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16Dec/170

Republicans have votes to pass tax plan after Rubio, Corker pledge support

Congressional Republicans secured enough support Friday to pass their massive tax plan, a measure that would deliver a major legislative victory to President Trump and his GOP allies and make tax changes affecting nearly every American family and business.

Passage appeared certain after two critical holdouts, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), said they would vote for the bill next week.

Rubio was the key piece of a complicated and shifting political puzzle that the White House and GOP leaders spent months trying to solve, as all Democrats vowed to oppose the bill and a handful of Republicans made strident demands.

The Florida Republican insisted on an expansion of the child tax credit in exchange for his vote, and GOP leaders relented, growing a benefit for working-class families. Corker’s support was unexpected, as he had opposed an earlier version of the tax bill two weeks ago amid concerns about its additions to the deficit.

But Friday he said that he viewed the bill as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” that, combined with changes to immigration and trade policy, would help the economy.

Sen. Marco Rubio, second from left, talks with Sen. John McCain at the U.S. Capitol. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

The bill would push into law a $1.5 trillion tax package that was mostly written by Republicans behind closed doors and with little public debate.

If passed, the measure would represent Trump’s first major legislative victory. It includes an overhaul of the tax code and a targeted change to the Affordable Care Act, the Obama-era health-care law Republicans have long sought to dismantle.

Under the tax plan, Americans would lose the personal exemptions that often dictate how much money is withheld from their paychecks. They would instead pay taxes through a new regime that exempts a higher level of income from taxation and then subjects much of the rest to lower rates. Many more Americans would have access to the child tax credit, but they would also face a new cap on the federal deduction for state and local tax payments.

On net, Republicans believe that the bill would lower most people’s taxes. But many Americans — particularly those in high-tax states such as New York, New Jersey and California — would see their taxes go up.

The House and the Senate plan to vote on the bill next week, clearing the way for Trump to sign it into law. Many of its changes — lower rates and fewer deductions — would go into effect in January, though it would probably take some time for the economy to adjust.

The tax plan has enormous benefits for many businesses, with a permanent and sharp reduction in tax rates that Republicans promise would trigger more economic growth, new hiring and higher wages.

It also would change the tax system for households, temporarily lowering rates and creating new limits on deductions; this is expected to reduce taxes for most Americans but could still lead millions to owe the government more.

The plan would also add at least $1 trillion to the debt over 10 years, according to numerous economic forecasts, an issue that is likely to intensify policy debate in Washington into 2018 as both parties square off over how to deal with the deficit.

The bill was originally pitched as a sweeping tax cut for the middle class, but it changed over the course of several months as Republicans demanded a variety of alterations.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) extracted more tax cuts for businesses whose owners file their taxes through the individual income tax code.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and other East Coast Republicans demanded changes that would allow Americans to deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes, restoring some of the deduction after the Senate initially sought to scrap it entirely.

House Republicans tried to cap the mortgage interest deduction to the interest paid on up to $500,000 in new home loans, but they acquiesced eventually to a $750,000 cap — still lower than the current limit of about $1 million.

A number of GOP donors complained that the bill could push their taxes up, so Republicans agreed to a late change that would cut the top tax rate to 37 percent (down from 39.6 percent) for income above $600,000 for a married couple filing jointly. Earlier proposals called for consolidating the seven tax brackets into three, with a top rate of 35 percent, but the final deal stuck with seven brackets and a 37 percent top rate.

Corker’s attempts to change the bill were rejected by GOP leaders — he had tried to put in place a mechanism that would limit the plan’s impact on the debt if it didn’t lead to the type of economic growth that Republicans had promised. He voted against the legislation in early December, but he was the only defection at the time, and Republicans were able to pass the bill without him.

Republicans had to soften a number of their proposed tax changes so that the bill fit within congressional budget rules.

Trump originally wanted to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, but Republicans eventually settled on a 21 percent rate.

They also decided to make those tax cuts permanent and lock in reductions for families and businesses only through 2025 to limit the cost. They have promised that a future Congress will extend those tax cuts, though the outcome for such a political decision is uncertain.

For many Americans, the tax bill could have an immediate impact.

It could alter the tax benefits of mortgages issued in just two weeks, and Americans could see more take-home pay in their paychecks by February.

The process of filing taxes each year would change and could lead Americans to shift how they allocate money. It could also lead companies to restructure, based on their income, investment and spending patterns.

The bill would repeal enforcement of a provision of the Affordable Care Act that penalizes many Americans if they don’t have some form of health insurance. This change would take effect in 2019 under the bill.

Many of the changes made late in the negotiations would benefit businesses and the wealthy, but Rubio’s last-minute demands pulled the package back a bit more toward its working-class roots.

Republicans had proposed to expand the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000, but the benefits formula they’d planned to use would have capped it for many low- and moderate-income families at $1,100. Rubio demanded that the credit be raised, and Republicans at first believed he would balk, in part because he voted for the Senate bill even after the party denied his effort to expand the child tax credit in that measure.

But when he threatened Thursday to block the bill and appeared to have the backing of Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Republican leaders agreed to expand the tax credit up to $1,400 for those families. The credit would begin to phase out for households that earn more than $400,000.

Lee late Friday said that he looked “forward to reading the full text of the bill and, hopefully, supporting it.”

Republicans had passed an earlier version of the bill through the Senate with a 51-to-49 vote, and losing two more senators could have proved fatal, though the GOP now appears firmly in control of the votes it needs.

Many of the changes to the tax code that Republicans initially sought were dialed back or removed.

They had proposed allowing multinational companies to bring cash held overseas back to the United States at a 12 percent tax rate, but they raised the rate to 15.5 percent in the final agreement as a way to generate more revenue.

They opted against imposing taxes that would have hit graduate students, and they did not strip away tax benefits for families who adopt children.

They had proposed to eliminate the estate tax and the alternative-minimum tax for individuals, but those changes proved too costly, and the final plan would exempt more families from these taxes but not get rid of them.

Democrats have blasted the bill, saying it would shower corporations with lower taxes at the expense of driving up the debt and giving only temporary and uneven benefits to the middle class. The tax-rate cuts for individuals and households would expire after eight years, while most of the cuts for corporations would be permanent.

“It’s daylight robbery,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “And with every iteration, the GOP tax scam becomes even more cowardly, outrageous, dishonest, brazen theft from middle-class families, giving money from them to the richest people in our country and to corporations. It’s a monumental con job.”

On Friday evening, Democrats sent a warning to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) about the bill’s effects on the deficit. Under current law, a bill that would add to the deficit would trigger mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts, including to popular programs such as Medicare. Republican leaders have said they’re looking to avoid having such spending cuts go into effect, but to pass legislation waiving the rules – known as “pay as you go” laws – Republicans could need Democratic votes.

In the letter to Ryan, House Democratic leaders said Republicans were responsible for passing such a waiver. In order to get Democrats’ help, the leaders said, the majority would have to drop their bid to undermine the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate and pledge not to make any cuts to Medicare benefits in 2018.

Public opinion polls show that Americans broadly think the bill favors corporations and the wealthy, but Republicans have persisted, with many predicting that it would lead to a surge in economic growth and buoy their prospects going into the 2018 midterm elections.

Republicans thought they had finished crafting the tax bill Thursday, but then Rubio threatened to block the measure if changes weren’t made to expand access to the child tax credit.

Many of his colleagues were furious, but they relented and made Rubio’s requested changes overnight. On Friday afternoon, Rubio spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas said he would vote for the bill.

Rubio, in a series of Twitter posts, called the planned expansion of the child tax credit a “solid step toward broader reforms” that he wanted to continue working on in the months and years to come.

Heather Long contributed to this report.

Article source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/rubio-pushes-leadership-on-help-for-poor-families-with-tax-vote-hanging-in-the-balance/2017/12/15/ecb87942-e1a6-11e7-8679-a9728984779c_story.html

14Dec/170

Trump: ‘I Said Roy Moore Will Not Be Able to Win’ in Alabama

But aides said that Mr. Trump might still fault others for the loss. The list of those who might be the targets of his ire include the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, whose advisers pressed the president to back Senator Luther Strange in the primary, only to see him lose. One of the advisers said that Mr. Trump would still nurse a grudge against Mr. McConnell, whose instincts the president does not trust, for leading him to the original endorsement.

Those advisers said the president was troubled watching a stream of Republicans step away from Mr. Moore over decades-old allegations of sexual misconduct with teenagers, and he did not want to join the stampede.

Instead, the president threw the full weight of his office and reputation behind Mr. Moore.

White House aides were also bracing for the president’s reaction toward Stephen K. Bannon, his former chief strategist who had publicly said Mr. Trump’s base was with Mr. Moore and suggested the movement would march on without the leader of the party. Mr. Bannon’s continuing sway over Mr. Trump has deeply bothered the advisers still on the government payroll, and they were optimistic that the outcome in Alabama would weaken his grip.

Mr. Trump’s first reaction to the Democratic Party’s win — which he absorbed while in the White House residence, alone for much of the evening, with the first lady out of town — was a demure Twitter post congratulating Doug Jones.

“A win is a win,” Mr. Trump wrote, adding that Republicans would have another chance at the seat — vacated by Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general — soon enough. It was a surprisingly gracious tweet from a president who had excoriated Democrats, attacked Mr. Jones and insisted Republicans needed the vote from Alabama in a string of statements over the past week.

The president’s aides spun the loss as belonging squarely to Mr. Moore. Mr. Moore had been accused of sexual assault and child molestation by a number of women, one of whom said she was just 14 at the time he made sexual contact with her. Mr. Moore was a weak candidate, White House officials argued, and Mr. Trump could not drag someone that weak over the finish line against a crush of outside spending and a bipartisan message from Mr. Jones.

In private conversations, several West Wing advisers noted that the vote for a tax code revamp was expected to take place before Mr. Jones is sworn in. A victory on the tax bill would provide the president with a quick opportunity to change the subject.

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But in the search for scapegoats, Bill Stepien, the White House political director who has been under fire from some of his colleagues, could also be a target. John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, is a political neophyte who relies on others, and he has told people the political staff needs beefing up.

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Some of the president’s aides had told him the polling in Alabama was unreliable, and it was hard to know who would actually show up to vote.

But Mr. Bannon’s words rolled round the president’s mind for several days before his endorsement. The president was also enraged when his daughter Ivanka Trump got ahead of him by declaring there was a “special place in hell” for people who harm children.

Mr. Bannon jabbed at Ms. Trump on Monday night at a rally in Alabama for that line.

One White House adviser said that Mr. Trump was unlikely to blame his daughter. But he would almost certainly blame someone.

Still, the embarrassing loss showed the limits of the president’s power to persuade voters and to lead his party.

But, as he so often does, Mr. Trump quickly moved to try to redefine the outcome in a more favorable light.

The president had placed his credibility and the weight of his office behind Mr. Moore, a deeply flawed Senate candidate who had been rejected by a clear majority of Republican elected officials, but had been propped up by the endorsement of Mr. Trump and the backing of Mr. Bannon.

Mr. Moore lost in a state that Mr. Trump had won by 28 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016, a state where the Democratic Party had been essentially moribund for decades. The president endorsed Mr. Moore against the advice of some of the White House and nearly every Republican member of Congress. He stumped for him at a rally in nearby Pensacola, Fla., last week, and recorded telephone messages sent to thousands of Alabama voters.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/13/us/trump-moore-loss-alabama.html

11Dec/170

California wildfires now larger than New York City and Boston combined

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Article source: http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/11/us/california-wildfires/index.html

8Dec/170

Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser, to depart Trump White House

Deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, a driving force behind the Trump administration’s Middle East policy, plans to leave the White House as part of an anticipated wave of departures following President Trump’s first year in office, according to four senior administration officials.

Unlike some top White House officials who were fired or resigned amid controversy this year, Powell is exiting on good terms with the president, the officials said. She and Trump have discussed her departure and are working on an arrangement for Powell to continue advising the administration on Middle East policy from outside the government, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Powell’s departure has not been publicly announced.

Powell committed to serving in her national security job for a full year and her decision to leave is her own, the officials said. She plans to move home early next year to New York, where her family lives.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster called Powell “one of the most talented and effective leaders with whom I have ever served.”

“Dina has been an invaluable member of President Trump’s team,” McMaster said in an email. “She organized and drove an effort to restore our nation’s strategic competence. Dina ensured that our integrated strategies protected the American people and promoted American prosperity. Her sage advice helped provide options to the president, and her strong relationships across the U.S. government and internationally helped drive execution of the president’s decisions.”

Powell in Hanoi last month with, from left, national security spokesman Michael Anton, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and U.S. trade representative Robert E. Lighthizer. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

McMaster added, “All of us look forward to continuing to work with her as she continues to support this administration’s efforts on Middle East peace and other issues.”

Powell’s departure could come as part of a staff exodus around the Trump presidency’s one-year mark, with some senior officials eyeing the exits after a grueling first year marked at times by internal chaos.

For instance, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose relationship with Trump has been strained, is widely expected to leave his post in coming weeks. The White House has been considering a plan to replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a Trump loyalist.

Powell has been an all-purpose adviser on foreign policy, with a particular focus on the Middle East portfolio. She has advised Trump on his meetings with foreign leaders and planned all five of the president’s foreign trips, as well as his September visit to the U.N. General Assembly.

But Powell, like her colleagues, faces the question of how much influence she ultimately had on the president and his approach to foreign policy. Trump’s relationships with many traditional allies have been strained because of his combative statements and “America first” agenda, which European leaders in particular view as threatening.

She also worked to build relationships between the administration and corporate leaders, but several of the president’s business councils disbanded after Trump’s incendiary comments on the violence in Charlottesville.

Along with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Jason Greenblatt, the special representative for international negotiations, Powell has been an architect of Trump’s Middle East policy. Powell is planning to accompany Vice President Pence on his high-stakes visit to Israel and Egypt later this month.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Powell in April. (Jonathan Ernst/AP)

“Dina has done a great job for the administration and has been a valued member of the Israeli-Palestinian peace team,” Kushner said in an email. “She will continue to play a key role in our peace efforts, and we will share more details on that in the future.”

Powell has been a conduit between the president, who has vowed to govern as a disrupter, and Washington’s foreign policy establishment, tapping the network she cultivated in her years as a senior official in the George W. Bush administration.

Together with McMaster and National Security Council staffer Nadia Schadlow, Powell developed the administration’s comprehensive national security strategy, which is being rolled out this month.

“Dina has done an outstanding job bringing structure and order to the National Security Council policymaking process and the interagency process,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). “It was known from the beginning that she would spend about a year in the White House, so it’s not a surprise, but it will be a loss for the president and for H.R. McMaster.”

Powell, also a former Goldman Sachs executive, was to many Trump supporters the antithesis of what the administration should support, given her close ties to Wall Street and support of a traditional Republican view of international affairs.

This tension was evident in the criticism she received at times from some nationalists in Trump’s circle. Though longtime conservative leaders have publicly vouched for her, Powell has been lumped into what former chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon dismissively calls the “globalists.”

Powell has a close relationship with Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Kushner, both senior White House advisers, as well as with National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, also a former Goldman executive.

One senior White House official described Powell’s relationship with President Trump as “really trusting” and said of his first year in office, “Without her, it would have been worse.”

“He talks to her all the time,” this official said. “He trusts her judgment. She’s been spot-on with her views on foreign leaders and how to handle them and talk to them. It comes with her years of experience.”

Powell initially entered the Trump orbit as an adviser to Ivanka and was hired at the start of the administration as senior counselor for economic initiatives. But when McMaster took over as national security adviser for Michael Flynn, who was fired after 24 days on the job, McMaster tapped Powell to serve as his deputy and oversee strategy and interagency coordination.

Powell, who was born in Egypt and speaks Arabic, has worked closely with many Cabinet members and senior staffers, including Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, with whom she traveled throughout the Middle East this spring.

During the Bush administration, Powell worked under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as assistant secretary for educational and cultural affairs, as well as at the White House as director of presidential personnel. She also worked on Capitol Hill as a House leadership staffer during the tenure of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who earlier this week praised her “extraordinary” work on Trump’s national security strategy.

Powell’s work in the administration has drawn plaudits by some Democrats as well.

“Dina has been one of the most respected and capable national security professionals in this administration — really in any administration,” said Jeremy Bash, who served in the Obama administration as chief of staff to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. “She’s been able to be a bridge between the foreign policy establishment and the administration, and she has been trusted by both sides.”

Article source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/dina-powell-deputy-national-security-adviser-to-depart-trump-white-house/2017/12/08/85d8c9ea-dc31-11e7-a841-2066faf731ef_story.html

6Dec/170

White House: Jerusalem embassy move a ‘recognition of reality’

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Article source: http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/05/politics/trump-abbas-us-embassy-jerusalem/index.html

3Dec/170

‘I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn’: Trump goes on tweetstorm about the FBI


President Trump spoke about his former national security adviser's guilty plea as he left Washington for a fundraising trip to New York. (Shawn Thew/EPA)

President Trump issued a fresh denial Sunday that he asked then-FBI Director James B. Comey to halt an investigation into the conduct of his dismissed national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn,” Trump said in a pre-dawn message on Twitter. “Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!”

The tweet was the latest in a running commentary on the case from Trump that began Saturday, a day after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his interactions with a Russian official.

In other tweets Sunday, Trump also seized on news that Peter Strzok — the former top FBI official assigned to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election — was taken off that job this summer after his bosses discovered that he and another member of Mueller’s team had exchanged politically charged texts disparaging Trump and supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton. Strzok was also a key player in the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server, which ended without charges against her.

“Report: ‘ANTI-TRUMP FBI AGENT LED CLINTON EMAIL PROBE’ Now it all starts to make sense!” Trump wrote, before proceeding to criticize the FBI and promise to bring it back to “greatness” under his administration.

Trump fired Flynn 25 days into his administration for misrepresenting the nature of his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador in Washington at the time, to Vice President Pence and other administration officials.

Comey has alleged that the day after that, Trump urged him to be lenient with Flynn, producing notes in which he quoted Trump as saying, “I hope you can let this go.”

Trump stoked the controversy with one of his Saturday tweets, in which he said part of the rationale for firing Flynn was that he had lied to the FBI.

“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” Trump wrote in that tweet.

But critics pounced Saturday on Trump, arguing that if he knew at the time of his conversation with Comey that Flynn had lied to the FBI and was under investigation, it may constitute an attempt to obstruct that investigation.

“Are you ADMITTING you knew Flynn had lied to the FBI when you asked Comey to back off Flynn?” Walter Shaub, the former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, asked in a tweet Saturday afternoon.

On Sunday, Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Trump should have taken action against Flynn sooner if he already knew that the then-national security adviser had lied to the FBI.

“Well, if he knew that then, why didn't he act on it earlier?” Warner said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It raises a whole series of additional questions.”

Warner also told CNN that Flynn being charged with only one count of lying to the FBI suggests that there are “many more stories that General Flynn will have to tell about his time during the campaign and during the transition.”

Trump attorney John Dowd drafted the president’s tweet, according to two people familiar with the message. If that is true, the tweet's authorship could diminish how significantly it communicates anything about when the president knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI, but it also raises questions about the public relations strategy of Trump's chief attorney.

Two people close to the administration described the tweet simply as sloppy and unfortunate.

As Flynn pleaded guilty Friday, he made clear that he is cooperating with Mueller as the latter probes Russian meddling in last year’s election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Flynn’s decision to cooperate with Mueller was widely seen as a sign of increasing legal peril for other White House aides and perhaps Trump himself, as the investigation has expanded beyond potential collusion with Russia to include obstruction of justice and financial crimes.

In an interview Sunday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said it looked to her that “what we’re beginning to see is the putting together of a case of obstruction of justice.”

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said she saw that in the indictments of Flynn and three other Trump associates, as well as the “hyper-frenetic attitude of the White House: the comments every day, the continual tweets.”

“And I see it, most importantly, in what happened with the firing of Director Comey, and it is my belief that that is directly because [Comey] did not agree to lift the cloud of the Russia investigation,” Feinstein said. “That’s obstruction of justice.”

The president continued tweeting about Flynn late Saturday. In one message, he complained that it was unfair for Flynn’s life to be “destroyed” for lying to the FBI, arguing that the agency pursued Clinton far less aggressively while investigating her use of a private email server as secretary of state.

Trump’s commentary on the case began Saturday morning, as he addressed reporters before leaving the White House for a fundraising trip to New York.

He said he was not worried about what Flynn might share now that he is cooperating with prosecutors, forcefully asserting that there was “absolutely no collusion” between his campaign and Russia.

On Sunday, as he commented on news about the reassignment of Strzok, Trump also retweeted a pair of posts on the subject written by Paul Sperry, a conservative commentator. One suggested that the current FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, should “clean house” because of the politicization of the agency.

A little later, Trump promised a better FBI under his leadership.

“After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters - worst in History!” Trump wrote. “But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness.”

Trump also weighed in Sunday on a decision by ABC News to suspend investigative reporter Brian Ross for an erroneous story about Flynn, saying the network should be sued.

Ross told viewers Friday morning that Flynn was prepared to testify that Trump, as a candidate for president, told him to contact Russians.

Later in the day, Ross walked back his report, saying that the source who had provided the initial information for the story later told him that it was as president-elect, not as a candidate, that Trump had asked Flynn to contact Russians.

On Saturday, ABC apologized for a “serious error.”

Ross’s incorrect report prompted a dramatic reaction in the financial markets.

On Sunday, Trump offered a suggestion to those who lost money: “People who lost money when the Stock Market went down 350 points based on the False and Dishonest reporting of Brian Ross of @ABC News (he has been suspended), should consider hiring a lawyer and suing ABC for the damages this bad reporting has caused - many millions of dollars!”

Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.

Article source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/12/03/in-pre-dawn-twitter-message-trump-issues-a-fresh-denial-about-intervening-in-flynn-investigation/

1Dec/170

Trump tweet slams ‘disgraceful’ Kate Steinle verdict

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Article source: http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/30/politics/kate-steinle-verdict-reactions/index.html

28Nov/170

The Finance 202: Trump antagonists and Arizona senators are key to tax plan’s success

THE TICKER

Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and Sen. John McCain during a 2015 baseball game in Washington. (AP /Alex Brandon)

Under normal circumstances, Arizona’s Republican senators would be easy gets for the Senate GOP tax bill. 

Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake are anything but. 

Their resistance promises to thrust the Grand Canyon State duo into a starring role in the drama unfolding this week in the Senate, as leaders race to salvage the party’s legislative agenda. And it demonstrates how far through the looking glass we’ve passed in a matter of months that such a bedrock conservative project could be bleeding Republican support just as it takes center stage in the upper chamber. 

Consider the facts on the ground in Arizona: 

  • The tax bill represents the top priority of a new president, who romped through the state’s presidential primary last year, beating his nearest challenger there by more than 18 points before edging out Hillary Clinton in the general election. (Although, consistent with his national numbers, President Trump now shoulders a double-digit disapproval rating in Arizona.)
  • The state’s jobless rate ranks 16th in the nation, just above the national average, arguably creating a stronger case for fiscal stimulus there than exists elsewhere in an economy broadly considered near full employment. 
  • Arizona’s corporate community is rallying behind the bill — a testament in part to the state’s concentration of the retail industry. Retailers pay among the highest effective tax rates of any sector, meaning they would benefit the most from the corporate rate reduction at the heart of the bill. (Seven of the top 20 employers in Arizona are retailers, including Walmart, which has emerged as a top corporate cheerleader for the tax bills.) 
  • McCain and Flake both typically serve as reliable votes for business-friendly measures. The two have compiled voting records the U.S. Chamber of Commerce scores at 83 percent and 73 percent, respectively. McCain voted against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, calling out their lopsided benefits for the rich, but reversed himself to support extending them in 2006. Flake has distinguished himself as an anti-tax stalwart, at one point contemplating a primary challenge against McCain over his opposition to the Bush tax cuts. (As a member of the House, Flake supported them, backed making them permanent, and co-sponsored legislation to abolish the IRS.)

But McCain and Flake now stand shoulder to shoulder among the handful of Republican holdouts who could yet sink the Senate tax bill. 

McCain has said encouraging things about the process to date but reportedly harbors a range of reservations

From the Wall Street Journal's Richard Rubin: 

Recall that McCain delivered the death blow to the Republican push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act this summer, and the tax package seeks to make a down payment on gutting that law by trashing its individual mandate. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has expressed concerns about that provision, and she wants to preserve the ability of individuals to deduct local property taxes from their federal taxable income. 

Flake is focusing more narrowly on the deficit implications of the package. So are Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who are agitating for a guarantee, potentially in the form of an added trigger mechanism, that the bill won’t increase the debt after a decade.

But others are pressing for provisions that will make the package even more expensive. As the Senate Budget Committee prepares to vote today on the package, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a member of the panel, was still pledging to oppose it pending a deal to expand tax relief for so-called pass-through businesses  a demand shared by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.). 

Republican leaders hope that inertia, powered by a recognition this effort represents the last, best shot to achieve a long-deferred conservative dream, will force senators back into formation. 

In that, the Arizona pair could be outliers. There’s a strong likelihood that neither will face voters again, since Flake is stepping down rather than run for reelection next year and McCain is battling an aggressive cancer.

“They’re both immune from any kind of feedback, so I don’t think pressure is a factor here,” says David Berman, a political science professor at Arizona State University. And Trump has gone out of his way to antagonize both, privately and publicly:
 

Yet the plan’s corporate boosters think something akin to Republican muscle memory will kick in for the holdouts.

As for McCain and Flake, Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, acknowledges the situation remains fluid and he "couldn’t say at this point what either senator will do."

But, Hamer stated, "both have been great advocates on behalf of job creators in Arizona and very popular with the business community… I’m optimistic they’ll play a positive role in bridging some of the remaining issues so this can move forward.”
 

Musical chairs continues at the CFPB yesterday, where a surreal scene took place as Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney arrived at the watchdog's offices . The Post's Renae Merle: "By the end of the day, it was still unclear who was the true acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — President Trump’s pick of [Mulvaney] or one of the agency’s longtime executives, Leandra English.

Mulvaney showed up at the agency’s Washington headquarters early in the morning bearing a bag of doughnuts and then firing off an email ordering the staff to disregard any orders from English. His office tweeted photos of Mulvaney taking part in office meetings and he invited in the press to announce that he had declared a temporary freeze on hiring and rulemaking... English, meanwhile, came to the office and sent an early morning email welcoming the staff of 1,600 back from the Thanksgiving holiday and then headed to Capitol Hill, where she met with several Democratic lawmakers.

The confusion promised to continue for at least another day after a federal judge — a recent Trump appointee — declined to rule immediately on English’s request for a temporary restraining order barring Mulvaney from taking over."

--Read my colleague James Hohmann in The Daily 202 today, who has an interview with Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the consequences of the fight.

Here was Mulvaney showing up, donuts in hand, per the NYT's Katie Rogers:

The Mulvaney agenda. Politico's Andrew Restuccia: "Mulvaney... said Monday he has no immediate plans to dismantle the agency, but he nonetheless implemented a temporary freeze on hiring and new regulations. 'Rumors that I’m going to set the place on fire or blow it up or lock the doors are completely false,' Mulvaney, a longtime critic of the bureau, told reporters during a briefing at CFPB headquarters... Both the hiring freeze and the freeze on all new regulations and guidance will last for 30 days, as will a separate freeze on civil penalty payments. Mulvaney stressed that the bureau will continue to meet its legal and statutory deadlines...

In addition, Mulvaney said he has not taken any steps to fire English, who filed a lawsuit against him and Trump on Sunday and asked the court to establish her authority as acting director. Mulvaney said she had the right as a private citizen to file the suit. Mulvaney said he expects Trump to name a permanent CFPB director 'as quickly as possible.' He added that he will respect any effort by the court to prevent him from acting as director, but he said he believes the White House is accurately interpreting the law."

The former Freedom Caucus-er also promises big changes. WSJ: "Mr. Mulvaney, who said he intends to work three days a week at the CFPB and three days a week at OMB, promised swift changes. 'Anyone who thinks that a Trump administration CFPB would be the same as an Obama administration CFPB is simply being naive. Elections have consequences at every agency, including the CFPB,' he said."

A Wall Street street sign outside the New York Stock Exchange. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

The Bigger Picture: Trump casts Wall Street as victim. NYT's Matthew Goldstein ans Stacy Cowley: "A decade after the financial crisis, the federal government is easing up its policing of Wall Street and the banking industry, even without actually repealing broad swaths of regulation. The public battle over who will serve as the acting director of the [CFPB] ... is the most recent example of the banker-friendly approach that has gripped Washington. Less visible are the subtle but steady efforts at the White House, in federal agencies and on Capitol Hill to lessen the regulatory burden on banks and financial firms since President Trump took office.

At the Treasury Department, officials are trying to make it easier for financial firms to avoid being tagged as “too big to fail,” a designation that subjects them to greater oversight. A major banking regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, has become more forgiving of big banks when it comes to enforcing laws. And the Securities and Exchange Commission is reining in the power of regional directors to issue subpoenas.

In Congress, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing legislation to reduce regulation on small financial institutions... The changes are the result of a combination of forces: business-friendly appointments by the president, a lack of financial and personnel resources at many federal agencies, minute changes in rules imposed by regulators and a relaxation in how bank examiners supervise large institutions."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), with committee members John Cornyn (R-Tex.), right and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) after a White House meeting on taxes Monday. (Shawn Thew/ EPA-EFE)

TAX FLY-AROUND:

Big changes, little time. The Post's Damian Paletta, Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner: "If the bill fails to advance through the Budget Committee on Tuesday, party leaders will be forced either to enter difficult new negotiations to accommodate Johnson or circumvent the Budget Committee — a move that could alienate senators concerned about the legislative process. Either of those actions could delay the bill, threatening President Trump’s goal of passing tax legislation this year and colliding with another fragile effort to avert a government shutdown next month...

Senate leaders, while hopeful that they could find solutions to appease concerned senators, expressed frustration Monday that the effort was bogging down. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said the issue raised by Johnson was 'worth talking about' and that leaders are 'trying to find a way forward that does part of what he wants.'"

Corker could oppose in committee. Politico: "Corker told reporters he had spoken with National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn throughout the weekend about his deficit concerns, and also met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin earlier on Monday. Mnuchin also made a stop at Daines’ office at the Capitol to discuss his concerns. 'We’re beginning to exchange some things in writing,' said Corker. '[We’re] working very closely with the administration and also some members of the Finance Committee to design a trigger or a backstop that in the event the revenue’s not there, there’s a way to recoup them so you’re in a situation where you’re not creating deficits should the projections that have been laid out not be real.'

Corker added that it was 'very possible' he might vote no on Tuesday when the Senate Budget Committee meets to prepare the tax legislation for the floor. Johnson told The Associated Press that he will vote against the measure in the committee unless senators come up with a fix."

One issue: The White House hasn't released an economic analysis demonstrating that tax rewrite meets the administration's standards for it. From the NYT's Alan Rappeport:

From the NYT's Binyamin Appelbaum:

Rand Paul is a "yes." The Kentucky senator writes a Fox News op-ed explaining his decision to support tax overhaul: "I spoke out all year against the GOP leaders’ initial plan to make their tax reform 'revenue neutral' — meaning not really a cut. I’m pleased to see my point of view has prevailed, and the current tax plan calls for a $1.5 trillion cut over the next ten years. I would have liked to see more — in fact, I offered an amendment to move it up to $2.5 trillion — but I’ve stated many times that as long as it is a real cut, I’ll vote for it, even if it isn’t as large as I would prefer."

More bad news on the plan's cost and effects, via Marc Goldwein, head of policy for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

Trump could benefit from changes. More from Damian: "Last-minute changes to the Senate tax bill could personally benefit President Trump, who has investment stakes in roughly 500 entities that could be affected by the planned adjustments. Republicans are seriously considering expanding a new tax credit that these types of entities use to lower their taxable income in a way that benefits most people tied to these firms. Trump and other senior administration officials have been in personal contact with lawmakers about the changes. The changes focus on 'pass-through' entities, companies that direct income through the individual income tax code and not the corporate tax code. There are millions of these entities, and they are most often sole proprietorships, limited liability companies or partnerships. Trump’s stakes in these entities include many large and small ventures, including the Trump Organization."

JP Morgan predicts 5-percent market surge if passed. CNBC's Tae Kim: "Investors should position themselves for a market rally as worries over President Donald Trump's tax reform chances are overstated, according to a top Wall Street firm. JPMorgan derivatives strategist Shawn Quigg told investors to buy call options on companies that will benefit the most from tax reform. 'We think the most significant near-term upside catalyst for equities is still ahead – passage of the US Tax Bill. Our analysis indicates the market is significantly underestimating the probability of tax reform passage,' Quigg wrote Monday... 'We think the potential passage of tax reform could provide 5 percent near-term upside to the SP 500. However, the potential upside could be significantly higher for those high-tax stocks poised to outperform in a more tax-friendly regime.'"

Turbulence over foreign carriers. WSJ's Susan Carey: "Some overseas airlines would be forced to pay U.S. corporate taxes on part of their profits under a proposal in the Senate tax-overhaul bill that would upset decades of protocols governing international aviation. In general, airlines only have to pay taxes in their own countries, not on income generated abroad. The U.S. and other nations have negotiated a web of tax treaties and formally recognized agreements that enshrine this principle... 

Critics said, however, it would hurt a system that has allowed airlines to operate international flights without having to pay taxes in multiple jurisdictions. The International Air Transport Association, the global trade group, opposes the proposal, saying it 'would upend decades of precedent—which the U.S. has long supported—on the taxation of international aviation.'”

Jerome Powell. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Powell sees rates rising. Bloomberg's Christopher Condon: "He’s not here to shake things up at the U.S. central bank. Jerome Powell, in a statement to the Senate Banking Committee ahead of his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, signaled broad support for how the Fed operates, regulates and guides the economy, offering a full-throated defense of the government institution he’s about to lead. 'Our aim is to sustain a strong jobs market with inflation moving gradually up toward our target,' Powell said in the text of his remarks, which the Fed released on Monday. 'We expect interest rates to rise somewhat further and the size of our balance sheet to gradually shrink.' That keeps Powell firmly in line with the trajectory for monetary policy set out by current Fed Chair Janet Yellen, whom he’ll succeed in early February if he’s confirmed.”

Wall Street meets. The Post's Heather Long: Powell "has had formal meetings or calls 50 times this year with the heads of Wall Street investment banks such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank, according to a copy of his calendar through Sept. 30 that the Fed provided to The Washington Post (seen here). He met the most -- nine times -- with Goldman Sachs, including six separate meetings or calls with Goldman President Harvey Schwartz.

Powell's closeness to Wall Street could signal a difference in his approach to managing the central bank if he is confirmed by the Senate, which will host him for a nomination hearing on Tuesday. The Fed has faced criticism over the years for being too close to Wall Street, especially after the bank bailouts during the 2008 financial crisis... Both Republicans and Democrats are likely to probe Powell on how tough he plans to be on large banks as well as smaller regional and community banks. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) a fierce critic of Wall Street excess, will be one of the senators who gets to question Powell, who will take over the Fed chair job in early February if the Senate confirms him."

Trump smiles during an event honoring World War II veteran Native American "Code Talkers" inside the Oval Office on Monday. (Oliver Contreras/Pool via Bloomberg)

Trump's Hill ties tested as he meets with bipartisan congressional leaders today. The Post's Sean Sullivan and Ed O'Keefe: Trump’s "rocky relationship with Capitol Hill faces a crucial test Tuesday in a meeting with top Republican and Democratic congressional leaders that could edge the government closer to a year-end bipartisan fiscal deal — or a federal shutdown. Leaders in both parties spent Monday preparing to make their case to an unpredictable president who abruptly sided with Democrats the last time he sat down with top leaders.

Ahead of the meeting with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), there were unresolved questions about how much more money the federal government may spend in the coming years — plus pressing concerns regarding immigration and health care. With government funding scheduled to dry up on Dec. 8, both sides have floated the possibility of passing a short-term plan that would push negotiations until just before Christmas...

Among Democrats, there is growing resolve to withhold support for a spending plan that fails to address the fate of dreamers. Trump announced in September that he is ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that granted temporary legal status to roughly 600,000 young immigrants. He has given Congress until March to enact a permanent fix or risk mass deportations."

Unclear what's next. Politico: "The White House and Capitol Hill are singularly focused on passing a tax reform bill — but almost no one in Washington seems to know what the Trump administration will bear down on next. White House policy initiatives are typically planned months in advance, with congruent strategies for communications and a view toward working them through Congress. But there is little agreement between White House officials and Republican leaders on the Hill about what should follow tax reform.

Over the course of conversations with nearly a dozen senior aides in the White House and on Capitol Hill, a range of possibilities surfaced, from welfare reform to the infrastructure program ...Trump touted on the campaign trail to revisiting Obamacare repeal — an effort that has twice frustrated the Trump administration. The looming vacuum in the Republican agenda underscores how the relative chaos and disorganization of the Trump White House can affect policymaking across Washington. Former administration officials say the situation is virtually unprecedented, and that it is threatening the president’s ability to score legislative victories for the GOP heading into next year’s midterm elections. It may also cost Trump personally once the 2020 reelection campaign begins in earnest about a year from now."

Trump's still sending notes on his clips to the people who wrote them:

 

;

From The Post's Philip Bump: "How the Senate tax bill will affect poorer Americans, visualized:"

Today

  • The Senate Budget Committee will hold a business meeting to consider the fiscal year 2018 reconciliation legislation.
  • The American Enterprise Institute holds an event on tax reform with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Tex.).

  • The American Enterprise Institute will hold an event on the Bank Holding Company Act.

  • The Brookings Institution holds an event on “Can tax reform include a carbon tax?”

  • The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a nomination hearing on Jerome Powell to serve as chairman of the Federal Reserve System.

Coming Up

  • Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen testifies before the Joint Economic Committee on Wednesday.
  • The Center for American Progress holds an event on “What a bad tax deal means for communities of color” on Wednesday.
  • The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance holds a hearing on the role of Ginnie Mae in the housing finance system on Wednesday.
  • The House Financial Services Subcommittees on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Terrorism and Illicit Finance will hold a joint hearing on “Legislative Proposals to Counter Terrorism and Illicit Finance” on Wednesday.
  • The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Securities and Investment holds a hearing on “Implementation and Cybersecurity Protocols of the Consolidated Audit Trail” on Thursday.
  • The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade holds a hearing on the effectiveness of U.S. Sanctions Programs on Thursday.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies holds a hearing on HUD and community block grants for disaster recovery on Friday.

From The Post's Tom Toles: "Republicans unveil their tax bill sales pitch, with some real urgency:"

8 issues on Congress's December to-do list:

Trump insists GOP tax plan will benefit 'everybody:'

President Trump revived his nickname for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), calling her "Pocahontas" at an event honoring Native American code talkers:

From The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: "Trump's Christmas Gift to the Poor: Tax Hikes:"

Article source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-finance-202/2017/11/28/the-finance-202-trump-antagonists-and-arizona-senators-are-key-to-tax-plan-s-success/5a1c55e330fb0469e883f87e/

26Nov/170

The shrinking profile of Jared Kushner


White House senior adviser Jared Kushner listens as President Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Nov. 1. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

A month ago, Jared Kushner — President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser — made a surprise trip to Riyadh to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the fellow son of a world leader who is making waves with crackdowns and modernization efforts.

Kushner, 36, flew commercial, and the White House only announced the visit once he was already on the ground. There were no news releases touting the specifics of his meetings, which included two days of one-on-one and small private audiences with Salman, 32. White House officials said the trip was part of Kushner’s effort as Trump’s adviser to build regional support for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Just days after Kushner landed back in Washington, Salman launched a purge of allegedly corrupt Saudi officials also seen as rivals to the prince and his father, King Salman. Kushner had no knowledge or advance warning of the move, and the topic was not natural for the two to discuss, a White House official close to him said. “Jared’s portfolio is Israeli-Palestinian peace, and he respects what his lane is,” the official said.

The journey revealed Kushner as a figure who seems both near the center of power and increasingly marginalized at the same time. His once-sprawling White House portfolio, which came with walk-in privileges to the Oval Office, has been diminished to its original scope under Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, and he has notably receded from public view.

His still-evolving role in the investigations of Russian election interference and possible obstruction of justice also make him a potential risk to President Trump, even as he enjoys the special status of being married to the boss’s daughter, Ivanka, and serving as one of the president’s senior confidants. Kushner’s family faces additional pressures over a troubled New York skyscraper at 666 Fifth Ave., which he purchased in his role as head of his family’s real estate business but from which he has divested since entering the administration.

In a rare interview in his West Wing office earlier this month — a silver bowl of Halloween candy still on the table — Kushner offered his own version of the fable of the fox, who knows many things, and the hedgehog, who knows one important thing.

“During the campaign, I was more like a fox than a hedgehog. I was more of a generalist having to learn about and master a lot of skills quickly,” he said. “When I got to D.C., I came with an understanding that the problems here are so complex — and if they were easy problems, they would have been fixed before — and so I became more like the hedgehog, where it was more taking issues you care deeply about, going deep and devoting the time, energy and resources to trying to drive change.”

This portrait of Kushner comes from interviews with Kushner himself, as well as 12 senior administration officials, aides, outside advisers and confidants, some of them speaking on the condition of anonymity to offer a more candid assessment. 


Kushner arrives before Trump and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speak at a news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House on Oct. 23. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Allies say Kushner’s subtle shift into the background of the West Wing reflects his natural inclination to work hard and eschew the limelight. His enemies gloat that it stems from avoidable missteps that resulted from his political naivete.

Following recent reports, which the White House denied, that the president privately blames Kushner for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s widening probe, ­Breitbart, the conservative website, snarkily dubbed him “Mr. Perfect.” The nickname originated from promotional material Kushner’s own family used, when trying to lure Chinese investors to their New Jersey real estate projects.

Some aides scoff at the notion that Kushner isn’t still whispering to the president about official business. But one of Kelly’s conditions for taking the job was that everyone, including Kushner and his wife, had to go through him to reach the president, and Kelly has made clear that Kushner reports to him, aides said. 

The new hierarchy is part of Kelly’s effort to sideline Kushner, said one Republican in frequent contact with the White House. Others say the order Kelly imposed has simply liberated Kushner to focus on his own portfolio — and eased some of the animosity his colleagues felt toward him. 

Kushner said he welcomes the change. “The order allows this place to function,” Kushner said. “My number one priority is a high-functioning White House because I believe in the president’s agenda, and I think it should get executed.” 

He still maintains the broad portfolio he took on at the beginning of the administration that made him a punchline among aides on Capitol Hill: peace in the Middle East; matters regarding Canada, Mexico and China; and the Office of American Innovation, an in-house group that focuses on tackling longer-term government challenges.

He attends meetings of his innovation group once a week, often on a Tuesday or Wednesday for an hour-long check-in and progress update. The innovation office launched with great fanfare in March, but some aides recently said they could not pinpoint exactly what it has accomplished.


Ivanka Trump and husband Kushner listen as Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Oct. 16. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Kushner and his allies reject that assessment, saying the office is focused on long-term projects. They say, for example, that the group helped the Department of Veterans Affairs launch their electronic medical records initiative in June, with Kushner expediting the process by calling Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and asking him to send people from his department to help.

“If I ever get into a roadblock, we just elevate it to Jared,” said Chris Liddell, a senior White House official who works in the innovation office. “He’s great at saying, ‘Can’t we get so-and-so to come over?’ And we get it done on the spot.”

Kushner is one of the advisers helping on negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement, and he accompanied Trump on the first half of his Asia trip earlier this month.

But the main focus for Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, is working to bring peace to the Middle East — a task that has bedeviled negotiators far more experienced in the region for generations. What Kushner brings to the effort, say several senior White House officials, is personal relationships with players on all sides and a willingness to bet on long-shot outcomes.

Before Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Trump at the White House in September, Kushner and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt met him at the Mandarin Oriental for a two-hour breakfast. More recently, on Halloween, Kushner suggested that he and Greenblatt visit Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian peace negotiator, at the apartment in Virginia where he is recuperating from a lung transplant. After briefly considering, and then nixing, wine — Erekat is Muslim — Kushner ultimately brought chocolate.


Kushner flies over Baghdad with military personnel in April. (Reuters)

“This is very much a human conflict and a human-to-human relationship,” Greenblatt said. “When you’re able to touch somebody and talk about it, it’s a meaningful engagement. It takes a certain personality, and Jared has that touch.”

Yet snags persist. A week ago, the Palestinians threatened to freeze all contact with the Trump administration after the State Department said the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington could not remain open — a decision it backtracked on Friday.

And Kushner’s friendship with Mohammed bin Salman raised questions after the crown prince’s anti-corruption campaign — which critics paint as an attempt to consolidate power but devotees say is part of his efforts as a reformer — as well as concerns from some that Saudi Arabia now feels further emboldened within the region. 

The Mueller probe, meanwhile, is entering a new phase, with the special counsel announcing three indictments at the end of last month — including for Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort — while investigators begin to interview people close to the president’s inner circle. Kushner has turned over documents to the House and Senate committees investigating possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign, although in a letter, the Senate Judiciary Committee recently complained that Kushner had not been fully forthcoming — a charge his lawyer denies. 

So far, Mueller has filed no court documents to suggest Kushner is in legal jeopardy, but people close to the case say investigators have been looking at his meetings with Russians before and after the election, as well as his role in discussions that led to the firing of FBI director James B. Comey.

The news on Thanksgiving that former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s lawyers notified Trump’s legal team that they could no longer share information about the Russia probe prompted speculation that Flynn may now be cooperating with Mueller — a potentially perilous sign for the president and his associates.

But friends say Kushner is even-keeled about the investigations. For him, they said, the most stressful moments came in May, amid news reports that he had tried to establish a secret back channel with Russia during the transition and that the FBI was probing his actions. He was frustrated, a White House official said, that he couldn’t respond to the allegations until he went to be interviewed by Congress.  

“Jared is an extraordinarily calm person,” said H.R. McMaster, the White House national security adviser. “I have never seen him distracted.”

He huddled with his lawyers for hours in the run-up to his testimony before Congress but is in less frequent daily contact now unless something from Mueller’s probe specifically requires his attention, one White House official said. 


Kushner and national security adviser H.R. McMaster wait for Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to arrive for a Chinese opera performance at the Forbidden City on Nov. 8 in Beijing. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Kushner’s detractors point to his role in the Russia probe as another sign of his poor political skills and continued risk to the president. A Republican close to the White House said Kushner “has no judgment — never has and never will.”

But in some ways, Kushner appears more protected from the daily sniping that plagued the early months of Trump’s presidency. Over the summer, a trio of advisers who were rivals to Kushner were pushed out of the West Wing: Stephen K. Bannon, then the president’s chief strategist, who now runs Breitbart; Reince Priebus, the chief of staff; and Sean Spicer, the press secretary. 

“He no longer is in an environment where he has an actual predator,” said one White House official, likening Kushner to Bannon’s regular prey. “That has probably helped his working environment some.” 

Kushner, with his whispery voice, has also proved one of the few people adept at absorbing Trump’s anger. He can speak to Trump in a shared language of transaction from their days in the New York real estate world. 

“I don’t try to manage him,” Kushner said. “I try to give him my honest feedback. If he asks my advice on something, sometimes I’ll give it, sometimes I’ll say, ‘Let me go call a few people,’ and then I’ll give it.” 

McMaster said Kushner sometimes acts as a translator between the president and his senior advisers. “He helped a lot of us learn faster what’s important to the president,” McMaster said. “His relationship with the president makes Jared valuable as an adviser to the president, and also as an adviser to the president’s advisers.”

When Kushner’s family first arrived in Washington, they agreed they would assess after six months whether they intended to stay. Trump himself has mused privately about the hit his daughter and son-in-law’s reputation is taking because of their White House roles and about what a great and easy life they had back in New York. Others have questioned why someone like Kushner would put himself in Mueller’s crosshairs by remaining in government. 

But when the couple reassessed in July, they reached a decision. “We’re here to stay,” Kushner said. “At the current moment, we’re charging forward.”

He added, “My wife asked me the other day if we should be looking at new houses, so that’s a good sign.”

Article source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-shrinking-profile-of-jared-kushner/2017/11/25/5baf7068-c103-11e7-af84-d3e2ee4b2af1_story.html

20Nov/170

North Korea’s on-again-off-again status as a state sponsor of terrorism


President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.  (Mandel Ngan, Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. government redesignated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism on Monday. The move, announced by President Trump during a brief photo op at a Cabinet meeting, was designed to put pressure on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

“It should have happened a long time ago,” Trump told reporters. “It should have happened years ago.”

This isn't North Korea's first time on the list. The country was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1988 and stayed on the list until it was removed in 2008.

What is a state sponsor of terrorism?

Since 1979, the State Department has kept a list of countries that are alleged to have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” The designation results in a variety of unilateral sanctions, including a ban on arms-related exports and sales, prohibitions on economic assistance, and other punitive measures.

The list is determined by three laws: Section 6j of the Export Administration ActSection 40 of the Arms Export Control Act and Section 620 of the Foreign Assistance Act.

Exactly what makes a country a sponsor of terrorism is kept relatively vague: Joseph DeThomas, a former State Department official who focused on North Korea and Iran and is a professor of international affairs at Pennsylvania State University, has called it “more of an art than a science” and noted that “political and diplomatic context plays a considerable role in such designations.”

When first released in 1979, the list included only four nations: Libya, Iraq, South Yemen and Syria. Over the years, a number of countries have been added to the list and some removed. Until North Korea was added this week, only Iran, Syria and Sudan remained on the list.

Why was North Korea first added to the list in 1988?

Before 1988, North Korea had been implicated in a number of international plots, including hijackings, abductions, bombings and assassination attempts.

However, it was the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 in 1987 that sealed North Korea's place on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. In this attack, later linked to North Korean agents, a plane flying between Baghdad and Seoul was blown up over the Andaman Sea. All 115 people on board were killed.

The bombing of Flight 858, as well as a 1983 attack in Rangoon, Burma, that killed 17 South Koreans and four Burmese that was linked to Kim Jong Il, prompted the Ronald Reagan administration to decide that North Korea should be added to the list.

Why was North Korea removed from the list in 2008?

Two decades after being designated a state sponsor of terrorism, North Korea was removed from the list in 2008 by the administration of President George W. Bush. It was a controversial move; then-Sen. Barack Obama was among those who supported it, calling the decision “an appropriate response.”

For a nation to be removed from the list of state sponsors, Bush had to certify to Congress that its government had either fundamentally changed its stance on providing support to terrorism or had not provided support for international terrorism for six months and had given assurances to the United States that it would not support international terrorism in the future.

North Korea was able to meet those criteria relatively simply: The State Department's 2007 Country Reports on Terrorism had noted that North Korea was not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since 1987, and the U.S. government later announced that Pyongyang had issued “an authoritative and direct public statement affirming that it does not support international terrorism now and will not support international terrorism in the future.”

Another major important factor in the move to drop North Korea from the list were faltering talks over nuclear disarmament with Pyongyang that the Bush administration hoped could be salvaged by the delisting move. Notably, U.S. officials said North Korea had agreed to not restart the partially disabled Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which had been producing fissile material for weapons tests.

Why is the Trump administration redesignating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism?

The 2008 decision to delist North Korea has long divided experts, some of whom have called for the country to be redesignated.

One key bone of contention is whether North Korea has committed acts of terrorism in recent years. For example, in 2015, Joshua Stanton of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea issued a report that argued that although North Korea had not been directly linked to high-profile terrorism plots since 1987, it was involved in suspected arms transfers to terrorists and other threats and plots that met the legal definitions of “international terrorism” and terrorism “support.”

These arguments were bolstered in recent years by the alleged hack of Sony Pictures in 2014 and the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, brother to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in 2017 — the latter of which was called an “act of terrorism” by South Korea soon afterward.

There is also widespread frustration that the detente the Bush administration sought in 2008 amounted to little. In fact, North Korea conducted its second nuclear weapon test less than a year after it was initially removed from the list. It also has repeatedly claimed that it would reopen the Yongbyon reactor.

More on WorldViews

Why haven’t sanctions on North Korea worked? Two very different theories.

North Korea appears to have a new Internet connection — thanks to the help of a state-owned Russian firm

Article source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/11/20/north-koreas-on-again-off-again-status-as-a-state-sponsor-of-terrorism/