GOP Reconciles Senate and House Versions, Wealthiest to Get Windfall

Developments on Day 330 of the Trump Administration:

GOP Releases Final Tax Change Bill

Seeking their first major victory since Donald Trump took office, Republican legislators agree on a final version of a $1.5 trillion tax change bill, looking for passage before Christmas.

GOP leaders in the House and Senate announced agreement on Friday, after a last-minute waver over objections by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who called for a more generous child tax credit.

The credit was duly provided, and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who voted against the initial Senate bill over concerns about the estimate of more than $1 trillion added to the Federal Government deficit, said he will support the legislation. The bill also won praise from Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who had also been doubtful about the original Senate version before voting for it.

The final plan provides an even greater boost for the wealthiest Americans, lowering the top tax rate — applies to married couples earning over $470,700 — from 39.6% to 37% and raising the threshold at which the rate is applies. The new tax break for the rich is even greater than that in the original Senate bill, as the GOP tried to ensure that wealthy earners in states such New York, Connecticut, and California do not pay significantly higher taxes because of a reduction in state and local deductions.

The rich can also keep up to $11 million in inheritance — $22 million for married couples — with the doubling of the threshold for estate tax.

The corporate tax rate for big businesses is cut from 35% to 21%, the largest one-time rate cut in U.S history. Businesses will reap about $1 trillion in the next decade.

People in states such as New York, Connecticut, and California will be adversely affected by the removal of unlimited deductions for state and local taxes. In the final plan, the limit is $10,000 in property, income, and sales taxes.

The final bill does restore deductions for high out-of-pocket medical costs, tax-free tuition waivers for graduate students, and interest on student loans.

The legislation also has other non-tax measures trying to push back Obama-era measures. For example, the bill eliminates the individual mandate in ObamaCare, requiring people to have health insurance or face financial penalties.

Trump on Flynn Pardon: “”We’ll See What Happens”

Donald Trump leaves open the possibility of a pardon for his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty on December 1 to lying to the FBI in the Trump-Russia investigation.

Appearing on the White House South Lawn, Trump responded to a question from reporters about the pardon: “We’ll see what happens. Let’s see.”

Flynn was charged over his multiple conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in December 2016. Acting on guidance from above in the Trump transition, the senior advisor urged Moscow not to retaliate for sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration over Russia’s interference in the 2016 Presidential election.

Flynn is now cooperating with the team of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, increasing pressure on the Trump team.

In response, Trump and media allies have been trying to destroy the credibility of the Mueller inquiry, playing up stories of FBI and Justice Department personnel who are supposedly compromised. Trump maintained the line in heated remarks on Friday: “It’s a shame what happened with the FBI. We’re going to rebuild the FBI. It is going to be bigger and better than ever. It is very sad.”

He derided the investigation, “They’re spending millions and millions of dollars. There is absolutely no collusion.”

Justice Department Leaked Texts Used in Attempt to Undermine Trump-Russia Investigation

The Justice Department has acknowledged leaking texts of personnel, being used in an attempt to undermine the Trump-Russia investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The Department said copies of private text messages exchanged between investigators Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were given to key members of the House Judiciary Committee the night before Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s public testimony on Wednesday.

Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said, “As we understand now, some members of the media had already received copies of the texts before [the Wednesday hearing] — but those disclosures were not authorized by the department,” she said.

The Department issued an unusual invitation to a small group of reporters on Tuesday night to view the private text messages Strzok and Page exchanged from 2015 to 2016. Many of the messages were critical of then-candidate Donald Trump.

Strzok, a veteran counterintelligence official, was among those overseeing the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails in 2016. He was abruptly removed from the Mueller’ team in late July and relegated to the human-resources department after the FBI became aware of the texts. Page left over the summer for unrelated reasons.

Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee have asked the Department who approved the invitation to reporters.

Under-Fire Tillerson Withdraws Offer to Talk With North Korea

Under threat from a White House faction, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson withdraws his offer to talk with North Korea without preconditions.

On Tuesday, Tillerson had pulled back Donald Trump’s military-first rhetoric over North Korean nuclear and missile programs and suggested negotiations. But a White House group, possibly the camp of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, renewed leaks to the media that the Secretary of State is “irrelevant” and will soon be replaced.

See TrumpWatch, Day 329: White House Faction Renews Attack on Tillerson

In remarks at a ministerial meeting of the UN Security Council on Friday, Tillerson left out a line restating US openness to talks “without pre-conditions”, circulated by the State Department in a text of his speech. Instead, he put out a tougher line:

As I said earlier this week, a sustained cessation of North Korea’s threatening behavior must occur before talks can begin. North Korea must earn its way back to the table. The pressure campaign must, and will, continue until denuclearization is achieved. We will, in the meantime, keep our channels of communication open.

Asked on Friday about North Korea, Trump responded vaguely:

Well, we’re going to see what happens with North Korea. We have a lot of support. There are a lot of nations that agree with us – almost everybody. We can’t let that happen. And we’re going to see what happens with North Korea. We hope it works out.

Trump Administration Bans CDC From Using Words Like “Transgender”, “Vulnerable”, and “Science-Based”

The Trump Administration prohibits officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “science-based” and “transgender” — in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the CDC were told of the list on Friday in ta 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based”, and “science-based”.

In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.” In other cases, no replacement words were offered.

Several CDC offices overseeing work using some of the word. The National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention is working on ways to prevent HIV among transgender people and reduce health disparities. The CDC’s work on birth defects caused by the Zika virus includes research on the developing fetus.

Other departments such as Health and Human Services have removed information about LGBT Americans from its website, while scientific agencies have been barred from using terms such as “climate change”.