It’s decision time on the ultimatum Republican leaders have been issuing to members all fall: Pass a tax overhaul or wave the House majority goodbye.
But some of the party’s most vulnerable members, many from high-tax states in the Northeast, have come out against the House tax plan over its curtailing of deductions for state and local taxes and mortgage interest. Others are still undecided, afraid of how the measure will affect their districts.
“Voting for this hurts the majority,” Rep. Peter T. King said on the eve of Thursday’s vote. The New York Republican opposed the plan long before the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added him to its target list last week.
“We could end up losing all the members in the Northeast,” King said, acknowledging an incongruity between what leadership is saying about the policy and political strategy going into 2018 and what members from his region see in their districts.
“You get into a tough race, some things are beyond your control,” he said. “But this is basically an unforced error. We’re doing it to ourselves.”
Without a legislative victory on health care to tout in their districts, Republicans have been adamant that they need to pass something — anything — on taxes. And GOP strategists admit that those scare tactics have likely boosted the chances of the tax bill’s passage Thursday.
Watch: Which Members of Congress Might Not Be Back in 2019?
But House races, as any campaign consultant will admit, are localized affairs. Many Northeastern Republicans survived in districts Hillary Clinton carried last fall, in large part by distancing themselves from the national GOP and localizing their races.
As many of the same members did on health care, some of these lawmakers are now distancing themselves from the national party on the tax vote. Even so, it’s likely the Republican tax plan will still be used against them.
New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance, who was also strongly against the GOP health care effort, plans to vote against the tax bill. A DCCC target next year, Lance sits in a district Clinton carried by 1 point.
“We are judged based upon how we vote,” he said Wednesday, dismissing any concerns about his own vulnerability.
Besides Lance, New York Rep. Dan Donovan also opposed the GOP health care plan and will vote against the tax overhaul. (New Jersey Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo fits into that category, too, but he recently announced he won’t seek re-election, making his district more competitive for Democrats.)
California Rep. Darrell Issa, who tops Roll Call’s list of the 10 most vulnerable incumbents, backed leadership on health care but is against the tax bill. New York Rep. John J. Faso, the third most vulnerable House incumbent, also backed leadership on health care, but he came out against the tax plan Wednesday evening.
Two additional New York Republicans have come out against the measure: Rep. Lee Zeldin and the National Republican Congressional Committee’s own head of recruitment, Rep. Elise Stefanik. The NRCC is touting the plan in digital videos.
At least four Democratic targets were undecided as of press time: New York Reps. John Katko, California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (the 5th most vulnerable incumbent), New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen and Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan A. Costello. Katko and Costello voted against the earlier health care bill.
Donovan said the tax plan “kills the people” in his district. He’s facing a primary threat from former GOP Rep. Michael G. Grimm and a Democratic challenger the national party is excited about. Donovan emphasized the importance of members doing what’s best for their own districts.
“If this is harmful for your constituents and you’re still voting ‘yes,’ then yes, I would be worried about that person,” Donovan said. “If it’s good for the people back home and you’re voting ‘no,’ I’d be concerned about that as well.”
Democrats aren’t about to give these members a free pass.
The DCCC has signaled it will attack all Republicans for the tax vote, regardless of how they voted, just as it did after the House GOP’s health care vote earlier this year. It started running Facebook ads this week in 36 GOP districts, including against members who had already said they’d vote against it.
After the House GOP budget vote last month, Democratic recruits in New York and New Jersey tried to use the vote against Republican incumbents. Max Rose, an Army veteran challenging Donovan in New York’s 11th District, went after the incumbent for not working harder to “kill” the measure.
Blanket attacks don’t always work. Some moderate Republicans overcame Democratic attempts to tie them to candidate Donald Trump last year, arguing they were nothing like Trump and the real estate mogul wasn’t a Republican.
But Democrats aren’t using Trump so much these days; they’ve rediscovered Speaker Paul D. Ryan as their boogeyman. And it’ll be much harder for rank-and-file members to distance themselves from Ryan than from Trump.
