Merrick Garland Trudges On, Awaiting Supreme Court Action

For now, Judge Merrick Garland is in limbo. That is, if heaven is serving on the Supreme Court and waiting in limbo involves a bunch of paperwork.

Each morning, Garland does what he’s always done: he goes to work. That’s not so unusual. But these days, when he leaves his quiet Bethesda, Maryland, neighborhood, he’s riding in an SUV with federal agents.

He’s served as a justice in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since 1997, and as its chief judge since 2013. Some have dubbed the court the second most important in the country, next to the Supreme Court.

But ever since President Barack Obama nominated him to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Garland hasn’t been wielding a gavel in the courtroom — Supreme Court nominees often don’t hear cases while they’re awaiting confirmation. For seven months now, Garland has focused on administrative duties such as overseeing the court’s budget and preparing for a Senate hearing on his nomination that may not happen.

In the meantime, he has set a new record. Over the summer, he made history as the Supreme Court nominee with the longest wait for a confirmation hearing. And the clock is still ticking.

Senate Republicans have vowed not to take up Garland’s nomination or give any nominee a hearing until the next president takes office.

[Meet Merrick Garland: Next Justice or Historical Footnote?]

As the standoff continues on Capitol Hill, Garland is still waiting.

“He is just [putting] one foot in front of the other,” said Jamie Gorelick, Garland’s former boss at the Justice Department.

Garland lives across the street from an elementary school in a neighborhood of nice but mostly unpretentious homes with large lawns.

Neighbors describe Garland and his family as kind and welcoming.

“It’s not as though fame has changed him in any way,” said Darrel Regier, who has lived next door to the Garland family for the past 15 years.

Regier said he can tell by the daily “pickup group” of federal agents that Garland still keeps busy, even though his nomination has not moved forward.

“That day they had the TV crews out on the sidewalk here, until now, this is an ongoing job,” Regier said. “I think the job of a candidate for the Supreme Court is a pretty intense job from what I can see.”

Gorelick said that Garland has also been spending time with his family after a difficult summer. His mother, father-in-law, and close friend and former congressman Abner Mikva (whom he succeeded on the D.C. Circuit Court) all recently passed away. Garland spoke at Mikva’s funeral service.

The 63-year-old Chicagoan still reports each morning to the federal courthouse in downtown Washington, according to a White House official.

His name is notably absent from a schedule of upcoming cases. The D.C. Circuit is often a launching pad for cases that reach the Supreme Court, and Garland, if confirmed, would have to recuse himself from any matter he may have presided over.

Instead, he oversees the court’s budget and expenditures, hiring, facility allocation and the recommendation of judges for the court’s committees.

Garland also continues to tutor at J.O. Wilson Elementary School roughly every other week, said D.C. Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Lerner. He’s been volunteering at the school for nearly 20 years. This year, he has two new students whom he tutors on multiple subjects.

[By Picking Garland, Obama Backs GOP Into Corner]

Garland also spoke to law students at Harvard Law School in August and Howard Law School in September. He did not discuss his nomination at either event. But he did offered students at Howard a little advice:

“Life has a lot of unexpected twists and turns,” he said.

Last month, Garland also met with some powerful Senate Democrats: Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, and Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. He has also met with California's Dianne Feinstein and spoken over the phone with Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar, both Judiciary members. The Judiciary Committee would preside over any confirmation hearing.

[Meeting with Merrick]

Leahy said he organized his meeting to check in on the nominee.

“I just wanted to see how he’s feeling, how he’s doing,” Leahy said. “And tell him, ‘You have a lot of us who are strongly supportive.’”

The Senate meetings could serve another purpose, according to a former White House aide who worked on Supreme Court confirmations. Those meetings help gauge what issues could be brought up in a potential confirmation hearing.

The prospect for a hearing is slim, given Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley′s opposition to moving forward on the nomination. But Garland is preparing, just in case.

Garland also continues to meet with White House legal aides and other senior staffers. A White House official described those meetings as occurring “regularly” but “not every day.”

Top White House aides have described the nominee as meticulous and thorough, saying he has been intensely preparing for a possible date before the Judiciary Committee.

[Supreme Court Pick Resumes Personal Push in Senate]

The White House has declined to describe the nature of those sessions. Some analysts have speculated that Senate Republicans could yet pivot and take up Garland’s nomination during the lame-duck session, especially if they lose control of the chamber in the November elections.

Supreme Court nominees typically confer with White House officials on issues the high court might take up and matters important to specific Judiciary members. Garland’s preparations have likely been no different.

Aides usually present nominees with large binders of material that include major Supreme Court opinions and opinions from the nominees’ own record to refresh their memory, according to a former White House aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

When a hearing date is set, the preparation gets even more intense, with mock hearings up to four times a week in the run-up to the event.

Gorelick, who supervised Garland at the DOJ where she served as deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton, said that if there is a hearing during the lame-duck congressional session, Garland won’t have much time to prepare. So he’s getting ready.

