“In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real.” the Washington Post reports in a must read story.
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) December 14, 2017
“But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.”
“Told that members of his incoming Cabinet had already publicly backed the intelligence report on Russia, Trump shot back, ‘So what?’ Admitting that the Kremlin had hacked Democratic Party emails, he said, was a ‘trap.’”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) informed Senate leaders he intends to vote against the Republicans’ $1.5 trillion tax plan unless it includes a larger expansion of a child tax credit, according to a Senate GOP source. “A day after House and Senate Republican leaders said they had reached agreement on a merged version of their tax bill, they continued looking for ways to pay for the tax overhaul and faced the possible defection of a Republican senator, Marco Rubio of Florida,” the New York Times reports.
“Republicans plan to unveil a final bill on Friday… But many of the changes made to assuage the concerns of businesses and Republican lawmakers are expected to drive up the cost of the bill and will need to be paid for to ensure the legislation does not add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit over a decade.” Washington Post: “Congressional Republicans are looking at shortening the duration of tax cuts that their plan would give to families and individuals… That change would free up more revenue for additional changes to their tax overhaul, but it could also heighten complaints that the bill prioritizes cuts for corporations over households.”
Vice President Mike Pence is delaying his visit to Israel due to tax reform issues in Congress, the Jerusalem Post reports. “He is now scheduled to arrive in Israel on Wednesday, three days later than originally planned so that he can be in the U.S. to participate if necessary in Senate votes on tax reform.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) “has been admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for recovery from the side effects of another round of treatment for brain cancer,” the Washington Post reports. “McCain, who missed a third straight day of Senate votes Wednesday, has been undergoing rounds of chemotherapy and radiation to treat glioblastoma, the terminal form of brain cancer he was diagnosed with in July. McCain has been undergoing treatments since early September at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, next to Walter Reed.” Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi has also been ill for months and has missed multiple votes in the past two weeks. With Corker voting no, the GOP cannot afford to lose either one of them, especially if Susan Collins votes no and Marco Rubio actually makes good on his threat.
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) December 15, 2017
Bloomberg: “Today, nearly three months after the storm, more than one-third of the island is still without power, and in the areas where it has been restored the service is often unstable, with occasional outages. Thousands of businesses remain closed. Normality sporadically peeks out from it all—on a street with a string of working stoplights, in an air-conditioned hotel lobby—then quickly retreats, as if ungraspable.”
As Speaker Paul Ryan sets his end-date, read this revealing analysis. Ryan and Trump couldn't be more dissimilar, yet of late, Ryan has been a Trump enabler. It's a complicated legacy. https://t.co/pI7pyheaV5 via @politicomag
— Larry Sabato (@LarrySabato) December 14, 2017
“As Republicans finish their long-sought rewrite of the tax code, some lawmakers are beginning to wonder just how much longer Rep. Paul Ryan intends to remain speaker,” the HuffPost reports. Said one GOP member: “There’s a whole lot of rumors and speculation that the speaker may step aside.” “The Wisconsin Republican has made no indication he’s quitting any time soon, but the possibility that Ryan finishes the tax bill and decides he no longer wants to continue in Congress has begun to loom over internal Republican conversations.”
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) will not run for re-election, an ABC News affiliate reports. However, the congressman does plan on finishing out his term despite allegations of sexual harassment against him. This was after “a former senior aide to Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) has approached the House Ethics Committee to share a damning account of working for the Texas Republican, with the intent of describing the congressman as verbally abusive and sexually demeaning — and his congressional office as an intensely hostile environment that drove the aide to physical and emotional distress,” CNN reports.
FiveThirtyEight: “There have been more than 70 special elections for state and federal legislative seats in 2017 so far…. The Democratic margin has been 12 percentage points better, on average, than the partisan lean in each race.”
New York Times: “And if other potential Republican Senate recruits are daunted by the forbidding political environment, it could hamper their ability to win some of the Democratic-controlled seats they have been eyeing for months. In Florida, for example, advisers to Gov. Rick Scott (R) said he was mindful of the midterm climate and was not yet sold on challenging Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).”
The Alabama fiasco may be over, but the Republicans' nightmare is just beginning. My story: https://t.co/cdd9WAAShf
— McKay Coppins (@mckaycoppins) December 14, 2017
McKay Coppins: “Roy Moore’s stunning defeat Tuesday night was met with quiet sighs of relief throughout the GOP establishment, where the culture-warring ex-judge and accused child abuser was widely regarded as radioactive. Yet even as Moore’s political obituaries were being written, party strategists were bracing for the army of Moore-like insurgents they expect to flood next year’s Republican primaries.”
“Indeed, Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon has already pledged to field challengers for every incumbent Republican senator up for reelection next year (with the exception of Ted Cruz). And even if Bannon fails to deliver on his threat, many in the GOP worry that experienced, fully-vetted candidates are going to struggle to beat back a wave of rough-edged Trump imitators who lean into the white identity politics that the president ran on in 2016.”
NBC News: “Republicans in Congress redoubled their attacks on the integrity of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation Wednesday, in what analysts believe is a concerted political strategy designed to discredit any potential Mueller findings that could argue for the impeachment of the president.”
