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Will Americans learn to like the GOP tax bill?

It's a critical week for Congress as Republican leaders sprint toward a final vote on their tax plan and avert a looming government shutdown. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join William Brangham to discuss the legislative stakes, plus the conservative drumbeat to discredit the special counsel probe into Russian election interference and possible Trump ties.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we heard, this is a critical week for Congress, as Republican leaders sprint toward a final vote on their tax plan and avert a looming government shutdown.

    Meanwhile, the conservative drumbeat to discredit the special counsel’s Russia probe is growing even louder.

    And to William Brangham.

  • William Brangham:

    Thanks Judy.

    To help us wade through this thicket, we are joined by our Politics Monday team, Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    Welcome to you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Thank you.

  • William Brangham:

    So, Tam, let’s start. Let’s talk about the tax bill.

    Looks like the president is on the cusp of his first major legislative victory. Is this all but over?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Pretty much. Vice President Mike Pence has announced that he is definitely staying in town. He’s delaying a trip to Israel that was supposed to take place later this week, until January, just so that he can be in town just in case to make that deciding tie-breaking vote.

    But every — by every account, this is on a glide path at this point to passage. And if it does pass, this is not just a tax bill. This is President Trump actually accomplishing a surprisingly large number of things.

    While everyone was focused on the Russia investigation and the tweets, this bill not only is a $1.5 trillion tax cut. But it is also a repeal of the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act, which is the least popular part of the Affordable Care Act. It opens up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    And then if you add some of the other things that the president has done, like rolling back regulations and stacking the judiciary, and getting Judge Gorsuch, all of a sudden, this looks like a conservative agenda that one could call a success for the president.

  • William Brangham:

    Amy, help me understand something here.

    The polls show that this is not a terribly popular bill, but the president and allies have been very effective in their messaging. They say it is not a middle-class tax cut.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, it is a middle-class tax cut, it’s not a tax cut for the rich.

    But yet the data that show it does — over time, it will raise taxes on the middle class in the end. Does a legislative victory offset something that is unpopular in the end? Will this matter that way?

  • Amy Walter:

    So, it’s unpopular right now. And the question is, does it become more popular over time?

    Sometimes, we have seen bills that start off as popular end up being unpopular. Changing people’s perceptions of this legislation is going to depend on a few things. The first is that Republicans do a better job describing this bill.

    The argument from some Republicans is, the mainstream media has described this incorrectly. They have been calling this a tax cut for the wealthy. It’s really not. Once we get it passed, we’re going to fill that vacuum with better messaging to tell our story.

    The second is that people will actually see something in their paychecks as soon as next year.

  • William Brangham:

    Tangible something.

  • Amy Walter:

    Tangible relief.

    Only 5 percent of American families will see an actual increase in their taxes. Everybody else is getting something of a tax cut in the immediate future. So, that could change perceptions of it.

    And, finally, if the economy continues to do well — there’s talk, of course, about it doing even better than it is now — then it will also change perceptions, not just of the legislation, but of Republicans.

    The aside on all this, of course, is that the economy is doing well by objective standards. People think the economy is doing better, at least in consumer surveys. And yet the very people who are doing well, especially those who are involved in the stock market, if you have a 401(k), are also the very people who don’t approve of the job that the president’s doing.

    They don’t approve of the Congress. And as we have seen in the most recent special elections, it’s these types of suburban, well-off voters that are breaking away from the Republican Party.

    So, even the idea of an improving economy or more money in the pockets of taxpayers may not be enough to change the overall perception both of the president and the Congress.

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Can I just add that, as you were talking about the Republican hopes for this legislation and how perception might change, that it sounded exactly like what Democrats were saying with the Affordable Care Act, where they were saying, you know, the Affordable Care Act is going to into place, the preexisting condition stuff is going to go into effect immediately, people aren’t going to have to pay co-pays for their annual visits, people are going to start appreciating this right away.

    And they didn’t.

  • Amy Walter:

    And they didn’t.

    But the big difference, of course, is that it didn’t get implemented until 2014, so there was a…

  • William Brangham:

    A delayed gratification.

  • Amy Walter:

    Very delayed gratification.

    And the vacuum was filled by opponents. We have talked about it a lot on the show, but that Democrats passed it. They then moved on to other things. Republicans spent millions of dollars in 2010 and beyond calling it a terrible piece of legislation.

    And so Democrats essentially ceded the messaging ground to Republicans. Republicans don’t want to do that, allow Democrats to do to them what they did on the Affordable Care Act.

  • William Brangham:

    Big vote tomorrow on that. We will be watching.

    Let’s talk about the Russia investigation. I know, Tam, you have been doing a lot of reporting about this. Over the weekend, President Trump’s lawyers expressed some — a sense of outrage that somehow special counsel Mueller had gotten copies of e-mails during the transition.

    Can you tell us what the fight was about?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, and this is one of those things where you wake up Monday morning and you’re, like, did we just spend the whole weekend on this?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes. Yes, in fact, we did.

    These are not President Trump’s current lawyers. These are Trump-linked lawyers. These are lawyers that were involved with the transition. And what sources tell me is that the White House team and that President Trump’s current lawyers didn’t know about this until it was raised, and that they were not on board with this strategy.

    But what these transition lawyers are saying is Mueller’s team got these e-mails from the transition through some sort of improper means.

    And what this really is — and Mueller’s team has disputed this and various other — Congress has already — Republican members of Congress have even said that’s actually something that should be settled by the courts, not by Congress. Why did you send a letter to us exactly?

    Well, because this is sort of a political thing.

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    So, this is — the bigger picture here is, this is part of this larger pushback against the Mueller operation that is coming from outside of the Trump team.

  • William Brangham:

    Let’s talk a little bit about that.

    There has been this steady drumbeat of — on FOX News and some of the president’s allies pushing back against Mueller, trying to discredit him. This is nothing new, we know. This has been going on for a while. You were telling us about this before. Tell me what you think is going on there.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    It’s pretty clear that — and this happens — we have seen it in previous investigations, you know, all the way back to Iran-Contra or Watergate. You go after either the prosecutor or the case. You try to discredit them, so that, you know, when all is said and done, both of those things no longer have the credibility that they once did.

    But when you go back and you look at — the most recent example, of course, was the Ken Starr investigation. Back then, Democrats — I went back, and looking at some of the coverage of it, “White House official was blunt about the strategy in ’98, calling the coordinated attacks on Starr part of our continuing campaign to destroy Ken Starr.”

    And back in ’98, Ken Starr was very unpopular. He had only 11 percent favorability. The president’s popularity, President Clinton, was in the 60s and 70s.

    The challenge for anybody trying to discredit Mueller at this point is that he’s actually more popular. His overall approval now, 55 percent. Even among Republicans, 44 percent believe that he’s doing a credible job.

  • 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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