-- At the Capitol, establishment Republicans expressed alarm. “If these allegations are true, he must step aside,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a formal statement on behalf of all Republican senators. A host of his members made similar comments, including Jeff Flake, David Perdue, John Thune, Cory Gardner and Pat Toomey. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was unequivocal:
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) lost a Republican primary in 2010 but stayed in the Senate by waging a write-in campaign against the GOP nominee. She publicly urged appointed Sen. Luther Strange, who lost to Moore in the September primary, to try repeating that feat.
-- Meanwhile, down in Montgomery, Republican leaders mostly circled the wagons behind Moore. The deadline has passed to take his name off the ballot. The Alabama state party could disqualify him from the election, but there was relatively little appetite locally to do so.
Samuel H. Givhan, the senior vice chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, was dismissive when asked about McConnell’s statement. “I’m not sure Sen. McConnell has any say so in this,” he told our Michael Scherer.
Jonathan P. Gray, a Republican consultant in Alabama who is not working with any of the Senate candidates this year, was even more pointed when Scherer reached out: “I think it was already perfectly well stated that no one in Alabama gives a s--- what Mitch McConnell or John McCain thinks we should do.”
The most remarkable pushback came from Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who dismissed the allegations by saying that there was also an age gap between the biblical Joseph and Mary. “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” he told The Washington Examiner. “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”
Zeigler said the allegations, even if true, are “much ado about nothing.” As part of his defense, he argued that Moore “fell in love with one of the younger women” and noted that the woman he wound up marrying later on is 14 years younger than him. “There is nothing to see here,” Zeigler said, predicting that voters would be angrier at The Washington Post for writing the story than at Moore for his behavior. He made another biblical reference: “Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist,” he said.
The Republican National Committeeman from Alabama, Paul Reynolds, said that he trusts Vladimir Putin more than Moore’s accusers. “My gosh, it's The Washington Post. If I’ve got a choice of putting my welfare into the hands of Putin or The Washington Post, Putin wins every time,” he told The Hill. “This is going to make Roy Moore supporters step up to the plate and give more, work more and pray more.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R), who got the job this year when Republican Robert Bentley resigned in disgrace to avoid jail time, called the allegations “deeply disturbing,” but then she stressed that she will withhold judgment until “we know the facts.”
The chairman of the Bibb County Republican Party, Jerry Pow, said that he’d vote for Moore even if it was proved he committed a sex crime against an underage girl. “I would vote for Judge Moore because I wouldn’t want to vote for Doug,” he told the Toronto Star, referring to Democratic candidate Doug Jones. “I’m not saying I support what he did.”
The same reporter heard similar things from other local party leaders he called:
-- For its part, the White House is trying to thread the needle: “Like most Americans, the president does not believe we can allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters accompanying President Trump as he flew from China to Vietnam overnight. “However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.” Vice President Pence also “found the allegations in the story disturbing and believes, if true, this would disqualify anyone from serving in office,” added Alyssa Farah, his spokeswoman.
-- Moore vehemently denies any wrongdoing. He defiantly pledged in a flurry of tweets last night that he will not step aside, referring to his opponents and the mainstream media as “evil”:
-- This is just the latest in a string of character tests that Republicans have faced in the past few years. Many, but not all, have related to Trump. Scores of GOP leaders who bristled after the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged in October 2016 chose just days later to rally behind Trump anyway. Republicans came to Greg Gianforte’s defense after he admitted physically assaulting a reporter this June, and he won a special election to keep Montana’s sole House seat in GOP hands. In 2012, the National Republican Senatorial Committee publicly announced that it was abandoning GOP nominee Todd Akin in the Missouri Senate race after he declared that “legitimate rape” does not lead to unwanted pregnancies (because, he said, the female body has ways of shutting them down). But when polls showed that Akin was within striking distance of beating Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Senate Republican leaders quietly reversed themselves and funneled nearly $1 million to fund a last-minute TV ad blitz on his behalf.
In those three cases, Republican leaders in Washington stomached their initial concerns and chose to prioritize politics above principles. With Moore making clear that he will not step aside, now they face another legacy-defining test: Will they follow their moral compasses or their political ones?
-- If not here, where will they draw the line?
-- To be sure, the stakes are very high in the Dec. 12 special election to replace Jeff Sessions, who resigned to become attorney general. Republicans only have a two-seat majority in the Senate, and they’ve struggled to get 50 votes for priorities like repealing Obamacare. If Democratic candidate Doug Jones wins, he will hold the seat through at least 2020 and his party will have a clearer path to retaking the majority next year.
-- But the underlying allegations are also very serious. Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites detail on-the-record allegations against Moore by a then-14-year-old and three other girls between the ages of 16 and 18 when they said the incidents occurred. If you haven’t seen the piece yet, take the time to read the whole thing.
This is the lead anecdote: “Leigh Corfman says she was 14 years old when an older man approached her outside a courtroom in Etowah County, Ala. She was sitting on a wooden bench with her mother, they both recall, when the man introduced himself as Roy Moore. It was early 1979 and Moore … was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. He struck up a conversation, Corfman and her mother say, and offered to watch the girl while her mother went inside for a child custody hearing. ‘He said, ‘Oh, you don’t want her to go in there and hear all that. I’ll stay out here with her,’’ says Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71. ‘I thought, how nice for him to want to take care of my little girl.’
“Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she says. Days later, she says, he picked her up around the corner from her house in Gadsden, drove her about 30 minutes to his home in the woods, told her how pretty she was and kissed her. On a second visit, she says, he took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear. ‘I wanted it over with — I wanted out,’ she remembers thinking. ‘Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over.’ Corfman says she asked Moore to take her home, and he did …
“Aside from Corfman, three other women interviewed by The Post in recent weeks say Moore pursued them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 and he was in his early 30s, episodes they say they found flattering at the time, but troubling as they got older …
- “Wendy Miller says she was 14 and working as a Santa’s helper at the Gadsden Mall when Moore first approached her, and 16 when he asked her on dates, which her mother forbade.
- “Debbie Wesson Gibson says she was 17 when Moore spoke to her high school civics class and asked her out on the first of several dates that did not progress beyond kissing.
- “Gloria Thacker Deason says she was an 18-year-old cheerleader when Moore began taking her on dates that included bottles of Mateus Rosé wine. The legal drinking age in Alabama was 19.”
-- The stories are not the product of opposition research:
- “Neither Corfman nor any of the other women sought out The Post. While reporting a story in Alabama about supporters of Moore’s Senate campaign, a Post reporter heard that Moore allegedly had sought relationships with teenage girls. Over the ensuing three weeks, two Post reporters contacted and interviewed the four women. All were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews, saying they thought it was important for people to know about their interactions with Moore. The women say they don’t know one another …
- “According to campaign reports, none of the women has donated to or worked for Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, or his rivals in the Republican primary, including Sen. Luther Strange, whom he defeated this fall in a runoff election. … Corfman, 53, who works as a customer service representative at a payday loan business, says she has voted for Republicans in the past three presidential elections, including for Donald Trump in 2016.
- “This account is based on interviews with more than 30 people who said they knew Moore between 1977 and 1982 … Two of Corfman’s childhood friends say she told them at the time that she was seeing an older man, and one says Corfman identified the man as Moore. Wells says her daughter told her about the encounter more than a decade later, as Moore was becoming more prominent as a local judge.”
-- Hypocrisy alert: Moore says he’s the candidate of traditional values, but historically the behavior that he’s accused of would not be tolerated by voters — especially evangelicals. Think about how some of these same people in Alabama might respond if a Democratic Senate candidate was accused of the same stuff. Recall the reaction to Bill Clinton in the 1990s and, more recently, liberal donor Harvey Weinstein.
The Fix’s Amber Phillips made a list of 13 self-righteous things that Moore has said about sex and morality. Remember, Moore has been removed twice as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to follow federal court orders related to the separation of church and state. He argues unabashedly that his personal interpretation of the Bible trumps the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. In 2003, he disregarded a court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building. In 2016, he was suspended after trying to block the implementation of the SCOTUS ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.
UNPACKING THE TALE OF TWO PARTIES THEME:
-- Outsider Republicans around the country rose to Moore’s defense:
Fox News host Sean Hannity described Moore’s actions as “beyond reprehensible,” if they are true, but then he stressed to his viewers that they should not rush to judgment: “This should transcend politics. However, everyone also has the right to defend their name. … How do we ascertain what happened 38 years ago? … If, in this case, let’s say, the allegations turned out to be not true, where would Judge Moore go to get his good name back before an election?”
Former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who now runs Breitbart and went all-in to help Moore win the GOP primary, dismissed the story as nothing more than a smear campaign. Speaking in New Hampshire last night, he noted that The Post broke both the story about Moore and revealed the “Access Hollywood” tape: “Now is that a coincidence?”
Breitbart editor Joel Pollak argued that only one of the relationships documented in The Post’s investigation was “problematic.” “The 16-year-old and the 18-year-old have no business in that story because those are women of legal age of consent,” he said on MSNBC.
-- Meanwhile, the conservative elites who have traditionally dominated the party but find themselves on the outs in the Trump era distanced themselves:
Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg argues on National Review that “Saving Roy Moore Isn’t Worth It”: “The Post has offered an enormous amount of evidence. … I am one of those naive fools who actually believed that the conservatives who often talked the loudest about the supreme importance of character were sincere. The last two years disabused me of that. But just as a matter of cold realpolitik, I cannot grasp why so many people think it’s a good idea to stand by a man who, if elected, will serve as a negative campaign ad made flesh. … In the long run, a Senator Moore would cost Republicans more seats than the one he might give them. He’d be an albatross for every elected Republican, including President Trump, who will be asked to take a side on every scene in the clown show Moore would bring to Washington.”
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol tweeted: “The terrible truth: In Trump’s Republican Party, Roy Moore — politically demagogic and morally bankrupt — seems to be not a bug but a feature.”
John Weaver, a campaign strategist to McCain and John Kasich, encouraged Republicans to vote for Moore’s opponent. “Roy Moore, unfit before today, should withdraw or be defeated by [Doug Jones], a good man & tough prosecutor,” he wrote on Twitter.
