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Republicans’ challenge in 2018: Sell the tax bill to voters

Before celebrating Christmas in Florida, President Trump signed into law the country’s biggest tax overhaul in decades. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join John Yang to discuss the Republican victory, chances of bipartisanship in 2018, the president’s targeting of the FBI’s deputy director and more.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    But first, before heading to Florida for Christmas, President Trump signed the Republican tax overhaul into law, ending the year with a big win for the Republican majority in Washington.

    John Yang is here with a look back and a look ahead at this week's political news.

  • John Yang:

    Hari, to talk about that and more, we are joined by our politics Monday team, Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    Tam, Amy, thanks for being here.

    Christmas came a little early for the Republicans, for President Trump and the Republicans. Got their tax bill last week. The president yesterday pointed out that the bill not only includes taxes, but also opens up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, and repeals the individual mandate.

    He said the bill brought it together as to what an incredible year we have.

    Tam, let me start with you. Where does this leave the Republicans as they begin 2018?

  • Tamara Keith:


    This tree has a lot of ornaments on it from the Republican wish list. So, it leaves them having accomplished something. It doesn't necessarily mean that 2018 is going to be any easier. They're going to have a one-vote narrower margin in the Senate, which is going to make things even harder to get done.

    And what you hear Mitch McConnell saying is that he thinks he is going to have to do things in a more bipartisan way than they did in 2017. It would be hard to do things in a less bipartisan way than they did 2017.


  • Tamara Keith:

    It was an incredibly partisan year, where almost all of the accomplishments that the Republicans had were the Republicans alone.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

    And, you know, the interesting thing about where the relationship is right now between Republicans in Congress and the president, this has been an on-again/off-again sort of relationship. A lot — for earlier in the year, a lot it was an off-again type of relationship, with the president taking to Twitter to criticize his own party, especially after the failure of Obamacare.

    Now it's an on-again relationship with the passage of the tax bill. But where there still is work to be done now, Republicans have to get an on-again relationship with their own voters, especially congressional Republicans.

    Remember, at the height of sort of discontent between the president and congressional Republicans and Republican leaders, Republican voters were saying they trusted President Trump more than Congress. They thought the leaders in Congress, Republican leaders, weren't doing enough fast enough. They were blaming them for stuff not getting done.

    So, Mitch McConnell may want to get stuff done in 2018. The first thing you have to do is repair the relationship with the voters. And the second thing is to sell this tax bill. Remember, even among Republican voters, they may say they like it, but they're not as deeply in love with it and excited about it as some of the Republican members who voted for it, especially those who say that they voted for President Trump.

    I was looking through polling about this. They voted for President Trump not simply because they liked him, but more because they disliked Hillary Clinton. They are less enthusiastic about this. And I think that it's the job of Republicans now to spend a lot of 2018 getting them excited about this legislation.

  • John Yang:

    And, Tam, you talk about next year, the next — the agenda for the next session of Congress.

    They're talking a lot about welfare reform. They're talking about infrastructure. Are there opportunities to work together on this, for bipartisanship on this?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, so the president talks reform. Democrats hear that and say, no thank you.

    The president talks about infrastructure, and the potential exists. You know, back in the old days, like 10 years ago, infrastructure was something that was bipartisan. Transportation bills sailed through with overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle.

    Since then, transportation bills have become quite contentious. And there is a fundamental disagreement between Republicans and Democrats about how these things should be paid for, how much of a public element there is, how much of a private element there is.

    The other thing is, Paul Ryan is talking about wanting to do entitlement reform, tackling Medicaid, possibly Medicare, Social Security. And then you have Mitch McConnell on the Senate side saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, we want to do bipartisan. Don't know if we really could do that. Don't know if we could do health care in 2018.

    So, in some ways, Republicans are going to have to get on the same page with each other as well.

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, and, plus, the president, when he was campaigning, said, don't worry, no cuts to Medicare, to Medicaid, we're not touching any of those things.

