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January 23, 2018
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Republicans start 2018 with full control of the federal government, at least one government shutdown under their belt, a historically unpopular president, and a potentially ominous sea change among white women. But "Republican strategists are plotting an election-year survival strategy to steer the midterms away from the dangerous terrain of Trump's tweets and Capitol Hill dysfunction," The Washington Post reports: "Talk up job growth, highlight the soaring stock market and, most of all, convince voters that the tax-cut legislation that stands as their only major accomplishment is bringing back the good times."

About 60 percent of U.S. adults in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll say the GOP tax overhaul favors the rich over the middle class, and 46 percent say passing it was a "bad thing," versus 34 percent who call it a "good thing." But there's a large swathe of persuadable voters, and Republicans, wealthy donors, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are throwing tens of millions of dollars into a full-court press to convince voters to love the tax cut.

"Answer this question and I will tell you if we keep the House or not," says Corry Bliss, head of the GOP-aligned American Action Network, which pumped $24 million into GOP tax-cut boosterism last year and plans to spend $10 million more this quarter: "In 10 months, does the middle class think we cut their taxes?"

Without a push, most people won't really notice a 2018 tax cut until they do their taxes in 2019, though a single person making $50,000 should see $35 extra in each paycheck this year — or about $3,600 a year. The top 1 percent of households will get a tax cut of about $50,000. Luckily, the wealthy donors bankrolling the tax pitch were already thriving before the tax cuts — 82 percent of all wealth created last year went to the top 1 percent, Oxfam says in a new report, and the three wealthiest Americans now have the same wealth as the bottom 50 percent, or 160 million Americans. Peter Weber

4:13 p.m. ET
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump on Wednesday said that the U.S. should revoke aid to any country that allows immigrants to come to America. During a roundtable meeting about immigration loopholes and gang violence, Trump offered what he claimed would be a simple solution.

"We're going to work out something where every time somebody comes in from a certain country, we're going to deduct a rather large amount of money from what we give them in aid," said Trump to cheers, "if we give them aid at all."

Trump said that many countries encourage citizens who commit crimes or are involved in gangs to go to the U.S. "They'll let you think they're trying to stop this — they're not trying to stop it," he said. "They don't want the people that we're getting in that country."

The president additionally doubled down on a statement from his last roundtable meeting on immigration. Trump was criticized for calling immigrants involved in gang violence "animals," but he repeated himself on Wednesday. "I called them animals the other day and I was met with rebuke," said Trump. "They said, 'They're people.' They're not people. These are animals." Summer Meza

2:32 p.m. ET
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After a year-long background check, President Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, has at last been granted permanent security clearance, a White House insider told The New York Times on Wednesday. Kushner was among a number of administration officials who had his temporary highest-level security clearance downgraded earlier this year.

The White House official who spoke about Kushner's status claimed that the long process was not unusual for someone "who has a complicated financial history and many foreign contacts," as the Times writes. And while Kushner is reportedly being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller — CNN reports he sat for a seven-hour interview with investigators in April — that probe apparently did not play a part in his clearance status.

Kushner notably had some difficulty filling out his disclosure forms, serially leaving off contacts and meetings, such as one with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016. Jeva Lange

1:57 p.m. ET
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The NFL Players Association is not happy with the NFL's new "respect for the flag" policy.

On Wednesday, NFL owners approved a new rule that will require any football player on the field to stand and "show respect" during the national anthem before each game. Players have the option of staying in the locker room until after the ceremony, but if they don't stand while on the field, they will face a fine. Many NFL players have opted to sit or kneel during the anthem as a way to protest police brutality and racial injustice in the U.S., drawing criticism from people who say it's an inappropriate way to make a point.

"The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new 'policy,'" read the statement from the Players Association, the organization representing NFL athletes. "NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement, and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about."

The union went on to say that the new rule ran in opposition to what NFL executives had previously told players. "Our union will review the new 'policy' and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement," the statement concluded. Summer Meza

1:12 p.m. ET

A federal district court judge in New York has ruled it's unconstitutional for President Trump to block users on Twitter. The president's Twitter feed was ruled to be a "public forum," and by blocking users, he is in violation of the First Amendment.

Part of the decision came down to the fact that when Trump blocks a user, they are no longer able to reply to his tweets, Reuters reports. "Once it is a public forum, you can't shut somebody up because you don't like what they're saying," argued U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald earlier this year.

The ruling could potentially have even broader implications:

Buchwald ultimately ruled that "the viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum is proscribed by the First Amendment and cannot be justified by the president's personal First Amendment interests." The lawsuit was filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute and Columbia University and a handful of Twitter users. Read the full decision here. Jeva Lange

1:01 p.m. ET
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal attorney, was paid at least $400,000 to arrange a talk between Trump and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, BBC reported Wednesday.

Trump and Poroshenko had a brief meet-and-greet at the White House last June, but sources in Kiev told BBC that Ukrainian agents facilitated the meeting with Cohen as part of an effort to establish a "back channel" to Trump. Cohen's role in the arrangement would have legally required him to register as a representative of Ukraine, which he did not do.

Cohen accepted money to fix a meeting between the two leaders that went beyond the brief Oval Office handshake, sources said. Poroshenko reportedly wanted to address allegations against Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has been charged with a number of crimes related to dealings in Ukraine. Ukrainian officials stopped investigating Manafort soon after the June meeting.

BBC reports that Poroshenko and Trump entered an "understanding" of sorts, with the U.S. selling Ukraine arms, coal, and diesel trains and Poroshenko believing there to be a "non-aggression pact" between the two leaders.

Cohen denied the story, and BBC notes there's no evidence to suggest Trump was aware of any alleged arrangement. Read more at BBC. Summer Meza

12:56 p.m. ET

President Trump spent Wednesday morning stoking fears of a Deep State conspiracy against his 2016 presidential campaign after a report last week that an FBI informant met with several of his staffers during the early investigation into Russian election meddling. Conservatives in the House have demanded a review of how the Justice Department and the FBI handled that initial probe, and the White House has invited two senior House Republicans to a Thursday meeting to give them access to pertinent confidential information. Democrats were notably not invited, and have called the move "partisan."

Curiously, Democrats in the House have an ally in longtime Trump loyalist Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Appearing on MSNBC on Wednesday, he told host Hallie Jackson that the Democrats "definitely should have been" invited to the meeting.

"Look, we need to be bipartisan about this, and I think it would be a lot more credible of a process if we were more inclusive," Gaetz said. "I think more members of Congress outside of the Intelligence Committee ought to be able to participate in this discussion and debate about what kind of country we want to have." Watch the discussion below. Jeva Lange

12:33 p.m. ET

On Wednesday, NFL owners approved new rules regarding proper "respect for the flag" and the national anthem. While players are no longer required to be on the field for the anthem, "a club will be fined by the league if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem."

Players who want to protest may stay in the locker room until after the ceremony, and each team is allowed to "develop its own work rules … regarding its personnel who do not stand." The announcement follows quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel in protest of racial injustice during games in 2016, which prompted other players to follow suit, drawing outcry from critics, including the president.

Read the new policy below. Jeva Lange

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