with Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
In the two-and-a-half years I’ve been writing the 202, I’ve never received so much pushback. Top operatives at all the relevant Democratic committees and outside groups, as well as the most prominent progressive pollsters in town and campaign managers in the states, argued passionately that the tax bill is not going to become a winner for the GOP. They shared a battery of private polling and reports on focus groups to make their case.
“Calling this thing a win because Republicans finally got something done is like saying the captain of the Titanic won when he successfully found that reclusive iceberg,” said Jesse Ferguson, the former director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s independent expenditure arm.
He was one of two dozen Democratic operatives I spoke with yesterday. Here are their 10 points that came up most frequently:
1. Most folks who pay lower taxes will not save enough to care.
I noted yesterday that 8 in 10 Americans will pay lower taxes next year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the final legislation. Only 5 percent of people will pay more next year, and mostly those are folks who earn six figures and own expensive houses in places with high local taxes.
Democratic pollster Geoff Garin of Hart Research replied that 80 percent of taxpayers will see an increase of less than 2 percent in their after-tax income, and it is not until you get to the 95th percentile that the after-tax income benefits are much greater. “There is no history of voters being grateful for tax cuts that small,” he said.
Barack Obama found that out the hard way in 2009 when he slashed the payroll tax as part of the stimulus package. This saved the average worker nearly $700 annually during the Great Recession, but the president saw no political benefit from it. A CBS News-New York Times poll from 2010 that found just 12 percent of voters realized Obama had cut their taxes. “Twice as many thought, incorrectly, that Obama had raised them,” Dave Weigel notes in a fresh story.
Some taxpayers might not realize they’ve saved any money until they go to file their returns for 2018 in April 2019, six months after the midterms.
2. Voters don’t just think the bill benefits the wealthy. They think it benefits the wealthy at their expense.
For the ones who notice a benefit before the November midterms, their first reaction might be that a whole lot of other people got a whole lot more. “Keeping up with the Jones’s” is hard-wired in the American DNA, after all. That’s why polls show so many swing voters don’t think this legislation was written with them in mind.
Democratic pollster Nick Gourevitch of the Global Strategy Group recently conducted a poll for the super PAC Priorities USA Action that found support for a generic Democrat over a Republican grew from an 11-point advantage (45 percent to 34 percent) to a 17-point advantage (50 percent to 33 percent) once voters heard arguments against the bill.
Gourevitch said Republicans maybe could win a “tax cuts for everybody” argument, but they cannot win when people think they get a small cut and people who are already rich get a huge cut.
“In our polling, we see the Republicans and Trump increasingly equated with looking out for the wealthy instead of regular people,” he explained by phone. “That’s their core messaging problem. It’s not just like, ‘Hey, you are going to get a tax cut, so all’s good.’ What people will see and perceive is that the wealthiest and big corporations and people who are not them are going to get much larger benefits. That comparative point is a key indicator we’ve always seen in polling.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee unveiled a six-second pre-roll ad on YouTube yesterday that quickly makes this point: “The Republican tax scheme gives huge breaks to corporations but raises taxes on middle class families,” a narrator says as a woman looks at an invoice in her kitchen.
“We win on this issue because Republicans forgot about middle class families when they wrote this bill,” said Chris Hayden of Senate Majority PAC, the main outside group to help Democrats win the upper chamber.
3. Trump is an ineffective messenger. Not only does he have historically low, Bush-after-Katrina approval numbers, and stands to save millions a year from his own bill, but he’s notoriously undisciplined and struggles to stay on script.
Following the advice of their pollsters, for example, congressional Republicans have bent over backward to say that this bill is really a middle-class tax cut. Whenever GOP leaders on the Hill are pressed about the massive giveaways for corporations in the bill, they always pivot immediately to claim that the cuts are mainly about helping workers by giving businesses more money to raise wages and create jobs.
But then at the White House yesterday, Trump boasted about the corporate rate going from 35 percent to 21 percent. He said: “That’s probably the biggest factor in this plan.”
This is an accurate statement, but it’s a losing message.
4. Congressional leaders aren’t good pitchmen either. “If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in the wee hours of yesterday morning.
“The idea that Republicans are going to be able to change the public's mind on the tax bill is ridiculous,” replied Shripal Shah, the vice president of the Democratic super PAC American Bridge. “The cake is already baked … Mitch McConnell is one of the most unpopular politicians in America. On what planet does anyone think trotting him out there to try and sell this thing is a good idea? … While Republicans may be able to make some minimal gains in the margins, you have to be crazy to think that you can change the mind of 30 percent of the electorate.”
5. Conservative groups have already spent more than $70 million promoting an overhaul of the tax code, by some estimates, and most people still don’t think the bill is good. How will new commercials do what the previous ones could not? “It’s not like they haven’t been out there selling this brick for a long time. They just haven’t gotten results,” said J.B. Poersch, the president of Senate Majority PAC and former executive director of the DSCC.
