With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
THE BIG IDEA: The narrative of President Trump’s first year will shift this week when he signs into law the biggest overhaul of the tax code in three decades. The donor class is enthusiastic, and final passage should help reverse months of anemic fundraising at entities like the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
It is a much-needed win for Trump and the GOP, who would have looked ineffective if he couldn’t get this done, but it may still turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory. Here are several ways that this bill could backfire:
It does not truly simplify the code. People aren’t going to be able to submit their taxes on a postcard, as promised. At least initially, it will be more confusing for a lot of people to file their taxes than before. Many families remain deeply uncertain about how exactly the legislation will impact them. With certain cuts permanent and others temporary, the changes bring a frustrating layer of uncertainty. Some homeowners are in for a rude awakening.
The health insurance market is almost certain to implode next year, and rates are likely to skyrocket for many, because of the repeal of the individual mandate. By getting rid of the linchpin of the Affordable Care Act in this bill, Republicans are giving up any standing they had to blame Barack Obama for the health-care mess. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this change alone will lead to 13 million more uninsured Americans a decade from now.
The national debt is poised to explode by more than $1 trillion, and there is no realistic scenario in which these tax cuts generate enough economic growth to pay for themselves. Some Republicans will cite this hole that they’re creating to call for cuts to popular entitlement programs next year. This could aggravate many of Trump’s core supporters, which is why they are unlikely to happen.
But what hurts the most — what makes this legislation dramatically more unpopular than even Obamacare when it passed in 2010 — is the pervasive feeling that this is a giveaway to big business and a Christmas gift for the richest 1 percent. A CBS poll last week found that 3 in 4 Americans think the bill’s biggest benefits will go to the largest corporations, and only 1 in 5 Americans think their own taxes will go down.
Bloomberg News reports this morning that the conference committee added a complicated provision late in the process that will provide a multimillion-dollar windfall to real estate investors such as Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner: “The change, which would allow real estate businesses to take advantage of a new tax break that’s planned for partnerships, limited liability companies and other so-called ‘pass-through’ businesses, combined elements of House and Senate legislation in a new way. … James Repetti, a tax law professor at Boston College Law School, said: ‘This is a windfall for real estate developers like Trump.’
“The revision might also bring tax benefits to several members of Congress, according to financial disclosures they’ve filed that reflect ownership of pass-through firms with real estate holdings,” per Lynnley Browning and Benjamin Bain. “One such lawmaker, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who’d voted against an earlier version of the legislation, said on Friday that he would support the revised legislation. Corker said in an interview on Saturday that his change of heart had nothing to do with the added benefit for real estate investors. On Sunday he wrote to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch seeking an explanation for how the provision came to be included in the final bill after being asked about it by a reporter.”
-- Asked about a report from the International Business Times that some Republican lawmakers inserted last-minute changes that would personally enrich them, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) blamed Democrats. “Our Democratic colleagues simply refused to participate in the process,” he said on ABC. “We probably could have made it better if they had.”
-- Our Heather Long notes how the final version of the bill is even more generous to the rich in certain key ways than earlier drafts:
“Under current law, the highest rate is 39.6 percent for married couples earning over $470,700. The GOP bill would drop that to 37 percent and raise the threshold at which that top rate kicks in, to $500,000 for individuals and $600,000 for married couples. This amounts to a significant tax break for the very wealthy … The new tax break for millionaires goes beyond what was in the original House and Senate bills …
“In the end, the estate tax … would remain part of the U.S. tax code, but far fewer families will pay it. Under current law, Americans can pass on up to $5.5 million tax-free (that threshold is $11 million for married couples). The House wanted to do away with the estate tax entirely, but some senators felt that was too much of a giveaway to the mega-rich. The final compromise was to double the threshold, so now the first $11 million that people pass on to their heirs in property, stocks and other assets won't be taxed (and yes, that means $22 million for married couples) …
“The final GOP bill gets rid of the corporate alternative minimum tax, a big relief to the business community. The Senate included the corporate AMT in its version of the bill, but the House did not. The corporate AMT makes it difficult for businesses to reduce their tax bill much lower than 21 percent.” (The final draft of the bill cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.)
-- The bill is also notable for what it does not do. For example, Trump promised to get rid of the carried interest loophole throughout the campaign and into this year. “But that odious tax break isn’t gone. It’s just been tweaked a little,” Doyle McManus notes in the Los Angeles Times. “Under current law, when managers of private equity funds, venture capital funds and hedge funds reap a share of their investors’ profits, they pay taxes at the low rate that applies to capital gains, not the higher rate that applies to ordinary income. Under the new law, the fund managers still get that break, as long as they hold the underlying investment for at least three years. Tax experts say most of the managers who claim the loophole won’t find that to be a problem.”
-- Bottom line: This president campaigned like a populist and has governed like a plutocrat. The tax bill is now Exhibit A.
Besides “build the wall,” perhaps the biggest applause line in Trump’s stump speech during 2015 and 2016 was that he was so rich that he couldn’t be bought off. He said that he didn’t need to use government to enrich himself like other politicians. He said he had taken advantage of all the loopholes in the code so he knew how to close them.