“He’s just doing what he needs to do,” said Gorelick, who speaks with him regularly. “He’s one of the most steady and mature people I know.”

For Garland, waiting to be confirmed by the Senate is a familiar experience.

Two decades ago, Garland’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit languished for a year and a half because of partisan gridlock and a disagreement over how many judges were needed for the court.

Bill Clinton nominated Garland to the circuit court in September 1995, and he was eventually confirmed in March 1997. At the time, Garland worked for Gorelick at the Justice Department, where he led the prosecution for the Oklahoma City bombing and Unabomber cases.

Garland continued working while his nomination was held up.

“I think he’s cut back to 15-hour days,” DOJ spokesman Carl Stern told The Associated Press at the time.

[Grassley Can’t Escape Supreme Court Debate]

Doing the same work hasn’t been an option this time.

“I have to imagine this limbo, and some reduction of work, has got to be a big change for him,” said Craig Green, one of Garland’s former clerks.

Green and two other former clerks described Garland as extremely diligent and hardworking. They recalled meeting Garland at his standing desk, going over each word of an opinion to make sure it was correct.

Clerks knew it was going to be a long night at the courthouse when Garland broke out a bowl of Cheerios around dinnertime, said Ishan Bhabha, who clerked for Garland in 2009 and 2010.

Garland’s prolonged nomination shows the increased politicization of the judicial nomination process, said Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.

[The Full Court Press for Merrick Garland]

“It’s gotten worse,” Wheeler said. “And it’s not as if this is some isolated phenomenon that’s occurring. It’s part of a larger problem of a Congress that is highly polarized.”

Wheeler said it was doubtful, though not out of the realm of possibility, that senators could also refuse to take up future nominees to the high court, arguing that they did not want to skew the bench.

“That we could even talk about it illustrates the dire nature of the situation,” Wheeler said.

With the remaining Supreme Court justices roughly evenly split between liberal and conservative blocs, Senate Republicans have argued that voters should choose the future direction of the high court by picking the next president. Democrats have blasted that stance, accusing GOP senators of shirking their constitutional duty to provide advice and consent on judicial picks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has ruled out acting on Garland’s nomination during the lame-duck session, which occurs after Election Day and before a new Congress takes office in January. He reiterated during a Sept. 29 press conference that the next president would fill the vacancy.

But some senators are still holding out hope.

Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake said last month that he was optimistic Republicans would push for Garland’s confirmation, especially if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wins the White House. The logic is that she could appoint someone who is younger and more liberal than Garland.

“Reality,” Flake said, when asked why he was optimistic. “People will realize that nobody would describe Merrick Garland as conservative, but he’s more conservative than somebody that Hillary Clinton might want.”

Clinton has stopped short of saying she would renominate Garland, although Reid has said she would. Clinton did say at a recent debate that she would move “immediately” to fill the vacancy on the court if elected.

[Clinton Would Move Forward With Garland, Reid Says]

If Clinton signals she would renominate Garland, some Republicans might support confirming him in the lame-duck to quickly fill the vacancy.

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte told her state's public radio station recently that she would give Garland “full consideration” for a lame-duck confirmation if Clinton affirms he will be her nominee.

In the meantime, Garland is still waiting.

“It’s not a good thing. He’s a decent fellow” Utah GOP Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said of Garland’s lengthy nomination. “We’ll just have to see.”

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.Contact Bowman at bridgetbowman@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter @bridgetbhc.

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Harry Reid's Last Senate Stand

By Niels Lesniewski

One of the most patriotic toasts, often used at social occasions in the military, is “To the President of the United States.” It is part of what binds us as a country and it is a hallmark of the social compact that supports the world’s most successful democracy.

Donald Trump — during the last presidential debate of his fast-imploding career — repudiated that proud tradition with the most shocking comment that he has uttered in his inflammatory campaign. Asked whether he would accept the results of an election that he seems destined to lose, Trump said, “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense.”

During the same answer Trump rediscovered his authoritarian side by dramatically announcing that his Democratic opponent “shouldn’t be allowed to run. It’s crooked.” That’s right — because of charges about her homebrew email server that the FBI director said did not warrant prosecution — Trump would have banned Hillary Clinton from the ballot.

It is worth recalling that in 1920, Eugene Debs, as the Socialist candidate for president, received nearly 1 million votes while serving as Prisoner 9653 in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. Debs’ conviction for opposing American entry into World War I was unjust. But back in 1920, no one suggested that he should be banned from the ballot in a democracy.

Little more than three weeks ago, on a debate stage at Hofstra University, the last realistic hope of a Trump presidency died. The polls today might have been different if the former reality-show host had actually rehearsed for the first debate; had he refrained from bragging about not paying taxes; had he resisted the urge to interrupt the first woman nominated for president; and had he not taken Hillary’s bait about his belittling a Miss Universe winner.

