The Briefing, Vol. V, Issue 48 – This week:
- Tax reform or bust
- Republicans headed for loss of Ala. Senate seat
- Menendez corruption mistrial delays any pain for Dems
A happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers.
Ever since President Trump’s surprise election victory, Republicans have had complete control of the federal government. And they’ve done precious little with it.
To be sure, President Trump’s deregulatory agenda has seen some big successes. Using the Congressional Review Act, Congress has passed and President Trump signed several regulatory repeal bills that not only halt Obama-era regulations, but will actually prevent future Democratic administrations from bringing them back.
But as far the legislative accomplishments that Trump promised, he simply hasn’t been able to get them through a fractious and difficult congressional Republican caucus.
Health care failed. The wall still hasn’t been funded. And now, tax reform, which easily passed the House, is running into roadblocks in the Senate. Even now, with their party’s total failure to govern looming as a potential threat to everyone’s re-election, a number of senators (generally not those facing re-election in 2018) are raising various objections and demanding various additions to the tax reform plan that Republicans have had more than a year now to prepare for passage.
The Republican Party may not be able to survive as the governing party if it experiences another failure like the health care reform debacle. There is very little margin for error in tax reform, and even less because of what’ happening now in Alabama.
Alabama: As of last week, the polls finally came into agreement with both the conventional wisdom and President Trump’s assessment during the primaries: Thanks to Roy Moore’s nomination, Republicans are on track to give away a Senate seat next month that they could have easily retained.
Apparently, Moore’s habit of dating teenaged girls when he was a thirtysomething seems to have caught up with him — and that’s assuming if you disbelieve the more serious allegations of sexual assault against minor girls.
There is a
temptation among Republicans to compare this case to that of Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who was credibly accused of very extreme sexual harassment and assault during a 2006 USO tour, two years before the longtime comedian ran for the Senate. It may be that Franken deserves to be turned out of office or even expelled from the Senate for what he did, but the most obvious differences are that (1) Franken, unlike Moore, has not evidently lied about what happened; and (2) his accuser has offered him public forgiveness after his public apology. Moore, on the other hand, has offered unsatisfactory explanations that have not even made believers of Steve Bannon and Sean Hannity.
Moore has, of course, sought to defuse this controversy by changing the subject, and it’s abundantly clear that he won’t be dropping out of the race. His rhetoric continues along the same lines as during the primary, as if this race could still be a referendum on himself versus the GOP establishment, and not his alleged predilection for teenaged girls. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tells Moore to step down as the nominee, Moore retorts that McConnell is the one who ought to step down, because he has “failed conservatives.”
But Moore’s problem goes far beyond that. No, the alleged sexual assaults against minors
have not been proven. But he has offered too many equivocations about his alleged habit of dating teenagers when he was in his 30s for even erstwhile allies to find him credible. Things need to have gotten pretty bad for Moore to poll behind a Democrat in Alabama — and indeed, bad they have gotten. Meanwhile, nearly any other Republican would win this race in a walk.
At this point, McConnell and other Republicans have essentially given up on any of the gimmicks that might save the seat. Their best hope was for Trump to intervene, but he declined to do so. Their best hope now is for voters to choose Moore on the understanding that he will be expelled and a new election will occur. This possibility is pretty remote, although not impossible.
As matters stand, Democrats are now likely to win this race and hold an Alabama Senate seat (for the first time in 20 years) through 2020. This will diminish Republicans’ already slim majority and throw a new wrench into any further attempts by President Trump to move anything on his agenda.
A one-seat Senate majority not only makes the 2018 election less promising for the GOP, but it also effectively gives moderate senators like Susan Collins power over the entire senate. As in the early days of the Bush administration, moderate Republicans would have effective veto power over every proposal. That’s surely enough to keep Trump awake at night.
Florida: Just to add to the perpetually smouldering wreck that has been Florida’s Democratic Party for about two decades, state chairman Stephen Bittel is being forced to step down due to — you guessed it — sexual harassment allegations.
Florida’s Democratic Party is already one of America’s least effective. It has been shut out
of power in every statewide office (except one term by former state CFO Alex Sink, D) and both houses of the state legislature for the entire Millennium so far, despite how close Florida iss politically between the two parties.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.,who had previously supported Bittel but joined the call for his ouster, likely faces a brutal challenge from current Gov. Rick Scott next fall.
New Jersey: When the jury in Sen. Robert Menendez’s corruption trial deadlocked,
Democrats were spared the embarrassing inconvenience of having to keep him in the Senate until Chris Christie was no longer governor. However, they have only delayed the political pain.
If Menendez runs for re-election as an incumbent, it will not be easy (although it won’t be impossible) for any Democrat to take the nomination away from him, given that he was not convicted. But because he was not exonerated, only let off in a mistrial, he is no longer a shoo-in in a general election.
Yes, it’s a longshot for Republicans, who haven’t won a Senate race in the Garden State in 45 years. But so far 2018 is looking like an election cycle where Republicans only rarely if ever catch a break. They are going to need to take their chances wherever they find them, and it’s possible New Jersey will look like an attractive target at some point in the next year.
Ohio: The resignation of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray has conservative interests within the financial sector looking at ways of undoing his legacy. The agency’s constitutional status was already a problem — now it will have to survive having a Trump nominee as its head.
But in the meantime, his widely expected run for governor poses a challenge to the once-again-dominant state Republican Party. Cordray’s brand of consumer-advocacy-populism is one potential model for restoring Democrats to their prized status as the party of the working class. Republicans need to be careful of this — after Trump’s win, there was all too much talk about the idea that so many voters’ switch from Obama to Trump was permanent. Under the right situation, the Trump Republicans can be made to vote Democratic once again. Cordray is counting on it.