Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 16, 2017

GOP releases final tax bill, judge blocks Trump contraception rule, and more


GOP releases final tax bill

Republicans released their final tax bill Friday, the result of conference between House and Senate leadership. Dubbed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the bill includes $1.5 trillion in tax cuts. It maintains seven tax brackets for individual earners, with the top rate capped at 37 percent, down from 39.6 percent. The corporate tax rate is lowered from 35 to 21 percent. The bill also notably includes a deduction for state and local taxes, and it expands the child tax credit to be fully refundable up to $1400 — a concession to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). With backing from Rubio and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who flipped to "yes" on Friday, the bill likely has enough votes to make it to the president's desk. Read the full text here.


Judge blocks Trump contraception rule

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.


Trump speaks at FBI graduation after disparaging FBI

President Trump spoke at the FBI National Academy Graduation Ceremony on Friday after vaguely claiming "it's a shame what's happened with the FBI" before the event. Earlier that day, the White House said the FBI has an "extreme bias" against the president. On stage, however, Trump told graduates they do not "get the recognition" they deserve, declaring himself their "true friend and loyal champion in the White House, more loyal than anyone else can be." Clint Watts of the Foreign Policy Research Institute noted that the graduates Trump addressed are "state and local law enforcement officers from around the country" — not FBI agents — "i.e. Trump's base."


Tillerson says 'North Korea must earn its way back to the table'

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday backtracked from comments earlier this week in which he indicated openness to nuclear negotiations with North Korea without preconditions. "North Korea must earn its way back to the table," Tillerson said Friday while speaking at a United Nations meeting. "The pressure campaign must and will continue until denuclearization is achieved. We will in the meantime keep our channels of communication open." Tillerson urged all U.N. member states to "fully implement all existing U.N. Security Council resolutions," targeting Russia and China for special exhortation.


Mueller reportedly asked Trump campaign data firm for documents

Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly asked Cambridge Analytica, a data firm contracted with President Trump's campaign, to turn over emails of all campaign employees. Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee via video call this week as part of its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. In October, The Daily Beast reported Nix sent an email to a third party indicating he contacted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about how he could assist in the release of some of Hillary Clinton's deleted emails. Assange said the overture "was rejected by WikiLeaks."


Report: CDC banned from using phrases 'evidence-based' and 'science-based'

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.


Roy Moore still refuses to concede

Former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore on Friday reiterated his refusal to concede his loss to his Democratic rival, Doug Jones, at the polls on Tuesday. 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. 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.


Stronger winds to test California firefighters over the weekend

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. The Thomas Fire has burned 256,000 acres in its 12 days of existence. It is 35 percent contained and has claimed the life of one firefighter.


Rep. Ruben Kihuen faces ethics investigation over harassment allegations

Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) will be investigated by the House Ethics Committee following multiple sexual harassment allegations. Kihuen denies the accusations and says he will "fully cooperate" with the probe. A Friday BuzzFeed News report citing more than 30 sources, both named and unnamed, from the Nevada political scene described Kihuen "as a 'playboy' whose reputation for constantly pursuing and flirting with young women was an 'open secret.'" A former campaign aide alleges that Kihuen repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances toward her, and a Nevada lobbyist said he groped her without her consent and "sent her hundreds of suggestive texts."


Trump judicial nominee struggles with basic legal questions at hearing

Matthew Spencer Petersen, a nominee for the U.S. District Court judgeship for the District of Columbia, struggled to answer basic legal questions put to him by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) at a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Thursday. Kennedy first confirmed Petersen has not tried a case in any of the following instances: a jury trial, a civil trial, a criminal trial, a bench trial, a state court, or a federal court. He then moved on to checking Peterson's knowledge of standard legal terminology, to which Peterson repeatedly pleaded ignorance.


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