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January 11, 2017

President-elect Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he will step down from all positions in the Trump Organization, a response to concerns over the conflicts of interest that could arise from running a global corporation and the United States of America. His sons, Don Jr. and Eric, will run the company along with CFO Allen Weisselberg.

Trump brought piles of folders containing paperwork used to hand over the company as proof of the decision:

The Trump Organization won't enter into any new foreign deals, with domestic deals to be submitted to "rigorous vetting." Trump will additionally not be informed of new deals the company makes.

Trump will not divest ownership in the Trump Organization, a decision Sheri Dillon, Trump's attorney, explained by claiming that selling the company would "exacerbate" conflicts of interests for a number of reasons. Additionally, "President Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built," Dillon said. To avoid accusations of emolument, Trump will donate all payments made to his businesses by foreign bodies to the U.S. Treasury.

Critics have already reacted: "This is wild. They're just focused on not losing money instead of actual ethical requirements. Banana republic American style. Wild," tweeted Aminatou Sow, the editor-at-large of Racked. "Trump today streamlined the process by which foreign governments can bribe him," said The Daily Beast's Olivia Nuzzi. Jeva Lange

7:08 a.m. ET
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The tax plan President Trump unveiled on Wednesday is really only a singe page of bullet points, but it's already pretty clear that a big beneficiary of the proposals would be super-wealthy chieftains of private real estate empires who have children. One big winner from the proposals would be "pass-through" businesses like the Trump Organization and its hundreds of subsidiaries, where owners file business income on their individual returns — depending on how the law is written, such business owners could pay a 15 percent tax rate instead of an individual rate of up to 35 percent. "Trump is the king of pass-throughs," said Steven Rosenthal at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. "He has pass-through businesses everywhere."

Trump's proposal would also eliminate the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax, and the push to reduce or eliminate taxes on profits that U.S. businesses earn overseas would be a boon for the golf courses and hotels the Trump Organization owns or licenses around the world. "Commercial real estate businesses like those controlled by the Trump Organization stand to benefit greatly," too, The Wall Street Journal says, with one provision slashing "tax rates for many property businesses by more than half."

In fact, "it is striking how many of the categories listed above affect the president and his family," says Neil Irwin at The New York Times. "He is a high-income earner. He receives income from 564 business entities, according to his financial disclosure form, and could take advantage of the low rate on 'pass-through' companies. According to his leaked 2005 tax return, he paid an extra $31 million because of the alternative minimum tax that he seeks to eliminate. And his heirs could eventually enjoy his enormous assets tax-free."

Of course the precise amount Trump and his businesses (now held in trust) would save "couldn't be determined because he has declined to release his tax returns," The Wall Street Journal notes. "Still, from what is known about how his businesses are structured, experts estimate the savings would be in the tens of millions of dollars" a year. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said flatly that Trump has "no intention" of releasing his tax returns, arguing that "the American population has plenty of information." Peter Weber

5:59 a.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Republican leaders huddled with more moderate members of the GOP caucus for two hours Wednesday night to drum up support for the latest version of the American Health Care Act, after the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus threw its support behind the newly amended health-care bill on Wednesday and influential outside conservative groups dropped their opposition.

After the meeting, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said "we got a few more to yes tonight — yeah, a couple moderates," and did not rule out a House vote as early as Friday. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), chairwoman of the House GOP conference, said it is "yet to be determined" if the House votes on Friday, but Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Pa.), one of the few Freedom Caucus members to attend Wednesday night's meeting, said of a Friday vote, "It sounds kind of like they're going to do that."

The new amendment that won over the Freedom Caucus, written with Rep. Tom MacArthur (R., N.J.), a leader of the more centrist Tuesday Group, would allow states to apply for federal waivers to requirements in the Affordable Care Act, including that insurance plans cover a set list of essential health benefits, that prices have to be the same for people with pre-existing conditions, and caps on annual out-of-pocket costs. States could not request waivers for the requirement that insurers offer coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, but health policy experts say the ability to charge higher premiums for those patients, if they let their health care coverage lapse, would effectively drive sick people out of the insurance market. The AHCA still includes deep cuts to Medicaid and other provisions.

House GOP aides tell The Wall Street Journal that a vote could be held on Saturday, giving President Trump an accomplishment to tout on his 100th day in office, but that depends on picking up centrist GOP support, and many of those lawmakers who opposed the bill in March say they haven't changed their minds. And even if the bill does pass the House, it won't survive a Senate vote as is, says Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a Tuesday Group leader who still opposes the AHCA. A successful vote in the House, he added, would be "an exercise in blame shifting" away from the Freedom Caucus. Peter Weber

4:46 a.m. ET

The big news from Washington on Wednesday was President Trump's tax plan. "That plan? Never release Trump's taxes," Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. "To explain the plan, Trump sent out his team of workin' class, blue collar former Goldman Sachs executives, Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin." The plan itself is just "one page of double-spaced bullet points with some hefty margins," Colbert said. "I'm going to say it's not really confidence-building when your tax reform plan is half as long as the instructions to set up a Vitamix."

One of the main bullet points is reducing the current seven tax brackets to three. "It's really going to simplify your office pool during Tax Madness," Colbert said. "Look at the brackets, it's poor versus middle class, and rich versus nobody, because they win."

He next reminded his viewers that Trump and Russia had a thing going on during the campaign, and laid out the new developments involving former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, fired for lying about this conversation with Russia's ambassador. "It turns out, that was just the tip of the corruption-berg," Colbert said. The House Government Oversight Committee reviewed a first batch of Flynn documents, and committee chairman Jason Chaffetz gave what Colbert termed a coy and "flaccid" condemnation of Flynn's apparently illegal failure to disclose payments from foreign governments. "Jason Chaffetz, please, just grow a pair and tell us what Flynn did, you gutless Charles Schultz rough draft," he said, to loud cheers.

Colbert ended with a look at the red button Trump had installed on his Oval Office desk — to summon his butler. "Thank God, I was worried there," he said. "He's just turning the Oval Office into 8-year-old's drawing of a dream treehouse: 'There'll be a button where I get a Coke wherever I want, a slide into a ball pit, and Bigfoot sleeps over and he teaches me karate.'" Not that there's anything wrong with that. "He should have some fun, a president deserves to be refreshed," Colbert said. "A butler brining him his Coke, really living the dream. I believe we have a photograph of the butler?" On a related note, don't expect Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) to come on The Late Show anytime soon. Watch below. Peter Weber

4:00 a.m. ET

On Tuesday night, Pope Francis gave a surprise TED Talk to the annual TED conference in Vancouver, Skyping it in from Rome. "I think it is impressive for a 80-year-old to set up his own webcam," Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. "It's not like he can get help from his grandkids." After ribbing the pope a bit more, Colbert teed up the main feature. "A lot of people were surprised that the pope decided to do this, but the truth is, religious figures actually have a long history of giving TED Talks," he said.

What followed was a pitch-perfect TED Talk from "Jesus of Nazareth, Carpenter/Savior." "I come here today as a simple carpenter, who also happens to be the son of God," Jesus began. "But I didn't get here today through nepotism." Unlike Pope Francis, Jesus has visual aids and cool party tricks/miracles. "First up, we've all been there, right?" he said. "All you've got are a few loaves and couple fishes, and you have to feed a crowd of thousands. But what if I told you that you can do it! Now, I know what you're thinking: Geez, me? No, Geez-us." Just wait until he gets to the bottled water. Peter Weber

3:32 a.m. ET

Fox News released a new poll on President Trump on Wednesday, as the president approaches 100 days in office. It's a mixed bag. Trump's overall approval rating is 45 percent, with 48 percent disapproving — a slight uptick from March, but still the lowest for any president this early on — and only 43 percent say he's bringing real change to Washington, versus 50 percent who say he's failing to do so. A 52 percent majority says America is less respected in the world under Trump, while 29 percent say it is more respected, and 51 percent are discouraged about the next four years, versus 45 percent who are encouraged.

There's some good news for Trump, too: Majorities of voters approve of his missile strike on Syria's government airfield, see the job situation improving, want him to succeed, and approve of his handing of the Islamic State and terrorism in general. But in general, only 36 percent of voters say they would vote to re-elect Trump, versus 55 percent who say they wouldn't, including 47 percent who say that "definitely." Only 49 percent of Trump voters said the would definitely vote for him again, versus 32 percent who say they probably would and 7 percent who would go with someone else. Eight years ago, 52 percent of voters and 64 percent of Obama voters said they would re-elect Obama.

In other results, Vice President Mike Pence's approval rating is at 50 percent. If the 2018 midterm elections were held today, 47 percent of voters say they would pick the Democratic candidate versus 42 percent who would pick the Republican, and 5 percent of Trump voters say they would switch to the Democratic Party in the midterms, versus 87 percent who would stick with the GOP. The poll was conducted April 23-25 among 1,009 registered voters nationwide, and has a sampling error of ±3 percentage points. Peter Weber

2:23 a.m. ET

Sometimes a last-minute vacation is just a vacation. And sometimes, it's a little more permanent, as Fox News star Bill O'Reilly illustrated earlier this month. O'Reilly, facing an exodus of advertisers after it was revealed he and Fox News had settled five claims of sexual and verbal harassment for $13 million, unexpectedly announced a family vacation, and he was fired while still in Italy. Jesse Watters, O'Reilly's former on-the-street guy and now a host on The Five, announced at the end of Wednesday night's show that he is going on vacation until Monday. His The Five co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle will cover his weekend show, Watters' World.

Watters raised some eyebrows on Tuesday night when he made a comment about Ivanka Trump and how he "really liked how she was speaking into that microphone." Some observers took the comment as suggestive, especially when combined with his facial expression and a hand gesture he made while saying it. On Twitter, Watters protested that interpretation, insisting he was just "referring to Ivanka's voice and how it resonates like a smooth jazz radio DJ," and it "was in no way a joke about anything else."

"So, to recap, Watters is going to miss the final two broadcasts of The Five's first week in primetime, as well as his weekend show," says a skeptical Justin Baragona at Mediaite, which has Wednesday night's clip. "All to take a short family vacation that hadn't been announced until this evening. And this just coincidentally occurs following this latest flap — a flap that happened just a week after the network parted ways with its biggest star over a sexual harassment scandal. Got it." Though, to be fair, Tuesday night's comments are hardly the most offensive thing Watters has said on air. Peter Weber

2:09 a.m. ET
Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images

Following the furor over a passenger being dragged off of an overbooked flight earlier this month, United Airlines announced Thursday it is implementing 10 changes the company says will "better serve our customers and empower our employees."

The airline will now offer passengers on overbooked planes as much as $10,000 to voluntarily give up their seat; previously, gate agents could dole out no more than $500 to passengers, and site managers could offer as much as $1,350. The company will also hold off on calling law enforcement unless security and safety are at risk, and launch a new automated system to determine which passengers are willing to be bumped from an overbook flight.

"Every customer deserves to be treated with the highest levels of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect," Untied CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement. "Two weeks ago, we failed to meet that standard and we profoundly apologize." David Dao, 69, refused to give his seat up on an overbooked Chicago to Louisville flight, and was forcibly removed by Chicago Department of Aviation officials. Dao's attorney said he suffered a concussion and broken nose and lost two teeth during the violent incident, which was filmed by concerned passengers and caused a public relations nightmare for United. Catherine Garcia

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