But that would have required a candidate with more maturity than the 70-year-old megalomaniac with a rapidly tarnishing brand.

Somewhere in Trump Tower, there must be a portrait of the pensive, statesmanlike Donald Trump with his chin resting on his right hand as he ponders global problems. But in the reverse of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” all the grace lies in the portrait while Trump the Candidate is a snarling mass of prejudice, misinformation and deliberate lies.

There was an interlude at the beginning of this debate, adroitly moderated by Chris Wallace, when that other Donald Trump was on display. His answers during the opening segment on the Supreme Court were conventional right-wing Republican boilerplate as he talked about “putting pro-life justices on the court” so that the states would decide whether abortion were legal.

The bilious billionaire even maintained his composure, for a while, when the topic turned to the hot-button issue of immigration. Even as Clinton egged Trump on — suggesting that “he choked” during his meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto — the Republican nominee resisted the provocation. That is, until Clinton used a mention of Wikileaks to switch the subject to Vladimir Putin.

Trump initially held his own by making the apt point, “That was a great pivot off the fact that she wants open borders. OK? How did we get to Putin?” But then, rather than scrambling back to the border issue, Trump insisted on talking about a fantasy world where “Russia and the United States got along well and went after ISIS.”

That gave Clinton an opportunity to use a line that she had obviously rehearsed about how Putin would “rather have a puppet as president of the United States.” Within seconds — in a moment that the late Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets might have cherished — Trump was reduced to shouting “No puppet. No puppet.”

Before long, as he harked back to a bizarre riff that he has employed whenever Putin was blamed for intruding on the American election, Trump once again denied the assessment of the US intelligence community that Russian hackers were responsible for the Wikileaks release of Clinton campaign documents. As Trump put it, in a dismissive rejection of his own government intelligence briefing, “Our country has no idea.”

But the moment when Trump finally lost his last ounce of self-control — the moment that he forgot every debate briefing that he had dutifully endured — came during the closing minutes of the Vegas Non-Valentine. Of all the trigger lines that Hillary Clinton had rehearsed, the one that finally turned Trump into a sputtering firecracker were the words “replenish the Social Security Trust Fund.”

As soon as she uttered that explosive phrase, Trump interrupted with an epithet that will be a centerpiece of all college gender studies courses for the next generation, “Such a nasty woman.”

One of Trump’s favorite words is “disaster” which he used 10 times in the debate to describe everything from trade deals to open borders to Aleppo to Obamacare to life in the inner city. But what is an unmentioned disaster is the presidential campaign of the man that a cheering Republican Party nominated in Cleveland.

Trump, judging from the polls and his performance in the final debate, is headed for a presidential defeat on par with Michael Dukakis’ loss to a triumphant George H.W. Bush in 1988. That was a year when the Democrats should have won back the White House after a sad-eyed, scandal-plagued end to the Ronald Reagan presidency. But they nominated the wrong candidate.

Michael Dukakis is an honorable man. Donald Trump is an affront to American democracy and the political party that nominated him. I hope that Republican Chairman Reince Priebus — who pronounced the GOP race over after May 3 Indiana primary and stifled dissent at the Cleveland convention — enjoyed the last debate of a drowning Trump candidacy.

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He wasn’t the flashiest debate moderator this cycle or the most aggressive. But Fox News’ Chris Wallace showed the rest of us how it’s done Wednesday night when he hosted the third and final debate of the 2016 presidential campaign cycle. As Wallace served one direct question after another, he gave voters more insights by the end of the night than they began with and achieved the ultimate measure of success for any political journalist.

Wallace began the night approaching Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump with unfailing politeness, referring to them as “Mr. Trump” and “Secretary Clinton” in his questions and thanking them for their answers when they provided them. But it would have been wrong for anyone to mistake Wallace’s civility for a lack of seriousness.

With his first series of questions, Wallace barreled directly into the heaviest policy topics of the entire campaign, several of which have gone unaddressed in the previous debates — the Supreme Court, guns, abortion, and immigration. Then, he plowed ahead to foreign policy, the federal budget and the national debt. Instead of editorializing or weighting his questions, Wallace kept them simple and straightforward. You voted this way, why? You said that, what did you mean? Why are you right and your opponent wrong?

When Trump refused once, twice, and three times to say whether or not he wants Roe v. Wade overturned, Wallace pushed him again, and again. “What I’m asking specifically …” Wallace said, following up, “But what I’m asking you, sir …”

When Trump talked over him, Wallace held his own, sternly. “I do get to ask some questions,” Wallace said. When Clinton tried to filibuster, he didn’t stand for that either: “Secretary Clinton, excuse me. Secretary Clinton.”

