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On the roster: GOP tax plan picks winners and losers - Former Dem Gov. Wilder declines to back Northam - Mueller brings bipartisan heat to K Street - House GOP leaders seek mercy from Bannon - Giddy up 

Americans are not optimistic about the GOP effort to overhaul the tax code. And can you blame them?

After telling constituents for a year about a fairer, flatter tax system that even a layman could easily follow, the House GOP this week produced a legislative tangle dense enough to hide a dozen coteries of groundhogs.

It forbids doctors, lawyers, accountants and other professionals from taking advantage of certain tax breaks.

It monkeys with stingier cost-of-living adjustments.

It eliminates deductions for student loan payments.

It creates a hidden 45-percent tax bracket.

It adds a new tax penalty for divorce.

It eliminates medical cost deductions for the seriously ill.

It changes the incentives for the way Americans build and buy homes.

It establishes a new excise tax on college endowments.

It even changes the rules for adoptions.

While part of the unpopularity of the plan is just partisanship and a general mistrust of the GOP on the issue more than any specific provision, the sheer number of changes, large and small, will make lots of new enemies for the legislation.

Republicans have ended up in this particular pickle because they do not agree on the purpose of taxation.

The last time Washington tackled taxes in a meaningful way was 30 years ago. Back then, lawmakers succeeded in ripping out plenty of the underbrush. Yes, the revenue from taking out the tangles helped cover some of the growing shortfalls from the tax-cut package at the beginning of the decade. But the simplification was also for its own sake.

Given the opportunity by voters to try to clear out the kudzu that has accumulated in the code since the 1980s, Republicans have opted not to. Rather than offering a plan that would stop picking winners and losers, Republicans are just picking different winners and losers.

Democrats propped up solar, so Republicans want to prop up coal. Democrats wanted to help residents of high-tax blue states, Republicans want to help residents of low-tax red states. Democrats wanted to protect young, single workers, Republicans want to help older, married ones.

As Megan McArdle points out, “Republicans are trying to sell this tax package as a fairer reform that will make things better for all Americans. If that is what they are actually trying to do, then they should probably not offer something so obviously shaped as a shiv for Donald Trump’s political enemies.”

As we discussed earlier this week, the underlying problem for Republicans in changing taxes is that they aren’t willing to address spending. Much like they did with vowing to maintain insurance coverage at current levels with ObamaCare, Republicans opened the tax debate with far fewer options than they would have had with a robust cuts package also on the table.

But even within that straightjacket, Republicans have opted here to continue to use the tax code as a tool of social engineering rather than just a means to fund the government.

“IN DISQUISITIONS of every kind, there are certain primary truths, or first principles, upon which all subsequent reasonings must depend. These contain an internal evidence which, antecedent to all reflection or combination, commands the assent of the mind. Where it produces not this effect, it must proceed either from some defect or disorder in the organs of perception, or from the influence of some strong interest, or passion, or prejudice.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 31

History: “In one of the most crushing victories in the history of U.S. presidential elections, incumbent Lyndon Baines Johnson defeats Republican challenger Barry Goldwater, Sr. [on this day in 1964]. With over 60 percent of the popular vote, Johnson turned back the conservative senator from Arizona to secure his first full term in office after succeeding to the presidency after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963. … Concerning Vietnam, [Johnson] mollified domestic concerns about a possible war by claiming that he would not send ‘American boys nine or ten thousand miles from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.’ Johnson’s statement satisfied many Americans, but any commitment he may have had about avoiding direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict was already eroding by the time of the 1964 election. Four months after his victory, Johnson committed U.S. combat troops to Vietnam.”

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Trump net job-approval rating: -18.2 points
Change from one week ago: up 1 point

[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.]

Richmond Times Dispatch: “Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder on Thursday night backed Democrat Justin Fairfax for lieutenant governor, but declined to weigh in on the contests for governor or attorney general. Without naming names, Wilder faulted state Democrats for what he sees as mistreatment of Fairfax. ‘Justin, in my judgment has not been dealt a good hand,’ Wilder said in a brief interview … Earlier, during the forum, Wilder expressed concern about an episode last month in which the campaign of Ralph Northam, the Democratic nominee for governor, printed some fliers that omitted reference to Fairfax at the request of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. The union requested a flier without Fairfax on it because the group had not endorsed him, according to a spokesman. Fairfax opposes two proposed natural gas pipelines that the union backs.”