From a former George W. Bush speechwriter:
From the longtime conservative radio host in Wisconsin:
-- A biblical reality check: Several prominent theologians outside of Alabama pushed back hard on the state auditor’s dubious invocation of scripture to defend Moore.
“Bringing Joseph and Mary into a modern-day molestation accusation, where a 32-year-old prosecutor is accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl, is simultaneously ridiculous and blasphemous,” said Ed Stetzer, a pastor and church consultant at Wheaton College, told our Michelle Boorstein. “Even those who followed ancient marriage customs, which we would not follow today, knew the difference between molesting and marriage.”
“Women were chattel back then, they were traded — of course they married men who were much older and had multiple wives,” added the Rev. Amy Butler, senior minister of the Riverside Church, a historical and prominent interdenominational church in New York City. “It’s completely ludicrous to equate the sex assault of a minor with an ancient culture. It’s ludicrous. … It makes me want to rip the church back from these people.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Popular comedian Louis C.K. has been accused of sexual misconduct by five women. Their testimonies, reported Thursday evening in the New York Times, describe a pattern of sexual harassment and lewd behavior toward female colleagues that stretches back more than a decade. (Read the original piece from the Times’s Melena Ryzik, Cara Buckley and Jodi Kantor here.)
The backlash was swift: The New York premiere of C.K.’s new film, “I Love You, Daddy,” was abruptly canceled, as was a planned appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” HBO announced soon after the story popped that C.K. was cut from its upcoming benefit concert for autism and that the comedian's past projects will be immediately removed from On Demand services. (Elahe Izadi)
-- The Senate will now require members and staffers to undergo training aimed at preventing sexual harassment. Elise Viebeck reports: “The Senate approved a bipartisan resolution late Thursday to require periodic anti-harassment training for senators, aides and interns. The secretary of the Senate will certify that each office has completed the required training during each Congress. The measure was the Senate’s first effort to change its policies in response to allegations of persistent sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. … ‘By passing this resolution, we take a step to ensure that all who work for the Senate are able to do their job without feeling unsafe or uncomfortable,’ Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), co-author of the resolution, said in a statement.”
-- The New York Times’s Jeremy W. Peters published excerpts of his interview with Steve Bannon, in which the former White House chief strategist predicts that Mitch McConnell will no longer be Senate majority leader in a year’s time. Asked whether it was his personal mission to end McConnell’s leadership, Bannon replied, “It’s not my personal mission, but it is an objective that I — I have an objective that Mitch McConnell will not be majority leader, and I believe will be done before this time next year.”
GET SMART FAST:
- More than 600,000 Americans signed up for coverage on the Obamacare exchanges during the first four days of the new enrollment season. By comparison, during 2016’s enrollment season, a little over a million Americans signed up over the first 12 days. (Juliet Eilperin and Amy Goldstein)
- The church in Sutherland Springs where the shooting occurred may be torn down. Officials for the First Baptist Church said that they are considering rebuilding the church or placing a memorial there. (Peter Holley and Mark Berman)
- The former Marine drill instructor accused of abusing Muslim recruits was convicted. A military jury found Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix guilty of maltreatment. (Rory Laverty)
A new report from the Office of Inspector General found that TSA still faces security deficiencies. OIG employees carrying banned items successfully avoided detection in eight out of 10 tests. (Ashley Halsey III)
Progressive billionaire Tom Steyer said he is planning to drop another $10 million on his national TV ad campaign calling for Trump’s impeachment, which made headlines last month after it was aired on “Fox & Friends” before being pulled from the network because, it said, conservative viewers were upset by it. (Politico)
- Researchers studying the brain of ex-NFL player Aaron Hernandez said the 27-year-old — who hanged himself in his prison cell earlier this year — suffered the worst form of CTE ever seen in a person his age. Doctors said the severity of his condition, which is caused by repetitive brain trauma, would have “significantly” affected decision-making, judgment and cognition. (Adam Kilgore)
- TripAdvisor said it will begin placing warning symbols on hotels and businesses where safety incidents such as rape or sexual harassment have reportedly occurred. The changes come amid widespread outrage after the site was accused of removing harassment claims on its forums in a bid to keep them “family friendly.” (Marwa Eltagouri and Rachel Siegel)
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Robert Mueller is reportedly probing Michael Flynn’s alleged attempts to forcibly deliver controversial cleric Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government in exchange for millions. The Wall Street Journal’s James V. Grimaldi, Shane Harris and Aruna Viswanatha report: “Under the alleged proposal, Mr. Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering [Gulen] to the Turkish government[.] … President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed the U.S. to extradite him, views the cleric as a political enemy. [FBI] agents have asked at least four individuals about a meeting in mid-December at the ‘21’ Club in New York City, where Mr. Flynn and representatives of the Turkish government discussed removing Mr. Gulen[.] … The discussions allegedly involved the possibility of transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali[.]”
-- Longtime Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller told House investigators that he rejected an offer to send “five women” to Trump’s hotel room during his 2013 visit to Moscow. Carol D. Leonnig reports: “Keith Schiller told the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that he rejected the offer from the man, who appeared to be Russian or Ukranian … He quickly dismissed what appeared to be a suggestion of procuring prostitutes for Trump, they said. ‘No, man, we’re not interested in that,’ Schiller told the man, the people said. The offer came at the end of a late-morning planning meeting that Schiller attended when he accompanied Trump to Moscow for the annual Miss Universe pageant[.]”
