After Alabama, now what?

**Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.**

On the roster: After Alabama, now what? - Tax plan details revealed - Rosenstein stands by Mueller probe - We’re sure they’ll get riiiiiight on that 

Forecasting the Alabama special election was hard. Analyzing the reasons for the Republican loss is easy. 

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., did all of the punditry necessary when approached today by reporters looking for his take on the race: “Alabamians didn’t want somebody who dated 14-year-old girls.” 

And really, dear readers, it doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. Members of each party and members of the factions within those parties will offer self-serving explanations for why their preferred candidate won or lost, but you don’t need to waste your time on what is already the most over-analyzed special Senate election in human history. 

What would be useful to know, however, is how this outcome will affect what happens next, and how what happens next will affect the 2018 midterms. 

The first, most obvious consequence is that Republicans are running like scalded dogs to get some kind of tax cut package done. They were already moving, but now you can really hear them yelping.

Not only does the looming loss of one seat in the Senate give them a real, rather than self-imposed deadline, but the importance of the plan from a messaging standpoint went up significantly. 

The large takeaway from Alabama is that Democratic voters are fired up like we have seldom seen them ahead of a midterm vote.

You would have to reach back at least a decade to the 2006 elections to find this kind of rabid intensity on the Blue Team for a biennial contest. We certainly saw it in November in Virginia, New Jersey and elsewhere. But Alabama gives us another data point about just how hard Democrats are pulling on the rope. 

The Senate is probably still out of reach for Democrats, despite Tuesday’s gain. But, that shift of one seat technically puts control of the Senate in play, based on which races are likely to be competitive next year. 

Holding the House, on the other hand, is looking like an increasingly daunting task for the GOP. 

Democrats now hold an 11 point lead in the RCP average of generic ballot polls. For perspective, Republicans went into their successful 2014 midterm vote with an average lead of 2.4 points. 

Trust us when we say that if the climate is anything like the present ten months from now, Republicans would find themselves in the minority in the House. 

This explains the urgency for the tax cut. With the Democratic base fired up, Republicans need something to get their voters out and boost base intensity. Republicans knew it before, but Alabama offered a flashing red (crimson?) warning light.

Republicans will work hard to make 2018 a referendum on policies and not on the governance of President Trump, who remains broadly unpopular as he nears the end of his first year in office. If the GOP can keep its coalition of high-propensity voters in the suburbs and rural areas unified around policies broadly popular in the party, they might be able to stave off a rout. 

Base satisfaction could make the difference between a 15-seat spanking and the kind of pummeling Republicans took ten years ago. 

Very little is likely to happen from a legislative standpoint next year, so this is, in most likelihoods, the last chance for Republicans to do anything on a large scale. If you live in a Republican-held district be prepared to hear a great deal in 2018 about tax cuts, judicial appointments and regulatory rollback. 

Much of this will depend on whether Republicans are able to avoid the kinds of debacles that they inflicted on themselves in Alabama. Faced with an authentically awful political climate, will Republicans stop the civil war stuff and focus on saving energy and resources for general election contests? Or are they still feeling cocky after 2016 and willing to indulge themselves on intramural fights? 

But make no mistake: The wave is shaping up to be a big one, capable of wiping out all but the surest-footed surfers. 

“The truth is, that the existence of a federal government and military establishments under State authority are not less at variance with each other than a due supply of the federal treasury and the system of quotas and requisitions.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 25

Did you ever read George Plimpton’s interview with Ernest Hemingway? You really should. And it’s available online just for this week. Paris Review: “HEMINGWAY: The Old Man and the Sea could have been over a thousand pages long and had every character in the village in it and all the processes of how they made their living, were born, educated, bore children, et cetera. That is done excellently and well by other writers. In writing you are limited by what has already been done satisfactorily. So I have tried to learn to do something else. First I have tried to eliminate everything unnecessary to conveying experience to the reader so that after he or she has read something it will become a part of his or her experience and seem actually to have happened. This is very hard to do and I’ve worked at it very hard.”

Flag on the play? -
 Email us at
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

Trump net job-approval rating: -21.2 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.8 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.]

Politico: “Republicans have struck a deal on a sweeping tax overhaul and hope to have legislation on President Donald Trump’s desk by next week, sources said Wednesday. The agreement includes a 37 percent top tax rate for individuals, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, lower than either the House or Senate called for earlier. The corporate tax rate would be 21 percent, Cornyn said, higher than the 20 percent in each chamber’s separate legislation, and would start in 2018 instead of being delayed until 2019 as the Senate proposed. … The Senate plans to take up the bill first, on Monday, with a final vote by the chamber on Tuesday, Cornyn said. Republicans plan to release the details of the agreement by the end of this week, a GOP aide said. They still need to finish writing the legislative text, and get a final budgetary accounting by the official Joint Committee on Taxation.”

It’s all in the details - Bloomberg: “Here’s what tax negotiators have agreed to, according to lawmakers… 

Corporate Rate … Cut the corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent beginning in 2018….  

Top Individual Rate ... Joint Agreement: Cut the top rate to 37 percent for the highest earners, down from 39.6 percent… 

Pass-Through Tax Breaks ... Joint Agreement: Provide a 20 percent deduction on pass-through business income, and extend that break to trusts as well as individuals…

Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax … Joint Agreement: Repeal it…

Obamacare Individual Mandate … Joint Agreement: Repeal it… 

Mortgage Interest Deduction ... Joint Agreement: Cap it at loans of $750,000 -- down from $1 million -- for new purchases of homes…

Individual State and Local Tax Deductions … Joint Agreement: Limit combined deductions for state and local income taxes and property taxes to $10,000…”

Will Rubio suck it up? - WaPo: “Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) hinted he could create ’problems’ for Republicans’ tax plan if party leaders reject his plan to add more benefits for the working poor while increasing the corporate tax rate. Now, with his demand reportedly rejected in a particularly stinging fashion, Rubio has to decide how big he wants those ‘problems’ to be. In the final stages of crafting the Senate bill, Rubio pitched a plan to slightly shrink the size of the measure’s proposed corporate tax cut and use that revenue to bump benefits for about 9 million low-income American families through the Child Tax Credit. But the proposal failed amid opposition from top GOP leaders, who argued the proposed change to the corporate tax rate would hurt U.S. companies’ ability to compete.”

Schumer, McConell spat on timing - NYT: “Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, called on his Republican counterpart, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, to ‘hit pause’ on the tax vote. It is highly unlikely that Mr. McConnell will do so. ‘It would be wrong for Senate Republicans to jam through this tax bill without giving the newly elected senator from Alabama the opportunity to cast his vote,’ Mr. Schumer said. Mr. Schumer cited precedent: the 2010 election of Scott Brown, a Massachusetts Republican, to the seat that had been held for decades by Senator Edward M. Kennedy. The Senate was weighing President Barack Obama’s health care bill at the time, and Democrats delayed the final vote — even though Mr. Brown’s election cost them their 60-vote filibuster-proof majority. But aides to Mr. McConnell pushed back…”

Minnesota governor makes Franken replacement official -
 AP: “It’s not clear when [Lt. Gov. Tina Smith] will head to Washington. [Al Franken’s] … office hasn’t set a final departure date yet; Smith indicated it would likely be in early January. In a statement, Franken called his successor the perfect choice but didn’t shed light on his formal resignation plans, saying only that he would work with Smith to ensure ‘a speedy and seamless transition.’”

But… Dems taking hard line on shutdown threat - Politico: “In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), 44 Democratic senators urged the Republican leaders to ‘keep your commitment to the bipartisan budget negotiations and forego any plans to consider partisan legislation’ that would lift budget caps for the Pentagon while leaving domestic programs static. Some Senate Democrats began pushing back last week as House conservatives pitched Republican leaders on a full-year hike for the Pentagon paired with a continuing resolution for domestic programs. But Tuesday’s letter makes clear that any attempt to move such legislation through the House would fail to get the eight Democratic votes necessary to clear a filibuster and pass the Senate.”

