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Sunday Political Brunch - May 7, 2017: Sorting Out Winners and Losers

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – Success in the political world often relies on momentum. In today’s techie parlance, the term often used is “trending.” It’s a good analogy; but sustaining momentum – like sustaining a trend – can sometimes give way to counter forces; and tidal waves can move in the opposite direction. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“When a Win Is a Win!” – The House vote to repeal and replace Obamacare was a significant victory for the Trump White House. I don’t say that from a policy advocacy standpoint; I say it from a political momentum standpoint. A picture is worth a thousand words - sometimes many more. The photo of President Trump standing with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other members of Congress in the White House Rose Garden (above) is a powerful "optic." Trump had needed to show that he can work with Congress and get things done. Not every Presidential objective can be accomplished by Executive Order.

“When a Win Is Not a Win” – If the Atlanta Falcons are leading the Super Bowl at halftime, they have momentum and the advantage, but they don’t have a victory. (Just ask the New England Patriots.) My point is that President Trump has an advantage, and he has momentum, but he doesn’t have victory. Getting the Obamacare repeal and replacement through the Senate will be a mighty task. And it may get amended in the upper chamber and sent back to the House. Given its razor-thin margin in the House last week, there’s no guarantee that Senate tinkering will get rubber stamped at the other end of the Capitol.

“Why Teamwork Matters” – On the playground at recess, it matters that the kids can get along. Politics is no different. As mentioned, the photo of Trump says, “I can work with Congress; the members are my equal partners.” For much too long in his first 100 days, the White House message was, “I’m going it alone.” That almost always fails.

“Why Teammates Cut and Run” – The strategy going forward gets tricky. All 435 members of the House of Representatives are up for reelection, as are 33 members of the Senate. One name not on the ballot is Trump's. Yet, the midterm election is a referendum on his first two years. Over the next year, you may see many of these Republicans widen the distance between themselves and the President. Call it the “Ten-Foot Pole” phenomenon. If the Obamacare fight drags on and bounces back and forth between the House and the Senate, it could see an erosion of votes; and it won’t take but a few departures to kill it. Congress must get it done by October 1, 2017, or it may get shelved. That would be a huge defeat and fuel many Democratic challengers.

“The Odds” – Oddly enough, the odds favor Republicans in 2018. Of the 33 Senate seats up, 21 are occupied by Democrats; and 10 of those are in states Trump carried in 2016. The irony is that the party in the White House usually loses seats in the midterm elections. Right now, Republicans have a 52-48 Senate advantage. I bet they pick up at least four seats. In the House, they could lose a dozen seats, but probably not lose their majority. However, if there is a major Trump agenda policy meltdown, then watch out. Few saw the Republican tidal wave coming in 1994. Republicans gained 54 House seats and 9 in the Senate to take the majority in both chambers.

“Where the Rubber Meets the Road” – Politics and policy intersect; you can’t avoid it. Here’s a real-world example. If coverage of pre-existing medical conditions is reduced, studies show the state that would be hardest hit is West Virginia. The Mountain State has the highest per capita rate of people with pre-existing condition. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) is the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, and aligns with Republicans on key issues. They may need his vote to repeal and replace Obamacare, but he’s also facing a tough reelection bid next year. So how does he vote? Stay tuned!

“An Immigration Olive Branch” – One strategy that might prove useful in the still-early days of this administration is to extend the proverbial "olive branch." President Trump wants to build a border wall and to defund sanctuary cities, but he has also talked about embracing some pro-immigration ideas, such as the “Dream Act.” It would protect and eventually give legal status to children who were brought here illegally by their parents or others. Many of those children are now educated, working adults. The Dream Act would grant them a path to citizenship and - at the same time - show Mr. Trump’s flexibility on immigration issues. The President would be wise to show he can work across the aisle at times.

What are your thoughts? Can the Republicans be a party of unity, or of division? Just click the comments button at www.MarkCurtiMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, author, and analyst. He is currently Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations in West Virginia.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

Sunday Political Brunch: The 100 Day Myth -- April 30, 2017

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(Charleston, West Virginia) -- I've been preaching against the "100 Day" benchmark for weeks, to no avail. I've argued that the standard is a historically-meaningless media creation, so I got curious about some of the Presidents in my own lifetime and what they accomplished during their first 100 days in office. Let's "brunch" on that this week.

“Win 100 for the Gipper” - I'm not going in any chronological order here; it's just random. I remember President Reagan's first 100 days for two things. First, the American hostages in Iran were released the day of Reagan's Inaugural. It was not so much Reagan's doing (although I think Iran feared him more), but it was a way for Iran to rub President Jimmy Carter's nose in the dirt. Then, on day 70 of his first term, Reagan was the victim of a near-fatal assassination attempt. His gritty survival gave him the appearance of being tougher and stronger. He became "The Teflon President" because nothing would stick. It remained his legacy from that point forward.

"Clinton-Trump Connection" -- No, I'm not comparing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump here, I'm talking Bill and Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump. The Clintons pressed to pass their 1993 health care reform bill in the first 100 days by steamrolling certain Congressional leaders who were key players on the health issue. It not only missed the 100-day target, it completely failed by that fall. My point is that President Trump's attempt to change health care reform – in either direction - is not without precedent.

"Help Wanted: Attorney General" -- One of the toughest assignments for President Clinton in 1993 was finding an Attorney General. Just two days after taking office, Clinton abandoned his first nominee - Zoe Baird - after it was revealed she and her husband had hired an illegal immigrant housekeeper and nanny and had not paid their social security taxes. Federal Judge Kimba Wood was then nominated for AG, but it soon surfaced that she also had an immigrant nanny (though, unlike Baird, Wood had paid the employment taxes.) But the damage was done, and Wood withdrew. Clinton finally settled on Dade County, Florida, State Attorney Janet Reno, who took office on day 51 of the Clinton term.

"Our Long National Nightmare Is Not Over" -- When he was sworn in to succeed President Nixon on August 9, 1974, President Gerald Ford said, "Our long national nightmare is over." Just 22 days later, Ford issued a pardon to Nixon; and Ford’s political nightmare was just beginning. Ford faced a heavy public backlash, and just over two years later was voted out of office. While the pardon helped defeat his reelection bid, the public mood changed dramatically by the time of Ford's death. Most Americans - and even former critic Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) - conceded that Ford had done the right thing after all by putting Watergate behind us.

"Obama's 100" -- Perhaps the biggest achievement of President Obama's first 100 days was passage of his multi-billion-dollar economic stimulus plan known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was approved by Congress on Obama's twenty-second day in office. On the other hand, Obama issued an order to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in his first 100 days, but it remains open to this day.

"Bush II" - The first 100 days of George W. Bush's administration were relatively quiet. Just weeks after taking office, he addressed a joint session of Congress to lay out his plan for drastic tax cuts, which were approved by June. Certainly, the biggest event in the Bush Presidency came when Al-Qaeda terrorists attacked on September 11, 2001. Everything after that date changed, which is why I argue the first 100-day benchmark means almost nothing. A crisis renders an arbitrary time frame - well - meaningless.

"Trump's Invitation" - The "First 100 Days" was created by reporters in 1933, after President Franklin Roosevelt took office during the Great Depression. The public (and the press) wanted results, and wanted them fast. Every President since then has had to deal with this silliness. As much as Trump supporters might try to minimize the importance of the benchmark, he invited a good bit of its pressure upon himself by making promises to do a lot in his first three-plus months in office. Sometimes you reap what you sow!

“Trump’s Biggest Success” – Neil Gorsuch is now Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. President Trump may serve four years in office - or eight years, if reelected. But Justice Gorsuch is just 49 years old. He could be handing down Supreme Court decisions for the next 30-plus years. The fact that remnants of the “Reagan Court” are a factor all these years later tells you the impact of a successful court appointment.

“Trump’s Biggest Failure” – One word: "immigration!" Sadly for Mr. Trump, it’s his signature issue. His Executive Order on a travel ban was overturned by the courts, and his new Executive Order is awaiting a judicial ruling. His Executive Order to strip federal funding from self-proclaimed “sanctuary cities” is also tied up in the courts. And, the fact that he had to temporarily punt on his 1.5-billion-dollar request in Congress to start a Mexican border wall is another setback. Yes, all three of these issues can be reversed, so they are not dead yet; but things are not trending his way on immigration so far.

“Why All This Matters” – While I believe the “100 Day” benchmark is an artificial one created by the press - one in which any President has little time to accomplish much - I do believe it has one significant benefit. It is a time during which a President can set the tone for the administration. It’s kind of a road map of, “Here’s where we’re going!” But it does allow for course corrections if there are mistakes, and even political defeats. Often the better benchmark is the midterm election – two years into a Presidential term – when the public gets to send an electoral “report card” to Congress and the President.

What’s your grade for President Trump on his first 100 days in office? A, B, C, D, or F? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media. LLC

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

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