Dem 48
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GOP 52
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Murkowski Wants to Stabilize Health-Care Market Before Voting on Tax Bill

The most recent tax Senate tax bill sets the fine for not having health insurance to $0. Most health-care economists say this will cause millions of people to give up their insurance and so will destabilize the health-care insurance market. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is aware of this and has said that she will vote for the tax bill but only if the Senate also passes the Alexander-Murray bill that stabilizes the insurance market.

It seems unlikely that she will get her wish. The purpose of setting the fine to $0 is to kill the ACA through the back door. The purpose of the Alexander-Murray bill is to prevent the ACA from collapsing. Passing both at the same time is like a car driver forcefully hitting the gas and the brake at the same time. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decides not to bring up the Alexander-Murray bill and Murkowski votes no on the tax bill, that bill will be hanging by a thread. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has already said that he is a "no" vote. With all Democrats sure to oppose the bill, the score will then be 50-50. One more Republican defection and the bill won't make it. Some Republican senators are still on the fence, including Bob Corker (TN), Jeff Flake (AZ), John McCain (AZ), and Susan Collins (ME). (V)

Russiagate Plot Thickens Even More

With all the news about the sexual habits of Roy Moore, and Donald Trump away in Asia, Russiagate has been largely on the back burner for a week or so. But now it's back in full force; on Friday there were three different bits of news on that front, as the administration continues to sink deeper and deeper into the borscht.

To start, Congress is not happy with Jared Kushner. During his most recent round of testimony, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not recall the Trump campaign having any contact with Wikileaks. The problem here is that this statement was not true, and that it was Kushner (among others) who was having such contact. Hard to believe that just slipped his mind, and even if it did, then he should have come clean as soon as he realized his statement was not accurate. Instead, he tried to bury the incriminating e-mails, which his attorney is now claiming do not exist. They seem to forget that anytime an e-mail is sent, the sender might have retained a copy and the Internet provider might have done so as well.

If that were not enough, there are also some uncomfortable questions being raised about the last-minute decision made at the GOP convention to remove a plank from the platform that called for sending arms to Ukraine to help them defend themselves against Russia. While it was high-ranking Congressional aides who executed the change, it was apparently the Trump campaign that instigated it. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) refuses to say whether he has been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller about the subject, which certainly means he has. Obviously, if Ryan ever ends up in a situation where it's his skin or the President's, we can be pretty sure which one he'll choose to save.

And finally, there's Reza Zarrab, who's currently facing charges in federal court; accused of helping launder Turkish money so it could be funneled to Iran. He is out of jail, and has apparently turned state's evidence. It's not entirely clear who he is talking to, or what they are talking about, but many have suspicions that Zarrab's got dirt on former NSA Michael Flynn, and that he's using that dirt to protect himself. If that's true, then Flynn could find himself in custody before the calendar turns to December. Stay tuned. (Z)

Trump Building in Panama Under Scrutiny

It must be an easy time to be an investigative reporter right now, because every lead seems to hit pay dirt. On Friday, we learned that it's not just Russia, or Turkey, or Saudi Arabia, or China, or Cyprus where Donald Trump might be in trouble. No, in his apparent quest to become enmeshed in scandal on every single continent, he's also got some problems brewing in Panama, according to an investigation by Reuters and NBC News.

At issue, in this case, is Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City, a combination casino/condominium complex/shopping center. The President did not develop the property; he just agreed to lease his name in exchange for a cut of the profits. The problem is that the building was and is a cesspool of illegal behavior, most obviously big-time money laundering. An enormous portion of the condos are empty, as they are bought and sold solely for the purpose of making dirty money clean.

There is no evidence that Trump was a party to the illegal activities at the complex, but that doesn't mean he's in the clear. Inasmuch as Panama has a reputation for being corrupt, the President may have been guilty of negligence by failing to confirm that the money he was collecting from his partners was not il-gotten. In other words, he may not have known what was going on because he made a point of not knowing what was going on. Of course, if someone decides they want to prosecute this, they're going to have to get in line. (Z)

Jones' Strategy in the Alabama Senate Race

The unthinkable has become thinkable: A Democrat could be elected senator in Alabama for the first time in a quarter of a century. Democratic candidate Doug Jones has to thank his lucky stars that he is facing a deeply flawed opponent, Republican Roy Moore, who has been accused of committing sexual assault against teenagers. Nevertheless, Alabama is still a deep red state, so Jones has to be extremely careful of his strategy. Fundamentally, it comes down to three things.

