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Thanksgiving stuffing (or dressing) is the dish that best reflects America's diversity

By Tim Carman
Thanksgiving stuffing (or dressing) is the dish that best reflects America's diversity
Charleston Rice Dressing. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post.

Despite its reputation, Thanksgiving dinner is not a one-size-fits-all meal, a table set in brown from coast to coast. America is too vast, too inventive and too flush with immigrants from around the globe to subscribe to a single, unified vision of the holiday feast.

The evidence is right on your table: You could argue that no other Thanksgiving staple better reflects the nation's diversity than the side dish known as stuffing. Variations abound, and they venture well beyond the choice of breads - white, corn or Pepperidge Farm - and even beyond such decisions as whether to add oysters or giblets. Americans can't even agree on a name or preparation: Some call it stuffing and bake it inside the turkey (except when they don't). Others call it dressing and bake it in a casserole (except when they don't).

Then there are those who call it filling, as in "potato filling," a Thanksgiving requirement for just about everyone in Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Sally Churgai grew up on a small farm in Howard County, Maryland, but when she married Jim Churgai in 1972, she was introduced to potato filling via her husband's maternal family. They're Pennsylvania Dutch, the often-misleading term for the German immigrants who started arriving in the state in the late 18th century, their diet rich in potatoes. Pennsylvania Dutch stuffing naturally includes spuds, often mixed with bread, butter, celery and eggs for a hearty, if plain, side.

"I thought it was a little bland," Churgai remembers about her first taste. But over time, and with a little help from added seasonings and herbs, potato filling became a staple of Churgai's own Thanksgiving feast, even after she and her husband ended their marriage of more than 20 years.

"Without it, there was no Thanksgiving," Churgai says from her home in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. "It's as important as the turkey."

Few stuffings/dressings are as identifiable with a region and culture as potato filling is with the Pennsylvania Dutch. But regional stuffings do exist, even if family migrations, food media and other factors have conspired to erase the boundaries that once limited these dishes to certain geographic areas. In New England, cooks rely on Bell's Seasoning to flavor their stuffing. In Minnesota, they prepare a stuffing with wild rice, the aquatic grass that grows abundantly in the state. And in New Mexico, they make a corn bread stuffing with Hatch chiles.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that cooks in these regions sometimes make these stuffings. It's almost impossible to generalize about stuffing anymore.

In October, I polled friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter to find the answers to two basic questions: Where did you grow up, and what kind of stuffing was on your Thanksgiving table? More than 150 people responded - hardly the sample size pollsters want when surveying the United States, but the results, plotted on Google Maps, revealed a few regional and cultural trends.

Some were obvious: Cajun-style dressings in Louisiana and Texas, and Italian-style stuffings in New York and New Jersey, where one Newark family has enjoyed a Thanksgiving stuffing made with corn bread, hot and sweet Italian sausages and Parmesan. But there were also vestiges of once-proud Thanksgiving traditions, like the chestnut stuffings that used to grace holiday tables across the eastern states before a fungus nearly wiped out the American chestnut tree in the early 20th century. You can still find families from Connecticut to North Carolina clinging to their chestnut stuffing, thanks to farmers growing trees now resistant to the chestnut blight that was accidentally introduced from Japan.

"I do distinctly remember my grandfather getting aggravated at trying to handle the hot chestnuts," recalled Francine Cohen in a Facebook remembrance of the stuffings of her Mid-Atlantic youth. "We fondly referred to the whole process of making stuffing as the 'annual yelling at the chestnuts.' "

But other stuffings and dressings have migrated far from the regions associated with them. Corn-bread-based stuffings are no longer limited to the South, where the preferred term is "dressing," a fact substantiated by Google Correlate, which shows that far more Southern states use the search term "Thanksgiving dressing recipe." People told me that their families made corn bread stuffing in Missouri, Washington state and Pennsylvania.

Likewise, oyster stuffing can be found in homes far from such major bodies of water as the Gulf of Mexico or the Chesapeake Bay. You'll find it in Michigan and Indiana, states not known for their bivalve aquaculture. Oyster stuffing in the Midwest may be just another sign of America's prowess at moving highly perishable, and potentially dangerous, products across great distances. But there's something else at play here, too.

Michael Stern, one-half of the Roadfood duo that has roamed the United States for decades in search of local specialties, equates the collapsing boundaries around the regional stuffings with the blurred lines in American barbecue. The wealth of regional recipes at our fingertips - on personal blogs, online magazines, Pinterest, YouTube videos, etc. - has made Americans "more aware and interested in what people are cooking in other parts of the country," he says.

At the same time, Stern doesn't view this streak of Thanksgiving experimentalism as the death of regional stuffings. He says it's more of an expansion.

"There might be an alternative [stuffing] for the more adventurous, but God forbid if you serve only the alternative," Stern says. "It's important for people to recognize their traditions. People don't want to throw away what they've always done in the past."

Perhaps more than any other dish, stuffing underscores Thanksgiving's complicated relationship with tradition. As children, we were often told that the holiday's central feast - a bronzed turkey with all the trimmings - could trace its origins back to 1621, when colonists and Wampanoag people first gathered around the table. Only later did we learn that the autumnal meal was largely cobbled together and promoted by other folks, including a 19th-century writer and editor who pushed to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Bread stuffing probably never appeared at the "first Thanksgiving," though cooks at the time probably stuffed fowl with nuts, oats, onions and herbs. More than 200 years later, in 1829, New England author and abolitionist Lydia Maria Child published "The Frugal Housewife," one of the first American cookbooks to target households without servants. In her section on turkey, Child suggested a stuffing of either pounded crackers or crumbled bread, with salt pork and sage (or sweet marjoram), perhaps bound with an egg to make the dish easier to cut.

"But [it] is not worth while when eggs are dear," Child noted.

Child's approach, emphasizing practicality and flexibility, has basically served as a template for all stuffings since. Stuffings based on local ingredients. Stuffings based on ingredients familiar to immigrants looking to assimilate into American culture. (Think Laotian sticky rice stuffing with chestnuts or Greek gemista stuffing with rice and giblets.)

"I talked to some Asian-American friends and asked them what they cooked for Thanksgiving stuffing," says author Diane Morgan, who has written several holiday cookbooks, including "The New Thanksgiving Table." "They were mostly doing some variation of rice with Chinese sausage. So it wasn't straying too far from their foods and incorporating them into a Thanksgiving meal."

Corporate America would eventually worm its way into the Thanksgiving dinner, offering the ease of convenience, that mid-20th-century buzzword that would give rise to stuffing products such as Pepperidge Farm and Stove Top, among others. Numerous people in my survey said that they grew up on stuffing made with Pepperidge Farm mixes.

Each stuffing is American in its own, sometimes complicated, way. But could there be a stuffing more American than the one White Castle unleashed on the country in 1991, purportedly a creation of a company employee who adapted her grandmother's recipe? It's a stuffing built with hamburgers, from a fast-food chain that debuted in the American heartland.

Many years ago, Therese Lewis, a culinary manager for Dierbergs Markets in the St. Louis area, served the White Castle dressing to her family on a dare. Personally, Lewis has a soft spot for White Castle. She grew up with its juicy sliders, steam-grilled over chopped onions. But she wasn't sure how those fast-food flavors would translate to the Thanksgiving table. So she didn't tell her kids what was in the stuffing.

"They loved it!" Lewis recalls. So much that she now must serve the White Castle side dish every year, her own Midwestern spin on the ever-evolving Thanksgiving stuffing.

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Charleston Rice Dressing

6 to 8 servings

Large silver rice spoons are a regular implement in South Carolina, used to spoon this dressing out of fowl, particularly turkey.

MAKE AHEAD: The dressing can be refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.

Adapted from "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking," by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart (Gibbs Smith, 2012).

Ingredients

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

8 ounces chicken livers (may substitute giblets and liver from 1 turkey), cleaned

Kosher salt

1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)

2 or 3 large ribs celery (1 cup)

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

6 cups steamed white rice

1 cup no-salt-added turkey stock or low-sodium chicken broth, or more as needed

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup packed chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme and sage

Steps

Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Stir in the giblets and liver and season with a hefty pinch of salt; cook for about 15 minutes, until golden brown, stirring a few times. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a plate.

Add the onion and celery to the pan; cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic (to taste) and cook for 1 minute, or until just fragrant.

Meanwhile, coarsely chop the chicken livers.

Stir the rice into the pan, adding stock or broth, as needed, to create a moist mixture, then add meat, pecans and herbs, stirring to incorporate.

Serve warm, as is, or cool completely for use as a stuffing or dressing.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 8): 350 calories, 10 g protein, 38 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 130 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar

- - -

Grandma Jerry's Stuffing

12 to 16 servings

This is a generous, eggless rendition that earns its New Jersey chops by using two kinds of Italian sausage and topping of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The family recipe comes by way of descendant David Smelson and is named for Grandma Jerry, whose name was Violet. She was a Polish-Catholic immigrant who married a Jewish-Eastern European immigrant named James Smelson. They both grew up in Newark.

