Franken, Menendez & Moore and a banner day for the U.S. Senate

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On the roster: Franken, Menendez & Moore and a banner day for the U.S. Senate - I’ll Tell You What: The dog days - House passes tax package - Clinton responds to Uranium One special counsel - Dominos are falling in this crime spree… 

FRANKEN, MENENDEZ & MOORE AND A BANNER DAY FOR THE U.S. SENATE 
And they wonder why people have such low confidence in government…

Today’s news in politics was the informational equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner at the bus depot. There’s lots to eat, but you’d better have a strong stomach.   

Up first on the smorgasbord of horribles is the news that the senior senator from Minnesota is accused of being aggressively inappropriate while overseas on a USO tour. 

Al Franken is said to have given an unwelcome kiss to his co-star Leeann Tweeden. Tweeden, on the tour to support her military man husband and his fellows, said that Franken took too literally the bombshell role she was playing in the show. 

The comedian-turned-polemicist-turned-politician made matters worse by mugging for a photo where he appeared to be groping Tweeden over her Kevlar vest as she slept on the military transport plane home. 

Franken has now run for cover to a Senate ethics committee investigation. This will at least buy him some time. 

There’s not much a Senate ethics panel can or probably should do about the caddish behavior of members two years prior to their election. It may be a matter for the voters of Minnesota in 2020, but the ethics probe isn’t likely to do much. 

Unless…

Playing for time in a scandal like this is only a good thing if there aren’t more incidents out there. If this is an isolated occurrence, Franken can lay low for a few weeks and hope that voters are distracted by other scandals. 

That’s worked for Sen. Bob Menendez D-N.J., the next unsavory morsel on our news buffet. 

When the news broke two years ago about Menendez’s shady trips to the Dominican Republic, it looked like he wouldn’t survive. When the sleazy allegations were compounded with corruption charges from federal prosecutors for allegedly selling federal favors to a wealthy friend, the coverage was intense, and it seemed unlikely he could serve out his term. 

But today, a triumphant Menendez treated a hung jury in his bribery case as a vindication. While his re-election bid still sounds pretty preposterous given approval ratings on par with the state’s direly unpopular governor. But by brazening out his scandal, Menendez hopes to be the latest beneficiary of the debt of shame as a public virtue. 

One for whom time has done no favors, though, is Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore

In the wake of initial accusations of creepy conduct by Moore as a prosecuting attorney in small-town Alabama, multiple other accusers stepped forward, some with tales even more harrowing than the original. 

A defiant Moore and his supporters have been attacking the accusers and claiming conspiracy, but it is becoming clear that there is enough reason for concern that Alabama voters are unlikely to give him the chance to represent the state. 

The previous pipe dream of Senate Republicans that somehow Moore would be elected and then kicked out of the Senate now looks a little preposterous. 

Moore, who stands as the first person in political history to open a press conference about a sex scandal with a joke about hemorrhoids, does not look likely to win. 

Democrat Doug Jones seems to be ably capitalizing on the scandal and an increasing number of Republicans seem to have concluded that it would be better to have a moderate Democrat in that seat for two years than have to deal with the ongoing catastrophes of Moore. 

But if Moore were to somehow pull out the win, don’t kid yourself that he would somehow be swiftly booted out of the Senate. 

There’s a reason that Franken is so eager to take the case of his accuser to the ethics committee: The process is slow and, by design, murky. Moore would have exactly the same advantages. 

One day, two senators, one Senate nominee and three sleazy scandals. What a Thursday for the annals of self-governance. 

There has been a great deal of discussion lately about the consequences of shamelessness in American politics. We had a good dose of that today. 

But we should also remember that those individuals in elected office or aspiring to it, who convinced themselves that they are more important than the cause or their message, are often the most susceptible to these kinds of stumbles.