Schiller told congressional investigators that he saw no compromising, illicit or illegal behavior by Trump during the trip: “The offer to send women to Trump’s room came after Schiller said he attended a meeting in Moscow with about 15 people to discuss details of the pageant. Among those in attendance were Russian pop star Emin Agalarov and his father, Aras Agalarov, a business magnate with close ties to [Putin].” (Reminder: Agalarov’s publicist, Rob Goldstone, was the man who reached out to Donald Trump Jr. to facilitate a June 2016 meeting with the Russian lawyer promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.)
-- Mueller’s team has interviewed senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller — making him the highest-ranking official still working for the administration known to have talked to investigators. CNN’s Pamela Brown, Gloria Borger and Evan Perez report: “Miller's role in the firing of [James Comey] was among the topics discussed during the interview as part of the probe into possible obstruction of justice, according to one of the sources. Special counsel investigators have also shown interest in talking to attendees of a March 2016 meeting where [George Papadopoulos] said that he could arrange a meeting between Trump and [Putin] through his connections. Miller was also at the meeting … [and] earlier this year, Miller assisted Trump in writing a memo that explained why Trump planned to fire Comey, according to sources familiar with the matter.”
-- Federal authorities have a name for the Russian woman who falsely claimed to be Putin’s niece and offered to help Papadopoulos broker meetings with the Russian president: Olga Vinogradova. Politico’s Ali Watkins reports. “The name, which has not previously been reported, has taken on new significance for federal investigators seeking to more fully understand the role of the woman … Introduced to Papadopoulos in March of that year by a London-based academic, Joseph Mifsud, she was part of what federal investigators suspect may have been a Russian effort to infiltrate Trump’s campaign team with the help of intermediaries … Russia’s intelligence services rely heavily on third-party cutouts with vague or hidden ties to the Kremlin, including academics, businessmen, oligarchs, and even ‘honey traps’: attractive women who lure their targets into illicit liaisons that can be used for blackmail.”
-- As the probe continues, many former Trump aides face mounting legal fees — including provocateur Roger Stone, who blasted out an email asking for help after saying his tab exceeded $450,000. Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand reports: “In the emailed statement, Stone called [Robert Mueller] a ‘deep state vigilante’ and ‘deep state executioner’ who was ‘busy casting about for anything he can latch onto.’ ‘I have yet to testify before the US Senate Intelligence Committee and anticipate that the legal representation I require for that exchange will easily put my legal bills even closer to the million dollar mark,’ Stone wrote. ‘I hope you will consider contributing anything you can to this Fund. You can do so [with] your contribution of $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1000 or more would be a Godsend.’”
-- Navigator Holdings, the shipping company partially owned by Wilbur Ross, doubled the number of ships it contracted for Putin-linked Sibur Holding in 2014 — just months after the U.S. imposed sanctions on one of its major shareholders. Bloomberg’s Dina Khrennikova and Irina Reznik report: “Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire energy trader, was cited as a member of the ‘inner circle’ by the U.S. Treasury when it imposed a visa ban and asset freeze on him in March 2014, held a stake of as much as 32 percent by September of that year. Kirill Shamalov, who is married to [Putin’s] younger daughter isn’t subject to U.S. restrictions, raised his Sibur stake to 21 percent in late 2014. He later sold all but 3.9 percent . . .
“Ross has come under fire in Congress for failing to include Navigator’s Russian contracts in an ethics disclosure … As recently as last year, Sibur said in a regulatory filing that Timchenko, the sanctioned billionaire, ‘has a significant influence over the group.’”
-- After the “Access Hollywood” tape exploded publicly, Russian trolls rushed to deflect damaging reports against Trump — using their fake online personas to instead refocus criticism on Clinton and the “mainstream media.” The AP’s Ryan Nakashima and Barbara Ortutay report: “Tweets by Russia-backed accounts such as ‘America_1st_’ and ‘BatonRougeVoice’ on Oct. 7, 2016, actively pivoted away from news of [the audio recording] … and instead touted damaging emails hacked from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. ‘[MSM] is at it again with Billy Bush recording . . . Within an hour [of The Post publication of the story], WikiLeaks unleashed its own bombshell about hacked email from [Clinton campaign chair John] Podesta’s account, a release the Russian accounts had been foreshadowing for days.”
-- The CEO of the Podesta Group, Kimberley Fritts, is leaving the embattled firm to start her own lobbying group. Fritts’s departure casts even more uncertainty on the future of the Podesta Group after Tony Podesta, who stepped down hours after Paul Manafort's indictment was made public. (Politico)
TRUMP IN ASIA:
-- Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that Trump would not have a formal sit-down with Vladimir Putin during the APEC summit. Ashley Parker and David Nakamura report: “‘There was never a meeting confirmed, and there will not be one that takes place due to scheduling conflicts on both sides,’ [Sanders] said . . . But Sanders noted that because the two leaders were going to be in the same place, they might still have a less scripted encounter. ‘Are they going to bump into each other and say hello? Certainly possible and likely,’ she said. ‘But in terms of a scheduled, formal meeting, there’s not one on the calendar and we don’t anticipate that there will be one.’”