MAKE AHEAD: The stuffing mixture, minus its broth, can be assembled and refrigerated a day in advance. The baked stuffing can be reheated, covered, in a 300-degree oven until warmed through.

Adapted from food blogger David Smelson.

Ingredients

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter

2 large yellow onions, cut into small dice (about 3 cups)

1 clove garlic, minced

2 ribs celery, thinly sliced

1 pound sweet Italian bulk sausage

1 pound hot Italian bulk sausage

10 large basil leaves, rolled and cut into thin ribbons (3 tablespoons chiffonade; may substitute 1 tablespoon dried basil)

10 to 12 fresh sage leaves, rolled and cut into thin ribbons (3 tablespoons chiffonade; may substitute 1 tablespoon dried sage)

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (may substitute 1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves)

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

28 ounces (2 bags) dried corn bread stuffing cubes, preferably unseasoned

2 cups homemade chicken broth or no-salt-added dark/rich chicken broth, or more as needed

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Steps

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease 2 or 3 large baking dishes or casseroles.

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the onions, garlic and celery. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, adding another 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter, as needed, until the onions and celery have become translucent. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.

Add the two kinds of sausage in pinches to the pan; cook 12 to 15 minutes, until it loses its raw look, breaking it up into smaller pieces as it cooks. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to the mixing bowl. Discard the rendered fat in the pan.

Add the herbs, lemon zest and corn bread cubes to the bowl, stirring to incorporate. Gradually pour in the stock or broth, stirring to distribute it evenly.

Divide the stuffing mixture among the casserole or baking dishes; you should have enough to also put some inside a turkey, if desired.

Melt the remaining butter, then use it all to drizzle over the stuffing. Scatter the cheese on top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake (middle rack) for 30 minutes, then uncover and check for dryness; add more stock or broth if the stuffing seems dry, then cover and bake a bit longer. If it seems too wet, leave it uncovered and bake for another 15 minutes.

Serve warm.

Nutrition | Per serving: 410 calories, 12 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 25 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 970 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

- - -

Nana's Andouille and Corn Bread Dressing

8 to 10 servings

Reader Kate Harrington of San Antonio says this side has been on the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas in her family for at least three generations.

MAKE AHEAD: The giblets can be cooked, cooled and refrigerated a day or two in advance. The dressing can be assembled, without the broth, and refrigerated a day in advance.

From a recipe by her grandmother Norma Harrington, who lived in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Ingredients

4 cups water, or more as needed

1 packet turkey giblets (from a whole turkey); can substitute 6 ounces cleaned chicken livers

Two 8.5-ounce packages Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix

2 large eggs

2/3 cup whole or low-fat milk

1/4 cup sugar

Canola oil, as needed

8 ounces cooked/cured (pork) andouille sausage, chopped

1 large white onion, diced

1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and diced

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/4 packed cup chopped parsley

Leaves from 1 sprig fresh rosemary or thyme

2 teaspoons Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning or other Cajun seasoning blend

Steps

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the giblets; once the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to medium/medium-low (so it is barely bubbling) and cook for 1 hour, adding water as needed. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the giblets to a plate to cool, and reserve the cooking liquid.

Cut the cooled giblets into small pieces.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or casserole with tall sides. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the Jiffy mixes, eggs, milk and sugar in a mixing bowl, to form a lumpy batter. Pour into the baking dish; bake (middle rack) for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool.

Meanwhile, use enough canola oil to coat the bottom and sides of a large cast-iron skillet, then place over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the andouille sausage; cook, stirring often, until it has all browned nicely. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium; stir in the onion, green bell pepper and celery so that they're evenly coated. Cook until the onions are translucent but have not picked up any color, adding oil as needed to prevent sticking. Remove from the heat.

Crumble the cooled corn bread into a large mixing bowl, then stir in the chopped giblets, sausage, onion mixture, parsley and rosemary or thyme; toss well, then add the Cajun seasoning blend and stir to incorporate.

Press the dressing mixture into the baking dish so that it is firmly packed, then pour the giblet cooking liquid evenly over the top. You may not use all the liquid; but it should be at the point where it is no longer being absorbed. Bake (middle rack) for 30 to 40 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and still moist inside. Cool slightly before serving.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 10): 320 calories, 11 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 880 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 16 g sugar

- - -

Pennsylvania Dutch-Style Potato Filling

10 servings

A staple of Pennsylvania Dutch country, potato filling is a side dish built with butter - and more butter. Consider yourself warned. The dish is also something of a carb hog, injecting the autumnal flavors of traditional Thanksgiving stuffing into mashed potatoes. As such, you likely won't need another potato dish on the holiday table, unless it's the sweet variety.

MAKE AHEAD: The filling can be assembled and refrigerated a day in advance.

Adapted from recipes by Sally Churgai of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and Bonnie Boyer from CookingChannel.com.

Ingredients

20 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

4 ribs celery (trimmed), diced

1 medium onion, diced

5 slices white bread, cut into 1/2-inch squares (crusts on)

3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1/4 cup regular or low-fat milk

1 large egg

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Steps

Melt 12 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in the celery and onion; cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned at the edges.

Add the bread pieces; cook for about 10 minutes, stirring gently, until they absorb the butter in the pan and their crusts have slightly crisped. Be careful not to burn the onion, which will be somewhat caramelized and turn a deeper shade of brown. Let cool.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease a 3-quart baking dish or casserole.

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water by an inch or two. Add 1/2 teaspoon of the salt to the water; bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium; cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until tender, then drain and return them to the pot. Mash them gently, then immediately fold in the milk, egg, the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter and a teaspoon of salt, stirring until the butter has melted.

Add the bread mixture to the pot, along with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and stir until incorporated. Spoon the mixture into the baking dish or casserole; bake (middle rack) for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the edges start to brown and pull away from the sides of the dish.

Serve hot.

Nutrition | Per serving: 380 calories, 5 g protein, 37 g carbohydrates, 24 g fat, 15 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 360 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

- - -

West Coast Oyster Dressing

12 to 16 servings

This recipe typically uses Olympia oysters from the southern Puget Sound, which are said to have a sweet, metallic, celery-salt flavor. If they aren't available, ask your fishmonger for an oyster with a similar flavor profile.

MAKE AHEAD: The sourdough bread cubes can be dried in the oven several days in advance and stored in an airtight container. The dressing's vegetables can be cooked and refrigerated a day in advance. The dressing is best served the same day it's made.

Adapted from a recipe by Santa Barbara, California, resident Carol Dickey.

Ingredients

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish

2 medium onions, coarsely chopped

3 ribs celery, cut into small dice

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed, as needed

1 cup homemade or low-sodium chicken broth or turkey stock, plus more as needed

1-pound loaf sourdough bread, cut into cubes and dried in the oven (see NOTE)

1 tablespoon poultry seasoning blend

2 cups shucked small West Coast oysters, coarsely chopped, plus their liquor (see headnote)

Steps

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use some butter to generously grease a large baking dish or casserole.

Melt the 8 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onions and celery. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, combine the mushrooms and broth in a separate saute pan over medium heat. Cook 10 minutes until tender and most of the liquids in the pan have evaporated.

Place the dried sourdough bread cubes in a large mixing bowl. Add the onion mixture, the mushrooms, the poultry seasoning blend; toss to incorporate, then add the oysters and their liquor and toss so that the dressing is evenly moistened. Add more broth, as needed. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Pack the dressing into the baking dish or casserole. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake (middle rack) for about 45 minutes, then uncover and bake for about 15 minutes, or until nicely browned on top.

Serve warm.

NOTE: Spread the bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 10 minutes until they are crisped but not browned. Cool completely.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 16): 160 calories, 7 g protein, 18 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 210 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar

- - -

White Castle Dressing

8 to 12 servings

Using the square sliders created by this Midwestern chain restaurant makes sense as the base of a quick Thanksgiving side: They bring the onion, meat and bread to this basic recipe, which is said to have been created by a White Castle employee who "enhanced her grandmother's family stuffing recipe with a sack of those hamburgers."

These days, you don't need to find one of the company's restaurants to acquire the hamburgers; they are sold in the frozen section of supermarkets and some drug stores.

MAKE AHEAD: The dressing can be assembled and refrigerated (unbaked) a day in advance.

From a recipe provided by Marianne Moore, chef and creative culinary director of Dierbergs School of Cooking in Chesterfield, Missouri, based on the 1991 White Castle stuffing recipe.

Ingredients

12 White Castle Hamburgers (not cheeseburgers; see headnote)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 ribs celery stalks, chopped (about 1 cup)

6 fresh sage leaves, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth or turkey stock

Steps

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease a 3-quart casserole.

Remove pickles from the burgers, as needed, then cut the burgers into chunks and place in a mixing bowl.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the garlic and cook for about 20 seconds, until fragrant, then stir in the celery and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Remove from the heat, and add the sage, thyme and pepper, stirring to incorporate.