It’s never easy for journalists to moderate a debate between two opponents, but Wallace had the added challenge of moderating a debate between two people who seem to have little to no respect for each other. As Trump spoke over both Clinton and Wallace, Wallace stopped the action entirely to remind the candidates and the audience why they were all there. “Hold on, folks. This is going to end up getting out of control,” Wallace said. “Let’s try to keep it quiet, for the candidates and for the American people.” When the audience itself made more noise than it should, Wallace scolded the attendees, too. “Please be quiet, everybody.”

[Clinton, Trump Talk Around Senate in Supreme Court Debate]

The most policy-heavy portions of the evening gave Trump and Clinton their most successful moments of the debate. Trump had a full 30 minutes to telegraph to conservatives that he will be with them on abortion, immigration and appointing the right justices to the Supreme Court, while Clinton did the same for liberal partisans. After a nearly policy-free campaign cycle, the chance to hear each candidate dig into issues was a mini-vacation for voters from the ugliness of 2016, delivered by Wallace himself.

But Wallace also pushed both candidates on the two subjects neither wanted to address. For Trump, it was the groping allegations that have surfaced against him since the last debate. For Clinton, Wallace asked her both about her husband’s scandals and what she did to defend him from them, as well as the clouds surrounding the Clinton Foundation.

The most revealing moment of the night, and of any debate this cycle, came from one of Wallace’s signature direct questions when he asked Trump, point blank, “Do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely — sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?”

Trump’s answer: “I will look at it at the time.”

Instead of leaving that answer to stand on its own, Wallace chose to follow up with historical context to let the audience understand how unprecedented the moment was. “A tradition in this country — in fact, one of the prides of this country — is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign, that the loser concedes to the winner,” Wallace said. “Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?”

Even then, Trump again declined to say he’d accept the election results, revealing more about himself in that moment than the two previous debates combined.

[Wednesday's Presidential Debate: A Reality TV Show Gone Bad]

Wallace finished the night with a civics lesson that he hoped both candidates could agree on. “We hope you will go vote,” Wallace said to the audience. “It is one of the honors and obligations of living in this great country.”

More people would probably take Wallace up on that if he was one of the candidates for president, instead.

Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.

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Is 2017 the year when a tax overhaul finally happens?

Don’t bet on it.

That’s despite the revelation that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump could have avoided paying federal income taxes for almost two decades.

And despite Sen. Bernie Sanders’ decision to embrace a tax overhaul as one of his signature issues during his insurgent Democratic primary campaign.

And despite the damage done to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012 when he released tax returns — something that Trump, so far, has refused to do — showing he’d paid 14 percent in taxes on his eight-figure income.

Congress has talked about a tax overhaul for almost three decades. Doing something about it, not so much.

Even though both parties have vowed to tackle the tax code in the next Congress, tax experts predict this time around will be no different. Lawmakers, they say, are unlikely to tackle divisive issues and risk alienating some of their biggest benefactors.

If and when they do, they could face daunting opposition. The real estate industry, among the country’s most tax-privileged industries, not only produced Trump but is also one of the biggest campaign contributors on both sides of the aisle. It’s also been known to bring out the big guns whenever Congress starts talking about changes to the tax code, as have business tycoons.

Far from simply being a businessman who profited from an exceptional understanding of the code, Trump personally lobbied Congress for tax breaks for real estate developers in 1991.

Not surprisingly, there’s a wide divide between Republicans and Democrats on key elements of a tax overhaul.

The House Republicans’ 2017 tax plan, in part, aims to keep taxes low for corporations as a way to spur economic growth. Critics say it would be a boon for the wealthy and corporations.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan earlier this month vowed to force through his party’s agenda under a Trump presidency, and brushed aside questions about the nominee’s leaked returns.

It appeared Trump had taken common deductions, he said. “The numbers are big because he’s a multibillionaire.”

Democrats point fingers across the aisle.

“I’ve said so publicly for 30 years: The tax system is broken,” outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said during a conference call from Nevada on Oct. 6. “The Republicans won’t let us touch that because they love it the way it is.”

Critics don’t let either party off the hook.

The response from Capitol Hill was a “huge disappointment,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, a liberal advocacy group.

“There aren’t enough members of Congress championing the interest of average taxpayers here,” he said. “Too many of them are representing the wealthy and big corporations in their aspirations about the tax system. It’s very challenging. Money talks on the Hill.”

Among the most vocal lawmakers calling for revisions that target “loopholes” exposed by Trump’s returns is Sanders, whose breakaway success in the Democratic primaries might give him new cachet to attack even the most thorny of issues in the next Congress.

Sanders announced that he would introduce a bill next year aimed at parts of the tax code that some experts believe Trump was able to exploit.

“You’ve got some middle-class people working longer hours for lower wages — they pay their taxes, they support their schools, they support their infrastructure, they support the military,” Sanders said on CNN recently. “But the billionaires? No, they don’t have to do that, because they have their friends on Capitol Hill.”

How much support he’ll find back in the Senate remains to be seen. But he isn’t alone in calling for action.

Oregon's Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, is also pushing for a tax overhaul. That includes more transparency in presidential races.

