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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., joined by, from left, Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., smiles as they unveil the GOP's tax overhaul, Nov. 2, 2017.

Leading House Republican: tax cuts made a 'huge difference' in midterms

11/14/18 11:20AM

As House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) gets ready to give up his gavel and adjust to life in the congressional minority, he's still pleased with the tax package he helped write last year. The Washington Examiner noted:

On Tuesday, Brady also claimed that the tax code rewrite helped Republicans in the midterm elections, despite the losses suffered by the party and many of the lawmakers who helped write the bill.

"Can you imagine the outcome if we didn't have a booming economy?" Brady asked. "It made a huge difference across this country and I think was key in a number of our Republican races."

The Texas congressman added that he believes House Republicans exceeded expectations in this year's midterm elections.

That last point is especially difficult to take seriously. In the days leading up to Election Day, the chatter in GOP circles was that the party might be able to eke out a narrow House majority. As recently as Nov. 3, Vice President Mike Pence declared, "I think we're going to hold our Republican majority in the House of Representatives."

Where exactly were those intra-party expectations about Republicans suffering their largest losses since the Watergate era?

But even putting this aside, the idea that the GOP's tax breaks for the wealthy "made a huge difference" for Republicans is an even stranger argument.

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A twenty dollar bill. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

New deficit figures mark a fitting end to the Tea Party era

11/14/18 10:03AM

The U.S. budget deficit for the last fiscal year, which ended in September, was $779 billion, up 16% from the previous year. That deficit was the fifth largest in modern American history -- in non-inflation adjusted terms -- and stood at 3.9% of GDP, up from 3.5% a year prior.

For those concerned with the ballooning budget shortfall, the new fiscal year isn't off to a good start. Bloomberg News reported yesterday:

The U.S. recorded a $100.5 billion budget deficit in October, an increase of about 60 percent from a year earlier, as spending grew twice as fast as revenue.

The deficit widened from $63.2 billion in the same month last year, the department said in an emailed statement on Tuesday. October marks the start of the U.S. fiscal year.

As a rule, it's best not to overreact to monthly deficit numbers, which can bounce around a bit. The fact that the deficit was $100 billion in the first month of the fiscal year, for example, does not necessarily mean that it will be $1.2 trillion when the fiscal year ends.

That said, the $100 billion deficit in October doesn't do any favors for the Republicans who assured Americans that massive tax breaks for the wealthy will pay for themselves.

What's more, as Democrats prepare to reclaim their majority in the House of Representatives, the monthly shortfall also serves as a fitting coda to Tea Party era.

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Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, listens at the National Press Club in Washington on Feb. 8, 2011. (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP)

Iowa governor discovers her Steve King concerns at a convenient time

11/14/18 09:20AM

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) recently found herself in an awkward position. As Election Day approached, polls showed the Republican governor narrowly behind her Democratic challenger in a year where Dems appeared likely to make gains in this Midwestern swing state.

Complicating matters, Reynolds' campaign co-chair was right-wing Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), whose racist antics were drawing fire from within their party. If the governor denounced her ally, she risked alienating parts of the GOP base. If Reynolds voiced support for King, she risked alienating mainstream voters offended by the congressman's conduct.

The Iowa governor's solution? She tried to avoid King's mess and hoped voters would back her anyway. The strategy may have ruined Kim Reynolds' chances of ever winning a Profile in Courage Award, but it was enough to win the election: the governor prevailed by three points over Fred Hubbell (D).

And wouldn't you know it, now that the race is over, Reynolds feels empowered to show the kind of courage she was afraid to show before Iowans cast their ballots. The Des Moines Register  reported yesterday:

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signaled Tuesday she's lost her patience with U.S. Rep. Steve King, who narrowly won a ninth term in the U.S. House last week despite a firestorm of criticism for aligning himself with far-right European politicians and repeatedly making remarks many have deemed racist.

Reynolds, a Republican who defeated Democrat Fred Hubbell in a close race to win a full four-year term, offered a bluntly worded response when asked by a reporter if she had visited with King about a series of controversies he has been facing.

Reynolds said she hasn't talked with the Iowa congressman because she has been busy since the election. But, she added, "I think that Steve King needs to make a decision if he wants to represent the people and the values of the 4th District or do something else, and I think he needs to take a look at that."

This was apparently the most forceful Reynolds has been to date in her criticisms of the right-wing congressman. And while King's detractors will likely welcome the governor's comments, her timing is extraordinarily convenient.

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Image: U.S. first lady Melania Trump announces the launch of her "Be Best" initiative at the White House in Washington

First Lady's latest gambit emblematic of White House dysfunction

11/14/18 08:40AM

A week out from Election Day, and on the heels of Donald Trump's latest failed overseas trip, there's ample evidence that all is not well in the White House.

The Los Angeles Times  reports that Trump "has retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment," and much of his staff is "trying to avoid him." A former Trump aide told  Politico of conditions in the White House, "It's like an episode of 'Maury.' The only thing that's missing is a paternity test."

