November 17, 2017

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) got pretty worked up Thursday night, right before the Senate Finance Committee approved a massive tax package on a party-line vote, when Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said the bill benefits the wealthy at the expense of the middle class — a view widely embraced by Americans. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders similarly insisted on Thursday that both the Senate and House version, which passed Thursday afternoon, will provide tax cuts to middle-class families, as President Trump has repeatedly promised.

Also on Thursday, the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress' official nonpartisan tax scorekeeper, estimated that by 2027, everyone making $75,000 or less a year would pay higher taxes under the Senate plan than current law. The tax increases would begin in 2021 for households making between $10,000 and $30,000, and creep up until 2026, when the individual tax cuts — but not the deep cuts to corporate taxes — would expire.

The Senate bill is a big gamble that deep and sustained tax cuts for corporations will spur sharp economic growth, and that businesses will use their windfall on hiring, wages, and investment. But the bill also picks winners — states Trump won, beer brewers, private aircraft businesses, citrus growers, the heirs of the super wealthy — and losers.

Republicans argue that Congress won't actually let the individual tax cuts expire — a provision they added to conform to Senate rules that let them pass the bill with 50 votes if the bill doesn't increase the federal deficit by more than $1.5 trillion. But "middle-class families planning ahead can imagine two possible consequences from that decision," The New York Times notes: "Either an immediate increase in their taxes eight years from now, or an explosion in federal budget deficits, which could necessitate spending cuts to safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare." Peter Weber

12:57 p.m. ET

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on Fox News Sunday chastised President Trump's personal attorney, John Dowd, for saying Saturday it is time for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation to end.

"If you look at the jurisdiction for Robert Mueller, first and foremost [it is] what did Russia do to this country in 2016. That is supremely important, and it has nothing to do with collusion," Gowdy said. "So to suggest that Mueller should shut down and that all he's looking at is collusion — if you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it."

The GOP representative also offered a warning to Trump himself. "When you are innocent ... act like it," Gowdy said to the president. "If you've done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible." Watch a clip of Gowdy's comments below. Bonnie Kristian

12:32 p.m. ET

Sen. Lindsey Graham on CNN's State of the Union Sunday sought to distinguish between Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe and the circumstances surrounding the firing of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, the latter including the allegation, as President Trump once put it, that the FBI became "a tool of anti-Trump political actors" in 2016.

McCabe's actions have "absolutely nothing to do with the Mueller investigation," Graham said, arguing that a new special counsel should be appointed to investigate the FBI.

He warned Trump against firing Mueller, suggesting that to do so "would be the beginning of the end of his presidency." Graham added that he believes Mueller is "doing a good job," pledging "to make sure that Mr. Mueller can continue to do his job without any interference — and there are many Republicans who share my view."

Watch an excerpt of Graham's interview below. Bonnie Kristian

11:29 a.m. ET
Nazeer Al-Khatib/Getty Images

Turkish troops and their Free Syrian Army allies on Sunday declared victory over Kurdish YPG militia fighters in the northern Syrian city of Afrin.

"Most of the terrorists have already fled with tails between their legs," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, though enclaves of Kurdish fighters remain outside the city center. Activist groups in Afrin say about 280 civilians were killed in the fight to control the city, but Erdogan's government denies their report.

Turkey's war on the Kurds creates tension with Washington, which is allied with both sides. The YPG joined the U.S. in the fight against the Islamic State, but Ankara, a NATO ally, considers the Kurds terrorists because of their links to Kurdish rebels in Turkey. Bonnie Kristian

11:20 a.m. ET

North Korean diplomat Choe Kang Il traveled to Finland Sunday for negotiations with American and South Korean representatives, notably including former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens. The talks are seen as a preliminary step toward the direct meeting President Trump has said he will have with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this spring.

The South Korean foreign ministry compared the Finland negotiations to the indirect and secretive "Track 2" dialogue Pyongyang maintains with Washington. Choe declined to comment on his agenda. Bonnie Kristian

11:13 a.m. ET
Alexey Nikolsky/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin faces seven challengers as voters go to the polls Sunday, but he is expected to easily win a fourth term for another six years in office. Advance polling suggests Putin boasts about 70 percent support, though critics say Russian elections are a pseudo-democratic exercise with a predetermined outcome.

"I voted for Putin," said Ust-Djeguta resident Lyubov Kachan, a teacher, in an interview with Reuters. "If anything is not going our way right now, that's thanks to the world which treats us so negatively, while he is trying to stand up to that."

Apathetic voters are under increased pressure to turn out this year, with some employers asking workers to provide proof that they voted. The mayor of the city of Yekaterinburg told The Associated Press officials "received orders 'from higher up' to make sure the presidential vote turnout is over 60 percent." Bonnie Kristian

10:10 a.m. ET

Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader hosted this week's show, and he was joined in the cold open by frequent SNL host John Goodman.

On the set with Anderson Cooper (Alex Moffat), Hader's former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci and Goodman's fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson commiserated about the chaos in the Trump administration. "It's just crazy how one day you're the CEO of Exxon, a 50-billion dollar company," Tillerson muses, "and the next you get fired by a man who used to sell steaks in the mail."

Kate McKinnon also showed up as Attorney General Jeff Sessions reflecting on the Friday firing of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. "I'm just a simple man who wanted to make things bad for immigrants," Sessions says, "and now here I am taking away the pension of a Christian white. It ain't right!" Watch the full sketch below. Bonnie Kristian

8:46 a.m. ET
Justin Tallis/Getty Images

Cambridge Analytica, the data firm suspended by Facebook Friday over violations of the network's privacy policies, was in contact with Lukoil, a Russian oil company, in 2014 and 2015, The New York Times reported Saturday. When questioned last month, the head of the firm's British parent company denied knowledge of any business ties to Russia. A Lukoil executive told the Times the meetings "involved a promotional campaign with local soccer teams," denying any "contracts were signed."

Also Saturday, The Observer of London reported the company harvested 50 million American Facebook profiles for electioneering, a major data breach. "We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles and built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons," said former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie. "That was the basis the entire company was built on." Wylie attended the meeting with Lukoil and said the oil company repeatedly asked about "political targeting in America."

Cambridge Analytica was a Trump campaign contractor in 2016, though Facebook did not mention President Trump in its suspension announcement. Bonnie Kristian

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