“This is just about the best opportunity to fix this broken, dysfunctional tax code that our country’s had in years and years,” he said.

Wyden and other Senate Democrats recently introduced a bill that would require tax records from all major party nominees.

He said Trump’s leaked returns underscore the argument that the tax code is “a tale of two systems,” one for ordinary taxpayers and one for moguls like Trump.

Reid takes a similar position. He said that whatever happens with the tax code, that should not overshadow the fact that Trump hasn’t released any of his tax returns.

“I don’t know why Donald Trump thinks he’s above the requirement of being candid with the American people,” Reid said.

Across the aisle, Utah's Orrin G. Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he shared Wyden’s desire for a tax overhaul next year.

Rewriting the tax code is a core part of the House Republicans' "Better Way" agenda. That plan would reduce the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent. It would also slightly increase after-tax income for individual filers, according to the nonpartisan research organization, The Tax Foundation.

Another provision, which Trump reportedly doesn’t like, would end interest deductions on new business loans. That would hit commercial real estate investors particularly hard.

It’s no secret in Washington that real estate professionals get huge tax breaks, and that Congress is loathe to address them.

Trump himself was quoted in Vanity Fair, saying, “One of the big assets of real estate, you are allowed large deductions.”

Dan Rostenkowski, the late Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, once famously got so fed up with the shameless perks that he threatened to make the real estate sector tax exempt — which, ironically, would have raised taxes for real estate investors because they would no longer get unlimited write-offs.

A later committee chairman, Michigan Republican Dave Camp, released a tax proposal that would have eliminated several lucrative tax breaks for the industry, but the gesture — one of Camp’s last acts before he retired in 2015 — was understood to be mostly symbolic.

And a draft proposal from former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus that would have done the same has been languishing since the Montana Democrat introduced it in 2013, shortly before resigning to become ambassador to China.

The same is true of attempts to limit special tax breaks for the wealthy.

After the revelation of Romney’s 14 percent effective tax rate hurt his prospects in the 2012 election, Democrats in Congress tried unsuccessfully to target one tax benefit that advantaged Romney, the lower tax rate on so-called carried interest. That allows a lower tax rate on commissions earned for managing investors’ portfolios.

Both Trump and Clinton’s tax plans propose closing the carried interest loophole — although Trump falsely claimed during the second presidential debate that Clinton’s would not.

In 1991, five years after Ronald Reagan had signed a landmark tax overhaul bill that had cracked down on real estate tax shelters, Trump testified before a House Budget Committee to have portions repealed. The bill was “an absolute catastrophe” that had plunged the real estate industry into an “absolute depression,” he said.

Two years later, amid aggressive lobbying from the industry, Congress adopted a new set of exemptions for real estate professionals. President Bill Clinton signed the 1993 effort into law.

Real estate development firms on average pay only about 1 percent of their income in taxes, compared to an 11 percent average for every other industry, according to data from Aswath Damodaran, a New York University professor of finance, that has been cited numerous times since the leak of Trump’s tax returns.

Real estate interests have contributed more than $1.1 billion to campaigns, parties and outside groups since 1990, including $143 million in this election so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Real estate professionals — defined by the IRS as those who work at least 750 hours a year and more than half of their working time on a real estate business — can also depreciate their properties over a number of years, even if the property in question goes up in value during that time. Another obscure provision, called “like-kind exchanges,” allows real estate developers to keep the IRS from recognizing gains when they sell their properties. Clinton’s tax proposal would limit such tax breaks.

Trump and other wealthy filers are permitted to lower their tax rates because they can hold their wealth inside networks of partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations.

The provision that may have allowed Trump to not pay federal income taxes is the “net operating loss carryover.” That commonly used accounting tool allows businesses to offset losses with future taxable income. The most commonly discussed revision is to limit how many years that deduction is allowed.

GOP Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, one of nine former real estate developers in Congress, said anyone in his industry is likely to have taken similar deductions to Trump. He said he had declared net operating losses from a housing development that “went south.”

“I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t claim every deduction they can on their taxes,” he said. “I do.”

Clemente, of Americans for Tax Fairness, said he would be surprised if any of those issues is raised should Congress tackle a tax overhaul in 2017. Instead, he said, members from both parties are likely to be more focused on international tax shelters, a revision viewed favorably by both sides but unlikely to have any impact on wealthy individual filers like Trump.

“Even then, there is a stretch to see how they would get to ‘yes’ on a corporate tax reform bill,” he said. “They may just deal with the international aspects of corporate tax reform. Trump wouldn’t be touched at all.”

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Ratings Change: 2 More States Solid for Clinton

By Nathan L. Gonzales

By Toula Vlahou

The election is three weeks off, the size of any anti-Trump congressional wave is not precise enough to calibrate, but the look of the next year’s Senate is nonetheless starting to come into view.

