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Democrat Jones wins stunning red-state Alabama Senate upset

The Free Press WV

In a stunning victory aided by scandal, Democrat Doug Jones won Alabama’s special Senate election, beating back history, an embattled Republican opponent and President Donald Trump, who urgently endorsed GOP rebel Roy Moore despite a litany of sexual misconduct allegations.

It was the first Democratic Senate victory in a quarter-century in Alabama, one of the reddest of red states, and proved anew that party loyalty is anything but certain in the age of Trump. Tuesday’s Republican loss was a major embarrassment for the president and a fresh wound for the nation’s already divided GOP.

“We have shown not just around the state of Alabama, but we have shown the country the way — that we can be unified,” Jones declared as supporters in a Birmingham ballroom cheered, danced and cried tears of joy. Still in shock, the Democrat struggled for words: “I think that I have been waiting all my life, and now I just don’t know what the hell to say.”

Moore, meanwhile, refused to concede and raised the possibility of a recount during a brief appearance at a somber campaign party in Montgomery.

“It’s not over,” Moore said. He added, “We know that God is still in control.”

From the White House, Trump tweeted his congratulations to Jones “on a hard-fought victory” — but added pointedly that “the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!”

Jones takes over the seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The term expires in January of 2021.

The victory by Jones, a former U.S. attorney best known for prosecuting two Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for Birmingham’s infamous 1963 church bombing, narrows the GOP advantage in the U.S. Senate to 51-49. That imperils already-uncertain Republican tax, budget and health proposals and injects tremendous energy into the Democratic Party’s early push to reclaim House and Senate majorities in 2018.

Still, many Washington Republicans viewed the defeat of Moore as perhaps the best outcome for the party nationally despite the short-term sting. The fiery Christian conservative’s positions have alienated women, racial minorities, gays and Muslims — in addition to the multiple allegations that he was guilty of sexual misconduct with teens, one only 14, when he was in his 30s.

“Short-term pain, long-term gain,” former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican, tweeted. “Roy Moore and Steve Bannon losing tonight is big win for the GOP. ... Moore would have buried GOP in 2018.”

A number of Republicans declined to support Moore, including Alabama’s long-serving Sen. Richard Shelby. But Trump lent his name and the national GOP’s resources to Moore’s campaign in recent days.

Had Moore won, the GOP would have been saddled with a colleague accused of sordid conduct as Republicans nationwide struggle with Trump’s historically low popularity. Senate leaders had promised that Moore would have faced an immediate ethics investigation.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have expressed hopes of scheduling a vote on their tax legislation before Jones is sworn in, but lawmakers are still struggling to devise a compromise bill to bridge the divide between the House and Senate legislation that can win majority support in both chambers.

The Republican loss also gives Democrats a clearer path to a Senate majority in 2018 — albeit a narrow one — in an election cycle where Democrats are far more optimistic about seizing control of the House of Representatives.

Ultimately, Tuesday’s contest came down to which side better motivated its supporters to vote. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said turnout likely would not exceed 25 percent of registered voters.

Jones successfully fought to cobble together an unlikely coalition of African-Americans, liberal whites and moderate Republicans.

He had his strongest support across Alabama’s “black belt,” named for the color of its soil, and in the larger urban areas, including Montgomery, Birmingham, Mobile, Tuscaloosa and Huntsville. Turnout in those areas, which features a large African-American population, also ran higher than in some of the more heavily Republican parts of the state.

At his election night headquarters, stunned supporters erupted in celebration as news of his victory was announced. Many danced to the song “Happy.” Some cried.

“I honestly did not know that this was even an option. I didn’t think that we could elect a Democrat,” said 26-year-old campaign volunteer Jess Eddington, her eyes red from tears of joy. “I am so proud we did.”

Moore, who largely avoided public events in the final weeks of the race and spent far less money on advertising than his opponent, bet big — and lost — on the state’s traditional Republican leanings and the strength of his passionate evangelical Christian supporters.

He sidestepped questions about sexual misconduct as he arrived at his polling place on horseback earlier in the day.

Alabama state law calls for a recount if the margin of victory is less than one-half of one percentage point. With all precincts reporting, Jones led by 1.5 points — three times that margin.

If the secretary of state determines there were more write-in votes than the difference between Jones and Moore, the state’s counties would be required to tally those votes. It’s not clear how that would help Moore, who ended the night trailing Jones by more than 20,000 votes.

Democrats were not supposed to have a chance in Alabama, one of the most Republican-leaning states in the nation. Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton here by nearly 28 points just 13 months ago. Yet Moore had political baggage that repelled some moderate Republicans even before allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.

Virtually the entire Republican establishment, Trump included, supported Moore’s primary opponent, Sen. Luther Strange in September. Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was one of the only early high-profile Moore backers.

Moore was once removed from his position as state Supreme Court chief justice after he refused to remove a boulder-sized Ten Commandments monument at the state court building. A second time, he was permanently suspended for urging state probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez: “The people of Alabama sent a loud and clear message to Donald Trump and the Republican Party: You can’t call yourself the party of family values as long as you’re willing to accept vile men like Roy Moore as members.”

Trump Jr. returning to Capitol for third Russia interview

The Free Press WV

Donald Trump Jr. will return to Capitol Hill Wednesday to talk to the Senate intelligence committee as part of its probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

That’s according to a person familiar with the interview. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting is private.

The closed-door meeting with Senate staff will come a week after Trump Jr. spoke to lawmakers on the House intelligence committee. Both panels are investigating the meddling and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign was involved.

Investigators have been probing a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer. Trump Jr. and other campaign officials attended the meeting.

This will be Trump Jr.’s third interview as part of the congressional Russia probes. He also spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee in September.

Trump’s tweets about Gillibrand sexist, crude?

The Free Press WV

Plowing into the sexual harassment debate in a big way, President Donald Trump laced into Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Tuesday, tweeting that the New York Democrat would come to his office “begging” for campaign contributions and “do anything” to get them. Democrats accused the president of making crude insinuations.

Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who had called for Trump’s resignation a day earlier because of allegations of sexual misconduct, called Trump’s attack a “sexist smear attempting to silence my voice.”

“I will not be silenced on this issue,” Gillibrand insisted. “Neither will the women who stood up to the president yesterday,” referring to women who have accused the president of sexual misconduct.

Standing up for Gillibrand, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., tweeted to the president: “Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame @SenGillibrand? Do you know who you’re picking a fight with? Good luck with that, @realDonaldTrump. Nevertheless, #shepersisted.”

The phrase “she persisted” went viral earlier this year after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell silenced Warren as she tried to read a letter from Coretta Scott King about then-attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions.

Trump’s tweet Tuesday did not directly address sexual harassment, but said of Gillibrand: “Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!”

A day earlier, Gillibrand said Trump should resign because there were credible accusations against him. And barring that, she said, “Congress should investigate the multiple sexual harassment and assault allegations against him.”

Trump’s tweet Tuesday morning inflamed Democrats who said the president was again debasing a woman. Trump had not responded to earlier resignation calls from three male senators, Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

Hours later, Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono also called for the president to step down, declaring that Trump’s “tweet against Kirsten was just another example of his misogyny.”

“He is a liar. He is an admitted sexual predator and the only thing that will stop him is his resignation,” Hirono said. “He not only owes Kirsten an apology, he owes an apology to our entire country, particularly the women in this country.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., called it “an ugly and suggestive tweet, and we all know what he was trying to say there, and it is beneath the office of the presidency.”

Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said Trump had “proven to be a poison for the presidency, a cancer on the country, and a truly disgraceful human being.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island declared that Trump was “rather incontinent when it comes to tweets.”

And the Democratic Women’s Working Group held a news conference to demand that the House Oversight Committee investigate sexual misconduct allegations against Trump. Republican lawmakers, who control both houses of Congress, have suggested that such a probe was unlikely.

The criticism of Trump largely came from one side of the aisle. Republicans largely remained silent about the tweet, with Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a frequent Trump critic, being an exception, saying he “didn’t think it was appropriate at all.”

More than a dozen women came forward during last year’s campaign, many in the wake of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump is heard bragging about committing sexual assault, to say that the celebrity businessman had harassed them.

With each day seeming to bring new headlines that force men from positions of power, four of Trump’s accusers re-upped their claims Monday, believing the national movement on sexual harassment should force change at the White House too.

Trump has denied the claims. In a heated exchange with reporters in the White House briefing room on Monday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders steadfastly dismissed accusations against the Republican president and suggested the issue had been litigated in Trump’s favor on Election Day.

Sanders also promised that the White House would provide a list of eyewitnesses and corroborating evidence to exonerate Trump. Nearly 24 hours later, the White House sent along an email that, citing news reports that quote witnesses, only offered rebuttals to two of the accusations.

Trump donated $4,800 to Gillibrand’s Senate campaign in 2010, according to federal campaign finance records. Before launching his presidential campaign, Trump frequently bestowed donations on politicians of both parties.

To his accusers, the rising #MeToo movement is an occasion to ensure he is at last held accountable.

“It was heartbreaking last year. We’re private citizens and for us to put ourselves out there to try and show America who this man is and how he views women, and for them to say, ‘Eh, we don’t care,’ it hurt,” Samantha Holvey said Monday. The former beauty queen claimed that Trump ogled her and other Miss USA pageant contestants in their dressing room in 2006.

“Let’s try round two,” she said. “The environment’s different. Let’s try again.”

Tax bill won’t matter when it’s time to vote

The Free Press WV

The quip came from Charles Schultze, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in Democrat Jimmy Carter’s White House. It meant that improving incentives to work and invest would promote economic growth – but not nearly as much as tax-cutting enthusiasts believed.

The point applies to the politics of tax cuts, too. Both parties are exaggerating the impact the tax bill making its way through Congress is likely to have in the next elections.

A lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill think passing a tax cut is vital to their re-election chances. They believe it will show that they can accomplish something, reassuring their core supporters. “Doing nothing, you’re running as the gang that couldn’t shoot straight,“ former Republican congressman Tom Davis tells me. They also think that voters will appreciate the higher take-home pay they will get as withholding tables are adjusted for the new tax code.

Finally, many Republicans believe that the bill will boost their candidates by amping up economic growth. It’s a theory that conservatives have often invoked when arguing among themselves about how to design the bill. FreedomWorks, a conservative group, warned Senate Republicans, “If we don’t make the corporate tax rate reduction immediate, Americans won’t see the impact of economic growth and job creation by November 2018.“

All of these effects are likely to be small. Not everyone who gets a tax cut is going to realize it. President George W. Bush cut taxes twice during his first term, in a less complicated way than the current tax bill does. Yet when he ran for re-election, only a fifth of voters believed he had cut their taxes.

It’s true that one detailed analysis of the Senate tax bill shows it significantly boosting growth in 2018. Contrary to the FreedomWorks forecast, it’s the delay in the reduction of the corporate tax rate that generates the extra growth. The bill lets companies write off the full cost of their investments in 2018 – creating a more powerful incentive to invest when the tax rate is higher. Strong growth usually helps the party in power. But we may be living through a time that is an exception to that rule. The economy has been doing pretty well already, while President Donald Trump is unpopular and getting more so.

Democrats, meanwhile, may be overestimating how much the unpopularity of the tax bill will matter in the next election. For example, Chris Cillizza of CNN looks at survey data and concludes that “the Republican tax bill is a major motivator for Democratic base voters” and will “drive Democrats to the polls to show their anger and disapproval.“ Such data can be misleading, though, because a lot of those angry Democrats would be angry about something else in the absence of that tax bill. Or about someone else: Trump as president may be motivation enough for Democrats to vote.

What may help the Democrats is not the bill’s overall unpopularity but its unpopularity with a specific group: relatively affluent voters in high-tax states. Both the House and the Senate versions of tax reform scale back the deduction for state and local taxes, resulting in a net tax increase for many of these voters – who have already been turning away from the Trump-era Republican Party.

What may help the Republicans, on the other hand, is that passing the tax bill will give them something to say for themselves. Next fall they may be able to say that the economy is booming and that they helped it get that way. Whether they will be right or wrong about it, it’s the best argument they are likely to have at their disposal. Republicans in competitive races are probably not going to want to talk about the president’s Twitter feed instead.

Passing a tax bill looks likely to be the major legislative accomplishment of this Congress. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be a dominant issue in the election. My guess is that passing it will be a modest net plus for Republicans. But whatever you think the political effect will be, divide it by 10.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist.

Trump to pitch tax plan; Treasury offers rosy estimate

The Free Press WV

Donald Trump on Wednesday will try to sell the American people on an unpopular Republican tax overhaul that his administration claims will generate about $1.8 trillion in new revenue — a figure that a top Democratic lawmaker dismissed as “fake math.”

The White House said Monday that Trump’s pitch will focus on how the GOP tax reform plan will lead to a brighter future for taxpayers and their families, according to spokeswoman Lindsay Walters. House and Senate negotiators are rushing to finalize a bill and deliver the measure to Trump before Christmas.

Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have promoted the massive tax plan by promising the tax cuts will boost the economy. Public polling shows many Americans are unhappy with the proposal. The House and Senate tax bills combine steep tax cuts for corporations with more modest reductions for individuals.

The administration’s new, rosy estimate of new revenue from the tax plan over 10 years is a lot higher than nonpartisan congressional analysts have projected. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that growth stimulated by the anticipated tax cuts will generate some $408 billion in additional tax revenue over 10 years.

The new Treasury Department analysis says about half the expected increase in economic growth likely will result from tax benefits for corporations.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the analysis “nothing more than one page of fake math.”

“It’s clear the White House and Republicans are grasping at straws to prove the unprovable and garner votes for a bill that nearly every single independent analysis has concluded will blow up the deficit and generate almost no additional economic activity to make up for it,” Schumer said.

It’s a momentous week for the tax legislation. The Republicans are determined to deliver the first revamp of the nation’s tax code in three decades and prove they can govern after their failure to dismantle Barack Obama’s health care law this past summer. Voters who will decide which party holds the majority in next year’s midterms elections are watching.

GOP leaders in Congress aim to iron out differences between the $1.5 trillion House and Senate tax bills, to pass a final blended package.

Trump on Sunday offered an upbeat assessment.

“Getting closer and closer on the Tax Cut Bill. Shaping up even better than projected,” Trump tweeted on his way to his golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida. “House and Senate working very hard and smart. End result will be not only important, but SPECIAL!”

The House and Senate bills would cut taxes by about $1.5 trillion over the next decade while adding billions to the $20 trillion deficit. They would double the standard deduction used by most Americans to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples.

Republican leaders have struggled to placate GOP lawmakers from high-tax states like California, New York and New Jersey whose constituents would be hit hard by the elimination of the prized federal deduction for state and local taxes. Repeal of the deduction added up to $1.3 trillion in revenue over a decade that could be used for deep tax cuts.

Lawmakers finally settled on a compromise in both bills — full repeal of the state and local deductions for income and sales taxes, but homeowners would be able to deduct up to $10,000 in local property taxes.

“I feel very confident we’re going to get this done ... at the end of the day we’re going to get this to the president’s desk and he’s going to sign it,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Sunday in an interview on Fox News Channel.

Just a few weeks ago, lawmakers were unyielding on their insistence that the corporate tax rate be slashed from 35 percent to 20 percent. Now, one way to finance the changes on state and local taxes would be to cut the corporate tax rate to 21 or 22 percent instead.

Trump Accusers Banding Together to Demand Investigation

The Free Press WV

On Sunday, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said President Trump’s accusers “should be heard,“ and on Monday they will be. By BuzzFeed’s count, some 16 women have come forward with sexual harassment accusations against Trump; three of them will speak with NBC News’ Megyn Kelly at 9am ET, and will then speak at a 10:30am ET news conference hosted by Brave New Films. The documentary filmmakers in November released “16 Women and Donald Trump,“ and say that in the Monday presser (which will stream on Facebook) the women will “share firsthand accounts of sexual misconduct by Trump and demand an investigation” by Congress, reports the Hill. As for the women who will speak to Kelly, they are Jessica Leeds, Rachel Crooks, and Samantha Holvey.

Leeds and Crooks had their accusations detailed by the New York Times in October 2016.

  • Leeds, now in her 70s, says that on a 1980s flight she was sitting next to Trump, whom she had never met, in first-class when he allegedly started groping her; she said she moved to the back of the plane to escape the “assault.“
  • In 2005, Rachel Crooks was a 22-year-old secretary working in Trump Tower. One day, she bumped into Trump outside an elevator and introduced herself. Crooks says Trump refused to release her after they shook hands and started kissing her cheeks and mouth; she described the experience as a violation.
  • BuzzFeed reports Holvey says that while participating in the 2006 Miss USA pageant for North Carolina, Trump would repeatedly inspect the contestants “like meat” in a way she found degrading.
CNBC has this on the claims from Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “The president addressed these accusations directly during the campaign and we have no changes.“

3 Trump accusers speak out, call for congressional prob

The Free Press WV

Three women who have previously accused President Donald Trump of sexual harassment shared their stories on NBC’s “Megyn Kelly Today.”

Jessica Leeds, Samantha Holvey and Rachel Crooks on Monday told of alleged harassment by Trump spanning decades.

The White House called the claims false and “totally disputed in most cases.” It said “the timing and absurdity of these false claims speak volumes.”

One of the accusers, Rachel Crooks, called the White House statement “laughable.”

Crooks said of sexual misconduct: “I think politicians seem to be immune to this.”

Holvey described the pain the women felt after Trump’s victory. “We are private citizens and for us to put ourselves out there, to try to show America who this man is, and especially how he views women, for them to say, ‘Meh, we don’t care,’ it hurt.”

The women, who first shared their stories before the November 2016 election, were holding a press conference later Monday to call for a congressional investigation into Trump’s alleged behavior. They cited the recent revelations of sexual misconduct by prominent men in business, media and politics, for their decision to speak out publicly against Trump once again.

“The environment’s different,” Holvey said. “Let’s try again.”

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