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Sunday Political Brunch - The Politics of Distraction—October 1, 2017

Sunday, October 01, 2017
Mark Curtis, GoLocalPDX Contributor

Mark Curtis
It was another weird week for the White House (and for politics in general). Last week, I wrote that President Trump – whose poll numbers had been rising – was just one Tweet away from turning the uptick into a setback, and that Tweet was soon forthcoming. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“NFL Penalty” – It didn’t start with a Tweet, but a Tweet surely escalated the situation. Last Friday night at a campaign rally in Alabama, Trump said of a football player who kneels or sits in protest during the national anthem: "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He's fired. He's fired!" The ensuing days brought protests both on and off the playing field – not to mention the Trump-Tweet firestorm that seized up social media from Facebook, Twitter, and beyond. In the world of politics, the protests and Trump's comments just seemed to suck all the oxygen out of the room for the President's immediate agenda. When one issue distracts, the priorities of the whole agenda are in peril.

“No Sweet Home Alabama” – Trump was in Alabama to campaign for Senator Luther Strange (R-AL), who was trying to win a full term after having been appointed to fill the seat once occupied by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who is now the U.S. Attorney General. In spite of Trump's endorsing and campaigning for him, Strange lost the Republican Senate primary on Tuesday to controversial former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. In essence, it was the first Congressional election defeat for Trump, as the GOP has won every House special election since he took office. Plus, Judge Moore was backed by former Trump aide Steve Bannon, recently ousted from the White House inner circle. Ouch!!!

“Put a Cork in It” – Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) surprised a lot of people this week, when he announced he would not seek a third term in the U.S. Senate. Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has often been at odds with President Trump. However, Tennessee has been a solidly red state of late, so I suspect that the GOP will retain this seat in 2018 and that Corker's departure won’t hurt the balance of power in the Senate. On the other hand, the President has thirteen months to stir up more controversy, so the balance of power in the 2018 midterm elections should not be presumed.

“Legislative Score Card” – With the defeat of the Obamacare repeal (once again), the White House is still left with no legislative victories eight months into the administration. The only win remains Senate confirmation of Neil Gorsuch as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Yes, that is a huge win because it could have an impact decades after President Trump is gone, but it’s an appointment – not a policy victory. Now tax reform is on the table, with an uncertain outcome ahead. Overall this has not been a good year for White House-Congressional relations, and Republicans own “all three legs of the bar stool.”

“The Taxing Business of Tax Reform” – The White House promises to cut taxes for the most heavily taxed middle class Americans. (Already, almost half of Americans pay no federal income tax or get what they have paid refunded.) The Trump tax reform bill also would reduce seven income tax brackets to just three, and would significantly cut the corporate income tax rate. The goal is to make the U.S. more competitive in the global marketplace. We’ll see. But the big issue here is not really taxes; it’s whether President Trump can get any significant legislation passed through both the House and Senate that he can sign into law.

“Other Distractions” – As if the President needed any more headaches, his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, embarrassed the administration by taking expensive chartered flights at taxpayers' expense. Secretary Price said that he would reimburse the government; but, given that he had failed in the attempt to repeal Obamacare, one wondered how long he would last. As it turns out, not very long! On Friday, Price tendered his resignation; and Trump accepted it. If you are keeping score, Trump has already had public issues concerning his Attorney General, his Secretary of State, and now his Secretary of Health and Human Services. Does Trump need any more of this? He might have been wise to just let the Price matter go; but that’s not really Trump's style.

“What All of This Means?” – The 2018 elections are just thirteen months away. Yes, Republicans have strong leads in both the House and Senate, but will they hold? The fact that President Trump has had no significant legislative wins should sound the alarm bells for the Republican National Committee. It should also awaken the Democratic National Committee to the opportunity for members of the lethargic minority party to make some gains, rather than just sitting around feeling sorry for themselves. Politics is a business grounded in seizing opportunity, and I’m not sure the national Democratic Party sees that yet for 2018.

Is President Trump too easily driven to distraction? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

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