Republicans don't seem eager to go to the mat to finance President Trump's border wall with Mexico, at least in the stopgap spending bill that must pass by April 28 to avoid a government shutdown. Still, on Tuesday, the White House sent Congress a request for an immediate cut of $18 billion from domestic programs to pay for the wall, The Associated Press reports, citing a Capitol Hill aide who described the unreleased documents.
The requested cuts reportedly include $1.2 billion from National Institutes of Health medical grants, $1.5 billion from community development grants, $500 million from a transportation grant program, $434 million to eliminate a program to encourage community service among senior citizens, and $372 million from heating subsidies for the poor.
As with Trump's 2018 budget plan, Congress will probably ignore Trump's requests, though building the wall is a high priority for Trump and the White House hasn't yet joined the 2017 spending negotiations. Democrats pounced anyway. "The administration is asking the American taxpayer to cover the cost of a wall — unneeded, ineffective, absurdly expensive — that Mexico was supposed to pay for, and he is cutting programs vital to the middle class to get that done," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y). "Build the wall or repair or build a bridge or tunnel or road in your community? What's the choice?"
How much the wall would cost is an open question. Republicans estimate a price tag of $12 billion to $15 billion, a Homeland Security Department report put the cost at $21.6 billion, and on Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) suggested the final number could hit $66.9 billion. McCaskill, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said she based her estimate on a briefing for committee staff in which the administration explained that its 2018 budget request of $2.6 billion for the wall would go toward constructing 75 miles of new wall. She did the math for the 1,827 viable miles of border, conceding that this wasn't a perfect way to get an accurate estimate.
"It is concerning that the cost of construction could also be significantly higher, as the cost of acquiring land currently owned by private individuals was not included in the estimate," McCaskill wrote to the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border protection. "Regardless, the $36.6 million per mile figure is the only information, and the closest to a cost estimate that the Committee has obtained from DHS." Peter Weber
A civil rights lawyer named Lisa Bloom solicited donations to pay women who have made or were considering making sexual harassment allegations against President Trump, The Hill reported Friday. Documents reviewed by The Hill date these efforts to the final months of the 2016 election and suggest that people associated with political action committees supporting Hillary Clinton were among those Bloom contacted.
"Bloom's efforts included offering to sell alleged victims' stories to TV outlets in return for a commission for herself," The Hill story says, as well as "arranging a donor to pay off one Trump accuser's mortgage and attempting to secure a six-figure payment for another woman who ultimately declined to come forward after being offered as much as $750,000."
Bloom told The Hill donors came to her with the money, not vice versa, and "said her goal in securing money was not to pressure the women to come forward, but rather to help them relocate or arrange security" if they felt they were in danger after speaking out.
In an appearance on ABC's Good Morning America on Saturday, Bloom again denied soliciting money, saying "donors reached out" to her "and said, 'Oh my God, what can we do to help these women?'" "If you're a single mom unemployed on the verge of bankruptcy and thinking about speaking out against Donald Trump," she added, "an offer of relocation and round-the-clock security is very meaningful to you." Bonnie Kristian
GOP voters approve of their own party's congressional contingent for the first time since June, CNN reported Saturday, citing a new Quinnipiac University poll. The shift in Republicans' views correlates with the release of the completed GOP tax plan on Friday after conference between House and Senate leadership. Before the legislation was finalized, 60 percent of GOP voters disapproved of congressional Republicans; now a plurality of 47 percent approve.
"Political analysts say it's all about the 2018 midterm elections," The Washington Post reports, because "most Americans are getting a tax cut under this plan, and if growth gets even hotter and unemployment gets even lower by Election Day, voters could reward the GOP." However, critics argue the reform plan's supporters are unrealistically optimistic in their projections of the bill's effects on economic growth. Bonnie Kristian
Southern California is expecting very strong winds and low humidity for a 24-hour period beginning Saturday and ending Sunday. The weather conditions will pose a new challenge to the thousands of firefighters battling wildfires in the region, especially those dealing with the Thomas Fire, which is now the fourth-largest wildfire in California's recorded history.
— CIIMT1 (@Info_CIIMT1) December 16, 2017
A federal judge on Friday issued a temporary injunction against the Trump administration's modification of ObamaCare's contraception mandate.
The Affordable Care Act requires employers to pay for birth control as part of employee health plans, with limited exemptions. The Trump White House issued a new rule expanding those exemptions to allow almost any business to decline to offer contraception coverage for religious or moral reasons.
Judge Wendy Beetlestone of Pennsylvania wrote in her opinion that the rule could cause "enormous and irreversible" harm, worrying that employers could seek to drive women out of the workplace entirely by changing their coverage policies.
While Beetlestone argued it "is difficult to comprehend a rule that does more to undermine the Contraceptive Mandate or that intrudes more into the lives of women," religious liberty advocates argue that business owners with sincere religious or moral opposition to birth control methods — like the morning-after pill, which can stop a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall — should not be forced to offer coverage. Bonnie Kristian
President Trump on Saturday tweeted an endorsement of a new book purporting to offer the inside scoop on his presidential campaign:
Congratulations to two great and hardworking guys, Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, on the success of their just out book, “Let Trump Be Trump.” Finally people with real knowledge are writing about our wonderful and exciting campaign!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 16, 2017
Let Trump Be Trump is written by Corey Lewandowski, the fired Trump campaign manager who may be best known for allegedly manhandling a Breitbart News reporter, and David Bossie, Trump's former deputy campaign manager and current president of Citizens United. The book claims to tell "the greatest political tale in the history of our republic," a "once-in-a-millennial [sic] event."
A review of Let Trump Be Trump by David Frum for The Washington Post describes the work as "by turns gullible, dishonest, and weirdly careless," noting that it never mentions Wikileaks but does spend 20 pages on the Access Hollywood scandal. An early excerpt of the book revealed the president's single-sitting fast food consumption on the campaign trail was typically "two Big Macs, two Fillet-O-Fish" — minus the buns — "and a chocolate malted" milkshake. Bonnie Kristian
Moore told supporters in an email that the election "battle is NOT OVER" while soliciting donations to his "election integrity fund" to pay for investigations into voter fraud he claims may have cost him victory. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has not found any evidence of voter fraud. Merrill said his office has investigation reports of irregularities and has "not discovered any that have been proven factual in nature."
Also Friday, President Trump said Moore should admit his defeat. "He tried. I want to support, always, I want to support the person running," Trump said, but at this point, Moore "certainly" should concede. Bonnie Kristian
The White House has directed the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to avoid using seven words and phrases in agency documents, The Washington Post reported Friday evening. The ban list is comprised of "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based," and "science-based." In place of the latter two phrases, the directive suggested saying things like, "CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes."
While the ban on the first five words has drawn fire for its implicit commentary on minorities, LGBT issues, and abortion, the prohibition of "evidence-based" and "science-based" has garnered particular criticism given the CDC's scope of responsibilities.
An unnamed CDC analyst who spoke with the Post said colleagues within the agency were "incredulous" at the announcement. The reaction "was very much, 'Are you serious? Are you kidding?'" the analyst said, adding, "In my experience, we've never had any pushback from an ideological standpoint" like this before. Bonnie Kristian