Moreover, groups on the left will spend money to counteract new ads from groups on the right. The Not One Penny coalition, formed by progressives to oppose the tax cut, announced yesterday that it will expand its media buy from $5 million to $10 million in the new year. The group will also hold 100 days of “Stop the Trump Tax” events around the country to rally opposition, starting in January and culminating with a massive rally on April 15 in Washington. The message will be that the bill “further rigs the economy in favor of the wealthy.”
6. The most effective GOP messages to grow support for the bill are not true. I reported yesterday that the GOP firm Public Opinion Strategies conducted a private poll that found Republicans trailing in the generic ballot by 12 points, but the gap closed to eight points after they ran through arguments for the tax bill. The most effective argument they discovered for moving opinion was telling voters that the bill “removes and eliminates many loopholes so special interests start paying their fair share.”
In fact, the press coverage — even on right-leaning media — has emphasized the loopholes in the bill. Based on an analysis of personal financial disclosures, CNBC just popped a story that says roughly four dozen Republican House and Senate members who voted for the bill stand to reap a windfall thanks to the loophole inserted at the last minute that reduces the tax rate on “pass-through” income derived from real estate.
The Fox Business Network reported last night on how Wall Street saved the carried-interest loophole, which primarily benefits hedge fund managers. “Money Talks” is the headline on their piece: “Blackstone, Carlyle, KKR dial up donations to key GOP lawmakers as tax bill protects carried interest loophole.”
“It is a sign of huge trouble when your best testing message isn’t true and doesn’t bear scrutiny,” Garin said. “Really, how hard do you think it will be for Democrats and progressive organizations to shine a bright spotlight on how many loopholes were not eliminated, how many new loopholes were created, and how many special interests are not paying their fair share? … Seriously, I’d consider jumping off a cliff if my best-testing messages produced so little movement and left my candidates eight points behind. And believe me, there were times in 2010 and 2014 when jumping off a cliff felt like a pretty good idea.”
7. The tax debate has allowed Democrats to open an advantage over Republicans on the broader question of who voters trust more to manage the economy, which is still a top concern.
The DCCC has noticed a shift in its private polling over the past three months, both nationally and across battleground districts, on some important metrics related to who voters trust on government spending, tax policy and the economy. This tracks with public survey data, including an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll published on Tuesday.
One official inside the DCCC said that Democrats had a six-point edge nationally on which party would do a better job on taxes last month, but it grew to 11 points in a poll that just came out of the field.
8. By repealing the individual mandate, Republicans now own the health-care mess.
“I shouldn’t say this,” Trump said at the White House yesterday, “but we essentially repealed Obamacare.”
“No, he probably shouldn’t have said it. But it’s true,” Dana Milbank writes in his column. “Republicans, in rushing the tax bill to passage, kept fairly quiet about the fact that they were killing the ‘individual mandate’ and thereby removing the engine that made the Affordable Care Act work. In doing so, they threw the health-care system into chaos without offering any remedy. And Trump just claimed paternity of the destruction.”
Jacky Rosen, the Democratic candidate against Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R), unveiled a web video yesterday that focuses on the loss of the mandate. It features four people who are battling cancer. “Health care is a life or death issue, and Senator Heller is using this awful tax bill to sabotage and undermine America’s health care system,” said Rosen campaign manager Danny Kazin.
Democrats elsewhere plan to produce commercials linking vulnerable House incumbents to Trump’s comment. They are gleeful that they can now attack Republicans like Rep. Mike Coffman, who represents the Denver suburbs, for voting to unravel Obamacare, even though he voted against the House health-care bill earlier this year.
9. Polls show voters are receptive to the argument that Republicans did not sufficiently reach across the aisle or work in good faith with Democrats to make the bill better.
Not one Democrat in either chamber voted for final passage, including all 10 senators up for reelection next year in states Trump carried. West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, running in a state that Trump won by more than 40 points, called it “shortsighted and rushed.” That gives some cover for Democratic senators in places like Ohio, Missouri and Wisconsin to tell voters that they wanted to work with Trump, but he wouldn’t negotiate in good faith.
“It looks like this was done for political expediency in what’s been an unimpressive year for them,” said the DSCC’s Lauren Passalacqua. “If this was done correctly, the House wouldn’t have had to vote on it twice.”
10. Ronald Reagan did not benefit politically from cutting taxes in either 1982 or 1986.
This is the biggest overhaul of the tax code since 1986. The midterms that year were a disaster for Republicans. The tax overhaul was essentially a nonissue, as the GOP lost eight Senate seats and control of the chamber.
The Gipper’s previous round of tax cuts did not fare much better. “Reagan, significantly more skilled than Trump, saw his party lose 27 [House] seats in the 1982 midterms after his [first] tax cuts,” said Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, which scrutinizes executive branch appointments.
“Before the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s and the Bush tax cuts of the 2000s, Republicans argued that the middle class would benefit. Yet the percentage of Americans who thought those policies helped the richest Americans the most actually rose over time,” notes FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten. “With regard to the 1981 Reagan tax cuts, that number went from 59 percent in April 1981 to 69 percent in July 1984. And with regard to the 1986 Reagan tax cuts, it climbed from 48 percent in October 1986 to 65 percent in April 1988. For the Bush tax cuts, the percentage of Americans who thought the rich benefited the most went from 55 percent in April 2001 to 60 percent in October 2004.”
Conservative donors may be enthused, but this would suggest that tax cuts won’t motivate large swaths of the Republican base. “First, many Republican voters care about the deficit and the debt, and will feel conflicted, at best, about a tax cut that adds another $2 trillion to the debt,” said Garin. “And the blue-collar base doesn’t support giving any tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations. In fact, these voters think tax reform means that the wealthy and big corporations will pay more. Both the reality and perception of the bill flies in the face of the populist views of working class whites who supported Trump in 2016.”
MORE WASHINGTON POST COVERAGE:
- Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner: “How Republicans pulled off the biggest tax overhaul in 30 years.”
- Josh Dawsey: “In tax debate, Trump played the role of marketer-in-chief.”
- John Wagner’s Debrief: “Republicans celebrate their tax bill — and heap praise on Trump.”
- Drew Harwell: “Trump stands to save millions under new tax measure, experts say.”
- Renae Merle and Aaron Gregg: “Taxpayers will have to wait to find out how they did under new legislation.”
- If you missed it, check out our interactive tax bill calculator to see how you might fare.
- David Weigel: “Democrats ready year-long assault against tax cut package.”
- Ed O’Keefe: “One potential loser in the new GOP tax bill: Puerto Rico.”
- Brian Fung: “AT&T, Comcast say GOP tax bill will mean $1,000 bonuses for employees.”
- Heather Long rounded up reaction to the bill from America’s 20 largest corporations: “Nearly all have vocally supported the GOP bill. Many say at least some of the extra money would probably go to shareholders via higher dividends. Other popular plans for additional cash include: looking for other companies to buy and paying down debt. Only two — AT&T and CVS — have made explicit promises to hire workers. Apple and Kroger executives have made vague statements that they would probably hire more people. Not a single company has said it will raise wages…”
- Kim Soffen and Reuben Fischer-Baum: “10 key takeaways from the Republican tax bill.”
- Aaron Blake: “Trump just admitted the GOP’s tax cuts were deceptively sold.”
-- From the opinion page:
- The Editorial Board: “A win for the wealthy, the entitled and the irresponsible.”
Greg Sargent: “Trump is about to ‘win’ on taxes. This could help Democrats solve a very big dilemma.”
- The Plum Line’s Helaine Olen: “In another country, we would call this ‘corruption.’”
- Right Turn’s Jennifer Rubin: “The GOP’s dishonest tax calculation.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- A white sport utility vehicle plowed into a busy intersection in Melbourne, Australia, injuring at least 14 people. From A. Odysseus Patrick and Paul Schemm: “Commander Russell Barret from Victoria police told reporters it is believed to be “a deliberate act” but said the motivation so far was unclear. 'It is still in the early stages of an investigation,' he told reporters, adding that several wounded were in critical condition . . . When the car came to a stop about eight or 10 bystanders pulled the driver from the car and held him until police officers arrived a few minutes later . . . The driver appeared to be unconscious.”
GET SMART FAST:
- A Virginia court tossed out a single-vote victory that briefly ended GOP dominance in the state House of Delegates, leaving Republicans with a slim 50-49 majority until the Newport News race between Shelly Simonds and Del. David Yancey can be resolved. According to Virginia law, the winner of a tied House race is “determined by lot” — leaving the fate of the chamber to what is essentially a coin toss. (Jim Morrison, Fenit Nirappil and Gregory S. Schneider)
- Paul Ryan told CBS he has never discussed the prospect of retiring from Congress anytime soon. But the speaker would not commit to serving beyond 2018 and told reporters he has “not yet decided” whether to seek reelection. (Politico)
- Trump may have persuaded Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) not to retire next year. Why would the president care? Because Mitt Romney — who has frequently slammed Trump on a variety of issues — planned to run to replace Hatch. The senator, 83, “has signaled to Republican allies in recent weeks that he’s having second thoughts about leaving office when his term ends next year.” The about-face is said to have “enraged” Romney allies and “many in the state party now worry that a decision to run again would prompt an angry backlash from grassroots conservatives and establishment elements alike, leading to a chaotic primary fight.” (The Atlantic)
- Rep. Jerry Nadler (N.Y.) will now be the top Democrat on the House Judiciary panel, filling the slot left vacant by the resignation of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) following allegations of sexual misconduct. Nadler campaigned for the job by arguing he was the best person to lead a potential impeachment inquiry into Trump should Democrats recapture the House in 2018. (Politico)
- Life expectancy for Americans declined for a second year in a row in 2016, fueled by a staggering 21 percent increase in deaths from drug overdoses. The CDC reported this was the first time since 1961 and 1962 the country had seen a two-year decline, after a severe bout of influenza caused an outsize number of deaths. (Lenny Bernstein and Christopher Ingraham)
- Turkish prosecutors are seeking a lengthy prison sentence for New York Knicks center Enes Kanter after he insulted the country’s president on Twitter. Authorities have requested that Kanter, a Turkish national and outspoken critic of President Recep Tayyip Erodgan, be sentenced to more than four years in prison, and that he be tried in absentia. (Matt Bonesteel)
- The author of “Cat Person,” a short fiction story first published in the New Yorker, has inked a seven-figure book deal with Simon & Schuster. “Cat Person” sparked intense controversy after its release this month, as readers both identified with — and overtly rejected — its overarching theme of dating in the digital age. (AP)
- A bad online review could cost you $350 — that is, if you stay at the Abbey, a cabin offering unusual privacy in the Indiana woods. Katrina Arthur was slapped with the sum (as were other guests) after telling the truth online about the state of the property — “smelt like a sewer” and “I found hairs, dirt.” The state is now suing the Abbey's owner for allegedly withholding a document from guests listing the cabin's “peculiarities” and outlining the fee for public criticism. (Avi Selk)
NO SHUTDOWN (PROBABLY), BUT NO OBAMACARE FIXES EITHER:
-- Attempting to avert a government shutdown, Republicans decided not to include changes to the Affordable Care Act demanded by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) in a year-end spending bill. Collins had made a deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to include funding for subsidies to insurance companies that help low-income Americans in the spending bill — but hard line House conservatives refused to accept the language (Collins made her support for the GOP tax plan contingent on the ACA deal but voted for the tax plan anyway. She hopes the ACA funding will be addressed in January).
From Politico's Sarah Ferris, Heather Caygle and Jennifer Haberkorn: "[Paul] Ryan’s plan to keep the government funded past Friday now involves a simple funding extension through Jan. 19 — a last-minute course reversal that is roiling the conference's most conservative flank as well as defense hawks . . . The GOP’s current funding strategy would appear to shelve nearly every tricky political issue until Jan. 19. That includes the must-pass items, like funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and national surveillance powers that run out Dec. 31 — though those items could see short-term extensions.
Here's Collins's statement, along with that of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who helped author the ACA subsidies measure:
Alexander, Collins statement on bills to lower health insurance premiums: https://t.co/rQuKh6b0Cv pic.twitter.com/wmyaaHMMVT— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) December 20, 2017
-- BUT, it's hardly smooth sailing (shocker) on Capitol Hill as Speaker Ryan is still working to get his own members behind a government funding bill (Democrats won't support the measure because it doesn't reflect any of their priorities). The House will try and vote today on a bill to keep the government operating through Jan. 19.
The latest version, per Politico's Rachael Bade and John Bresnahan: the current measure has angered defense hawks as it won't raise military funding for a full year; and hardline conservatives are also upset at plans to extend the government's FISA authority allowing government surveillance to continue on U.S. soil. But the news plan does include a funding extension for the Children's Health Insurance Program. An $81 billion relief package for victims of this season's hurricanes and wildfires is expected to be voted on separately -- or slip into next year.
-- Meanwhile, parents wonder what on earth is wrong with Congress for delaying action on CHIP. Robert Samuels has more from on the ground in red Utah: “For the Smiths, who are Republicans, the congressional stalemate over the $15.6 billion program is bigger than a question how to pay. It is also a question of who — or what — to believe. Over the course of the year, their faith in the GOP-led Congress has eroded. Their general disenchantment became more pronounced when lawmakers, including even their home-state senator, Orrin G. Hatch, an architect of the CHIP program, failed to secure the funding.”
-- Another consequence of the funding mess: House Republicans abandoned plans to vote on a long-term FISA Section 702 renewal, which gives the NSA broad authority to conduct foreign surveillance on U.S. soil. Karoun Demirjian reports: “Party leaders had rallied around an effort from [Rep. Devin Nunes] to pass a long-term extension [that] would have incorporated a requirement that the FBI seek a court order before viewing the contents of queries for information about Americans’ communications. . . . But by midafternoon Wednesday, Nunes told reporters that the reauthorization effort was dead ‘for now’ and that decisions about how to proceed were being made ‘above my pay grade.’”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Republican senators aren't rushing to pass a measure protecting Robert Mueller's position in the ongoing Russia investigation, protecting the special counsel should Trump try to force him out. Karoun Demirjian reports: “[Two] different bipartisan proposals have been mired in negotiations for months. And despite continuing signs from the president that he is unhappy with Mueller’s investigation . . . Republicans appear to be losing their resolve to act. ‘We’re still having the discussion,’ Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), the co-author of one of the bills, said this week. ‘It’s not driven by any current events.’ Both Democrats and Republicans say the main sticking point between the two bills is a dispute over whether a three-judge review of a special counsel’s termination should occur automatically or at the special counsel’s request.”
-- Senate Intelligence Committee lead Democrat Mark Warner (Va.) warned Trump against firing Mueller in a speech on the Senate floor last night. He said House Republicans calling for his ouster are participating in a “seemingly coordinated” campaign to promote “baseless accusations” against Mueller. And Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, cautioned that “nothing would be worse for the GOP” than if Trump fired Mueller.
-- Some of Trump's most devoted loyalists on the House intel panel have been secretly gathering for weeks in an effort to discredit Mueller. They're seeking to build a case that leaders of the Justice Department and FBI mishandled the contents of the infamous Trump dossier. Politico’s Kyle Cheney and John Bresnahan report: “[The group of Republicans, led by Intel Chair Nunes, have been quietly working parallel to the committee’s Russia investigation]. They haven't informed Democrats about their plans, but they have consulted with the House's general counsel. The people familiar with Nunes' plans said the goal is to highlight what some committee Republicans see as corruption and conspiracy in the upper ranks of federal law enforcement. The group hopes to release a report early next year detailing their concerns about the DOJ and FBI, and they might seek congressional votes to declassify elements of their evidence. That final product could ultimately be used by Republicans to discredit . . . Mueller’s investigation . . . or possibly even to justify his dismissal.”
-- Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asked Justice Department prosecutors to request that FBI agents explain their findings in the defunct probe into a controversial uranium deal linked to Bill and Hillary Clinton. From NBC's Tom Winter, Pete Williams and Ken Dilanian this morning: “The interviews with FBI agents are part of the Justice Department's effort to fulfill a promise an assistant attorney general made to Congress last month to examine whether a special counsel was warranted to look into what has become known as the Uranium One deal, a senior Justice Department official said.”
-- The Senate is unlikely to approve the nomination of former White House adviser K.T. McFarland, who has been nominated as U.S. ambassador to Singapore. CNN's Manu Raju reports that McFarland may be derailed "amid questions about whether she properly disclosed to Congress her communications with former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to senators and sources from both parties ... Lawmakers and senior aides told CNN that they expect the Senate to send her nomination back to the White House when this year's session wraps up at week's end, making her prospects for confirmation increasingly grim. At that point, the White House will have to decide whether to renominate her . . . " CNN notes this would be the second time a Trump nominee would be derailed because of allegations stemming from the Mueller probe — Sam Clovis, a former Trump campaign chair, withdrew his nomination for a USDA slot because of communications with ex-foreign policy campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
CAN TRUMP’S PRESIDENCY AND HIS PERSONAL BRAND COEXIST?
-- The Trump Organization officially relinquished management of its hotel in New York City's SoHo, following months of sagging business at the posh downtown location. David Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell report: “The end of Trump SoHo capped a year in which Trump’s divisive presidency has pulled his global hospitality company in opposite directions — driving business to some properties the president visits and sapping customers from others. At the Trump International Hotel in Washington, for instance, business is good. Expectation-shattering good. But at some properties, the presidency does not look like a boon. It looks like a weight. At Trump-owned golf courses in California, the Bronx and Scotland, revenue figures have slumped … At Trump Turnberry … new data from an annual filing with the British government shows that losses doubled in 2016.
“[Meanwhile], Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric … are making moves to expand beyond their old customer base, the urban luxury market. And they announced new, lower-priced Trump hotel brands — called ‘Scion’ and ‘American Idea’ — that would be located in small towns and cities … That rollout has stalled. Months later, no American Idea hotels have opened. One Scion has been sitting half-built and idle for months.”
-- But Trump’s Palm Beach golf resort appears to be faring well: Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn reports that Mar-a-Lago has hiked the price of its New Year’s Eve party tickets this year — anticipating a full house at the Palm Beach event, which is typically attended by Donald and Melania. “The lavish party [has] plenty of perks, including a red-carpet entrance, a multi-course meal … and the chance to meet celebrities — Sylvester Stallone and Fabio were there to welcome in 2017 — as well as the president himself. The 2017 event was a sellout, and one Mar-a-Lago member said this year’s party is nearly booked-up, too.”
-- New York golfers are avoiding Trump’s city-owned golf course in the Bronx, which was opened to great fanfare in 2015. Crain’s Aaron Elstein reports: “Rounds played this year at the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point were down 11% through mid-September[.] The decline is nearly five times larger than the national trend and considerably bigger than the 3.5% overall drop in traffic at golf courses in the city.”
SPEAK LOUDLY AND CARRY A SMALL STICK:
-- Trump threatened to cut off billions in American aid to countries who support a U.N. resolution today to condemn Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Carol Morello reports: “In a Cabinet meeting at the White House, Trump said he would be ‘watching those votes’ in the General Assembly when it meets in emergency session Thursday on the U.S. decision. ‘They take hundreds of millions of dollars … and then they vote against us,’ he said. ‘Well, we’ll be watching … Let them vote against us; we’ll save a lot. We don’t care. … But this isn’t like it used to be, where they could vote against you, and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they’re doing.” In conclusion, he asserted: “We’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer.” His statement came one day after U.N. Secretary Nikki Haley said “the US will be taking names” of countries that support the resolution.
“It is difficult to see how Mr. Trump could deliver on his threat to cut financial assistance, since it could involve cutting off aid to a number of strategic allies,” the New York Times notes. “The United States has given $77.4 billion in foreign aid to Egypt between 1948 and 2016, according to the Congressional Research Service, including about $1.3 billion in annual military aid since 1987.”
-- Top U.N. human rights official Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, an outspoken critic of the Trump administration, announced he won't seek a second term. The decision is unusual, as most U.N. officials serve as long as their mandate allows. The New York Times’s Somini Sengupta and Nick Cumming-Bruce report: “The decision by [al-Hussein] was conveyed in a short statement that was emailed to his staff … ‘To [serve a second term], in the current geopolitical context, might involve bending a knee in supplication; muting a statement of advocacy; lessening the independence and integrity of my voice — which is your voice,’ [al-Hussein wrote]. [He] has called out the Trump administration several times, most pointedly on the travel ban against citizens of Muslim-majority countries and after the demonstrations by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va.”
-- Trump signed an executive order to expand critical minerals production, saying it will end America’s “vulnerability” to other nations for largely imported materials, used to produce everything from smartphones to weaponry. Trump’s directive comes just one day after a U.S. Geological Survey concluded that 20 out of 23 critical minerals relied on by the United States are sourced from China. Juliet Eilperin reports: “[Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke], who has backed expanded mining production on federal land, has lobbied the White House to make the issue of critical minerals a top policy priority. … While the [U.S.] has significant deposits of most of the critical minerals it currently buys from overseas, market considerations largely drive mining. The United States was ranked as the world’s largest producer of such minerals until 1995, but since then, China has led the globe.”
-- A senior White House adviser at the Homeland Security Department, who leads a team tasked with enforcing Trump’s directives there, has repeatedly promoted far-right conspiracy theories on the radio. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski, Chris Massie and Nathan McDermott report: “A [review] of more than 40 hours of [Frank] Wuco's radio appearances shows he regularly promoted unfounded conspiracy theories . . . [including] claims that [Obama's] memoir was ghost written by former anti-Vietnam War radical Bill Ayers, claims that former CIA director John Brennan converted to Islam and claims Attorney General Eric Holder had been a member of the Black Panthers. KFile previously reported Wuco pushed false claims during radio appearances that Obama was not born in the US, made disparaging comments about the LGBT community, and lamented what he called the 'Zimbabwe-fication' of America."
-- Dean L. Winslow, a Trump nominee for assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and a retired Air Force colonel who is now a Stanford professor, penned an op-ed for The Post about why he withdrew his nomination after senators put it on indefinite by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Winslow said he “blurted out what was in my heart” after landing jet-lagged from England before testifying before that panel after the news of the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Tex. “I’d also like to . . . just say how insane it is that in the United States of America a civilian can go out and buy a semiautomatic weapon like an AR-15,” Winslow testified. He writes: “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) interrupted, warning this was not in my 'area of responsibility or expertise.' Soon after, my confirmation was put on hold.” See the video of the exchange below.
MEN BEHAVING BADLY:
-- Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) announced that he will officially resign on Jan. 2. He will be replaced by Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D) the following day. A spokesman said Franken is expected to deliver at least one more Senate floor speech before his resignation. (Elise Viebeck)
-- The New York Times said it has decided to not fire star reporter Glenn Thrush, but he won't cover the White House. Paul Farhi reports: “Following a lengthy internal investigation, the newspaper said Thursday that Thrush would be given a two-month suspension and then stripped of his prestigious beat . . . He will be reassigned once his suspension is up next month, Executive Editor Dean Baquet said in a statement. The remedy in his case suggests that employers … are attempting to grapple with a variety of factors in dealing with those who are accused of workplace misconduct.”
-- Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney filed a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics, alleging the organization sought to “buy her silence” through a confidential settlement agreement relating to her alleged abuse by longtime team physician Larry Nassar. Will Hobson reports: “The suit, filed in Los Angeles, also names Michigan State and the U.S. Olympic Committee as defendants, alleging they … failed to respond to warning signs, permitting Nassar to abuse Maroney and others. According to the lawsuit, Maroney and USA Gymnastics signed the agreement in December 2016, after Nassar had been arrested and incarcerated in Michigan, so the settlement did not leave further children at risk. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that USA Gymnastics agreed to pay Maroney $1.25 million, and that Gloria Allred, the well-known attorney and women’s rights advocate, negotiated the deal on Maroney’s behalf.”
-- Two women who settled with Bill O’Reilly over sexual harassment cases are joining a defamation lawsuit, claiming the former Fox News anchor and his network depicted them as liars, political operatives and extortionists. The New York Times’s Emily Steel reports: “The women are Andrea Mackris, a former producer on Mr. O’Reilly’s show . . . who sued him for sexual harassment in 2004, and Rebecca Gomez Diamond, a former host on Fox Business Network who reached a settlement with Mr. O’Reilly in 2011 . . . Both women had recorded conversations with Mr. O’Reilly, and he paid both settlements … They joined a lawsuit filed earlier this month by [former Fox News employee] Rachel Witlieb Bernstein.”
-- Jenna Portnoy takes a look at Dorena Bertussi, the first person to file a sexual harassment claim against a member of Congress and win. Bertussi worked for Democrat Jim Bates and here's one of her tales: “Once, when she picked him up at the airport, driving past L’Enfant Plaza, [Bates] vented to her about a young assistant, saying he 'wanted to push her against up the wall and hit her until blood trickles out her mouth,' she said. According to Bertussi, the next words out of his mouth were: 'So what would be the first thing I would see if I came over to your house? Would it be the bed?'" Bates denies misconduct, but said when reached now by telephone: “In retrospect, my take on all this is I was too casual or familiar in talking to my staff and should have been more professional,” he said. “I admit that I kidded and flirted [with others] and probably shouldn’t have, in retrospect. But I never sexually harassed anyone.”
-- “E! News” anchor Catt Sadler abruptly resigned from the network this week after learning that her male co-host made nearly double her salary — despite the fact the two started at the same time and performed essentially the same job. She explained her decision to leave in a blog post. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
BOTH PARTIES FACE AN IDENTITY CRISIS:
-- The Atlantic, “On the Front Lines of the GOP’s Civil War,” by Sam Tanenhaus: “Call them Republicans with a conscience, conservatives without a party, or simply, as most do, the Never Trumpers. Exhibit A is [David Frum], a former hardcore conservative and speechwriter for George W. Bush. … These days, however, Frum is better known as a heretic and outcast, primus inter pares of the Never Trumpers. Today, it is [this group who is] holding out against ‘forced collectivization’ — imposed by the leaders of their own party — and feel locked in an epochal struggle, with a great deal riding on the outcome. To them Trumpism is more than a freakish blight on the republic. It is a moral test. ‘We’ve seen a moment before when holders of property gambled that their best hope of retaining their property was to disenfranchise fellow citizens,’ Frum told me. ‘We’ve seen before when important parts of society put their faith in authoritarianism. Because Americans have emerged safely at the other end of some pretty scary pasts, they think no one has to do anything — ‘It’ll just happen automatically.'”
-- Politico Magazine, “What Will It Take To Beat Trump? The Case for a Generic Democrat,” by Bill Scher: “The Senate’s newest member did not embrace single-payer health care, free college or a $15 minimum wage. He did not swerve right on abortion and guns. In fact, he didn’t have any signature policy proposals at all. What [Doug] Jones did was take off the shelf the most pallid Democratic talking points … He was boring. He was safe. He was Mr. Generic Democrat. And it worked. That should make Democrats think twice about what they should be looking for in a 2020 presidential nominee. . . . Most of Democrats’ Wednesday-morning quarterbacking after last year’s election presumed that … [one] way or another, Democrats at least needed to be ‘bold.’ But the downside risk of boldness is polarization; what fires up one group can easily anger another. The decidedly not-bold Jones campaign pulled off a better trick: firing up the Democratic base while putting the Republican base to sleep. By being a Generic Democrat, Jones didn’t call much attention to himself and instead, let the harsh spotlight remain on Roy Moore’s pile of controversies.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
The optics of passing tax cuts and not reauthorizing a health-care program for children are bad:
The *good* news is that all those sick kids who also have pass-through LLC’s are going to see a very very sweet tax cut. https://t.co/PKPoLEqJ1h— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) December 20, 2017
Yet more bad optics:
Everyone’s in on the tax cut celebration, including accused sexual harasser Rep. Blake Farenthold, who’s flashing a thumb’s up from the steps of the White House South Portico.— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) December 20, 2017
Maybe this is a better look:
McConnell's office just released this pic of him giving Trump a Louisville Slugger in the Oval Office today: pic.twitter.com/R0kPelp9gO— Joe Sonka 😐 (@joesonka) December 20, 2017
Pic: Buses containing GOP Senators leave the Capitol for the WH tax reform victory event: pic.twitter.com/4xnrED4qxE— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) December 20, 2017
Some think the pope has an opinion on the tax bill:
The Pope is subtweeting Congress. https://t.co/BWwMkvaGMH— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) December 20, 2017
Heaven doesn’t value what you have, but what you give.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) December 20, 2017
Vice President Pence thanked President Trump for enduring the trying year that was 2017, hailing the “middle-class miracle” in the tax bill:
Good Lord, you need to watch this. After Ben Carson's Prayer, Mike Pence actually delivered a prayer of thanks to Trump. Must watch. pic.twitter.com/sAq9OQnQT9— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) December 20, 2017
Random House says its planning to move ahead with Maggie Haberman book on Trump, though “it will not be with Glenn Thrush attached.”— Michael Calderone (@mlcalderone) December 20, 2017
From the White House reporter for Breitbart:
Silly posturing from the NY Times - Why remove Glenn Thrush from the White House beat if you don’t think he committed fireable offenses?— Charlie Spiering (@charliespiering) December 20, 2017
Is Santa coming early for Ben Sasse's kids?
Actual call from one o my kids just now...— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) December 21, 2017
"Dad. I'm 14 now. And you've got to admit that I'm old enough to get a pet monkey now."
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- A joint ProPublica/New York Times investigation found that “dozens” of major companies, including Amazon, Verizon and Goldman Sachs, are using Facebook’s microtargeting tool to exclude older workers from job ads — a move experts say violates age discrimination laws. Julia Angwin, Noam Scheiber, and Ariana Tobin report: “The ability of advertisers to deliver their message to the precise audience most likely to respond is the cornerstone of Facebook’s business model. But using the system to expose job opportunities only to certain age groups has raised concerns about fairness to older workers. Several experts questioned whether the practice is in keeping with the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which prohibits bias against people 40 or older in hiring or employment. Many jurisdictions make it a crime to ‘aid’ or ‘abet’ age discrimination, a provision that could apply to companies like Facebook that distribute job ads. ‘It’s blatantly unlawful,’ said Debra Katz, a Washington employment lawyer who represents victims of discrimination.”
-- Clicker --> New York Times, “The Year in Pictures”: “Photographs hold the power to clarify in tumultuous times. See a selection of some of the most remarkable images from 2017.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“The city of Memphis sold two public parks containing Confederate monuments to a nonprofit Wednesday in a massive, months-in-the-planning operation to take the statues down overnight.” From The Commercial Appeal: “The City Council unanimously approved the sale of Health Science Park, home of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, and its easement on Fourth Bluff Park, home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, for $1,000 each to Memphis Greenspace Inc. … The sale — which is almost certain to result in a lawsuit from statue supporters — allows Greenspace to legally do what the city of Memphis cannot: Remove the statues from their visible perches in the parks, Chief Legal Officer Bruce McMullen said. He said they would be stored in an undisclosed location for security reasons. [Tennessee state Rep. Raumesh Akbari said she] can’t predict how the legislature will react to Memphis finding a way around state law. ‘I’m hoping that my colleagues in the state house respect the city and the decision it has made,’ Arkbari said. ‘Honestly, each city needs to be able to do what’s best for themselves.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Meryl Steep #SheKnew posters in L.A. allege Weinstein complicity,” from the New York Daily News: “A street artist is calling Meryl Streep on her bluff. Posters showing [the] actress standing with disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein have been popping up across Los Angeles, Twitter posts indicate. The artist, who has yet to be identified, placed a red banner with the words, ‘She knew,’ over Streep's eyes. The images began appearing [following] a Monday statement from the 68-year-old actress in which she claimed Weinstein ‘made sure’ she didn't know about his perverted antics. She went on to claim that he used his association to her ‘to lure young, aspiring women into circumstances where they would be hurt.’ Streep alleged that she issued the statement in response to a since-deleted tweet from Rose McGowan, who accused Weinstein of raping her early in her career.”
-- Trump has no public events scheduled.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Trump joked that the shooting that nearly killed Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was “a hell of a way to lose weight” during his victory lap on the tax package: “He's braver than all of us,” Trump said. “He had a rougher year than most of us, but it's a hell of a way to lose weight, Steve.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Sunny today but get out your winter coats for Christmas Day. “The sun may be as low as it gets in the sky today but at least it is shining brightly. In contrast, clouds and showers dominate the weekend,” reports the Capital Weather Gang. “Southerly breezes take away the chill and 60s are on the table Saturday. The next Arctic surge arrives promptly Christmas morning and, while not likely to be a white one, a few snowflakes could fly by to brighten the mood.”
-- The Nationals signed Matt Adams to a one-year contract worth $4 million, effectively replacing their former backup first baseman, Adam Lind, who became a free agent in November. (Jorge Castillo)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Seth Meyers took “a closer look” at the tax bill on his show:
Samantha Bee mocked “Fox and Friends” in her opening monologue last night:
Six ordinary heroes of 2017:
Six people who “won the Internet” this year: