The Art of the Deal?
Republicans and some Democrats are seething about the fiscal deal President Donald Trump cut with Democratic leaders last Wednesday to raise the debt ceiling into December as part of a Hurricane Harvey aid package. The deal will force Republicans to vote twice on the debt ceiling this year – something GOP leaders had been desperately hoping to avoid – and emboldens Democrats ahead of what's going to be a nasty December funding fight.
"Trump has got to start caring more about his colleagues over here," said one Republican lawmaker allied with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made clear that this was Trump's deal with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) – not his and Ryan's – but he said he would support it.
Leaders of the House Freedom Caucus met with Speaker Ryan to complain about his leadership. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and his ally Steve Bannon, a frequent Ryan foe, "have begun to discuss who could replace Ryan as speaker, should conservatives rebel against him."
Several Democratic lawmakers and activists are fuming about the plan, saying it undercuts any leverage Democrats had to push for a legislative fix to help Dreamers this month. "Right now there are many Democrats who feel we gave up, not just me," said Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL). "Democrats just don't seem to want to use their leverage to protect the Dreamers."
McConnell filed cloture on the Harvey relief package Wednesday night, teeing up the bill for Senate consideration this week. The Senate version nearly doubles Harvey emergency funding to more than $15 billion (half of which is community block grants) and would fund the government through Dec. 8.
The debt limit deal President Trump cut with Democrats doesn't just put Republicans in a bad negotiating spot come December, it also has many in the GOP questioning whether the president will be an asset or an anchor in the 2018 midterms.
Further frustrating Republicans, Trump played it nice with Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp during an appearance in North Dakota Wednesday, bringing her up on stage and calling her a "good woman." Heitkamp's seat is a top target for Republicans next year.
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New Immigration Plan
Last Wednesday, President Trump said he wants to work with Democratic leaders in Congress on a permanent immigration deal so that so-called Dreamers facing deportation “don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
After a White House meeting with the top congressional leaders of both parties, Trump told reporters that he’s “hopeful he can reach a deal” with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who earlier in the day had called the President “brainless” for ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
“Chuck and Nancy would like to see something happen, and so do I,” Trump said. “And I said if we can get something to happen, we’re going to sign it, and we’re going to make a lot of happy people.”
Trump said he “envisions Congress passing legislation that will both strengthen US border security and provide legal status” for Dreamers. “Congress, I really believe, wants to take care of this situation."
House Speaker Ryan said that he would work to find a compromise that protects Dreamers, but suggested the measure may be paired with additional border security.
“It’s only reasonable and fitting that we also address the root cause of the problem, which is borders that are not sufficiently controlled, while we address this very real and very human problem that’s right in front of us,” Ryan told reporters. GOP lawmakers are “quickly coalescing around pairing a measure that codifies [DACA] into law with some modest security and enforcement measures.
And Democrats are willing to deal.” According to Politico, that means “Trump’s desire to construct a 2,000-mile border wall and slash legal immigration limits are all but off the table.”
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Government Readies Response To Hurricane Irma
Before a meeting with congressional leaders last Wednesday, President Trump expressed concern about the path of Hurricane Irma “saying that the Category 5 storm now bearing toward Florida is ‘not good.”
“We have a lot to discuss, including the fact that there is a new and seems to be record-breaking hurricane toward Florida and Puerto Rico and other places. ... It looks like it could be something that will be not good. Believe me, not good,” he said.
Trump “declared a state of emergency for the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Florida last Tuesday in anticipation of the storm’s landfall, mobilizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin positioning disaster relief resources in the path of the storm.”
However, while the House overwhelmingly passed a nearly $8 billion disaster relief bill for victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas last Wednesday, and the Senate is expected to go along, that amount is just a fraction of what Harvey and now Irma are expected to cost. Some senators are expressing concern that the relief bill has gotten political because it is being tied to a bill raising the debt ceiling.
