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A voter marks a ballot for the New Hampshire primary inside a voting booth at a polling place, Feb. 9, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

The Democratic advantage that should make Republicans nervous

12/21/17 12:40PM

When congressional elections are still a year away, pollsters can't ask the public whether they intend to vote for one candidate vs another, since it's not yet clear which candidates will be running. As a result, pollsters use something called the "generic congressional ballot" to gauge voters' attitudes: respondents are asked whether they intend to support unnamed Democratic or Republican candidates.

It's not precise -- voters have to choose between real people, not generic partisans -- but this tends to be a reliable indicator of which way the political winds are blowing.

And as the New York Times  explained yesterday, the prevailing winds are at Democrats' backs.

Democrats now lead by over 13 points, according to the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot tracker, after a CNN/SSRS poll on Wednesday gave Democrats a staggering 18-point edge, 56 percent to 38 percent.

A 13-point edge would be similar to or larger than their advantage in 2006, when Democrats won control of both the House and the Senate.

CNN's report on its latest poll said the Democrats' current lead is "the largest at this point in midterm election cycles dating back two decades."

What's more, this isn't the only evidence. Several major pollsters -- NBC News/Wall Street Journal, Marist, Quinnipiac, Monmouth, and others -- have all shown Democrats with a double-digit advantage. One survey can be dismissed as a possible outlier, but when every survey points in similar directions, it's compelling evidence.

What's more, while Dems have fared well in generic-ballot polling all year, the party's advantage has recently gotten bigger, not smaller.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.21.17

12/21/17 12:00PM

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

* In Alabama, Roy Moore (R) still hasn't conceded last week's U.S. Senate race, though it now appears it's mathematically impossible for him to overcome his deficit against Sen.-elect Doug Jones (D).

* In Virginia's unresolved House of Delegates race, how will the exact tie between the Democratic and Republican candidates be resolved? A member of the state Board of Elections will choose one of their names out of a bowl next week.

* Sen. Al Franken's (D-Minn.) office announced yesterday the senator's last day on Capitol Hill will be Jan. 2. Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D) will be sworn in a day later.

* Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) is reportedly ailing, and one of his GOP colleagues told Politico the party expects Cochran to resign next month. The timing will be important: if the Mississippi Republican steps down before the new year, there will be a special election in the spring. If Cochran resigns on Jan. 1 or later, the special election will be in November.

* As expected, Democratic leaders said yesterday they intend to make the GOP tax plan -- which Dems are calling a "tax scam" -- one of the centerpieces of the party's election strategy in next year's midterms.

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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

White House: On key provision, GOP listened to lobbyists, not Trump

12/21/17 11:20AM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump assured voters he was eager to get rid of the carried-interest loophole, because, as he put it, the "hedge fund guys are getting away with murder." Even after the election, the White House said more than once that the president was committed to closing the loophole.

We now know, of course, that the Republican tax plan did not close the loophole. Gary Cohn, the chief economic adviser in Trump's White House, told Axios yesterday that it's Congress' fault.

Axios co-founder Mike Allen asked Cohn what was the one change he would make to the tax reform bill. "We would have cut carried interest," Cohn said Wednesday. "We probably tried 25 times."

He blamed resistance on Capitol Hill. "We hit opposition in that big white building with the dome at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue every time we tried," he said in the interview. "It is just the reality of the political system." [...]

Cohn told Axios that the hedge fund and private equity lobby was too strong to overcome. "The reality of this town is that constituency [hedge funds and private equity] has a very large presence in the House and the Senate. They have really strong relationships on both sides of the aisle," he said. "We just didn't have the support on carried interest."

Cohn went on to describe a conversation with Trump from earlier this week in which the president asked for an explanation as to why the loophole wasn't taken out of his party's plan.

Just so we're all clear, there are overwhelming reasons to be skeptical about Cohn's version of events. I personally don't believe for a moment that the White House "tried 25 times" to close the carried-interest loophole and that the president personally demanded an explanation for the policy's survival. This sounds like desperate spin to explain the latest broken Trump promise.

But just for kicks, let's say Cohn's correct. Let's assume his story is 100% accurate and the process unfolded exactly the way he claims it did.

If so, according to a top official in the Republican White House, congressional Republicans ignored the wishes of a Republican president in order to cater to the demands of finance industry lobbyists.

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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L), R-KY, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-WI, look on during a meeting with congressional leadership in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on November 28,

Hard work and fast work are not the same thing

12/21/17 10:45AM

As Republicans celebrated passage of their tax plan at the White House yesterday, the first thing Donald Trump said at the event was that lawmakers "worked so long" and "so hard" on the legislation.

The phrase kept coming up. The president said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has been "working very hard." He said House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) also "worked so hard."

But there's a difference between working hard and working fast. To jam through their regressive and unpopular tax plan, GOP policymakers did the latter, but not the former.

It may seem like the tax debate lasted a while, but the original House plan was introduced on Nov. 2 -- seven weeks ago today. Those who don't follow Congress closely may not appreciate how ridiculously fast that is for such a major undertaking. In 1986, federal policymakers worked on a sweeping tax reform package for two years before it was approved, not two months.

Some on the right may be tempted to see this as a good thing -- as if today's Republicans should be praised for the efficiency and speed in which they completed their work. But that's bonkers. I'm reminded of a recent Washington Post  report, which was published 11 days ago.

Republicans are moving their tax plan toward final passage at stunning speed, blowing past Democrats before they've had time to fully mobilize against it but leaving the measure vulnerable to the types of expensive problems popping up in their massive and complex plan.

Questionable special-interest provisions have been stuffed in along the way, out of public view and in some cases literally in the dead of night. Drafting errors by exhausted staff are cropping up and need fixes.... Veterans of congressional tax overhauls, particularly the seminal revamp under President Ronald Reagan in 1986, have been stunned and in some cases outraged at how swiftly Republicans are moving on legislation that touches every corner of the economy and all Americans.

To use Trump's phrasing, "working very hard" would have entailed careful deliberations, bipartisan outreach, substantive legislative hearings, outreach to stakeholders, responses to criticisms and independent analyses, and a transparent public campaign that informed the public about the policies being imposed on all Americans, answering our questions and addressing our fears.

Except, in this case, Republicans didn't do any of those things.

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Image: Trump Hosts Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi At The White House

Why Trump's cabinet meetings have a cult-like quality

12/21/17 10:00AM

Donald Trump hosted his first full cabinet meeting in June, and the political world wasn't fully prepared for how much it departed from traditional presidential cabinet meetings. As regular readers may recall, the Republican went around the room, offering each member of his cabinet an opportunity to talk about how happy they are to be on his team.

The result was downright creepy. CNBC's John Harwood‏, apparently flabbergasted, said at the time, "Honestly this is like a scene from the Third World." Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his staff quickly put together a satirical meeting in the senator's conference room, mocking the tone and the rhetoric of Trump's gathering.

The mockery apparently didn't bother Trump World, because yesterday's cabinet meeting was arguably worse.

Trump asked HUD Secretary Ben Carson to say grace, and Carson proceeded to thank God for "a president and for Cabinet members who are courageous, who are willing to face the winds of controversy in order to provide a better future for those who come behind us." Then, as the Washington Post  reported, it was Vice President Mike Pence's turn.

Over nearly three minutes, Pence offered plaudit after plaudit after plaudit, praising Trump's vision, his words, his strategy and his results in light of the passage of tax cuts. By the end, Pence offered 14 separate commendations for Trump in less than three minutes -- math that works out to one every 12.5 seconds. And each bit of praise was addressed directly to Trump, who was seated directly across the table.

After the cabinet meeting, the White House issued a written statement quoting members of Trump's cabinet talking about how impressed they are with Trump's record.

Somewhere, Kim Jong-un could be heard saying, "Jeez, I think you guys are overdoing it a bit."

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U.S.  President Obama meets with President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington

On the stock market, Trump World invites the wrong comparison

12/21/17 09:20AM

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told CNBC's John Harwood last week that recent stock market growth was one of the reasons he supports the Republican tax plan. Referring to Wall Street's hot streak, the Oklahoma congressman said, "I didn't see anything like that in the Obama years."

Perhaps that's because Cole wasn't paying close enough attention during Barack Obama's presidency. As Harwood explained in his piece, the Dow Jones Industrial Average "more than doubled under President Obama, and had risen more in percentage terms by this point in Obama's first year than in Trump's."

And yet, Republicans keep picking this fight, convinced that it offers proof of ... something. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued this week that the bull market is proof of the "amazing" results that occur "when you put a businessman instead of a liberal politician in the White House."

As is too often the case, Sanders appears badly confused. Axios had a helpful report today:

President Trump likes to talk about the stock market's strong performance since took office, including how the S&P 500 keeps hitting record highs. But, in terms of percentage growth, the index's performance under Trump actually lags its performance through the first 11 months of President Obama and the first President Bush.

Obama also oversaw stronger percentage performance for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and NASDAQ over his first 11 months in office than has Trump, although the two inherited much different sorts of economies.