One of the most potent lines of attack against Trump in 2020 will be that he is “not on your side.” In dozens of casual conversations I’ve had this year with white working-class voters around the industrial Midwest who voted for the president in 2016, it’s become clear that their deepest fear seems to be that Trump is taking them for a ride – like he did with the contractors he stiffed in Atlantic City or the students at Trump University who sued him for deceptive marketing tactics.
This bill could undercut the last remnant of credibility related to Trump’s populist posturing. That might be why he has repeatedly made the false claim that his taxes are going to go up under the bill. “This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing,” he said last month. “Believe me.” We can’t know for sure just how much he will personally profit from the legislation, though, because he’s the first president since Richard Nixon who refuses to release his tax returns. But does anyone really believe that he would sign legislation that would adversely affect his bottom line? (Based on what we know about Trump’s assets and taxes, Fact Checker Glenn Kessler gave Trump “Four Pinocchios.”)
Trump surrogates bent over backwards on the Sunday shows to argue that the middle class will benefit because of trickle-down economic theory. “We think, as a result of lowering business taxes, wages will go up,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNN.
It was not just Democrats pushing back. “Do I think they could have done better for the middle class? I do,” Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “They could have increased the rates a little bit for big business. It wouldn't have mattered.”
-- “This legislation proves that Washington is, indeed, the ‘swamp’ that President Trump described during the campaign,” E.J. Dionne writes in his column for today’s newspaper. “But instead of draining it, he and his partisan allies have jumped right in. Actually, they have polluted it further …
“The bill’s champions claim that the big corporate tax cut will lead to massive new investment. But, as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (no enemy of business) pointed out [in a Friday op-ed], corporations are already ‘sitting on a record amount of cash reserves: nearly $2.3 trillion.’ Bloomberg added: ‘It’s pure fantasy to think that the tax bill will lead to significantly higher wages and growth.’
“And imagine: The ‘Make America Great Again’ crowd appears to have designed a corporate tax system that creates new incentives to ‘shift profits and operations overseas,’ as former Obama administration economic adviser Gene B. Sperling argued in a careful analysis.”
-- Don’t count on repatriation: “Irish government officials, accountants and highly skilled workers say the U.S. tax overhaul poses little threat to Ireland, a preferred European home for the United States’ top tech and pharmaceutical companies for a generation. They expect American companies to keep investing unabated in Ireland, with little incentive to move back to the United States,” Shawn Pogatchnik and Heather Long reported last week from Dublin.
-- Finally, income inequality is one of the most pressing challenges of our time, yet lawmakers continue to enact policies that redistribute income from the poor to the rich. “Back in 1980, the bottom 50 percent of wage-earners in the United States earned about 21 percent of all income in the country — nearly twice as much as the share of income (11 percent) earned by the top 1 percent of Americans,” Chris Ingraham notes on Wonkblog. “But today, according to a massive new study on global inequality, those numbers have nearly reversed: The bottom 50 percent take in only 13 percent of the income pie, while the top 1 percent grab over 20 percent of the country's income. Since 1980, in other words, the U.S. economy has transferred eight points of national income from the bottom 50 percent to the top 1 percent.”
The tax bill will probably supercharge some of these trends:
-- Shutdown watch: “For Republicans, the bigger drama may come later in the week, after the planned tax votes in the House and Senate, when leaders from both parties weigh a spending deal to avoid a partial government shutdown before funding runs out at the end of the day Friday,” per Jeff Stein and Mike DeBonis.
“As the tax debate has consumed Congress, there has been scant progress toward a spending deal. House Republican leaders filed a spending bill last week that would temporarily extend funding for most government agencies at current levels until Jan. 19, while providing longer-term military funding at higher levels — $650 billion through Sept. 30. That bill is considered dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democrats can block it because of the chamber’s 60-vote filibuster threshold. … To cut a long-term spending deal, Democrats are pushing for an equivalent increase in defense and nondefense funding above the spending caps set under a 2011 agreement — one similar to deals reached in 2013 and 2015 to raise the caps for the following two years …
“The spending talks are suffused with other issues. … Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) struck a deal with Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to provide subsidies for the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplaces in return for her vote on the tax bill, but it remains to be seen whether those provisions will be included in any final accord. The Children’s Health Insurance Program expired Sept. 30, and states have been warning for weeks that coverage could be threatened if Congress does not reauthorize it soon. And a key surveillance authority used by U.S. intelligence agencies to monitor noncitizens abroad expires Dec. 31, prompting fears of a lapse in national security …
“Even if a bipartisan agreement is reached on some or all of these issues, the timeline is tight: The House is not expected to vote on its spending bill until Wednesday at the earliest. That would leave little time for the Senate to take that bill, amend it, and send it back to the House, and any hiccup could mean a breach of the Friday shutdown deadline.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Trump today will give a speech on the administration’s national security strategy, in which he’s expected to label China and Russia as potential threats to the United States. Anne Gearan reports: “[The speech’s] broad outlines follow his ‘America First’ doctrine of national sovereignty and putting a priority on the economic implications of global engagement. Officials said its main tenets are already in practice. For example, the congressionally mandated document says that under Trump, national security decision-making will take greater account of economic factors and homeland security, administration officials said. … The document does not expressly ‘overturn’ the strategies of former president Barack Obama or his predecessors, but it frames Trump’s priorities differently[.] … Trump’s new strategy document has four main organizing principles, one official said: protecting the American homeland, protecting American prosperity, preserving peace through strength and advancing U.S. influence.”
