With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
THE BIG IDEA: The best thing going for Republicans right now is low expectations.
-- Just before 1 a.m., the Senate passed on a party-line vote the most significant overhaul of the tax code in three decades. The House, which advanced the bill yesterday, needs to vote on it again to deal with a few technical issues raised by the Senate’s parliamentarian, but that’s a mere formality. Donald Trump plans to hold a news conference later today and sign the first major legislative achievement of his presidency as soon as possible.
-- As the measure gets across the finish line, a flurry of fresh polling shows the bill is historically unpopular and becoming more so:
- In an NBC-Wall Street Journal survey, 24 percent of Americans think the tax bill is a good idea versus 41 percent who believe it’s a bad idea. (That’s up from 35 percent in October.) A plurality — 37 percent — say the middle class will pay more.
- Opposition to the bill has popped 10 points in CNN’s polling since last month, with 55 percent now against the bill. Only 21 percent say they’ll be better off if the bill becomes law, and 37 percent say that their family will be worse off.
- A Monmouth University poll found that exactly half the country predicts that the federal taxes they pay will go up under the new law. Just 14 percent say their taxes will go down, and another 25 percent believe they’ll pay the same amount.
-- But here’s the truth: 8 in 10 Americans will pay lower taxes next year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the final bill. Only 5 percent of people will pay more next year. Mostly, those are folks who earn six figures and own expensive houses in places with high local taxes, such as New York and California.
-- Paul Ryan says he has “no concerns whatsoever” about the bad polling because most people’s after-tax incomes will rise. “Results are going to make this popular,” he told reporters. Ryan, who sees this as the crowning achievement of his two decades in Congress, has already touted the bill this morning on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox and with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.
-- I interviewed a dozen GOP operatives yesterday about how they plan to deal with this issue in 2018. They said the numbers right now are so bad that they can only get better. They freely acknowledged the head winds, but they see an opening to sell the cuts and insist that perceptions are still not fully baked. They’ve conducted focus groups and commissioned polls to figure out the talking points that are most likely to move the needle, and they’re planning multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns to drive those messages.
“Our fate in 2018 is tied to the tax bill,” said Corry Bliss, the executive director of American Action Network, a group aligned with House GOP leadership. “There’s no faking it. You know what you paid in taxes this year. You will know next year whether it’s going up or going down. And that should be something that every Republican is excited about.”
AAN has spent more than $24 million promoting the tax bill across 64 congressional districts since the start of August, and the group will make it a centerpiece of all 2018 messaging. “One party cut middle-class taxes. Another party spends all their time trying to impeach the president. That’s a really nice contrast,” Bliss said. “We have no control of the national narrative. There’s no amount of money to buy it back. But I do think we can have control over the narrative to targeted people.” One data point he said you can expect to hear a lot in future ads is that families will get “an average tax cut of $2,000.”
-- Republicans have a lot of upside potential with their own base. The NBC-WSJ poll finds that only 53 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of Trump general election voters currently back the tax bill. Even worse, just 28 percent of rural Americans and 29 percent of whites without a college degree think it is a good idea right now. Trump’s overall popularity may be at a record low in the survey, but these are constituencies he can persuade.
“You start with the base,” said Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips, a leader of the Koch political network. “We’re going to make sure the base understands that the Republican Congress has accomplished something [big]. They come in for criticism on occasion. Often they deserve it, but on this one they stepped up and delivered big for the country.”
Phillips said AFP will mobilize its grass-roots infrastructure across 36 states to lay out the benefits of the bill and spend on additional advertising in target states. “The Reagan 1981 tax cuts did not enjoy broad support when they were first passed into law,” he said. “It took time for people to see the change was good for them … and they are now seen as a historic accomplishment that ignited a decade of economic growth. So it is not unprecedented for major legislation to pass with poll numbers that are less than you’d hope for.”
The 45committee, a pro-Trump conservative nonprofit group that is primarily funded by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and the family of TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, has spent about $15 million promoting a tax bill over the past few months. The group does not have a target number for how much it will spend in 2018 yet, but a holiday-themed thank-you ad is in the works.
“We know it’s the greatest Christmas present from Washington in a long time, and we’re going to tell people about it,” said Brian Baker, the chairman and president of 45committee. “We’ll spend whatever it takes to make sure the American people know how they benefit from a Trump-Pence administration and a Congress led by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.”
Baker’s group just paid for Republican pollsters Bill McInturff and Nicole McCleskey at Public Opinion Strategies to test various messages related to the tax bill. They reported back that the four most effective arguments to move public opinion are: 1) “Removes and eliminates many loopholes so special interests start paying their fair share.” 2) “Levels the playing field for American businesses to better compete against foreign competition.” 3) “It’s estimated that more than one million jobs would be created over the next 10 years with higher wages for workers.” 4) “Simplifies and reduces taxes for most Americans by doubling the standard deduction.”