-- Trump is now in Vietnam and has returned to his tough talk on trade. Ashley and David add: “Speaking to a gathering of business leaders, Trump demanded trade ‘on a fair and equal basis,’ and returned to his campaign rhetoric, promising to place the United States first in global deals and agreements. ‘We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,’ he said[.] … But the president’s more fiery and protectionist tone Friday offered a stark departure from just a day earlier, when on Chinese soil in Beijing, Trump seemed reluctant to press his case as sharply with Chinese President Xi Jinping.”
-- After Trump praised Xi as a “very special man” with whom he has “great chemistry,” a former ambassador to China said that Xi is “playing Trump like a fiddle.” “You don’t have good chemistry with a Chinese leader who doesn’t speak your language and is geared to not develop chemistry,” said Jorge Guajardo, Mexico’s ambassador to China from 2007 to 2013. He added that, when visiting Chinese officials, “You leave that meeting thinking ‘It went great.’” But when it comes time to negotiate, Beijing officials “laugh and say ‘No, let’s not confuse all that pomp and circumstance with the meat of the matter.’” (Quartz’s Heather Timmons)
-- The Asia trip has been marked by foreign leaders’ attempts to flatter and entertain Trump, Ashley and David note: “In stops in Japan, South Korea and China, Trump was feted, pampered and celebrated with florid displays of diplomatic pageantry and poetry — choreographed and calculated gestures aimed at stroking the ego of the president[.] … Asian leaders seem to be betting that if they can flatter Trump into a friendship now, they then may be able to profit from — or even exploit — that relationship in the future. … Trump has reciprocated his host’s hospitality, not just in warm words but, in some cases, in potentially favorable policy shifts that could pay long-term dividends for the Asian nations.”
TROUBLE IN TRUMP'S WASHINGTON:
-- John Kelly tried to pressure acting DHS secretary Elaine Duke to expel thousands of Hondurans living here — phoning her personally just hours before the decision was due. Nick Miroff reports: “Duke refused to reverse her decision and was angered by what she felt was a politically driven intrusion by Kelly and Tom Bossert, the White House homeland security adviser, who also called her about the matter … ‘As with many issues, there were a variety of views inside the administration on a policy. The Acting Secretary took those views and advice on the path forward for [Temporary Protected Status] and made her decision based on the law,’ said [DHS spokesman Jonathan Hoffman]. . . . A White House official attributed Kelly’s frustration to Duke’s 'lack of decisiveness.' . . . Duke, who was confirmed by the Senate in April, has informed Kelly she plans to resign, said the officials. Hoffman said there is ‘zero factual basis’ to the claim that Duke has said she’ll step down, and disputed the claim that Kelly called to pressure Duke, insisting she had reached out to him to solicit advice on the TPS decision.”
-- Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin claimed that taxpayers didn't pick up the tab for his wife's expenses during a European trip in July, contradicting statements provided to The Post by a VA spokesperson. Lisa Rein reports: “‘There was nothing inappropriate about this,’ Shulkin said, speaking at a Washington Post Live event on veterans’ issues. He rebuked the news organization for what he called ‘poor reporting.’ The information The Post included in its Sept. 29 report came from a VA spokesman — on the record, in emails. In those emails, spokesman Curt Cashour said the federal government paid for the flights for Shulkin’s wife, Merle Bari, and provided a per-diem reimbursement for her meals and other expenses.”
-- Trump’s voter fraud panel is being sued for a ninth time — but this time, by one of its own members, blasting the commission’s “superficial bipartisanship” as a “façade.” Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports: “Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, one of four Democrats on the 11-member board, filed a suit claiming that he's being denied access to the commission's records and effectively frozen out of its activities. The suit … comes as questions are swirling about the commission's future and whether the Trump administration might simply abandon the effort.”
-- The head of antitrust enforcement at the Justice Department appears to have undergone a major shift in his opinion on the merger of AT&T and Time Warner. Brian Fung and Hamza Shaban report: “‘I don’t see this as a major antitrust problem,’ [Makan Delrahim] told Canadian television news in October 2016. ‘I think these folks would have an easier route toward approval’ compared with other deals. … [Now at the DOJ,] [Delrahim] has adopted a far more confrontational stance in weighing whether to approve AT&T’s $85.4 billion merger with Time Warner. … The newly adversarial stance stirred a debate over whether Delrahim was carrying water for Trump … or simply acting to stem a merger that could hurt consumers based on new information he learned since taking the job.”
-- “The Leaks. The Frustrations. Omarosa’s Shoes. Mike Dubke on His 103 Days in the White House,” by Washingtonian's Elaina Plott: “Dubke made it all of 103 days before resigning on May 18. And in two hours of recent interviews with Washingtonian, he spoke about the frustrations and financial disclosures and unforeseen health issues that defined them. … His reflections offer a broader window into just how slipshod this administration’s operations can be, how leaks, especially early on, crippled the press shop, as well as a West Wing in which a select few were hell-bent on bolstering their own names at the expense of the White House as a whole.”