Transfer to the mixing bowl, add 1/2 cup of the broth or stock and stir until evenly moistened; add some or all the remaining broth or stock, as needed. Taste and adjust the pepper, as needed.

Bake (middle rack) for 30 to 40 minutes, until crisped on top. Serve warm.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 12): 160 calories, 7 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 190 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar

These are the melting glaciers that might someday drown your city, according to NASA

By Chris Mooney
These are the melting glaciers that might someday drown your city, according to NASA
This NASA Earth Observatory image obtained July 27, 2012, shows a massive ice island as it broke free of the Petermann Glacier in northwestern Greenland. MUST CREDIT: Handout photo by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon/NASA Earth Observatory

New York City has plenty to worry about from sea level rise. But according to a new study by NASA researchers, it should worry specifically about two major glacier systems in Greenland's northeast and northwest - but not so much about other parts of the vast northern ice sheet.

The research draws on a curious and counterintuitive insight that sea level researchers have emphasized in recent years: As ocean levels rise around the globe, they will not do so evenly. Rather, because of the enormous scale of the ice masses that are melting and feeding the oceans, there will be gravitational effects and even subtle effects on the crust and rotation of the Earth. This, in turn, will leave behind a particular "fingerprint" of sea level rise, depending on when and precisely which parts of Greenland or Antarctica collapse.

Now, Eric Larour, Erik Ivins and Surendra Adhikari of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have teased out one fascinating implication of this finding: Different cities should fear the collapse of different large glaciers.

"It tells you what is the rate of increase of sea level in that city with respect to the rate of change of ice masses everywhere in the world," Larour said of the new tool his team created.

The research was published in Science Advances, accompanied by an online feature that allows you to choose from among 293 coastal cities and see how certain ice masses could affect them if the ice enters the ocean. The scientists also released a video that captures some of how it works.

The upshot is that New York needs to worry about certain parts of Greenland collapsing, but not so much others. Sydney, however, needs to worry about the loss of particular sectors of Antarctica - the ones farther away from it - and not so much about the ones nearer. And so on.

This is the case because sea level actually decreases near a large ice body that loses mass, because that mass no longer exerts the same gravitational pull on the ocean, which accordingly shifts farther away. This means that from a sea level rise perspective, one of the safest things is to live close to a large ice mass that is melting.

"If you are close enough, then the effect of ice loss will be a sea level drop, not sea level rise," said Adhikari. The effect is immediate across the globe.

Indeed, the research shows that for cities like Oslo and Reykjavik, which are close to Greenland, a collapse of many of the ice sheet's key sectors would lower, not raise, the local sea level. (These places have more to fear from ice loss in Antarctica, even though it is much farther away.)

The risk is mainly from the northern parts of Greenland and especially from the ice sheet's northeast, according to research.

This is revealing because while Greenland has hundreds of glaciers, three in particular are known to pose the greatest sea level risk because of their size and, if they collapse, how they could allow the ocean to reach deep into the remaining ice sheet, continually driving more ice loss. The three most threatening by far are Jakobshavn glacier on Greenland's central western coast, Petermann glacier in its far northwest and Zachariae glacier in the far northeast. Zachariae is partof a massive feature known as the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream, which reaches all the way to the center of the ice sheet and through which fully 12 percent of Greenland's total ice flows.

The new research shows that Petermann, and especially the northeast ice stream, are a far bigger threat to New York than Jakobshavn is.

In a high-end global warming scenario run out for 200 years, the study reported, Petermann glacier would cause 3.23 inches of globally averaged sea level rise, the northeast ice stream would cause 4.17 inches, and Jakobshavn would cause 1.73 inches. Of this total, New York would see two inches of rise from Petermann, 2.83 inches from the Northeast ice stream and just 0.6 inches from Jakobshavn.

This all really matters because in the real world, glaciers are melting at very different rates. Jakobshavn is the biggest ice loser from Greenland and is beating a very rapid retreat at the moment. Zachariae is starting to lose ice and looking increasingly worrisome, but still nothing like Jakobshavn. Petermann is holding up the best, for now, though it has lost large parts of the floating ice shelf that stabilizes it and holds it in place.

You will note that in no case does New York get the full effect of ice loss from any of these parts of Greenland - it's still far too close to the ice sheet. But Miami gets 95 percent of the globe's total sea level rise from the northeast ice stream, while distant Rio de Janeiro gets 124 percent, or over five inches in the scenario above.

The same goes for Antarctica - its melting, too, will have differential effects around the world. And that matters even more because the ice masses that could be lost are considerably larger than in Greenland. Antarctica, like Greenland, is melting at different rates. Substantialice loss is already happening in west Antarctica and in the Antarctic peninsula. Meanwhile, although scientists are watching the far larger eastern Antarctica carefully, so far it's not contributing nearly as much to sea level rise.

Farther away - like, say, New York - Antarctic loss is a big deal. Research has shown that if west Antarctica collapses, the U.S. East Coast would see morethan the average global sea level rise.

The current research does not take into account all aspects of sea level rise. Shifting ocean currents can redistribute the mass of the oceans and change sea level, for instance, and as global warming progresses, it causes seawater to expand, and thus a steady rise in seas.

Overall, though, the new study underscores a common theme of recent climate developments: We are now altering the Earth on such a massive scale that it puts us at the mercy of fundamental laws of physics as they mete out the consequences.

She led Trump to Christ: The rise of the televangelist who advises the White House

By Julia Duin
She led Trump to Christ: The rise of the televangelist who advises the White House
Paula White gives a sermon before the congregation at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md. Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer, told me by email:

It was an early afternoon in late July, and Paula White was holding court before an audience of about 25 Southern Baptist ministers in an ornate diplomatic reception room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The televangelist was recounting one of her favorite stories - about when Donald Trump reached out to her in 2011 for guidance on a possible White House run. "Would you bring some people around me to pray?" she said he asked her. "I really want to hear from God."

White recalled that she and another pastor gathered about 30 ministers from different evangelical Christian traditions at Trump Tower in Manhattan. After the prayer session, when Trump asked her what she thought, she responded: "I don't feel it's the right timing."

He listened, she continued, and the two talked and prayed about the matter over the next four years. When White again gathered religious leaders at Trump Tower in September 2015, she backed the decision he'd already made to run. Videos on YouTube of that event show her standing on his right, head down, laying hands on him as she prayed.

So here she was in the summer of 2017 at the head of a long table in the Executive Office Building, a huge French-Empire structure just steps from the White House, addressing a group of religious leaders who had been invited to Washington by the president's evangelical advisory council. With her blond hair, scarlet Oscar de la Renta sheath dress and matching patent leather stilettos, she was a bright bird among the forest of dark-suited clergymen - and, she made it clear, the one with the access to Trump. "The president says hello," she told them. "I was with him first thing this morning."

Because of White, evangelicals have "an unprecedented opportunity to have our voice and say heard" in the Oval Office, Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, informed the assembled pastors. "God has placed Paula in a unique place for such a time as this."

Not all Christians, including evangelicals, are fans of the wealthy, thrice-married White, who has long been associated with the prosperity gospel, a set of beliefs that says God will reward faith, and very generous giving, with financial blessings. Detractors point to a congressional investigation of her former church's finances and accusations that she has taken advantage of her mostly African American parishioners through her fundraising. Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore has called her a "charlatan," conservative Christian writer Erick Erickson has said she's a "Trinity-denying heretic," and Christian rapper Shai Linne named her a "false teacher" in one of his songs.

But since the election, White's star has soared. She offered a prayer at Trump's inauguration (becoming the first clergywoman in history in such a role). She sat by the president at a private dinner for evangelical leaders on the eve of the National Day of Prayer. She has hovered close by during prayer sessions in the Oval Office. She was present when Trump met with advisers to discuss the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, she told me, she has turned many of her duties as a pastor of a large church in Apopka, Florida, over to associates as she jets to the White House an average of once a week. (The Trump White House does not release visitor logs, so it's difficult to confirm how often White is there.)

---

White has no title and no official position at the White House but plays several roles. After helping to put together an evangelical council for Trump during the campaign, she is now, she explains to me, the convener and de facto head of a group of about 35 evangelical pastors, activists and heads of Christian organizations who advise Trump. (The White House would not release a list of members, but other names associated with this group include Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Billy Graham's son Franklin Graham, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., conservative political activist Ralph Reed and Dallas-based pastor Robert Jeffress.) She also acts as pastor to the president. And in the words of Johnnie Moore, the evangelical advisory council's unofficial spokesman and White's publicist, she serves as "part life coach, part pastor" for White House staff.

It isn't easy to discern how much influence White has with the president. Michael D'Antonio, author of the 2015 biography "The Truth About Trump," says he had never heard of White before the election. "White is deemed by many to be a deceptive poseur, who is long on self-promotion and short on substance," he said in an email. (White, in response, said she has never encountered D'Antonio. "And clearly," she emailed me, "he hasn't a clue about what he's talking about.")

Others say White has played a significant role in Trump's life. Last June, Dobson identified her as someone who had known Trump for years and "personally led him to Christ." Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer, told me by email: "She's very influential. She has been close to Trump and the family for many years." Trump's son Eric sent me this statement: "Paula is a terrific woman and a wonderful friend to our entire family. We are very grateful for her support and guidance. Faith is so important and Pastor White continues to be an inspiration to all those who know her."

White seldom grants interviews, but she recently spoke to me on several occasions and allowed me to shadow her during a visit to Washington - a visit that included meetings with fellow evangelists and White House staffers, a prayer gathering and a Journey concert. (Her husband, Jonathan Cain, is the band's keyboardist. Since her 2014 marriage, she has segued into calling herself Paula White-Cain on social media but hangs on to Paula White as her brand for professional reasons.) We also met two months later in Nashville, Tennessee, where she spoke to journalists at a Religion News Association conference.

Some details of the friendship between Trump and White have to be taken as a matter of faith, because the White House turned down my request to interview the president. But when I emailed the claims White made in this article about Trump, an official responded that while the assertions hadn't been fact-checked, "None of the below jumps out as being inaccurate." When asked for a comment on White, Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, responded: "Reverend Paula White has been a friend and faith leader to the President for many years. Her support is a tremendous asset for which the President is grateful."

Trump is not an active member of any church, has publicly said he doesn't need to ask God for forgiveness, and infamously bragged about sexually assaulting women. But bring up those issues with White, and she responds with the story of Jesus speaking with an adulterous Samaritan woman at a well. "He didn't lord it over her but sat with her," she says. "He gets down in the dirty places of life. Does that make Jesus complicit with an adulteress? No. Because you stand with people doesn't mean you're complicit with them." Later she tells me, "I don't give up on people. I don't have a dimmer switch. It's who I am. Until I am kicked out, I will be with you. I don't abandon people. I just don't."

---

How did a onetime "messed-up Mississippi girl" become a spiritual counselor to the president? White often points to her tumultuous childhood as a source of her grit. Now 51, she was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Donald and Janelle Furr. Her father committed suicide when she was 5, and her mother scraped together a living for Paula and her half brother Mark until she remarried.

White's mother - now 76 and named Janelle Loar - says her daughter was energetic and outgoing from the beginning. "She was born breech and she hasn't slowed down since," Loar told me. "She interacted with everyone she came across. She was a sweet kid, a very good student." Another element of White's personality showed up in childhood as well: "She was very tenacious in whatever she decided to do. In gymnastics, there was a certain flip she couldn't do, but she wouldn't give up. She never gives up."

White says she was molested from age 6 to 13 by a string of caregivers, relatives and neighbors, which contributed to her becoming a promiscuous and bulimic teenager. Her mother says she was unaware of the abuse at the time. "I only found out when she opened up and wrote about it," Loar says. "It shocked me, and it was a horrifying thing to hear."

After her mother remarried, the family moved to Maryland, where Paula graduated from Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, Maryland, in 1984. She became a born-again Christian that same year. After getting pregnant the following February, White married the father, a local musician named Dean Knight, and their son was born in November 1985.

"She was very attractive, which was the first thing that caught my eye," recalls Knight, 52, who owns a janitorial service near Frederick, Maryland, and is the lead vocalist in a family country-rock band called the Knight Brothers. "Her hair color was different - she was a brunette - but she was always beautiful. And she was a little wild. We were a little crazy in our youth."

White attended a Bible school at the Pentecostal-oriented National Church of God in Fort Washington, Maryland. Though she did not graduate, she was nevertheless ordained as a nondenominational minister by the church's leader, the late Rev. T.L. Lowery. While doing inner-city ministry and working with D.C. homeless advocate Mitch Snyder, she became interested in serving those communities. She met a lot of black preachers, and, according to her son, Bradley Knight, she began to pick up their vocabulary and cadence. "The black community told her, 'You're a white girl who preaches black,' " he says.

Meanwhile, in 1987, Dean Knight recalls, "I was in a head-on collision. It ripped me apart and it really put a damper on a lot of things. It was after that that things started falling apart" in their marriage.

Paula was attending Damascus Church of God in Maryland - part of the same denomination as the National Church of God - where she met Randy White, the associate pastor, who was married with three children. The two divorced their spouses in 1989 and married each other a year later, leaving the Washington area for his new job as a youth minister in Tampa.

The Whites established their own congregation in 1991, which would later become Without Walls International Church. Over the next decade, Paula blossomed as a pastor. T.D. Jakes, a televangelist and megachurch pastor in Dallas, became a mentor, giving White name recognition among his huge, largely black fan base. And the Whites began broadcasting their message on a regional Christian television network that reached listeners across Florida - including a restless business tycoon at Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach.

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White thinks it was late 2001 or early 2002 when Donald Trump called. "You're fantastic; you've got the 'it' factor," she says he told her.

"Well, that's God's presence," she responded. He repeated almost verbatim some of her sermons back to her, then confided that he often watched not only Billy Graham, but evangelists like Jimmy Swaggart and songwriter Bill Gaither on Christian TV.

This guy is hungry for God, she thought. As they talked further, she learned that he had attended church as a youth and been confirmed in the Presbyterian Church - so he had some of the basics of the faith. He seemed curious about how her pragmatic, businesslike take on religion could relate to his life. "I was talking about vision being a spiritual and mental picture of your future that is forceful enough to mold your present," she says.

Meanwhile, she had ambitions of her own. "I felt the Lord said to me to go on [national] TV," she says. In late 2001, she signed a $1.5 million contract with Black Entertainment Television for a show called "Paula White Today." She was a hit, tackling tough issues, such as family problems, money and loneliness, Oprah-style. "She was honest about her shortcomings," wrote Phillip Luke Sinitiere, whose 2009 book, "Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace," has a chapter on White. "Her message infused an emphasis on God's transforming power with the raw and honest faith of postmodern confessional culture."

White says it was around this point that she began to preach prosperity theology. Years later, she would disavow some aspects of that belief system and acknowledge "God's presence and blessing in suffering as much as in times of prosperity." But at the time, she reasoned that the prosperity gospel's emphasis on giving was the only way an evangelist could get on television and stay there. "Ministry takes money, and you have to raise the funds," she says.

She also diversified, getting into life coaching and motivational speaking along with women's wellness retreats, ministry to icons such as pop star Michael Jackson and baseball great Darryl Strawberry, and a spate of self-help books ("He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: What Every Woman Needs to Know About Unconditional Love but Is Afraid to Feel"; "Daily Treasures: Words of Wisdom for the Power-Filled Life")."The theme of my life is overcoming," she says. "It is my personal mantra and what I help other people do."

Her message attracted millions of watchers. "You know you're on to something new and significant when the most popular woman preacher on the Black Entertainment Network is a white woman," Ebony magazine reported in 2004, quoting one of her admirers. Her church, Without Walls, zoomed past 20,000 in attendance and attracted a mix of black, Asian and Latino attendees rarely seen in a congregation headed by a white couple.

"Paula White is an incredible trailblazer," says Clemson University political science professor Laura Olson. "Like it or not, she is extraordinary for what she has accomplished. She's willing to be feminine, to be the wife, to take direction from her husband in certain areas, but then she's leading a congregation - and not just a congregation of white people but of African Americans. How many white women do that?"

---

White's success drew Trump to her as well. "Are you ever up in New York?" he asked her during one of their subsequent calls. "Well, I am sometimes," she responded, thinking of a Bible study she was leading for the New York Yankees at the time. "The Apprentice," a reality show produced by and starring Trump, had started in early 2004, and she says he wanted her to be on the set, especially during the first season, for informal Bible studies or prayer for whoever wanted it.

A quick survey of more than a dozen "Apprentice" alumni didn't unearth anyone who recalled her presence during the seasons they were with the show. But White says she remembers specific people who asked for her books and prayers. "I went to different episodes, different tapings, and I was at the finales for one or two of the shows," she says. "There were people I began to meet with, and there was a lot of prayer for a lot of people."

Including Trump. During one of their early New York encounters, "I walked in and said, 'I don't want your money, I don't want your fame, I want your soul,' " she remembers. "He just looked at me." The two clicked, and somewhere along the line, White apparently got her wish, though she is reluctant to offer further details. "Yes, there was an absolute moment that he received Jesus as Lord and Savior," she says. "I have led many high-profile people to the Lord."

White was a rarity in Trump's life: someone who was almost as famous and well-off as he was, who didn't need his influence or power. She invited him to appear on her show in 2006. And she bought a $3.5 million condo in Trump Tower - with money from her businesses, she says, not the church.

But her marriage and her empire were crumbling. By 2003, the Whites had begun marital counseling; their marriage was further strained by the terminal illness of one of Randy's daughters and Paula's son's involvement with drugs. The Whites announced the end of their marriage in August 2007. The divorce was complicated by their extensive financial assets - a church that was bringing in $40 million a year, plus proceeds from the couple's many business ventures. Meanwhile, the Whites' lavish lifestyles, which included a private jet and a $2.6 million, 8,072-square-foot home, had drawn the attention of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a member of the Senate Finance Committee. In November 2007, the committee announced that Without Walls and Paula White Ministries would be investigated for misuse of donations, along with five other prosperity-gospel organizations.

In 2010, the Grassley committee closed down the investigation without penalizing anyone, though it released documents that remain online. The 13-page report about the Whites, which includes a number of allegations about their apparent appropriation of church and ministry finances for personal use, said theirs was one of four ministries that did not fully cooperate with investigators. One of the problems investigators ran into, the report says, was that Without Walls had required all employees to sign lifelong confidentiality agreements. White insists her ministry cooperated until it was told private donor information would be published. However, Jill Gerber, Grassley's communications manager, says the committee neither requested nor reviewed such information. "I think that was a canard on the Whites' part to avoid being responsive," Gerber says. After the divorce, Randy White stayed at Without Walls, though Paula filled in as pastor while he was out of the ministry and in rehab from 2009 to 2012. The church filed for bankruptcy in 2014.

White explains how she hung on throughout the divorce and investigation: "I built up spiritual stamina, even though so much in my life was dying," she says. And the Trump family was there to help. "When she went through hard times, the first people to call her were Mr. and Mrs. Trump," says Jay Strack, a Southern Baptist evangelist who became friends with White last year. "She knows the real Donald Trump, obviously."

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Bradley Knight, almost 32, is White's only biological child and an associate pastor at New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida, the church his mother took over in 2012 after its founder, the Rev. Zachery Tims, died of a drug overdose. He can quote feminist theory, has a tattoo on his back from his anarchist days (it reads "Neither master nor slave") and is working on a second bachelor's degree at the University of Central Florida, where he is studying philosophy and women's studies. Even though he enjoys conservative thinkers, he's a registered Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton in the last election. (White's mother also doesn't share her politics. "We don't always agree," Loar says. "I am a Democrat, she's a Republican, but we love each other.") An atheist for much of his young adult life, he was a theater major walking through the University of Tampa cafeteria in August 2007 when he saw news of his mother's divorce on CNN. "I always feel bad for kids of high-profile people," he says now. "There's so much that people don't know. I felt it was wrong to take something sacred and make it everyone's public business."

Another crisis exploded when White and evangelist Benny Hinn were photographed holding hands on a street in Rome in July 2010. The National Enquirer ran a double-page spread of the two of them, along with a photo of a hotel room in which they allegedly stayed. Both Hinn and White said they were just friends (although Hinn later admitted it was "inappropriate" to be spending time with a woman he was not married to). White says she disputed the piece with the Enquirer and reached a confidential settlement. (A lawyer for the Enquirer says he knew of no such arrangement.)

"When the National Enquirer did that piece," says Moore, White's publicist, "Trump asked why she didn't call him because he has a relationship with them. With the apartment [she bought in Trump Tower], he was willing to give her a discount. From the beginning of their friendship, she decided that she would never ask him for a favor, and she hasn't. That has contributed to the trust between them."

It was about this time that White was on a flight to San Antonio that was also carrying the band Journey. "Paula walks on board with all sorts of stuff in her arms, and she dropped a big giant book in the aisle," says Cain, 67. "I noticed she had expensive high heels on. I asked her, 'What do you do for a living?' She looked at me and said, 'I am a public speaker.' 'What sort?' I asked. 'I'm a pastor,' she said. 'No, you're not,' I said." Cain, who says he was a "displaced Catholic" at the time, says White prayed over him. "I see a book coming out of you and a studio," she said. "I see God calling you back."

Despite the 16-year age difference, the pair began to date. They were married during a December 2014 trip to Ghana, in a quiet ceremony officiated by one of White's Pentecostal mentors. This was followed by a public wedding at an Orlando hotel in April 2015. It was a third marriage for both. Trump did not attend but sent a $1,000 contribution to White's New Destiny Christian Center as a wedding gift.

---

Both the role of White and the role of the evangelical advisory council in the Trump administration are opaque, to say the least. The White House Office of Public Liaison (OPL), which is charged with outreach to interest groups, did not respond to my requests for details about how often White is there, who is on the council or whom she meets with. Moore told me that there is no official list of council members and that, while OPL issues invitations to religious leaders who visit, White and other members of the council supply the names.

The administration's lack of specifics about the council has drawn criticism. "With this council, it is murky as to who is on it and what role they have," says Robert Jones, author and CEO of the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute. "It looks more like another campaign arm than a representative group."

White says her position is that of a "faith adviser" and head of a council with an inner core of about three dozen evangelical leaders who communicate by conference call and occasional visits to Washington. About 10 to 15 leaders who are very engaged receive daily communications from OPL about matters important to Trump, such as religious liberty or criminal justice reform. The entire council rarely meets as a group, but 10 or so members will gather at times at the White House, depending on the issue the administration is seeking feedback about. White adds, however, that many other religious leaders have visited the White House for "listening sessions" and have input with the administration, including Indian American leaders who celebrated the Hindu holiday of Diwali last month with the president.

When White arrives at the White House, she says she typically heads for OPL, where she receives a schedule of events that require a faith presence. She puts together guest lists, shuttles between the offices of Vice President Mike Pence (though she has a much more distant relationship with Pence than with Trump), Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and Trump's daughter Ivanka - and connects them with the Christian movers and shakers she knows from three decades of ministry. These include many of the Pentecostal televangelists - with vast followings - whom she met through Christian TV.

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"I'm a bridge builder, and I can get information to different places," she says. "I make sure there are people of faith at the Mexican heritage event with the first lady and president. I bring private faith-based organizations together with the government," such as churches helping with relief supplies for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. In addition, White says, "I put people in front of" the president. "He's a good listener, and that's important. He is a fierce leader. He's not a quitter. He digests information and makes informed decisions and has the courage and strength to make good leadership decisions."

The day after she met with the Southern Baptist ministers in Washington, she met with a group of evangelical prayer ministry leaders, including Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham. Many members of this group wish to see federal and appeals courts filled with sympathetic judges, and White had notes in her purse of 130 such vacancies around the country. Trump "has been quite diligent to fulfill his promises to have originalist, constitutionalist judges," she told me. "The president knows the judiciary is important to his strongest base."

She and the visitors are often joined by legal and public policy specialists, she says. "We get huge access to government officials," she explained after the meeting with Southern Baptist leaders. "Today we dealt with immigration. We bring solutions and come up with strategies." She cited the nomination of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to be the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom - a State Department position - as one of the areas where evangelicals have made their influence felt. "That appointment got pushed up because [council members and others] brought it up at one of those sessions," she noted.

White also says the council stepped in on the issue of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and persuaded the president to delay its end for six months. "We came in [to the Oval Office] and shared our heart, and he wanted to know the faith leaders' feelings on DACA," she says. "There were real questions asked, like did we know people who were 'dreamers.' We were honest and transparent with him. ... Are we in there and being heard? Yes." When I ask White about the priorities of the advisory council, she responds: "What matters to the evangelical community is Supreme Court justices, economy, religious liberty, Israel, lower courts, human trafficking and abortion."

Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and a frequent writer and commenter on religion and the presidency, says evangelicals have "achieved a number of victories - some small, some quite significant." He cites Trump's executive orders to block foreign aid groups from mentioning abortion and to ease restrictions on religious organizations endorsing or opposing political candidates; the Justice Department's new guidance on protecting religious liberty (which states "no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with federal law"); the rollback of requirements that employers provide coverage for contraception; and some Cabinet appointments. "It's important," Rozell says, "to those folks to have a seat at the table and it be meaningful in some way and it not be just a show."

Other faith traditions, it appears, don't have the same kind of access as evangelicals in Trump's White House. Before the election, former campaign officials say, Trump had three religious advisory boards: evangelical, Catholic and one for minority faiths. Only the evangelical one has survived into the administration, though Moore says he has observed mainline Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders in meetings at the White House.

Jones recounts that George W. Bush created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to help faith-based groups of all kinds compete for federal funds for nonsectarian charitable or social work, such as services for the hungry and homeless. The Obama administration kept the same structure in place, but renamed it the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The evangelical advisory council's unofficial status allows it to be less transparent than those previous faith-based efforts. According to Melissa Rogers, the lawyer who headed up the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships during Obama's second term, the faith-based advisory boards under Obama and Bush were subject to the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act. That act, notes the website of the U.S. General Services Administration, was designed to "ensure that advice by the various advisory committees formed over the years is objective and accessible to the public."

"The problem with the Trump administration is that there's this evangelical group that has access and is being consulted, but there's no comparable entity for other Christians and other faiths," says Rogers. "There are no visitor logs being released, no transparency about their activities and nothing to answer to the public for. Our Constitution says our government can't prefer some faiths over others, so anything that seems to be a preference raises some red flags."

White says the administration has a new office in the works that will be known as a "faith initiative," and will involve more religions and act like an official government body. Nothing had been announced at press time.

---

After her White House meetings in July, White went to relax in a beige-walled suite - complete with a flower arrangement of white orchids - on the eighth floor of the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Dressed in an electric blue L'Agence suit and black patent leather Christian Louboutin stilettos, she snuggled on a couch with Cain, who takes credit for her stylish, colorful clothes. "I told her, 'You have to look like a rock-star wife,' " he says.

The two accompany each other everywhere, including the band's eastern Asia tour this past February, plus four months of domestic shows this year. "Paula comes on the road with me," Cain says. "She doesn't want separation. Separation will kill a marriage." In this case, White was able to schedule her Washington meetings around a Journey concert at the MGM National Harbor on the banks of the Potomac. (The timing resulted in a kerfuffle when three of the band members got a White House tour and a photo op with Trump. After guitarist Neal Schon, who was not invited, learned of the excursion, he blasted Cain on Twitter for allowing politics to infiltrate the group and suggested Cain had "changed radically" since his marriage to White. When I asked Cain for a response, he smiled and said, "It's a free country.")

Before the concert that evening, White greeted an endless stream of guests and friends during a preperformance gathering where Cain was raising money for High Hopes, a Nashville-based charitable organization for children with special needs. Heading backstage to wait for the concert (when the band was playing she would head into the audience to take pictures), she turned to her iPhone, which she's on constantly. Although other pastors fill in for her while she's on the road, White says she tries to keep in touch. "Anytime something happens to one of my members, a death or tragedy, I call and pray over them," she says. "What's five minutes of my time to pray over people?"

Knight often fills in for his mom but says her political involvements have created some havoc at New Destiny. "Her relationship with the black community got really frayed because of President Trump," he says. "She got messages from black leaders, saying, 'You betrayed us.' " New Destiny lost 200 to 300 people because of Trump, he says, adding that giving dropped $10,000 a week. As White has become more visible, she has also been panned for her use of black idiomatic speech, and was mocked for doing so by Seth Meyers on his NBC late-night show in August.

Despite her detractors, however, White remains very much a presence in African American churches. The day after the Journey concert, she was a guest speaker at a women's conference at the majority-black Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland, pastored by Bishop Harry Jackson, a fellow member of Trump's evangelical advisory council. She seemed very much at home as she told them, "Little did I know 16 years ago when I met Mr. Trump that he'd be president. God whispered in my heart, 'Show him who I am.' I wanted to pray and show him the Word of God. Little did I know I'd earn that place of trust where 16 years later I can bring in great men like your pastor, great women" to Trump. She received sustained applause.

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White is frequently castigated in the media for not condemning many of Trump's actions, but her son believes critics are looking at it the wrong way. "It's not about him being a good man," Knight says; it's about her trying to steer Trump in the right direction. "People think she feels he is a model Christian. She believes that he is fulfilling an assignment from God that is important to the church and important to America."

White insists that lecturing Trump is not her job. "I don't preach to anyone on behavior modification," she says. "There are things I can speak, but that's not anyone's business what I say. Why would I as a pastor expose that relationship? Everyone needs a safe place in life, and pastors can be people's safe place. That's why I have this relationship, because I don't talk about it."

She says she spends an hour a day in prayer and Bible study to maintain the necessary spiritual resources. She tries to fast one day a week and does a longer fast once a month. "If I am not fresh with God, I might as well hang it up. You can't be a spiritual adviser and not pray," she says. She also explains that she pays her own way. "I've never received a dime from anything," she says of her work on the evangelical advisory council and trips to Washington. "I don't get paid at all. I feel it's part of my purpose. If God has given me this opportunity, it'd be irresponsible not to fulfill it. But I don't get a discount or special privileges."

"She leads [Trump's] heart to the Lord, and that's all Trump wants," Cain says. "He actually recognizes her anointing and checks in with her. Every time she's in Washington, he has to see her." He recalls that when White was asked to pray for Trump during the Republican National Convention, "she was on her knees by the bed for hours. She prayed for him to have the strength and clarity to speak to the American public. I saw later how a calm came over him. He receives it like a child. He channels her."

The opportunity isn't without its drawbacks. "She gets attacked every single day on social media, email, phone calls," Moore says. "This has cost her. And it's never enough. She has nothing to gain from this. But she feels a call and responsibility to minister to this family."

When I ask White about these hidden costs, she sounds philosophical. "You can't influence anything for the kingdom of God without tremendous resistance," she says. "I never sought this out. I'm the girl next door who loved God, who is amazed by this every day."

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Duin is a writer based near Seattle. Her latest book is "In the House of the Serpent Handler: A Story of Faith and Fleeting Fame in the Age of Social Media."

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A groper’s gallery of the grotesque

By kathleen parker
A groper’s gallery of the grotesque

WASHINGTON -- It seems more than coincidence that the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency coincides with a trend that was heretofore unrecognized -- groping.

Gropers abound, it seems. From Harvey Weinstein to Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore to Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken -- and dozens in between -- it would seem women are swimming in groper-infested waters.

One can hardly turn on the news without landing on a panel discussion of groping and punishment. How long before groper-fatigue sets in? The challenge for everyone, but especially the media, is to not overwhelm ourselves with trivial pursuits and blind leads. Groping is wrong and bad and awful, but it doesn’t rise to the level of rape as we commonly understand it. And while a forced kiss is disgusting (and you want to brush your teeth forever), it wouldn’t seem to be a life-altering event. If it is, we’re talking about more than groping.

I’m not excusing anyone’s behavior. I find the whole bunch of accused men, including the president of the United States, revolting and pathetic. May every groper find a larger man’s hand down his britches and see how he likes it. Crude -- my apologies. But this is what it’s come to.

While the debate about these offenses is, one hopes, constructive, there’s a tendency to put all these monkeys in the same barrel. There are notable differences of degree among them and we should always give consideration to context and other possible extenuating circumstances lest we become blind to fairness and enamored of “justice,” with or without due process.

Do I believe every accuser who has come forward? I’m inclined to. In fact, without good reason otherwise, I’m inclined to first believe the woman in any case. This isn’t because I happen to be a woman but because men historically have been unfairly believed over women. Assuming no relevant pathologies, why not believe the woman?

In Moore’s case, of course, there is credibility in numbers. Several women unknown to each other reported similar experiences. But are these alleged offenses from so long ago sufficient to end his Senate campaign and his political career? The fact that Moore totes the “Ten Commandments” around like an ash sack of piety makes the allegations all the more repulsive -- America hates the hypocrite more than the criminal -- and makes people more inclined to send him packing.

But is it really fair to judge him based on unprovable recollections by women who were teens at the time? Is it not possible that Moore has repented or that, as he claims, these things never happened? Might four decades have changed him? Or don’t we care? We have to ask.

Franken is helped only insofar as he wasn’t yet a Minnesota senator when his guerrilla groping took place. The fact that he expressed remorse and didn’t deny his acts is hardly courageous given that we’ve all seen a photograph of him as he’s about to grab a woman’s breasts while she was sleeping. He and the woman, Leeann Tweeden, whom he reduced to an inhuman object for his audience’s amusement, were on a USO tour at the time.

In the picture, Franken, erstwhile comedian and, apparently, lifelong buffoon, is looking over his shoulder at the camera grinning like a baboon. It was a stupid, thoughtless and demeaning performance. Context for Franken may simply have been his outdated sense of humor. What’s funny for one generation isn’t remotely humorous to the next.

How does one punish a Franken? Democrats may be willing to sacrifice him since Minnesota’s Democratic governor would appoint another Democrat to replace him. If so, they gain the high road over Republicans, who are stuck not only with Moore but with the leader of their party.

Trump, whom more than a dozen women have accused, is the gorilla in the ointment.

We know that he’s an admitted forced-kisser and a groper, thanks to the “Access Hollywood” tape. It’s easy to think he’s guilty as charged based on his generally dismissive behavior toward women and his alarming impulsivity.

What will happen to Trump is probably nothing. He, like Moore, stands only accused. We may not be at a point where recompense is possible for past aggressions, but there can be little doubt that groping, the trend that suddenly defined 2017, is on its way out.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Russia investigation includes spectacular level of lies

By michael gerson
Russia investigation includes spectacular level of lies

WASHINGTON -- I spent part of my convalescence from a recent illness reading some of the comprehensive timelines of the Russia investigation (which indicates, I suppose, a sickness of another sort). One, compiled by Politico, runs to nearly 12,000 words -- an almost book-length account of stupidity, cynicism, hubris and corruption at the highest levels of American politics.

The cumulative effect on the reader is a kind of nausea no pill can cure. Most recently, we learned about Donald Trump Jr.’s direct communications with WikiLeaks -- which CIA Director Mike Pompeo has called a “hostile intelligence service helped by Russia” -- during its efforts to produce incriminating material on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. But this is one sentence in an epic of corruption. There is the narrative of a campaign in which high-level operatives believed that Russian espionage could help secure the American presidency, and acted on that belief. There is the narrative of deception to conceal the nature and extent of Russian ties. And there is the narrative of a president attempting to prevent or shut down the investigation of those ties, and soliciting others for help in that task.

In all of this, there is a spectacular accumulation of lies. Lies on disclosure forms. Lies at confirmation hearings. Lies on Twitter. Lies in the White House briefing room. Lies to the FBI. Self-protective lies by the attorney general. Blocking and tackling lies by Vice President Pence. This is, with a few exceptions, a group of people for whom truth, political honor, ethics and integrity mean nothing.

What are the implications? Trump and others in his administration are about to be hit by a legal tidal wave. We look at the Russia scandal and see lies. A skilled prosecutor sees leverage. People caught in criminal violations make more cooperative witnesses. Robert Mueller and his A-team of investigators have plenty of stupidity and venality to work with. They are investigating an administration riven by internal hatreds -- also the prosecutor’s friend. And Trump has already alienated many potential allies in a public contest between himself and Mueller. A number of elected Republicans, particularly in the Senate, would watch this showdown with popcorn.

But the implications of all this are not only legal and political. We are witnessing what happens when right-wing politics becomes untethered from morality and religion.

What does public life look like without the constraining internal force of character -- without the firm ethical commitments often (though not exclusively) rooted in faith? It looks like a presidential campaign unable to determine right from wrong and loyalty from disloyalty. It looks like an administration engaged in a daily assault on truth and convinced that might makes right. It looks like the residual scum left from retreating political principle -- the worship of money, power and self-promoted fame. The Trumpian trinity.

But also: Power without character looks like the environment for women at Fox News during the reigns of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly -- what former network host Andrea Tantaros called “a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.” It looks like Breitbart’s racial transgressiveness, providing permission and legitimacy to the alt-right. It looks like the cruelty and dehumanization practiced by Dinesh D’Souza, dismissing the tears and trauma of one Roy Moore accuser as a “performance.” And it looks like the Christian defense of Moore, which has ceased to be recognizably Christian.

This may be the greatest shame of a shameful time. What institution, of all institutions, should be providing the leaven of principle to political life? What institution is specifically called on to oppose the oppression of children, women and minorities, to engage the world with civility and kindness, to prepare its members for honorable service to the common good?

A hint: It is the institution that is currently -- in some visible expressions -- overlooking, for political reasons, credible accusations of child molestation. Some religious leaders are willing to call good evil, and evil good in service to a different faith -- a faith defined by their political identity. This is heresy at best; idolatry at worst.

Most Christians, of course, are not actively supporting Moore. But how many Americans would identify evangelical Christianity as a prophetic voice for human dignity and moral character on the political right? Very few. And they would be wrong.

Many of the people who should be supplying the moral values required by self-government have corrupted themselves. The Trump administration will be remembered for many things. The widespread, infectious corruption of institutions and individuals may be its most damning legacy.

Michael Gerson’s email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump is now invested in a risky Saudi strategy

By fareed zakaria
Trump is now invested in a risky Saudi strategy

LONDON -- Donald Trump gave a speech this week grading his Asia trip. Not surprisingly, he thought it was a “tremendous success.” “Our great country is respected again in Asia,” he tweeted. All recent polling data from the region suggests the opposite. A core focus of Trump’s trip was Japan and South Korea, but only 17 percent of South Koreans and 24 percent of Japanese express confidence in him, down from 88 percent and 78 percent who expressed confidence in President Obama during his second term. Trump’s rhetoric of self-interest and “America First” was seen by Asians as a sign of retreat, in contrast to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s more open, outward-looking and ambitious agenda.

However, Trump’s foreign policy faces a new challenge that could further disrupt the Middle East, already the most unstable part of the world. Trump has given the green light to an extraordinary series of moves in Saudi Arabia that can only be described as a revolution from above. Some of them suggest real and long-needed reforms. But all appear to have the risk of destabilizing Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has moved to consolidate power in all directions, jailing conservative clerics on the one hand and advocates of political reform on the other. His most recent targets have been some of the kingdom’s most powerful princes, including the head of the National Guard as well as the billionaire investor Alwaleed bin Talal, on allegations of corruption. A senior Arab statesman and businessman told me the reasons given seem suspect. He said, “Every prince in Saudi Arabia has partaken in the institutionalized corruption that is embedded into the system. If this was really about corruption, Alwaleed is the last Saudi prince you would go after.”

If fighting terrorism were a paramount concern, you would not humiliate Mohammed bin Nayef, who was crown prince until he was replaced by Mohammed bin Salman in June, and whose bank accounts have now been frozen. For the last decade, Nayef worked closely with Washington in prosecuting the war against al-Qaida and similar terror groups and was routinely and lavishly praised by American officials. But far from speaking out for this longtime ally, Trump actually tweeted his support for the purge, which has so far been carried out without specific charges or due process.

Saudi Arabia has historically rested on three pillars of stability. There’s the royal family, a large loose group with 15,000-30,000 members, which has intermarried with a second pillar of Saudi society, the tribes. The two ally with the final pillar, the country’s ultra-orthodox religious establishment, whose power has grown over the last four decades. Mohammed bin Salman has been saying the right things about religious moderation and has taken on all three pillars. In doing so he is altering the very structure of the Saudi regime, from a patronage state based on consensus to a police state based on centralized control.

Time will tell whether it will work.

But the greater puzzle and danger is that while taking on this bold and risky domestic agenda, the crown prince has made a series of aggressive moves abroad. He has escalated Saudi intervention in Yemen, with bombing strikes and air, land and sea blockades. He has tried to quarantine Qatar, hoping to turn it into a submissive satellite state. He apparently forced the Lebanese prime minister to resign, hoping to destabilize the Shiite-dominated government. All these are part of an effort to fight back against Iran’s growing regional influence.

These are blunt tools for the complex challenge that is the Middle East. The Saudis are attempting to dislodge the Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah from its position of power in Lebanon and punish Qatar for its alleged ties to the group. But for several years now, the Saudis and Americans have been in an unspoken alliance with Hezbollah against the Islamic State, which is being defeated largely by American-backed Kurdish forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias. Iran’s influence has been nefarious in some areas and helpful in others.

In any event, the Saudi strategy does not seem to be working. The war in Yemen has turned into a disaster, creating a failed state on Saudi Arabia’s border that is seething with anger against Riyadh. Qatar has not surrendered and doesn’t seem likely to anytime soon. So far, the Shiites in Lebanon have acted responsibly, refusing to take the bait and plunge the country into civil war. But everywhere in the Middle East, tensions are rising, sectarianism is gaining ground and, with a couple of miscalculations or accidents, things could spiral out of control. With Trump so firmly supporting the Saudi strategy, America could find itself dragged further into the deepening Middle East morass.

And the biggest loser in the GOP’s tax plan is ... humans

By catherine rampell
And the biggest loser in the GOP’s tax plan is ... humans

Corporations are people, my friend. Both Mitt Romney and the Supreme Court told us so years ago.

Still, they left out one key fact: It’s way better to be a corporate-person than a person-person. At least when Republicans are reshaping the tax code.

Republicans love cutting taxes. They’d cut all the taxes in the world if they could. But the rules that allow senators to pass their tax agenda with only 51 votes require setting priorities for who gets the most generous cuts, or any cuts at all. This week, the party made its top priority abundantly clear.

It chose corporations. By a long shot.

Both the House tax bill -- which passed handily Thursday -- and the Senate version are heavily weighted toward business. Both bills would slash rates on regular corporate profits, “pass-through” business income (currently taxed at regular individual rates) and overseas profits that get repatriated. They also provide other tax breaks for companies, such as allowing full and immediate expensing for qualified investments.

Of course, Republican lawmakers and administration officials promise that these corporate giveaways will really, truly, honest-to-goodness primarily benefit us regular humans, especially humans in the middle class.

That’s because, they claim, corporate tax cuts will unleash a wave of business investment and therefore economic growth, most of which will trickle down to the little people-people.

It’s hard to find an independent economist who buys this. Even corporate executives won’t back up this story.

At the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council meeting this week, a Journal editor asked audience members to raise their hands if their companies planned to invest more should the tax legislation pass. Only a smattering of hands went up.

Gary Cohn, the director of President Trump’s National Economic Council, looked out at the crowd with surprise.

“Why aren’t the other hands up?” he said, laughing a bit.

This was no one-off embarrassment. A survey of 300 companies this summer similarly found that a tax holiday on the repatriation of overseas profits was more likely to lead to share buybacks, mergers and paying down debt than investment and hiring.

It gets worse. The Senate plan isn’t just more generous to companies than it is to individuals. It effectively takes from low- and middle-income individuals to give to corporations.

The Senate bill makes the corporate rate cuts permanent. Which is expensive. So expensive, in fact, that the cuts would cause the bill to run afoul of those rules that allow passage with a simple majority vote.

Senate Republicans came up with a solution, however. To offset the cost of those corporate cuts, they did a few things that hurt individuals.

First, they decided to “sunset” -- that is, make temporary -- nearly all of the goodies for households, such as the doubling of the standard deduction and expanding of the child tax credit, in their bill. Further, they changed the way that individual tax brackets are calculated so that households move into higher marginal rates more quickly than they do under current law.

Finally, they added the repeal of the individual health-insurance mandate, which would have the not-very-intuitive effect of reducing tax subsidies for lower- and middle-income Americans, some of whom will cease buying health insurance without the mandate.

The net result of these changes: Over time, fewer American households get tax cuts. In fact, as of 2021, households making $10,000 to $30,000 would see their taxes go (BEG ITAL)up(END ITAL) on average, according to a report released Thursday by the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’ nonpartisan internal analysis shop.

And, by 2027, every income group under $75,000 would experience tax increases, on average, relative to what they would pay if Congress left the law unchanged.

This doesn’t even account for other effects of repealing the individual mandate that would also hurt many human-persons. Premiums, for instance, would spike, as healthier and younger people dropped out of individual insurance pools.

Nor does it include the fact that passing tax cuts this year would trigger automatic cuts to Medicare starting in January. Not a decade from now, or five years from now, but (BEG ITAL)January(END ITAL). Overriding these cuts would require 60 votes in the Senate.

Perhaps because the legislative process has been so rushed, many senators don’t appear to even know that these cuts are in the offing. Even so, when given the opportunity to vote for an amendment explicitly ruling out cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid if their tax bill blows a hole in the budget, Republicans voted no Wednesday.

Person-persons, rather than corporate-persons, may still be the ones who vote. But they’re clearly not Republican lawmakers’ most prized constituents.

Catherine Rampell’s email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Saudi political explosions risk collateral damage

By david ignatius
Saudi political explosions risk collateral damage

WASHINGTON -- Nearly two weeks after the double political explosion that rocked Riyadh, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be doing damage control in ways that may help stabilize Saudi Arabia and the region.

The first bombshell was the Nov. 4 arrest on corruption charges of 201 prominent Saudis, including princes and government ministers. Now MBS, as the 32-year-old crown prince is known, is beginning a resolution process that may settle many of these cases out of court.

A senior Saudi official told me Thursday that the kingdom’s anti-corruption commission would follow the standard “plea-bargain process” that is “usually conducted by the public prosecutor prior to transferring a case to the relevant court.” The commission’s overall aim, he said, was to “send a strong message” that corruption won’t be allowed, “irrespective of rank or status.”

The crackdown may have consolidated support for MBS among younger Saudis who resent older, wealthy princes and palace insiders. But his power play risked a backlash within the royal family because it violated the kingdom’s traditional consensual politics. Resolution of corruption cases out of court may dampen such high-level dissension.

The second Nov. 4 explosion was Saad Hariri’s announcement from Riyadh that he was quitting as Lebanon’s prime minister. Hariri’s resignation, which Lebanese sources told me came under pressure from MBS, risked causing instability in Lebanon that would have enhanced Hezbollah’s power there, the opposite of what the Saudis wanted. On Thursday, the Saudis agreed to allow Hariri to travel to France; Lebanese sources said he will then return to Lebanon.

The Hariri episode appears to have convinced Washington and Riyadh that their interests are better served by stability in Lebanon than instability, even though that approach requires some cooperation with Hezbollah, the dominant political faction. A Saudi official told me that the kingdom plans to work with the U.S. to support Lebanese institutions, such as the army, that can gradually reduce the power of Hezbollah and its patron, Iran. MBS seems to have recognized that combating Hezbollah is a long game, not a short one.

Hariri’s resignation and seeming house arrest made him a hero in Lebanon and a symbol of the country’s yearning for sovereignty. This may give him some new leverage when he returns to Beirut. Lebanese sources told me Thursday that Hariri’s supporters may urge Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from Yemen as a gesture of solidarity. Hariri will also campaign anew for international support for Lebanon’s economy and military.

MBS’ sweeping arrests sent shock waves through the kingdom and the region, and surprised even some Saudis who are close to the crown prince. But the warning signals were there: King Salman said back on March 10, 2015, in his first major speech after taking the throne, that he had “directed the government to review its processes to help eradicate corruption,” according to a Reuters report at the time.

MBS had a reputation as a freewheeling businessman himself before joining the royal court. But he underlined the anti-corruption theme in a May 2017 interview with Al Arabiya television: “If fighting corruption is not on the top of the agenda, it means the [king’s] fight is not succeeding. ... I reiterate that anyone who is involved in corruption will not be spared.”

As examples of the corrupt deals that led to the Nov. 4 arrests, a senior Saudi official cited a land purchase in Jeddah where the government paid roughly double the market price, to provide a big kickback to a prominent official. Another instance was the purchase by the Ministry of Education of vastly overpriced airline tickets for the hundreds of thousands of Saudis studying abroad, with payoffs for officials.

Corruption has been so endemic in Saudi Arabia that many observers assumed it was part of how the House of Saud governed. After first visiting the kingdom in 1981, I wrote a series of articles for The Wall Street Journal about how payoffs were undermining the defense and oil sectors. In subsequent decades, the shakedowns became less visible, but corruption continued.

MBS’ purge looked to many outsiders like a high-risk political move. But a senior prince cautioned me the country isn’t as fragile as it may look. One of MBS’ key backers put it this way: “Corruption can’t keep the country stable. Having a corruption-free country will keep us stable.”

That’s a worthy ambition, but as MBS detonates his bombs, he must avoid blowing himself up.

David Ignatius’ email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Homeowners: Don’t panic yet over Senate tax overhaul

By kenneth r. harney
Homeowners: Don’t panic yet over Senate tax overhaul

WASHINGTON -- If you hoped that Senate Republicans would treat homeowners and buyers more kindly in their tax overhaul plans than their colleagues did in the House, you were an optimist. It didn’t happen.

In fact, the Senate tax bill released last week is harsher on residential real estate in some areas than the House version, with two notable exceptions: Senate tax writers retained the current $1 million ceiling on home mortgage amounts that are eligible for interest deductions. The House bill seeks to cut that in half to $500,000. But the Senate’s seeming concession has limited value, given that only a small fraction of homeowners in the U.S. have mortgages of $500,000 to $1 million. Also, the Senate bill leaves intact mortgage-interest deductions on second homes; the House bill would eliminate them.

Here’s a quick look at some key punitive details in the Senate bill’s fine print that haven’t gotten much attention but could be important to you:

-- (BEG ITAL)Home equity loans(END ITAL). Under current law, you can borrow up to $100,000 in “home equity indebtedness” and write off the interest on that amount. Home equity loans have become enormously popular in recent years -- especially in the form of lines of credit (HELOCs) -- as owners’ equity holdings have soared to record levels. In the first quarter of 2017 alone, according to ATTOM Data Solutions, 227,000 new HELOCs worth $43.4 billion were originated around the country. HELOCs are hot.

Among the traditional attractions of HELOCs and other forms of home equity loans has been their flexibility. You can use the money you pull from your equity for whatever you like. That would change drastically under the Senate Republicans’ bill. It would erase the entire category known as “home equity indebtedness” from the tax code, pulling the rug out from under the booming HELOC market. Though the bill doesn’t get into operational details, homeowners with existing first mortgages might still be able to borrow against their equity, but they could be restricted to using the money for improvements to their principal residence.

-- (BEG ITAL)SALT(END ITAL). Deductions of state and local property taxes, sales taxes and income taxes -- the so-called SALT write-offs that are heavily used by homeowners -- take a heavy hit under the Senate bill. The House Republicans’ bill would limit SALT deductions to $10,000 in property taxes. Currently there is no dollar limit, and income and sales taxes can be included. The Senate bill would kill the deduction outright. For owners in high-tax markets such as Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, California, New Jersey, New York, the New England states plus Illinois and Ohio, the Senate’s total wipeout of the deduction could raise their federal tax bills starting next Jan 1.

-- (BEG ITAL)Tax-free gains(END ITAL). The Senate bill would also make a major change in one of the most valuable current tax benefits for homeowners -- the ability to pocket capital gains on home sales free of federal taxation. Under the current tax code, home sellers filing jointly can “exclude” up to $500,000 of gains from a sale (up to $250,000 for single filers) tax-free, provided they have lived in and used the property as their principal residence for an aggregate two years out of the preceding five years. That’s a big deal for many sellers, especially seniors who expect to depend on the cash raised from their sale to supplement their incomes during their retirement years.

Like the House bill, the Senate version rejiggers the tax-free formula in order to slash the number of sellers eligible to use this benefit. To qualify, sellers would have to live in their homes for five out of the preceding eight years, and could only use the tax-free provision once every five years. That’s likely to create problems for young families who move from their first home within the first five years and people who are transferred or move to new jobs more quickly than they had originally planned.

What’s next? The two bills must survive upcoming floor debates, which could be dicey given that both measures gush red ink, add to the deficit and have generated strong opposition for handing too many costly breaks to corporations and wealthy taxpayers. Republicans in both houses will need every vote they can muster.

Bottom line: The changes the bills propose to make in home real estate rules are drastic, but they are no sure thing. Don’t panic quite yet -- this game is just getting started.

Ken Harney’s email address is kenharney@earthlink.net.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

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