Analysis: Tough Road Ahead for Ryan in 2018

By Lindsey McPherson
Heard on the Hill

Riding Shotgun: Steve Cohen’s 1986 Cadillac

By Alex Gangitano

Cohen’s Car Stands Out

By Bian Elkhatib

Capitol Ink | POTUS Mouth

By Robert Matson

Podcast: Immigration Imbroglio

By Shawn Zeller

The full Senate is set to ratify revised committee rosters and ratios before adjourning Tuesday evening.

The changes add a Democrat to the Finance and Judiciary Committees, because each needed new Democrats to provide an across-the-board one-seat advantage for the GOP with their diminished majority.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York announced the new Democratic assignments, which are highlighted by the appointments of Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California to the Judiciary Committee.

Booker and Harris become only the second and third African-American members of the Judiciary panel in American history.

“At every turn I will strive to advance the cause of reforming a broken justice system stacked against the poor and people of color, and to bend the arc of our nation’s history further towards equal justice for all,” Booker said in a statement. “I couldn’t be more excited that my dear friend Senator Harris will also be joining the committee. She is an immensely talented person who brings a wealth of skills and experience to the table. I can’t wait to work alongside her.”

Other than Booker and Harris, many of the other assignments affect the new members of the Democratic caucus.

Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones will sit on the Banking, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Homeland Security and Aging panels.

Sen. Tina Smith, Minnesota’s new appointed senator, has received assignments to the Agriculture, Energy and Natural Resources, HELP and Indian Affairs committees.

An Agriculture Committee slot came open with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., taking a seat on the Environment and Public Works Committee ahead of a potential infrastructure package.

“The EPW Committee has jurisdiction over areas that are central to Maryland’s success and impact every community in our great state,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “I’ve been a strong advocate for the idea that environmental and agricultural interests must work together to succeed, and I will continue to fight for Maryland’s farming community in the U.S. Senate.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse Rhode Island picks up the added Democratic seat on the Finance Committee as part of the shuffle, after Jones' victory in last month's Alabama special election reduced the GOP Senate majority overall to just one, 51-49.

Whitehouse noted that his assignment to Finance means Rhode Island now has senators serving on the panels overseeing taxes and spending, with Sen. Jack Reed a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee.

On the Republican side, the shuffle following the departure of Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, has led to Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer landing a seat on the Agriculture Committee just ahead of the next farm bill debate.

Sen. Tim Scott will be joining his South Carolina colleague Lindsey Graham on the Armed Services Committee, and Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran will be making a return to the Banking panel.

“As a former Committee member, Senator Moran has a deep understanding of the issues under the Banking Committee’s jurisdiction, and I welcome his experience and expertise back to the Committee,” Banking Chairman Michael D Crapo of Idaho said. “He has a proven track record of advocating for policies that will strengthen the economy, create jobs and increase America’s global competitiveness.”

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A panel of three federal judges in North Carolina struck down the state’s 2016 congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander on Tuesday.

The ruling blocks the state from conducting any elections under the 2016 map and orders the state’s General Assembly to redraw congressional districts by Jan. 24 for the 2018 elections.

The state will likely appeal the decision to the Supreme Court and ask for a stay. The Supreme Court is currently considering two other partisan gerrymandering cases, one about state legislative districts in Wisconsin and one about Maryland’s congressional map.

The filing deadline for congressional candidates in North Carolina is Feb. 28, and the primary is May 8.

The Jan. 24 deadline gives the General Assembly two weeks to come up with a remedial plan. But because it’s the middle of an election year, the court is also appointing a so-called special master to develop a remedial plan in case the the General Assembly fails to deliver a plan or their plan doesn’t remedy the partisan gerrymander.

The fact that North Carolina has a Democratic governor doesn’t give Democrats much control in this situation. The governor does not have power to veto a redistricting plan from the General Assembly, said Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center's Democracy Program.

There’s precedent for court-mandated redistricting during an election year in North Carolina. After a three-judge panel in February 2016 ruled that the GOP-legislature relied too heavily on race in 2011 to draw the 1st and 12th Districts, the General Assembly had to approve a new map for the 2016 elections.

The new map maintained Republicans’ partisan advantage in the delegation but shifted some incumbents’ districts, even putting two incumbents in the same district. The adoption of that new 2016 map forced the state to move its House primaries back to June.

Todd Ruger contributed to this report.

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House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper said Wednesday that a measure updating sexual harassment procedures he had planned to introduce this week is still being fine-tuned but that he’s hopeful it will be ready for release early next week.

If he can meet that new due date, a markup on the measure could be held later that week, the Mississippi Republican said.

“The goal is to get it passed out of the House before the end of January,” he added.

Harper said the bill authors are continuing to meet with various stakeholders and members as they finalize the legislation.

