Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 15, 2017

Possible defections threaten the GOP tax overhaul, a split FCC ditches net neutrality, and more


Potential defections threaten GOP tax overhaul

Congressional Republicans hit a potential obstacle to their joint tax overhaul deal next week when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he would vote against the bill unless it included a bigger expansion of the child tax credit. The final bill reconciling the House and Senate versions is expected to be unveiled on Friday. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) also wants more benefits for low-income families. The GOP has just a 52-48 Senate majority, soon to drop to 51-49 when Senator-elect Doug Jones (D-Ala.) takes his seat, so any defections could threaten the proposal. "I can't in good conscience support it unless we are able to increase [the child tax credit], and there's ways to do it and we'll be very reasonable about it," Rubio said.


Split FCC votes to end net neutrality rules

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to repeal the Obama administration's landmark net neutrality rules, which were designed to guarantee open and equal access to the internet. The vote followed party lines, with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the other two Republicans backing Pai's proposal, and two Democrats opposing it. The move marked a victory for internet providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. Opponents, including Facebook and Google parent Alphabet, argued the change would disrupt online access by letting providers block, slow down, or charge more for certain content. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the administration "supports the FCC's efforts" and "a free and fair internet." New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) vowed to lead a multi-state challenge.


Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold, accused of sexual harassment, won't run again

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), facing sexual harassment allegations from former staff members, has decided not to run for re-election, Politico reported Thursday, citing a source familiar with the situation. The House Ethics Committee has started an investigation into complaints from former staff members that Farenthold has made sexually inappropriate comments. Farenthold has faced intense scrutiny for using taxpayer money to settle a 2014 lawsuit in which former staffer Lauren Greene complained of gender discrimination and sexual harassment that created a hostile work environment. Greene said Farenthold told another staffer he had "sexual fantasies" and "wet dreams" about her, which Farenthold denied.


Firefighter dies in effort to contain massive Southern California fire

A firefighter has died battling the massive Thomas Fire, now the fourth largest wildfire in California's modern history, fire officials said Thursday. The firefighter was identified as Cory Iverson, 32, a fire apparatus engineer with a strike team from Cal Fire's San Diego unit. Chief Ken Pimlott, the director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said the circumstances of Iverson's death were under investigation, but, "While we continue to process this tragic loss, we must keep our focus on the fire. The fire fight in front of us continues to go on." The Thomas Fire, the biggest of several major fires burning in Southern California, has burned 242,500 acres and fire officials don't expect to fully contain it until Jan. 7.


Report: House Speaker Paul Ryan considering retirement

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has told confidants this will be his last term, Politico reported Thursday. Many of the lawmakers, aides, and others closest to him say Ryan has made it clear he wants to serve through the 2018 midterm elections and retire before the next Congress convenes. That will give him time to push personal priorities, including tax reform, which House and Senate leaders hope to pass next week, and entitlement reform. Ryan told Politico he doesn't have plans to retire, but conceded that "passage of tax reform would be a high note" to leave on. Ryan reportedly wants to spend more time with his family before his three children, now entering their teens, leave home. He has long made clear the speaker's job was not one he sought.


Email shows publicist suggested Trump-Putin meeting in 2015

In July 2015, British music publicist Rob Goldstone suggested in an email that his client, a Russian pop star, could set up a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Washington Post reported Thursday. The email, sent to Trump's personal assistant Rhona Graff, asked if Trump could attend a birthday party later in the year for the pop star's father, Aras Agalarov, and contained the line, "Maybe he would welcome a meeting with President Putin." There is no indication Graff or Trump followed up, the Post reports, although Trump sent a birthday note to Agalarov. Goldstone is the publicist who, one year later, arranged a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-linked Russian attorney.


Charge against Charlottesville suspect upgraded to first-degree murder

Virginia prosecutors asked Thursday to upgrade the second-degree murder charge against James Alex Fields, the man accused of driving a car into a crowd protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, to first-degree murder, and the judge agreed. The prosecutors supported their request by presenting evidence, including surveillance videos from a business and from a Virginia State Police helicopter showing the speeding car slamming into a crowd of counter-protesters on the day of the "Unite the Right" rally on Aug. 12. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed, and dozens of people were injured. A former teacher has said Fields had a marked interest in Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler.


Australian commission calls out Catholic leaders for failing to stop abuse

Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse delivered an extensive report describing decades of abuse against tens of thousands of children at schools, religious organizations, and other institutions. "We will never know the true number," the report said. "Whatever the number, it is a national tragedy, perpetrated over generations within many of our most trusted institutions." The 17-volume report was particularly critical of Catholic organizations. The commission made 189 recommendations to address the epidemic, including pressing the Vatican to end mandatory celibacy for priests, and penalties for all who fail to report abuse, including priests who hear about it in confessionals. "There were catastrophic failures of leadership of Catholic Church authorities over many decades," the report said.


3 more women accuse Dustin Hoffman of sexual misconduct

Three women have come forward to accuse actor Dustin Hoffman of sexual misconduct, including one who said he exposed himself to her when she was in high school, Variety reports. One woman said in 1980, when she was 16, Hoffman exposed himself to her in a hotel room. She was friends with his daughter, and had the spent the afternoon with them. Two other women told Variety Hoffman sexually assaulted them while filming 1987's Ishtar. Hoffman's attorney, Mark A. Neubauer, called the accusations "defamatory falsehoods." Earlier this year, Anna Graham Hunter accused Hoffman of groping her in 1985, while she was a teenager.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi makes near-record $45 million in previews

Disney and Lucasfilm's Star Wars: The Last Jedi brought in a near-record $45 million in Thursday previews ahead of its official open on Friday, according to early estimates. The latest installment in the Star Wars franchise earlier in the week topped Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which was released in March, to become the year's biggest ticket pre-seller on Fandango. The Last Jedi is the online movie-ticket site's top seller in advance sales since 2015's The Force Awakens, which made $57 million in previews and went on to make a record $248 million on its opening weekend. The Last Jedi, the Star Wars series' eighth installment, is on track to bring in roughly $200 million over its opening weekend.


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