Q&A: Ask Amber from The Fix

Dec 19, 2017

If it's lunchtime Tuesday, it's Fix politics time. What do you want to know?

Apparently UFOs might be real. Trump says WaPo's reporting that he tried to rescind Justice Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court is fake. And Republicans are about to pass the first major tax bill in three decades. What do you want to know? 

Will there be a CBO score released for the tax bill. If so, when is it expected?

They already did. And the nonpartisan Congressional budget office said that, even if the bill were to suddenly bump growth over the long term, it would still cost American taxpayers $1.4 trillion dollars over the next decades. 

In re Corker: So I ask myself why would a retiring senator change his mind and suddenly vote for the tax bill (after earlier having laid solid groundwork for its opposition)? Then it occurred to me that most of these retirees go on to excessively lucrative jobs as lobbyists. And guess who hires lobbyists? The corporations this bill totally favors. Funny coincidence, no? Or is there a flaw in my reasoning here, and am I being too cynical? (Reminds me of a quote from Lily Tomlin: “Every morning I read the newspaper and no matter how cynical I get it’s impossible to keep up.”)

I don't think he's wobbly on this final version of the tax bill, even after all the heat he took yesterday on the left accusing him of trading his "yes" vote for a tax cut that could personally benefit him.

My understanding after talking to Senate Republican aides and reading his statement of why he decided to support the bill in the first place, despite the fact it will blow a hole in the deficit, is that he got convinced Republicans would be worse off with no bill than with an expensive bill.

His absence of a specific policy reason for switching his vote then opened the door to a whole bunch of theories. Not saying he won't leave the Senate next year for a lucrative corporate job, but there's no clear evidence of a quid pro quo. 

How wobbly is Corker? And has any Republican acknowledged the problems with the bill, or even that most voters don't like the bill?

Oops, see question above. I just answered your first one, that Corker isn't wobbly.

And, yes, lots of Republicans have acknowledged this bill isn't perfect and that it's unpopular. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is only voting for it because she has assurances that the Senate will vote on another bill (a compromise to prop up Obamacare) to essentially fix what this bill will do to the individual mandate. 

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have acknowledged this bill may be unpopular now, but they're gambling once people (IF people) see a pick up in their paychecks, they'll feel better about this bill. Like I said, it's a gamble. 

Gov Track rates Democrat Joe Manchin as more conservative than Susan Collins (by a mile) and Lisa Murkowski (by a little) -- and Sen. Elect Doug Jones will almost certainly govern at least as conservative as all three. Any chance before 2018 (or after?) that these moderate type GOPers cut the cord and proclaim themselves independents? It certainly wouldn't hurt Collins in Maine (King is rated as more conservative than her) -- Would Flake or McCain pull the pin on the grendade given one's current political and the other's health situation?

You're right that, thanks to Jones's victory in ALABAMA, control of the Senate is suddenly in play next year.

As for whether senators will complicate things by flipping parties -- it's happened before. But not recently. My gut sense is that partisanship is just too strong this day in age for any senator to switch parties and survive politically. 

wondering if I should plan on spending money this Christmas - I'm a Fed...

spend away ... I think. Since Republicans are about to pass their tax bill, the last thing they want to do is step on their success by shutting down the government on their watch. Budget experts I talked to say it's not likely the government will shut down on Friday. But a major hurdle still left: Whether Democrats will vote for the spending bill without deportation protects for dreamers. 

do you all ever get tired of covering this? It's been a constant threat since 2010 or so, but after it really happened in 2013, we can't discount it...

Ya, I'm almost on autopilot at this point -- every winter, get prepared to be on shut down watch. 

Hi Amber, can you help me understand two issues regarding the tax bill? 1) I thought the main power of the minority in the senate is to delay. Why can't the democrats delay the tax bill for a couple weeks until Doug Jones is seated? 2)Why didn't senate democrats use their leverage on the spending bill (which needs democrats to pass) to get a more favorable tax bill? Thanks!


1) You're correct, but Republicans aren't passing this bill through the normal process. That would allow Democrats to filibuster the entire bill. So Democrats didn't really have a chance to delay the bill, because they weren't part of the process. Plus, it's up to the majority leader when to vote on a bill.
2) Because they knew they were already cut out of the tax bill process. And they have other priorities when it comes to the spending bill: raising domestic spending equivalent to military spending, disaster relief, children's health insurance program, and protecting deportations for dreamers. In short, Dems have a LONG list of wants, and the one time they get to be part of the legislative process this year, they have to make choices as to what to fight for. 

Was Arlen Spector the last? Didn't help him at all.

I believe he was. Harry Reid convinced him to switch so that Dems could have 60 votes to pass Obamacare. Specter lost the Democratic primary after that.

Did you see the Last Jedi? Did you like it? (Why should Petri have all the fun of answering?)

I haven't seen it yet! What did you think? Does it match up to Rogue One, which has got to be the best, newest Star Wars movie?

Seems like opinion is not moving in their direction at this point. What do they do to change that?

Good question. They hope the economy keeps improving, growth goes up, wages go up, and people notice changes to how much 2018 taxes their companies are collecting in their paychecks next year. 

That's all a gamble, since nearly ever independent analysis of the bill doesn't project long-term growth and DO project inequality worsening. For more, read The Post's Heather Long, who has done a fantastic job explaining the economic and political perils facing Republicans right now. 

What is more likely: Trump losing office or the Caps winning a Stanley Cup?

Caps. We just have NO idea what Mueller's team has found or will find and if it will implicate Trump. Plus, Congress wouldn't change hands until January of 2019 at the earliest, and no president has ever faced impeachment proceedings from his own party of Congress. 

Where else can we see a Steve Bannon primary challenger in 2018?

good question. Watch for a primary challenger in Nevada against Sen. Dean Heller (R) (in the form of perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian) and in Arizona against an open seat, in the form of Kelli Ward. 

Hi Amber—thanks for taking questions today. The tax bill is careening through Congress despite polls showing that a clear majority of the public opposes it. What’s the Republican calculation here in terms of 2018? That opposition will fade? Or given the stranglehold of gerrymandering it doesn’t much matter in the end because they’ll keep control no matter what anyway?

Thanks for asking questions! Ya, I think they are calculating that people don't understand the bill and they are confident in their interpretation of it, that tax cuts at the top will filter down to the rest of us. 

I do think Republicans are very aware their majority could be at stake in next year's elections, in both chambers of Congress. That's why they're trying to pass this tax bill in the first place, for an insurance policy against disenchanted voters. 

A threat since 2010. Must be a millenial Fed. Lets try since 1986.

It's not easy having a job that is at the whim of a sometimes-petulant, always-partisan Congress! 

"The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly," tweeted Trump. Uh, how would TRUMP's great infrastructure plan have slowed down the train?

Yeah, yet another example of the president tweeting before he knows all the facts -- even though he said, when he refused to clearly denounce white supremacists protesters this summer in Virginia, that he was waiting for the facts. 

Which do you see as being more competitive next year -- Senate race in Texas against a less than popular incumbent, Ted Cruz, or an open Senate race in Tennessee with an Democratic ex-governor who hasn't run a race in more than 10 years?

That's a good question. Neither are on my list of top 10 most competitive Senate races. Most of my competitive races are seats Democrats hold in very Trump states, like Missouri or West Virginia. (For all the talk of Democrats suddenly being able to take back the Senate next year, they have a lot of seats to defend.)

That being said, I say Tennessee is more competitive. The South is proving slightly more amenable to Democrats than the West -- they won some special senate elections in Georgia this year,  they kicked out North Carolina's GOP governor last year, and of course, Alabama. 

Hi Amber! I am solidly anti-Trump. But to suggest that his approval in Alabama is now 48% after the special election is more than a bit misleading (not singling anyone out specifically, I just think this point has been made inelegantly in post-election coverage, generally). His approval among those who voted in the special election is now 48%. However, one (influential) explanation for the Jones victory is that a large number of conservatives/Trump supporters stayed home because they wouldn't vote Dem and couldn't vote Moore. Those who turned out to vote in the special election are NOT a representative sample of the population of Alabama and therefore the 48% number should not be used to proxy Trump approval in Alabama. (TL;DR) There's also the impact of the marginally attached voters who turned out in the "black belt" who likely wouldn't be included in the sampled population for polls using a likely vs registered population. I'm submitting this early (Wednesday, after election night) so it's entirely possible this more nuanced point will be made before the chat. If so, please feel free to disregard this submission. BTW, submitting early to you because your chat is my favorite among the Fix!

Hi! Thanks for submitting your question (and early, too!)

I don't think anyone is suggesting Trump's approval rating in Alabama is 48 percent. We said exactly what you're saying: That among those who voted, just 48% approved of Trump. It's an INDICATION his approval rating has dropped, but it's not his official approval rating in the state.

I think the simplest reason Doug Jones won is Roy Moore. He ran a horrible campaign even before the allegations, he struggled to get out from under them, and much of official GOP Washington ditched him in the process. (Trump the glaring exception of course) 

And yes, black voters were a sign of strength for Democrats in Alabama. But as The Fix's Eugene Scott reported, many of them didn't come out FOR Jones, but rather to vote against Moore. Unless Moore moves to Georgia and runs for governor there next year, what happened in Alabama is not a longterm recipe for success for Democrats in the Deep South.

Hey Amber, Regarding the ACA insurance mandate, if the tax penalty goes away, won't people just wait till they get sick to sign up on the exchanges? Will the provisions that the insurance companies have to take patients with pre-existing conditions continue? It sounds too good to be true, from a consumer perspective.

Hi there,

I think (but am not 100% sure) that most of that is true: taking away the insurance mandate will give people freedom to hop on and off insurance, as long as it's during open enrollment, regardless of their health.

I do know that health insurance experts say the individual mandate is crucial to preventing premiums from spiking. 

Did you watch the Jim Carey version of the Grinch this week?

Saving it for the week of Christmas. Which reminds me: No live chat next week. I'll be far, far away from Washington and conveniently unable to log onto the internet. (At least, that's what I'm telling my boss.) 

Has Senator Collins said anything about what she'll do if the Republicans don't pass the bills about healthcare that they promised, in order to secure her vote on the tax package? It's not like she can retro-actively change her vote to "no." And they're almost certainly going to stiff her on those bills.

She hasn't, because she won't even go there. That promise is "ironclad" she said on the Senate floor yesterday. Except... is it? It's still unclear if Speaker Ryan would agree to pass a bipartisan bill that could boost Obamacare. 

.....or just reschedule it until AFTER he gets due process before the Ethics Committee?

Repeat after me: It would be a massive political mistake for Democrats to let Franken un-resign. They risk giving up whatever moral high ground they gained by asking him to go in the first place. 

It seems like cuts to entitlements (as Ryan alluded to) will just further cement the message that R's don't care about the middle class.

Yeah, entitlement changes will likely be a big one. They might quietly come back to fixing Obamacare, in a way that doesn't repeal it or undermine it anymore than they already have. And the president seems pretty focused (as much as this president can be focused) on infrastructure. I also think early on we could see a deal on protecting dreamers. Then the rest of the year will probably be dedicated to prepping for an extremely unpredictable midterm election. 

Hi Amber I wrote last week that I thought the sexual harassment allegations against Moore would help him win the election. My reverse psychology worked!!! Crow never tasted so good.

I do admire your integrity! 


I clicked on that link then got sucked down a rabbit hole about Meghan Markle's wedding dress .... brb ...

OK, back! (The sketches are beautiful.) 

Listen, you know how we're not supposed to armchair psychoanalyze the president, because we're not trained psychologists? Same goes for his health. The White House said he'll release a full physical exam early next year. 

Amber, your assessment of the Franken un-resignation? Liberal wishful thinking? I was thinking that if Moore had won in AL, changing his mind might have been an option, but we know how that turned out.

Ya, 100% wishful thinking. I wrote about this here yesterday. Basically, Senate Democrats could never allow him back in without appearing to be extremely politically driven. And what they're going for in pushing Franken out is the appearance of a party driven by MORALITY.

Has he conceded yet?

Nope. Apparently he's got an "election integrity" fund to try to challenge the results. 

Won't most of them turn out to be the 2018 equivalents of Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Sharron Angle and Christine "I am not a witch" O'Donnell? We all know how they worked out for the Republicans.

The Senate Republican establishment is fearful of exactly that. So far, it hasn't worked out for Bannon in 2017. 

I'll believe it when I see Nancy Pelosi kick Bill Clinton to the curb

A high-profile 2020 contender, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), would agree with you. 

Biden, Harris, someone else? Who has the brains vision toughness, connections, resources etc. to do it?

Good question, and different people on the left have different answers. That's a big problem for the Democratic Party. 

Will you be seeing people who don't work in journalism during Christmas vacation?

Nope. I only talk to people in The Bubble. It's in my contract. 

Thanks for the great questions, everyone! As usual, I've come away from our chat learning more about politics than when I started -- and with lots of great story ideas.

I'm off Tuesday, Dec. 26th, so I'll see you, my regulars, on Jan. 2. Have a wonderful holiday and Happy New Year!

In This Chat
Amber Phillips
Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan.
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