- Quote du jour: “But what did Dubke think of his other colleagues, such as Omarosa? He pauses for a long time. ‘I think she’s got a lot of shoes,’ he says. I ask him why he says this. ‘Because she’d leave them all over the White House.’”
-- “Trump Ignores Climate Change. That’s Very Bad for Disaster Planners,” by the New York Times's Brad Plumer: “The Federal Emergency Management Agency is trying to get ready for bigger floods even as the White House is hostile to talking about climate change.”
-- The gun safety group led by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords is suing the Trump administration for failing to turn over documents that could show the NRA’s influence over gun policy. HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery reports: “The gun safety group is accusing ATF of refusing to respond to multiple Freedom of Information Act requests for documents relating to communications between administration officials and the NRA. Specifically, Giffords’ group filed FOIA requests seeking any records relating to Trump administration policies on concealed carry reciprocity, gun silencers, bump stocks and assault weapon exports; evidence that Donald Trump Jr. improperly lobbied on behalf of gun manufacturing companies; communications between gun lobbying groups and senior administration officials following last month’s mass shooting in Las Vegas; and attempts by the NRA to review bump stock regulations in coordination with ATF.”
THE SENATE’S TAX BILL IS OUT:
-- The Senate’s tax plan differs from the House measure in key ways that could cause big headaches for Republicans.
Here's what the Senate plan would do, via Damian Paletta and Mike DeBonis:
- It “would . . . keep the mortgage interest deduction intact, according to a Republican official[.] … In the House bill, homeowners would be allowed to deduct only interest payments on their first $500,000 worth of home loans, … while the Senate bill would keep the current threshold of $1 million.”
- It “would delay cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent until 2019. … [lowering] the cost of the Senate bill by more than $100 billion, giving negotiators more revenue for other changes. But it could also delay companies moving back to the United States from overseas or prompt them to hold off on other decisions as they wait for the corporate rate to fall.”
- It “would prohibit Americans from deducting certain state and local taxes from their federal bills, a change that could raise taxes overall for Americans in high-tax states such as New York, New Jersey, California, Oregon and Illinois.”
- It “eliminates the personal exemption many Americans take to lower their taxable income, but it does expand the tax credits for families with children and nearly doubles the ‘standard deduction’ taken by tens of millions of taxpayers who don’t itemize their returns.”
- It would reduce the number of people paying the estate tax, a boogeyman for conservatives, by “doubling the size of estates that are exempt from being taxed;” the House bill gets rid of the tax altogether by 2024.
- It “would lower tax rates across income levels as a way to lower tax bills for most Americans, Senate Finance Committee aides said. … [It] would slightly lower [the top tax bracket] to 38.5 percent — a win for advocates of supply-side economic theory who argue that a lower top rate will grow the economy.”
- “It would also continue allowing people to deduct payments on student loan interest and to deduct some medical expenses — a provision dropped from the House plan that could lead to significantly higher taxes for many households, particularly for the elderly.”
But, but, but: “Senate Finance Committee aides said they planned to make adjustments to the legislation because it probably does not comply with the rules for a special Senate procedure they hope to use to pass the bill with 50 votes.” (To pass the bill without Democratic support, it cannot add more than $1.5 trillion to the debt over 10 years.)
-- The release of the Senate plan caused stocks to drop. (Wall Street Journal)
-- The House Ways and Means panel passed its version of an overhaul, and Republicans plan to hold a full floor vote next week. From Damian and Mike: “The vote … included revisions meant to eliminate a $74 billion shortfall and address other issues complicating the bill’s passage. … House tax writers opted to increase tax rates on foreign assets that multinational corporations move back to the United States. The House revisions would also direct further benefits to middle-class taxpayers. It would restore the Child Adoption Tax Credit left out of the previous version and allow for a deduction of moving expenses available to active-duty military members. … Other changes in the House bill are directed at businesses, including a further rate reduction for certain qualified ‘pass-through’ firms that send their earnings to their owners to be taxed as individual income.”
-- Because of the slim GOP Senate majority, White House officials say they expect a final bill to more closely resemble the Senate’s plan. For now, the House is making decisions the Senate won’t accept and the Senate is doing the same regarding the House.
-- More on the House bill:
- Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) acknowledged that businesses would still be able to keep their full deduction for state and local taxes, while individuals would partially lose the benefit. The distinction could open the plan to further criticism the bill is meant to boost corporations. (Mike DeBonis)
- If the House plan become law, 6 million additional tax filers would pay no federal income taxes. (Heather Long)
-- Bonus read: “‘I don’t feel wealthy:’ The upper middle class is worried about paying for the tax overhaul,” by Todd C. Frankel: “The tax push illustrates the political risks of attacking provisions favored by prosperous but far-from-rich suburbanites, a powerful voting bloc that often faces the financial stress of living in increasingly pricey neighborhoods. Many in the GOP already are worried about losing their grip on this important group after Tuesday’s result in the Virginia governor’s race[.]”
