What's behind the GOP's midterm turnaround?

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On the roster: What’s behind the GOP’s midterm turnaround? - I’ll Tell You What: All about the Union - Report: Trump to declassify surveillance memo - Freedom Caucus threatens second shutdown - That’ll be a lot of chew toys

A month ago, Democrats were already so certain that a midterm wave would take them back into power that some in Washington were already murmuring about potential committee chairmanships.

And not without reason. The Republicans had just closed out a year of legislative rake stepping by passing a tax cut package that was broadly unpopular. President Trump, beset in turns by constant scandal and drama in his administration, had an approval rating more than 20 points underwater.

An average of credible public polls at the beginning of January showed Democrats 14.4 points ahead on the generic ballot, a reliable reflection of the electorate’s general preference for Republican or Democratic control of the House.

With an advantage like that on Election Day, Democrats could easily get double the 24 seats they need to retake the House majority. Even more dangerous for Republicans, a Senate takeover was also starting to hove into view, thanks, in part to Roy Moore. It was no surprise that retirements were coming quicker than popcorn in a hot pan.

But how about now?

Today, the Democratic advantage in the generic ballot is almost half of what it was a month ago, down to 7.6 points. Over the same period, Trump improved his marks by about 5 points, and is back over the 40 percent job approval threshold for the first time in a long time. That’s certainly still a tough climate for Republicans, but hardly a guarantee of a congressional turnover.

Republicans are certainly responsible for a great deal of the shift. The tax cuts that were supposed to be the nail in the GOP coffin has actually turned out to be quite popular. Democrats oversold the harm the changes would do and, especially when coupled with a stream of generally positive economic news, big bonuses from Big Business have made Americans looks anew at the Trump tax cuts.

And while we are now back swimming in the Sargasso Sea surrounding the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the tax cuts also provided a happy shift in narrative. Rather than talking every day about dueling scandal claims, Republicans were able to say that they could do big things.

Top it off with the successful navigation of the first partial government shutdown of the year, and you have a much-improved argument for Republicans.

But it may be that the most important part in the shift was that Democrats did too good of a job of reminding voters why they have kept them out of the majority since 2010 to begin with.

The ill-conceived and poorly executed shutdown certainly didn’t help. But, probably nothing is doing as much damage as the House minority leader herself.

First, a little perspective on Nancy Pelosi. Everyone in official Washington knows that Pelosi broke convention by staying on as minority leader after failing to retake the House in 2012. She didn’t just stay but is now prosecuting her astonishing forth effort to take back the speaker’s gavel. This rightly appalls Democrats, but most are still afraid to speak out publically against someone who was not only the first female House speaker, but also a skillful and sometimes ruthless wielder of political power.

As Republicans demonstrated in the election in suburban Atlanta last year, Pelosi remains the GOP’s best asset in trying to keep the House.  It’s easy to think that Pelosi is worth a dozen seats or more for Republicans in November.

But both parties ought to take a lesson from the January shift in the polls.

Republicans could be just bad off as they were in 2017, or worse, in just a matter of weeks. The continuing flame wars over the Russia scandal, another government shutdown or two and even a little bit of bad economic news could quickly turn those tables.

Just as Democrats should not have been so cocky last month, Republicans should now remember that while they can improve their chances, the climate remains solidly in Democrats’ favor overall.

“The additional securities to republican government, to liberty and to property, to be derived from the adoption of the plan under consideration, consist chiefly in the restraints which the preservation of the Union will impose on local factions and insurrections, and on the ambition of powerful individuals in single States…” Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 85

History: “On February 1, 1960, the four students sat down at the lunch counter at the Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro, where the official policy was to refuse service to anyone but whites. Denied service, the four young men refused to give up their seats. Police arrived on the scene, but were unable to take action due to the lack of provocation. By that time, [Ralph Johns] had already alerted the local media, who had arrived in full force to cover the events on television. The Greensboro Four stayed put until the store closed, then returned the next day with more students from local colleges. By February 5, some 300 students had joined the protest at Woolworth’s, paralyzing the lunch counter and other local businesses. … By the end of March the movement had spread to 55 cities in 13 states. Though many were arrested … national media coverage of the sit-ins brought increasing attention to the civil rights movement.”

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Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
40.2 percent 
Average disapproval: 55 percent 
Net Score: 
-14.8 points
Change from one week ago: up 3.6 points
[Average includes: Monmouth University: 44% approve - 48% disapprove; Gallup: 38% approve - 58% disapprove; Fox News: 45% approve - 53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 36% approve - 58% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 38% approve - 58% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 
40.8 percent
Democratic average: 48.4 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 7.6 points 
Change from one week ago:
 Democratic advantage down 2 points  
[Average includes: Monmouth University: 47% Dems - 45% GOP; Fox News: 44% Dems - 38% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 51% Dems - 38% GOP; ABC News/WaPo: 51% Dems - 39% GOP; CNN: 49% Dems - 44% GOP.]

This week Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt discuss the topics in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, their thoughts and, of course, the moist-lipped response. Plus, Dana gives an update on Tora the diabetic cat and Chris has control of the mailbag.  

Fox News:President Trump is expected to swiftly declassify a controversial memo on purported surveillance abuses, sources tell Fox News, even as Democrats raise objections that edits were made to the document since it was approved for release by a key committee. Those objections fueled a new round of partisan recriminations on Thursday, with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi firing off a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan demanding the chairman of that committee, Republican Devin Nunes, be removed. … But the objections don’t appear to be halting the publication plans. The release is likely to come Friday morning, Fox News is told. Trump already had made clear he supports the release of the document, but the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee late Wednesday charged that Nunes made ‘material changes’ to the memo. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who opposes the memo’s release in any form, wrote that the committee’s minority determined the letter was not “the same document” its members have been reviewing since mid-January.”

Noah Rothman: ‘The Concerns in the ‘Memo’ Are Serious, but the Handling of It Isn’t’ - Commentary: “With the rhetorical temperature on both sides of the aisle reaching a boiling point over the MacGuffin known as the ‘memo,’ it’s easy to forget how grave the alleged offenses that got us to this point truly are. … We know that this investigation captured intelligence from both foreign sources and campaign officials. We know that a summary of those intelligence products was improperly related to reporters, and the names of the campaign officials who were caught up in the monitoring of foreign intelligence officials were improperly ‘unmasked’ in public reports. Those are serious matters, and they should not concern Republicans alone. … It is a tragedy that, for now, the only elected officials who seem at all concerned with these events are Republicans.”

Hohmann: ‘Do not assume this fiasco will backfire on Republicans’ - WaPo: “It’s going to be very hard for members of the intelligence community and Democrats to push back on the information in the memo after it comes out because doing so would require the disclosure of even more sensitive information about sources and methods. And Trump defenders will get fodder to question the integrity of the underlying probe.”

Top Trump aid Hope Hicks under pressure from Mueller - Axios: “The NY Times has a detailed tick-tock of discussions between President Trump, his legal team and top aides after they were informed in July that the Times knew Donald Trump Jr. had met with Russians at Trump Tower during the campaign. The key claim: Mark Corallo, a former spokesman for Trump’s legal team, plans to tell Robert Mueller about a conference call with Trump and Communications Director Hope Hicks in which Corallo claims Hicks said emails describing the purpose of the meeting would ‘never get out.’ Sources told the Times Corallo had ‘concerns that Ms. Hicks could be contemplating obstructing justice.’ Hick’s lawyer, Robert Trout, adamantly denied the allegations to the Times. From Trout's statement: ‘She never said that. And the idea that Hope Hicks ever suggested that emails or other documents would be concealed or destroyed is completely false.’”

Page was on the radar far before the dossier - WSJ: “Carter Page, who served as a foreign-policy adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign, was known to U.S. counterintelligence officials for years before he became a prominent figure in a dossier of unverified research about the future president’s ties to Russia. The White House is expected to release as early as this week a memo detailing what Republicans allege were surveillance abuses during the 2016 campaign. Republicans say the memo, written by the GOP staff on the House Intelligence Committee, shows that prosecutors used information gleaned from an ex-British spy—who was paid by a research firm hired by Democratic opponents of Mr. Trump—in their application for a secret court order to monitor Mr. Page. Mr. Page hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing.”

The Judge’s Ruling:
 No more hiding - Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano discusses what could be seen if the GOP memo is released: “Why should 22 members of a House committee keep their 500-plus congressional colleagues in the dark about domestic spying abuses while those colleagues were debating the very subject matter of domestic spying and voting to expand the power of those who have abused it? The answer to this lies in the nature of the intelligence community today and the influence it has on elected officials in the government. By the judicious, personalized and secret revelation of data, both good and bad -- here is what we know about your enemies, and here is what we know about you -- the NSA shows its might to the legislators who supposedly regulate it. In reality, the NSA regulates them.” More here.

Politico: “Congress is a week away from another government shutdown. And if it happens this time, the blame may lie with Republicans, who are struggling to keep their lawmakers in line. Republicans have considered a stopgap funding bill that could run one month or possibly deeper into March, according to multiple sources. Discussions have been fluid, however, as House and Senate Republicans gather this week in West Virginia for their annual retreat. The House could vote as soon as Tuesday, two days before funding runs dry. But many rank-and-file GOP lawmakers who reluctantly backed the last temporary funding bill, including conservatives and defense hawks, are balking at yet another patch. With Congress now staring down its fifth short-term spending bill since September, frustration is spreading across the House Republican Conference… House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows is threatening to withhold votes for another funding bill without more concessions on immigration.”

CBO report says debt ceiling will be sooner than expected -
Roll Call: “The Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday said the Treasury Department might make it into the first half of March before running out of cash to pay its bills, or a little later than the date announced by Treasury earlier in the day. In November, CBO had projected that the statutory debt limit would not be reached until late March or early April. But because of legislation signed into law since the last estimate, most notably the tax code overhaul projected to lose at least $1 trillion in 10-year revenue, CBO is bumping up their timeframe by a few weeks. ‘After incorporating the anticipated effects of recent tax legislation and actual spending and revenue amounts in December into its calculations, CBO now projects the range of possible dates as falling earlier in March,’ the budget office said in its report Wednesday.”

House could be ready to vote on a stopgap bill by Tuesday - Politico: “The House could vote as early as Tuesday on a stopgap bill to fund the government through March 22, according to multiple GOP sources. Congress has until Feb. 8 to avoid another shutdown, but finding the votes in the House will not be easy for GOP leaders. Conservatives and defense hawks are threatening to oppose yet another short-term funding bill. House Democrats, meanwhile, have refused to back stopgap measures without securing relief for Dreamers.”

Trump admin goes all out on tax plan - AP: “Pushing the Republican tax package through Congress was only half the battle for President Donald Trump. Now that it’s the law, convincing Americans that it was a good idea is not just a political imperative but an economic one, too. … As part of that sales effort, Trump on Wednesday welcomed to the White House seven representatives of companies that have passed on the benefits of the tax law to their employees. ‘It is not crumbs,’ Trump said after the employees described using the bonuses they’ve received to fund a wedding, a vacation, and retirement. It was a subtle brush-back to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s effort to use the word to minimize the scale of the bonuses.”

Politico: “President Donald Trump on Thursday cautioned against labeling young undocumented immigrants protected under DACA as ‘Dreamers,’ warning people not to ‘fall into that trap.’ The president, addressing lawmakers at a Republican retreat in West Virginia, called for a resolution to the ongoing congressional impasse over immigration policy, which has stalled as Republican and Democratic officials have failed to reach a compromise over the Obama-era immigration initiative. But Trump, who in September rescinded DACA, spoke out against the term for the group of roughly 800,000 immigrants. ‘Some people call it Dreamers,’ Trump said. ‘It's not Dreamers. Don’t fall into that trap. It’s much different than dreamers.’ The president took aim at the label earlier this week during his State of the Union address, in which he said that ‘Americans are dreamers, too.’ Trump echoed his remarks in West Virginia on Thursday. ”

Trump, Republicans enter 2018 with major cash - WaPo: “President Trump entered 2018 with more than $32 million in the coffers of his reelection campaign and two affiliated committees, according to new Federal Election Commission filings made Wednesday evening. Trump’s campaign committee and two fundraising committees that are joint operations with the Republican National Committee … together raised more than $52 million in 2017. … The new filings showed that spending on legal consulting by Trump’s candidate committee surged in the fourth quarter of 2017, amid an escalating investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 election. In the last quarter of 2017, Trump's campaign committee spent $1.1 million in legal fees — 41 percent of its total expenses. In the previous three quarters, the committee spent a total of $2 million.”

Pence remains cautiously optimistic - The Hill: “Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday told fellow Republicans at a joint Senate-House retreat that ‘we have our work cut out for us’ in the 2018 midterm elections to keep control of both chambers of Congress. The president’s party historically loses a large number of seats in midterm elections and handicappers such as Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report predict a Democratic wave is building. But Pence on Wednesday evening vowed that Republicans will defy those predictions. … He said Republicans would overcome the odds thanks in part to passing a $1.5 trillion tax package that has bolstered the stock market and prompted big companies such as AT&T and Comcast to pay bonuses to thousands of workers. The vice president acknowledged, however, that it wouldn’t be a cakewalk.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz ‘unwittingly’ invited an right-wing troll to SOTU - Politico

Trump admin will prioritize asylum applicants - WSJ

“The Vice President’s comments are exactly why Washington sucks.” – Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., in response to Pence’s rather Trumpian attack on the senator via Twitter. Pence was referring to Manchin voting against Republican-led efforts to repeal Obamacare.

“Mr. Stirewalt, I have been reading the Halftime Report since somewhere around Spring of 2016, and so I'm baffled by the comments of other readers who have suggested a tilt in your reporting. In the most recent comments, I will agree slightly with the ‘smarmy talk’ characterization of your TV appearances, but I find those appearances to tilt further right than your report. In full honesty, I'm a Bernie Sanders-supporting liberal, but I spend most of my ‘political’ time either listening to conservative radio, or watching Fox News. … But I wanted to assure you, regarding your halftime report, that I've seen no difference in your reporting from the primaries, through election season, and into the Trump administration. While there are issues that I certainly disagree with you about, and sometimes disagree with your characterization of the news, I find you to be an honest voice presenting the reporting through an understandable prism. If our roles were reversed, I have no doubt I'd be unable to present as close to a ‘down-the-middle’ report as you do, despite my attempt to suppress my own inherent biases. I watch and listen to conservative voices because it both gives me an insight into how the ‘other side’ views the issues, as well as helps me better question my own assumptions and hone my own arguments for why I believe something to be true.” – Jared Della Rocca, Shaftsbury, Vt.

[Ed. note: I hope Brianna doesn’t see me blushing at your letter, Mr. Della Rocca! Thank you for your very kind words. It is hard for all of us to separate our own beliefs from our observations on politics and government. But it is crucial that all of us, not just reporters and analysts, try. I love working for Fox News and I am privileged to have so many wonderful, diligent colleagues across the network. I am particularly lucky to get to work in our Washington bureau where I’m afforded the chance to work alongside some of America’s finest newsmen and newswomen, as well as under the leadership of conscientious, fair-minded journalists. But as much as I love my network, I am always careful to make sure that I’m hearing a diverse chorus of voices. That’s why you see sources in this note from left, right and center. There are fantastic journalists working at outlets all across the ideological spectrum and it is vitally important that I test my own assumptions on a regular basis. As for our critics, I welcome their input, as long as it is respectfully rendered. It is a privilege to get to do what I do for a living, so it is important that I don’t get to thinking that I know all of the answers.]

“After watching the SOTU speech last night I really am coming to the conclusion the Democrats have no interest in solving any problems in this country. Watching all of their sour faces during the speech and their comments afterwards it seems that they only want to keep the poor, poor and the Dreamers illegal so that they can use it as political club. It is a sad commentary on their party and their leadership. Pelosi, Schumer, Sanders, Warren et al just want to be the elites and look down from their tower and lecture us. If they were truly concerned for improving the lives of minorities they would be in favor of school choice and negotiating on immigration but it seems they just want to continue to exploit them.” – Michael Johnson, Fairfield Glade, Tenn.

[Ed. note: I try to avoid questioning the modes of politicians whenever possible, so I will take Democrats at their word that they believe the right thing to do is what Republicans did during the Obama presidency and obstruct the president’s agenda however and whenever possible. But I do know this: political utopism is badly harming our ability for self-governance. Our parties take turns decrying the other’s agenda as a dispatriotic plot to destroy America and saying that their own policies can only be fully enacted not just when the other party is removed from power but destroyed. The past decade has seen an acceleration of this trend, and we are the worst for it. One of the most damaging components, one to which you elude, is that this approach excuses lawmakers from working on subjects with which they may actually agree, at least in part, with the other side.]

“If I were a Dreamer and around age 16 discovered I did not have a SSA card nor (in my state) could I get a Driver's License, it would dawn on me I need to apply for Citizenship. What exactly would that involve? I ask because this class of undocumented seem to have made no effort towards this goal. Had hard is it? Thanks Chris. Love your many efforts.” – Spencer Pearse, San Antonio N.M.

[Ed. note: Thanks so much, Mr. Pearse! The issue here isn’t citizenship, but rather permanent legal residency, aka green cards. Some states don’t have any immigration requirements for drivers’ licenses, while others require proof of citizenship or legal status. Green card holders and those on temporary work visas not only can legally drive but also get to pay taxes and qualify for federal benefits and entitlement programs. The primary benefits of citizenship are quite personal in nature. When one takes the oath of citizenship he or she renounces any allegiance to any power or potentate and swears to loyally preserve and abide by our Constitution. To be an American citizen means to promise to perfect this union. In exchange, citizens are afforded the right to participate in our elections and are guaranteed the many permanent protections afforded to our citizens under the law.]

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WZZM: “Fake unemployment claims are on the rise and a West Michigan man says it’s also hitting his ‘extended’ family. By that, he means, his dog. Michael Haddock, an attorney in Saugatuck, says he received a letter from the State of Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency. It’s addressed to Michael Ryder. Ryder is his dog. ‘I got a letter from the UIA on Saturday, my name is Michael, my dog is Ryder. I was surprised to see it, but I had a good laugh, actually,’ he said. Haddock posted the picture on Facebook this past weekend, after he got the notification. In it, he said his dog qualifies for $360 dollars every week. ‘Not sure what he is going to do with the money, but it should be interesting.’”

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.