Trump is picking fights with the president of France and haranguing the British prime minister. He's threatening to fire much of his team. He's whining about the Secret Service. Some members of his team are publicly denouncing remarks from their own colleagues. After skipping a ceremony honoring fallen American soldiers who served in World War I, he blamed his aides "for not counseling him that skipping the cemetery visit would be a public-relations nightmare."

But to fully appreciate the level of dysfunction in this White House, consider the fact that First Lady Melania Trump is getting involved in national security personnel decisions.

In an extraordinary move for a first lady, Melania Trump's office on Tuesday publicly called for the firing of a senior National Security Council official.

Stephanie Grisham, the first lady's communications director issued a statement around 2:30 p.m. saying the official, Mira Ricardel, should no longer serve as the NSC's No. 2.

"It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House," Grisham said.

That was weird, though the story got a little weirder.

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WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 04: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol August 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

In non-satirical piece, McConnell stresses virtues of bipartisanship

11/14/18 08:00AM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), reflecting on the results of the midterm elections, apparently thought it'd be a good idea to write an op-ed on his perspective. Naturally, he turned to Fox News, which published a piece under a rather extraordinary headline: "Will Dems work with us, or simply put partisan politics ahead of the country?"

Much of the Republican leader's pitch was predictable -- McConnell believes his party has been "prolific" in its triumphs over the last two years -- but it was the GOP senator's references to bipartisanship that made the op-ed seem as if it were intended to be satirical.

I have good news: reports of the death of bipartisanship in Washington have been wildly exaggerated. [...] And looking ahead to the coming year, there will be no shortage of opportunities to continue this impressive record of cooperation across the aisle and across the Capitol.

What we can make of those opportunities will depend on our Democratic colleagues. Will they choose to go it alone and simply make political points? Or will they choose to work together and actually make a difference? [...]

After years of rhetoric, it's hardly news that some are more interested in fanning the flames of division than reaching across the aisle.

For the record, McConnell didn't appear to be kidding.

Taken at face value, stripped of any context or history, the Senate majority leader's rhetoric may seem like an olive branch of sorts. The week after Americans elected a Democratic-led House and a Republican-led Senate, there was Mitch McConnell stressing the virtues of "bipartisanship," "working together," and "reaching across the aisle." What could possibly be wrong with that?

The answer lies in everything we know about the senior senator from Kentucky.

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Bruce Poliquin, Jared Golden

Nervous GOP rep sues over Maine's new ranked-choice voting system

11/13/18 06:23PM

Mainers still don't know who their state's 2nd congressional district will send to Congress in January, and a week after the election, things are getting more complicated, not less.
The race between the Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Jared Golden remains close, with Poliquin ahead by roughly 2,000 votes, which is 0.7% of the votes cast.

Golden may be trailing, but he nevertheless appears to be on track to succeed. On Friday, Maine election officials started processing ballots for the state's first federal race to employ its new ranked-choice voting system, which goes into effect when no candidate receives a majority of votes.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 11.13.18

11/13/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* California: "Thirteen bodies have been found in Northern California in the wake of the deadly Camp Fire, bringing the death toll in the blaze to 42, authorities said Monday. The grim discovery makes the wildfire the deadliest in the state's history, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters, replacing the record held by a Los Angeles brush fire in 1933 that killed 29."

* A major case: "Maryland's attorney general on Tuesday challenged the appointment of what he called an 'unqualified' partisan as acting attorney general and charged the president did it to protect himself from any accusations of wrongdoing."

* Another case worth watching: "CNN has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for revoking correspondent Jim Acosta's press credentials, the network said in a statement on Tuesday."

* Sadly predictable: "President Donald Trump lashed out over his recent trip to Paris in a series of tweets Tuesday, blaming the Secret Service for his cancelled visit to a cemetery for fallen U.S. soldiers in France on Saturday."

* Guantanamo: "The Trump administration closed a diplomatic office designed to keep track of released Guantanamo inmates and make sure they didn't return to their insurgencies. And now the U.S. government has lost track of several of them, including one who has returned to a terrorist-held part of Syria, a McClatchy investigation has found."

* A discouraging trend: "The number of international students entering U.S. colleges and universities has fallen for the second year in a row, a nonprofit group said on Tuesday, amid efforts by the Trump administration to tighten restrictions on foreigners studying in the United States."

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A crest of the Federal Bureau of Investi

Hate crimes increased in the first year of Trump's presidency

11/13/18 12:45PM

The FBI released new data this morning on hate crimes, and as the Washington Post  reported, the United States saw a 17% increase last year, the third consecutive year in which the number of reported hate crimes grew.

Law enforcement agencies reported 7,175 hate crimes occurred in 2017, up from 6,121 in 2016. That increase was fueled in part by more police departments reporting hate crime data to the FBI, but overall there is still a large number of departments that report no hate crimes to the federal database.

The sharp increase in hate crimes in 2017 came even as overall violent crime in America fell slightly, by 0.2 percent, after increases in 2015 and 2016.

