The Right Thing To Do Or 'Political Stunt'? Experts Disagree On Franken Resignation

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., became the second prominent Democrat this week to resign in disgrace under pressure from his own party after being accused of sexual misconduct Wednesday, a development the outgoing senator eagerly contrasted with the Republican National Committee boosting support for a Senate candidate facing allegations of predatory behavior.

In a defensive speech on the Senate floor, Franken maintained that many allegations against him are untrue and he believes he would have prevailed in an Ethics Committee investigation, but he acknowledged he cannot effectively serve his constituents while fighting that battle. He will therefore resign “in the coming weeks.”

Earlier in the week, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., announced he was retiring immediately amid growing sexual harassment claims against him. Some Democrats are also pressing Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., to step down over alleged improper behavior toward a campaign fundraiser.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell took a more cynical view of what he deemed a “political stunt.” 

“I would say the Democrats forcing out Sen. Franken is hardly a profile in political courage. It was an easy call. They lose nothing politically,” he said, noting that both Franken and Conyers will be replaced by Democrats.

None of this changes the political calculations for Republicans who are backing Moore, according to O’Connell, because they see through Democrats’ strategy.

“They want to make Roy Moore the hood ornament that they can tie around Republicans’ necks as they head into the 2018 elections,” he said.

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at WJLA

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Michael Flynn Plea Overtakes Trump's Big Win On Tax Reform

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea on Friday to one charge of lying to FBI agents eclipsed a week of relative successes for President Trump and raised questions about how the White House would respond to the first criminal charges against someone who once worked in the West Wing.

During a week that saw President Trump win a legal battle over control of a federal agency, successfully advance one of his top legislative priorities, and score an optics win by hosting a Christmas party that some reporters boycotted, Flynn’s indictment on one count of making false statements to investigators still emerged as the most explosive story of the past five days.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said the speculation surrounding Flynn’s cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller would create uncomfortable headlines for the president but wouldn’t derail the tax reform agenda currently making its way through Congress.

“No one on Capitol Hill is going to go, ‘Oh, gee, Flynn copped a plea, now I’m not going to vote for tax reform,’” O’Connell said.

But O’Connell noted the Flynn news would “overshadow all the good things that happened this week.”

White House officials have been operating under a “Russian cloud” since even before Mueller’s appointment over the summer, O’Connell noted, and congressional Republicans have already factored the allegations into their calculations about whether to support the president’s agenda.

Read more from Sarah Westwood at the Washington Examiner

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Is Fiscal Conservatism Dead?

"The priority is spending," the energetic and newly minted congressman, sporting an American flag pin on his dark suit jacket, told the C-SPAN host, soon adding, "the size of the government is really what it comes down to."

The year was 2010, and the congressman-elect was Mick Mulvaney, then a 43-year-old restaurateur and developer who rode the tea party wave during President Obama's first term to defeat 14-term incumbent Democrat John Spratt and be the first Republican to represent South Carolina's 5th Congressional District since 1883.

Fast forward to 2017. The national debt has surpassed $20 trillion. The country's budget has seen nothing but deficits for the last two decades. Spending has only gone up, even under a GOP-run Congress. And arguably, Republicans — who control the White House, Senate, and House — don't seem terribly concerned.

GOP strategist Ford O'Connell agreed with much of Corker's assessment, adding that the "realities of governing don't always comport with principle."

"Especially in Bush's case, and in Trump's case and even in Obama's case, to a great extent, when you have slim majorities in one or both chambers of Congress," O'Connell said. "And you realize that there is principle but you have to show that you can govern, and if you can't govern, well you're going to go back to screaming to the wall and talking about principle. It's a vicious cycle of what happens when you're in and out of power."

During the most recent Bush administration, Republicans often gave less of a priority to reducing the budget than Democrats, O'Connell pointed out. For instance, in 2007, Pew found Republicans were less likely than Democrats (42 percent to 57 percent) to say reducing the budget deficit should be a top priority for Congress. But shortly after Obama took office and into 2016, Republicans in Pew polls were more likely to say reducing the deficit is a top priority than Democrats or independents.

The GOP faced the same obstacle when it tried — repeatedly and unsuccessfully — to repeal Obamacare, which expanded Medicaid eligibility to millions more Americans. 

"The problem is once you give someone or a group of people a benefit, it is very very hard if not impossible to take away said benefit," O'Connell said. "That's the reason why we have this issue."

Read more from Kathryn Watson at CBS News

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Tax Reform Puts Blue-State Republicans In Difficult Spot

The most vulnerable blue-state House Republicans are stuck between a rock and a hard place on the tax reform.

Democrats are pounding them for legislation that potentially would make some voters pay more in high-tax blue states. And, if history is a guide, voting against the bill won’t necessarily protect GOPers in next year’s midterm elections.

“With a lot of those blue-state Republicans, they are in trouble no matter what,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “There is a blue wave coming. We are going to lose seats in the House. The only question is: How many?”

Indeed, the party in power has lost an average of 25 House seats in midterm elections since World War II. In the nine elections before which the president’s party controlled both chambers of Congress, as is now the case, it has lost an average 33 House seats.

In 2018, Republican would only have to net a loss of 24 seats to lose the majority.

Rep. Barbara Comstock is one of the House Republican in a no-win situation on tax reform. President Trump lost in her district in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., by 10 percentage points.

“Whether she passes it or doesn’t pass it, Barbara Comstock is in the path of that wave,” said Mr. O’Connell.

Read more from S.A. Miller at The Washington Times

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Alabama Election Has GOP Racing Against The Clock

Republicans are feeling the pressure to move quickly on tax legislation ahead of next month’s Senate election in Alabama. 

Senate Republicans already have little margin for error, as they can afford only two defections and still pass their tax-cut bill if Democrats are united against it.

But that margin would fall to one vote if the Democrat in the Alabama race, Doug Jones, defeats GOP candidate Roy Moore on Dec. 12. Polls have suggested a Jones victory is a real possibility in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Moore.

An Alabama election official on Friday said the winner of the race could be seated as early as Dec. 26, giving Republicans a short window for action.

Republicans had already talked of getting a bill to President Trump’s desk by Christmas — and that deadline appears even more critical now, likely forcing a furious push in December. 

“They’ve got to find a way to get to 50 votes [on a tax bill] as fast as possible,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

The House has already passed its version of the tax bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is planning to start floor consideration of the upper chamber bill’s next week, when senators return from the Thanksgiving recess.

Read more from Naomi Jagoda at The Hill

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Health Care Voters Turn Republican Election Strength Into Liability

Seven years after Obamacare crushed Democrats at the ballot box, the party is using health care to launch a revival, saying President Trump and congressional Republicans are paying a price for their fumbled repeal effort and will sink further next year.

Voters in Maine last week opted into Medicaid expansion, a key plank of the 2010 law, and Virginia voters pointed to health care as they swatted aside Mr. Trump’s endorsement of the Republican candidate for governor and chose Democrats up and down the ballot.

Meanwhile, Obamacare is polling better than ever, enrollments are outpacing last year’s and progressive groups are plotting to turn the fight over Obamacare into electoral wins, blanketing social media and selling $25 T-shirts and $15 coffee mugs to anyone who pledges to be a “Health Care Voter.”

It’s a major turnabout from 2010, when President Obama’s heavy mandates and D.C.-centric reforms sparked talk of “death panels” and a “government takeover” of health care.

Some Republicans say Democrats are boasting much too early.

Virginia has become a reliably blue state over the past decade, and it’s not as susceptible to economic swings because of federal jobs in the northern part of the state, so Mr. Trump’s populist message didn’t resonate as much as in other states, said Republican Party strategist Ford O’Connell.

“Democrats would be wise to not overinterpret what happened last week in the commonwealth,” he said. “Heading into 2018 midterms, overall health care is not the political liability it once was for Democrats. That said, the 2018 Senate map is decidedly pro-Trump and anti-Obamacare.”

Despite a positive Senate map, Mr. O’Connell said, health care might be a liability for some House Republicans next year, particularly in the Northeast, so the party will need a near-perfect replacement to get something through the Senate and fully change the narrative.

Read more from Tom Howell Jr. at The Washington Times

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Democrats Spoil Trump's One-Year Anniversary Of Winning The White House

It’s been a year since President Trump shocked the world by winning the White House in an election most political observers were certain was going the other way, a fact Trump continues to regularly tout in his public speeches and telephone conversations with world leaders.

And to many of Trump’s allies inside and outside the White House, much of what has happened since remains an unqualified success despite the first-year president’s historically low approval ratings. TrumpWorld sees a deregulation-fueled spurt of economic growth that is driving stock market gains and low unemployment, quality conservative judicial appointments highlighted by Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, progress toward greater border security and immigration control, battlefield victories against the Islamic State, and promises kept to social conservatives. 

Democratic victories in Virginia and New Jersey, as well as a spate of local elections across the country, told a different story. Republicans got shellacked as the suburbs turned hard against them. And 85 percent of those who disapproved of Trump’s job performance voted for Democrats. Now a special election for the Alabama Senate seat formerly held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn’t looking like such a sure bet, thanks in part to the controversies engulfing Roy Moore, the Bannon-backed GOP nominee.

“There is no question about it, Democrats flat-out took the Republicans to the woodshed … in Virginia,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on some campaigns in the state. “Republicans should be nervous ahead of 2018, but Democrats would also be unwise to misinterpret the results.”

Democratic gains on the Hill would make that fight harder. “The notion of Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi again should put the fear of God in House Republicans,” O’Connell said. But he argues that’s no reason to stop enacting Trump policies.

“Trump’s approval ratings, the dismal GOP brand and the perception of a ‘do-nothing Congress’ were certainly a factor” in Democratic wins, he added. “That said, these numbers aren’t static, so this should put them on notice to pass tax reform and other key Trump agenda items before the 2018 elections.”

Read more from W. James Antle III at the Washington Examiner

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Ignore The Spin — Here's What The Virginia Election Really Means For The 2018 Midterms

No question, Democrats took Republicans to the woodshed on Tuesday night in Virginia. They won all three statewide offices and nearly captured the Virginia House of Delegates.

Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate, captured more votes than any Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia history. But Ralph Northam, his Democratic opponent, captured more than any gubernatorial candidate in state history

Republicans are right to be nervous about what happened in the Old Dominion on Tuesday, but Democrats would be wise not to overinterpret.

Yes, a shellacking a year out from the 2018 midterms is not good for Republicans, and yes, that it happened because of a large turnout of enthusiastic voters for the other party is doubly bad.

But Virginia has been trending blue for 20 years. Republicans there are just 1-10 in major statewide races since 2005. Hillary Clinton carried it over President Trump. President Barack Obama carried it twice. Both senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, are Democrats.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at the Washington Examiner

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ObamaCare Becomes Political Weapon For Democrats

ObamaCare is emerging as a top issue for Democrats as they seek to gain control of Congress in next year's midterm elections. 

Just a year after worries about ObamaCare premiums were seen as a contributing factor in Hillary Clinton's loss, voter concerns about GOP attacks on the health-care law seem to be bolstering Democratic candidates. 

Health care was by far the number one issue in Virginia, where Democrats won races up and down the ballot on Tuesday night with a surprisingly strong showing. Exit polls showed that 39 percent of voters ranked health care as their top issue, with 77 percent of those voters backing Democrat Ralph Northam for governor.   

Meanwhile, in Maine, voters overwhelmingly supported a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare, suggesting strong support for increasing health care access to the poor and lower middle class. 

Democrats say the results show the Republican votes this year to repeal ObamaCare are coming back to haunt them. 

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said that for Republicans, “you're playing with dynamite unless you’ve got a near-perfect plan” to replace ObamaCare. 

O’Connell, the Republican strategist, said lawmakers in deep-red districts could stick to a tougher message on ObamaCare, while vulnerable members take the wait and see approach to a replacement plan. 

But he said ObamaCare is no longer the Democratic liability it once was.

“I do believe it hurts Dems less than it used to,” he said. 

Read more from Peter Sullivan at The Hill

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Dem, GOP Strategists Debate What 2017 Elections Mean For Next Year

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell is skeptical that Democrats' victories on Tuesday will translate to wins in 2018. 

Democrats notched wins across the country in the off-year election, including the victory of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam over Ed Gillespie in the race to be Virginia's next governor.

"I think there's a great misnomer out there, and we're only about twelve hours after the election, and that is Gillespie didn't underperform, Northam overperformed," O'Connell told The Hill. 

O'Connell acknowledged Republicans should be nervous heading into the 2018 midterms, but added, "Democrats would be unwise to misinterpret the results." 

Watch the video and read more from Alexandra Oliveria at The Hill

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