-- John McCain returned to Arizona Sunday to spend Christmas with his family as he battles brain cancer. With Corker’s vote, Republicans have enough support to pass the bill despite McCain’s absence. “The word is John will come back if we need his vote,” Trump told reporters last night. “He’s going through a very tough time, there’s no question about it. But he will come back if we need his vote.” The president said he spoke to Cindy McCain by phone Sunday to wish him well. (Dan Lamothe)
GET SMART FAST:
- A joint investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” found a massive DEA probe into the country’s largest drug company resulted in more lenient punishment after a deal was struck between the McKesson Corp. and top government attorneys. The DEA team investigating McKesson wanted to revoke some of the company’s registrations to distribute controlled substances, issue a $1 billion fine and press criminal charges. Instead, McKesson maintained all of its registrations and paid only a $150 million fine. (Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham)
- Two suicide bombers attacked a Christian church in Pakistan, killing nine worshipers and wounding at least 50 others during a morning prayer session. Authorities said nearly 400 people were there at the time of the attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State and raises new questions about the safety of religious minorities in Pakistan. (Max Bearak)
- A military investigation concluded that Army Sgt. La David Johnson died in a hail of gunfire in Niger — hit as many as 18 times as he fled the militants who had just killed three of his comrades. The new report dispels rumors about Johnson’s death, including speculation over whether he was captured alive or killed at close range. (AP)
- A power outage abruptly halted operations Sunday at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, leaving thousands of passengers stranded in dark terminals or on crowded planes as officials worked to investigate. In total, more than 600 flights to and from the airport were canceled. (CNN)
- The Thomas Fire in California is on track to become the largest wildfire in the state’s modern history. Cal Fire issued a statement last night estimating the blaze is currently only 45 percent contained. (CNN)
- The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it has raised twice as much money online in 2017 ($40.5 million) as in the entirety of 2015. (NBC News)
- Toronto homicide detectives are now investigating the deaths of billionaire Barry Sherman and his wife. Autopsies of the pharmaceutical magnate and his wife revealed the cause of death to be “ligature neck compression.” (AP)
- The city of Paris has launched a formal campaign against fat-shaming — an effort aimed at combating the city’s unrealistic ideal of “thinness,” which some women say has exposed them to stigma and discrimination. The campaign officially kicked off Friday with a plus-sized fashion show (and a standing ovation from the audience). (James McAuley)
- Authorities in Virginia are investigating the death of a 22-year-old woman, who was mauled by her own dogs while walking them in the woods. It's unclear what made the animals turn on Bethany Lynn Stephens, but they were reportedly still guarding her body when it was discovered the following day. (Kristine Phillips)
THE DECONSTRUCTION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE STATE:
-- The IRS’s ability to oversee political activity by charities and other nonprofits has been neutered by staff and budget cuts amid conservative attacks on the agency. Robert O'Harrow Jr. reports: “The fall in oversight … comes at a time when the number of charities is reaching a historic high and they are becoming more partisan and financially complex. … The main part of government tasked with policing [political activity among charities], the IRS’s Exempt Organizations division, has seen its budget decline from a peak of $102 million in 2011 to $82 million last year. At the same time, division employees have fallen from 889 to 642. The division now lacks expertise, resources and the will needed to effectively oversee more than 1.2 million charities and tens of thousands of social welfare groups[.]”
-- DHS’s inspector general found several immigration detention facilities had spoiled and moldy food and inadequate medical care. The inspector general’s report concluded the conditions at four detention centers “undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” (Maria Sacchetti)
-- Multiple divisions at HHS were advised to avoid using certain words in official documents — including “transgender,” “fetus” and “science-based.” Lena H. Sun and Juliet Eilperin report: “Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is part of HHS, were given a list of seven prohibited words or phrases during a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget. The words to avoid: ‘vulnerable,’ ‘entitlement,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘fetus,’ ‘evidence-based’ and ‘science-based.’ A second HHS agency received similar guidance to avoid using ‘entitlement,’ ‘diversity’ and ‘vulnerable,’ according to an official who took part in a briefing earlier in the week. Participants at that agency were also told to use ‘Obamacare’ instead of ACA, or the Affordable Care Act, and to use ‘exchanges’ instead of ‘marketplaces’ to describe the venues where people can purchase health insurance. At the State Department, meanwhile, certain documents now refer to sex education as ‘sexual risk avoidance.’”
The director of the CDC denied the story yesterday:
I want to assure you there are no banned words at CDC. We will continue to talk about all our important public health programs.— Dr Brenda Fitzgerald (@CDCDirector) December 17, 2017
-- “E.P.A. Employees Spoke Out. Then Came Scrutiny of Their Email,” from the New York Times’s Eric Lipton and Lisa Friedman: “One [EPA] employee spoke up at a private lunch [saying] she feared the nation might be headed toward an ‘environmental catastrophe.’ Another staff member, from Seattle, sent a letter to [Scott Pruitt] raising similar concerns … A third, from Philadelphia, went to a rally where he protested against agency budget cuts. Three different agency employees, in different jobs, from three different cities, but each encountered a similar outcome: Federal records show that within a matter of days, requests were submitted for copies of emails written by them that mentioned either Mr. Pruitt or [Trump] … The requests came from a Virginia-based lawyer working with America Rising, a Republican campaign research group that specializes in helping party candidates and conservative groups find damaging information on political rivals, and which, in this case, was looking for information that could undermine employees who had criticized the E.P.A. [The agency said the move] was intended to keep better track of newspaper and video stories about E.P.A. operations nationwide. But the sequence of events has created a wave of fear among employees.”
-- Metaphor alert:
-- But, but, but: The roughly two million federal bureaucrats are finding ways to obstruct Trump’s agenda. Bloomberg’s Christopher Flavelle and Benjamin Bain report: “Perhaps no policy area better illustrates the dynamic than climate change. A report commissioned by the energy secretary to explore the dangers of wind and solar energy to the power grid initially found just the opposite. Pentagon staffers effectively stalled a Trump reversal of an Obama policy on climate change and national security by initiating a review that’s apparently still underway nine months later. Federal procurement officials have kept promoting zero-emission vehicles but by focusing on economic gains rather than environmental benefits. Two factors may be making it harder for this White House to impose order: a desire to reorient major agencies from their traditional missions and the slow pace at which it has filled key posts.”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Trump said he is not considering firing Robert Mueller, seeking to tamp down speculation as close allies of the president intensify a campaign to discredit the special counsel’s ongoing Russia investigation. Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Sari Horwitz report: “Returning to the White House from Camp David, Trump was asked Sunday whether he intended to fire Mueller. ‘No, I’m not,’ he told journalists, insisting that there was ‘no collusion whatsoever’ between his campaign and Russia.”
“I think he realizes that would be a step too far,” one adviser said.
Rather than firing Mueller, Trump appears to be contemplating Justice Department leadership changes: “In recent discussions, two advisers said, Trump has called the attorney general ‘weak,’ and complained that [deputy attorney general Rod] Rosenstein has shown insufficient accountability on the special counsel’s work. A senior official said Trump mocked Rosenstein’s recent testimony on Capitol Hill, saying he looked weak and unable to answer questions. Trump has ranted about Rosenstein as ‘a Democrat,’ one of these advisers said, and characterized him as a threat to his presidency.”
-- Trump also embraced the claims of his campaign lawyer, Kory Langhofer, who accused Mueller’s team of improperly obtaining a trove of transition emails from the General Services Administration. In a letter delivered Saturday to congressional investigators, Langhofer argued that transition documents are private property and not public records. “Not looking good, it’s not looking good — it’s quite sad to see that, my people were very upset about it,” Trump told reporters Sunday . . . “I can’t imagine there’s anything on them, frankly, because, as we’ve said, there’s no collusion, no collusion whatsoever.”
The special counsel’s office rejected the allegations: “When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process,” said Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller. (Anne Gearan and Philip Rucker)
Legal experts said Langhofer's charge the emails were improperly obtained was a big stretch.
- Former U.S. prosecutor Randall Eliason said it was “not at all surprising” that Mueller’s team sought Trump transition emails. “It would be almost prosecutorial misconduct for them not to,” he said, adding: “It’s not your personal email … If it ends in .gov, you don’t have any expectation of privacy.” And if Trump’s team did have a valid legal claim, Eliason said, the standard avenue for recourse would include filing a sealed motion asking the judge overseeing the grand jury to rule that the documents were improperly seized, and requesting a remedy . . . Our colleagues report that the transition team has not yet been in contact with the grand jury judge.
- “I seriously doubt there is anything here to taint the [Mueller] investigation,” William Jeffress, who represented Dick Cheney’s senior aide during the Valerie Plame investigation, told Politico.
- Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told Business Insider the content of the letter “makes clear it’s a PR stunt.” “The fact that he is complaining to Congress instead of Mueller helps confirm it,” he said.
-- The Sunday shows demonstrated that Trump would be courting doom if he tried to fire Mueller:
- On ABC’s “This Week,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) expressed confidence in Mueller, even as he acknowledged the former FBI director should “be concerned about the appearance of conflicts of interest that would undermine the integrity of the investigation.” Asked what might happen if Trump fired Mueller, Cornyn said, “I think that would be a mistake.”
- On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said the anti-Trump texts sent by a former member of Mueller’s team don't taint “the entire process” of the investigation. “Is that something they can go back, and repair, and look and see if there's any kind of bias that's in it?” Lankford said of the FBI agent’s previous work. “Obviously, I don't think it taints the entire process. But it certainly taints that season of it … And it's something you should look at with any political investigation that he was on at the time. Again, we want our FBI agents to be neutral and to be nonpolitical. Not very actively engaged politically.”
-- A Republican on the House Judiciary Committee said he’s gotten a “commitment” from the panel’s chairman to subpoena top FBI and DOJ officials, as they look into claims of bias against Trump’s administration. “Chairman [Bob] Goodlatte has told us he is going to subpoena those individuals,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said on Fox News. (Politico)
-- Fox News host Jesse Watters interviewed Kellyanne Conway about the Mueller probe as a chyron onscreen read ““a coup in America?” “But the scary part is we may now have proof the investigation was weaponized to destroy his presidency for partisan political purposes and to disenfranchise millions of American voters,” Watters said. “Now, if that’s true, we have a coup on our hands in America.” Conway added, “The fix was in against Donald Trump from the beginning, and they were pro-Hillary[.] … They can’t possibly be seen as objective or transparent or even-handed or fair.” (Samantha Schmidt)
-- Looking ahead: Trump’s lawyers are slated to meet this week with Mueller’s team for a routine status conference and are expected to ask if there are any “outstanding questions or materials” that investigators need before concluding the probe.
-- Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were hit with a lawsuit over omissions on their financial disclosure forms. Washington lawyer Jeffrey Lovitky, who filed the complaint against the couple, sued the president over a similar omission in March. That case is still pending. (Politico)
-- Playing to the president's ego and vanity, former KGB officer Vladimir Putin personally phoned Trump to thank him for passing along CIA intelligence that helped foil a planned terrorist attack in St. Petersburg. Kremlin officials said the suspects were planning to bomb the Kazan Cathedral and other crowded areas in Russia’s second-largest city. David Filipov reports: “The unusual call — countries share intelligence all the time, but presidents rarely publicly thank one another about it — was confirmed by [Sarah Huckabee Sanders]. … Putin asked Trump to pass along his gratitude to the CIA and the American intelligence agents who received the information, the Kremlin said. It said Putin also told Trump that ‘if Russian special services obtain any information on terrorist threats against the United States and its citizens, they will definitely and immediately pass it to American counterparts through partner channels.’” The two also spoke Thursday after Putin’s annual four-hour news conference, during which he praised America’s booming stock market as an “example of Trump’s success.”
MEN BEHAVING BADLY:
-- Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson announced last night he will sell the team — ceding ownership of the franchise he founded amid an NFL investigation of “workplace misconduct.” Mark Maske reports: “'I believe that it is time to turn the franchise over to new ownership,’ Richardson said. ‘Therefore, I will put the team up for sale at the conclusion of this NFL season. We will not begin the sale process, nor will we entertain any inquiries, until the very last game is played …’ Richardson called football ‘an integral part of my life’ but did not address the accusations against him in his statement. The NFL said earlier Sunday that it had taken over the investigation, and a report emerged that multiple former team employees received financial settlements over inappropriate comments and behavior by Richardson in the workplace.”
-- Sarah Palin’s oldest son, Track, was arraigned Sunday on domestic violence charges. He was also arrested on domestic violence charges last year, but he got a plea deal. In January 2016, his girlfriend told a police officer he "struck her on the left side of her head near her eye with a closed fist." (NBC News)
-- In case you missed it: Freshman Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment, announced Saturday that he wouldn't seek reelection in 2018. Elise Viebeck reports: “The announcement, first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, came the day after the House Ethics Committee said it had launched an investigation into Kihuen’s behavior. He plans to cooperate with the probe and looks forward to ‘clearing my name,’ according to his statement.”
-- A handful of Democratic senators are expressing remorse over the push to have Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) resign and are urging him to reconsider. Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere reports: “[Sen. Joe] Manchin [D-W.Va.] said he hopes Franken reverses his decision, but even more that the senators who led the charge against him reconsider and call for the two-term senator to stay until the ethics process is complete. … Two of the senators who issued resignation calls told POLITICO they felt rushed to weigh in, as they were focused on hearings and other meetings and pressure on Franken mounted. In retrospect they said they signed off on statements without the appropriate care and thought. The feeling is not pervasive throughout the conference. Aides to several Democratic senators who called for Franken to step down, despite their conflicted feelings about doing so, said they remain comfortable with the move.”
-- Daylin Leach, a Democratic state senator from Pennsylvania who is running for Congress, was accused of inappropriately touching young female staffers and volunteers. One woman named Emily, then a 27-year-old temporary employee of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, recounted how Leach grabbed her thigh as he suggested he might be able to find her a job. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Gambacorta and Angela Couloumbis report: “The episode was among the starkest cited by former campaign and legislative staffers and advisers who say Leach, a legislator since 2003, has for years engaged in questionable behavior with young female staffers and volunteers, from highly sexualized jokes and comments to touching they deemed inappropriate. The behavior was all the more jarring, they said, given his reputation as a stalwart defender of women’s rights.”