Suffolk Poll: Northam narrowly - USA Today: “Northam held a narrow 4-point lead over Gillespie among likely Virginia voters who are either decided or leaning toward a candidate in a Suffolk University poll released Thursday. That lead is within the margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.4 percentage points for the poll. Trump’s approval rating stands at 37% in the state and 63% of survey respondents said the country is on the wrong track, according to the poll.”

Down-ballot races may prove best reflection of political climate - 
NYT: “Amid the turbulence of the Trump presidency, and under a shadow of indictments of former Trump campaign officials, voters heading to the polls in Virginia’s 100 House races represent the purest test of grass-roots anger at the president, election analysts said. That is because the candidates are little known to voters, largely absent from TV ads, and the races approximate a generic partisan ballot. If the past is a guide, they may also prefigure nationwide congressional voting in 2018. ‘These House of Delegate districts are mini versions of congressional districts around the country,’ said Quentin Kidd, the director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.”

Dem take their eyes off the ball ahead of key contest - NBC News: “Right before Virginia’s gubernatorial race and on the very day that House Republicans unveiled their tax bill, Democrats, well, were fighting against each other. The first example came from former DNC interim Chair Donna Brazile, who alleged that the Clinton campaign engaged in a ‘secret takeover’ of the DNC during the 2016 primary race. Hours later, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was asked if the Democratic race was rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton, Warren answered, ’Yes.’ And last night, the liberal group Democracy for America said it would no longer directly aid Democrat Ralph Northam in Virginia’s gubernatorial race after Northam said he would sign a bill to ban ‘sanctuary cities’ if a locality tries to become one. (Right now, there are no sanctuary cities in Virginia.) Add them all up, and Thursday was an awful day for Democrats, exposing wounds that still haven’t healed after 2016 and disunity on the eve of Virginia’s big gubernatorial race.”

Continetti: Democrats’ dangerous bubble wrap - Free Beacon: “Edward-Isaac Dovere reported on this week’s first meeting of the Obama Foundation in Chicago. Now, Dovere is a journalist for a mainstream publication and, unlike Brazile, he has no particular animus against the subjects of his article. … Someone told Dovere that he had entered ‘the sanity bubble.’ The sanity bubble! What a perfect label for the environs of the self-satisfied and righteous, the elegantly appointed ballrooms where the high and mighty, silhouetted in magenta up-lighting, nod reverentially at clichés mouthed by the latest faddish ‘thought leader,’ before tucking into, say, a caprese salad with arugula and pesto, followed by spinach and gorgonzola tortelloni with caramelized pears and bleu cheese cream. Within the sanity bubble life is pleasant, comfortable, and agreeable, its niceties and pleasures and fixed ideas interrupted by only the maelstrom of political and economic change outside.”

AP: “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury is investigating a prominent Democratic lobbyist and a former GOP congressman for their involvement in an influence campaign on behalf of Ukrainian interests tied to Paul Manafort, according to a person with direct knowledge of the investigation. At the center of the widening probe areTony Podesta, a longtime Democratic operative, and Vin Weber, a former GOP congressman and leader of his own high-powered lobbying firm, Mercury LLC. The two men were hired as part of a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort directed by Manafort and longtime associate Rick Gates. With the emphasis on the Ukrainian lobbying efforts, Mueller’s criminal probe is moving beyond investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and is aggressively pursuing people who worked as foreign agents without registering with the Justice Department. More witnesses are expected before the grand jury in coming weeks. Representatives for Weber’s firm and Podesta said they are cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation.”

Poll: Americans back Mueller by 2-1 margin - WaPo: “More than twice as many Americans approve as disapprove of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of possible coordination between Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds, indicating that the conservative effort to discredit the probe has fallen flat as the case has progressed toward its first public charges. A 58 percent majority say they approve of Mueller’s handling of the investigation, while 28 percent say they disapprove, the Post-ABC poll finds. People’s views depend in large part on their political leanings, but overall, Americans are generally inclined to trust Mueller and the case he has made so far.”

Three House GOPers introduce measure seeking Mueller recusal - Business Insider: “A group of conservative Republican lawmakers introduced a resolution [today] calling for Robert Mueller to recuse himself as special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, along with Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona and Louie Gohmert of Texas, said Mueller should step down because he was FBI director during the investigation of a botched uranium deal between the Russians and Uranium One, a Canadian energy company, of which a portion of the uranium reserves required US approval.”

Trump says he doesn’t remember meeting with Papadopoulos - Politico: “President Donald Trump said Friday that he does not ‘remember much’ from a 2016 meeting attended by then-campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. ‘I don't remember much about that meeting. It was a very unimportant meeting, took place a long time [ago]. Don't remember much about it,’ Trump told reporters on the White House’s South Lawn as he departed for a 10-day trip to Asia.”

Kushner coughs up documents - The Hill: “President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has handed over documents to special counsel Robert Mueller in recent weeks. CNN reported Thursday that Kushner has turned over the documents as Mueller and his team begin looking into the White House adviser’s role in Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey earlier this year. Kushner is not believed to be a target of Mueller’s investigation, CNN reported, citing sources close to the White House. Still, that Mueller and his team are asking about Kushner in witness interviews signals that the special counsel investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election in moving closer to the president’s inner circle and is also looking at actions taken by Trump administration officials in the White House.”

Carter Page contradicts Sessions in testimony - Fox News: “A former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump has testified that he informed then-U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions about a trip he made to Russia during the 2016 presidential election. The disclosure by Carter Page came Thursday during a lengthy, behind-closed-doors appearance before the House Intelligence Committee, Fox News has confirmed. It also contradicted previous comments by Sessions, now U.S. attorney general in the Trump administration, who was a top Trump campaign surrogate in 2016. In July, Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he didn’t know whether Page had traveled to Russia.”

Manafort, Gates’ lawyers respond to charges - USA Today: “Manafort’s lawyers, Kevin Downing and Thomas Zehnle, said in a court filing Thursday that the case was overblown. They said the laws governing Manafort’s work in Ukraine are unclear. The money laundering charges are just a ‘facade,’ they added, noting that ‘in an international scheme to conceal assets, individuals generally move them offshore, not to the United States.’ Their response came the same day Manafort and his business and campaign associate Gates appeared briefly in federal court. U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson ordered that they remain on house arrest and GPS monitoring at least through the weekend, saying she had ‘concerns’ that both men could be a flight risk.”

Politico: “Top House GOP campaign strategists met with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon on Friday morning — an indication party leaders are attempting to avert the divisive primaries that Bannon is organizing against Senate Republicans. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) andJohn Rogers, the organization’s executive director, went to the Capitol Hill townhouse that serves as a base of operations for Bannon and his Breitbart News website. Bannon pledged to Stivers and Rogers that his focus is not on toppling establishment-oriented House incumbents in the 2018 midterm elections, according to two people familiar with the meeting, but rather on waging an all-out war against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Bannon has launched a national effort to target Senate GOP incumbents and other McConnell-aligned Republican candidates. There was a broad understanding that both sides wouldn’t always agree.”

Lamar Smith just the latest committee chairman to call it quits - WaPo: “Two powerful Republican committee chairmen from Texas announced this week that they will not seek reelection. Lamar Smith, who heads the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said yesterday that he won’t stand for a 17th term. Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the Financial Services Committee, said Tuesday that he won’t run for a ninth. …  Two guys to keep an eye on: Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is in his third term as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, so there’s some buzz that he might retire. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) decided to stay in Congress after finishing his three terms as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee last year, but it’s not clear that he’s happy as a rank-and-file backbencher. That might prompt him to run against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) next year.”

Politico: “President Donald Trump on Thursday declined to give a full-throated endorsement of his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, saying that ‘we'll see’ if he will serve out his term with the president. During [an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham] on Thursday, Trump was asked whether Tillerson ‘would be with you for the duration.’ ‘We'll see. I don't know who's going to be [here for the] duration,’ the president replied. He also noted that Tillerson was ‘working hard’ and ‘doing his best.’ With the remark, Tillerson again had his future with the Trump administration thrown into uncertainty. NBC News reported in early October that Tillerson considered resigning over the summer, at one point reportedly referring to the president as a ‘moron.’ The report was rebuffed by the White House and Trump, who called it ‘fake news’ on Twitter, writing that Tillerson ‘never threatened to resign.’

[Travel smart - What’s on the president’s agenda for his five-nation trip across Asia that begins Saturday? Read it here.]

Trump on firing Sessions: ‘I don’t know’ - ABC News: “President Trump is hammering the Justice Department over a lack of an investigation into Democrats and isn't ruling out firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions if the department doesn't take action against Hillary Clinton. ‘I don't know,’ Trump told ABC’s Jonathan Karl when asked if the president would fire Sessions if the DOJ doesn't pursue action against Clinton. ‘I’m really not involved with the Justice Department. I'd like to let it run itself. But honestly they should be looking at the Democrats. They should be looking at Podesta and all of that dishonesty.’ He went on, ‘They should be looking at a lot of things and a lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me.’”

Trump expands disaster aid to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid - Reuters

YOLO: Twitter employee deactivates Trump’s Twitter account on their last day - The Hill

EPA to hold hearing on repealing Obama era climate plan in West Virginia AP

House to advance children’s health insurance proposal, but more trouble ahead - 

Kid Rock won’t say where the money from his fake Senate campaign went - Buzzfeed

This Sunday, Chris Wallace sits down with Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz - Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.

“Let me tell you, the one that matters is me, I'm the only one that matters because when it comes to it that's what the policy is going to be.” – President Trump said to Fox News colleague Laura Ingraham when discussing vacancies in the State Department.


“I have two questions concerning one assumption. The assumption is: The Federal income tax code, rules, and regulations has no geographical bias and, therefore, treats all Americans uniformly regardless of where they live. … My questions are: 1. In the Half Time Report published today New York’s Representative Lee Zeldin says he is against the current GOP tax proposal because of the changes proposed to the deductibility for state and local tax deductions. He says the federal tax plan proposes is a geographic redistribution of wealth that picks winners and losers. Isn’t the current law already that way - only under current law New York is a winner (as compared to, say, Florida in my example above) and not a loser? 2. Again, assuming the Federal Income Tax is geographically neutral, then the reason that states such as New York, New Jersey, California, and, yes, here in Illinois are considered high tax states is not due to the Federal income tax outlays but from those taxes levied by those states’ local, county, and state governments? In this case shouldn’t Mr. Zeldin’s beef be with those governmental units?” – Tom Snyder, Frankfort, Ill.

[Ed. note: Maybe so, Mr. Snyder. But with whom would Mr. Zeldin’s constituents have beef if he voted to increase their taxes? He might explain about the necessity of fair federal taxation and urge them to call tier statehouse representatives or city council members, but they would also add one more thing to the to-do list: Backing Zeldin’s opponent in 2018.]

“Though it pains me to do so, I must politely disagree with you on the effect Donna Brazile’s book will have on the Clintons. Too many times I have seen commentators and journalists begin to hang crepe all over one or the other of the Clintons only to watch astounded as, like roaches, they not only survive but go on to be elected or re-elected. And, lest we forget, there is now a second generation with the Clinton name old enough to run for office.” – Margery Peterson, Salinas, Calif.

[Ed. note: I’m not here to tell you, Ms. Peterson, that we won’t one day have to confront the reality of a Chelsea Clinton political candidacy. I’ve covered the family too long to rule that out. But I am quite certain that Hillary and Bill have lost whatever of their old magic over the Democratic Party, as currently constituted. This is a watershed moment for Democrats who have, by turns, been enamored or terrified of the House of Clinton. The folks who could outlast even the most determined foe have finally worn out their welcomes. And certainly, their fantasy that they would undo Obama’s lasting imprint on the party now looks like sad joke.]    

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Fox News: “Pennsylvania bride Patty Womer was posing for photos on her wedding day when an unlikely guest stole the spotlight. Womer was taking photos with her dear horses Dutch, a sorrel gelding, and Cricket, a paint mare, when Cricket started smiling for the camera. Now the cocked-head, wide-mouthed grin has gone viral on Facebook after the photographer, Tony Bendele, posted them to his Facebook. … The two horses were a present to Womer when she was eight-year-old from her father. Her close bond to the two animals and their connection to her father – who passed away in 2016 – prompted her to include them in her wedding. The two escorted Womer up to the ceremony. Dutch, her father’s horse, walked beside Cricket with an empty saddle. ‘This just showed that my father was there with me through the whole thing,’ Womer, an agriculture science major at Penn State University, said to Yahoo.”

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.