More than half of hate crimes, about 3 out of every 5, targeted a person's race or ethnicity, while about 1 out of 5 targeted their religion.

The trajectory is especially discouraging. After the number of hate-crime incidents spiked in 2001 -- the year of the 9/11 attacks -- the United States saw a relatively steady decline in the annual totals, reaching a new low in 2014.

The trend reversed course soon after, climbing in 2015, and then again in 2016 and 2017.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.13.18

11/13/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* In Georgia's gubernatorial race, a federal judge last night ordered election officials to "review thousands of provisional ballots that haven't been counted in Georgia's close election for governor." The same order directed officials to create "a hotline for voters to check if their provisional ballots were counted, a review of voter registrations, and updated reports from the state government about why many voters were required to use provisional ballots."

* In Maine, incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R), who appears likely to lose under the state's ranked-choice voting system, this morning filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of that system. I don't know whether his litigation will succeed, but it doesn't look great when a member of Congress challenges the rules of an election after voters have already cast their ballots.

* In Mississippi, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) refused yesterday to answer reporters' questions about her "public hanging" joke. The state's U.S. Senate runoff election is two weeks from today.

* As of this morning, the Democratic lead in the U.S. House popular vote stood at 6.8%, though it's still expected to inch higher. For comparison purposes, note that in 2010 -- which was widely seen as a GOP "wave" cycle -- Republicans won the U.S. House popular vote by 6.6%.

* There is a small contingent of House Democrats who'd like to prevent Nancy Pelosi from reclaiming her post as Speaker of the House. However, these Dems do not have, and seem unlikely to get, a rival to challenge Pelosi for the gavel.

* Before his re-election in Ohio last week, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) said he had no interest in a 2020 presidential campaign. Yesterday, however, he told the Columbus Dispatch that he's heard "sort of a crescendo" of interest in the idea, so he's "thinking about it."

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Early Voting Starts In Florida

Florida officials bent the rules for voters in Republican county

11/13/18 11:20AM

Voters in Bay County in Florida's panhandle, as expected, heavily supported Republican candidates, with more than 72% of locals supporting Ron DeSantis' (R) gubernatorial campaign and nearly 74% backing Rick Scott's (R) U.S. Senate campaign.

There is some question, however, about whether some of those votes were consistent with Florida's election laws. Politico  reported yesterday:

The election supervisor in hurricane-wracked Bay County allowed some voters to illegally cast ballots by email -- an act specifically prohibited by Gov. Rick Scott when he issued an emergency order to expand voting opportunities there after the storm.

Despite the prohibition, Bay County Election Supervisor Mark Andersen says he stands by his decision in the Republican-rich county after Hurricane Michael. In all, he said, 147 voters returned ballots through email but only 10 were purely email-to-email interactions. In the other cases, voters used fax machines to email their ballots in, which is currently permitted by state law for overseas voters.

Obviously, circumstances matter. Bay County was hit hard by Hurricane Michael, and local communities are still struggling to recover. Officials in the area made a conscious choice to -- let's be charitable -- bend the rules, allowing some voters in the country to cast ballots in ways that fall outside state election laws.

My point is not that those voters should be punished or that their votes should be discounted. I am curious, though, about Republicans' apparent disinterest in how Bay County administered the election.

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People walk down Wall Street in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)

Trump looks for new ways to blame Democrats for Wall Street drops

11/13/18 10:40AM

It was a rather unpleasant day on Wall Street yesterday, with all of the major indexes off sharply, including a 600-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Donald Trump, who sees himself as something of an expert in matters of finance, was only too pleased to offer his assessment of the day's trading.

"The prospect of Presidential Harassment by the Dems is causing the Stock Market big headaches!" the Republican wrote on Twitter.

Ah, yes. The president wants Americans to believe that investors, six days after Democrats won a House majority, suddenly realized that at some point next year, Congress may examine some of Donald Trump's scandals, and this led to a significant Wall Street selloff, months ahead of the first House hearing.

No, seriously, that's the president's argument. As the Washington Post  noted, however, it's clearly not a good argument.

[I]t's pretty silly to blame any single event for stock-market jitters. The technology sector fell after a key Apple supplier, Lumentum Holdings, cut its earnings and revenue outlook after it said a major customer -- believed to be Apple -- significantly reduced its orders for laser diodes. The announcement sent Lumentum down 33 percent, and many other tech stocks fell as well.

This is just the latest warning sign in the once-sizzling tech sector. The tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 is down more than 10 percent since the beginning of October.

Meanwhile, investors were also reacting to the news that Saudi Arabia said it would cut its oil production. (Perhaps recognizing this connection, Trump later tweeted that the Saudis should not do that.) Another thing hanging over the market: Trump's trade war with China.

It's amusing, of course, to see Trump adopt a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose posture toward Wall Street: when stocks go up, the president demands credit; when stocks go down, he insists Democrats get the blame.

But let's not miss the forest for the trees: Trump sure does seem nervous about congressional oversight.

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