-- Capitol Hill is “gripped” by paranoia amid the growing wave of sexual harassment scandals, with both members and staff constantly wondering: Who’s next? Politico’s Elana Schor and Rachael Bade report: “The details change almost daily, but the rumor won’t die: A credible news organization is preparing to unmask at least 20 lawmakers in both parties for sexual misconduct. Speculation about this theoretical megastory is spreading like wildfire … a lurking bad-press boogeyman that’s always described as on the verge of going public. … [Meanwhile], aides in one Democrat’s office were summoned recently to a meeting organized by a fellow staffer and asked whether they’d ever heard of an accusation against their boss[.] ... Other press secretaries have asked their bosses about any personal skeletons, wanting to unearth possible sexual land mines before they detonate in the media. ... [And] one Republican aide [said] she is advising members not to be alone with any women — whether they’re female staffers or female reporters.” Said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): “You want to have a welcome environment to report abuse — you don’t want to deter victims. But you’ve got to have enough due process … [and] what happened to Sen. [Chuck] Schumer is a concern to a lot of us.”
-- NBC confirmed a woman who complained of inappropriate remarks by Chris Matthews received separation-related payment when leaving the network. Politico’s Michael Calderone reports: “The woman, who has not been publicly identified, claimed in 1999 that Matthews made inappropriate comments about her in front of colleagues, according to [an MSNBC] spokesperson. The incident was investigated and Matthews’ comments were determined to be inappropriate, but they were not found to be intended as propositions, according to the spokesperson. Matthews received a formal reprimand. … The news involving Matthews … has renewed attention on the host’s past comments about women, including an uncomfortable 2007 exchange with then-CNBC star Erin Burnett. Matthews repeatedly asked Burnett to come closer to the camera before calling her ‘beautiful’ and ‘a knockout,’ and saying that ‘it’s all right getting bad news from you.’”
-- Celebrity chef Mario Batali prompted outrage this weekend after he plugged a recipe for cinnamon rolls at the end of his statement apologizing for multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. (Kristine Phillips)
From the New York Times’s restaurant critic:
Yeah, is it too late now to say sorry?— Pete Wells (@pete_wells) December 16, 2017
Cause I'm missing more than just your body
Is it too late now to say sorry?
Yeah I know that I let you down
PS Here’s a recipe for pizza dough cinnamon rolls
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- Rex Tillerson recently indicated the United States has had conversations with Chinese leadership about a strategy for seizing North Korea’s nuclear weapons in the event of a regime collapse. The New York Times’s David E. Sanger reports: “[I]n a talk to the Atlantic Council last week, he revealed that the Trump administration had already provided assurances to China’s leadership that if American forces landed in North Korea to search for and deactivate nuclear weapons, the troops would do their work and then retreat. … In other words, the United States would essentially cede North Korean territory to the Chinese military, or let China and South Korea figure out who would control 46,500 square miles of territory and take care of its 25 million occupants, many of whom already do not have enough to eat.”
-- Hackers in Iran are attempting to strengthen their capabilities in response to Trump’s accusation that the country is violating its nuclear deal. The Cipher Brief’s Levi Maxey reports: “Iran-sponsored hackers — dismissively referred to as ‘kittens’ for their original lack of sophistication — are bolstering their cyber warfare capabilities as part of their rivalry with Saudi Arabia. But should [Trump] take further steps to scrap the nuclear deal, it could mean an uptick in Iranian state-sponsored cyber intrusions into American and allied systems, with the goals of espionage, subversion, sabotage and possibly coercion. … While much of Iran’s cyber operations have been attempts at asymmetric disruption against its Gulf rivals, Israel and the United States, it has recalculated since the 2015 negotiation of the [nuclear deal.]”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump expressed confidence about the midterms:
Remember, Republicans are 5-0 in Congressional Races this year. The media refuses to mention this. I said Gillespie and Moore would lose (for very different reasons), and they did. I also predicted “I” would win. Republicans will do well in 2018, very well! @foxandfriends— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2017
From Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), who won his special election in June:
5-1. My office is in Longworth. I'd invite you to visit but wouldn't want to cut into your TV time. -JG https://t.co/L32kv7aIJz— Rep. Jimmy Gomez (@RepJimmyGomez) December 18, 2017
Paul Ryan reveled in the tax plan and his favorite NFL team:
A few hours later, the Packers lost 31-24 to the Panthers...
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) criticized the tax plan:
The Republican tax bill caps the mortgage interest deduction at $750,000 for new mortgages. In California, seven counties have average home prices that are more than $750,000: Alameda, Marin, Orange, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. #GOPTaxScam— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) December 17, 2017
From a former Obama speechwriter:
Trump’s “big win” on taxes includes breaking a major campaign pledge to close a loophole that lets hedge fund managers pay a 15% tax rate - a broken promise that’s even angering his own die-hards: pic.twitter.com/39t4gHLliK— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) December 18, 2017
From a Bloomberg News reporter:
If this bill passes, Trump-GOP will have:— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) December 17, 2017
•Repealed the ACA individual mandate
•Cut taxes by $1.5 trillion
•Opened up ANWR to oil drilling
•Put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court
•Confirmed a dozen appellate judges
•Killed a lot of regulations
This is not a trivial agenda.
Obama's former attorney general voiced support for Mueller's investigation:
ABSOLUTE RED LINE: the firing of Bob Mueller or crippling the special counsel’s office. If removed or meaningfully tampered with, there must be mass, popular, peaceful support of both. The American people must be seen and heard - they will ultimately be determinative.— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) December 17, 2017
From a Yahoo News reporter:
The big freak-out over Mueller having the transition emails is that it means any interviewees who lied to the FBI about matters contained therein is already caught bc the FBI has the record of what happened.— Garance Franke-Ruta (@thegarance) December 17, 2017
Trump's press secretary touted these positive news items:
Which is the more underreported story of @POTUS Year One?— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) December 17, 2017
-Defeat of ISIS
-Booming Trump economy
But a CNN reporter noted this:
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to reporters on Friday: “Right now clearly ISIS is getting broken. ... The fight is not over with them, don’t believe someone who says that ISIS is completely down.” (h/t @rabrowne75) https://t.co/UCZOTOrKoU— Dan Merica (@danmericaCNN) December 18, 2017
The power outage at Atlanta's airport caused frustration for thousands of travelers, including this CNN reporter:
I can't overemphasize how exceedingly patient my fellow passengers have been - esp the young ones. And crew/pilot have been GREAT. But we have also all now been on this full @Delta plane since we boarded at 11:45 am and there hasn't been food or water since late afternoon.— Betsy Klein (@betsy_klein) December 18, 2017
From Obama's former secretary of transportation:
Total and abject failure here at ATL Airport today. I am stuck on @delta flight, passengers and crew tolerating it. But there is no excuse for lack of workable redundant power source. NONE! #atlairport #delta— anthonyfoxx (@anthonyfoxx) December 17, 2017
From the GOP strategist Ana Navarro:
The power went out at ATL for hours, affecting tens of thousands of people, leaving them stranded in the dark.— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) December 18, 2017
The power has been out in Puerto Rico for months, affecting millions of people, leaving them stranded in the dark. Many still have no lights. Reflect on that.🇵🇷
Donald Trump Jr. and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) marked Don Jr.'s birthday with an “Obama cake”:
With friends like these... some good friends decided that while my birthday is not for 2 weeks that they would get me an early 40th birthday cake. And what birthday is complete without an Obama cake? I figured it was so good that I would have to share it with Ted. 😂🇺🇸😂🇺🇸😂 #tx #texas #birthday #tedcruz #obama #cake
From the Weekly Standard's editor:
The sickly smile on Ted Cruz's face suggests he knows that even many of his hard core supporters are going to think this a bit much.... https://t.co/VxUbVQ1LSt— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) December 18, 2017
Meghan McCain expressed thanks for the well wishes for her father:
Thank you to everyone for their kind words. My father is doing well and we are all looking forward to spending Christmas together in Arizona. If you’re feeling charitable this Christmas @HeadfortheCure or @NBTStweets to help find a cure for brain cancer is what I recommend. ❤️— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) December 17, 2017
And Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) commented on the story of a naked man who jumped on a car and ran into the woods near Dulles Airport:
$5 says this guy is a member of the House https://t.co/89oRdVBAQa— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) December 16, 2017
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Politico, “The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook,” by Josh Meyer: “In its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States[.] The campaign, dubbed Project Cassandra, was launched in 2008 after the [DEA] amassed evidence that Hezbollah had transformed itself from a Middle East-focused military and political organization into an international crime syndicate … But as Project Cassandra reached higher into the hierarchy of the conspiracy, Obama administration officials threw an increasingly insurmountable series of roadblocks in its way … As a result, the U.S. government lost insight into not only drug trafficking and other criminal activity worldwide, but also into Hezbollah’s illicit conspiracies with top officials in the Iranian, Syrian, Venezuelan and Russian governments — all the way up to presidents Nicolas Maduro, Assad and Putin …”
-- The New Yorker, “Estonia, the Digital Republic,” by Nathan Heller: “Taavi Kotka, who spent four years as Estonia’s chief information officer, is one of the leading public faces of a project known as e-Estonia: a coördinated governmental effort to transform the country from a state into a digital society. E-Estonia is the most ambitious project in technological statecraft today[.] … The normal services that government is involved with — legislation, voting, education, justice, health care, banking, taxes, policing, and so on — have been digitally linked across one platform, wiring up the nation. Today, citizens can vote from their laptops and challenge parking tickets from home. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories. [And apart] from transfers of physical property, such as buying a house, all bureaucratic processes can be done online[.] Other benefits have followed. ‘If everything is digital, and location-independent, you can run a borderless country,’ Kotka said.”