Obama inherited an economy in crisis, turned things around, and the markets soared. Trump inherited a healthy economy, and immediately took credit for its strength, despite creating few new economic policies of his own.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump meets with members of the House Ways and Means Committee

On taxes, do Republicans know what they've done?

12/21/17 08:44AM

As part of the Republican victory lap on tax breaks, Donald Trump singled out House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) for his work on the legislation. The president said the Texas congressman is a "very special man" who knows the tax policy "inside out and backwards."

In theory, that would make sense. After all, Brady was one of the principal architects of the GOP plan -- one of the so-called "Big Six" -- so it stands to reason that he'd know as much as anyone about the legislation he helped write.

But HuffPost's Matt Fuller this week asked several House Republicans, including Brady, some basic details about their party's tax plan, and they appeared to struggle with the question.

To be clear, we were just looking for seven figures: 10 percent, 12 percent, 22 percent, 24 percent, 32 percent, 35 percent and 37 percent. We were not looking for congressional representatives to display some savant-like ability and provide the income thresholds for each bracket. We just wanted to see if Republicans knew this one simple element of a bill they were rushing into law.

They didn't.

This wasn't a comprehensive survey, but Fuller did ask 17 GOP members if they can identify the tax brackets in their plan, and none of them -- including Kevin Brady -- could answer the question. Eventually, HuffPost talked to Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), who knew the information.

Of course, 1 out of 18 isn't great. (My personal favorite was House Budget Committee Chairwoman Diane Black of Tennessee, who said she did know the brackets, but wouldn't say what they were.)

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump departs the White House

The GOP tax plan passed despite Trump's 'leadership,' not because of it

12/21/17 08:00AM

At a White House event yesterday, Republicans gathered on the South Lawn to pat themselves on the back. They'd just passed a regressive and unpopular tax plan -- their first meaningful legislative accomplishment of 2017 -- and GOP officials were eager to celebrate.

But first, they had to offer gushing praise to Donald Trump.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), for example, thanked Trump for his "exquisite presidential leadership." Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) soon added, "You're one heck of a leader." Vice President Mike Pence gushed to the president, "Thank you for your leadership."

But in practical terms, what does that mean, exactly? I realize that in any political achievement, a president will claim credit when something goes his or her way, but when it came to passing the Republican tax plan for the wealthy, what is it that Trump did to help make this happen?

The Washington Post published a fascinating piece overnight that shed light on the president's role in the process.

In the debate over the just-approved tax overhaul bill, President Trump saw himself primarily as the marketer in chief -- focused on pressuring Republicans to drop the jargon and sell the legislation in a way the public would understand.

So, for example, it was Trump who told Republicans to steer clear of the phrase "tax reform," because he considered it vague. The president rejected the idea of a border adjustment tax -- which was once a key component of the plan -- because he thought the name sounded funny. (The Post  reported, "It is one reason the plan was scuttled, senior congressional leadership aides said.")

According to one senior GOP aide involved in the negotiations, when it came time to set tax rates under the party's plan, Trump "always wanted the individual rates to be multiples of 5," not for any substantive reason, but because the president simply thought those numbers sounded nicer.

At one point, Trump declared, for example, in reference to the corporate tax rate, "Twenty is a pretty number."

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 12.20.17

12/20/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* An ostentatious victory lap for an unpopular bill: "President Donald Trump applauded Republicans for passing a sweeping tax bill Wednesday, convening lawmakers to take a victory lap on the White House lawn after touting it as a 'historic' achievement."

* Keeping the focus on CHIP: 'Gripping lumps of coal, Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday demanded Republicans act before the holidays to reauthorize coverage for millions of children in low-income families whose health insurance is at risk of running out."

* Maybe Congress should have some kind of debate about this: "The Defense Department on Wednesday acknowledged for the first time 'multiple ground operations' in Yemen, while noting that the Islamic State has doubled in size in the war-torn country, where an insurgency by Houthis rebels has allowed terrorist groups to seek haven."

* Puerto Rico: "Two U.S. Cabinet secretaries visited Puerto Rico on Tuesday and promised to speed up recovery efforts and increase federal assistance for an island struggling nearly three months after Hurricane Maria."

* Time is running out: "Congressional leaders moved toward another short-term spending stopgap Wednesday after talks aimed at passing more-ambitious legislation appeared to collapse as a government shutdown deadline approached."

* Stuff like this always makes me nervous: "President Trump threatened on Wednesday to cut off American aid to any country that votes in favor of a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly denouncing his recent decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."

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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.



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