On the eve of the tax vote, Donovan shrugged off threats of Democratic attacks.
“They’re going to attack us no matter what,” he said.
NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers is excited about the tax overhaul, but acknowledged some of his most vulnerable members still aren’t happy with it. Still, he scoffed at King’s suggestion that the tax plan could hurt the party’s chances of keeping the majority.
“We’ve got to try to do more for some of our colleagues who are in special circumstances, and we’re working with them,” the Ohio Republican said. “We didn’t write this on tablets in stone. It is written in ink and pencil, and it will be changed before it’s enacted.”
The Alabama Republican Party is officially standing by its Senate nominee Roy Moore, closing the door on one of the few options to block him from being elected.
On Wednesday evening, the 21-member state GOP steering committee convened to discuss the Senate race, which has been rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore. Nine women have accused the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice over the past week of sexual advances, and three have accused him of sexual assault. Most of the women were teenagers at the time and Moore was in his 30s.
“The ALGOP Steering Committee supports Judge Roy Moore as our nominee and trusts the voters as they make the ultimate decision in this crucial race,” said Alabama GOP Chairwoman Terry Lathan in a statement Thursday.
In her statement, Lathan drew a contrast between Moore and Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee and former U.S. attorney.
“There is a sharp policy contrast between Judge Moore, a conservative Republican who supports President Trump, and the liberal Democrat who will fight and thwart the agenda of our president,” Lathan said. “We trust the Alabama voters in this election to have our beloved state and nation’s best interest at heart.”
“Alabamians will be the ultimate jury in this election — not the media or those from afar,” she added.
Watch: Who in Congress Is Pushing Roy Moore to Drop Senate Bid?
The party did have the option of withdrawing Moore as its nominee, so votes for the former judge in the Dec. 12 special election would not be counted. It is still possible for someone to mount a write-in campaign, though Lathan has warned that Republicans who do so would violate party rules and would be barred from running as Republicans for six years.
Moore has denied any wrongdoing since The Washington Post first published a story a week ago with four women alleging misconduct by Moore. At a press conference Thursday, more than a dozen faith leaders vouched for the Senate candidate’s character.
Moore and the speakers refused to take questions from the press about the allegations. But the candidate addressed calls from GOP leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that he step aside as the GOP nominee.
“Many of you have recognized that this is an effort by Mitch McConnell and his cronies to steal this election from the people of Alabama,” Moore said. “I’ll tell you who needs to step down. That’s Mitch McConnell.”
President Donald Trump still “firmly” believes that if the allegations against Moore are true, the former judge should step aside, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.
Sanders said Trump wants the people of Alabama to decide if Moore should drop out, though she had no clear mechanism for how they would do that. She also said Trump supported the Republican National Committee’s decision to cut ties with the Moore campaign.
John T. Bennett contributed to this report.
“I will not be a candidate for the U.S. Senate. There was a path, but today we are choosing not to follow it,” the Republican lawmaker said in a statement. The former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee had been publicly weighing a Senate bid for much of this year.
“We are full speed ahead for re-election in 2018,” he added.
Upton, currently the chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy, said there are issues in Congress he looks forward to continuing to work on, including the 21st Century Cures Act and the tax overhaul. He said he’s excited about “working with the Problem Solvers Caucus to do it all in a bipartisan way. As it should be done.”
Upton’s term as chairman ended in 2016, but he still sought re-election last fall, winning by 22 points. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting the 6th District — which President Donald Trump won by 8 points — in 2018.
Democrats are excited about Matt Longjohn, the former YMCA national health director, who ended the third quarter with $172,000. George Franklin, the former vice president of government relations for Kellogg, is also running. Upton has $1.1 million in the bank.
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 6th District race Likely Republican.
Republicans have other candidates to take on Stabenow. There’s excitement in the GOP about Detroit businessman and Iraq War veteran John James, who has $216,000 in the bank. Stabenow has $6.9 million. The Senate race is rated Solid Democratic.