  • Win Strange voters: Not every Republican in Alabama in a fan of Roy Moore. In the initial round of the Republican primary, Moore got only 39% of the vote. That means that 61% of Alabama Republicans aren't really big fans of his. What Jones has to do is convince these people that Moore is so toxic that just this one time they have to vote for the Democrat. To this end, he is already running TV ads in which people face the camera and say they are lifelong Republicans but Moore is a bridge too far. If he can convince enough Republicans that Moore is just too toxic, he might be able to pull it off.

  • Invigorate his base: About a quarter of the state's population is black and nearly all of them are Democrats. In what is expected to be a low-turnout election, if Jones can get most Democrats, black or white, to vote, he's got a fighting chance. He is certainly working on it, holding rallies in Montgomery and Birmingham, both of which are the among the 10 American cities with the highest percentage of black voters (#4 and #9, respectively). He is also active in the so-called Black Belt, a string of 18 counties in which Strange beat Moore.

  • Keep national Democrats away: National Democrats smell a chance at victory here and are sorely tempted to jump in an help Jones. He doesn't want their help or endorsements, but he doesn't mind their money. The national Democrats are anathema in Alabama so he absolutely needs to keep the race focused on the people of Alabama. Moore can't easily run against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) if Pelosi stays totally out the race, doesn't endorse Jones, and pretends she isn't even aware of the race.

While Jones wants to keep the national Democrats far from Alabama, he doesn't mind them sending money. And they are doing it by the boatload. Jones is now pulling in $250,000 per day, a huge amount for a special election. And to make it worse for Moore, the RNC, NRSC, and the big Republican donors want no part of him. As a consequence, Jones completely owns the airwaves in Alabama. His ads are everywhere and Moore's ads are nowhere to be seen. One industry group said that so far Jones is outspending Moore by 11 to 1.

Nevertheless, Moore is already universally known in the state so ads are less critical for him than they are for Jones. And even if Jones follows his strategy to the letter, Alabama remains a deep red state. His best hope is that more women come forward, to keep the allegations in the news until the election. (V)

Moore's Polling Is Trending Downward

Two new polls of the Alabama Senate race were released Friday, and they had bad news and worse news for Roy Moore. The bad news came from Gravis, a firm with a mild Republican house effect, which has Doug Jones up by 5 points on Moore, 47% to 42%. The worse news came from Fox News, which has a stronger Republican house effect, and has Jones up by 8 points, 50% to 42%.

It is clear that, at least at the moment, a trend is building. If we average all the polls taken since Moore's sexual dalliances came to light, Jones actually leads by 0.2 points. And if we toss out the Emerson College poll, whose Moore +10 result (along with several other findings) make it look more and more like an outlier, Jones' average lead jumps to 2.2 points. By comparison, in the polls of the race taken before Moore was besmirched, he had an average lead of 8.7 points. So, it certainly appears that the race has shifted by 9 to 11 points in one week. We'll see if this is a temporary phenomenon, but sexual predation and child molestation are not things that people generally forget, or calm down about. (Z)

Would a 51-49 Senate Be Different from a 52-48 Senate?

An analysis by CNN of Senate votes this year show that if the Senate had been split 51-49 instead of 52-48, a number of votes that passed would have failed. The issue is relevant because if Democrat Doug Jones wins the Alabama Senate race, the Senate will indeed have 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats (including the two independents who caucus with them). If Jones had been in the Senate when the vote on Betsy DeVos was taken, she would not now be secretary of education. The bill to repeal the ACA failed dramatically when John McCain flashed a thumbs down sign, but if Jones had been in the Senate then, it wouldn't even have come to a vote since it would have failed a procedural motion before the vote. In addition, the Republicans made it harder for people to sue banks for malfeasance, but had Jones been in the Senate, they wouldn't have been able to do that. In all, nine votes would have gone the other way in a 51-49 Senate. In addition, in another eight votes, there would have been a tie and President of the Senate Mike Pence would have had to stop campaigning for president and hurry over to Capitol Hill to cast a tie-breaking vote.