    So, that would be a heavy haul. I think the other thing that has to come up is DACA, taking care of and dealing with this issue of the so-called dreamers. We know that, by March, if a deal isn't cut, these folks are now no longer eligible and are — no eligible to be here and are eligible for deportation.

    This is an issue that should be bipartisan. You look at polling, the vast majority of Americans, including Republicans, say they support some way for these folks to stay in the country. But the politics of it are more complicated.

    And we know that where it's going to get tied up is the issue about the border wall. And I think Democrats can move to Republicans' side on border security. On a wall, they are going to put up their hands.

    And so this is going to be a fascinating and more immediate fight that we're going to see.

  • John Yang:

    Let's turn now. I want to turn to the Russia investigation and the president vs. the FBI.

    There's been a lot of talk. He's been hitting at Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the FBI. He's been doing this since the campaign, talking about the fact that his wife ran for the Virginia state legislature, got a lot of money or got some money from Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia. He's also a fund-raiser for the Clintons.

    Now comes the word The Washington Post says that he is going to retire as soon as he's eligible for a pension. The president over the weekend called that racing the clock to retire with full benefits — 90 days to go, the president said.

    Tam, is this now — they keep saying — they keep telling us at the White House that there is no talk, no thought about firing Robert Mueller. Is this their way of getting — of discrediting Mueller, discrediting the investigation, going after the FBI now?

  • Tamara Keith:

    This is certainly a way of creating a haze or a cloud or a fuzz or muddying the waters, or pick your terrible analogy, that, you know, they — President Trump and his allies are certainly sort of working the refs and making sure that if something does come out of this that there will be sort of doubt.

    And, you know, there are congressional investigations that are looking at, you know, should they look at the Clintons, should they look at Uranium One? There's been this growing cloud and haze that President Trump and his allies are trying to create around the investigations.

  • Amy Walter:


    Not surprisingly, how you feel about Robert Mueller, how you feel about this investigation has as much to do with your party identification as anything else.

    It will also be interesting if the report from Mueller comes out and it does not have in it something that many Democrats believe should be in it, which is, you know, really implicating the president or those directly around him, will they accept the findings of Mueller if they don't like what's in it?

    And I would suspect the answer will be no.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, it is a fascinating thing.

    Mueller had sort of widespread support from both sides of the aisle when he was first appointed. And that has been eroding, particularly on the Republican side, even though he is a Republican.

  • John Yang:

    Very quickly, later this week, the control of the House of Delegates in Virginia, which has been in Republican hands since 1999, is going to be decided by pulling a name out of a bowl.

  • Amy Walter:


  • John Yang:

    This is a race that, in a recount, was tied, and then a judge included a ballot that was thrown out — we have got it up on the screen now — where you see both names marked, was thrown out in the recount.

    Judges threw it back in, gave it to the Republican by one vote. Now control is coming down to this.

    We have had talk about the Russians meddling in the elections. You talk about the Republicans are now talking about the FBI meddling in elections. The White House has a commission looking at ballot integrity.

    And now you have got this. What does this say about where we are?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, this is actually not that unusual. We don't have ways to break a tie. Remember, they have already had a recount.

    And if you look at that ballot, the entire ballot was filled with Republicans. This person voted for every single Republican, then voted for this Democrat, seemingly crossed it out.

    But, look, we have also seen legislative races in the past decided by to coin tosses, by literally who has the short straw. The interesting thing about wherever this ends up is, the Virginia legislature is now going to have to be more bipartisan than it's ever been.

    Whether it's 50-50 or 51-49, the new governor is a Democrat. He's going to be working with a very evenly divided legislature. Could this be more of something to come, right, actual people working together?

  • John Yang:


  • Tamara Keith:


    Our system is not a perfect system. And one area where it is particularly imperfect is when there are disputed elections and ties.

  • John Yang:

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you very much.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:


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