FEMA is dangerously close of running out of money; the agency had just over $1 billion with $541 million of that for immediate use.
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Ratings Changes in House Races
With 14 months to go before the Election Day, the battleground over seats in the House continues to take shape.
Even though there is some uncertainty about what the political climate will look like next fall and whether normal historical midterm trends will hold under President Donald Trump, the House playing field is expanding, almost entirely in the Democrats’ direction.
History puts the Republican Party at a disadvantage: the president’s party has lost seats in 18 of the last 20 midterm elections, with an average loss of 33 seats. Democrats need to gain 24 seats next year for a majority. Midterm elections often a referendum on the president, and when voters disapprove of his performance, they punish his party because his name isn’t on the ballot.
But what happens when voters perceive the president to be outside the traditional two-party system? Trump is technically a Republican because he ascended through the GOP nominating process. Still, many voters see him as his own brand rather than as a party leader. If that differentiation continues, GOP candidates could avoid the typical midterm disaster.
It’s certainly possible that historical norms will remain intact and voters will couple Republicans in Congress with the president. Plus, voters could become angered by members’ own voting records, or Trump might blame Republicans in Congress for the failures of the country.
Any combination of those factors could be problematic for the GOP. As Trump’s job approval rating continues to hover in mediocrity – 39% of voters approve while 56% disapprove – creating an uncertainty that is causing more GOP members to be potentially vulnerable.
Races moving toward Democrats:
- California’s 48th (Dana Rohrabacher, R) from Leans R to Tilts R
- Illinois’ 12th (Mike Bost, R) from Likely R to Leans R
- Iowa’s 2nd (Dave Loebsack, D) from Likely D to Solid D
- Florida 27th (Ros-Lehtinen, R) from Solid R to Lean D
- Kentucky’s 6th (Andy Barr, R) from Solid R to Leans R
- Michigan’s 6th (Fred Upton, R) from Solid R to Likely R
- Michigan’s 8th (Mike Bishop, R) from Likely R to Leans R
- New York’s 11th (Dan Donovan, R) from Solid R to Likely R
- New York’s 22nd (Claudia Tenney, R) from Leans R to Tilts R
- North Carolina’s 9th (Robert Pittenger, R) from Solid R to Likely R
- Pennsylvania’s 6th (Ryan A. Costello, R) from Likely R to Leans R
- Pennsylvania’s 15th (Charlie Dent, R) from Solid R to Leans R
- Texas’ 7th (John Culberson, R) from Likely R to Leans R
- Virginia’s 5th (Tom Garrett, R) from Solid R to Likely R
- Washington’s 8th (Open; Dave Reichert, R) from Solid R to Tilts D
Race moving toward Republicans:
- Nevada’s 4th (Ruben Kihuen, D) from Solid D to Likely D
Overall, the House playing field includes 48 seats currently held by Republicans and 14 seats held by Democrats. For some perspective, the House battleground is nearly twice as large as it was at the same point two years ago. In September 2015, the list of competitive seats included 25 Republican-held districts and just seven seats held by Democrats.
The current battleground is still probably too small for Democrats to win the majority. They would need to hold all of their own seats, win the two Republican seats they are already favored to win, all of the toss-ups, all of the “tilt Republican” seats, and almost all of the “lean Republican” seats. A Democratic majority is possible, but still not likely at this point.
Open seats, including retirements, are critical in shaping the House battleground. Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s upcoming departure took her seat from “solid Republican” to “leans Democrat” and Washington Republican Dave Reichert’s retirement after this Congress seat from “solid Republican” to “tilts Democrat.” Pennsylvania Republican Charlie Dent announced his departure last Thursday evening, taking his seat from “solid Republican” to “leans Republican.”
Democrats need more Republican retirements in competitive districts to decrease the number of well-funded and established incumbents they must defeat. History tells us that there will be at least a dozen more House retirements, but the geography and partisanship of the open seats will be important in handicapping their impact on the fight for the majority.
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