Values voters left, right and center

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On the roster: Values voters left, right and center - Congress passes big tax cut in time for Christmas - Overstuffed agendas complicate fiscal cliff deal - Warner warns Trump to not fire Mueller - The suspect is going to the can 

America’s leading public theologian has a word of caution about mixing religion and politics. And it’s not the politics that Tim Keller is worried about.

Writing in the New Yorker, under a headline so provocative and accusatory that the Presbyterian pastor could have hardly written it himself, Keller mulls the question about the way politics has changed our understanding of the word “evangelical.”

Keller argues that politicians, pundits and pollsters misunderstood and misused what had been a term of doctrine as shorthand for a particular demographic subgroup with key characteristics unrelated to their faith.

“In many parts of the country, Evangelicalism serves as the civil or folk religion accepted by default as part of one’s social and political identity,” he wrote. “So, in many cases, it means that the political is more defining than theological beliefs, which has not been the case historically.”

The worry since the time of the Framers was not primarily that religion would interfere with politics and government but that politics and government would interfere with religion. It’s hard these days not to think that they should have been even more concerned.

Keller is not the first to observe the ways in which traditional, Christian doctrine has been conflated with conservative politics. Certainly since the issue of abortion deepened the fault lines on social issues, the relationship between Evangelical Christians and Republican politics has been a fraught one.

It’s been nearly 40 years since “born again” Christians began to make manifest their political power. We can debate how that has worked out for politics, but the net effect of politics on religion seems unambiguously bad.

As Keller was pondering the question from the point of view of a clergyman, one of the high priests of political prognostication, Josh Kraushaar was looking at things from the other end.

The National Journal political editor sought to explain why it is that the economy is so good but public sentiment about the president and his party is so bad. His answer: A new kind of “values voter.”

“The new reality: Americans are voting their values, not their pocketbooks. And that’s alarming news for Republicans looking to hold their increasingly tenuous congressional majorities,” wrote Kraushaar. “It’s also a danger signal for Trump if he’s thinking about running for reelection in 2020. Trump’s conduct in office is the defining issue in the country, one so central to next year’s midterms that Democratic candidates don’t even need to mention the president’s name to rile up their supporters.”

While Democrats may be increasingly secular, that doesn’t mean that there is not a values structure at work. In fact, Democrats are dominated by social issues – women’s equality, anti-racism, protections for different sexual orientations and access to elective abortions – in a way that their party seldom has been.

And in some ways, the Democrats’ current moment is evocative of the experience Republicans had in absorbing the energy of the Christian right. It brings a powerful heat at the ballot box, but can also burn out of control.

Democratic moralizing isn’t just limited to Trump’s personal foibles. Democrats cast even fiscal issues in the language of morality. Whereas the party may have once objected to a tax cut or a change to insurance regulations on the grounds that the proposals would not work, we increasingly hear arguments that say Republican policy choices are unconscionable – very much the language of good and evil.

So as American Christians are being forced to reconsider the relationship between their church and Republican politics, the acolytes of social justice are bringing a crusader’s zeal into the Democratic Party.

However this plays out, the current moment of cultural upheaval in America is going to substantially reorder the way we understand the role of culture and politics and of politics and culture.

“…by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places” – Alexander Hamilton or James Madison, Federalist No. 51

Smithsonian: “Climate change did not begin with the exhaust fumes of industrialization, but has been a permanent feature of human existence. … It turns out that climate had a major role in the rise and fall of Roman civilization. The empire-builders benefitted from impeccable timing: the characteristic warm, wet and stable weather was conducive to economic productivity in an agrarian society. The benefits of economic growth supported the political and social bargains by which the Roman empire controlled its vast territory. … The end of this lucky climate regime did not immediately, or in any simple deterministic sense, spell the doom of Rome. Rather, a less favorable climate undermined its power just when the empire was imperilled by more dangerous enemies—Germans, Persians—from without. Climate instability peaked in the sixth century, during the reign of Justinian.”

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Trump net job-approval rating: -21.8 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.6 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.]

Fox News: “The House gave the final stamp of approval Wednesday to a sweeping tax reform package, handing President Trump his first major legislative victory and most Americans a tax cut starting next year. With a 224-201 House vote, Congress sent the $1.5 trillion package to Trump’s desk. The biggest rewrite of the federal tax code since the Reagan administration will usher in steep rate cuts for American companies, double the deduction millions of families claim on their annual returns and make a host of other changes taking effect in a matter of weeks. During a celebration at the White House with lawmakers on Wednesday afternoon, Trump called it ‘the largest tax cut in the history of our country’ and singled out House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for praise. … While the bill already earned House approval earlier Tuesday, the Senate had to ship it back for a final vote after stripping out three provisions that violated chamber rules, in a last-minute glitch.”

Schumer warns GOP will ‘rue the day’ - The Hill: “Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) interrupted his floor speech during the Senate’s vote on the GOP tax bill early Wednesday to admonish Republicans in the chamber for speaking during his speech. … ‘This is serious stuff. We believe you’re messing up America. You could pay attention for a couple of minutes,’ Schumer added. Schumer used his speech to blast the GOP tax bill, saying the bill would lead to a ‘hefty windfall for the wealthy and only [a] paltry temporary leap for some in the middle class’ and labeling the bill as a ‘disgrace.’ The New York Democrat also reiterated his vow that Republicans would ‘rue the day’ they passed the bill.”

Poll says voters soured on the plan over time - NBC/WSJ: The tax plan that Republicans are soon expected to pass has grown more unpopular in the last two months, with nearly two-thirds of Americans believing it’s designed mostly to help corporations and the wealthy, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. In addition, the survey finds that Democrats have overtaken Republicans on which party better handles the economy — their first lead on this question since 2013 and their largest since 2009.

Taxpayers scramble to exploit new loopholes, avoid penalties - Politico: “America’s new tax system will go into effect in just 12 days, and payroll companies are bracing for confusion as they figure out new withholding rules that will affect millions of American paychecks. The Treasury Department and the IRS will have to quickly write new regulations to implement the new law, governing everything from the tax regime for businesses that don’t organize as corporations to the endowments of the nation’s elite universities and how multinational corporations are taxed on the profits they make abroad.”

Why the effort to simplify taxes failed - Five Thirty Eight: “Perhaps the biggest thing working against a truly simple tax code in the U.S. is that the United States conducts much of its social policy through tax provisions. An awesome number of tax breaks have been put in place over decades of political tinkering to achieve ends that other countries seek through program spending, such as the child tax credit, a stipend the federal government pays to all but the richest families to help with the cost of raising children.”

Bloomberg: “Congressional leaders are trying to jam as many extras as possible into a must-pass spending bill that may ricochet between the House and Senate right up to the deadline three days from now. … A shutdown is ‘not going to happen,’ Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on Fox News Tuesday night. … Current funding for government operations expires at the end of the day Friday. In addition to providing funding to keep the government running, lawmakers are trying to load up the package with provisions including extending an insurance program for low-income children, raising spending limits, stabilizing Obamacare insurance markets, providing disaster aid and reauthorizing government surveillance powers.”

House Republicans ditch partisan spending plan ahead of shutdown - Politico: “Facing opposition within their own ranks – and a potential government shutdown – House Republicans are once again changing their strategy on a funding bill. Gone is the plan for a bill funding the Pentagon for the rest of the fiscal year and other government agencies until mid-January. Now House Republicans will extend funding only until Jan. 19 for the whole government, hoping the new strategy will produce enough support to stave off a funding lapse come midnight Friday. … It is still unclear whether GOP leaders will include funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program as part of the new funding bill. And while some defense programs are expected to get a boost under the plan, those details are still under wraps. A proposal to reauthorize so-called Section 702 spying powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act will go as a standalone bill as well.”

ObamaCare a major sticking point - Politico: “Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are about to lock horns over Obamacare — part of a House-Senate clash that needs to be resolved by Friday to avert a government shutdown. McConnell promised moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine that he would prop up President Barack Obama’s signature health law in a must-pass, year-end spending bill… But Ryan’s more conservative conference is flatly rejecting that idea and urging the Wisconsin Republican to stand firm against his Senate counterpart. … The disagreement could make for an awkward dynamic: The two most powerful men in Congress have worked side by side for months on the biggest rewrite of the tax code in three decades. … At stake is more than just the Ryan-McConnell relationship. … GOP sources, however, say the two leaders won’t likely find a solution until after tax reform passes Congress on Wednesday, giving them only a couple days to strategize.”

Flake says DREAMer fix coming in January - The Hill: “Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is predicting that the Senate will take up a fix for a key Obama-era immigration program next month, punting the issue into 2018. ‘Bipartisan #DACA bill will be on the Senate floor in January,’ Flake tweeted, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Flake is part of a bipartisan group of senators who have been negotiating over legislation that would tie a fix for DACA to a border security package, but have yet to lock down an agreement. A spokesperson for Flake didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about if, or when, the GOP senator would unveil legislation, given his prediction of floor action in January. A spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he didn't have any scheduling announcements yet for January.”

AP: “The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee is warning President Donald Trump against firing special counsel Robert Mueller or pardoning any targets of the federal probe into Russia and the president’s Republican campaign. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said Wednesday that growing criticism of Mueller’s probe pointed to an effort to lay the groundwork for Mueller’s removal or other interference in the federal investigation. Warner says any attempt to remove Mueller would provoke a ‘constitutional crisis.’ Trump said recently that he would not try to push Mueller out, and a White House lawyer has repeatedly said the president is not considering any pardons. Trump cannot directly fire Mueller, but critics say he could demand that top Justice Department officials fire Mueller and then remove them if they don’t follow through.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch: “An apparent one-vote Democratic victory in a Newport News-area House of Delegates race turned into a tie Wednesday, creating an unprecedented scenario in which control of the House will be decided by state officials essentially drawing a name out of a hat. Under state law, the State Board of Elections now has to break the tie in House District 94 through ‘determination by lot.’ State officials were having discussions Wednesday afternoon about next steps and when they might schedule a meeting to declare a winner, a process that could be complicated with some officials already on Christmas vacation. ‘I imagine we'll probably get together next week,’ State Board of Elections Chairman James Alcorn said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. ‘We could call an emergency meeting later this week.’ Alcorn said ties are a ‘rare situation’ for the board but not so rare in local elections.”

Franken sets resignation for Jan. 2 Minneapolis Star Tribune

Hands free: Key committee advances new sexual harassment rules Roll Call

Democratic donors fired up - McClatchy DC

Goodlatte and Gowdy seek to expand FBI probe - Politico

Apply within: White House chief of staff looking for black Republicans to fill key posts -  WSJ

“We deliver on opportunity. This is a good night.” – Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., at 1:01 a.m. EST, arguing in favor of the $1.5 trillion tax cut passed today.  

“Whatever happened to the strengthening of slander/libel laws? Put some teeth in them. How about an automatic three times the slandered/libeled party's best years salary? I am sick of reading gossip (if from anonymous sources, that's what it is) as news. Use these sources as a starting point but CONFIRM before reporting.” – Alton LeDoux, Chalan Pago, Guam

[Ed. note: Well, Mr. LeDoux, libel and slander statutes are already pretty strong, it’s just that people so rarely take advantage of them. Take, for example, the case of Roy Moore who claimed he had been defamed but, at least as yet, has taken no action toward the people who he said were maliciously lying about him. Courts have made it very clear that public figures have fewer protections in this regard since squelching coverage and commentary about people in power would be antithetical to the aims of the First Amendment. But, if you can demonstrate that a falsehood was knowingly stated – an intentional lie – the law is pretty clear. One of the reasons public figures so seldom invoke these laws is aside from the high burden of intent, there is also the matter of legal discovery. If I say that you libeled me by writing that my petting zoo is unsanitary and abusive to its inhabitants, we would then have to be about the business of determining if what you said was so. That would mean that I would have to open up my books and back-office operations to you and your lawyer. Many politicians accused of wrongdoing would not like to have the facts of the case, even if exculpatory, revealed. I feel bad for public figures whose reputations are ruined in the course of seeking or holding the public trust. But if we are going to err on one side or the other – protecting politicians from the press or protecting the press from politicians – I will definitely go with the latter.]

“I too have been distraught with the Republicans inability to get the electorate on board for a pro-growth tax cut that benefits primarily the lower and middle class citizens. … Possibly it is a more pragmatic communications strategy to pass the proposed legislation then sell the final product. I'm sure that the vast majority of Americans will be very pleased with the personal positive result of this legislation. Time will tell.” – Bob Manuel, Indian Land, S.C.

[Ed. note: I think there is truth in what you say, Mr. Manuel. The crass cramming of legislation has never been very pretty, and it has only been in the relatively recent past that this degree of attention was paid to the process. Maybe you are right that pass now, sell later is the only way to survive the scrutiny. But, I suspect that part of ObamaCare’s years of unpopularity derive from the seamy way the legislation came together in the end.]

“My husband and I own our beautiful home in Orange County, CA. We are both Conservative Republicans, although we can no longer support Pres. Trump.  I am an attorney and my husband owns an Import Company. We are appalled at the nature of this tax bill.   This punishes home-owning, upper middle class, suburban families like ourselves, and burdens my children with careless debt.  This is exactly what the GOP we have always supported is not about!! I am changing my voting patterns and my husband is considering the same. Rep. Ed Royce should be cautious where he stands, and the same is true for many Republican Senators.” – Nicole Wesley, Orange County, Calif.

[Ed. note: I could understand your frustration, Ms. Wesley, and certainly suburban voters like you are an area of huge concern for Republicans going into 2018. Your party is taking a calculated risk that there will be more voters who get goodies than who get coal in their stockings from this plan. But I would not be surprised to see this move intensify the downward trend for blue state Republicans.]

“Chris, great reports. I look forward to the solid discussions on the many topics. One comment today... [the] president is sorely mistaken when he dismisses Russian interference in the election. My observation was the president stated that there was no Trump/Russian collusion concerning the election. Am I off the track in my observation?” – Patrick Herrera, Newport Beach, Calif.

[Ed. note: President Trump has been pretty slippery on this one. Yes, you are right that he has repeatedly and unequivocally denied that he or anyone in his campaign cooperated with Russia to interfere in 2016. On the question of whether the president believes Russia actually interfered, it depends on the day. Trump has continued to go back and forth between accepting the findings of intelligence leaders – now including his own – and suggesting that the entire premise that Russia interfered is itself false. It is easy to see this is part of his and his party’s larger effort to discredit federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies investigating him and his campaign, but as a practical consideration, it makes it harder for the government to deal with and prevent future Russian interference when the boss doesn’t seem sold that it is even a problem.]

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MLive: “Former NBA player and one-time Detroit Piston Charlie Villanueva shared his frustration about his home being broken into and someone stealing a toilet on Tuesday night, Dec. 19. Before any salty Michigan-based fans ask whether his old contract was in there with it or not, the former NCAA champion said other appliances were stolen from his home in Dallas, Texas. Villanueva continued to share his disbelief on Twitter, and even called out the Dallas Police Department for allegedly taking a while to respond. …he still had the same reaction roughly seven hours after he sent his last tweet. ‘I’m still in shock of the things they stole but the one that stand out the most is a toilet...... Bro a toilet, can’t get my mind off that. A toilet..... Wow.’”

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.