-- Politico Magazine, “This Evangelical Leader Denounced Trump. Then the Death Threats Started,” by Tiffany Stanley: “Jen Hatmaker is one of the most popular religious figures in America—and she is paying a steep price for speaking out for what she believes.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“‘A Jedi You Are NOT’: Mark Hamill slams light saber-wielding FCC chairman over net neutrality,” from Amy B Wang: “Among the many potential consequences of the [FCC’s] repeal of net neutrality, perhaps none was as unpredictable as a ‘Star Wars’ marquee actor questioning the Jedi worthiness of the commission’s chairman. That’s exactly what happened Saturday when Mark Hamill, best known for playing Luke Skywalker … took a shot at [Ajit Pai], who earlier in the week had [filmed] a bizarre video outlining ‘7 things you can still do on the Internet after net neutrality.’ [The] scene Hamill publicly took issue with was one in which Pai donned a black hoodie and swung a light saber around … Hamill, well, struck back. ‘Cute video Ajit ‘Aren’t I Precious?’ Pai,’ Hamill tweeted sarcastically, along with a vomiting emoji, before declaring that the FCC chief was ‘profoundly unworthy’ of wielding a light saber. ‘A Jedi acts selflessly for the common man-NOT lie 2 enrich giant corporations,’ Hamill wrote.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“CNN Contributor Accuses Georgetown Student Of Anti-Semitism,” from the Daily Caller: “CNN political commentator Hilary Rosen accused a Georgetown student of anti-semitism and bigotry because he wore a bacon-themed onesie to a basketball game. The Georgetown Hoyas basketball team played the Syracuse Orange at Verizon Center on Saturday, and Rosen was apparently on the lookout for anything she could deem offensive. ‘Look at the guy in the ‘bacon suit,’ Rosen tweeted with a photo of the Georgetown student section. ‘This is a Georgetown #Hoyas fans anti-Semitic smear to the Syracuse team.’ The student in the suit, junior Michael Bakan, told The Daily Caller he was shocked when friends started sending him screenshots of the tweet. He explained that the suit was a joke about his last name, which is pronounced ‘bacon.’ ‘The real way [my last name] is pronounced is bacon, and that was the impetus behind the costume,’ [he said]. ‘I’ve worn it to three games now.’”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Mark Hamill exchanged tense words about net neutrality after the “Star Wars” actor criticized FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's video:
.@HammillHimself Luke, I know Hollywood can be confusing, but it was Vader who supported govt power over everything said & done on the Internet. That's why giant corps (Google, Facebook, Netflix) supported the FCC power grab of net neutrality. Reject the dark side: Free the net! https://t.co/nARkMvIEYk— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) December 17, 2017
Thanks for smarm-spaining it to me @tedcruz I know politics can be confusing, but you'd have more credibility if you spelled my name correctly. I mean IT'S RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOU! Maybe you're just distracted from watching porn at the office again❤️-mh https://t.co/nHpJVG1Wpe— @HamillHimself (@HamillHimself) December 17, 2017
Trump will give his speech on the administration’s national security strategy and later have a meeting with Rex Tillerson.
Pence will join Trump as he delivers his national security speech.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Trump addressed relations with Cuba: “We have to be strong with Cuba. The Cuban people are incredible people. They support me very strongly. But we’ll get Cuba straightened out.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- It will be a bit warmer in the District today, with temperatures stretching into the 50s. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Compared to the cold weather over the past 10 days, this feels a bit better. With a mix of clouds and sun, most spots should reach 50 degrees this afternoon, and sneak up to near 55 in our milder spots.”
-- The Redskins beat the Cardinals 20-15. (Liz Clarke)
-- The Wizards lost to the Cavaliers 106-99. (Candace Buckner)
-- The District rejected an application to install a three-foot metal security fence around Steve Bannon’s rowhouse. Perry Stein reports: “The owner of the Capitol Hill rowhouse that has been dubbed ‘Breitbart Embassy’ is trying to build the fence for security. Because it is in a designated historic neighborhood, it needs approval from D.C. government officials, but that is proving to be an uphill battle. The city tentatively rejected the application, saying there is no place for such a fence in the neighborhood. … ‘We have United States senators who live on Capitol Hill, and they don’t turn their homes into security compounds,’ said Mark Eckenwiler, an ANC commissioner. ‘If they don’t need it, then it’s a little hard to determine how you could justify it in this case.’”
-- Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is expected to announce a plan to raise taxes on Northern Virginians to provide dedicated funding to Metro. Robert McCartney reports: “Northern Virginians would pay higher taxes on real estate sales, hotel stays and wholesale gasoline[.] … The new tax revenue of $65 million a year would be in addition to $85 million that Northern Virginia would earmark for Metro from funds the region already devotes to transportation[.] … The effort is expected to continue under his successor, Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D)[.] … The McAuliffe plan is expected to face resistance in the General Assembly, where Republicans have shown no appetite for increasing taxes[.]”
-- Virginia Del. Michael J. Webert (R-Fauquier) is working to get rid of a state law defining “profane swearing” as a Class 4 misdemeanor. Webert, a cattle farmer, said, “When you’re working [with] cows and a 1,400-pound animal doesn’t do what you want it to, or steps on your feet, every once in a while something colorful comes out of your mouth.” (Laura Vozzella)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Administration officials and Trump family members showed up in SNL's cold open to decorate the White House Christmas Tree:
Leslie Jones appeared as Omarosa Manigault to insist she had quit her White House job and was not fired:
The Fact Checker released its top 10 fact checks of the year:
Barack Obama and Prince Harry exchanged jokes before their September radio interview, which is set to air next week:
Thousands gathered at the Vatican to celebrate Pope Francis's 81st birthday:
And two young travelers stranded at Atlanta's airport enjoyed this moment of fun: