Sep. 27

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

New polls:  
Dem pickups: (None)
GOP pickups: (None)

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Score: Outsiders 1, Establishment 0

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:

Winners: Losers:

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)

McConnell Formally Admits Defeat on Health Care and Cancels the Vote

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)

Corker Won't Run for Reelection in 2018

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)

IRS Is Now Sharing Information with Mueller

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)

Blumenthal: Flynn and Manafort Will Be Indicted

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)

What Is Pruitt up To?

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)

Acting DEA Head Departs

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)

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