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What’s next on Congress’ to-do list?

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  • William Brangham:

    Turning now to politics, here to preview what's on the horizon for Congress and the White House is our Politics Monday duo, Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    Happy new year to you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    Happy new year.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Happy new year to you, too.

  • William Brangham:

    So nice to see you.

    OK, let's just dive into this. Congress is back this week, the Senate next week. Can you — there are so many to-do lists being held by so many different people. What is top of the priority list?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Keeping the government funded.

  • William Brangham:

    That's a big one.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You know, the basic functions of government, that's the big deadline that is going to coming up.

    The question is what possibly gets attached to that or is brought up in conjunction with it. You know, Marc Short, who is the legislative affairs director for the White House, has said that he hopes to have some sort of a deal on DACA. That is the immigration program for young people who came to the country as young people and they are now in the country illegally.

    The president wants to work something out. Republicans and Democrats, some Republicans in Congress, all the Democrats in Congress want to work something out. Whether they can agree on what that would be is very much an open question. And…

  • William Brangham:

    Because the president has said, I'm getting a wall before I'm giving on DACA.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Exactly.

    And he said it again in a tweet over the weekend. So the president is making it very clear that he is serious about getting this wall. Democrats have said, we will give you border security. We are not giving you a wall.

    And one question about this is, there isn't actually a deadline. Like, the program doesn't completely end until March. So is there enough of a deadline? Are Democrats able to use — or do they even want to use the government funding bill as leverage to get that? Or does this end up sort of just pushing?

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    We spent all of 2017 with Republicans passing, or in some cases not passing, major legislation with Republican-only votes, right?

    The Obamacare repeal ultimately failed.

  • William Brangham:

    Tax cut.

  • Amy Walter:

    But it was all with Republicans, the tax cut all with Republicans.

    This would be, a DACA fix, anything on immigration in general, there is talk about infrastructure, all those — there's no longer the 51 votes with just Republicans now. They have got to get a bunch of Democrats on board, 60 votes. And they have fewer members now, one fewer, thanks to the election in Alabama, though I would argue that Doug Jones, as a conservative Democrat, is probably going to be pressured a lot to vote with Republicans.

    But I think it's going to make for — very difficult the idea of seeing, you know, this bipartisanship suddenly become the norm. I think Tam is exactly right. What's going to happen for 2018 is, let's just try to keep things on track, let's get stuff done that needs to get done. And I think getting through a big to-do list is not likely.

  • William Brangham:

    Now, I know it's January 1. Am I allowed to talk about the midterm elections, or is it too early?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    It is never too early to talk about elections. Come on.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • William Brangham:

    OK. OK. OK.

    Can you lay out the map for us? How realistic? How many races are really competitive? Do the Democrats really have a shot at taking one or both houses back?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, the biggest change since a year ago was, there was no possibility — back at this time last year, nobody thought there was a possibility that the Senate could flip, because the map is so tilted against Democrats.

    They are defending more seats than Republicans are. And most of the seats that are difficult for them to defend are in states that Trump carried, some by double digits. Now, after what happened in Alabama, the fact we are also seeing an enthusiasm advantage for Democrats sort of across the board in governor's races — we have seen it in special elections for the House, Democratic voters turning out — there is talk about the possibility — I don't think it's likely, but the possibility of Democrats getting the three seats that they would need to flip control of the Senate.

    It requires a lot of things going right, they hold on to all our seats, and they get some help from people like Steve Bannon, who is likely to be involved in the Senate primaries.

  • William Brangham:

    The Democrats get some help, you say.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, they would — Steve Bannon was very helpful to them in Alabama by backing the one candidate who couldn't win in a state as red as Alabama, who was as flawed as Roy Moore.

    If he finds candidates or supports candidates who are weak, especially in more competitive states like Nevada and Arizona, those are pickup potential for Democrats. The House is a different story. Democrats need 24 seats if they're going to flip the House.

    There aren't as many seats in play as Democrats would like to have, but the environment looking much better for Democrats, their enthusiasm is much better. The geographic challenges are still there for them, trying to find enough districts where they're not drawn or configured in a way that benefit Republicans.

    But it is absolutely a possibility. They may even be a slight favorite right now, Democrats a slight favorite, to winning the House, just from what we're seeing in the numbers today. And, again, we're months out.

  • William Brangham:

    Tam, question.

    Amy is talking about Democratic enthusiasm. That's what everybody assumes happens in midterm against the incumbent. But what about GOP enthusiasm? Because if you looked — if I blindfolded you right now, and didn't tell you who the president was, I just told you that he was a Republican, and I said, you got tax cuts, you got a Supreme Court justice, you got rollback of regulations, you would be hard-pressed to know that that wasn't just straightforward conservative agenda being enacted by Trump.

    Is there going to be some enthusiasm amongst the GOP rank and file because of what Trump has accomplished in the first year?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It's an open question.

    It's certainly — in the races that we have seen so far — and this is an off-year, so these are special elections. But in those special elections, Democrats have outperformed Hillary Clinton, and Republicans have underperformed how Donald Trump did in 2016.

    So, right now, there is definitely an enthusiasm difference. But, absolutely, conservatives who were concerned about a President Trump, were concerned that he wouldn't be reliably conservative, they have gotten a reliably conservative president.

    They have gotten someone who did what basically any Republican president would do. And for those sort of — those Trump voters who wanted to just, like, stick it to the man, they're getting that, too, because they're getting a candidate who is — you know, he said I will be so presidential, you're bored, but then he has since said…

  • William Brangham:

    Didn't turn out that way.

  • Tamara Keith:

    He has since said, but I don't have to do that. I can keep being interesting, more or less.

    And he has continued to tweet up a storm. And, you know, even his New Year's greeting to the losers in the fake media, he has remained sort of consistent as the outsider bomb-thrower rhetorically to please his base, while, at the same time, pleasing sort of straight conservative, you know, the…

  • William Brangham:

    Red meat conservative issues.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Red meat conservative issues, absolutely.

  • William Brangham:

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, happy new year.

  • Amy Walter:

    Happy new year.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Happy new year.

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