“We want to make sure that we don’t have any unintended consequences,” he said.

“We’re focusing, too, on how we encourage prevention so we don’t have to deal with this in the future, but if we do, to deal with it in the right way,” Harper added.

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The Senate leaders appeared to have different strategies for how to handle next steps an immigration program known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Democrats want a plan added to a spending bill to keep the government open past Friday, Jan. 19, while Republicans want the two issues handled separately.

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Cramer Passes on North Dakota Senate Run

By Bridget Bowman
Heard on the Hill

Exit Interview: Rep. Pat Tiberi

By Alex Gangitano

One year ago, as Donald Trump was preparing to take the oath of office, Democrats were in disarray. Supporters of 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders were pointing fingers at each other, the Democratic National Committee was in disgrace, and Democratic voters were demoralized.

Now, Trump has succeeded in doing something extraordinary, something neither Clinton nor House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi could do — he has united and energized Democrats.

Moreover, if national polls are accurate, the president has taken his own party to the edge of a political cliff, the 2018 midterm elections.

This has occurred in spite of a growing economy, a booming stock market, a shrinking unemployment rate and tax cuts intended to stimulate even more growth.

While economic dislocations and low wage growth certainly played a role in boosting Trump’s presidential run, it was his view of America that mobilized key voters behind his anti-establishment candidacy.

Trump voters were angry about how the country has changed. They saw liberals encouraging diversity (through same-sex marriage, transgender rights and immigration) at the expense of traditional values, roles and institutions (e.g., traditional religious beliefs and organizations).

Even worse, Republicans were unable to roll back or stop the tide of change. Trump’s cultural populism was an important part of his campaign message, and it continues to underlie his appeal to older, less educated, white voters, particularly those in rural areas.

His anti-elitist message resonated with Americans who regarded diversity and political correctness as threats to their traditions and way of life.

His promise to replace “Happy Holidays” with “Merry Christmas” may seem trivial, but it encapsulated an important part of his message and allure, which essentially involved his promise to turn back the clock.

Yes, Trump’s cultural message resonated with people on the political fringe, but it also reflected the views of average Americans, particularly older whites who grew up in a very different time and who miss the values, communities and traditions they once knew and with which they were entirely comfortable. (Not surprisingly, nonwhites generally don’t have such romantic memories of the 1950s.)

But while those themes certainly struck a chord with conservatives and older voters in 2016, they have also — for a very different reason — now energized the young, people of color and more liberal voters, who see Trump’s America as a threat rather than an ideal.

Like Trump, President Barack Obama’s great appeal was not his issue positions — though, of course, liberal Democrats agreed with him about health care, government spending and foreign policy.

Instead, it was Obama’s vision for the country — diversity, equality, fairness and bipartisan cooperation — that made him so attractive, even to nonideological voters.

While many Americans remain outraged by Trump’s judicial appointments, efforts to repeal the 2010 health care law, support for corporate tax cuts and decision to open up drilling off the nation’s coasts, his critics have been most offended by his vision for America.

Trump’s inauguration address, comments after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and insensitivity toward gays and blacks galvanized liberals, immigrants and the young, many of whom were lukewarm about Clinton’s candidacy and failed to vote during the Obama midterms in 2010 and 2014.

This new energy produced an electorate in Virginia in 2017 that looked significantly more like the national electorates of 2008 and 2012 than those of 2010 or 2016.

That is politically dangerous for the GOP, as it was in 2006, when a Democratic electoral wave swept the country.

Trump and congressional Republicans began this election cycle with little room for error heading into the midterms. After all, Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 points in 2016 even though key Democratic demographic groups underperformed.

But since his election, Trump has made little effort, either substantively or symbolically, to reach out to voters outside his political base.

Yes, his base is loyal, but it remains dangerously small.

The trouble for Trump and his party is that last year’s Virginia gubernatorial election saw strong turnout among younger voters (ages 18-29 and 30-44) and nonwhites.

The surge was particularly strong in suburban areas, where white women with a college degree helped Democrat Ralph Northam sweep to an unexpectedly strong victory.

Trump’s voters went to the polls and supported Republican Ed Gillespie, but he was crushed by almost 9 points by a larger-than-expected Democratic turnout.

The outcome in Virginia revealed the long-term problem for Republicans in general and Trump in particular: the America of Donald Trump isn’t one that is inclusive and welcoming.

It is an America tied to cultural values and behaviors of the 1950s, not the 21st century. That has proved appealing to older white voters, evangelicals, the less educated and those living in rural America, but not so to the rest of the country.

Other elections in 2017 and most national polls have also shown greater Democratic energy and opposition to the president, even with the nation’s good economic numbers.

The Democrats don’t have Obama at the top of the ticket, but they have someone almost as good — Donald Trump.

