Trump After Dark: Trigger More Work edition

With no trigger in their tax bill, President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans aren’t there yet.

After a burst of momentum earlier this week, Senate Republican leadership nixed a potential vote tonight on a sweeping tax overhaul in order to continue making changes to the bill to win over GOP hold outs, POLITICO’s Seung Min Kim and Colin Wilhelm report.

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The decision came after it became clear that the Senate parlimentarian wouldn’t allow the bill to contain a so-called “trigger” that would raise tax rates if certain economic growth levels weren’t hit.

A group of Republican holdouts had sought the measure as a way to address concerns with the deficit.

The news came after a day that infused rare dramatic tension to procedural votes.

As the tax bill came up for a vote on a motion to advance, three Republican senators — Jeff Flake of Arizona, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Bob Corker of Tennessee — initially withheld support. While eventually voting with their party, the three have made it clear changes need to be made to address deficit concerns. Winning their votes could now mean rewriting the legislation to automatically raising tax rates at some point.

Earlier in the day, the bill won over an important skeptic in Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Work to assuage deficit hawks came as a report raised questions about the tax bill’s ability to pay for itself, POLITICO’s Brian Faler reports.

“In an eagerly awaited report, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation said the plan would boost the economy, but not by nearly as much as Republican predict. It sees the plan boosting growth by 0.8 percent over the next decade, which it said would throw off $407 billion in additional revenue.”

Elsewhere in President Trump’s orbit:

POMP UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES: Frustrated State Department diplomats reacted to a burst of stories suggesting that CIA Director Mike Pompeo will soon replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson say they would welcome a genuine ally of President Trump at Foggy Bottom.

COTTONING TO HIM: Meanwhile, Pompeo’s potential replacement at the CIA, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, has earned President Trump’s trust by trying to help shape his agenda, rather than criticizing him when he disagrees with him.

MAN ON BAIL: Paul Manafort reached an $11 million bail agreement that releases him from house arrest ahead of his trial stemming from Robert Mueller’s investigation.

WORKS FOR DJT: The Washington Post reports that President Trump thinks a government shutdown might not be that bad — for him.

DARROCH SHOT: The U.K.’s ambassador to the United States, Kim Darroch, expressed his “concerns” to the White House today after President Trump posted anti-Muslim videos linked with a far-right U.K. group.

A UNITED KINGDOM: President Trump’s tweets seem to have done something difficult — uniting a fractious group of political rivals in the U.K. (The New York Times)

NOT TEL THEN: The Trump administration is inching toward moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a move President Trump promised on the campaign trail but which would antagonize relations in the Middle East.

OPEN (ON) MIKE?: Jared Kushner talked to Robert Mueller’s team this month and talked about a meeting with a Russian lawyer linked with the Kremlin and former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn. (The New York Times)

HOLDING FIRE: Defense Sec. James Mattis said there was “nothing to report” about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after being asked about reports Tillerson is soon to leave his post.

LOT TO ACCOUNT FORE: President Trump’s Secret Service team spent $7,500 on golf cart rentals during his recent trip to Mar a Lago for Thanksgiving.

There you have it. You’re caught up on the Trump administration. TGIT.

Tax bill could trigger historic spending cuts

 Medicare alone could see cuts of $25 billion a year.

Medicare alone could see cuts of $25 billion a year. | Alan Diaz/AP Photo

Republicans are on the verge of a massive tax overhaul that would hand President Donald Trump his first major legislative victory. But the $1.5 trillion tax package could trigger eye-popping cuts to a slew of federal programs, including Medicare.

Unless Congress acts swiftly to stop it, as much as $150 billion per year would be cut from initiatives ranging from farm subsidies to student loans to support services for crime victims. Medicare alone could see cuts of $25 billion a year. And the specter of those cuts has thrust Congress into a high-stakes game of political chicken.

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With so much attention focused on the tax bill itself neither lawmakers nor many of the advocacy groups had paid as much attention to the depth and breadth of the cuts that will ensue unless the House and Senate come up with a bipartisan deal to stop them. Some groups had run Medicare ads, but they were largely overshadowed by the tax debate itself.

The tax bill hit snags in the Senate late Thursday, as Republicans worked on ways to ease the concerns of deficit hawks. Leaders were still scrambling for votes.

But within the GOP, leaders are confident that once the tax bill is passed, they can strike a quick deal to waive the federally mandated cuts. But Democrats deeply opposed to the tax bill aren’t making any promises they’ll agree to bail out their rivals — raising the risk of a historic gutting of government programs.

“This would be unprecedented,” said William Hoagland, a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former GOP Senate staffer with expertise on the budget. “The law never envisioned that we’d eliminate programs.”

GOP leaders are asking moderates like Susan Collins (R-Maine) to back the tax package with the mere promise that lawmakers can find a bipartisan solution during an already divisive year-end crunch that could lead to a government shutdown.

One senior House GOP source was confident a deal on spending would go through. “A statutory PAYGO sequester has never happened, and we will prevent one from being triggered,” the source said, adding that Congress has until the end of the year to work it out.

The far reach of the Republican tax plan is the consequence of limitations placed on Congress under the “pay-as-you-go” rule. The decades-old law, revamped during the Obama presidency, requires Congress to offset the cost of each piece of legislation or risk spending cuts painful to both parties.

Lawmakers have repeatedly voted to waive this rule, a total of 16 times, for major bills like the Obama-era stimulus and multiple tax cut packages under George W. Bush.

The GOP’s $1.5 trillion tax plan would trigger $150 billion in cuts to domestic programs every year for a decade if Congress doesn’t step in, according to the CBO. That would include $25 billion from the money Medicare pays health care providers.

“You’re likely to have doctors who will see less patients; you’re likely to have hospitals and other health care facilities cut back on certain services,” said David Certner, legislative counsel for the AARP, which has loudly opposed cutting Medicare. “It really affects the program.”

The fallout for numerous smaller federal programs would be even more drastic, effectively zeroing out their budgets. And while conservatives want smaller government, they don’t necessarily want programs lopped off across the board.

The largest chunk would come from health and domestic programs like the Social Services Block Grant, which stands to lose $1.7 billion, and the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which would lose $715 million. Obamacare’s Public Health and Prevention Fund — long a target for Republicans — would be wiped out.

Agriculture is usually a spending priority for conservatives, but the tax bill could put $20 billion of farm aid on the chopping block. Nearly all federal programs aiding farmers would see funding evaporate.

“Basically, Mr. Perdue would only have the food stamp program to work with,” Hoagland said, referring to the Trump administration’s Agriculture secretary.

Those cuts would also kick in for the Department of Education’s student loan repayment services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the unemployment trust fund.

Republican leaders rushing to pass the tax package have so far dismissed that doomsday scenario as far-fetched — although they were still making last-minute changes on Thursday to address fiscal concerns and stay within Senate budget rules.

Collins, a key moderate holdout on the tax bill, said she received a personal assurance from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday that the cuts would be waived — one day after she threatened to oppose the bill over the severe reductions. She said House Speaker Paul Ryan had made the same promise.

“I am confident that neither side of the aisle wants that to occur,” Collins said Thursday morning at an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, adding that GOP leaders will likely strike a year-end deal to waive the pay-as-you-go requirement.

But the price tag could raise some thorny questions for Republican leaders desperate for a legislative win in the waning weeks of the year — a year in which they controlled the House, Senate and White House and have little to show for it.

Some deficit hawks have already objected to ballooning the national debt, pushing instead for required tax hikes if the bill fails to pay for itself — as many economic analysts predict, including Congress’ own Joint Committee on Taxation. Raising taxes would effectively have the same overall impact on the deficit as allowing the spending cuts to take place.

“A vote to block that sequester becomes an awkward vote for some Republicans who said we should be cutting spending,” said Ed Lorenzen, a senior adviser at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “It is ironic that congressional leadership is simultaneously telling members that they’re going to block the sequester at the same time they’re negotiating a trigger that’s supposed to have tax increases.”

The looming threat of the cuts, known as sequestration, has been a political gift for Democrats as they’ve attempted to kill the GOP’s tax bill.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has repeatedly railed against the GOP’s tax bill for “gutting Medicare.” A series of ads targeting vulnerable House Republicans last month warned that the GOP bill “forces a $25 billion cut in Medicare.”

Publicly, at least, some Democrats have suggested that they could play hardball — withholding their votes to waive the cuts and forcing Republicans to take the fall.

But privately, longtime Capitol Hill veterans say Democrats would never allow spending cuts, even if they could avoid the blame.

“Medicare is underfunded as it is. If we have to change the PAYGO rules, we’ll just change ‘em,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.). “At the end of the day, we — Republicans and Democrats — have to go home and face our constituents. I wouldn’t want to go home and face my constituents if I’d cut Medicare.”

Not guilty verdict found in case pushed by Trump in immigration debate

The family of Kate Steinle is pictured. | Getty Images

The family of Kate Steinle, who was killed by an undocumented immigrant, is pictured during a 2015 news conference. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Jurors have found a Mexican man not guilty of murder in the killing of a woman on a San Francisco pier in a case that touched off a national immigration debate.

The jury reached the verdict Thursday in Kate Steinle’s death.

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Jose Ines Garcia Zarate had been deported five times and was wanted for a sixth deportation when Steinle was fatally shot in the back in 2015. Garcia Zarate didn’t deny shooting Steinle and said it was an accident.

Before the shooting, the San Francisco sheriff’s department had released him from jail despite a federal immigration request to detain him for deportation.

Its “sanctuary city” law limits cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities.

President Donald Trump cited the case during his campaign in a bid to show the country needed tougher immigration policies.

Conyers vs. Franken: Black lawmakers suggest double standard

Black lawmakers are hearing growing calls for Rep. John Conyers to resign and wondering why Sen. Al Franken isn’t getting the same treatment.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been privately airing concerns about a double standard within Democrats’ ranks since sexual harassment allegations against Conyers, the longest serving House member and a founder of the CBC, first surfaced last week. Their concerns were thrust into the open Thursday when Conyers’ lawyer hinted that Conyers was being treated differently than Franken because of race.

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“Nancy Pelosi is going to have to explain what is the discernible difference between Al Franken and John Conyers,” Arnold Reed, Conyers’ attorney, told reporters after the House Minority Leader said Conyers should resign.

Members of the CBC did not attack Pelosi personally on Thursday. And Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest ranking African-American lawmaker and a member of Pelosi’s leadership team, joined her in calling for Conyers’ resignation.

But the close-knit group of 49 black lawmakers is agonizing over how to address the Conyers scandal and say questions about a racial undertone are impossible to avoid as Democrats debate how to respond to sexual harassment by colleagues.

“I think the chorus of people that are calling for John to resign is noticeably larger than everyone else,” CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) said in an interview.

Members of the CBC were furious when Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) became the first Democrat to call on Conyers (D-Mich.) to resign shortly after the allegations surfaced last week. At the weekly CBC meeting this week, several members angrily discussed what Rice did and said they’d be watching for others who followed suit — and wouldn’t forget.

The response to Pelosi and Clyburn has been much more muted and speaks to the evolution CBC members have undergone in their thinking on the issue in just the last 24 hours, as the accusations against Conyers show no signs of abating.

“There’s no one in the room that doesn’t think he needs to resign. But people thought that Rice openly calling for him to resign, CBC members did not like that,” said a source with knowledge of the meeting. “Things change in a day.”

Pelosi met with Richmond and Clyburn on Wednesday before the CBC meeting to discuss next steps. The trio had been working in recent days to privately pressure Conyers to resign, hoping to avoid having to publicly call for him to step down.

But Conyers dug in, flying back to Detroit Tuesday night after meeting with leaders of the CBC, a sign to Democratic aides that he had no plans to go willingly. At the CBC meeting Wednesday, members were visibly upset, some even crying, about the situation.

“Somebody who you trust, somebody who you love that does something wrong. That’s not easy,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.). “No one believes someone should get away with bad acts but it’s hard and it’s emotional, especially with someone like John Conyers, who has made America better.”

Some members were upset that Rice and two other House Democrats, Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), were publicly pressuring Conyers to give up his seat while most Democrats weren’t calling on Franken to do the same.

Both Conyers and Franken face multiple sexual assault allegations. Four former staffers have accused Conyers of harassing them — three saying he made repeated unwanted sexual advances while another said he verbally abused her over several years. Six women have accused Franken of groping them.

While Rice has said she also thinks Franken should step down, no Senate Democrats have called for Franken’s resignation, despite two new accusers who came forward Thursday. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, is the highest-ranking Democrat to say Franken should step down.

Meanwhile, a deluge of Democrats said Conyers should resign Thursday after Pelosi and Clyburn went public.

A spokesman for Pelosi did not respond to a request for comment. But a Democratic aide noted that aside from Crowley, no other members of House Democratic leadership have said Franken should step down.

Pelosi has tread cautiously since the first allegations against Conyers were reported by BuzzFeed last week. The CBC holds significant sway within the Democratic Caucus and since the group tends to vote as a bloc, it can make the aspirations of Democratic members looking to climb the ranks into leadership — or to remain there.

Other House Democrats not within the CBC have panned Pelosi’s approach to the Conyers scandal, saying she should have called for him to resign much sooner. Lawmakers in that camp were particularly incensed by Pelosi’s interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, when she said Conyers was an “icon” who has done “a great deal to protect women.”

“There’s a lot of people who feel like she has handled the situation horribly and is only looking out for herself,” said one lawmaker who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

But Pelosi defended her response. At a private Democratic caucus meeting Wednesday the minority leader said she didn’t understand why NBC’s “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie was lauded for giving an emotional response to the firing of her co-host Matt Lauer over sexual harassment allegations, while she was heavily criticized for calling Conyers an icon.

Privately, Democratic leaders have thought for days that Conyers needed to go. But Pelosi has been cautious, wanting to give the CBC space to respond before publicly trying to force Conyers out. On Wednesday it became clear to leaders that the Conyers controversy was not going away, and more forceful steps had to be taken.

In addition to conversations with Richmond and Clyburn, Pelosi dialed multiple CBC members late into the night Wednesday to share her thinking.

Pelosi, through members of the CBC, relayed to Conyers that she was going to publicly call for his resignation during her weekly Thursday press conference unless he did so himself before then.

Conyers was hospitalized Wednesday after complaining of chest pains and dizziness. His lawyer said he had not decided whether to resign and wouldn’t be pressured into doing so.

So Pelosi did what she had talked to CBC members about the night before, using her weekly press conference to announce that she thought it was time for Conyers to go. Clyburn quickly followed suit.

“I pray for Congressman Conyers and his family and wish them well,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters. “However, Congressman Conyers should resign.”

Reed, Conyers lawyer, quickly panned Pelosi, saying she was only trying to save face after being criticized for her “Meet the Press” performance.

“For her to use this as an opportunity for a rebound situation when she did absolutely terrible and got creamed on ‘Meet the Press,’ it’s shameful,” Reed told reporters. “Let me be clear, she is not going to decide his fate.”

But CBC members, notably, did not follow suit.

“They did what they had to do,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a CBC member who has been counseling Conyers since last week, said of Pelosi and Clyburn. “I agree that they had to do what they did.”

As for the Conyers-Franken contrast, “If [Pelosi] chooses to give a response in regards to Mr. Franken, she can do that,” Meeks said. “But I can’t say that Nancy Pelosi’s motivations [were] based upon race. I don’t believe that.”

House GOP leaders preparing to bring gun measures to the floor

John Culberson is pictured. | AP Photo

A bipartisan proposal by Reps. John Culberson (R-Texas), pictured here, and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), would require federal agencies and states to produce implementation plans for sharing data with the NICS system and to verify the accuracy of the data they provide. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

House Republican leaders are preparing to move ahead with a package of gun legislation that would sharply expand concealed-carry rights but also address policies that came into play during two recent mass shootings. The proposal is expected to come to the floor as soon as next week.

GOP leaders conducted a full whip count of the plan Thursday and sensed enough support from colleagues to bring up the measure, a combination of three proposals that would include a major policy win for gun rights advocates but also seek to placate those clamoring for policy changes following two of the worst shooting massacres in American history — in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas.

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The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, a bill initially offered by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), would permit anyone with a valid concealed-carry permit to transport firearms into any other state that also allows for concealed-carry permits. The measure is strongly favored by the National Rifle Association but has drawn fierce opposition from gun control advocates who say it effectively nullifies restrictions passed in states that want to limit the practice.

The measure would be combined with a bipartisan proposal to stiffen NICS, the national system of criminal background checks managed by the FBI. Calls for an NICS revamp grew louder after a shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5 that left 26 churchgoers dead. After the shooting, the Air Force revealed that it had failed to report the gunman’s conviction on domestic violence in 2012 to the database, which would have barred him from making a lawful gun purchase.

The proposal, a bipartisan bill offered by Reps. John Culberson (R-Texas) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), would require federal agencies and states to produce implementation plans for sharing data with the NICS system and to verify the accuracy of the data they provide. It would also reward states that comply with more funding and incentives, and would provide more resources to federal agencies working to comply.

The package would also include a measure offered by Rep. Karen Handel (R-Ga.) that would seek the opinion of the attorney general about whether current criminal law already allows more severe sentences for those who use “bump stocks” in the commission of a crime.

The gunman in the Oct. 1 Las Vegas massacre, which left more than 50 dead and hundreds wounded, was later discovered to have used bump stocks, devices that can increase the rate of fire of a semi-automatic weapon, to maximize the carnage. Lawmakers in both parties have called for an outright ban on the sale and manufacture of bump stocks.