10 things you need to know today: December 20, 2017

Republicans push their tax overhaul through the House and Senate, Nikki Haley warns the U.S. is "taking names" in U.N. Jerusalem vote, and more

Mitch McConnell talks to the press after the Senate passes tax reform
(Image credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

1. GOP lawmakers push through their tax overhaul

Republicans pushed their tax overhaul through the House and then the Senate on Tuesday and early Wednesday, putting the GOP on the cusp of their first major legislative victory since taking control of both houses of Congress and the White House this year. The Senate passed it 51-48, with no GOP defections and no Democratic support. The House will have to hold a quick second vote to sign off on minor changes the Senate had to make to keep the legislation within its rules, then the bill will go to President Trump for his signature. The $1.5 trillion plan includes new breaks for businesses and deep cuts in the corporate tax rate. It is projected to lower income tax bills for most households in 2018, with far larger reductions for the wealthy than for middle- and lower-income families. The bill also scraps the individual insurance mandate, a key pillar of the Affordable Care Act.

The Washington Post

2. Nikki Haley warns the U.S. 'taking names' in U.N. Jerusalem vote

Nikki Haley, President Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, warned in a tweet on Tuesday that "the U.S. will be taking names" of countries that support a resolution calling for Trump to reverse his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. The vote is scheduled for Thursday, and Haley said Trump had asked her to "report back" on who votes against the U.S., Haley wrote in a letter to some U.S. allies. The U.S. used its veto at the U.N. Security Council on Monday to block a measure seeking to prevent the U.S. from recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, when the other 14 members voted against the U.S.

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CBS News The Jerusalem Post

3. Disgraced former Boston archbishop Bernard Law dies at 86

Cardinal Bernard Law, the former Boston archbishop forced to resign for his handling of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal, has died, the Vatican said early Wednesday. He was 86. Law stepped down in 2002 after a Boston Globe investigation, which would win a Pulitzer Prize, found that he and his predecessors had covered up for pedophile priests by moving them from parish to parish without notifying parishioners or police. He called for healing when he announced his departure, saying, "To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes, I both apologize to them and beg forgiveness." Many victims were angered, however, when Pope John Paul II in 2004 appointed Law to a prestigious position at a basilica in Rome.

The Boston Globe CNN

4. Investigators look into why train was speeding before deadly wreck

Investigators are examining whether the engineer of the speeding Amtrak train that derailed in Washington state, killing at least three people, was distracted by an employee in training, a federal safety official said Tuesday. Authorities said that an automatic brake activated before the wreck, as the train barreled through a 30-mile-per-hour zone at 80 mph before jumping off the rails on a curve, sending railcars plunging off an overpass onto an interstate highway below. The train was carrying 85 passengers and crew members on the inaugural run on a fast new bypass route. In the rush to open the line, the train was sent on its maiden voyage before sophisticated GPS-based speed-control technology that could have prevented the crash could be installed.

The Associated Press

5. 12 die in Mexico tourist bus crash

Twelve people were killed on Tuesday when a bus carrying cruise ship passengers flipped over on the way to Mayan ruins in eastern Mexico. Seven Americans and two Swedish citizens were among the dead. The van was carrying travelers from two Royal Caribbean Cruises ships, the Celebrity Equinox and Serenade of the Seas. The bus came to rest on its side on the two-lane highway. Video images from the accident scene showed some survivors lying on the pavement, and others walking around. The 27 passengers were on their way to see ruins at Chacchoben, 110 miles south of Tulum. Experts said the accident was one of the deadliest ever involving a cruise ship excursion. "Our hearts go out to all those involved in the bus accident in Costa Maya," Royal Caribbean said in a statement. "We are doing all we can to care for our guests, including assisting with medical care and transportation."

The Miami Herald

6. Yemen rebels fire second missile at Riyadh

Rebel forces in Yemen fired a ballistic missile at Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday, but it reportedly was intercepted and destroyed without doing any damage. It was the second such attempted missile strike in two months, as Houthi rebels try to attack the heart of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in support of the internationally recognized government of Yemen. Witnesses in Riyadh heard an explosion and saw gray smoke in the sky and black smoke rising from what was believed to be the launch site of the defense system that hit the incoming missile. The civil war in Yemen has dragged on for more than two years and contributed to a growing humanitarian crisis. Saudi Arabia accused Iran of backing the Houthis and providing the missile.

The New York Times

7. Renewed winds threaten to fuel Thomas Fire growth

Powerful winds that have fueled the massive Thomas Fire in Southern California are expected to return in coming days, authorities said Tuesday. Firefighters took advantage of relative calm and made progress against the blaze, which was 50 percent contained but close to becoming the second-largest wildfire in modern California history. It has burned more than 270,000 acres, and forecasters predict that Santa Barbara's sundowner winds will give the flames a new blast of air late Wednesday and early Thursday, with gusts expected to exceed 40 miles per hour. "It is a very large fire, so you're going to have different wind effects over different parts of the fire," said Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Los Angeles Times

8. GOP loses control of Virginia House when recount gives Democrat one-vote victory

In a recount completed Tuesday, Democrat Shelly Simonds beat incumbent Republican David Yancey by one vote, 11,608 to 11,607, to represent Virginia's 94th District in the state House of Delegates. In the initial count, Yancey led by 10 votes. If the one-vote victory is certified Wednesday, as expected, Republicans will lose their majority in the House of Delegates after controlling it for 17 years, and Democrats and Republicans will each have 50 seats after the GOP lost 16 seats on Election Day in November in a vote widely interpreted as a rebuke to President Trump. "Fifty-fifty is an unprecedented event in the 400-year history of the House of Delegates," said David J. Toscano, the House Democratic leader. Republicans still control the Senate, 21-19.

NBC News The New York Times

9. EU court deals major blow to Uber

The European Union's highest court handed Uber a major defeat on Wednesday by declaring that the ride-hailing service must comply with the same tough rules as conventional taxi companies. Uber had argued that it should be exempt because it is really just a digital services provider, helping to connect riders with independent drivers through its ride-hailing smartphone app. The decision threatens to hamper Uber's plans to expand in Europe by forcing it to spend a fortune on licensing fees and employee benefits. It also could signal broader changes in store for the gig economy, in which a growing number of people work as freelancers or under short-term contracts rather than as full-time employees with clear rights and benefits under established labor rules.

The New York Times

10. Former Silicon Valley star denies former girlfriend's assault allegations

Comedian and former Silicon Valley actor T.J. Miller has been accused of violently sexually assaulting his former girlfriend while the two attended George Washington University. "We started to fool around, and very early in that, he put his hands around my throat and closed them, and I couldn't breathe," the woman, who asked not to be named, told The Daily Beast. "I was genuinely terrified ... I had certainly not entered into any agreement that I would be choked." The woman said the incident additionally escalated into further sexual violence. Two of her roommates at the time told the Beast they recalled the alleged incident. Miller has denied the allegations, claiming the woman "is now using the current climate to bandwagon and launch these false accusations again."

The Daily Beast

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.