“Seizing on newly released, politically charged text messages between two FBI officials who are no longer part of Mueller’s investigation, Republicans used an oversight hearing of the House Judiciary Committee to accuse Mueller, a Republican, of conducting a tainted inquiry. They also charged that senior FBI officials have allowed political beliefs to influence the outcome of investigations.”
Meanwhile, Special counsel Robert Mueller “has requested that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked for President Trump’s campaign, turn over documents as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“The special counsel’s request, which the firm complied with, wasn’t previously known.”
— Crooked Media (@crookedmedia) December 14, 2017
Amy Walter: “The shift in mood among Democrats over the last year has been as dramatic. It’s been a bit like watching someone work through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. Democrats spent much of December of 2016 in a state of disbelief: Did that really happen? How did that happen? By early 2017 they had moved on to anger: Hillary ran a terrible campaign; Democrats had no message; the Obama coalition is unsustainable. By spring there was bargaining: We must not focus our attacks on Trump or his voters. We have to make peace with the white working class electorate who is anxious and angry and desperate for real change. Democratic leaders in Washington tamped down talk of impeachment and focused instead on ‘A Better Deal.’”
“Today, however, that reticence is gone. Democratic senators are openly calling for the President to resign over allegations of sexual harassment. Not one red state Democrat supported the GOP tax bill. The fear of Trump and his legions of establishment-hating voters has receded. Democrats are now living off the adrenaline and energy that comes with an awakening of their own base; a base that was disillusioned and dispirited in 2016. Anger is the most powerful GOTV force there is.”
Nate Cohn: “At this time last year, the Democratic path to Senate control seemed impossible: Hold all of the Democratic seats, flip Arizona and Nevada, then hope for a miracle.”
“The Democrats got the political version of a miracle on Tuesday. Doug Jones’s victory in Alabama means Democrats have accomplished the most difficult item on their checklist in pursuit of the Senate. A Democratic path is now obvious, and the race for control is basically a tossup, perhaps with a Republican advantage.”
“It is hard to overstate how surprising this would have seemed a year ago.”
Phillip Bump writes: “Older — but less white and, importantly, less religious. In other words, it will in significant ways look much less like the voters who supported Roy Moore than those who supported the Democrat, Doug Jones. Two-thirds of Jones’s support was nonwhite. Six-in-10 Jones voters were women. In fact, about a third of Jones’s support came from black women alone.”
New York Times: “Behind the scenes, some advisers hoped the loss would persuade Mr. Trump to stop listening to Stephen K. Bannon, his former chief strategist who has vowed war against the Republican establishment. But Mr. Trump talked with Mr. Bannon for 15 minutes by phone on Tuesday, aides said, and seemed disinclined to cut the adviser from his circle.” A source close to Bannon comments to Bloomberg on the Alabama election result: “This doesn’t stop Steve’s war against the establishment, all it does is pour gasoline on top of it.” CNN: Bannon’s political science experiment blew up in Trump’s face.
Playbook: “House Republicans had a tense internal meeting yesterday afternoon, in which they laid out their plan to fund the Pentagon for a year, while keeping the rest of the government on a short-term spending plan that runs to Jan. 18. House Republican leaders are facing pressure to pass that bill, and leave town — an attempt to force the Senate to swallow it.”
“But the Senate cannot pass this package — and most House Republicans recognize this. It’s a dangerous game of chicken. If they leave town, the government could shut down. Competing pressures abound: Texans want disaster money, hawks want defense money and some conservatives say they’re tired of kowtowing to the Senate.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Atlantic that there’s a 30% chance that President Trump initiates war against North Korea. Said Graham: “I would say there’s a three in 10 chance we use the military option.” He added that if the North Koreans conduct an additional test of a nuclear bomb — “I would say 70 percent.”
More from Graham: “War with North Korea is an all-out war against the regime. There is no surgical strike option. Their [nuclear-weapons] program is too redundant, it’s too hardened, and you gotta assume the worst, not the best. So if you ever use the military option, it’s not to just neutralize their nuclear facilities—you gotta be willing to take the regime completely down.”
Frank Rich says the GOP Is About to Tumble Into Full-scale Panic: “I am one of those pessimists who thought Moore would eke it out in Alabama. How happy I am to be wrong! I am also one of those optimists who firmly believes that Donald Trump will look for a White House exit before the end of his first term — whether he’s done in by the Robert Mueller investigation, a desire to rescue his family business and the two relatives in gravest legal jeopardy (son Fredo and son-in-law Jared), or his diet of junk food and Diet Coke. That optimism is bolstered by yesterday’s Alabama vote. Jones’s victory will further destabilize Trump both psychologically and politically. Psychologically because he hates being seen as a loser, and his futile all-in endorsement of an alleged child molester for the U.S. Senate implants a big L on his chest that no Twitter rant can erase. This scarlet letter will drive him crazy — or, perhaps one should say, crazier. Meanwhile, he will be imprisoned in political gridlock. The GOP, having lost a safe Senate seat in one of the nation’s reddest states, is about to tumble into full-scale panic as it tries to ward off the erosion and possibly the evisceration of its Congressional majorities in 2018. It will not even pretend to do Trump’s bidding while swing voters are watching closely.
The Republicans have a lot to fear. As the Washington Post put it, the only achievement they have to run on next year is “a tax-cut bill that has polled poorly and delivers most of its direct benefit to corporations and the wealthy.”