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The White House plays behind-the-scenes role in shaping the GOP's tax plan

Kelly, Sessions team up on immigration
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Story highlights

  • Chief of staff John Kelly had a vital role in decision on Honduran immigrants
  • The White House has a not-so-secret role in shaping the GOP's tax plan
  • Both parties are number-crunching after last week's election; John King explains why 15 is on their minds

Washington (CNN)A new Trump administration power alliance, White House nudges on tax reform, new wrinkles for two key Russia-meddling players and a way to track the fight for control of the House -- it's all in our "Inside Politics" forecast, where you can see tomorrow's headlines today.

1) Tax reform: Nudges and nods from the White House

President Trump's Twitter feed will be watched closely in the next few weeks as Republicans try to pass a tax bill.
    He was in Asia during the past week, when the House Ways & Means Committee passed a version -- and when Senate Republicans rolled out a somewhat different plan.
    Some White House big guns on tax reform appeared at events on Capitol Hill, happy for now to push to keep the process moving and careful not to quibble about the particulars of the legislation just yet.
    But the White House is active begin the scenes, offering nods and nudges to make clear what it likes -- and doesn't like.
    Michael Warren of The Weekly Standard cited the adoption tax credit as a good example. It was left out of the initial House bill, but restored before the committee vote. In the interim, conservative groups made their support of the credit known to lawmakers, and to administration officials.
    "I asked the White House what kind of role it had," Warren reports. The White House response: "We encouraged this idea of keeping this in. It sort of shows you what the White House has been doing behind the scenes." Warren said this role will be one to watch as Trump gets back from his 12-day Asia trip this week.

    2) John Kelly gets more assertive on policy -- and has an ally at Justice

    White House chief of staff John Kelly drew attention this past week when it was reported that he urged the Department of Homeland Security to take a tough stance that would end protected status for thousands of Hondurans in the United States.
    It was a glimpse at a more assertive chief of staff on policy matters, and a reminder that Kelly leans conservative on immigration issues.
    To that end, CNN's Abby Philip shared reporting that as we learn more about Kelly's policy involvement there are signs of an alliance of sorts with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
    "Kelly often stays on the margins of big decisions like this. And this was one of those key moments where he didn't just moderate the debate; he was involved in it," Phillip reported.
    "Another big opponent of keeping the Hondurans in the United States under this status was Attorney General Jeff Sessions. So those two men are in some ways on the same page about some key immigration-related issues, and it will be interesting to see how much further that kind of potential alliance goes."

    3) The Flynn watch: Will he be indicted and what does it say if he isn't?

    It's no secret that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn looms large in the special counsel investigation of Russian election meddling.
    His campaign-year meetings with Russians are under scrutiny, as are his work on the Republican Party platform and other campaign business. Plus there are questions about his private consulting work -- while also involved with the Trump campaign.
    The first indictments from the special counsel targeted two former top campaign officials, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. Speculation then turned to Flynn and the question of his legal peril.
    Time's Molly Ball noted that expectations are so high that Flynn will be charged, it raises questions questions when days tick by without any new word from the special counsel.
    "It was reported this week that they do have enough evidence to indict him if they wanted to," Ball said, "If he doesn't get indicted, that raises the possibility there is cooperation going on with investigators, which could definitely scare the White House as the investigation threatens to move closer to the President's inner circle."

    4) James Comey is now himself on Twitter -- from FBI to philosophy

    James Comey is now on Twitter as himself -- @comey, after previously using a pseudonym to occasionally add his perspective to the chatter.
    So Bloomberg's Margaret Talev made a point of checking after President Trump slapped the "hacks" label Saturday on the former FBi director and two others: former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
    From Comey, this reaction -- a quote he attributes to Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1855): "If you want truth to go round the world you must hire an express train to pull it; but if you want a lie to go round the world, it will fly; it is light as a feather and a breath will carry it."
    Philosophical -- and in contrast to how the President uses Twitter.
    "He's out now tweeting himself, instead of this alias of Reihold Neibuhr, the theologian he was hiding behind for all these months, Talev said. "But we saw him emerge over the weekend, of course ... he's about a week into his official Twitter feed now. Keep watching for more."

    5) Election 2017 sets up a dramatic 2018 battle for the House -- here's a scoring system

    Both parties pumped Tuesday's election results and exit polls into their maps and modeling calculations -- and both concluded without a doubt that the Democratic odds of retaking the House in 2018 are on the rise.
    That is why Nancy Pelosi was all smiles this past week -- and why Paul Ryan had an urgent, laser-like focus on advancing tax cuts.
    Democrats see new opportunities; Republicans have a new urgency to show they can have at least one big 2017 achievement.
    It's a year until the 2018 midterms, so the analysis of this past week may or may not have a long shelf life.
    But what was most noteworthy about the 2017 off-year balloting was how much it followed the old, pre-Trump political rules.
    The President has historically horrible poll numbers. Still, as Van Jones put it in a conversation Sunday, progressives have grown so accustomed to watching Trump defy the laws of political gravity that many of them went into Tuesday expecting the worst.
    Instead, it was a giant sweep that left Democrats invigorated and Republicans worried: If the numbers stay near where they are right now, and the normal rules apply, then 2018 could be a Democratic wave year.
    The President's approval rating is the barometer that will be watched most between now and November 2018 -- which will be the first midterm of the Trump presidency. The President's party usually suffers in the first midterm, but is the GOP really at risk of losing the two dozen seats it would take to lose the House majority?
    Here's a good way to keep score at home.
    Pollsters ask what is called a "generic ballot" question about Congress: If the election were today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate or the Republican candidate.
    Given the President's lousy poll standing, and the unpopularity of Congress, Republicans expect to be on the losing side of that question through next year's midterms.
    It's the margins that matter.
    Here is the consensus after conversations in recent days with several strategists well versed in House races historically, and in the current political climate:
    -- If the Democratic edge is in single digits nationally next October, most smart Republicans believe the GOP would lose seats but be able to maintain a narrow majority.
    -- If the Democratic edge climbs into the low double digits -- say 10 points or 12 points -- that is what one veteran GOP operative called the "danger zone," meaning the majority would be at clear risk.
    -- Consider 15 the magic number -- meaning if the Democratic advantage stood at 15 points in late October 2018, then any remaining "Speaker Ryan" stationery becomes a collector's item.
    A year is a long time, but consider the drama at the starting point: A new CNN poll this week puts the Democrats at 50% and Republicans at 38% in our latest "generic ballot" question. That's a12-point gap in favor of the Democrats -- which means Republicans begin a defining year in the danger zone.