On the generic ballot in their internal poll, an unnamed Republican initially trailed an unnamed Democrat by 12 points. But after hearing a list of messages about the bill, the gap closed to eight points. (That’s still a pretty bad place to be for a GOP incumbent at this point.)
-- Brad Todd, a Republican ad-maker who will be involved in some of next year’s marquee contests, said outside groups need to spend real money to sell the bill as soon as possible. “In order for the benefit to not come too late in the election cycle, it’s pretty important for conservative and Republican groups to make the sale now and let people know what’s coming,” he said. “April 2019 will be a bad time for people to realize that Republicans gave them a tax cut …
“God created Republicans to cut taxes,” quipped Todd. “Big bills are always complicated, but in time the truth comes out when something costs them more or less money.”
-- Every GOP senator wound up supporting final passage — John McCain is fighting cancer back home in Arizona but said he would have voted yes — and just 12 Republicans defected in the House. (Five were from New York, four from New Jersey and two from California.) This reflects a mind-set inside both chambers that the politics of this are not as bad as the conventional wisdom emanating from the mainstream media suggests.
“We will run on tax reform and win on tax reform in 2018,” said Matt Gorman, the NRCC’s communications director. “This bill will help ease the cost of living for millions of Americans who feel left behind.”
On the other hand, it’s equally remarkable that not a single Democrat in either chamber voted for this, including all 10 of the senators up for reelection next year in states Trump won. “Democratic obstruction of middle-class tax reform will be our No. 1 issue going into next year’s elections,” said Senate Leadership Fund President and CEO Steven Law, a former chief of staff to Mitch McConnell.
But Democrats say this bill is unpopular enough that they can oppose it even in places where Trump remains popular. “Democratic candidates are already running against this tax scam and winning the debate in their communities,” said Meredith Kelly, the DCCC’s communications director. She predicts that the bill will stay unpopular.
-- Bottom line: Nancy Pelosi says, “This is Armageddon.” But the sky will not fall. At least not next year.
To be sure, over the long-term, this bill may set in motion a fiscal disaster a la Kansas by exploding the national debt and forcing painful cuts to popular programs, including entitlements. The rich and corporations do get the vast majority of the benefits. The new code will cause confusion and uncertainty. It will also worsen income inequality. And there’s a chance that it gives the economy a sugar high that forces the Federal Reserve to raise rates faster than planned and hastens a recession.
For at least the next eight years, though, the undeniable math is that most people are going to pay less. Republicans say the reason that economists say people’s taxes will go up after a decade is that they needed to make the income tax cuts temporary to comply with budget reconciliation rules. They believe it’s inevitable that a future Congress will vote to extend them, and that they will have a wedge issue against Democrats if that doesn’t happen.
HOW IT’S PLAYING:
- Todd C. Frankel: “The GOP tax plan has a nasty surprise for upper-middle-class parents with kids in college.”
- Reuben Fischer-Baum, Kim Soffen and Heather Long: “Republicans say it’s a tax cut for the middle class. The biggest winners are the rich.”
- Rachel Siegel: “In Maryland, a rush to pre-pay local property taxes before Republicans cap deductions.”
- Los Angeles Times: “A quick look at some of the biggest tax changes for Californians.”
- Newark Star-Ledger: “Senate passes Trump-backed bill shrinking your big tax break.”
- Philadelphia Inquirer: “Trump tax plan puts him on verge of big win — but not the kind he promised middle class.”
- Chicago Tribune: “Local Dems decry tax plan as failing middle class.”
- Politico: “Confusion and chaos ahead as new tax rules take immediate effect.”
- The Guardian: “World markets driven to record highs by Trump tax bill.”
- CNN: “Tax passage will be moment of vindication for Ryan.”
- The Wall Street Journal: “Tax Cuts to Test GOP’s Economic Pledges.”
- Washington Examiner: “With zero Democratic votes, GOP tax overhaul risks future challenges.”
- Jake Novak for CNBC: “Tax reform unleashes latest round of DC deficit hypocrisy.”
- Bruce Bartlett for USA Today: “After tax cuts, Republicans may suddenly find Trump is more trouble than he's worth.”
- Matt Taylor for Vice: “The Craziest Part of the Tax Plan Is How We Got Here.”
- The Wall Street Journal editorial board: “The Tax Reform Promise.”
- Rebecca M. Kysar and Linda Sugin for the New York Times: “The Built-In Instability of the G.O.P.’s Tax Bill.”
