Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 18, 2017

Republicans express confidence they'll pass their tax overhaul this week, Putin thanks Trump for a CIA anti-terror tip, and more

1

GOP leaders confident tax overhaul will pass this week

Republican leaders said Sunday that they expected the House and the Senate to pass their joint tax overhaul this week in time for President Trump to sign it before Christmas, as promised. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the GOP whip, said on ABC's This Week that he was "confident" the Senate would pass the bill, as early as Tuesday. He said the legislation would "get the economy roaring back again" and give "everybody in every tax bracket a tax cut. So this is good news any way you cut it." The vote promises to be tight, however. Republicans have a narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate, and Sen. John McCain plans to return to Arizona for the holidays after being hospitalized last week for what his office described as "normal side effects of his ongoing cancer therapy," meaning he will likely miss the vote.

2

Putin thanks Trump for CIA tip that helped thwart terror attack

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday thanked President Trump by phone for a CIA tip that helped Russian authorities thwart a terrorist plot in St. Petersburg. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the call, a rare public acknowledgement of such cooperation. Putin said the tip helped investigators catch suspects they believed were planning to bomb a cathedral and other crowded locations in Russia's second biggest city. "Based on the information the United States provided, Russian authorities were able to capture the terrorists just prior to an attack that could have killed large numbers of people," the White House said. "Both leaders agreed that this serves as an example of the positive things that can occur when our countries work together."

3

Conservative billionaire wins Chile's presidential election

Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera won back the job he held from 2010 to 2014 on Sunday with a wider-than-forecast 9-percentage-point election victory over Alejandro Guillier, the aspiring successor to the South American nation's incumbent President Michelle Bachelet. Bachelet had called for building on years of social and economic changes. The pro-business Piñera's win was the latest in a series of shifts to the right in a region where left-leaning leaders had risen to power promising more just societies. "Chile needs dialogue and collaboration more than confrontation," Piñera, a 68-year-old conservative billionaire, said after a televised meeting with Guillier. Piñera promised to get the country's economy growing faster. Guillier said he would help lead a "constructive opposition" and defend "reforms we believe in."

4

Trump unveils national security plan

President Trump unveiled a new national security strategy on Monday, presenting China and Russia as rivals seeking to "challenge American power, influence, and interests, [and] attempting to erode American security and prosperity." Trump's policy statement additionally reflects the America First themes of his campaign, reversing Obama-era warnings about climate change, and emphasizing the economic implications of U.S. foreign policy. In comments Monday, Trump called the strategy "principled realism" and explained: "To succeed we must integrate every dimension of our national strength and we must compete with every instrument of our national power."

5

Firefighters take advantage of lighter winds to make push against massive fire

Thousands of firefighters battled Sunday to protect coastal communities from one of California's biggest wildfires in modern history, taking advantage of weakened winds to aggressively attack the western face of the massive Thomas Fire. "The fire's burning in open country right now, which is away from homes, which is exactly where we want it," said Capt. Rick Crawford, a Cal Fire spokesman. A Saturday flare-up destroyed two homes in the Montecito hills and damaged a dozen other structures. As of Sunday night, the Southern California fire had scorched 270,000 acres and was 45 percent contained. Funeral services were held Sunday for firefighter Cory Iverson, 32, who was killed last week by burns and smoke inhalation.

6

Doug Jones vows to work with both parties

Senator-elect Doug Jones, the Democrat elected last week in deeply Republican Alabama, vowed Sunday to work with both parties once he gets to Washington. Jones, the first Democrat elected to the Senate in Alabama since 1992, also said President Trump, who supported Jones' controversial GOP rival Roy Moore, doesn't need to resign over renewed sexual harassment allegations. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats last week said Trump should step down over the allegations by at least 16 women. "One of the problems in American politics right now, in my opinion, is that everybody thinks, because you're a member of one party or another, you're going to vote a certain way," Jones said on CNN's State of the Union. "And that should not be the case."

7

Trump says he won't fire Mueller as tensions rise over investigation

President Trump told reporters Sunday night that he is not planning to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The assurances came despite new public tensions between the White House and Mueller's office, and increasingly strident criticism from conservative pundits of Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation. Trump said that the way the investigation is being conducted is "not looking good," and that his "people were very upset to see" emails from his presidential transition team handed over to Mueller. Earlier Sunday, several White House officials said there has been no discussion of firing Mueller. "There is no consideration about firing or replacing the special counsel with whom the White House has fully cooperated in order to permit a fully vetted yet prompt conclusion," said White House lawyer Ty Cobb.

8

Carolina Panthers owner to sell team after misconduct allegations surface

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson announced Sunday that he would sell the team, with the news coming two days after the start of an internal investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct, including a racial slur and sexual harassment. Hours before Richardson's statement, the National Football League said it had taken over the inquiry. The team announced Friday that it was starting the investigation, and Sports Illustrated outlined the complaints by former Panthers employees on Sunday. Richardson did not reference the allegations in his announcement. He said the sale process would not begin until the last game of the season has been played.

9

Honduran president declared winner of disputed vote

Electoral officials in Honduras declared Sunday that President Juan Orlando Hernández won the Central American nation's bitterly contested race, beating opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, a TV personality, by about 50,000 votes. Preliminary results on election night showed Nasralla with a strong lead, but the count was paused for more than a day and allegations of a brewing fraud erupted. At least 22 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and police since the disputed vote. Election observers from the Organization of American States said on Dec. 6 that "irregularities, mistakes, and systemic problems" would make it hard to be "certain about the outcome." The O.A.S. is calling for a new vote.

10

Star Wars: The Last Jedi launches with biggest box office haul of 2017

The newest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, had a blockbuster opening weekend, as expected, leading the pack with a $220 million haul domestically. If confirmed, The Last Jedi's debut weekend would be the second-biggest ever, behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which brought in $247.9 million in its opening weekend in 2015. That film got a boost from pent up demand, as it was the first new Star Wars movie to hit screens in a decade. The Last Jedi easily posted the best showing of the year, as its producers, Disney and Lucasfilm, had expected. It went into the weekend with $45 million in ticket sales for Thursday previews, also the second best ever.

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