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Is a GOP win more important than tax plan unpopularity?

Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join William Brangham to discuss the Republican push on tax legislation and the continuing fallout involving the allegations of sexual misconduct against members of Congress.

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  • William Brangham:

    We return now to politics, and the two major discussions going on right now on Capitol Hill, the Republican push on tax legislation and the continuing fallout involving some members of Congress and the allegations of sexual misconduct against them.

    For more on that, we turn to our regular Politics Monday pair, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Welcome to you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you.

  • William Brangham:

    So, let's jump right into it.

    Big meeting tomorrow. The president's meeting with the two top Democrats and the two top Republicans. Obviously, the tax bill is their number one agenda item.

    What is your sense of what the president — how is that negotiation going to go? Because we know, the last time he met with Nancy and Chuck Schumer, it turned out badly for the GOP. What do you expect tomorrow?

  • Amy Walter:

    It is — that's right. He walked out and he said, I had a great meeting with Nancy and Joe.

    And, of course, the Republican leaders were looking somewhat sullen because he cut a deal with the Democratic leaders on the budget, basically getting us to where we are now. That was way back in September. They said, we're going to deal with this. We're going to fund the government up through December.

    Well, guess what? December 8 is right around the corner. And a lot of Democrats are saying, if you want our votes, we have got to get a good deal out of this. Specifically, what we're looking for is DACA, the so-called dreamers. They want to have protections for those individuals in a government funding bill, or maybe some Obamacare fixes.

    The president, of course, still wants to get that wall built, and Republicans saying, we don't want to have any of those issues brought up. We just need to get taxes done. We don't want to be distracted by any of the rest of it. Let's just get something clean and easy and done and then, once again, kick the funding issue down — kick the can down the street for a little while longer.

  • William Brangham:

    Tam, you saw what Lisa — she break through some of the analysis of this, the CBO's analysis and others.

    Big hole in the deficit this is going to cause. And I'm just curious, from your reporting, does the GOP desperately want to win, or do they really like this tax bill, or some combination thereof of both?

  • Tamara Keith:

    I think it's some combination thereof.

    I think that there is a belief that changing the corporate tax code, lowering corporate taxes, simplifying the tax code, that Republicans believe those are good things.

    Now, the bill is not popular. Polling would indicate it is unpopular. But Republicans both politically feel they need to do it because they need to do something, and they don't want to hit January 20 2018 and have people looking back at the accomplishments of the first year of the Trump presidency with Republicans in control of the House and Senate and have no major legislative accomplishment.

    So this is what they hope will be the major legislative accomplishment that they can point to. Now, Democrats in 2009 and early 2010 were also pushing on something that they thought their base really wanted that wasn't super popular broadly in the public, a little thing called the Affordable Care Act.

  • William Brangham:

    Heard of that.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Which, finally, now is above 50 percent popularity, but they were decimated in 2010 as a result of that.

  • William Brangham:

    Do you think that popularity — is a win more important than passing something that could turn out to be very unpopular once the details are clear?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, so, in talking to Republicans, sort of paraphrasing — this is from a strategist — saying better to have something — pass something that's flawed than to look like we're completely incompetent, which would be to do absolutely nothing.

  • William Brangham:

    I see.

  • Amy Walter:

    I think Senator Rand Paul said something similar in an op-ed today, basically, I don't love everything about this bill, but let's — better to get…

  • William Brangham:

    We have got to…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    We have got to move forward and we got to get something done.

    That said, I don't know that this is necessarily the thing that's going to give them the kind of political boost they are hoping. What they can hope for is that, in the short-term, what voters see in 2018 is an economy that continues do well, unemployment is low, the stock market is doing well, consumer confidence is up.

    And when I talk, again, to Republican strategists, they say, look, if we give people some more money in their pocket while they're about to go to the voting booth in 2018, great. It may not be enough to completely change our fortunes politically, but it's nice to have a little bit of that wind at your back.

    And as for the bigger implications for the policy, remember, those are farther down the road. The talk about the deficit isn't something that's going to hit tomorrow or 2018.

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    And a lot of those tax increases, we're not going to see immediately. Those can be further down the road as well.

    But the immediate impact is 2018.

  • William Brangham:

    All of this negotiation is obviously going on amidst this other crisis in Washington, the sexual harassment scandal that's going on.

    And we have seen, when accusations have been made against other popular figures in other industries, those people have been demoted, or fired or let go or somehow pushed aside.

    That's not been happening here in D.C. Is that just a structural thing, that politicians don't have usual bosses like the rest of us do?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, it's like the economics are different. The economics in entertainment and media are such that these larger companies, people will stop buying their product. They will have serious problems. They have to get rid of the problem actors.

    Well, with elected officials, the only real way to get rid of them is an election, and those come every two years and every six years, depending on the house of Congress. And, yes, there are Ethics Committee reviews and people can be expelled, but that takes even longer. In some cases, it can take years.

    And so, typically, the way the system works is that if something is egregious enough, there is enough shame and enough pressure that someone disappears. But if there isn't shame or there isn't pressure, then people stick around. And then these Ethics Committee investigations, I mean, they will be under more of a microscope now than ever, but still, it moves very slowly and completely out of public view.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right. That's the bigger point here, I think, on the issue of why this is different.

    This is members of Congress policing themselves.

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    The Ethics Committee is basically, you're asking your peers to make a judgment about you whether or not you should resign.

    And, again, for voters, who already hold Congress probably about this low in terms of esteem — maybe it's actually under the table and down through the floorboards.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, we will go to find that.

    The idea that voters are going to take the judgment of your congressional members about another congressional member is really not particularly a good idea.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And they're divided evenly by party, which is designed to prevent partisanship, but it also can lead to things just not moving anywhere. It leads to stalemates.

  • William Brangham:

    Lastly, just quickly, the president has waded into this particular issue. He has his own history of accusations of this exact same kind of behavior.

    And yet he's closer — moving closer and closer to seemingly endorse Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate who has been accused of some horrendous crimes.

    What is his calculation here? What's he doing?

  • Amy Walter:

    I think you say this on the Republican side, the division between Senate Republicans who say he should resign and we should find another candidate here, maybe if we lose the seat, it's better than having this person in the United States Senate, vs. the governor of Alabama, who is a Republican, saying, I will vote for him, and now the president saying, well, it's better to have a partisan, rather — who is on my team than the partisan on the other side.

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    It's partisan over policy. It's tribalism. That's plain and simple.

  • William Brangham:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both very much.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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