- Robert Reed for the Chicago Tribune: “Tax plan a windfall for companies, but will anything trickle down to the rank and file?”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
EVERY VOTE COUNTS:
-- Democrat Shelly Simonds won her recount in a Virginia House of Delegates race by ONE VOTE, leaving control of the chamber evenly split at 50-50. Gregory S. Schneider reports: “The outcome, which reverberated across Virginia, ends 17 years of GOP control of the House and forces Republicans into a rare episode of power sharing with Democrats that will refashion the political landscape in Richmond. … Of the 23,215 votes cast in the district on Election Day, Yancey held a lead of just 10 votes going into Tuesday’s recount. But five hours later, after a painstaking counting overseen by local elections officials and the clerk of court, Yancey’s lead narrowed — and then reversed. The final tally: 11,608 for Simonds to 11,607 for Yancey.
“Power sharing in the House of Delegates is an awkward exercise; the last such arrangement was in 1998. Committee chairs have to be negotiated, as does the person who will serve as speaker. With the parties split 50-50, there is no mechanism to break ties, and any legislation short of 51 votes does not advance. Republicans hold a slight 21-to-19 edge in the state Senate, but with a Democratic lieutenant governor to break ties and a Democratic governor with veto power, Republicans may be forced to advance a more bipartisan agenda.” Read Greg’s full report on the recount — including a whiteboard to track results, shouting lawyers and the possibility of a coin toss to determine the winner.
-- Cardinal Bernard Law, who served as Boston’s archbishop until he was forced to resign in 2002 amid the church’s pedophilia scandal, died at 86. Emily Langer reports: “[C]ontroversy engulfed Cardinal Law in the early 2000s, when a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by the Boston Globe, later dramatized in the Academy Award-winning film ‘Spotlight,’ led to revelations that church officials had covered up sexual abuse in the priesthood for decades by shuffling alleged offenders among parishes. Cardinal Law was never accused of committing sexual abuse, and he denounced the offense as a ‘terrible evil.’ But for many Catholics as well as non-Catholics, he became a symbol of the church’s failure to protect the young from priests who exploited the trust that traditionally accompanies their role.” The Massachusetts attorney general issued a report concluding that Law “had direct knowledge of the scope, duration and severity of the crisis experienced by children in the Archdiocese.”
GET SMART FAST:
- The Amtrak train that derailed in Washington state, killing at least three people and injuring more than 100 others, was operating 50 mph over the speed limit when it careened off track. Federal investigators said they don't yet know what caused the train to derail, and it's too early to say why it was going so fast in a 30 mph zone. (AP)
The European Union ruled that Uber must obey transportation rules. The European Court of Justice decided the ride-hailing service acts more as a taxi service than a digital company, in a setback for Uber. (New York Times)
- A bus carrying cruise ship passengers flipped over in southeast Mexico, killing at least 12. The nationalities of the victims have not been confirmed, but seven Americans were among those injured. (Marwa Eltagouri)
- The FBI is now involved in the investigation into what caused the fire that triggered a massive power outage at Atlanta’s airport. A spokesman for the bureau clarified there was no sign of anything related to terrorism. (AP)
- Belgium will become the first nation to send a female ambassador to Saudi Arabia next year — a move that officials say is intended to send a “clear signal” about its ideals to that country. (Adam Taylor)
- Bitcoin hedge fund Pantera Capital released its returns in a letter to investors -- and they're an eye-popping 25,004 percent since 2013, when it became one of the world’s very first funds to dedicate itself to cryptocurrency. News of Pantera’s gains comes as bitcoin prices continue to skyrocket — with the creation of more than 150 funds focused on virtual currencies in the past year alone. (New York Times)
A former Navy pilot described his experience seeing a UFO off the coast of California in 2004. Cmdr. David Fravor’s story is being told after news reports of the Pentagon’s recent program dedicated to studying UFOs. (Eli Rosenberg)
A 26-year-old woman in Tennessee gave birth to a healthy baby girl after being implanted with an embryo that was frozen 24 years earlier. The National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville claims the case represents the longest-frozen embryo resulting in a birth. (Marwa Eltagouri)
- Frustrated with delivery packages constantly being swiped from his front porch, an angry Washington state inventor has channeled his outrage into revenge against so-called “porch pirates.” “TheBlankBox” is a rigged package designed to look just like any other brown-box delivery — but instead, it fires off a 12-gauge shotgun blank when grabbed. He insists the product is “completely safe” and is currently seeking a patent. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
More details emerged in the death of Bethany Lynn Stephens, who was mauled by her two dogs. After rumors swirled online that the mauling story was a coverup, the local sheriff disclosed that, when he and four other deputy sheriffs found the body, the dogs were eating their owner's rib cage. (Kristine Phillips)
CONGRESS’S YEAR-END TO-DO LIST:
-- Congress will likely avert a government shutdown after a handful of Senate Democrats up for reelection next year refused to withhold support for a funding bill over DACA. Ed O'Keefe reports: “With a deadline of midnight Friday to pass spending legislation, dozens of Democrats had vowed to withhold support if Republicans refused to allow a vote on a measure, known as the Dream Act, that would allow roughly 1.2 million immigrants to stay legally in the United States. But a group of vulnerable Democratic senators facing reelection in conservative states next year aren’t willing to go that far — meaning the party is unlikely to muster the votes to block the spending bill.”
