Tax victory set stage for House shutdown win

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On the roster: Tax victory set stage for House shutdown win - House poised to end shutdown with vote - Court blows up Pennsylvania House races - GOP wants answers on missing FBI texts - ‘Little arm probz’

TAX VICTORY SET STAGE FOR HOUSE SHUTDOWN WIN

Who knew that being popular was useful in politics?

Or maybe we should say in the case of congressional Republicans, being less loathed.

As various pressure groups and partisans craft their rationales for why either the Republic has been saved or the people have been betrayed, by a deal to keep the government functioning as usual for 17 days, remember how we got here.

You could say that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer “caved” today, but you can just as accurately say that Schumer’s position was simply overrun.

The shape of the first shutdown of 2018 wasn’t cast by anything Schumer did or could have done. The principle engineer here was House Speaker Paul Ryan and his unusually accommodating fellow Republican House members.

The moment House Republicans passed a “clean” continuing resolution that also provided funding for state children’s Medicaid programs it became impossible for Senate Democrats to hold out for more than this symbolic short shutdown.

That House majority will be tested repeatedly on similar questions in the coming weeks. Its willingness to take risks either by offending primary voters or flouting the dictates of widespread public opinion will depend a great deal on how Republicans think they’re doing in this year’s midterms.

Coming into this first hiccup House Republicans were on a good run. They were showing signs of life with an electorate that even a month ago was looking at continued Republican control of the House like a day-old pimento loaf sandwich.

It became clear in the past several days that public reaction to the Trump tax cut was working in Republicans’ favor.

We can’t know how much of the psychology behind Ryan’s successful maneuver was driven by good feelings among members in the afterglow of their first major legislative victory.

But polls do tell us that voters opinions about Republican control of the House was improving. That unavoidable truth no doubt gave Republicans confidence, but it also put Democrats in a tougher negotiating spot.

That’s why this is an fitting day for the Halftime Report to roll out our average of polls on which party voters want to control the House.

You will also notice below that we have expanded and revised our index for President Trump’s job approval in ways we hope you will find useful and forthcoming.

We will be watching whether voters generally prefer Democrats or Republicans in charge of the House not just because it’s our job to look ahead to Election Day, but also, as it did with this shutdown, public sentiment shapes decisions on an ongoing basis.

Put simply, Republicans being down only nine or so points in the so-called generic ballot makes things quite different when it was a deficit of 15 points or more.

Some provisos about generic ballot surveys:

Democrats always have a seeming advantage not just because there are more Democrats than Republicans in the United States. But, bear in mind, that historically Democrats have struggled with turnout compared to Republicans, especially in midterms. If the GOP was only down by 3 points, you’d have to think their chances for holding the House were, very good.

We should also remember that in all likelihood, more than 95 percent of incumbents running for re-election will be returned to Washington by voters. The power of incumbency, local issues and everything else in Aunt Nellie’s cupboard affect individual races. Please don’t write us and tell us how much you love or hate your congressmen. This is just a national snapshot.

We will keep tracking this through Election Day and will pipe up if we see anything that we think needs your closer attention.

THE RULEBOOK: OF, BY, FOR THE PEOPLE
“It is too early for politicians to presume on our forgetting that the public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued; and that no form of government whatever has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this object.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 45

TIME OUT: WHO’S THE REAL GOAT?
Atlantic: “There has been no truism in sports more durable than this: A team with Super Bowl aspirations needs a great quarterback. … But last weekend, during the divisional round of the playoffs, the prevailing logic failed. [Tom Brady’s] New England Patriots sailed past the outmatched Tennessee Titans … but in the three other matchups, All-Pro quarterbacks lost to former also-rans. The Atlanta Falcons… fell to a Philadelphia Eagles team led by Nick Foles… [Ben Roethlisberger’s] Pittsburgh Steelers were beaten by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Blake Bortles… What has resulted is a final four with possibly the greatest quarterback of all time, however impaired, set opposite three players who over the past year have not even been guaranteed the starting job on their teams. One way to read the scenario … is as a fluke that will resolve in a familiar ending… Another way to read it, though, is as a lessening of quarterback primacy—perhaps as a subtle step toward a fuller, more well-rounded sport.”

Flag on the play? - Email us at
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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance
Average approval:
38.6 percent
Average disapproval: 57 percent
Net Score:
-18.4 points
Change from one week ago: up 5.2 points
[Average includes: ABC News/WaPo: 38% approve - 58% disapprove; CNN: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; NBC News/WSJ: 39% approve - 57% disapprove; CBS News: 37% approve - 58% disapprove; Gallup: 36% approve - 59% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average:
40.8 percent
Democratic average: 50.4 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 9.6 points
[Average includes: ABC News/WaPo: 51% Dems - 39% GOP; CNN: 49% Dems - 44% GOP; NBC News/WSJ: 49% Dems - 43% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 50% Dems - 39% GOP; Pew Research Center: 53% Dems - 39% GOP.]

HOUSE POISED TO END SHUTDOWN WITH VOTE  
Fox News: “The Senate on Monday afternoon voted 81 to 18 to re-open the government, clearing the way for the House to approve a stopgap measure and end the three-day government shutdown. Democrats backed off their opposition after being given assurances from Republicans that the Senate would soon consider legislation that would protect illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children. It was a stark contrast from the Senate Democratic position just a few days ago. ‘We will vote today to reopen the government,’ Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said on the Senate floor. ‘In a few hours, the government will reopen.’ The bill heads to the House, which plans to vote on it Monday before sending it to President Trump's desk. The temporary spending bill keeps the government open until Feb. 8. Earlier Monday, the Senate voted 81-18 to break a Democratic filibuster on the stalled government spending bill.”

Liberals fuming over Schumer deal - Daily Beast: “Two truths emerged from a deal that the Senate cut on Monday to re-open the federal government after a weekend-long shutdown. The first is that Democrats caved. The second is that they find themselves somewhat better positioned for what is likely to be another … shutdown battle in the coming weeks. … Republicans kicked the can down the road on government funding, but they also gave no concrete policy concessions in exchange for votes. A majority of Senate Democrats sided with them anyway. ‘Are you looking for a spine?’ one top Senate Democratic aide told The Daily Beast… ‘Because, I don’t have one to sell you.’ … As Congress now goes about considering immigration reform, there are new political variables at play. Republicans no longer have children’s health care as a political cudgel against Democrats, since the bill that passed on Monday includes a six-year authorization for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).”

Kelly proved crucial in short-term deal - WSJ: “White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is emerging from his usual behind-the-scenes role to become one of the president’s chief conservative anchors on the immigration issue, a spot once occupied by former chief strategist Steve Bannon. While Mr. Kelly drew the president’s ire last week after suggesting his boss’s campaign promises were uninformed and had ‘evolved,’ he also helped scuttle a bipartisan Senate deal and made the phone call that ended immigration negotiations on Friday. That paved the way for the partial government shutdown, as Democrats have tied their support for a government-spending bill to an extension of an Obama -era immigration program that President Donald Trump ended last year.”

Graham roasts top Trump aid on immigration - Politico: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday renewed his criticism of White House aides' handling of immigration, portraying them as having undercut President Donald Trump's ability to cut a deal as the government shutdown entered its second day. Graham singled out White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, a pugnacious conservative who has a keen focus on restrictive immigration policy. ‘As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere. He's been an outlier for years,’ Graham told reporters as he entered a meeting of more than a dozen senators from both parties who have worked since the shutdown began to carve out space for a compromise.”

Can Miller sell a deal? - WaPo: “Stephen Miller, one of the few remaining original advisers to President Trump, invited a small group of writers and editors from Breitbart News to the White House last fall for a conversation on immigration. … But Miller’s goal on this occasion was to sell the group on a compromise: a possible deal offering protections to the young undocumented immigrants known as ‘dreamers’ in exchange for tougher immigration provisions, such as an end to family-sponsored migration. The discussion quickly turned into a shouting match — an expletive-laden ‘blowup,’ according to one person familiar with the gathering. Another person described it as ‘just a fundamental disagreement within the movement.’”

COURT BLOWS UP PENNSYLVANIA HOUSE RACES
AP: “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state's congressional map Monday, granting a major victory to Democrats who charged that the 18 districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans. The Democratic-controlled court, which said that the districts violate the state constitution, gave the Republican-controlled Legislature until Feb. 9 to pass a replacement and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf until Feb. 15 to submit it to the court.  Otherwise, the justices said they will adopt a plan in an effort to keep the May 15 primary election on track. The court said the boundaries ‘clearly, plainly and palpably’ violate the state's constitution, and blocked it from remaining in effect for the 2018 elections. The deadline to file paperwork to run in primaries for the state's congressional seats is March 6. The defendants -- top Republican lawmakers -- said they were outraged by the decision. They said it lacks clarity and respect for the constitution, and that they would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and halt the decision.”

But Democratic left promises primary fights - McClatchy: “A group of progressive House Democrats is preparing to make a major effort in its party’s primaries this year, buoyed by a surge in liberal energy that has left them flush with cash and enough confidence to unveil a series of endorsements in competitive primaries. It’s a significant escalation from the group’s previous political efforts, and it already has some Democrats worried that liberal candidates could complicate the party’s path to a House majority. ‘This really is our moment,’ said Rep. Mark Pocan, co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus. … The Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC’s plan takes advantage of the wave of progressive energy that has transformed the Democratic Party since Donald Trump’s election, one that has turned millions of voters into engaged liberal activists and pushed issues such as single-payer health care to the forefront.”

AFL-CIO declines to endorse Cruz challenger -
Texas Tribune: “The political arm of the Texas AFL-CIO has declined to endorse U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, in his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, after O'Rourke did not appear at its convention this weekend in Austin. On Sunday, the labor group released a list of statewide candidates it had decided to support, and it offered no endorsement in the Senate race. The group's constitution requires two-thirds support to endorse a candidate, and O'Rourke did not make the cut, said Rick Levy, the president of the Texas AFL-CIO. ‘I think that our members don’t like to be just taken for granted,’ Levy told The Texas Tribune.”

GOP WANTS ANSWERS ON MISSING FBI TEXTS
WaPo: “The FBI did not retain text messages exchanged by two senior officials involved in the probes of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for a five-month period… according to a new congressional letter. The letter from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray indicates the Justice Department has turned over to lawmakers a new batch of texts from senior FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. The messages have not been made public. … Republicans said the texts revealed political bias at the bureau’s highest levels. … Johnson’s weekend letter said his committee received 384 pages of new Strzok-Page texts late Friday. The lawmaker is asking the FBI to explain in more detail why it ‘did not preserve text messages between Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok between approximately December 14, 2016 and May 17, 2017.’”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Trump reportedly dumping on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross - Axios

Pence announces U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem will occur by the end of 2019 - ABC News

H.R. McMaster replaces Dina Powell with new deputy national security adviser - Politico

Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., settles sexual harassment case - NYT

AUDIBLE: **BLINKS RAPIDLY**
“I think ardent Republicans think Republicans are winning and ardent Democrats think Democrats are winning. And everybody else in America is kind of wondering how folks up here made it through the birth canal.” – Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., on the politics of the shutdown.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“My question is simple, how are these three rights supposed to be interpreted?  Pro-life people will say that life is the most important, but at the same time pro-choice people will talk about liberty. Both can be construed as affecting the pursuit of happiness positively or negatively depending on your view point. Did the founders intend for the order to be based on importance of how they saw it? Aren't all three supposed to be held in equal grounds? I feel like as politics has become more evolved over time people have taken it upon themselves to interpret it how they see fit.” – Jeff Cox, Broken Arrow, Okla.

[Ed. note: Our fundamental freedoms necessarily exist within the context of our current culture, technology and knowledge. The reason the Constitution cannot sufficiently answer the question of abortion to the satisfaction of all is that the question rests on matters scientific and philosophical. The reason the terminology of the debate – “life” and “choice” – came to be is that each side couches its argument on natural, fundamental human rights. The question of when a human being is alive and when the rights afforded to all men and women are applicable is not made clear by our founding document. None of the Framers could have imagined conditions of culture or science that would allow for such a debate to even take place. Every person must answer the question in their heart of when an unborn child is deemed worthy of those rights. The rights of individuals, after all, are the highest aim of our charter.]

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

‘LITTLE ARM PROBZ’
AP: “His name means ‘king of the tyrant lizards,’ but sometimes Tyrannosaurus rex just wants to party. Make that many T. rexes. Hundreds of curious people descended on Portland’s Monument Square on Saturday to observe a gathering of dinosaur lovers dressed as the science museum staple. There were dozens of T. rexes, and they danced, growled and milled around. One who struggled to navigate his costume walked around with his head protruding awkwardly from the dinosaur’s gaping mouth. Valerie Sanborn and Alison Cyr set up the Cretaceous Period party through Facebook. A non-participant was summoned to snap a group photo because of T. rex’s ‘little arm probz.’”

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.