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10 things you need to know today: January 4, 2018

Harold Maass
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1.

Trump fires back at Bannon over comments in new book

A bitter public feud erupted Wednesday between President Trump and his former chief strategist, Stephen Bannon. New York magazine and The Guardian reported that Bannon said in the upcoming book Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff that a meeting between Trump campaign insiders and Russians was "treasonous." The White House responded with an official statement from Trump. "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency," Trump said in the statement. "When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind." Trump also said that now that Bannon is "on his own" back in his old job as leader of the conservative site Breitbart, he "is learning that winning isn't as easy as I make it look." Trump's lawyers threatened Bannon with legal action. [The New York Times, The Guardian]

2.

Trump shuts down controversial voter-fraud panel

President Trump on Wednesday announced that he had disbanded the controversial White House commission he created to study voter fraud. Trump, who made a baseless claim that he only lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton because millions voted illegally for her, said that "despite substantial evidence of voter fraud" he was disbanding the commission to avoid spending taxpayer money on legal battles with states that have refused to give the panel "basic information." Critics celebrated the commission's demise, saying it proved there was never any evidence of significant voter fraud. "The commission's entire purpose was to legitimize voter suppression," said Vanita Gupta, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and former head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. [The Washington Post, The New York Times]

3.

Manafort sues DOJ, Mueller

President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is suing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and the Department of Justice. Manafort has been indicted for financial crimes to which he has pleaded not guilty; his lawyers now claim he was improperly targeted by Mueller. Rosenstein appointed Mueller last spring to oversee the federal investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, and the mandate states that Mueller is allowed to investigate "any matters that ... may arise directly from the investigation." That clause, Manafort's lawyers argue, improperly gives Mueller "carte blanche to investigate and pursue criminal charges in connection with anything he stumbles across while investigating." [CNBC, BuzzFeed News]

4.

Lawmakers get to work trying to avert a government shutdown

Congressional leaders met Wednesday to begin negotiations to avert the threat of a government shutdown. Congress passed a stopgap funding bill in December to postpone the potential shutdown until after the holidays. As the Senate returns this week, immigration threatens to be one of the biggest obstacles to a deal. President Trump has insisted "there can be no [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] deal" without a border wall, but Democrats have already rejected that. Health care and national security spending also could produce shutdowns. Democrats have already insisted on a deal that matches every dollar of additional Pentagon spending with a dollar for domestic programs. [Politico]

5.

Brutal winter storm hits Southeast

A brutal winter storm hit the East Coast on Wednesday, bringing snow and freezing rain as far south as Florida and Georgia. Authorities shut down schools and grounded airline flights in hard-hit parts of the Southeast. Forecasters warned the storm could become a "bomb cyclone" as it moves up the coast, with its pressure dropping so quickly it could intensify explosively. It is expected to move north, bringing snow to the Mid-Atlantic and then potential blizzard conditions in New England on Thursday. "Bitter cold and dangerous wind chills to persist into the weekend," the National Weather Service said in a warning Wednesday morning. [The Washington Post]

6.

Fire extinguished at Clinton home in New York

A fire erupted Wednesday at Bill and Hillary Clinton's property in Chappaqua, New York, but the flames were promptly extinguished. The fire was in a Secret Service facility, not in the home of the former president and former Democratic presidential nominee. The Clintons were not home at the time. The Clintons have lived in the Chappaqua house for nearly 20 years, after buying it in 1999 for $1.7 million. Police said the Secret Service would provide further details on the fire, which started in a bedroom, according to scanner reports. "All is OK!" Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill tweeted. [USA Today, The Associated Press]

7.

Doug Jones sworn in, reducing GOP Senate majority by 1 seat

Democrat Doug Jones took the oath of office Wednesday, after defeating Republican Roy Moore in Alabama's special Senate election, reducing the GOP's Senate majority to 51-49. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) also was sworn in to replace former Sen. Al Franken. Jones took a seat that was held by Jeff Sessions until he became President Trump's attorney general. The simultaneous arrival of Smith and Jones provided a clear sign of the impact of the anti-sexual misconduct "Me Too" movement. Jones upset Moore after the Republican's campaign was hampered by allegations that he had sexually propositioned or assaulted several women when they were teens and he was in his 30s. Franken left the seat now held by Smith after several women accused him of touching them inappropriately. [The Washington Post]

8.

Fed minutes show broad agreement on continuing plan for rate hikes

Most Federal Reserve officials remained committed to "continuing a gradual approach" to raising their benchmark interest rate, according to minutes of Fed policy makers' December meeting. The central bank's Federal Open Market Committee's members debated the risks facing the economy, with some remaining concerned that inflation was still below the target of 2 percent. Others noted that growth and hiring remained strong, supporting the case for continuing to raise rates from historically low levels set to lower borrowing costs and help lift the economy out of the Great Recession. The meeting was Janet Yellen's last as Fed chair. [Bloomberg]

9.

Tesla reports lower-than-expected Model 3 deliveries

Tesla on Wednesday reported delivery numbers that fell short of Wall Street expectations. The electric-car maker said that in the final days of the last quarter it reached a production rate that "extrapolates to over 1,000 Model 3s per week." The company's founder and CEO, Elon Musk, had said previously that he expected production of the Model 3, the company's first mass-market vehicle, to be "in the thousands" by the end of 2017. Tesla had been aiming to be cranking out 5,000 Model 3 sedans per week early this year, but now says it expects to reach that milestone by the end of the second quarter. The company's stock fell by 2 percent in after-hours trading after the numbers were released. [CNBC]

10.

Virginia Democrat loses bid to restore her victory, overturn tie

Virginia election officials will go ahead with a lottery-style drawing to determine the winner of a tied Virginia House of Delegates race, after a recount court on Wednesday rejected Democratic candidate Shelly Simonds' challenge of a ruling that negated her one-vote victory over incumbent David Yancey. Republicans held onto a one-vote, 50-49 margin in the 100-seat state House after losing ground in November's election, with the outcome of the race between Yancey and Simonds still undecided. If Simonds wins, the chamber will be split 50-50, stripping Republicans of their majority and forcing them to make a rare power-sharing deal with Democrats. [Reuters]