-- The White House and Senate appear to be laying the groundwork for a DACA compromise in the new year. Politico’s Seung Min Kim, Heather Caygle and Elana Schor report: “At a Tuesday afternoon meeting with nearly a dozen senators deeply involved in immigration policy, White House chief of staff John Kelly pledged that the administration will soon present a list of border security and other policy changes it wants as part of a broader deal on so-called Dreamers, according to people who attended the meeting. The plan could come in a matter of days, senators said. … [B]oth Democrats and Republicans at the meeting with Kelly said there was a consensus that legislation wouldn’t pass before lawmakers leave Washington. It was one of the clearest signs yet that a Dreamers agreement won't, to the chagrin of liberals, come before 2018.”
-- House Republicans now plan to only fund the full government through mid-January with their spending bill. But there is controversy over a record $81 billion disaster relief package – which will now get a separate vote (some GOPers are balking at its deficit implications, ironically after voting for the tax overhaul). Politico’s John Bresnahan and Rachael Bade report: “It is still unclear whether GOP leaders will include funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program as part of the new funding bill. And while some defense programs are expected to get a boost under the plan, those details are still under wraps. A proposal to reauthorize so-called Section 702 spying powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act will go as a standalone bill as well.”
-- Parents took to the Hill to beg lawmakers to fund CHIP as states begin to run out of money for it. The New York Times’s Robert Pear reports: “Colorado and Connecticut, among other states, have sent letters informing families that their children may soon lose CHIP coverage. … Parents and children conveyed their message to Congress on Tuesday, the 80th day since federal CHIP funds expired. No spending bill can clear the Senate without Democratic votes, so the minority party does have leverage, but Democrats also have other priorities in negotiations over the spending bill. … The Trump administration has reshuffled money to help states with the most urgent needs. But in so doing, it exacerbates the financial problems that other states will soon face because Congress has not provided any new funds.”
PERSONNEL IS POLICY:
-- Two Senate Republicans joined Democrats to block Trump’s nominee to lead the Export-Import Bank, former congressman Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), in the Banking Committee. Mike Rounds (S.D.) and Tim Scott (S.C.) were the defectors. Garrett is the first nominee to be voted down in committee where the majority was the same party as the president since June 1986, when Jeff Sessions failed to get confirmed to a district judgeship. (Politico)
-- The White House is prioritizing ideological purity and youth over experience in picking its judicial nominees. Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker report: “The president has told advisers that he is focused on three main criteria: that his nominees be young (in most cases under age 50, and preferably under 40), conservative and strict constitutionalists. Typically when discussing potential nominees, [the Federalist Society’s Leonard] Leo said, Trump asks one overarching question: ‘He’ll say, ‘He’s not weak, is he?’’
“Trump’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, is a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. But despite this, the president has given [White House counsel Don] McGahn almost unilateral authority to run his nominations process. … McGahn has prioritized candidates in their 30s and 40s, calculating that they could hold their seats on the bench for decades. ‘It’s not a knockout factor, but there’s a thumb on the scale for nominating younger people,’ said John G. Malcolm, a vice president at the Heritage Foundation who advises the White House . . . McGahn took control of the process early on, when the West Wing was chaotic, but some other advisers have chafed at his top-down approach, which they say has led to avoidable errors and at times strained relations with some senators who feel cut out of the process.
“At the recent conservative activists meeting, Trump joked that friends had asked to become judges now that he was president, according to two people in the room. The president said he recommended them to his staff, but his aides tossed out their names. The reason: They were too old. ‘I had to tell them no,’ Trump said of his friends, according to attendees. The president then paused, laughed and offered a clarification: ‘Actually, I had someone else tell them no.’”
-- In case you missed it: I wrote about why Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) has taken issue with Trump’s judicial picks in yesterday’s edition.
-- Some Trump advisers worry that the president's desire to take credit for the stock market’s gains could backfire. Michael Scherer and Jenna Johnson report: “In recent weeks, the president has taken full credit for market performance, even though the recent rate of increase largely matches the bullish run under Obama, which began after the market hit bottom in 2009. White House officials and Trump allies credit the rise with Trump getting rid of some regulations on businesses, questioning trade policies, pushing for tax cuts for corporations and simply having a businessman as president. … But Democrats and even some Republicans see danger for Trump in his new favorite message. The rise in the market is not felt in the family budgets of many struggling voters. And of course if the market were to take a dip, it is unlikely that Trump would take responsibility for that.”
-- Two immigrant teens in U.S. custody who are seeking abortions will likely be able to proceed after the administration backed off threats to pursue the matter in court. Ann E. Marimow reports: “Justice Department lawyers said Tuesday that they had just obtained the birth certificate of one of the pregnant teens at the center of the challenge. She is not a 17-year-old minor, the government said, but an adult at 19. The 19-year-old, who is about 10 weeks pregnant, will be transferred to Department of Homeland Security custody ‘imminently,’ according to court filings. And as an adult in immigration detention, she can presumably obtain the abortion she has been seeking for nearly a month[.] … Separately, the Justice Department chose not to oppose a court order Monday — without disclosing why it was not challenging the order — allowing the second teen, who is 17, to end her pregnancy. She is close to 22 weeks pregnant and can now access abortion services.”
-- The EPA has canceled a $120,000 “media tracking” contract with a conservative firm after news reports raised questions about its services. Brady Dennis reports: “The EPA had defended the contract with Definers Public Affairs, saying it hired the firm merely to act as a sophisticated news clipping service. … The reversal comes days after Mother Jones first reported details of the contract with the Virginia-based public relations firm, which specialized in conducting campaign-style opposition research but also offers ‘a full-service war room that monitors a wide-range of media platforms on a continuous basis,’ according to its website. Later, the New York Times detailed how a vice president at the firm, Allan Blutstein, had filed at least 40 Freedom of Information Act requests to the EPA this year, many of which sought the correspondence of employees who been critical of the new administration.”
-- The Virgin Islands Republican Party reimbursed taxpayers for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s expenses related to a fundraiser for the group. Politico’s Ben Lefebvre reports: “The Virgin Islands Republican Party repaid on Oct. 5 the Interior Department $275 for expenses related to Zinke’s appearance[.]”
MEN BEHAVING BADLY:
-- Between 2008 and 2012, the Treasury Department reportedly paid about $174,000 to settle claims within House offices of sexual harassment or discrimination. Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Elise Viebeck report: That total includes “an $85,000 settlement in a claim against former congressman Eric Massa[.] … The claims involved a total taxpayer cost of $342,225, with about $174,000 pinned to specific harassment or discrimination claims. The Treasury payments, however, offer only a partial accounting of money used to deal with sexual harassment allegations. Some House members have used office funds to pay ‘severance’ packages to employees in an effort to resolve potential or existing workplace claims. Massa (D-N.Y.) resigned in March 2010 amid allegations that he had groped and tickled male staff members.”
-- Meanwhile, the punishment for lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct have been “haphazard and inconsistent,” Paul Kane writes. “John Conyers Jr.’s reign as dean of the House is finished, and he has been banished back to Detroit after nearly 53 years of service. Freshman Rep. Ruben Kihuen (Nev.), like every other House Democrat, voted against the Republican tax bill. … Even congressional leaders acknowledged that there is little consistency about what ‘zero tolerance’ truly means in the #MeToo moment. ‘It’s a completely legitimate question,’ [Paul Ryan] said Tuesday when asked about the disparity. ‘First of all, each of these members make their own decisions on how to proceed.’ Ryan and [Nancy Pelosi] can apply only so much pressure.”
-- Trump’s longtime lawyer hopes to get the New York defamation lawsuit against him, brought by one of the women who have accused the president of sexual misconduct, thrown out on a technicality. Frances Stead Sellers reports: “Twenty years after [Bill] Clinton fought accusations in a federal lawsuit brought by an Arkansas state employee, [Trump] faces a state lawsuit that could open him to a similar predicament. … Marc Kasowitz has homed in on a single footnote in the Clinton case that highlights what he calls a key difference: Paula Jones brought her harassment suit against Clinton in federal court; Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump’s reality show, ‘The Apprentice,’ is suing Trump in a state court. And state courts, Kasowitz argues, have no authority over a sitting president.”
-- A retired Army general is facing multiple rape charges in military court decades after the alleged assaults occurred. Dan Lamothe reports: “Retired Maj. Gen. James J. Grazioplene appeared Tuesday at Fort Belvoir, Va., for his first hearing following an Army general’s decision last month to send the case to a court-martial. Grazioplene, 68, is accused of repeatedly raping a young girl between 1983 and 1989. … The pending trial will mark one of only a few cases since World War II in which a general officer has been prosecuted in open court. … Congress imposed a new statute of limitations on rape charges in the military in November 1986, saying that any offense punishable by death — including rape — ‘may be tried and punished at any time without limitation.’"
-- The Florida Senate has taken the rare step of referring sexual misconduct allegations against a member — Sen. Jack Latvala – to law enforcement. The referral follows a Senate investigation conducted by a retired judge, who concluded Latvala may have committed sexual harassment and assault. (Miami Herald)
-- New York Times, “How a Culture of Harassment Persisted on Ford’s Factory Floors,” by Susan Chira and Catrin Einhorn: “The jobs were the best they would ever have: collecting union wages while working at Ford, one of America’s most storied companies. But inside two Chicago plants, the women found menace. Bosses and fellow laborers treated them as property or prey. Men [groped them]. Supervisors traded better assignments for sex and punished those who refused. That was a quarter-century ago. Today, women at those plants say they have been subjected to many of the same abuses. And like those who complained before them, they say they were mocked, dismissed, threatened and ostracized. … In recent months, as women have spoken out about harassment … they have spurred quick action, with accused men toppling from lofty positions, corporations pledging change and lawmakers promising new protections. But much less attention has been focused on the plight of blue-collar workers, like those on Ford’s factory floors …”
- Sad: “For all the good that was supposed to come out of what happened to us, it seems like Ford did nothing,” said Sharon Dunn, who was part of a 1990s settlement with Ford for $22 million. “If I had that choice today, I wouldn’t say a damn word.”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Jill Stein said she is cooperating with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation, following reports that congressional investigators are seeking documents from the former Green Party candidate’s presidential campaign. The panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) appeared to confirm the investigation on Monday. Asked what the committee wanted to know about from Stein’s campaign, Burr responded: “collusion with the Russians.” (AP)
-- Chris Christie told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace that Jared Kushner “deserves the scrutiny” he’s getting in the Russia probe. “I'm telling you that he deserves the scrutiny, you know why? Because he was involved in the transition and involved in meetings that call into question his role,” Christie said. “And the facts will determine that ultimately.” The New Jersey governor added that, if Kushner is innocent, “that will come out as [special counsel Robert] Mueller examines all the facts.” “And if he's not, that will come out too,” Christie said. (Business Insider)
-- Top House Republicans want to interview three senior FBI officials about their handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server. Karoun Demirjian reports: “Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions late Tuesday asking to interview the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s deputy director Andrew McCabe, FBI chief of staff James Rybicki, and FBI counsel Lisa Page, beginning as soon as Thursday. Goodlatte and Gowdy released the letter publicly shortly before the House Intelligence Committee finished grilling McCabe in an eight-hour, closed-door session on Tuesday.”
-- The Republican leading the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe dismissed complaints from Democrats that he’s “rushing” to complete it. Politico’s Kyle Cheney reports: “’The investigation is not over. We’re moving forward aggressively,’ said Rep. Michael Conaway (R-Texas) … Conaway brushed off mounting Democratic complaints that Republicans have rushed the probe along, called in witnesses without proper preparation or document requests, and refused to compel witnesses to answer difficult questions. ‘I’ve listened to their comments and listened to their questions,' he said. ‘Sometimes I agree with them, sometimes I disagree with them. We’re going to have those kind of natural disagreements among professionals.’"
-- A federal judge has approved Paul Manafort’s request to spend his Christmas holiday in the Hamptons, allowing a temporary reprieve from his house arrest in Virginia so long as he agrees to wear an ankle monitor and provide a “detailed itinerary” if he plans to leave his house in Bridgehampton. (Fortune)
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned the general assembly that the United States will be “taking names” when the United Nations votes on whether Trump should rescind his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. “At the UN we're always asked to do more & give more,” Haley wrote on Twitter. “So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American ppl, abt where to locate OUR embassy, we don't expect those we've helped to target us. On Thurs there'll be a vote criticizing our choice. The US will be taking names.” It’s actually the second time she’s used the “taking names” line, the first occurring in January shortly after Haley took office. (The Hill)
-- British Prime Minister Theresa May made her displeasure with Trump’s Jerusalem decision known during a phone call with the president yesterday. Anne Gearan reports: “‘The President and Prime Minister discussed next steps in forging peace in the Middle East,’ the White House said in a written statement. Hours earlier, No. 10 Downing Street had issued a polite but unmistakably more pointed version of events. ‘They discussed the different positions we took on the recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and agreed on the importance of the US bringing forward new proposals for peace and the international community supporting these efforts,’ a spokesman for May said in a written statement.”
-- The Kremlin slammed Trump’s newly unveiled national security strategy, saying it showed an “imperialist” character, and demonstrated an “insistent unwillingness [and] disregard for a multipolar world.” (Politico)
-- Hundreds of politicians, celebrities and prominent figures signed a statement demanding the United States, United Kingdom and France take action to end the civil war in Yemen, saying that they bear a “special responsibility” as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and as “major weapons suppliers to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.” (The Hill)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Congressional Republicans celebrated the passage of their tax plan:
The House of Reps just passed the biggest tax reform package in a generation, cutting taxes for middle-income families all across America. Tune in now as @HouseGOP leaders talk about what comes next: https://t.co/4mYP0xpeO9— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) December 19, 2017
From the House Ways and Means chairman:
From the House majority leader:
America is back. We are tackling big issues again. I’m proud we got this done. https://t.co/TpfH50boHP— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) December 19, 2017
No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn (Tex.) pointed to a hypothetical family who would benefit from the plan:
Under #TaxCutsandJobsAct a married couple earning $100,000 per year ($60,000 from wages, $25,000 from their non-corporate business, and $15,000 in business income) will receive a tax cut of $2,603.50, a reduction of nearly 24 percent.— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) December 19, 2017
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) shot back at Cornyn:
I know exactly zero families like this. https://t.co/M5W1K0gyVS— US Rep Brendan Boyle (@RepBrendanBoyle) December 19, 2017
Senate Democrat Cory Booker (N.J.) lambasted the bill:
Just so we're clear on where the American people stand – our office has received over 54,000 letters on Republican tax reform efforts:— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) December 20, 2017
2.8% in favor
From Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.):
Tonight, once again, Congress is proving to the American people that Washington is broken. The tax bill in front of us is the product of dysfunction, partisanship, and political desperation.— Senator Jon Tester (@SenatorTester) December 20, 2017
Former congressman John Dingell (D-Mich.) put it more bluntly:
This Republican tax bill is a damn scam. Vote them all out.— John Dingell (@JohnDingell) December 19, 2017
An opinion editor for BuzzFeed News commented on the Virginia recount:
The extraordinary Virginia house election: Democrats took 53% of the vote, Republicans 43%. Now, after winning a seat by ONE VOTE, the house is split 50/50. https://t.co/h7EYwP3GzU pic.twitter.com/ndaIyFk6X4— Tom Gara (@tomgara) December 19, 2017
Trump's approval rating is breaking more records as his first year comes to a close, per a CNN reporter:
CNN POLL— Manu Raju (@mkraju) December 19, 2017
Presidential Approval Rating
Dec of First Year
Bush, 2001 86%
Kennedy, 1961 77%
Bush, 1989 71%
Eisenhower, 1953 69%
Nixon, 1969 59%
Carter, 1977 57%
Obama, 2009 54%
Clinton, 1993 54%
Reagan, 1981 49%
Trump, now 35%
After Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) accused the White House press secretary of lying, she pushed back with some noteworthy advice:
Dear @tedlieu - I don’t serve in Congress, but I can read. If you had read the story, not an incorrect tweet, you would see that what I said was Dems should be begging to help Americans keep more of their money. You should spend less time tweeting, more time doing your job. https://t.co/jI3W2a0xaQ— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) December 19, 2017
Obama's former NSC spokesman pushed back against Politico's Hezbollah story:
There are many reasonable critiques of Obama's foreign policy. The idea that he was soft on Hezbollah is not one of them. The story is so manufactured out of thin air that it's hard to push back except to say that it's a figment of the imagination of two very flawed sources.— Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) December 20, 2017
A New York Times television reporter shared this update on the “Today” show:
Life without Matt Lauer proving to be just fine for TODAY and NBC. TODAY averaged 4.6 million viewers last week, beating GMA for a third straight week— John Koblin (@koblin) December 19, 2017
Our colleague David Fahrenthold sent reports from the Trump SoHo hotel:
And comedian Andy Richter mocked Trump's animatronic self at Disney World's Hall of Presidents:
when you’ve finally made it pic.twitter.com/Ll1tVUUPx8— Andy Richter (@AndyRichter) December 19, 2017
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- BuzzFeed News, “The Man Who Made The Republican Internet — And Then Sold It To Far-Right Nationalists Overseas,” by Henry J. Gomez: “Vincent Harris, whose namesake Austin, Texas — based firm has deep ties to US Republicans, [has] taught Mike Huckabee how to talk to bloggers. Sharpened tea party — insurgent Ted Cruz into a national brand. Created memes for Mitch McConnell[.] Along the way he became, in the words of one publication, ‘The Man Who Invented the Republican Internet.’ And he did it all before his 27th birthday. But now, as he approaches 30, Harris … [has] positioned himself as a digital guru for Le Pen and other far-right leaders overseas against a backdrop of spiking nationalism, ethnic division, and anti-globalism. It’s an odd trajectory for someone who once seemed on his way to being the GOP’s super-consultant of the future ….”
“[Recently], the firm’s efforts for [AfD] helped nationalists win seats in Germany’s parliament for the first time in more than half a century. At one rally earlier this year in support of AfD, attendees chanted that they would ‘build a subway’ to Auschwitz for political opponents. ‘I doubt, said [one former Harris Media employee], ‘that many people started working there to work for neo-Nazis.’”
-- CNN, “Democrats have a new Southern strategy,” by Ronald Brownstein: “[Doug] Jones' victory was centered on minorities, millennial voters and college-educated suburban whites, especially women. That's exactly the formula Democrats now depend on in most states. But even with strong African-American support, Southern Democrats until recently come up short, largely because they haven't attracted nearly as many college-educated whites as their party does elsewhere. Now, with Democratic constituencies energized and suburban swing voters uneasy about Trump, Southern Democrats are suddenly finding it more possible to assemble the coalition that the party relies on in other regions. And that could create new opportunities for Democrats across the South[.]”
-- New York Times, “A Mysterious Act of Mercy by the Subway Bombing Suspect,” by Jeffrey Gettleman: “The suspect in the attempted New York subway attack last week rode a bus across Bangladesh to help Rohingya refugees. Was he following Al Qaeda or his heart?”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Bill de Blasio to Iowa Democrats: Move left and win,” from David Weigel: “‘No,’ said Bill de Blasio. ‘I’m not running for president.’ The mayor of New York City, fresh off a 39-point reelection victory, would answer versions of the 2020 question all day. Media back home, media that had followed him to America’s 102nd largest city, had been asking the question since de Blasio’s first trip to Iowa in 2015. He was asked again at a press gaggle before his speech to Progress Iowa, giving a definitive answer to a question that is asked whenever a politician travels to Des Moines. … Once he faced the press, de Blasio suggested a Democratic future based on his own work in New York — pure economic populism, with taxes on the very wealthy paying for health care, pre-K education, and cheaper housing. De Blasio, who endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, was excited that his party seemed to be leaving neoliberalism behind.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“[Fed] Agency Committed ‘Militaristic’ Operation Against Nevada Rancher,” from the Daily Caller: “An investigation into the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) handling of the 2014 Nevada standoff with rancher Cliven Bundy revealed ‘incredible bias,’ widespread misconduct and likely illegal actions by the BLM. Prosecutors shared the report with the Bundys’ defense attorneys, prompting a petition to Judge Gloria Navarro for a mistrial, or for the case to be dismissed altogether … NFormer Special Agent Dan Love, who was in charge of impounding Cliven Bundy’s cattle in 2014, conducted ‘the most intrusive, oppressive, large scale and militaristic trespass cattle impound possible’ against Bundy’s ranch against the direction of the U.S. attorney’s office, according to Wooten. The Bundys’ defense strategy accuses the BLM of using overly-aggressive and threatening tactics. Navarro has ruled that Myhre’s prosecution team has committed numerous Brady Act violations failing to turn over exculpatory evidence, evidence that may exonerate the Bundys.”
Trump has a Cabinet meeting today. The president’s exact plans for the holidays are still unconfirmed, but the Palm Beach Post reports Melania and Barron Trump are already at Mar-a-Lago.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) explained his vote blocking Trump’s nominee to lead the Export-Import Bank: “My message to the White House has been sometimes it’s the responsibility of the Senate to advise, but not to consent. And that’s what we tried to do in this case.” (NBC News)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- D.C. will see some clouds and slightly cooler temperatures today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “High pressure building into our area from the Great Lakes should help keep a storm system tracking east across southern Virginia and the Carolinas from making it into our area, although areas far south of D.C toward Fredericksburg could get clipped with a light shower or two. Otherwise we’re partly cloudy and cooler than yesterday, but not too chilly, with highs near 50 to the low 50s[.]”
-- The Wizards won against the Pelicans 116-106. (Candace Buckner)
-- The Capitals beat the Stars 4-3. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)
-- Laura Vozzella profiles Dorothy McAuliffe, who will relinquish her post as Virginia’s first lady next month: “[O]utside of the [governor’s] mansion, she’s been a trailblazer. McAuliffe, 54, was the first Virginia first lady to set up her office in the Patrick Henry Building, where cabinet secretaries and agency heads work. She was the first to heavily push for legislation, buttonholing senators and delegates with all the persistence — and none of the pay — of the professional lobbyists swarming Capitol Square.”
-- D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) wants to make Rock Creek Park a national park. That could help unlock some federal money — the park currently has a $53 million maintenance backlog. (Rachel Chason)
-- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) seemed hesitantly optimistic about a plan from Democratic state legislators to increase dedicated funding for Metro without raising taxes. Robert McCartney reports: “The initiative means that both the Maryland and Virginia General Assemblies will consider major legislation early next year to help the transit system[.] … The Maryland bill … would commit Maryland to raise its annual contribution to Metro permanently by $125 million a year if certain conditions are met.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Seth Meyers offered suggestions for other words the Trump administration could replace following reports that certain terms had been “banned” at the CDC:
Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) relied on Dr. Seuss’s character of the Grinch to explain his objections to the GOP tax plan:
Trump made his official “Hall of Presidents” debut:
And animatronic Trump was promptly mocked on the “Tonight Show”: