Nov. 15

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

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Senate Tax Bill Will Repeal ACA Mandate

In a concession to never-easy-to-please Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the Senate is going to add a provision to its tax bill to "eliminate" the ACA mandate. A tax bill can't actually remove the mandate, but since it is technically a tax, it can (and does) set the fine for not being insured to $0. Health-care economists say that the "repeal" will result in 13 million fewer people having insurance in 10 years. Many of these will be healthy young people who will take their chances and go uninsured. However, the removal of so many healthy people from the insurance pool is likely to cause premiums to rise, which in turn will lead to a death spiral, as more people drop insurance.

Mixing two explosive issues—taxes and health care—may make it harder to pass the bill, according to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who opposed the ACA repeal last summer. On the other hand, having fewer people insured saves the government money since that means it will pay out less in subsidies. Reducing spending in this way makes the math work better for the Republicans, since the bill can't add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit over a 10-year period and still be passed using the Senate's budget reconciliation procedure. (V)

Sessions Has Trouble Remembering Things

When testifying before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he had no clear recollection of the meeting in March 2016 at which George Papadopoulos said he could arrange a get together between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although Sessions didn't remember the meeting, he did remember that he told Papadopoulos that he wasn't authorized to speak for the campaign. He also denied that he lied under oath during the confirmation hearing at which he said he knew nothing about contacts with Russia. To explain these seeming contradictions and the difference between his view of the meeting and Papadopoulos' view, he said his memory was imperfect.

Another topic that came up during his testimony is the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, an action that led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. Sessions said that the firing did not constitute obstruction of justice.

One thing completely absent from the hearing was any suggestion from Democrats that Sessions should resign for lying to the Senate. In the past, they wanted that. Now they don't. If Sessions were to resign (or be elected to his old Senate seat as a write-in candidate), Donald Trump could appoint a new attorney general, in particular, one who was dedicated to stopping Mueller. As long as Sessions is AG (which might not be much longer; see below), Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein will oversee Mueller and is unlikely to fire him even if the president asks him to do so. (V)

Five Ways the Alabama Senate Race Could End

At this point it is very hard to predict how the Senate race between embattled Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones is going to end. To help out, CNN has compiled a list of five ways it might turn out, as follows:

Actually, CNN missed a sixth possibility that could happen this week. The Alabama Republican Party is holding an emergency meeting this week so state party leaders can scratch their heads and try to figure out whether to remove Moore from the ballot. If they do, he will certainly fight it in court and we will see a huge fight between pro-Moore and anti-Moore Republicans. How that might play out is anyone's guess.

A seventh possibility is that more women come forward with credible claims of sexual assault and Moore drops out of the race. What happens if a candidate who has officially dropped out but still wins is uncharted territory. Some legal experts think the election would be null and void and a new one would have to be held. Others think that the #2 candidate would be elected. It would ultimately be up to the Alabama Supreme Court (and maybe the U.S. Supreme Court) to handle this hot potato. Of course, if Moore drops out and a write-in candidate wins, then the write-in candidate becomes the new senator. Fortunately for the Republicans, both "Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III" and "Luther Johnson Strange III" are a lot easier to spell than "Lisa Ann Murkowski." (V)

How Will Trump Handle Moore?

The Roy Moore sex scandal is only five days old, which means that Donald Trump has been out of the country the entire time, and thus largely able to stay above the fray. However, the President's Asian trip comes to an end today, and it won't be long before he will have to make a choice as to how he wants to play his cards.

The first option is to bow to pressure from GOP muckety-mucks, and to call on Moore to drop out. Trump campaigned against Moore in the first place, so clearly he saw some advantage in not having a loose cannon in the Senate. Now, Moore is an accused child molester loose cannon, so getting rid of him would surely be even more desirable. Coming out against Moore would also allow Trump to claim the moral high ground, to the extent that's possible, and would score him a few points with the GOP establishment, which is occasionally useful to him.

There are some downsides to this approach. Moore certainly doesn't take his marching orders from The Donald, and might very well ignore him. That would make Trump look like a loser, which he hates, and would also underscore that he has zero ability to influence elections where his name is not on the ballot. Further, any public proclamations that Trump makes about Moore will serve to remind everyone of his own history of sexual assault. Finally, Moore's base is pretty much Trump's base, and siding with the establishment against their candidate will not please them. For all of these reasons, Trump might choose to say something noncommittal, like, "This is for the people of the great state of Alabama to decide," and then to stay out of it.

There is also a third option, one that is still being bandied about by some administration insiders. There is one man who would have an excellent chance of winning election in Alabama as a write-in candidate: Jeff Sessions. Trump would like to be rid of Sessions, and Sessions might very well like to be rid of Trump. So, if the President becomes the #1 cheerleader for Sessions as a write-in candidate, it could solve a whole bunch of problems all at once. (Z)

Republican National Committee Drops Moore

While we won't know until later today (if then) how Donald Trump will handle Roy Moore, we now know how the RNC will do it. Yesterday the party committee cut off Moore and set him adrift financially. Last Friday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee also dropped Moore like a hot potato. Now both arms of the Republican Party that support Senate candidates have made it clear they are not going to help Moore. Or the other hand, for someone as controversial as Moore, he probably already has 100% name recognition in Alabama, so running TV ads saying: "Hi. I'm Roy Moore and I'm running for the Senate" probably aren't needed. (V)

Hannity Is Feeling the Heat

Fox News has two missions: (1) support Republican candidates, and (2) make money. Normally these two coexist nicely. The former brings in a large conservative audience, which attracts advertisers, thus achieving goal #2. Once in a while these two goals are in conflict, and now is one of those times. Sean Hannity's constant support for Roy Moore has caused a number of advertisers to boycott his show. He apparently noticed and has concluded (or management informed him) that when goal 1 and goal 2 are in conflict, goal 2 wins. Yesterday, Hannity suddenly announced that he has a sneaking suspicion that just maybe there is something to this child molestation business in Roy Moore's past. Hannity gave Moore 24 hours to explain the inconsistency between "I never knew that girl" (Beverly Young) and his handwritten note in her yearbook. If the timer goes off and no satisfactory explanation is forthcoming, Hannity will call for Moore to leave the race.

Why the sudden change of mind? One major factor, of course, is advertisers pulling their ads from his show. That gets management's attention very fast. But it may also be a full-court press on the part of the Republican Party to get Moore to drop out, so the word has gone out to all media outlets, politicians, and everyone else who might listen to advocate for Moore's withdrawal. A Moore win would be horrible for the party. First there could be a huge fight in the Senate about expelling him, with some people saying: "Moore is a creep, but we can't overturn the will of the people." Second, if Moore stays in the Senate after the establishment has gone to so much effort to block him, he will be taking all his orders from Steve Bannon, not Mitch McConnell, and will be a gigantic thorn in the side of the Republican Party in 2018. (V)

Alabama Democrats to National Democrats: Stay Out of This

Normally, political candidates love it when the national party takes an interest in their race and offers to come by and help. For Alabama Senate candidate Doug Jones, however, involvement of the DNC in his race could be the kiss of death. The national Democrats are extremely unpopular in Alabama, and an army of outsiders coming into the state to campaign for Jones could be fatal. He wants to keep the race from being about Democrats vs. Republicans (which he would surely lose) and make it about Doug Jones vs. Roy Moore (which he might be able to win). At all costs he has to avoid giving the impression that he is the pawn of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and the national Democrats.

For this reason, Jones has kept the focus on kitchen table issues and had only two national Democrats come down to 'Bama to campaign with him, and each one was focused on a specific group of voters. Joe Biden showed up to woo white working-class voters and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a civil-rights hero, came to rev up black voters. All other Democrats have been told to stay out.

Even though Jones has largely focused on economic issues, he decided that the controversies surround Moore are too good to pass up, so he has made up an ad in which lifelong Republicans say that Moore is a bridge too far. If more dirt on Moore comes out, he will no doubt move the focus of his campaign more to Moore's lack of fitness for the job of senator. (V)

Moore Leads Jones in New Polls

A new Emerson College poll of the Alabama Senate race puts Roy Moore ahead of Doug Jones 55% to 45%. This poll is very different from the others taken after the Washington Post publicized allegations that Moore molested teenagers 40 years ago. The others show it to be a statistical tie. Also unusual here is that 59% said the allegations make no difference, whereas 28% say they do. All this seems a bit unusual, so this poll may have methodological problems or just be an outlier.

A new Fox10 poll puts Moore ahead 49% to 43%. The pollsters also asked if the allegations against Moore made the respondent more or less likely to vote for Moore. Now get this, 35% said they made them more like to vote for Moore and only 11% said they made them less like they would support Moore. Other polls have shown the same effect. Whether molesting children is a winner in states other than Alabama hasn't been put to the test yet. (V)

How American Politics Went Batshit Crazy

That's the literal headline of a piece by Axios co-founder Jim VandeHei. He shows data comparing the average Democrat to the average Republican in 1994 and in 2017. In 1994 they overlapped quite a bit; now, hardly at all. He offers six reasons why the country has become so polarized since then.

The conclusion is that television and social media have allowed rage and victimhood (especially among conservatives) to hijack the political dialogue. Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill famously got along very well but the idea of Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi being actual good friends is completely unthinkable now. (V)

Judicial Candidate May Be in Trouble

Brett Talley is very anti-Clinton, very pro-Trump, and has a law degree. That's more than enough for the President, who nominated Talley to the federal bench despite the fact that he's never actually tried a case, much less served as a judge. The near-total lack of qualifications for the post did not stop the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee from advancing the nomination, allowing the full Senate to vote on Talley. The committee members were not swayed by his unanimous "not qualified" rating from the American Bar Association (only the third time that has happened), nor the worst toupee this side of Jim Traficant.

But now, Talley has been caught in something that is a big no-no for people not named Jeff Sessions: He omitted one or two key items from his disclosure forms. The big one is that it slipped his mind to mention that his wife, also a lawyer, is on staff at the White House. Inasmuch as Talley could end up hearing cases where the President and/or his administration is one of the involved parties, this could just be a slight conflict of interest. (It could also be read as an attempt by Trump to seat judges who are favorably inclined toward him, personally).

The would-be judge also got caught in another potential breach of disclosure rules on Tuesday. It turns out that he is "BamainBoston," a prolific participant and commentator on Though ostensibly a sports-related site, Talley managed to comment regularly on politics, immigration, race, and other such subjects. Generally, it is not good for judges to be publicly on-the-record so widely, and in so partisan a fashion, inasmuch as it erodes their veneer of impartiality. However, the disclosure problem is actually this: Nominees are required to advise the Senate of any "writings and public statements" they have produced. It's unclear whether posts on message boards qualify as "writings and public statements," but they certainly could. Presumably, a decision will not be necessary, since if the senators want to make an issue of his disclosure forms, the "wife who works in the White House" thing is a bigger problem, and more of a slam dunk. (Z)

The U.S. Stands Alone on the Paris Accord

The United Nations climate conference is taking place in Bonn, Germany, right now. It has been the occasion of much anti-Trump rhetoric, both subtle and unsubtle, like the signs that say, "Make Our Planet Great Again." It has also seen a fair bit of bargaining, such as the forging of an agreement among Mexico, Canada, and the Pacific "blue wall" (California, Oregon, and Washington) to cooperate on carbon reduction.

The big news on the deal-making front, however, is that Syria—that bastion of progressivism and forward thinking—has signed the Paris Accord. That means that the American cheese now stands alone—it is the stated position of 195 governments that global warming is real and must be confronted, and the stated position of one government that it is not and should be ignored.

As a practical matter, however, the U.S. is still a part of the Paris Accord. The withdrawal that Donald Trump triggered cannot be completed until November 2020, which eagle-eyed readers will recognize as the occasion of the next presidential election. The next time a Democrat is sent to the White House, there is zero question that person will rejoin the pact. And whether it is two months after the U.S. officially "withdraws," or four years and two months, or eight years and two months, there is zero question that the other nations of the world will be happy to welcome the Americans back on board. So, like Obamacare, the Paris Accord is a dragon that Sir Donald is going to have real trouble slaying. (Z)

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