Subscribe to JamieDupree feed JamieDupree
Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider
Updated: 17 hours 5 min ago

“Go get ’em, Roy!” – President Trump endorses Roy Moore for U.S. Senate in Alabama

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 17:59

A few hours after tweeting out his support for controversial Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, the White House said President Donald Trump called Moore from Air Force One on Monday, making clear his support for Moore’s election bid, putting Mr. Trump squarely at odds with a number of GOP Senators who have said they find Moore to be an unacceptable candidate.

“The President had a positive call with Judge Roy Moore during which they discussed the state of the Alabama Senate race and the President endorsed Judge Moore’s campaign,” reporters were told by Principal White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah.

“Go get ’em Roy!” Moore quoted the President as saying.

Earlier, Mr. Trump had for the first time directly expressed his support for Moore on Twitter, tucking that declaration into another jab at Moore’s opponent in Alabama, Democrat Doug Jones, whom the President has repeatedly labeled a ‘puppet’ of top Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.

Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama. We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more. No to Jones, a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 4, 2017

"Go get 'em, Roy!" – President Trump

Just got off the phone with President Trump who offered his full support and said he needs a fighter to help him in the US Senate.

I look forward to fighting alongside the President to #MAGA!

— Judge Roy Moore (@MooreSenate) December 4, 2017

The President will be holding a campaign rally on Friday night in Pensacola, Florida, which is only about fifteen miles from the Alabama border, and will certainly attract press attention in the Yellowhammer State.

For weeks, Moore has been echoing attacks made by the President against Jones to help raise money for the Alabama Senate race, as Moore argues he’s been “kicked and dragged through the mud by establishment Republicans and the liberal media – mostly elitists in Washington.”

“But this week President Trump stood up and defended me against the lies and sleazy accusations launched against me by the forces of evil in Washington,” Moore wrote in a fundraising email at Thanksgiving.

Today’s full and direct endorsement was welcomed by Moore’s camp as well.

Roy Moore's wife says he just got off the phone with President Trump. She adds, "We have his full support." pic.twitter.com/ohzp9leAhH

— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) December 4, 2017

New from Moore campaign touting Trump's endorsement and phone call: "The President wrapped up the call with a "go get 'em, Roy!" pic.twitter.com/ANVbt7Xa2T

— Elaina Plott (@elainaplott) December 4, 2017

While the President has fully embraced Moore, a number of Republicans in the U.S. Senate have made clear they want no part of him, horrified by multiple accusations against him of past sexual misconduct.

But in recent days, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed to downplay some of his opposition to Moore, saying the “voters of Alabama will make their choice.”

I am pulling my endorsement and support for Roy Moore for U.S. Senate.

— Steve Daines (@SteveDaines) November 10, 2017

Moore had been favored to win the election to complete the term of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who left the Senate to run the Department of Justice in the Trump Administration, until stories surfaced that he had – in his 30’s – engaged in relationships and pursued teenage girls while working as a local prosecutor.

It was only a few weeks ago that the White House said the President had found the allegations against Moore to be ‘extremely troubling’ – but now, Mr. Trump is fully on board with Moore.

The Alabama special election for U.S. Senate is December 12.

Republicans ready for pre-Christmas push on sweeping tax reform bill

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 04:38

After the Senate voted late Friday night to approve a GOP tax reform bill, Republicans in the Congress this week will start work on final negotiations between the House and Senate on tax legislation, as GOP leaders and President Donald Trump look to produce the first sweeping reforms of the federal tax code since 1986.

If you look at the calendar, Christmas is just three weeks away. Congress had been aiming to wrap up work by Friday, December 15, but now a stop gap budget plan may extend work until December 22.

So, that means the GOP has about two and a half weeks to wrap up work on the tax reform bill, and get that to the President for his signature.

And he is certainly ready for that.

Biggest Tax Bill and Tax Cuts in history just passed in the Senate. Now these great Republicans will be going for final passage. Thank you to House and Senate Republicans for your hard work and commitment!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2017

What are the next moves on Capitol Hill?

1. Republicans should get the tax bill to the finish line. Several months ago, I wrote that tax reform might be more complicated – and present more potholes – to Republicans than the effort to overhaul the Obama health law, which failed in the Senate. But this outcome looks like it will be different. Why? For one, Republican lawmakers – especially conservatives – did something very unusual for them in the Congress. They actually compromised. Instead of drawing a line in the sand, they supported a bill that didn’t fulfill all of their stated legislative goals and beliefs. One thing I have noted in my over three decades of covering Capitol Hill is how many times conservatives have refused to accept a bill that does much of what they want, hotly opposed to one particular provision. It seems hard to imagine how the GOP will screw this up over the next couple of weeks. No bill is ever perfect, especially one this big.

2. What’s next? House-Senate negotiations. With the House not in favor of just accepting the Senate-passed tax reform measure, lawmakers on Monday evening will vote to go to “conference” on the bill, as GOP leaders hope to quickly come up with a final deal that can be approved and sent to the President’s desk before Christmas. The conference committee used to be a staple of Capitol Hill, but has faded away for the most part in recent years – now we’ll see it make a comeback for the GOP tax reform bill. Originally, the House was not supposed to be in session on Monday. But House leaders added the work day in order to keep the train moving on tax reform.

The House will vote at 6:30 Monday evening on the motion to go to conference with the Senate on the GOP tax bill.

— Ben Siegel (@benyc) December 3, 2017

3. What still might change in the tax reform bill? There are a number of differences between the two bills – for example, the House plan has four tax brackets, while the Senate bill has seven brackets, with different rates on both sides; the House bill eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax, while the Senate decided late in the debate to keep the AMT in the Internal Revenue Code, but make changes in the levels at which it would affect individual taxpayers. The list is long, but here’s a few of the more well-known differences:

4. Will President Trump press for anything specific? For the most part, President Trump has cajoled lawmakers on the overall effort to get tax cuts and tax reforms through the Congress, and has avoided weighing in on specifics. But Mr. Trump made a curious suggestion on Saturday at the White House, as he said it was possible that the 20 percent corporate tax rate – in both the House and Senate bills – might end up a bit higher at 22 percent, in order to help fund overall tax reduction efforts in the GOP plan. For the President, that was somewhat of a surprise, and top officials tried to downplay the idea on the Sunday talk shows – but you never know, key lawmakers could always take him up on the idea.

Trump told reporters that the corporate tax rate in the GOP plan might end up rising to 22 percent from 20 percent

— Tai Edward Few (@blktai) December 3, 2017

5. If you didn’t stay up late on Friday night. If you were otherwise occupied at 2 am on Saturday morning, the Senate voted 51-49 to approve the GOP tax reform bill. The narrow victory (only Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) broke ranks and voted against the plan) was a reminder in the negotiations ahead that Republicans can only lose one more vote in the Senate, and still get the bill approved. The Senate bill added a number of late changes made by Republicans. We’ll see whether or not these get kept around in the final bill. This list was tweeted out by Sen. Clare McCaskill (D-MO):

6. There were also some hand written additions in the Senate bill. Things were done so hastily on Friday night by the GOP that sections were simply crossed out by hand, with extra changes made that was as well. Some were minor, like changing a date from one year to the next, others added in a couple of extra words, but one particular change caught the eye of Democrats, as they complained about the process. Let’s be honest though, this is not the first time we have seen hand written additions on a bill, but it was a reminder as to how fast the GOP is moving on tax reform in 2017.

7. Tax reform versus tax cuts. If you think back to the debate in the House, there was much more emphasis by GOP leaders there about tax reforms in the bill, which would allow many people to file their tax returns ‘on a postcard.’ But in the Senate, I would be surprised if I heard that a few times in the floor debate – if at all. President Trump has also been mentioning the phrase ‘tax cuts’ much more frequently than the phrase ‘tax reform’ of late. In a speech about the bill last week in Missouri, the President made that clear.

Stay tuned. It promises to be an active next couple of weeks in the U.S. Congress.

Details emerge on settlements paid with taxpayer dollars by Congress

Sun, 12/03/2017 - 13:03

With a Congressional hearing set for Thursday before a U.S. House committee, some details have come forward in recent days on human resources settlements involving members of Congress, which were paid with taxpayer dollars, as lawmakers in both parties said it was time to expose the full details to the public.

In a letter to the head of the Committee on House Administration – which oversees operations of the House of Representatives – officials detailed legal settlements over the last five years involving Congressional offices and committees, detailing a total of six claims in that time.

Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), who chairs that panel, said while reports have indicated a total of $17 million in legal claims during the last five years involving the Legislative Branch, just $359,450 of that directly involved lawmakers.

Here is the data that pertains to lawmakers in the House:

Published reports in recent days have quickly ferreted out some of those details, and which lawmakers were linked to those legal settlements.

As for the “1 claim that alleged sexual harassment,” which involved a payout of $84,000, that reportedly was Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), who had previously been the subject of news reports about possible sexual harassment troubles involving his Congressional staff.

Rep. Blake Farenthold's $84,000 sexual harassment settlement was paid using taxpayer funds, CBS News confirms https://t.co/Tp7RrP3JBC pic.twitter.com/tEYAgqycbT

— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 3, 2017

The next four claims against Congressional offices listed in the letter to Rep. Harper have not yet been identified publicly, involving age discrimination, discrimination based on sex and religion, disability discrimination, and a case dealing with race.

As for the veteran status discrimination case worth $150,000, reports quickly identified that as being part of a legal battle involving the House panel which investigated the Benghazi attacks.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who chaired the Benghazi panel, has made no public comment on reports that $150,000 in taxpayer money was used to settle a claim involving staffer Bradley Podliska, who had sued the committee for wrongful termination.

#BREAKING: Benghazi committee used taxpayer money to settle wrongful termination lawsuit https://t.co/Fu2ZlBiu7o pic.twitter.com/ZE9SHITaUM

— The Hill (@thehill) December 1, 2017

As for more explosive charges that Congress has been repeatedly – and secretly – paying out large monetary settlements involving sexual harassment with taxpayer dollars, the data released so far does not seem to support that allegation.

At a news conference last week, Harper said most of the financial settlements seem to involve other issues – he gave examples from 2002, or settlements for workers in Congress who dealt with exposure to asbestos, or exposure to anthrax, after that substance was mailed to Senate offices a year earlier.

Harper has promised to reveal more details at Tuesday’s hearing.

“First and foremost, there is no place for sexual harassment in our society, and especially in Congress, and one case of sexual harassment is one case too many,” said Harper.

In a letter to the administrative office that deals with legal claims against Congress, the House Ethics Committee last week requested all information on cases involving lawmakers.

“In addition to federal law, House Rules have long prohibited discriminatory conduct in employment,” wrote the top Republican and Democrat on the ethics panel.

It was unclear if these cases would spur any further ethics investigations.

Harper said this past week that in the time he has been the chairman of the House Administration panel – since the start of 2017 – not one settlement agreement involving House members has come across his desk.

With flurry of late changes, Senate passes GOP tax reform bill

Sat, 12/02/2017 - 06:52

In another big step forward for Congressional leaders and President Donald Trump, Republicans muscled a sweeping tax reform bill through the Senate early on Saturday morning, setting up House-Senate negotiations starting next week, as the White House pressed lawmakers to strike a final GOP deal in coming weeks, with a goal of getting the bill to the President’s desk by Christmas.

“This tax bill is going to ignite our economy,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). “We delivered on an historic opportunity to cut taxes and fix the archaic tax code.”

“The vast majority of middle class families are going to get a tax cut,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). “I don’t know what’s wrong with that.”

“The bill also helps small and large businesses by reducing the rates and encouraging businesses to buy new equipment and hire more workers,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).

The vote in the Senate came after several days of closed door negotiations among Republicans, as they made a number of changes to the bill, making sure there were enough GOP votes.

“Over the past 24 hours, I think we’ve made a really great bill even better, with more middle class tax relief, and more relief for small businesses,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD).

The final tally, which took place just before 2 am, was 51-49. Only Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) broke ranks, as he joined all Democrats in voting against the GOP bill. Corker argued it would add too much to the federal deficit.

We are one step closer to delivering MASSIVE tax cuts for working families across America. Special thanks to @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell and Chairman @SenOrrinHatch for shepherding our bill through the Senate. Look forward to signing a final bill before Christmas! pic.twitter.com/gmWTny3SfS

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2017

The bill now goes to House-Senate negotiations, which are expected to begin next week. The GOP goal is to work out a final deal by the holiday break.

With no summary of the new provisions available, observers were scrambling their way through the revised bill, to figure out what changes had been tucked into the GOP measure. Among the changes proposed in the Senate bill:

+ The Senate plan modifies the current seven income tax brackets, creating rates of 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 38.5%. Unlike the House bill, the tax cuts for individuals in the Senate plan would be temporary, phasing out after 7 years.

+ The Senate bill increases the standard deduction to make up for the repeal of individual itemized deductions, for state and local taxes.

+ Unlike the House bill, the Senate plan gets rid of the individual mandate to buy health insurance under the Obama health law. It’s not clear if that will stay in the final GOP bill.

+ A late change in the Senate version was made to include an up to $10,000 deduction for state and local property taxes, identical to a provision in a House-passed bill.

+ The Alternative Minimum Tax was originally eliminated by the Senate bill, but Friday’s revisions now brought it back to life, both for individual and corporate taxpayers. This is at odds with the House, which totally eliminated the AMT.

+ Another item eliminated by the House, but revived in the Senate, was the Medical Expenses deduction, though it would live on for only two years under this plan; people would be allowed to deduct expenses when they reached 7.5 percent of a person’s adjusted gross income, as opposed to the current 10 percent threshold.

+ Pass-through income would see a deduction of 23 percent of income, up from 17.4 percent, a big win for small businesses.

+ Just after midnight, Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie to approve an amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), which allows people to set up a 529 college savings account for home school students, and use it to cover K-12 expenses.

Happy GOP senators at 2 am. pic.twitter.com/5CXWtq4wRs

— Richard Rubin (@RichardRubinDC) December 2, 2017

While Republicans smiled and applauded as the bill was approved, Democrats on the Senate floor were reduced to frustrated legislative bystanders, unable to change the bill in any manner, as they decried the rush as a brazen political power grab by the GOP on taxes.

“It sure looks like the lobbyists have been working overtime,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), as Democrats ridiculed a rough draft of the final bill, which contained handwritten scribbles and changes in the margins, some of which were difficult to decipher.

I was just handed a 479-page tax bill a few hours before the vote. One page literally has hand scribbled policy changes on it that can’t be read. This is Washington, D.C. at its worst. Montanans deserve so much better. pic.twitter.com/q6lTpXoXS0

— Senator Jon Tester (@SenatorTester) December 2, 2017

But with only 48 votes – and just one Republican defection on the final vote – Democrats were unable to do anything but complain about the 479 page GOP tax reform plan.

“There is no possible way that any member of this body has read all of that,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) in a somewhat incredulous tone. “There is no way.”

Democrats did register one win in the late night votes on amendments to the tax reform bill, as with the help of four Republicans, the Senate voted 52-48 to strike a provision championed by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) that would have set out a narrow exemption from a GOP plan to slap excise taxes on college endowments.

Toomey’s plan would have applied to colleges that don’t take federal funding of any type, and have small student populations; but a sharp backlash attracted four GOP votes, and scuttled that provision.

The tax reform bill now goes back to the House, which is ready to ask for a joint House-Senate conference committee to hammer out a final compromise. That procedural vote is expected on Monday evening.

Michael Flynn pleads guilty to making false statements to FBI on Russia probe

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 16:50

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn plead guilty on Friday to one felony count of making false statements to the FBI, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections reached into the inner circles of President Donald Trump’s administration, as Flynn admitted that he did not tell the truth about conversations he had with the Russian Ambassador to the United States.

“My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s Office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country,” Flynn said in a written statement.

“I accept full responsibility for my actions,” Flynn added, as he became the first member of the Trump Administration to be charged, and plead guilty to charges related to Mueller’s probe.

BREAKING: Ex-Trump adviser Michael Flynn admits in plea deal that Trump transition officials directed his contacts with the Russians.

— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) December 1, 2017

The White House downplayed the significance of the Flynn guilty plea, as supporters of the President quickly noted that it presented no evidence of any wrongdoing by the President.

“Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn,” said Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Ty Cobb.

The importance of today’s guilty plea – and Flynn’s admission that he is cooperating with federal prosecutors – is that Flynn is evidently ready to shed more light for investigators on contacts between the Trump team and Russian officials.

Where that leads – remains a question.

In Congress, Democrats said the guilty plea raised deep questions about links between the Trump Campaign and Moscow, as some mocked Flynn with one of his campaign trail sayings.

“Lock him up! Lock him up!” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA).

Remember: the story isn’t _that_ Michael Flynn is pleading guilty.

It’s what he’s giving Mueller in exchange for such a minor charge (and modest potential sentence).

And we may not know the answer to that for some time, but I have to think it’s substantial…

— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) December 1, 2017

There was no immediate comment from President Trump. A photo op that had been scheduled at lunch time in the Oval Office was suddenly called off by White House officials.

After Flynn’s guilty plea was accepted by a federal judge in Washington, the Special Counsel’s Office put out more detail on what Flynn had done, and how he has agreed to help the investigation.

“FLYNN’s false statements and omissions impeded and otherwise had a material impact on the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the existence of any links or coordination between individuals associated with the Campaign and Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election,” the document states.

Senate Republicans stumble in drive for GOP tax reform bill

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 02:55

An expected vote on a sweeping package of tax cuts and reforms failed to materialize on Thursday evening in the U.S. Senate, as GOP leaders were forced to renew negotiations with a small group of Republican Senators, following a review which showed that the tax cuts would not spur anywhere near enough economic growth to pay for themselves, instead adding $1 trillion to the federal deficit over ten years.

Republicans had thought they were cruising along to victory in the Senate, planning for a late night vote to approve a GOP tax reform bill – but as the hours dragged on, they didn’t have the deals in place to finalize that measure, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set up a Friday session, where the GOP will try again.

“They still don’t have enough votes to pass this awful bill,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

It just hit me that Senate Republicans solved ***literally*** none of their tax bill’s problems today.

— Dylan Scott (@dylanlscott) December 1, 2017

Several items were causing trouble for Republicans – as like during the debate over how to overhaul the Obama health law – GOP leaders were just trying to get to 50 votes, so the Vice President could break a tie.

First, a review by Congressional number crunchers showed the GOP plan would still add just over $1 trillion to the national debt over ten years, even when dynamic scoring was used, to factor in extra economic growth spurred by tax reductions.

The review by the Joint Committee on Taxation, differed from one done by the Congressional Budget Office, which had found the bill would increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion over ten years.

Then, the Senate Parliamentarian ruled against one GOP idea for a “trigger,” which would have triggered tax increases in later years to bring in more revenue, if the plan failed to generate enough tax receipts in the future due to lower than anticipated economic growth.

“My Republican colleagues are scrambling,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), “searching and scrambling for a so-called trigger.”

But indications were the GOP was looking at much more than just the trigger, trying to forge even more last minute deals, as there is still no ‘final’ bill language for either party to evaluate.

The Senate is literally still writing this bill as they prepare for a vote on it. Now discussing “stair-stepping” corporate tax rates, gradually raising them over a number of years. Not sure this counts as “regular order.”

— Ali Rogin (@AliABCNews) November 30, 2017

Earlier in the day, there had been promising signs – Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who torpedoed the health care plan back in late July, said he was on board with tax reform.

“I believe this legislation, though far from perfect, would enhance American competitiveness, boost the economy, and provide long overdue tax relief for middle class families,” McCain said.

But then on the floor, there was suddenly trouble from a trio of GOP Senators – Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Sen. Jeff Flakes (R-AZ), and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) – as they held up a vote for nearly an hour, while about a dozen Republicans haggled over different tax plans.

State of play: no one knows what the hell is going on. Mike Rounds on what exactly is happening while entering senate chamber:

“We’re going to go in and find out what’s going on.”

— Al Weaver (@alweaver22) December 1, 2017

Outnumbered, Democrats could only stand on the sidelines and appeal for the GOP to reach out across the aisle, something that seemed unlikely.

“This bill is too important to rush – we need to get it right,” said Sen. Angus King (I-ME), an Independent who sides with Democrats in the Senate.

“The tax bill before us is not for the middle class,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

It was not readily apparent what Republicans would change in their bill, or if they would be able to forge a final deal on Friday. And at this point, there is still no actual final bill.

“Read the bill. Read the bill,” mocked Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), invoking a favored line of Republicans.

“Every Senator should be asked tomorrow if they’ve read the bill,” Schatz tweeted late on Thursday night.

Pelosi, Ryan call for Conyers to resign from Congress amid sexual misconduct allegations

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 16:23

Four days after labeling him an “icon” in the Democratic Party, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) should resign his seat in the House, amid a flurry of accusations of past sexual misconduct allegations, as Pelosi said she believed the stories of the women. Her call was immediately echoed by the Speaker of the House.

“I pray for Congressman Conyers and his family, and wish them, however Congressman Conyers should resign,” Pelosi said at her regular weekly news conference.

“The allegations against Congressman Conyers as we have learned more since Sunday, are serious, disappointing, and very credible,” Pelosi told reporters.

“It’s very sad,” she added.

.@NancyPelosi: "Congressman Conyers should resign." pic.twitter.com/3xgmWmlMRj

— CSPAN (@cspan) November 30, 2017

A few minutes later in the same news conference room, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan left no doubt that he shared Pelosi’s opinion on the 88 year old Conyers.

“Yes, I think he should resign, I think he should resign immediately,” Ryan said. “I’ve just been briefed on the torrent of allegations, and I think he should.”

.@SpeakerRyan on Congressman Conyers: "Yes, I think he should resign. I think he should resign immediately." pic.twitter.com/z7NIHwOc2X

— CSPAN (@cspan) November 30, 2017

Hours earlier, news reports from Detroit said that Conyers, the Dean of the House, had been admitted to a hospital suffering from stress.

The Michigan Democrat had returned to Detroit on Tuesday, after new sexual misconduct allegations surfaced, as fellow black lawmakers had met with Conyers, urging him to think about resigning his seat in the Congress.

Pelosi joins two other female Democrats in the House in calling for Conyers to leave, but her position as the top Democrat in the House insures that this call for Conyers to resign may have a much more dramatic political impact on his decision.

But aides to Conyers quickly made clear that he was not going to resign.

Conyers spokesman shoots down resignation talk:

"It is not up to Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi did not elect the congressman, and she sure as hell won't be the one to tell the congressman to leave."

— Ben Siegel (@benyc) November 30, 2017

Meanwhile, pressure over a different kind of allegation led Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) to announce he would not run for re-election in 2018.

Last week, a lewd photo surfaced that Barton had sent to a woman; yesterday, suggestive social messages were revealed that he had sent to another woman.

Asked about Barton, Speaker Ryan said they had spoken about the situation.

Just a few minutes later, the news broke that Barton would not return to the Congress in 2019.

There were also more questions today in the Senate regarding the future of Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), as two more women came forward to allege sexual misconduct by Franken, before he was elected in 2008.

While Democrats in the Senate said little, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) said he thought Franken and Conyers should both go out the door.

I agree with Pelosi. Conyers should resign. And for that matter, Franken should resign too. These are credible allegations, and I believe these women. Congress should set the example for all industries and be a safe place for women to work.

— Congressman Tim Ryan (@RepTimRyan) November 30, 2017

Senate Republicans edge towards approval of GOP tax reform bill

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 09:00

With the final details of a GOP tax reform bill still in flux, the U.S. Senate voted Wednesday evening to begin debate on the Republican plan, setting up an expected final vote on the measure by the end of the week, as GOP leaders joined the President in promising to pass a sweeping package of tax cuts and reforms by the Christmas break.

“It’s a once in a generation opportunity,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) on the Senate floor. “The last time we reformed our tax code in any substantial way was 31 years ago.”

“Passing tax reform is the single most important thing we can do right now, to shift the economy into high gear,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Senate vote on a motion to start debate on the bill fell right along party lines, as despite some concerns about the details, GOP Senators stuck together on the first test vote on tax reform.

“I think we’re going to get to common ground and get this bill passed,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). “I don’t want to see this bill destroyed because of a pursuit for perfection.”

Republicans had one very good sign after that first Senate vote was over, as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) expressed her strong support for the GOP plan, which includes a provision that would open up an area in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge – ANWR – to oil and gas production, something long sought by Republicans.

“The bill before us has a number of features that are very attractive to Alaskans,” Murkowski said in a statement, seemingly securing a key vote in favor of tax reform.

Republicans can only afford to lose two votes in the Senate; a 50-50 tie could still be broken with the vote of Vice President Mike Pence, who had dinner Wednesday evening with some of those still on the fence.

But GOP Senators were still trying to hash out some of the details; some like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) wanted a larger child tax credit, as Rubio joined Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) in filing an amendment that would pay for that larger credit by trimming back the plan’s signature corporate tax cut.

“The corporate tax rate in the United States is 35 percent,” Rubio said on the Senate floor. “We would reduce that to 22 percent,” while the current GOP plan is at 20 percent, something that’s been a red line for President Donald Trump.

