with superiors over the years, they had been fearful of new regulations and wary of political appointees, but they stayed on because that’s the nature of career work in government. This was different.”
This is the best piece I’ve seen in what Bannon is looking for in his candidates — some mixture of xenophobic nationalism and hatred of Mitch McConnell. Economic populism, it turns out, is negotiable: https://t.co/989f5hplrI
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) October 26, 2017
THE WEAK TEA OF THE NEVER TRUMPER. Ross Douthat: “In the end, if you want Republican voters to reject Trumpism, you need to give them clear electoral opportunities to do so — even if you expect defeat, even if it’s all but certain.”
“If Corker really means what he keeps saying about the danger posed by Trump’s effective incapacity, he should call openly for impeachment or for 25th Amendment proceedings — and other anti-Trump Republicans should join him. If Flake really means what he said in his impassioned speech, and he doesn’t want to waste time and energy on a foredoomed Senate primary campaign, then he should choose a different hopeless-seeming cause and primary Trump in 2020.”
OH, JOY: NBC News: “Diplomatic efforts between the United States and North Korea are in peril with Pyongyang shunning talks in response to President Trump’s increased public attacks on Kim Jong Un.”
“Joseph Yun, a top American diplomat to North Korea, has been warning of the breakdown in meetings on Capitol Hill and seeking help to persuade the administration to prioritize diplomacy over the heated rhetoric that appears to be pushing the two nuclear powers closer toward conflict.”