Regarded from a high altitude, the north side of the Capitol will retain the same appearance it’s had throughout history. No matter what happens Nov. 8, there’s no getting around a continued oversample of white male senators in middle age or older, meaning the chamber of 2017 will once again look less like America than like the lobby of a venerable law firm from the “Mad Men” era.

But at ground level, the membership is also poised to undergo a few subtle but important shifts away from its hegemonic past. There may not be any true demographic history-makers in the Senate’s potential Class of 2016, but collectively they are a decidedly younger and slightly more ethnically varied bunch than the members they would be joining.

They are also a more youthful, racially mixed, better educated and closer to gender-balanced group than the incumbents they might be replacing — a sort-of senatorial “wins above replacement player” statistic, to adapt an in-vogue baseball metric.

Barring a late and cataclysmic eruption of the political landscape, no more than 14 states will elect new senators next month — and only 18 challengers or open-seat candidates in those places have a viable shot at winning. These are the potential freshmen. In the main, the measure of additional diversity shaping the Senate will be closely correlated to the size of the down-ballot Democratic surge.

If that party takes over the chamber, it will be with a group of winners who are disproportionately female and not as white as the overall pool of competitive candidates. If the GOP holds control, it will be because the party’s endangered incumbents — seven out of the nine of whom are white men — prove exceptionally resilient.

Only one new senator with an outlier biography is a sure thing: Kamala Harris, now California’s attorney general, is a safe bet to secure the seat from which fellow Democrat Barbara Boxer is retiring — and thereby become only the second African-American female senator ever, 18 years after Carol Moseley-Braun lost her bid for a second term in Illinois.

If the Republicans realize their most optimistic dreams, the number of female senators could actually decline to 19, the first drop in that number in four decades. That’s because, while the GOP doesn’t have any viable female Senate aspirants this fall, the other woman who’s retiring, Maryland’s Barbara A. Mikulski, is certain to be replaced by a man, fellow Democrat, Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

But if a Democratic sweep ends up materializing, the roster of female senators could expand by as many as five, matching the one-election mark set four years ago and creating a Senate that is a record one-quarter women.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth is now a clear if slight favorite to deny Republican Mark S. Kirk a second term in Illinois. A pair of the tossups feature former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto against GOP Rep. Joe Heck for an open seat, and former Pennsylvania environmental agency head Katie McGinty trying to oust incumbent Republican Patrick J. Toomey. Former state legislator Deborah Ross of North Carolina and, to a lesser extent, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, remain very much in the hunt against GOP incumbents Richard M. Burr and John McCain respectively.

(The final possible female newcomer, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, wouldn’t affect the senatorial gender balance because her too-close-to-call contest is against another woman, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte.)

Duckworth, whose mother is from Thailand, would also be the second Asian-American female senator ever, joining fellow Democrat Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii.

Cortez Masto would bring the number of Hispanic senators to five, assuming Republican Marco Rubio holds on to his slight but clear lead.

If the Floridian loses, it would assure the arrival of the Senate’s first millennial, generally defined by demographers as Americans born in the last century who became adults since 2000. The challenger is Rep. Patrick Murphy, who was 16 at the dawn of the millennium.

The second-youngest possible senator next year is a fellow Democrat of the same generation: 35-year-old Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who’s made it a tossup against GOP incumbent Roy Blunt. Seven other potential winners were born in the 1960s or 70s.

(At the other end of the spectrum is Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, who at 75 would be the oldest person ever to win initial election to the Senate if he scores a still plausible upset against GOP incumbent Rob Portman.)

Still, the average age of the 18 potential freshmen will be 55 years and three months as the 115th Congress convenes — fully six years younger than the average age of the 100 senators at the start of this Congress almost two years ago.

The possible newcomers are also notably better schooled than their would-be colleagues. All except Murphy (bachelor's in business) have terminal degrees: A dozen are attorneys, three are physicians and two have academic doctorates. Among today’s senators, in contrast, 26 finished their educations with college, 54 have law degrees, three are doctors and just one has a Ph.D.

In other ways, the 18 potential fresh faces have a collective profile that sounds like that of today’s Senate.

A plurality of five candidates are Roman Catholic, half identify with mainline Protestant denominations and two are Jewish, very closely mirroring the existing senatorial faith profile.

And only five of the aspirants have any military service on their resumes, reflecting the accelerating decline of veterans in Congress. Military service, once essential to a smooth political climb, is truly central to the biography of only one potential Senate newcomer: Duckworth, who lost both legs in 2004 when the helicopter she was piloting as an Illinois Army National Guard officer was shot down by Iraqi insurgents.

Finally, the roster of possible new Democratic arrivals is unusual in its crop of familiar faces. There’s a solid shot that two former senators will return, something that hasn’t happened in 60 years. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, defeated by Republican Ron Johnson in 2010, is the favorite to win the seat back. Evan Bayh of Indiana, who left voluntarily the same year, is in a tossup against GOP Rep. Todd Young to get the job back.

Ryan Kelly contributed research.

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By CQ Staff
Election Guide
Click here for ratings on every race in the country.

Minibus to Nowhere

By Lindsey McPherson


The House: 10 Most Vulnerable

As the past few days have shown, a lot can change in a weekend, and certainly, in a month.

The last ranking of the top 10 most vulnerable House incumbents came out just after Labor Day, when polls showed a tightening presidential race.

It's time for an update. It'll be several more days before polls reflect the down-ballot effects of Donald Trump's 2005 video comments about assaulting women.

But even as Hillary Clinton regained the lead over Trump in national polls after the first presidential debate, the Republican presidential nominee has not yet proved a consistent drag on House incumbents, some of whom have done a better job than others at distancing themselves from the top of the ticket.

As of press time, at least three members on this list had withdrawn their support of Trump and/or called for him to step aside.

Before Friday, Trump was actually performing well — if not beating Clinton, then keeping it close — in a few tossup districts. Trump’s resonance in New York, for example, bumped two Empire State Republicans off this list.

The 1st District’s Rep. Lee Zeldin, previously No. 9, and the 24th District’s John Katko, previously No. 7, both fall out of the top 10.

Replacing them are two Republicans gracing the top 10 for the first time. New Jersey’s Scott Garrett and Florida’s John L. Mica aren’t sitting in as Democratic districts as some of their peers, but they have emerged as top Democratic targets. It’s not apparent that either incumbent is prepared for a tough fight or will be getting the outside help they’ll need to hold on to their seats.

For the third time, this list is all Republicans. California Democrat Ami Bera, whose father pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to his son’s campaigns, remains a top target for Republicans. Bera trailed Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones by 5 points in a recent National Republican Congressional Committee poll, but his favorables remain high. And Jones has his own issues, facing allegations of unwanted sexual advances. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates this race as Leans Democratic.

This ranking is a snapshot in time, based on public and private polling of the districts, candidate performance, and conversations with operatives on both sides of the aisle.

With just less than a month to go until Election Day, the ranking will undoubtedly change again.

The Florida Republican is still the most endangered incumbent. Jolly has little money and can’t count on outside support from establishment Republicans.

But Jolly looks less vulnerable than he did during the summer when he bowed out of the Senate race and made a late decision to run for re-election in a district that became heavily Democratic after redistricting. Democrats are spending significant money here to boost former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Trump has been doing better in Nevada than in some other battleground states, at least before last Friday's revelations, but in a race against Hispanic Democrat Ruben Kihuen, Hardy still faces an uphill climb in a district that President Barack Obama carried by double digits.

Republicans might have had a better shot holding this swing seat without Guinta, who won his mid-September primary by 1 percentage point. But with his campaign finance violations well-publicized, his fourth matchup against Democratic former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter looks like yet another presidential-year flip in this district. And yet, Trump has done better than expected in the 1st District, giving the Trump-supporting congressman a glimmer of hope that he and the top of the ticket can override two relatively unpopular Democrats.

In this suburban Chicago district that Obama twice carried by huge margins, Dold has to over-perform Trump — by a lot — to defeat Democratic former Rep. Brad Schneider. Republicans are optimistic that Dold can do that. He refused to back Trump early on, and is up with a new ad touting how he’s broken with his party on gun background checks and abortion rights. But Dold’s fate will likely come down to just how badly Trump does here and whether Dold is able to win over enough ticket-splitters.

This 12-term Republican hasn’t faced a serious election in decades, and Democrats didn’t even have a competitive challenger against him until late June. But with Stephanie Murphy now in the race, Mica finds himself on this list for the first time because he’s facing re-election in a heavily redistricted seat that’s more Democratic and at least 40 percent new to him. Republicans are concerned that he hasn’t invested the time or resources to introduce himself to new voters, while Democrats are treating this like a top pickup opportunity.

Hurd climbs in the rankings this month, mostly because two other Republicans have dropped off the list. Both sides expect this rematch against Democratic former Rep. Pete Gallego to be a nail-biter, although the presidential race looks tighter here than expected given Trump’s rhetoric about Latinos, who make up nearly 70 percent of the district.

Curbelo’s district became slightly more Democratic in redistricting and is also nearly 70 percent Hispanic — not usually a winning combination for a freshman incumbent with Trump at the top of the ticket. But Curbelo, who ruled out supporting Trump in March and has carved out a moderate voting record, drops a spot this month. He’d be more vulnerable had the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's preferred candidate won the party's primary. Instead, he’s facing embattled former Rep. Joe Garcia.

Democrats have made knocking off Poliquin a presidential-year priority. They’ve invested heavily to paint the millionaire congressman as out of touch with his working-class district, which has traditionally voted Democratic. But Trump’s resonance in the Pine Tree State’s northern district puts the pressure on Democrat Emily Cain to over-perform Clinton in this 2014 rematch.

