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Wake Up To Politics - September 27, 2017

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Wednesday, September 27, 2017. 405 days until Election Day 2018. 1,133 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Mitch McConnell's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not have a great day on Tuesday. Here's why:

  • Graham-Cassidy bill dies The day started with bad news for McConnell. After two weeks of pushing for a last-ditch plan to repeal Obamacare, his hopes were dashed again on Tuesday as Senate Republicans decided at a party lunch not to put the Graham-Cassidy bill up to a vote.
  • With the decision, another failed effort by McConnell and his allies to repeal and replace Obamacare had been ended by divisions inside his own caucus. "We haven't given up on changing the American health care system. We are not going to be able to do that this week," McConnell told reporters after the lunch. "But it still lies ahead of us, and we haven't given up on that."
  • But the end of the last-ditch campaign for Graham-Cassidy may translate to a definitive blow (for now) to Republican promises to end Obamacare: the party's ability to pass a health care bill with 51, instead of 60, votes expires on Saturday, and it is unclear when they may be able to extend the "reconciliation" process.
  • In light of the embarrassing loss, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced on Tuesday that he was restarting talks with ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA) to try to arrive at "consensus on a limited bipartisan plan that could be enacted into law to help lower premiums and make insurance available to the 18 million Americans in the individual market in 2018 and 2019."
  • The Republicans' return to the negotiating table is a reversal for Alexander, who put an end to the bipartisan talks last week. Alexander's move was interpreted by some as the result of a direction by McConnell to convince reluctant GOP senators that Graham-Cassidy was the only option to make progress on health care.
  • Coming up short on health care yet again could also diminish McConnell's clout on the issue in the future: according to CNN, President Trump told lawmakers on Tuesday that he would work with Democrats on health care in light of his own party's repeated failure to pass a bill. The report said that in the meeting, Trump also mentioned his fiscal deal with Democratic leaders earlier this month, pointing to a previous example of his cutting McConnell out of negotiations and working directly across the aisle instead.
  • Trump's frustration with the Senate Majority Leader over health care are well-known, with the President frequently slamming McConnell over Twitter for his inability to pass a "repeal-and-replace" bill after seven years of trying.
  • Moore wins Adding insult to injury, McConnell's favored candidate was defeated in the Senate primary runoff in Alabama later Tuesday. Controversial ex-judge Roy Moore triumphed in the election with 55% of the vote to Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL)'s 45%., according to the Associated Press results. McConnell had thrown his weight behind Strange, who was appointed to the seat on an interim basis earlier this year; the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC with close ties to the Kentucky senator, poured millions of dollars into the race to benefit the incumbent. Much of Moore's campaign was built off of opposition to McConnell, who served as a frequent punching back for the firebrand candidate on the trail.
  • McConnell had also persuaded Trump to endorse Strange, despite Moore's support from many inside the President's orbit, including HUD Secretary Ben Carson and former White House chief strategist turned Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon. Both Trump and McConnell were quick to endorse Moore on Tuesday night. "We look forward to Judge Moore's help enacting [the Republican] agenda when he arrives," McConnell said in a statement.
  • Tuesday's results is a huge victory for the anti-establishment wing of the Republican Party, led ideologically by Bannon, and likely a sign of heightened involvement in GOP primaries in 2018.
  • Bannon and his allies are gearing up to challenge members of McConnell's caucus across the country, increasing the expense of maintaining his majority and potentially giving Democrats a better chance to win the Senate.
  • Corker retires The threat of primary challenges is one of the forces behind a string of retirements by moderate Republicans in recent weeks. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, announced on Tuesday that he would not seek re-election in 2018. Despite being considered for nomination as Secretary of State at the outset of the Trump Administration, the Tennessean has emerged as a leading Trump critic in the Senate, questioning the President's "stability" and "competence."
  • Corker is a top McConnell ally, who the leader had urged to stay in the Senate; the retirement will likely trigger one of the fierce Republican primaries of the cycle, a worrying prospect for McConnell.

Do these failures matter? At the very least, they will diminish President Trump's patience with McConnell even more. According to Axios, the President "has taken to physically mocking" McConnell and "venting about his frustration" with the leader to those around him. In each of the three setbacks the Kentucky Republican experienced on Tuesday, he had brought Trump along with him: in lobbying for Graham-Cassidy, endorsing Strange, and pushing Corker not to retire. Now, the Daily Beast reports, the White House is gearing up to blame McConnell for these failures, ensuring the GOP leader takes the blame for the health care fight and Alabama Senate results.

The President's Schedule: tax reform

  • At 10am, President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing. At 10:30am, he meets with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. At 12:35pm, Trump departs the White House for Indianapolis, Indiana, where he arrives at 2:25pm. At 3:20pm, Trump will give remarks on tax reform. At 4:25pm, the President departs Indianapolis, returning to Washington, D.C. as 5:50pm.
  • After suffering another loss on health care, President Donald Trump and Republican leaders now pivot to the next item on their agenda: tax reform. Today, Republicans will unveil their long-awaited tax framework; according to a Washington Post report, the plan "aims to cut taxes by more than $5 trillion over 10 years and recoup more than half of that lost revenue by eliminating numerous tax breaks."
  • The Post reported that the GOP will also propose a sharp decrease in the corporate tax rate, from 35% to 20%, and "call for lowering the rate many high-income businesses pay through the individual income tax code to 25 percent." The report also said that the framework will collapse the seven individual tax brackets into three brackets, at 12%, 25%, and 35% of income.
  • Trum hopes to receive bipartisan support for his tax reform plan; he will receive a favorable sign today while Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), one of the Democrats he is targeting, accompanies him on the Air Force One ride to Indiana.