So, while the president can (and inevitably will) brag about some of his accomplishments, perhaps his greatest accomplishment may be his success in reviving and revitalizing the Democratic Party. And for that, Democrats should thank him.

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Republicans are at risk of facing voters this year with no cohesive strategy to fulfill their seven-year campaign promise to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law or address the rising cost of health care.

Following a meeting at Camp David over the weekend between President Donald Trump and top congressional leaders, members said a major overhaul of the law is unlikely this year.

Such a move could anger members of the GOP base, who have heard Republicans pledge for years to gut the law, as well as a broader set of voters whom Democratic political operatives say are opposed to the failed Republican health care proposals from last year.

Senate Republicans say instead they would attempt to move smaller, bipartisan bills intended to help stabilize the insurance markets. But even that will be difficult. Democrats say GOP attempts to undermine the law have done significant harm and are now calling for more robust measures that would likely face stiff resistance from conservatives.

Republicans have one major accomplishment they can tout: repealing the tax penalty for not purchasing health insurance. But experts, as well as the Congressional Budget Office, say removing the individual mandate without any sort of replacement policy could destabilize the markets and spike premiums.

Some Senate Republicans say that by zeroing out the penalty — a provision included in the GOP tax overhaul — the party now owns the health care system and will suffer the consequences of increased premiums.

“I think it’s a real problem for us,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said. “Obamacare is still the law of the land. To think that you can just not replace it after promising to do so for many, many years is pretty naive. The system’s gonna collapse and now we own it.”

Watch: Welcome Back, Now Hurry — Congress’ Top Priorities for January

Unlike the House, Senate Republicans were unable to coalesce around a single health care proposal and failed to garner the votes necessary to advance a measure.

While some pockets of the GOP would prefer to try again on a major health care overhaul, the effort would be more difficult this year with a reduced Republican majority in the chamber.

And the motivation for another attempt at what many members described as a painful effort appears to be lacking.

“The fact that we were only able to get 49 of 52 to support a proposal indicates there’s still some disagreement,” said Ohio Republican Rob Portman, referring to the vote count for the bill that failed last summer.

Key GOP swing votes, such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, say they would prefer to see the effect of the mandate repeal before a broader overhaul. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also been pessimistic that any major health care overhaul could happen in 2018.

“Well, we obviously were unable to completely repeal and replace with a 52-48 Senate,” the Kentucky Republican told NPR in December. “We’ll have to take a look at what that looks like with a 51-49 Senate. But I think we’ll probably move on to other issues.”

Those comments do not appear to sit well with conservatives, who are ramping up pressure on Hill Republicans to tackle health care again this year.

“Americans need relief, and we believe they will hold their representatives accountable at the polls this November,” representatives from 10 groups, along with former Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Rick Santorum, wrote in a recent letter to Trump and congressional leaders. “Health costs are rising faster than before, and there’s no real prospect of a reversal without legislative action.”

The letter cited a recent poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which found that health care remains a top issue for both Democrats and Republicans.

Senate Republicans might have an easier cycle than their Democratic counterparts in 2018. Only five GOP members are facing re-election this year, while three are retiring. But Alabama Democrat Doug Jones’ arrival reduced the Republican majority to 51-49, and the minority party is more optimistic that control of the Senate is up for grabs.

“It’s very clear what we want out of the health care system. It’s something that actually results in lower prices, better quality of care. And we made that clear throughout the debate last summer and we’re going to continue to make that clear,” said Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Democratic political operatives say the proposals the GOP has presented to date will harm the party in the midterms.

“The problem for Republicans is that voters got a taste of their ‘strategy’ all year: higher health care premiums, an age tax and jeopardizing coverage for preexisting conditions. The GOP has worked to sabotage health care at every turn and that’s why hardworking Americans will hold them accountable in November,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Apart from voters, the GOP could also face pressure from the White House to act.

Trump “remains committed to providing the American people with affordable healthcare, including relief from the onerous mandates and taxes of the catastrophic Obamacare law,” Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

Republican senators say they hope to advance two bipartisan proposals this year to help bring some relief to Americans in advance of the 2018 elections.

One from Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray would give states greater flexibility to implement aspects of the law.

But while that measure enjoyed strong bipartisan support last year, it could face more difficult prospects this year with Democrats now demanding changes to the legislation.

“There’s not a way for the language that we agreed on to deal with the marketplace that has changed,” Murray said.

Senators are hoping to attach the Alexander-Murray measure, as well as a separate bill from Maine Republican Susan Collins and Florida Democrat Bill Nelson, to a fiscal 2018 spending bill.

“There was a commitment to do that by the president. Sen. McConnell’s made that commitment, so that’s our hope,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said.

But discussions on health care continue to be overshadowed by several other issues, including the debate over the pending expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, funding the government past Jan. 19, and addressing the debt ceiling.

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