Blum’s descent from No. 2 to No. 9 is the most dramatic shift over the past month. Obama twice won this district by double digits, and this Freedom Caucus member made no effort to moderate his voting record for a presidential-year electorate. His once-tenuous relationship with the NRCC and leadership meant he was never going to be a top defensive priority for his party.

All of those factors still make him vulnerable against Democrat Monica Vernon, but operatives from both parties concede that Blum’s fortunes have improved — even if his campaign’s recent poll, which had him up by double digits, looked unrealistic. So what’s going on here? Trump has been doing well in predominantly white districts (Blum’s is 90 percent white), so this may be one case where, at least for now, a congressman is riding Trump’s coattails.

This seven-term incumbent is the second new face on this month’s list. His northern New Jersey district has gone Republican in past presidential years, and if it weren’t for Garrett himself, this seat probably wouldn’t be competitive.

But Democrats have capitalized on Garrett’s now well-publicized comment from last year about not paying NRCC dues because he didn’t want to support gay candidates. House Majority PAC has spent $1.5 million so far on brutal ads casting the Freedom Caucus member as more in line with Alabama than Jersey values.

Garrett’s comments also turned off some of his backers in the financial services industry, traditionally one of his major sources of support. Democrats, meanwhile, are bullish about candidate Josh Gottheimer, who worked as a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and has proved a strong fundraiser.

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Before Donald Trump even entered the scene, one group of Republican women found it important to stay politically aware.

The Women2Women Conversations Tour was launched in 2014 as a place for women across the country, from the ages of roughly 35 to 55 years, to discuss their issues during an election.

The tour’s founder Sarah Chamberlain, the president of the Republican Main Street Partnership, invites some of the most influential women in the host state to be panelists and then invites everyday, average women to ask questions.

On Thursday, the tour visits Corning, New York, its first stop since the "Access Hollywood" video showing Donald Trump making lewd comments about women in 2005 was leaked, and since the subsequent allegations of sexual assault made against the GOP presidential nominee by several women.

The scandal could come up, but on previous tours, many questions were from mothers who were concerned about protecting their families.

“The women I meet [on the tour] believe deeply in America and its future,” Chamberlain said. “But they’re worried about the problems their families and communities face — including unemployment, slow economic growth, substance abuse, and mental illness — and they want to know what Congress is going to do about these issues."

[New York's Elise Stefanik Holds Wide Lead in GOP Poll]

In Corning, New York GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik and Heather Briccetti, president of the Business Council of New York State, will be answering questions.

After the leaked Trump video, Chamberlain called the Republican nominee’s comments “utterly appalling.”

“No man I respect would ever show such disrespect for women,” she said in a statement. “That sexism doesn’t represent the Republican Party I know and love, or the members of the Republican Main Street Partnership who are actively working to help women achieve equal representation and full participation in American life."

Shortly after, Chamberlain stressed the importance of a Republican House and Senate should Hillary Clinton be elected president.

[Republicans in Congress Against Trump]

“Supporting Donald Trump is no longer expected of Republicans this year, understandably,” she said in a statement. “A Republican Senate can protect the Supreme Court from a generation of liberal activism, and a Republican House can prevent overreach from another liberal administration.”

On previous tours, other panelists have included Republican Reps. Mimi Walters of California, Susan W. Brooks of Indiana and Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, who was ousted in her primary this year.

The conversation portion lasts an hour and is followed by a networking event.

Between 100 and 300 women attended earlier events, depending on the size of the venue. There have been 15 tours since the launch. This year, the tour hit Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Orange County, California.

[Trump on Assault Accusations: 'Pure Fiction and Outright Lies']

Women submit their questions beforehand and, time permitting, all are addressed.

"I always look forward to the questions I get on the Women2Women Conversations Tour, because when you work inside the Beltway you need that kind of reality check,” Chamberlain said.

The tours are marketed through social media and women’s groups, which is anything from book clubs and college groups to Republican groups and women’s chambers of commerce.

And, they generally sell out about three weeks after the invitations go out.

Earlier this month, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster became members of the Republican Main Street Partnership.

The group counts 74 representatives and five senators as members, all of whom support its mission of “conservative principles in economic and national security policy and believe in governing in a thoughtful and pragmatic manner.”

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Republicans in Congress Against Trump

As of Wednesday, 53 Republican members of Congress had publicly declared their opposition to Donald Trump, their party's presidential nominee.

They have either said explicitly they will not vote for him, withdrawn previous endorsements or called on him to abandon his candidacy. (Some in that last group haven’t said how they’ll vote if Trump doesn’t drop out.)

A quarter of the lawmakers spurned Trump before Friday’s release of a 2005 video in which he bragged about groping women. The rest did so after the tape came out.

The members in italics on these alphabetical lists are in competitive congressional campaigns this fall.

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What's a Lame Duck? Once Rare, Now a Norm

By David Hawkings, Cody Long

By Toula Vlahou