THE RULEBOOK: INCENTIVIZED 
“It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it… for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory…” – John JayFederalist No. 4

TIME OUT: THE EVOLUTION OF THE DUNK
Atlantic: “The dunk has persevered since it came alive during the height of the civil-rights movement. There were dunks before then, of course, but the shifting social subtext of the ‘60s loaned the act a political relevancy. … The dunk was unskilled, the traditionalists argued, and destroying the sanctity of the game. They put forth fantastically reductive arguments, devoid of critical thought or inquiry, but it stuck. The NCAA’s ban on dunking survived for nearly a decade, until 1976. The NCAA claimed the ban was instituted to protect the players, but the NCAA was only protecting white fragility. … The dunk marked a shift in a sport that has veered in new directions since. Compared to 40 years ago, the dunk is not what it once was. There’s little room left for innovation, limited real estate left to claim. … Each generation forged from the one before, each adding their own artistic expression and own stylistic tics.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -20 points
Change from one week ago: down 1.2 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: THE DOG DAYS
This week Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt discuss President Trump’s overseas trip, the allegations against Judge Roy Moore and banana peppers. Plus, Chris shares where he learned math and Dana vents about her Lambo, Lambert debacle. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

HOUSE PASSES TAX PACKAGE
NYT: “The House passed a sweeping rewrite of the tax code on Thursday, taking a significant leap forward as Republicans seek to enact $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for businesses and individuals and deliver the first major legislative achievement of President Trump’s tenure. The House voted to 227 to 205 to approve the bill, shortly after Mr. Trump came to Capitol Hill to address House Republicans. … The Republicans who voted no were from New York, New Jersey, California and North Carolina. The tax overhaul still faces significant obstacles, as Republicans must align the House legislation with a bill that is working its way through the Senate Finance Committee this week and contains big differences that will have to be bridged. Republicans are under pressure to get legislation to Mr. Trump’s desk by Christmas, especially after failing in their attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act this year, even though their party has full control of government.”

Trump tells House GOP: Welfare cuts to follow tax deal - Bloomberg: “President Donald Trump delivered a pep talk to House Republicans as they were poised to pass a tax overhaul bill Thursday afternoon and urged them to next target government welfare programs. Trump told group in a Thursday visit to the Capitol that ‘We’ve got to get this done’ and then turn to cutting spending on welfare programs, Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz quoted the president as saying. Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said Trump didn’t share any preferences on the policy differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. ‘I expect he’ll be out on the road to sell it,’ Cole said… Only about 10 House Republicans had declared by Wednesday that they’d vote no -- and many of them cited a proposal to repeal or limit individuals’ state and local tax deductions. … Republicans can spare 22 votes without Democratic support.”

Collins chilly toward ObamaCare mandate repeal in tax deal - 
Reuters: “A day after Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell decided to link the two issues in a risky strategy, [Susan Collins], a moderate Republican from Maine, was citing data that she called worrisome, casting new doubts over the tax plan’s outlook. She told reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday that her staff’s research showed pairing tax cuts with an effective repeal of the individual mandate of Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), could be a mistake. ‘I have data that demonstrates for certain middle-income individuals and couples, who do not qualify for subsidies under the ACA ... that the premium increase will outweigh the tax cut that they get,’ she said.”

Tax plan could trigger Medicare cuts - Bloomberg: “The Congressional Budget Office says the $1.5 trillion proposal would trigger $25 billion in automatic spending cuts next year to Medicare, plus another $111 billion in reductions to other programs, including farm subsidies. That’s because of a law known as Paygo. While some conservative Republicans would welcome the cuts, moderates in the party are likely to balk -- and President Donald Trump has promised repeatedly not to cut Medicare. Waiving the automatic cuts could take 60 votes in the Senate, requiring support from at least eight Democrats in a chamber Republicans control 52-48.”

CLINTON RESPONDS TO URANIUM ONE SPECIAL COUNSEL
Politico: “Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has slammed President Donald Trump for suggesting that a special prosecutor investigate her role in the Uranium One deal… ‘Taking myself out of it, this is such an abuse of power and it goes right at the rule of law,’ Clinton told Mother Jones in an interview posted Wednesday night. ‘… If they send a signal that we are going to be like some dictatorship … that rips at the fabric of the contract that we have that we can trust our justice system.’ On Tuesday, Clinton’s aides and allies began mounting a defense to the unproven allegations by some that she engaged in a quid pro quo as secretary of state: that in exchange for earlier donations to the Clinton Foundation, she approved the sale of a Canadian company, Uranium One, with mining interests in the U.S. to Rosatom, the Russian nuclear agency.”

The Judge’s Ruling: The Hillary Chronicles - Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano examines the next chapter of investigations involving the Clintons: “Whatever Comey’s motive for not prosecuting Hillary Clinton and the DOJ’s ratification of it, the current DOJ is not bound by these erroneous decisions. The evidence in the public domain of Clinton’s espionage and bribery is more than enough to be presented to a grand jury. The same cannot be said about FBI involvements with the Steele dossier or the use of intelligence data for political purposes, because we don’t yet know who did it, so we need aggressive investigation.” More here.

Kushner received WikiLeaks, Russia emails in 2016 - Politico: “Jared Kushner received emails in September 2016 about WikiLeaks and about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” and forwarded them to another campaign official, according to a letter to his attorney from the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Kushner failed to turn over the relevant documents when they asked for them last month. ‘We appreciate your voluntary cooperation with the Committee’s investigation, but the production appears to have been incomplete,’ the pair wrote in a letter dated Thursday to Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell.”

Hicks could be the missing piece for Mueller - Politico: “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is preparing to interview the woman who’s seen it all: Hope Hicks. She’s been part of Donald Trump’s inner circle for years… As a senior White House adviser and now as communications director, she’s been in the room for moments critical to Mueller’s probe, which has grown to include the president’s response to the Russia investigation itself. Hicks’ history with Trump makes her one of the more useful witnesses for Mueller as he looks for insights into the president’s habits and moods. She also is one of the few people well positioned to recount the president’s reactions at various moments as the Russia scandal has sidetracked his presidency — including the Mueller appointment itself.”

Federal judge orders for transparency in Trump dossier fight - Politico: “A federal judge assigned to a fight between a House committee and the private investigation firm behind the so-called Trump dossier complained Wednesday that too much of the legal battle has been carried out in secret. At a brief hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington, Judge Richard Leon told lawyers involved in the case that the dispute over the House Intelligence Committee’s demands for the bank records of investigative firm Fusion GPS is of major public significance and needs to be handled with greater transparency. ‘If there were ever a case where [public access] is in the best interest of all concerned, this is one,’ said Leon, an appointee of President George W. Bush. ‘This is not the kind of case, in my judgment, where there should be much if any time behind the [closed] door, unless it’s necessary…’”

FBI gave Clinton email probe was labeled with ‘special’ status - The Hill: “Shortly before last year’s election, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe wrote an email on his official government account stating that the Hillary Clinton email probe had been given ‘special’ status, according to documents released Wednesday. McCabe’s Oct. 23, 2016, email to press officials in the FBI said the probe was under the control of a small group of high-ranking people at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington. ‘As I now know the decision was made to investigate it at HQ with a small team,’ McCabe wrote in the email. He said he had no input when the Clinton email investigation started in summer 2015, while he was serving as assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington office.”

Sessions to meet with House intelligence panel - Reuters: “U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is scheduled to appear behind closed doors for an interview with the U.S. House of Representatives’ intelligence committee on Nov. 30, a Department of Justice spokesman said on Wednesday. The panel is among several congressional committees, along with the Department of Justice’s special counsel Robert Mueller, investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and potential collusion by President Donald Trump’s campaign.”

REPORT: SENATORS REACH DEAL ON BACKGROUND CHECKS 
Politico: “A bipartisan group of senators has struck a deal to bolster a federal database used to check the backgrounds of gun buyers in the aftermath of several recent mass shootings. The new legislative push is led by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), two powerful figures in their respective parties when it comes to gun policy. Though their bill has not been formally released, it targets the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which both senators have said is deeply flawed. Their plan is twofold, according to two sources familiar with it: One is to incentivize states to send more information about criminal histories to the system, known as NICS. States usually aren’t required to do so, unless their own laws mandate it or they have to do so to receive federal funding. It would also make sure that federal agencies follow through on their own requirement that they send information to the database.”

HISPANIC CAUCUS REFUSES REPUBLICAN
WashEx: “A Democrats-only Hispanic caucus denied Republican Carlos Curbelo’s membership request Thursday after weeks of speculation and a bitter dispute between the Florida congressman and members of the group. What first appeared to be a drama-free request by Curbelo to join the Congressional Hispanic Caucus turned into a nasty feud that left many members of the caucus agitated. Some ended up accusing the Republican of playing politics. ‘After due consideration, the CHC determined not to accept Rep. Curbelo’s request to join the caucus,’ said CHC spokesperson Carlos Paz, Jr. ‘The CHC isn’t just an organization for Hispanics; it is a caucus that represents certain values. This vote reflects the position of many of our members that Rep. Curbelo and his record are not consistent with those values.’ Curbelo called the decisions ‘shameful’ and accused the caucus of building a wall around the organization.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
Trump administration released rules on the disclosure of cyber flaws - Reuters

Zinke flagged for not properly documenting travel - WaPo

McCain urges Tillerson to end State Department hiring freeze - The Hill

Sens. Tillis, Burr put Trump’s EPA chemical safety nomination in danger The Hill

AUDIBLE: #SPIRITFINGERS
“Bring It On is a movie about high school cheerleaders.” – NRSC Executive Director Chris Hansen replied in a retweet of Roy Moore’s tweet saying, “Dear Mitch McConnell, Bring. It. On.”

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“As much as I care for the well-being of EACH and ALL women, I also care about protecting our democracy against mob rule no matter how worthy the lynchable offense. No one doubts that the timing of all these courageous latter-day accusations is politically motivated. So the conundrum is this: Do we put political candidates on notice that if they run for office, they forfeit all rights to face their inevitable accusers of misdeeds in a court of law?” – Eric HutchinsSanta Barbara, Calif.

[Ed. note: It’s certainly good to be concerned about the dangers of mob rule, Mr. Hutchins. But what we’re talking about here is an election, not a criminal trial. Let’s think about it in a different way: If former business associates of a candidate stepped forward in a sufficient number and with credible claims of shady practices against a candidate, shouldn’t voters take that into consideration? Part of the issue here is that when sex is involved, reputational harm comes more swiftly and with greater intensity. But it’s right for voters to consider the character of the people who seek high office. I don’t see much in the way of partisan political motivation from Moore’s accusers, but I don’t disagree that their effort is to deny him a Senate seat. That doesn’t make their claims untrue. Just as we ask juries to conclude criminal guilt or innocence, we ask voters to render their judgement on political candidates. I think it’s fine for those considerations to take place in an informed way.]

“Regarding the accusations against Moore, while it’s easy to imagine that they’re politically motivated, we can’t deny the current movement of women (and some men) standing up against those who’ve abused them, spiraling out of events in Hollywood. It doesn’t seem particularly targeted along political lines, and men of poor character and judgement on all sides of the political spectrum should continue to expect repercussions for their actions. It can be disheartening when a celebrity or politician you’re a fan of gets knocked off their high horse for this kind of thing, but we’re in zero tolerance territory here. It’s fair to be cautious about witch hunts and people trolling for attention, but in this case it feels like a real cultural problem has been exposed and there’s a course correction occurring. I just hope something positive sticks after the dust clears.” – Jim Montgomery, Frisco, Texas

[Ed. note: Excellent point, Mr. Montgomery! We are in a new world as it relates to this issue, but what matters most are the lessons learned from this wrenching experience.]

“Why are all the talking heads after the GOP leadership in Congress to mitigate the impact of repealing state and local tax deductions? Put the pressure where it belongs – on state and local governments!” – Joanna Wragg, Bonita Springs, Fla.

[Ed. note: I take your point, Ms. Wragg. But for voters who would see their tax payments go up dramatically as a result of this legislation, it would probably be wise to blame everyone involved. That would include their representative in Congress. There is a great deal that is unfair about the way state and federal governments levy taxes and distribute spending. Some states and cities may be taking advantage of federal deductions to push taxes higher than would otherwise be politically palatable. But I am certain that those hit by a federal tax increase wouldn’t be much interested in narrow-casting their blame.]  

“Just a quick note of appreciation for what you do and the way you do it. Your daily report brightens my time at work each afternoon. I wanted to especially call out the respect you have for your readers and the journalistic institution you are a part of. I can imagine few careers which invite the mean-spiritedness of others so much as politics, or being a political journalist who invites and accepts feedback such as you. My respect for you grows with each laugh you elicit through the serious discourse of political banter, but more so from each critique turned aside From The Bleachers in the respectful, professional way you do. So many of us lack the confidence and control to stay cool-headed in the face of criticism. Hats off to you, sir, for the example you set for your peers and readers.” – Matthew Caster, Dayton, Texas

[Ed. note: Well, shucks, Mr. Caster...]

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DOMINOS ARE FALLING IN THIS CRIME SPREE… 
AP: “Police officers in a Massachusetts town jokingly recommend drivers get a little more creative if they make their own illegal license plates. The Hopkinton Police Department says in a Facebook post Sunday a driver was stopped with a license plate made from a pizza box. The department discourages people from making their own plates. But if he or she does, the department says not to use a cardboard box and felt tip pens. Hopkinton police say the driver is facing charges that include operating an uninsured and unregistered vehicle and attaching ‘fake homemade’ plates.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

 

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.