No matter whether Jones or Moore is victorious, the winner cannot be seated until the election results are certified. John Bennett, the chief of staff for Alabama's secretary of state, John Merrill, said yesterday that Alabama's 67 counties must report their election results by Dec. 22. Then the secretary of state has to add up both columns of 67 numbers. Factor in the Christmas break and Bennett doesn't expect the results to be certified before Dec. 26. Since the Senate is not likely to be in session then, in practice the winner won't be seated until the Senate reconvenes in January 2018.

The date could matter a lot because the Republicans are doing everything they can to pass the tax bill before Congress hits the eggnog. The bils were prepared in secret in both the House and Senate and then rushed to a vote with no hearings or public discussion because the Republicans realize that most of the country would oppose the bills if they knew what was in them. So the procedure was to ram them through fast. Nevertheless, there is still one hurdle to a quick passage: The Senate and House bills are different and it may be difficult to find a compromise that both chambers can accept. If that process extends into January, the new senator will be seated by then and may end up casting the deciding vote. (V)

Cook Political Report Predicts a Democratic Wave in 2018

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, sees a blue wave coming in 2018. Cook editor Amy Walter sees many similarities now to the run-up to the 2006 election, in which the Democrats took control of the House, Senate, and majority of the governorships. Among other factors Walter has noted are the many Democratic wins in 2017, including flipping four Republican seats in the Oklahoma state legislature. Another leading indicator is the generic House ballot, in which Democrats are leading by 11 points. In the past, the generic ballot has proven a good predictor, even a year out. Democrats will need to pick up 24 seats in the House and 3 in the Senate to take over. (V)

Female Staffers Rush to Franken's Rescue

After Sen. Al Franken (DFL-MN) was accused of sexual misconduct, a group of seven women who used to work for him have put out a statement saying Franken treated them with utmost respect. It went on to say: "He valued our work and our opinions and was a champion for women in both the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices." Franken himself has called for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the charges and has said he will fully cooperate with the panel. (V)

Aides Give Up on Trump Tweeting

When John Kelly took over as White House Chief of Staff, he was determined to rein in President Trump's Twitter behavior, as Kelly knows that his boss often shoots himself in the foot with ill-considered tweets. For a while, the former general had much success. Then, he had a little success. And finally, he had no success at all. Now, insiders say that he, like so many other Trump insiders before him, has given up on trying to control the President.

Undoubtedly, this is a source of much frustration for Kelly (and, before him, for Reince Priebus, and Ivanka Trump, and Paul Manafort, and Corey Lewandowski). Presumably, they all see that the President helps himself with probably 90% of his Tweets, but that he wipes all that out with the other 10%. Given that the bad responses to the 10% are almost always predictable, it should be very easy to reap almost all of the benefits of Twitter, and to eliminate most of the harm. Historians will puzzle for years as to whether The Donald doesn't grasp this, or just doesn't care, or just can't control himself.

Friday, of course, was another one of those 10% days, thanks to Trump's two snarky tweets about Al Franken. Those two messages raised two serious issues for the President: (1) How come you slam Franken but not Roy Moore? and (2) What about your own bad behavior? This left the White House, particularly Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, spinning like crazy to try to cover Trump's tracks. Conway took the first question, declaring that Franken is the "news of the day" while the Moore story is a week old. This would appear to be a new standard; just last week, for example, Trump tweeted half a dozen times about a uranium deal that was concluded more than six years ago.

Meanwhile, Sanders handled the second question, insisting that the election results are ironclad proof that the American people don't care about Trump's boorish behavior toward women. A curious argument to make, given how much attention was paid to the matter during the election, and that Trump received 3 million fewer votes than his opponent. Of course, Conway and Sanders were given an impossible task—as they say, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov17 House Passes the Tax Bill
Nov17 More Trouble for Kushner
Nov17 Six Possible Outcomes for the Alabama Senate Race, Ranked
Nov17 Not Everyone Is Fleeing from Roy Moore
Nov17 Republicans Are Getting Nervous about 2018
Nov17 Menendez Escapes--For Now
Nov17 Franken Groped and Kissed a Woman Without Her Consent
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