ANOTHER GOP RETIREMENT:
-- Just two days after the GOP drubbing in Tuesday's Virginia elections, 13-term Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the House Judiciary Committee chair, announced he won't seek reelection next year but said the political climate “didn't play a role” in his decision. Goodlatte will leave a pretty safe GOP seat, but he “joins more than a dozen mostly Republican members of the House and Senate who plan to retire at a time when the GOP-controlled Congress has struggled to pass major legislation, such as a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.” (Jenna Portnoy) The Hill lists 29 GOP House retirements so far this cycle — compared to 11 for Democrats — and says the exodus threatens the GOP majority.
-- Meanwhile in Newark, a juror who was excused from the corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) predicted that the jury would not produce a verdict. Alan Maimon reports: “‘I think it’s going to be a hung jury,’ Juror #8, Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby, told FIOS1 News as she left the courthouse. … As she left the case, she offered an inside glimpse of a jury divided on many of the issues in the corruption trial. But she was adamant that prosecutors had not convinced her that the senator had done anything illegal. ‘I feel like the government was very corrupted, not that Menendez was,’ said Arroyo-Maultsby. ‘What I saw, the government didn’t give me enough. So I think the defense showed me enough to say he’s not guilty on every count.’”
-- The bizarre story of the attack on Paul took another turn as the senator's neighbor pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor assault charges after he allegedly attacked the Kentucky lawmaker and broke six of his ribs. Rene Boucher now faces the possibility of much more serious federal and state felony charges as the investigation continues. (Brandon Gee and Ed O'Keefe)
-- Nobody seems to know what really happened. A senior adviser to Paul has now said, “The Pauls have had no conversations with (Boucher) in many years.” (CNN)
-- Virginia voters said they used their ballots to send a message about Trump’s divisive politics. Paul Schwartzman reports: “Ask them to identify an issue championed by Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D), and they may fumble for an answer. Ask them the name of the man who was elected lieutenant governor and they might have to think for a moment. Ask them to identify who they chose for the House of Delegates, and they were likely to reply with a blank stare. But ask them why they voted Democratic, and their answers were precise and infused with anger. ‘I don’t like Trump and I don’t like where our politics are going,’ said Patty Potts, 48, an education programmer who lives in Lorton.”
- BEST QUOTE: “‘It could have been Dr. Seuss or the Berenstain Bears on the ballot and I would have voted for them if they were a Democrat,’ Toren Beasley, 60, a marketing executive, said as he left a Starbucks in Lorton. ‘I might do more analyses in other years. But in this case, no. No one else gets any consideration because what’s going on with the Republicans — I’m talking about Trump and his cast of characters — is stupid, stupid, stupid. I can’t say “stupid” enough times.’”
-- Even Pat Buchanan wrote the victories in Virginia represent “a Little Bighorn and possible harbinger of what is to come.” He added, “Tens of millions of Americans are passionately for Trump, and tens of millions are passionately against him. The GOP problem: The latter cohort is equal in intensity but larger in number, and this is especially true in purple and blue states like the commonwealth of Virginia.”
-- The Democratic Governors Association published internal polling to argue that Ed Gillespie’s focus on MS-13 backfired by driving up his negatives:
-- Democrats’ wave of victories has clearly not stemmed infighting over the direction of the party. David Weigel and Ed O'Keefe report: “In interviews, memos and a flurry of conference calls, left-wing groups created or rebuilt since the 2016 election claimed the electoral wins as a victory for their philosophies and gave little ground in the battle over what direction the party should take or which issues win. But a larger conclusion also emerged for many Democrats — that the litmus tests of a restive base can linger without unraveling campaigns or keeping voters at home. . . . Their victories, like Trump’s, suggested that party infighting was not necessarily important to voters seeking change.”
-- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who sidestepped the controversy over Donna Brazile’s DNC accusations as Election Day loomed, has renewed his calls for an overhaul within the party. David Weigel reports: “The focus of Sanders’s mini-campaign is on the DNC’s Unity Reform Commission[.] … On Dec. 8 and 9, the commission will meet for the last time and present recommendations to the full DNC. Sanders’s goal is twofold: To highlight the changes he wants most and to prevent the issue from fading when the full DNC meets again.” Sanders is calling for the DNC to dramatically reduce its number of superdelegates, open all primaries and extend caucuses to anyone who could not attend.