Fox News: “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stood by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe Wednesday, despite a newly unearthed trove of damning text messages and other details that Republicans said show an ‘insider bias’ on the investigative team. Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and has overseen the Russia probe since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, testified before the House Judiciary Committee -- and faced a grilling from GOP lawmakers. They zeroed in on anti-Trump text messages exchanged between two FBI agents who once worked on the Mueller team. ’This is unbelievable,’ said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, voicing concern that the ‘public trust’ in the probe is gone. Republicans for weeks have raised concerns that some investigators may be biased, citing everything from their political donations to past work representing top Democratic figures and allied groups including the Clinton Foundation. But when committee Ranking Member Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., pressed Rosenstein over whether he had seen ‘good cause’ to remove Mueller from his post, Rosenstein pushed back. ’No,’ Rosenstein said.”

Trump Jr. requests investigation into leaks from House Intel - WaPo: “Donald Trump Jr. and his lawyer formally requested an investigation Tuesday into leaks from the House Intelligence Committee that followed Trump’s participation in a closed-door interview with committee members and staffers last week. ‘The public release of confidential non-public information by Committee members continued unabated’ for 24 hours after Trump’s supposedly confidential interview last week, Trump’s lawyer, Alan Futerfas, wrote in a letter delivered Tuesday afternoon. The four-page letter, addressed to Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), the panel chairman overseeing the Russia investigation, complains about public comments made by three members of the panel, all Democrats, including the highest-ranking minority member of the panel, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.). The letter says that members and staffers began ‘selectively leaking information’ even before the closed-door meeting ended.”

Schiff denies - Politico: “An aide to Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that neither he nor his staff leaked any ‘non-public information’ about the testimony of Donald Trump Jr. last week, but his office defended his decision to tell reporters the president’s son had refused to answer a key question from the panel. Schiff had told reporters that Trump Jr., who testified for nearly eight hours, would not reveal the details of a discussion he had with his father earlier this year, when news of a secret Trump Tower meeting between the younger Trump and Kremlin-linked people began seeping out.”

Texts between ex-Mueller team members revealed - Fox News: “Text messages between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page in 2016 that were obtained by Fox News on Tuesday refer to then-candidate Donald Trump as a ‘loathsome human’ and ‘an idiot.’ More than 10,000 texts between Strzok and Page were being reviewed by the Justice Department after Strzok was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe after it was revealed that some of them contained anti-Trump content. The messages were sent during the 2016 campaign and contain discussions about various candidates. … House Intelligence Committee investigators have long regarded Strzok as a key figure in the chain of events that began when the bureau, in 2016, received the infamous anti-Trump ‘dossier’ and launched a counterintelligence investigation into Russian meddling in the election that ultimately came to encompass FISA surveillance of a Trump campaign associate.”

White House says Mueller has finished requested interviews - Politico: “Special counsel Robert Mueller on Tuesday completed interviews with the last in a slate of about two dozen current and former White House witnesses he’s initially requested as part of the investigation into Russia’s actions in the presidential election, White House attorney Ty Cobb said. It’s unclear if Mueller will seek follow-up interviews or seek to question additional people beyond the initial batch of witnesses, but the completion of this round of questioning tracks with the goal Cobb has long stated publicly that President Donald Trump’s White House was cooperating with the Russia investigators in search of a speedy resolution to the probe.”

Omarosa Manigault Newman plans to leave Trump admin next month - AP

Mo Brooks says losing Alabama Senate primary saved his life WashEx

Grassley says federal judge nominees will not be confirmed - WaPo

Poll: Democrats currently hold a 15-point advantage in generic ballot - Monmouth University  
“It’s a tough tightrope to walk, and it may not be walkable, to be honest with you.” –Ed Gillespie discussing running for office with President Trump in the White House with CNN’s David Axelrod.

“In your article, ‘Alabama Dems wins with a throwback’ you wrote... ‘The way the political aftermath of desegregation played out in much of the South was that many of the remaining moderate white Democrats switched over the GOP in order to have a voice on the state level, but, in turn, moderated Republican politics...Segregation and the battle to end it had rendered the Democratic lane largely impassible for white Democrats, even moderate ones. So they changed lanes.’ In this description of post segregationist South, you make it sound like millions of Southerners, moderate Democrats, switched to the GOP because they were fleeing the racism and kookism of the segregationists (Democrats). And they ‘moderated’ the Republican Party. … I don’t understand your broad rendition of Southern political history, and you will agree it’s always important to get history’s truth correct.” – George Payne, Harrisburg, Pa.

[Ed. note: Well, Mr. Payne, as you have shown with your question, I can rightly trust that our readers possess a level of historical understanding greater than most. I would assume it goes without saying that the catalytic agent here was the Democratic Party’s reversal on the question of institutional racism. You know, I am sure, that prior to 1964, the Republican Party was seen by its own members, including African Americans, as the party of liberty and equality. The fateful decision of Republicans to oppose the Civil Rights Act on constitutional grounds was a fulcrum point in history. President Lyndon Johnson’s calculated embrace of civil rights not only triggered a multi-generational shift from Republican to Democrat for most of black American, but also drove pro-segregationists out of the Democratic Party. First, they decamped to the Dixiecrats and ultimately ended up in George Wallace’s American Independent Party. The racist rump did end up, like Wallace’s own son, in the GOP. We were talking on Tuesday about the way Democrats used to win in the Deep South, through a coalition of moderate whites and black voters keen to keep kookism in check. While the south has been dominated for more than a generation by a mainline conservative coalition, those old muscles can still pull now and again.]

“While I agree such distortions as early voting and vote-by-mail should be abolished, I submit your idea of making (Federal) Election Day a Federal holiday is naive for a number of reasons. First, the argument is more people would vote if they had the day off.  Nonsense. Many, perhaps most, people would take advantage of the free time to do all the non-voting things they haven’t had time to do on the weekend. …in addition to the election days that come on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, many state and local elections happen at other times of the year.  These elections are for bond issues, city councils, county commissioners, sheriffs, etc.  They are scheduled in September, March, and in the spring.  Then, there are the dates when states hold their primaries for candidates for president, governor, Congressional seats, and statewide offices. … In fact, it is a matter of one’s priorities. If participating in self-government is important to you, you find a way. If it isn’t, you don’t.” – Jonathan Kahnoski, Meridian, Idaho

[Ed. note: Well, Mr. Kahnoski, I guess we know who the election day Grinch is! While you are not wrong to say that not every election can be accommodated in biennial elections. I think it is a good idea, I think my plan would still cover most of the real estate in the election world. Plus, one would hope that states and localities would look to take advantage of the new holiday structure and keep a focus on the biennial dates. As for the part, though, about it being a reflection of individuals’ priorities, I have to say you might have to consider lightening up on your fellow citizens just a bit. It would seem to be a reasonable accommodation between having elections last for six weeks and the reasonable difficulties experienced by hard-working, responsible individuals who might not have time to stand in line and vote. The part of the Election Day holiday that appeals to me most, though, is the idea of a civic celebration. The idea of Americans coming face-to-face as they go to the polls, and the humanizing effects such an experience might have, could be a very good thing. Plus, I think having the world’s oldest and finest republic is a thing worth celebrating!

Share your color commentary: Email us at 
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

The [Riverside, Calif.] Press Enterprise: “If you stopped on the 15 Freeway late Saturday afternoon and picked up any ‘evidence’ from a Lake Elsinore bank robbery, Riverside County sheriff’s investigators want the evidence back. During a pursuit following the robbery, the suspect was throwing out wads of cash onto the freeway, a sheriff’s spokesman said Saturday. The chase ended in Corona when the suspect crashed into another vehicle on Cajalco Road. ‘Witnesses stated motorists stopped along the freeway, collected evidence (U.S. currency) discarded by the suspect during the pursuit and then drove away from the area,’ Riverside County Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Armando Munoz said via email. ‘Detectives are actively seeking any witnesses who can provide information towards the recovery of the evidence.’ The suspect has been identified as 27-year-old Murrieta resident Thomas Burke…. by Monday evening, he was booked into the Robert Presley Detention Center on suspicion of robbery, felony evading and parole violations.”

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.