“There are a lot of good things in this tax bill, but we can make it better,” Rubio said.

This week, the Senate can join the House & take a strong stand for the Middle Class families who are the backbone of America. Together, we will give the American people a big, beautiful Christmas present-a massive tax cut that lets Americans keep more of their HARD-EARNED MONEY! pic.twitter.com/9jddEW2Oo5

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2017

As for the final details of the Senate tax reform plan, those still were not available as Washington, D.C. went to bed on Wednesday night; GOP leaders filed the 521 page Senate bill, but were still working out the last minute changes to the plan.

Democrats complained bitterly about the process, but with only 48 votes, they still need GOP defections to defeat the plan.

“It’s not what the American people want,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “It’s what large corporations want.”

“Let’s stop this bill,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). “This bill doesn’t deserve to be on the Senate floor, it’s a disgrace.”

Here’s my idea for a REAL middle-class tax cut: get rid of the GOP’s new tax breaks for millionaires and big corporations and let’s give a $3,000 refundable credit for everyone earning under $100k.

— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) November 28, 2017

Democrats were putting together their own amendments to offer on the floor, but Republicans seemed ready to block them with a united GOP front.

“People really want to get to ‘yes’ on this,” said Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID).

And Republicans seem to be on the verge of doing that in the U.S. Senate as soon as Thursday night.

New stories emerge as House votes for improved harassment training

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 20:47

Buffeted by accusations of sexual harassment against members of Congress, and questions about secret legal settlements funded in the past by taxpayer dollars, the House approved a plan on Wednesday to strengthen harassment training in Congress, as key lawmakers said there should be ‘zero tolerance’ for such behavior, even as more stories were told about incidents that took place on the floor of the House.

“Bad behavior transcends party labels,” said Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), as she argued for more comprehensive harassment training on Capitol Hill.

“It is very hard to accept that people we admire in public life, and here in Congress, have crossed the line,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said no incidents of sexual harassment should be ignored.

“Zero tolerance means consequences for everyone,” Pelosi added.

.@RepSpeier offers yet another example of sexual harassment on the Hill during debate on measure to require training: during late night House floor debate, a male lawmaker apparently ground up against a woman and stuck his tongue in her ear.

— Cristina Marcos (@cimarcos) November 29, 2017

The debate also included new details of female lawmakers being targeted by their male counterparts on the House floor.

“Working later in the evening,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said of an unnamed female lawmaker, “a member came up behind her, grinded up against her, and then stuck his tongue in her ear.”

Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA) told of how he was talking to a female lawmaker when an unnamed colleague walked by and grabbed her behind.

“And the Congressman walked by and groped her from behind,” Brady said. “And I reached over, and lucky for him, I just couldn’t grab him.”

Congressional leaders said it was time to end such incidents once and for all.

“Sexual harassment has no place in any work place, let alone in the United States Congress,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan.

House Speaker Paul Ryan addresses allegations of sexual harassment in Congress: "That's wrong, that's a disgrace. We cannot and we will not tolerate that kind of behavior" https://t.co/NvOmCsdcNc

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) November 29, 2017

The debate on the House floor came amid a swirl of stories about actions by members of Congress in both parties, such as Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who missed a second straight day of votes as he faced accusations of sexual misconduct involving former staffers.

“I will leave it up to him on what he decides to do,” Ryan said at a news conference, when asked if Conyers, who is the longest serving member of this Congress, should resign.

Key black lawmakers were privately urging Conyers to give up his seat, but in public they weren’t going that far.

CBC Chair Richmond asks for ex. of ppl leaving jobs faster than Conyers when face sexual harassment claims; Clyburn asks "who elected them?" pic.twitter.com/FGDNbvBUcg

— Alex Moe (@AlexNBCNews) November 29, 2017

Meanwhile, a week after a nude photo that he texted to a woman was released on line, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) faced more questions, after a woman released exchanges she had with the Texas Republican on Facebook, when he asked her what she was wearing.

Joe Barton sext messages shared by woman he asked "what are you wearing?" https://t.co/XQFeaGI6gY pic.twitter.com/KSPhgsqB3q

— David Kent (@DavidKentFWST) November 29, 2017

Democrats pressure Rep. Conyers amid new charges of sexual misconduct

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 02:09

With a second House Democrat calling for his resignation over past allegations of unwanted sexual advances, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) found himself under pressure Tuesday to step down from his seat in the U.S. House, as a top black lawmaker in Congress said it would be up to the Michigan Democrat to decide his own future.

“Today I met with John and we had a very candid conversation about the seriousness of the allegations against him, which he vehemently denies,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“Any decision to resign from office before the ethics investigation is complete is John’s decision to make,” Richmond said in a statement issued late on Tuesday night.

With new press reports about possible sexual misconduct by Conyers involving a former staffer in his office, Richmond told reporters little about the details of the talk, but it was clear that the Black Caucus was trying to urge Conyers to move on.

“I think it is a personal decision,” Richmond told reporters, saying he had joined in a “lengthy discussion” with Conyers earlier in the day.

Cong Black Caucus Chair Cedric Richmond says Conyers decision on whether to resign is “a personal decision for him and his family.''

— Matthew Daly (@MatthewDalyWDC) November 29, 2017

As House members returned to session for the first time since Thanksgiving, Conyers stayed away from the House floor on Tuesday, missing both recorded votes, as other Democrats weighed in on his future – and for some, there was no question about what should happen.

“I have looked up to Rep. Conyers for decades,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who described herself as someone who had looked up to Conyers “for decades.”

“I believe these women, I see the pattern and there is only one conclusion – Mr. Conyers must resign,” Jayapal said, becoming the second Democrat in the House to call for his departure.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Detroit News reported allegations from a woman who worked for Conyers from 1997 to 2005; she had discussed the matters with reporters from that newspaper in previous years, but always resisted going on the record, worried that nothing would happen.

“John Conyers is a powerful man in Washington, and nobody wanted to cross him,” the story quoted Deanna Maher, explaining why she had not pursued the matter further.

And in the halls of Congress, there were rumblings of even more stories being heard by other black Democrats.

Clyburn, asked about a third allegation about harassment against Conyers, replies "I just heard of a fifth"

— Deirdre Walsh (@deirdrewalshcnn) November 28, 2017

A photograph posted on social media Tuesday evening seemed to show Conyers on a Delta flight going back to his home of Detroit.

Meanwhile, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to the House Ethics Committee asking for swift reviews of any allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against Conyers.

“We are at a watershed moment for our country in the fight against sexual harassment and discrimination,” Pelosi wrote, as she urged the panel to ask for extra resources if needed.

“The Committee on Ethics has a great responsibility to proceed expeditiously as well as fairly into any investigation of credible harassment and discrimination allegations,” Pelosi added.

Conyers is recognized as the Dean of the House, the currently longest serving House member, first elected in 1964.

Rep. Don Young (R-AK), elected in 1973, is next in seniority.

On Sunday, Pelosi referred to Conyers as an “icon,” but has quickly moved to put pressure on him over these allegations of unwanted advances, touching, and possible sexual harassment.

GOP tax reform bill cleared for Senate floor as Trump presses for action

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 20:19

As a Senate committee voted on Tuesday afternoon to send a GOP tax reform bill to the floor for debate, President Donald Trump used a closed door lunch meeting at the U.S. Capitol to urge GOP Senators to push ahead on a tax reform plan, even as Republicans struggled to figure out a batch of last minute changes to the bill, in hopes of gaining Senate approval of the measure in coming days.

“It was outstanding,” the President said of the meeting on tax reform, as he called it a ‘love fest.’

“He came and urged all the Republican members of the Senate to get the job done, to get tax reform passed,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

“It went extremely well from my point of view,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).

Pres. Trump calls meeting with GOP senators on tax bill "somewhat of a love fest. They want to see it happen." pic.twitter.com/47J2Ukxswp

— Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) November 28, 2017

GOP Senators described the meeting as a frank exchange of ideas on how the tax reform bill could be improved, but that no deals were hammered out in the session with the President.

As for that search for 50 votes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said to reporters that he still doesn’t have that number of votes.

“It’s a challenging exercise,” the Senate leader said. “Imagine sitting there with a Rubik’s cube trying to get to fifty.”

“It’s a work in progress,” acknowledged Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), who said he thinks the GOP will continue to rally around the Republican tax plan.

“People really want to get to yes on this,” Risch added after the meeting with the President.

Despite some talk that they might vote against the plan in committee, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) voted to keep the process moving, as Republicans keep looking for a magic formula to find 50 votes on taxes in the Senate.

The vote was 12-11 – straight along party lines – in the Senate Budget Committee, as demonstrators chanted “Shame!” and “Kill the bill!”

Protesters, some in wheelchairs, removed from Senate budget hearing while chanting "Shame on you!" and "Don't kill us, kill the bill." pic.twitter.com/EoeJtGC6Cu

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) November 28, 2017

“This is a bad bill,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), summing up the simple opposition of Democrats to the plan. “If you truly care about the deficit and the debt, this is a disaster.”

Trump to visit Capitol Hill as GOP mulls tax reform bill changes

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 12:54

President Donald Trump goes to Capitol Hill this afternoon to meet with Senate Republicans, as GOP leaders in the Senate try to keep a sweeping tax reform package on track, with lawmakers fully expecting more changes to the measure to nail down the final few votes.

“I think the tax bill is going very well,” the President said Monday after meeting with a group of GOP Senators involved in designing the Senate’s version of tax reform.

“Again – it will be the biggest tax reduction in the history of our country,” Mr. Trump said, once more emphasizing the main GOP theme of tax cuts.

The Tax Cut Bill is coming along very well, great support. With just a few changes, some mathematical, the middle class and job producers can get even more in actual dollars and savings and the pass through provision becomes simpler and really works well!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2017

While the White House wants a quick vote in the Senate, it was readily apparent as lawmakers returned from a Thanksgiving break that a few Senators wanted changes in the bill before voting for the plan, clouding the calculus on whether a vote would take place this week on the Senate’s version.

Prime among the alterations being pressed were new provisions on how taxable income from ‘pass through’ businesses would be treated, as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and other Republicans argued such small businesses deserved more in the way of tax relief.

“I want to see changes to the tax cut bill that ensure main street businesses are not put at a competitive disadvantage against large corporations,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), who along with Johnson was also pressing for the same type of pass through changes.

To deliver a real tax cut for all Americans #TaxReformBill must make #ChildTaxCredit refundable for working families.

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) November 28, 2017

But others in the Senate were ready to sign on, despite making earlier noise about possibly opposing the tax bill.

“I plan to vote for this bill as it stands right now. I urge my colleagues to do the same,” wrote Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in an opinion piece on the website of Fox News.

In a new review of the Senate’s version of tax reform, Capitol Hill number crunchers said – on average – the plan would lower taxes for every income level; that was different than the same review from last week, which indicated tax increases for many at lower income levels.

The change – which produced the graphic below – occurred because of a different review, leaving out the impact of the plan to end the individual mandate in the Obama health law.

The Congressional Budget Office – and other experts – argue the end to the mandate would cause other impacts for those in lower income groups, like increased health care premiums.

The Senate Budget Committee was set to meet at 2:30 pm this afternoon to vote on the package; Sen. Johnson is on that panel, and says for now he will vote ‘no’ unless changes are made.

That meeting will occur after the President has lunch with GOP Senators.

Franken to stay on in Senate, says he’s ‘sorry’ about groping allegations

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 18:47

Back on Capitol Hill for the first time since facing accusations of sexual misconduct towards women, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) told reporters he has ‘let a lot of people down,’ as he pledged to regain their trust, indicating he has no plans to resign his seat in the U.S. Senate.

“I know that I have let a lot of people down, the people of Minnesota, my colleagues, my staff,” Franken said to a group of reporters waiting outside of his U.S. Senate office, eleven days after being accused of inappropriate behavior by a woman who was on a USO tour with him in late 2006.

“I just want to again say, I am sorry,” Franken said. “I am going to try to learn from my mistakes.”

"I'm going to try to learn from my mistakes," said Sen Franken, and that he's doing a lot of reflecting. "I am embarrassed, I feel ashamed."

— Libby Casey (@libcasey) November 27, 2017

Sen. Al Franken: "I know that I've let a lot of people down… To all of you, I just want to, again, say I am sorry" https://t.co/PXoF1R762T

— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 27, 2017

Asked if he agreed with women who accused him of groping them during photographs while he was in the Senate, Franken said he did not, as three women have said he grabbed their butts.

“I am embarrassed, I feel ashamed,” Franken said. “What I’m going to do is start my job – I’m going to go back to work.”

“This has been a shock, and it’s been extremely humbling,” the Minnesota Democrat added.

Franken: "This is what I've been trying to do. I've been trying to take responsibility. I've apologized, and by apologizing to the people I've let down, I'm going to work to regain their trust. I am going to be accountable." https://t.co/jr4e9Q6osm pic.twitter.com/R8COAcbZXr

— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 27, 2017

Franken expects to face a review by the Senate Ethics Committee, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said the questions are something which deserves that panel’s examination.

“We are going to cooperate completely with the ethics investigation,” Franken said today.

Franken says he does not remember some of the instances in which women allege he touched them inappropriately as he posed for photos with them.

— Lauren Fox (@FoxReports) November 27, 2017

Franken only took a handful of questions from reporters; the Minnesota Democrat routinely refuses to talk to reporters in the hallways of the Capitol and Senate office buildings.

Congress returns with GOP focused on drive for tax reform

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 02:00

As the House and Senate head back to Capitol Hill for the final weeks of 2017, the legislative to-do list is long for lawmakers in the Congress, but there really is only one main priority for Republicans and President Donald Trump, and that is getting a sweeping GOP tax reform package through the House and Senate – and have it signed into law by the end of the year.

“The Tax Cut Bill is getting better and better,” the President tweeted on Sunday night; he’ll meet with Congressional leaders this week as they try to figure out how to get the bill across the finish line by Christmas.

Back in D.C., big week for Tax Cuts and many other things of great importance to our Country. Senate Republicans will hopefully come through for all of us. The Tax Cut Bill is getting better and better. The end result will be great for ALL!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2017

Here’s where things stand on Capitol Hill:

1. The GOP tax bill isn’t ready for a Senate vote – yet. While a key Senate committee approved a version of the tax bill before Senators went home for a Thanksgiving break, it is obvious that changes will have to be made to the details before it can be ready for debate on the Senate floor, as a variety of GOP Senators have raised red flags about the fine print. Some like Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) have raised questions about how the bill would raise the deficit. Others like Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) want changes on how personal deductions would be limited. Maybe the most important changes might come from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who has been pushing for new language on how small businesses are treated, what are known as “pass-through businesses.” Before Thanksgiving, Johnson made clear that he was ready to vote against the GOP bill unless there were changes – now that needs to be finalized before the Senate votes.

Republican Senators are working very hard to get Tax Cuts and Tax Reform approved. Hopefully it will not be long and they do not want to disappoint the American public!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2017

2. Not much talk about a government shutdown in December. A few months ago, I was thinking that we might have a big time showdown in December, when a temporary spending bill runs out to fund the operations of Uncle Sam. President Trump has made clear he wants money for the border wall, and this seemed like his only point of leverage in the calendar year. But as I said above – the tax bill is THE priority for the GOP – and the idea of shutting down the government in the next few weeks seems to be rather remote. Yes, that could still change, but it would be a big surprise. The main question is whether you push through a giant ‘Omnibus’ spending plan before Christmas, or wait until the New Year to get all that budgetary work done. There are lots of people who want to make that bill into a giant legislative Christmas tree, and add in provisions on DACA and much more. How convenient! This year’s tree arrives from Montana on Monday.

Did you know a different National Forest provides the Capitol Christmas Tree each year? This year, it's Montana's @KootenaiNF and last year it was Idaho's @PayetteForest! #ItsAllYours https://t.co/9s6CYsqMgY

— National Forest Fdn. (@NationalForests) November 21, 2017

3. Another round of hurricane disaster relief. As mentioned above, there will be a big push in Congress to get a lot of things done before the end of the year, and one item on the list will be billions more in disaster relief for those hit by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, along with help for communities ravaged by wildfires in California. Before Thanksgiving, the White House asked Congress for $44 billion in aid, far below what the states of Texas and Florida have requested, and not even half of what Puerto Rico’s Governor asked for to deal with damage on that island. When you add up the first two bills, plus this third proposal, you are almost to $100 billion – and everyone agrees much more is needed. We’ll see if Senators from Florida and Texas can produce more aid in time for the holidays.

.@JohnCornyn says on @KFYO that while Texas isn't looking for a fight with the federal government over the third disaster spending bill, it won't run from one either. "The federal government is not stepping up the way it should."

— Jennifer Shutt (@JenniferShutt) November 20, 2017

4. Ethics panels eye sexual misconduct matters. While the tax and spending fight will play out for all to see in coming weeks, behind closed doors, the House and Senate ethics committees are expected to take some first steps to review questions about two Democrats, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). On Sunday – after calling Conyers an “icon” in a Sunday morning TV show appearance – House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi then made Conyers step aside as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, while a review is underway. “Zero tolerance means consequences,” Pelosi said in a written statement. “I have asked for an ethics investigation, and as that investigation continues, Congressman Conyers has agreed to step aside as Ranking Member.” It’s not clear what’s next for Franken, as he too, faces an ethics review. And obviously, we wonder if more stories are out there.

5. Roy Moore all but endorsed by President Trump. While a number of prominent Republicans in the U.S. Senate have said they want no part of Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore, President Trump certainly isn’t in that category. “The last thing we need in Alabama and the U.S. Senate is a Schumer/Pelosi puppet,” the President tweeted out on Sunday. Mr. Trump never mentioned Roy Moore by name, but made clear that the President’s preference is not to elect a Democrat on December 12 in the Yellowhammer State. “Can’t let Schumer/Pelosi win this race. Liberal Jones would be BAD!” Mr. Trump said of the Democratic nominee, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones. If Jones wins, what awaits him in the Senate? It would be interesting to say the least, as a number of GOP Senators aren’t ready to put out the welcome mat for him.

After what we know, for Republicans to support Roy Moore over Doug Jones is political tribalism at its worst. We shouldn’t succumb to it

— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) November 26, 2017

Some political ‘thanks’ on Thanksgiving

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 19:44

On every Thanksgiving, it’s always nice to take some time and think about what you and your family are thankful for in 2017 – but at the same time, we may as well try to figure how Turkey Day is playing in political circles as well.

In terms of political news, reporters on Capitol Hill and Washington, D.C. are currently going through an almost never-ending avalanche of stories, erupting daily (or even hourly) in what seems to be a high rate of speed in this new social media atmosphere.

Let’s take a look at a few things on this Thanksgiving 2017:

1. Roy Moore – Roy Moore might be thankful for a lot right now, mainly a number of men in high profile positions in the Congress and the news media who have been ensnared in the recent swarm of news about sex. The latest person to hit the news – and take the focus off of Moore – is Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who had a nude photo of himself leaked on to social media by a woman he was once in a relationship with, which some say might be ‘revenge porn.’ No matter what the details might be of how this occurred, the Barton story is a reminder of the perfect piece of advice that my father gave as he dropped me off at the U.S. Capitol on my first day of work in 1980, when he told me that ‘They call it the House of Representatives for a reason” – members of Congress are no different from our neighbors and friends. Some are good. Some are bad. Some make bad choices along the way. Roy Moore is thankful for Al Franken, John Conyers, Joe Barton, Charlie Rose, and many others. Their stories keep Moore out of the headlines.

So the count for today if I'm not mistaken is two more accusers against Al Franken, one more against John Conyers and a picture of Joe Barton's genitalia splashed across the Internet

— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) November 23, 2017

2. President Donald Trump. – Mr. Trump may be most thankful for political opponents like Hillary Clinton, who continues to be a Trump punching bag on Twitter. While many Inside the Beltway cringe at “Crooked Hillary” tweets, those missives continue to delight the President’s legions of fans, as it helps to keep the 2016 Democratic Presidential nominee in the news. (While Mr. Trump is probably also thankful for sports figures like Lavar Ball, Steph Curry, Richard Sherman, and others, I’ll stick to the political arena.) Over the last year, this President has proven himself to be very adept at verbally smacking people on Twitter – whether you think it’s right or wrong for Mr. Trump to be doing that isn’t the point. The longer that President Trump can keep Hillary Clinton in the news, the better for him, and maybe the better for the Republican Party. Donald Trump is thankful that Hillary Clinton is still around.

Crooked Hillary Clinton is the worst (and biggest) loser of all time. She just can’t stop, which is so good for the Republican Party. Hillary, get on with your life and give it another try in three years!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2017

3. Tax lawyers and accountants. – Yes, Republicans say their tax reform plan will make the tax code simpler to deal with, and for some individuals, it would be easier to file your taxes under the plans envisioned in the House and Senate. But before you think that it’s going to change everything, a simple review of Congressional tax plans shows there will be plenty of work for people who need to explain the intricacies of the tax code, like tax lawyers and accountants. You don’t have to go very far into the GOP bills to feel confused about what’s being changed. Tax lawyers and accountants are thankful for the GOP tax reform bill. There will still be plenty of business for them, even if that bill becomes law.

4. Federal workers. All the talk for years from Republicans has been about making deep cuts in the budget of various federal agencies. On the campaign trail, President Trump promised much the same. But this first year of a combination of a GOP House & Senate, and the Trump Administration, produced almost nothing in terms of spending cuts and budget savings. Last week, the White House proposed $44 billion in (generic) budget savings to offset disaster aid for recent hurricanes – except it would come between 2025 and 2027, when Mr. Trump would be long gone from the White House. So, as they enjoy a big turkey dinner, federal workers can say ‘thanks’ that the Republican Congress and the President, as they really haven’t been able to wield a budget axe on the Executive Branch. Mr. Trump said before Thanksgiving that he would push for budget cuts in the next year. On Thanksgiving, President Trump visited a Coast Guard facility in Florida. Back in April, Mr. Trump wanted to cut over a billion from the Coast Guard budget. That didn’t make it through the Congress.

Pres Trump to reporters 'Admin. Dept. heads will work next on spending cuts, welfare reform ("very shortly aftr taxes") & infrastructure'

— AWPS NEWS llc (@AWPSNews) November 20, 2017

5. Politics at Thanksgiving. A year ago, the recent election of Donald Trump was a prime topic for many families, as a lot of Democratic voters were struggling to come to terms with President Trump’s election. Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2017, and it’s possible that a lot of those same people are still somewhat aggravated about the way things have gone in political circles after Mr. Trump’s first 10 months in office. And that leads me to believe that some of you will have a few things to say at the dinner table about President Trump, good and bad. Some will be saying “thanks” for the President – others, not so much. But it isn’t hard to argue over whether you should talk about politics at the table, eh?

If you’re a republican having thanksgiving dinner with your democrat family, as you go around the table saying what you’re thankful for, I highly encourage you to say “the electoral college.”

— Lord Single Malt (@Singlemaltfiend) November 22, 2017

My advice: Don't print anything out. Don't bring a chart to dinner. At Thanksgiving tell weird stories about when you were a kid to the kids and funny stories about loved ones no longer with us. Politics aren't that important.

— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) November 23, 2017

Tax reform dominates as Congress takes a Thanksgiving break

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 03:21

Congressional Republicans left Capitol Hill late last week excited about the prospects for sweeping legislation which would deliver tax cuts and tax reform, as with approval of a House tax bill, the focus has shifted to the Senate, and whether GOP leaders can muster the needed votes to approve a slightly different GOP tax measure after Thanksgiving.

“This bill gives Americans more take home pay by cutting taxes and preserving deductions for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) – while he’s on board, only a handful of GOP Senators are expected to determine the fate of this legislation.

Here’s where things stand on Capitol Hill as you get ready to talk politics (or try not to talk politics) with your relatives over the Thanksgiving holiday:

1. Remember, there is more to do than tax reform. Yes, Republicans want to get tax reform done by the end of the year. But there are other measures which will need attention as well after the Thanksgiving break. For example, the Children’s Health Insurance program needs to be reauthorized, and has been in limbo since October 1. A temporary federal budget runs out on December 8, and there still hasn’t been a deal announced on how much Congress will decide to spend on the discretionary budget, which is what funds pretty much everything outside of mandatory spending items like Social Security and Medicare. There had been talk earlier this year of a possible government shutdown showdown, but that seems unlikely right now, because it would really get in the way of GOP efforts on tax reform. House Speaker Paul Ryan still wants all that spending work – a giant omnibus funding bill – done by the end of the year.

House Speaker Ryan: Don't intend on stopgap government funding into next year.

— DailyFX Team Live (@DailyFXTeam) November 14, 2017

2. A rush of spending seems likely. In order to get a deal on the discretionary budget for 2018, it’s expected there will be a sizeable increase in defense spending in any final spending deal for next year – President Trump had asked for $54 billion in extra military funding, but there’s no sign of any budget cuts to immediately offset the cost of that. Not only is that extra money likely to be approved, but a third hurricane disaster relief bill seems likely to be voted on by Congress in December as well. The latest White House request was for $44 billion, much less than what Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico have asked for in terms of hurricane aid. That would make total aid close to $100 billion just this year. In the latest disaster aid plan, the White House for the first time is seeking offsetting budget cuts to pay for some of that extra spending. The plan unveiled last Friday has $14 billion in cuts now, and another $44 billion in cuts later – later, as in between 2025 and 2027, after President Trump is gone from the Oval Office.

White House wants $44 billion in hurricane relief, offers some cuts now, more in 2025-2027 https://t.co/wg7ggSUI0C

— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) November 17, 2017

3. Some Senators to watch on tax reform. When lawmakers return to legislative sessions the week of November 27, the main political game on Capitol Hill will be figuring out where everyone stands on the GOP tax reform bill in the Senate. This is a similar scenario to what went on with Republicans on health care reform, and many of the same players are involved. On the bubble right now would be Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Also, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has said he wants major changes on how small businesses and pass through businesses are dealt with. Don’t count the bill out yet, but there is a lot of work to do. And one thing is for sure – someone will be watching them very closely.

Republican Senators are working very hard to get Tax Cuts and Tax Reform approved. Hopefully it will not be long and they do not want to disappoint the American public!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2017

4. Some items you probably won’t see in 2017. One item that won’t be acted on this year is an infrastructure bill. President Donald Trump has talked about his grand $1 trillion infrastructure program since the 2016 campaign, but at this point, there is still no detailed plan, and there is no bill in the Congress. On immigration, there’s still lots of talk about wheeling and dealing on DACA and border security, but I’m not sure there’s the political will to do that. Don’t look for funding for the border wall, but instead for something that sounds like border security, but isn’t the wall. With tax reform dominating the agenda, don’t look for anything on DACA until 2018.

DACA: 3 whole months left to come up w/something. Of course there is also Thanksgiving; Christmas: New Years; etc…..no pressure.

— David Gee (@CurtG345) November 18, 2017

5. One issue that has disappeared – the deficit. It used to be that Republicans were all about reigning in spending, and cutting the size of government. Now that they have had control of the House, Senate and White House, they are poised to, to, to, do nothing in 2017 on that front. The budget doesn’t balance for at least ten years (if not more), there were no major spending cuts enacted by the Congress, there was no appetite for savings in mandatory spending programs, either. The cuts included in the President’s budget have pretty much been ignored by lawmakers, and it took the White House three disaster aid bills before any offsetting budget cuts were proposed. Meanwhile, the yearly federal deficit is trending back up, and with the disaster relief bills, and an increase in the federal budget caps, there will be more red ink in 2018. Only a few Republicans have stuck with their familiar call for budget discipline.

“If this is going to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years, it’s not fair to our children and grandchildren,”Walter Jones (R-NC) said after the vote.“If this was a Democratic bill we wouldn’t even be voting for it.That’s how hypocritical this place has become.”

— Phil Hammond (@xlate) November 17, 2017

House Republicans voted for tax reform, but asked for changes in the bill as well

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 14:07

As the House voted along party lines on Thursday to approve a sweeping package of GOP tax reforms, one peculiar part of the floor debate came when a number of Republicans – who voted for the bill – took to the floor to request changes in the their party’s plan, as some highlighted unintended consequences, while others objected to the basics of the measure.

Known in parliamentary parlance as a “colloquy,” the scripted exchanges between lawmakers are often done to clarify the legislative intent of a bill, or in this case, to urge action in a specific way in House-Senate negotiations.

And for some Republicans in this week’s tax reform debate, it was clear they wanted some provisions altered.

Some requests were specific, like Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), who made the case for historic preservation tax credits, which were eradicated by the House GOP tax reform bill.

“Without the credit, projects that transform communities in all 50 states, from West Virginia to Texas, to Wisconsin, simply will not happen,” McKinley said on the House floor, as he asked for the word of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady that he would help reverse the decision.

That didn’t happen.

“I commit to working with him and continuing to work with him on this issue because I know the importance of it,” Brady responded, making sure not to guarantee anything in some of these floor exchanges.

For Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a staunch advocate of the GOP bill, he was assured by the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee that more would be done in terms of tax help for the people of Puerto Rico, whose island was devastated by Hurricane Maria.

“I look forward to working with you on ideas to best serve the people of this island,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), who thanked fellow GOP lawmakers for their concerns, but made no promises.

For Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), the issue was with a new excise tax from Republicans that would be levied on the endowments of private colleges and universities.

Barr said that would harm Berea College in his district, a ‘work college’ that uses its endowment money to pay the tuition of all students. It was noted in press stories back home.

Barr Fights for Berea College in Tax Reform Bill – https://t.co/YoBgs5CWvp

— BereaOnline.com (@bereaonline) November 16, 2017

“I was pleased to learn that the Senate version of the bill exempts schools with fewer than 500 tuition-paying students from the excise tax,” Barr said, urging Brady to accept that position in any House-Senate negotiation.

Brady said he would try.

“Mr. Speaker, we will work together for a mutually accepted solution to make sure we exempt work colleges to use their endowments to provide tuition-free education,” the panel chairman responded.

For Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the problem he brought to the House floor was under the heading of unintended consequences, as the GOP tax bill would subject native settlement trusts in Alaska to a higher rate of taxation.

“This would make it more difficult for Alaska Native Settlement Trusts to provide long-term benefits to Alaska Natives,” Young said on the House floor, asking Brady to include provisions of a bill to remedy that and more.

Unlike some of the other requests, Brady acknowledged that the GOP tax bill would “unintentionally” change the tax rate for the Alaskan settlements, agreeing to focus on this in conference as we finalize individual rate structures between the House and the Senate.”

Others weren’t so lucky to get a guarantee of action, as they pressed for changes in maybe the most controversial part of the GOP plan, which limits a deduction for state and local taxes.

“I am concerned about its impact on some of my constituents in Maryland who pay high state and local income taxes,” said Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), the only Republican member of the House from that state, which would be one of the biggest losers on the SALT issue.

That subject also drew two California Republicans to make the same appeal to Brady later in the debate; Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) and Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA) echoed the concerns of Harris – all of them got a murky assurance of help.

“I am happy to commit to working with both of them to ensure we reach a positive outcome for their constituents and families as we reconcile our differences with the Senate,” Brady said, making no promises.

Other Republicans brought up education, and a provision in the GOP tax reform bill that would hinder colleges and universities from providing tax free tuition waivers and reimbursements, a matter that has drawn more and more attention in recent days.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) – whose district includes Dayton University – and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) – whose district includes the University of Illinois – both appealed to Brady to make a change.

“I believe that an unintended consequence of this bill would hinder middle class Americans pursuing a higher education degree in an attempt to better their lives,” Turner said.

“I am worried it is going to have an impact on the custodians and the assistants in the Registrar’s Office who are just working at these institutions to be able to send their son or daughter to college,” said Davis.

There was no guarantee that the provision would be changed.

“I have a keen interest in this issue,” Brady told Turner and Davis. “I will work with you toward a positive solution on tuition assistance in conference with the Senate.”

Democrats noted the exchanges on both days of the House tax reform debate, arguing that it showed off the haphazard nature of how the bill was put together.

“I also was intrigued by the colloquy where Members came to ask the leadership if they will work with them to take out egregious elements of this tax proposal,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI).

“We get this sort of, “Yes, I will work with the gentleman,” answer,” Kildee added, raising his voice on the floor.

“Why did you put it in in the first place?” Kildee yelled. “Why are you cutting historic tax credits in the first place?” he said.

GOP lawmakers said this past week that anyone can find a reason to vote against a big bill like this tax reform plan – we’ll see in coming weeks whether these publicly voiced concerns become an issue for the final version of tax reform in the Congress.

White House asks for $44 billion in hurricane relief, floats offsetting budget cuts

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 17:56

The Trump Administration on Friday asked Congress to approve a third major disaster aid relief package for areas hit hard by hurricanes in 2017, which would bring total federal aid to nearly $100 billion, as for the first time, the White House proposed budget savings to offset some of that cost.

“This year’s Atlantic hurricane season has resulted in historic, widespread destruction that continues to affect the lives of millions of Americans,” said White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney in a letter to the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

In the same letter, Mulvaney that Congress has already approved over $53 billion in disaster relief this year, and that it’s time to find a way to pay for some of that.

“The administration believes it is prudent to offset new spending,” Mulvaney added, sending a list of plans that would save $14.8 billion by using budget funds from past years which were never spent, and by canceling other programs.

BREAKING: White House requests $44B hurricane aid package for Texas, Puerto Rico, smaller than requested.

— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) November 17, 2017

The extra $44 billion is far less than what has been requested by officials in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico; just this week, Puerto Rico’s Governor traveled to Washington, D.C. to personally request $94 billion in aid.

“We would just like to stress that this is a conservative estimate,” said Gov. Ricardo Rossello of the disaster aid request, as his island continues to struggle in the aftermath of devastation from Hurricane Maria.

Even before the latest White House disaster request was official, it was getting less than rave reviews in the Congress.

“We’ve been continually told to wait, wait, wait,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) about new disaster relief, as Lone Star State officials asked in October for $19 billion just for the state, and say infrastructure repairs could total $61 billion.

Sen John Cornyn R-TX says new White House budget request for hurricane aid is "wholly inadequate"

— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) November 17, 2017

Meanwhile, officials from Florida last month asked Congress for $27 billion in relief aid.

Cornyn said Thursday night that his staff had reported this latest request from the White House was “wholly inadequate.”

The White House had a message for Texas on Friday.

“Texas has not put any state dollars into this process,” said Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“This request by the administration doesn’t come close to providing what is needed,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “People are hurting and they desperately need our help, yet this request has no money to provide housing for evacuees and barely any money for Florida’s citrus growers. That’s unacceptable.”

As for the budget cuts proposed by the White House – $14.8 billion would happen now, with an additional savings of $44 billion projected between 2025 and 2027 by extending the budget caps associated with the budget sequester.

But holding down on spending between 2025 and 2027 certainly would not pay for hurricane aid being spent in 2017.

As for money that would be saved right now, here is the list of budget cancellations and changes that the Trump Administration would make to save $14.8 billion:

+ Emergency farm conservation activities from Hurricane Sandy – $204 million
+ Advanced Tech Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program – $4.33 billion
+ Obama stimulus loan program for innovative tech – $479.4 million
+ Obama stimulus program for National Emergency health Grants – $23 million
+ Excess money at the Army Corps of Engineers – $210 million
+ Army Corps, flood control after Hurricane Sandy – $519 million
+ Agricultural Research Service – $212 million
+ Rural Economic Development Grants – $196 million
+ Rural Business Program – $25 million
+ Rural Energy Savings program – $8 million
+ Unspent money at Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – $72 million
+ Watershed & Flood Prevention – $90 million
+ Farm conservation programs – $1.42 billion
+ Supplemental WIC funding – $800 million
+ Unspent education money in Student Financial Assistance $3.9 billion
+ Unspent funds at HHS – $560 million
+ Justice Department working capital fund – $410 million
+ State Department, Democracy Fund – $99 million
+ Federal transportation highway aid – $1 billion
+ EPA state and tribal assistance grants – $150 million
+ EPA Environmental Programs and Management – $100 million

Here is the full budget request for offsets on this latest hurricane aid plan.

Those offsets amount to $14.8 billion, far short of the $53 billion that’s already been approved, without even including this latest request for another $44 billion.

GOP pushes ahead on tax reform – Senate debate to start after Thanksgiving

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 04:59

After winning full House approval of a GOP tax reform measure, Republicans on Thursday night took another step forward in their quest for sweeping changes to the federal tax code, as the Senate Finance Committee approved a slightly different tax reform bill, setting up a debate on the Senate floor following a Thanksgiving break in Congress.

“This is a good bill that delivers on our promise to provide middle class tax relief and grow our economy,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), after his panel finished up an at times chippy four days of work.

The 14-12 vote in Hatch’s Senate Finance Committee came nine hours after the House had voted along party lines to approve a Republican tax reform package, as GOP lawmakers cheered when they reached a majority.

“We voted to cut your taxes, because it’s time that the hardworking people of this country get a break,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Big win today in the House for GOP Tax Cuts and Reform, 227-205. Zero Dems, they want to raise taxes much higher, but not for our military!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 17, 2017

Ryan and his top lieutenants were able to keep the tax bill moving by convincing some GOP lawmakers to vote for the bill, even though they had concerns about the details of the measure.

“This is not the bill I would have written,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), “but the cuts in this bill are very broad, and the substantial reduction in the complexity of the tax code will benefit even those who do not see direct cuts to their income taxes.”

In fact, during two days of debate on the House floor, a number of Republicans – who voted for the bill – publicly took time to express their hope that a variety of provisions would be changed in the measure.

The biggest flashpoint in the House for Republicans remains the changes that block most state and local tax deductions, which drew sharp opposition from GOP lawmakers in New York, New Jersey and California.

“Adding back in the property tax deduction up to $10,000 was progress, but not enough progress,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who voted against the bill.

“This fight is not over,” Zeldin added.

I voted NO on the tax bill today to protect Long Island and NY. While the bill passed, I will continue the fight.

— Rep. Pete King (@RepPeteKing) November 16, 2017

Next stop for tax reform will be the Senate floor, where the magic legislative formula may prove a bit trickier for GOP leaders, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his party’s plan “will bring lasting relief to middle-class families, small businesses and American workers.”

“When the Senate returns after Thanksgiving, I will bring this must-pass legislation to the floor for further debate and open consideration,” McConnell added.

But like an earlier debate over health care, McConnell can only afford to lose two Republican votes, and already there are rumblings from more than that, like from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who is demanding changes on how small business and pass through businesses are impacted by tax reform.

“People realize we have a problem here,” Johnson told reporters, saying he’s been getting a lot of people telling him, “stand firm, you are absolutely right” on helping small business.

“Not necessarily what I was expecting,” Johnson admitted with a smile.

Other Republicans on the bubble on tax reform include Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who blocked health care reform earlier this year, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who voted against that health care plan as well. Also, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who publicly rebuked President Trump in recent weeks.

If the GOP tax reform bill is going to be changed at all, it will have to come from within Republican ranks in the Senate, leaving Democrats stewing on the sidelines.

“The public always knows that when the Republicans are in power, the first thing they want to do is give tax cuts to the rich,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who got into a late night spat with the Senate Finance Committee chairman.

Tense moment between Sen. Brown and Sen. Hatch after Brown says GOP tax cut is "for the rich." Hatch responds: "Don’t spew that stuff on me" pic.twitter.com/57zEA03a6b

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) November 17, 2017

“This is such a scam,” said Sen. Clare McCaskill (D-MO), as Democrats could only express their frustrations, unable to stop the GOP tax effort.

Adding to the aggravation of Democrats is the inclusion of a provision in the Senate bill that would repeal the tax penalty from the individual mandate under the Obama health law.

In a speech on Thursday night to tax group, Vice President Mike Pence made clear the White House wants that provision in a final bill.

“Repealing the individual mandate tax at the heart of Obamacare is a tax cut for millions of hard working Americans,” the Vice President said.

House passes sweeping GOP tax reform bill as focus shifts to Senate

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 19:20

In a major legislative victory for Republicans and President Trump, the House on Thursday approved a sweeping overhaul of the federal tax code, sending the plan to an uncertain future in the Senate, which will try to vote on its own version of tax changes after Thanksgiving.

In an afternoon tweet, the President called it a ‘big step toward fulfilling our promise” on tax cuts, and that was echoed by GOP lawmakers in the House.

“A historic day,” said Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA), as cheering broke out on the House floor as the vote count went over a majority for the bill, which has been a top agenda item for Republicans and the White House.

“This is a promise made, and a promise delivered,” added Handel, who stood by the GOP drive for tax reform in a heated special election earlier this year.

“We’re going to see the economy take off,” said a smiling Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) just after the vote, as he praised the help of President Trump in convincing GOP lawmakers to stick with the tax reform plan, despite a lot of provisions that could have proved nettlesome for the GOP effort.

"We, collectively, asked the country in 2016 to give us a chance to go work for them," Speaker Ryan says, adding that GOP did one of the greatest things “we could possibly do to make good on that promise.” https://t.co/tv1Y4gq4Ge pic.twitter.com/VSyGtPSfbv

— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 16, 2017

There were 13 Republicans who voted against the bill, most of them from states which would be hit hard by changes in the state and local tax deduction – New Jersey, New York and California.

“The last time they did tax reform, it took two years,” said Rep. Pete King (R-NY), who has argued that Republicans are rushing too fast to make these changes.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where a series of hurdles already exist – the cost of the plan, the temporary nature of the individual tax cuts, questions about how small businesses are treated in both bills, and more.

Floor debate in the Senate is not expected to start until after Thanksgiving.

“We’ve got a long road ahead of us,” acknowledged Speaker Paul Ryan.