-- Some results are still coming in:
- With the Washington state Senate election finally called for Democrat Manka Dhingra yesterday, Democrats now officially control all branches of government along the West Coast. (David Weigel)
- Virginia Democrat Larry Barnett conceded his House of Delegates race, bringing Republicans one step closer to maintaining a razor-thin majority. Three races remain too close to call, with one separated by just 13 votes. If Democrats win one of the three races, it will force a power-sharing arrangement in the House of Delegates. (Fenit Nirappil)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Social media was dominated by reaction to The Post's story on Roy Moore. Many highlighted Trump's endorsement after the primary:
From Mitch McConnell's former chief of staff:
From an editor for The Post's Style section:
From Hillary Clinton's former campaign spokesperson:
Or they simply ignored the report, per one Capitol Hill reporter:
Upon learning of the story's imminent publication, Breitbart preemptively defended Moore:
The Post's David Fahrenthold commented on Breitbart's move:
From our colleague David Weigel:
From political correspondent Jared Yates Sexton:
Trump reiterated his assertion that he did not blame China for its trade imbalance with the U.S.:
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) was pretty harsh on Trump's pick to lead the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality during her confirmation hearing:
Obama's former press secretary criticized Trump's decision to not take questions from reporters during his news conference in China:
Columnist Connie Schultz, who is married to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), wished him a happy birthday:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Mitt Romney is making moves to launch a Senate bid if Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) retires. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “The former GOP presidential nominee is huddling with Utah’s class of GOP power brokers, contacting the state’s major political donors, and hitting the trail for candidates running in local races amid mounting speculation that [Hatch] will retire. Romney is also raising money for House and Senate Republicans, winning him favor with GOP leaders ahead of a treacherous midterm election. … The Senate might seem like an unexpected landing place for the 70-year-old former Massachusetts governor and two-time presidential candidate. Yet those who’ve spoken with Romney in recent days are convinced he’s prepared to jump in. … [F]riends say Romney still has unquenched political ambitions.”
-- Politico Magazine, “How Trump Learned to Love the Swamp,” by Michael Grunwald: “There’s a case to be made that Trump has been failing like a fox, delighting conservative activists with his draconian proposals without enduring the political pain that would follow if Congress actually embraced them. On the flip side, his nationalist base can get excited about his tweets attacking black athletes and the judges who blocked his travel ban, even though Congress is refusing to fund his border wall and he broke his promise to label China a currency manipulator. None of his loyal supporters seem particularly upset that his grandiose promises to solve the opioid crisis have thus far translated into a task force … with no money attached. Trump’s appeal was never about wonky white papers or policy details, and it’s not clear that his base expects him to deliver much more than his usual diet of politically incorrect but consistently entertaining resentment.”
-- The New York Times, “After Night of Drinking, F.B.I. Supervisor Wakes to Find a Woman Stole His Gun,” by Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo: “In July, Robert Manson, a unit chief in the F.B.I.’s international terrorism section, had his Glock .40-caliber handgun, a $6,000 Rolex watch and $60 in cash stolen from his room at the Westin hotel in Charlotte, N.C., according to a police report.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Trump Thinks Scientology Should Have Tax Exemption Revoked, Longtime Aide Says,” from HuffPost: “[Trump] believes the Church of Scientology should have its tax exemption revoked, a longtime family aide and current top [HUD official] told an actress and producer in May. In an unsolicited Twitter message, Lynne Patton, who has worked for the Trump family since 2009, told actress Leah Remini of Trump’s position and said she would interface with the IRS directly to seek more information in an effort to initiate revocation. It’s not clear if Patton ever communicated with the IRS. But if Trump did express an opinion on the church and Patton did contact the IRS about it, as her message suggests, that would be a highly inappropriate level of interference with the IRS by the administration …’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“Protesters scream at the sky to mark anniversary of Trump's election,” from the Hill: “People across the country gathered Wednesday night to scream into the sky to mark the anniversary of Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential election. Thousands were expected to attend events planned in New York City, Philadelphia, Dallas and other major cities. The idea was self-explanatory, as people came to public gathering places, looked to the sky and let out a yell.”
Trump's Asia swing continues on to Vietnam, where he will participate in an official welcome for APEC leaders and attend a gala.
Pence has no public events.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that if a tax overhaul fails, “the financial contributions will stop.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Bundle up because it’s going to get cold. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Any warmth from sunny skies is quickly negated by north-northwesterly winds between 15 and 25 mph with some gusts above 35 mph possible. Cold air whooshing into our region keeps us about 20 degrees below normal, with high temperatures around 40 to perhaps mid-40s. Wind chills in the 20s at times. Hello, winter!”
-- The Wizards defeated the Lakers 111-95. (Candace Buckner)
-- Lawmakers and staffers of both parties came together for a beer brewing contest among nine current members of Congress. Caitlin Gibson writes: “It was an oddly festive scene Wednesday night at the inaugural ‘Brew Across America’ hosted by Anheuser-Busch: Just one day after Democrats claimed key electoral victories across the country that were viewed as a referendum on a Republican president, once again exposing the deep divide between and within the political parties, here was a vast crowd of lawmakers and political staffers clinking glasses in seeming harmony. Then again, it did seem as if everyone on the Hill was ready for a drink.” Rep. Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.) won the contest with his “Gateway IPA.”
-- The National Park Service wants to permanently close the grounds of the Washington Monument to recreational activities. The agency also wants to increase reservation fees for the athletic fields on the Mall and in Rock Creek Park. (Michael E. Ruane)
-- Metro officials expressed hope that Democratic gains in Virginia could pave the way for dedicated funding. (Faiz Siddiqui and Robert McCartney)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Late-night hosts responded to the allegations of sexual misconduct against Louis C.K.:
Stephen Colbert went after Roy Moore:
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) spoke at a ceremony honoring the first responders to the shooting in which he was critically wounded:
Sen. Lindsey Graham advised Trump to put Putin “on notice”:
Bill Clinton discussed the Clinton Foundation's work to address the opioid epidemic:
And a Marine discovered the gender of his baby in a unique way: