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House Speaker Paul Ryan casts his shadow on a glass door. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In mid May, senior House Republican officials huddled at the Hyatt on the Chesapeake Bay to discuss their messaging plan to save the House majority.

One of their guest speakers was the well-respected election forecaster Charlie Cook, who founded the non-partisan "Cook Political Report." According to sources in the room, Cook gave the Republican staffers a bleak view of the midterms. He said he was deeply skeptical that simply touting the economic wonders of tax reform would be enough to save the House.

  • Cook confirmed this to me via email: "I told the group that the tax cut did help among Republican voters, but helped only a little and temporarily among independents and did nothing with Democratic voters.”
  • "The essence of what I said was that if they were going to rely primarily on the tax cuts to hang onto their majority, they were unlikely to succeed.”
  • "Even with the uptick in President Trump’s numbers and in the generic ballot test, I still think it is pretty uphill for them to hang onto their House majority. I use the metaphor of a Democratic tidal wave up against a Republican sea wall. In the House, the wave looks taller and stronger than the wall, in the Senate, the wall looks taller than the wave."

Sources in the room walked away with different impressions of Cook's presentation. A non-leadership source told me it should be a wake up call to leadership, who are fixated on using tax reform as a selling point to voters. But leadership sources disputed that to me, saying tax reform is just one message in their toolkit, though an important one.

  • Some were unimpressed by Cook's presentation and felt that other pollsters who presented to the group — including Kristen Soltis Anderson and David Winston — gave compelling reasons to think messages of tax reform and economic growth would help them this year.
  • One House source pointed out that just a week after Cook's presentation, his colleague Amy Walter wrote: "Part of the reason for the increase in enthusiasm is the fact that Republicans now have something around which to rally — specifically an improved economy and tax cut law."

The bottom line: Republicans have a heck of a hard job saving the House this year, as the president's party almost always loses seats in his first midterm. Trump's approval rating remains under water. Democrats are more energized than ever, and there are serious questions about whether Republicans will be motivated enough to show up and vote in the numbers required to save the House.

Go deeper

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U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.