Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Senate’

US senators refuse to back down on ZTE ban

July 13, 2018

Lawmakers seek a defence-bill amendment to punish the Chinese telecoms firm after Commerce Department says a less-harsh deal is almost in place

South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 July, 2018, 5:15am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 July, 2018, 8:25am

A bipartisan group of six US senators urged their colleagues now drawing up a final defence appropriations bill to retain a ban on selling components to Chinese telecoms giant ZTE Corp, a day after the US Commerce Department said a deal was close with the company to lift the ban.

Republicans Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton and Roy Blunt, together with Democrats Chris Van Hollen, Mark Warner and Bill Nelson sent a letter to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees on Thursday to urge the chairmen, Senator John McCain and Representative Mac Thornberry, to include the amendment in the defence bill.

“We strongly oppose the June 2018 deal with ZTE negotiated by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) to lift the seven-year ban against the export of US parts and components to ZTE,” the senators wrote.

They expressed concerns that ZTE – along with Huawei, another telecoms giant – “are beholden to the Chinese government and Communist Party, which provides the capacity for espionage and intellectual property theft, and therefore poses clear threats to the national security, people, and economy of the United States”.

The resistance adds yet another wrinkle to a deal that Commerce struck last month to save ZTE, after US President Donald Trump directed the department to come up with an alternative to the seven-year ban, framing it as a favour to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and part of a larger strategy to win trade concessions.

On Wednesday, Commerce said in a statement that it had signed an agreement for ZTE to deposit US$400 million into an escrow account, the last step before the ban can be lifted. Additionally, ZTE paid a US$1 billion fine to the US Treasury last month.

The settlement also required ZTE to replace its senior management team and put in place a compliance team appointed by the US.

ZTE shares jumped 25 per cent on the Hong Kong stock exchange on Thursday.

The company has been in a months-long effort to resume operations after the US banned it in mid-April from buying American parts, penalising ZTE for violating US sanctions by selling products to Iran and North Korea. The company shut down most its operations weeks after the ban was imposed.

After Trump instructed Commerce to devise a less-harsh penalty, the action met with bipartisan resistance in Congress, with lawmakers urging Trump to reinstate the ban because of the national security threat they said ZTE poses.

The US House and Senate have each passed amendments to their defence bills that would roll back Trump’s settlement.

An amendment restoring the ban was passed by the Senate. A few weeks later, the House of Representatives passed its own version that would allow ZTE to continue using US suppliers, but would bar ZTE from selling its products and services to US government agencies.

The Senate and the House are in the process of reconciling the differences between the two versions. The lawmakers intend to have the final version ready by the end of the month before the House goes into recess.

https://www.scmp.com/tech/china-tech/article/2155068/us-senators-urge-keeping-zte-ban-bid-block-deal-trump

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Senate Obstruction in Profile

June 25, 2018

A respected Trump Justice nominee is held up for more than a year.

Jeff Sessions and Brian Benczkowski in 2009.
Jeff Sessions and Brian Benczkowski in 2009. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS/HARRY HAMBURG

Key positions throughout the federal government remain vacant more than 500 days into Donald Trump’s Presidency. The President hasn’t put forward enough nominees, a mistake the media have focused on. Yet Senate Democrats—and the occasional Republican—have held up qualified nominees at a scale unprecedented in recent history.

No one understands this better than Brian Benczkowski, who was nominated more than a year ago to lead the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. Mr. Benczkowski is a highly qualified choice for Assistant Attorney General: He has held five leadership positions at Justice, including chief of staff to former Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Obama and Clinton appointees have praised his selection, yet Senate Democrats have treated Mr. Benczkowski as if he were Vladimir Putin’s personal attorney.

Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats sent a letter to President Trump in May—11 months after receiving the nomination—regarding the nominee’s “Russian connections.” They urged the president to drop Mr. Benczkowski over his “representation of the Putin-allied Alfa Bank and his refusal to recuse himself from Russia-related matters.”

What did Mr. Benczkowski’s representation entail? In 2016 news reports surfaced of connections between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank. At the behest of one of his law partners, in 2017 he hired cybersecurity firm Stroz Friedberg to examine some of Alfa Bank’s electronic records. Mr. Benczkowski testified that the limited investigation he oversaw turned up no connections between the bank and Mr. Trump’s business.

Democrats nonetheless demanded that he recuse himself from anything related to Russia. Given the absence of a conflict, Mr. Benczkowski declined to commit to a broad Russia-related recusal, though he said he would recuse from anything involving Alfa Bank.

Democrats now claim Mr. Benczkowski would undermine the Robert Mueller investigation. Never mind that the nominee made clear that he supports the probe and explicitly rejected Mr. Trump’s “witch hunt” characterization. Mr. Mueller reports to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who supports Mr. Benczkowski.

Democrats also cite his “dearth of courtroom experience” as a reason to oppose someone for a position whose work involves setting policy priorities, not trying cases. Three Criminal Division chiefs under Barack Obama signed a letter backing his nomination, noting “he respects the role of the Justice Department and will work hard to protect the integrity and independence” of the institution.

The worst of this Democratic harassment began after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Mr. Benczkowski’s nomination along party lines last September. A Senator can’t stop a nominee but he can drag out confirmation. And Senate Democrats have done so at a record pace during the Trump Administration.

After a nominee is confirmed by committee, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asks for unanimous consent to take up the nomination. If a Senator objects, this triggers a cloture vote, which requires 30 hours of debate on the Senate floor. With limited floor time Senate leaders might have to choose between passing a farm bill or approving a State Department official.

Some Republicans have also abused the rule. In January Senator Cory Gardner vowed to hold every Justice Department appointment until Attorney General Jeff Sessions took a softer stance on marijuana. Three months later, after the President promised the feds wouldn’t interfere with Colorado’s legal marijuana industry, the Senator lifted his hold. Senate leaders still want to get Mr. Benczkowski and other Justice officials a floor vote, but they’ll have to keep waiting as the Senate is forced to triage nominees.

Through June 21, Trump nominees have taken an average of 87 days to confirm, according to the Partnership for Public Service. Obama appointees had to wait an average of 67 days. Among 670 “key executive branch” positions—agency heads, ambassadors and other leadership roles—147 Trump nominees are still awaiting Senate action.

This is largely because as of June 5 Mr. Trump’s nominees had faced 101 cloture votes. In the first two years of every administration going back to Jimmy Carter, there were only 24 such votes for judicial and executive nominees. Mr. Obama’s nominees faced only a dozen cloture votes in his first two years.

Top jobs at Treasury, Justice, Defense and State remain unfilled as an understaffed Trump Administration grapples with a host of international challenges. These jobs are being filled on a temporary basis, but that’s no way to run a government—even if you don’t like the guy at the top.

U.S. Senate passes defense bill, battle looms with Trump over China’s ZTE

June 19, 2018

The U.S. Senate passed a $716 billion defense policy bill on Monday, backing President Donald Trump’s call for a bigger, stronger military but setting up a potential battle with the White House over Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE Corp.

A sign of ZTE Corp is pictured at its service centre in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China.
A sign of ZTE Corp is pictured at its service centre in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China. PHOTO: STRINGER/REUTERS

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 85-10 for the annual National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which authorizes U.S. military spending but is generally used as a vehicle for a broad range of policy matters.

Before it can become law, the bill must be reconciled with one already passed by the House of Representatives. That compromise measure must then be passed by both chambers and signed into law by Trump.

Considered must-pass legislation, the fiscal 2019 Senate version of the NDAA authorizes $639 billion in base defense spending, for such things as buying weapons, ships and aircraft and paying the troops, with an additional $69 billion to fund ongoing conflicts.

This year, the Senate included an amendment that would kill the Trump administration’s agreement to allow ZTE to resume business with U.S. suppliers, one of the few times the Republican-led Senate has veered from White House policy. That ZTE provision is not included in the House version of the NDAA.

While strongly supported by some of Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as some Democrats, the measure is opposed by the White House and some of its close Republican allies, who control the House as well as the Senate.

It could face a difficult path to being included in the final NDAA, especially if Trump lobbies the Republican-led Congress against it, as he is expected to do.

Republicans and Democrats have expressed national security concerns about ZTE after it broke an agreement to discipline executives who had conspired to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

The U.S. government placed a ban on ZTE earlier this year, but the Trump administration reached an agreement to lift the ban while it is negotiating broader trade agreements with China and looking to Beijing for support during negotiations to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Republicans Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio and Democrats Chuck Schumer and Chris Van Hollen, who led the Senate push for the ZTE provision, said in a joint statement after the vote that they were “heartened” by support, adding: “It is vital that our colleagues in the House keep this bipartisan provision in the bill as it heads toward a conference.”

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But the final NDAA could include only a much less stringent provision, included in the House bill, that would bar the Defense Department from dealing with any entity using telecommunications equipment or services from ZTE or another Chinese company, Huawei Technologies Co Ltd HWT.UL.

FOREIGN INVESTMENT RULES

The Senate version of the NDAA also seeks to strengthen the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which assesses deals to ensure they do not compromise national security.

The bill would allow CFIUS to expand the deals that can be reviewed, for example making reviews of many proposed transactions mandatory instead of voluntary and allowing CFIUS to review land purchases near sensitive military sites.

The Senate NDAA also includes an amendment prohibiting sales to Turkey of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) unless Trump certifies Turkey is not threatening NATO, purchasing defense equipment from Russia or detaining U.S. citizens.

Senators included the legislation because of the imprisonment of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson and the purchase of the S-400 air defense system from Russia.

The measure also includes an amendment to bar the U.S. military from providing aerial refueling support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen unless Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certifies that Saudi Arabia is taking urgent steps to end the civil war in Yemen, ease the humanitarian crisis there and reduce the risk to civilians.

Shipbuilders General Dynamics Corp (GD.N) and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc (HII.N) could benefit from the bill’s authorization of advance procurement of materials needed for the Virginia class nuclear submarines.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle an Mike Stone; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Chris Sanders and and Peter Cooney

Reuters

“Blue Wave” Democrats Hoped to Ride to Midterm Election Wins Not As Big As Thought — Republican chances improve

May 29, 2018

3 Reasons Republicans Are More Optimistic About the Midterms

Republicans’ prospects for the midterm elections are improving, thanks to President Trump’s approval rating, the improving economy, and new poll results. Gerald F. Seib explains. Photo: Getty

Video:

https://www.wsj.com/video/3-reasons-republicans-are-more-optimistic-about-the-midterms/6F2DF27E-1415-4146-AF51-567F14C27CD8.html

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RealClearPolitics senior elections analyst Sean Trende joined Griff Jenkins on Monday’s edition of ‘Fox & Friends’ to discuss President Trump’s improving job approval numbers and Democrats’ chances for retaking the House.

Trende says that the buzz surrounding the “blue wave” Democrats hope to ride to a Congressional majority in November might be based on hype more than data.

Griff Jenkins asked Trende about his RCP article from last week, How The Battle For The House Is Shaping Up, where he said: “Six months is several lifetimes in politics. But there is little doubt that the Republicans’ chances have improved over the past five months, perhaps dramatically so.”

“I think we’ve gone from the Democrats being the favorite to retake the House to something of a dead heat,” Trende explained.

GRIFF JENKINS, FNC: Listen, the president’s approval rating is up. We’ll just put it up quickly so you see it if you haven’t already. 42% approve, that is incredibly up from the 30% that most Democrats refer to in recent weeks. Tell me, why are we seeing this approval? And you have about three things you believe we should be looking at right now.

SEAN TRENDE, RCP: There’s a couple of things going on. I think the good economic news is starting to break through. I think people are starting to question where the Mueller investigation is going. I think it had kept the president down for a while. And I think the tax cuts energized the Republican base and are playing a role in the president’s improving fortunes.

JENKINS: Now, traditionally, about 23, 24 seats change hands in these midterm elections. Aside from the environment that we’re in, how do you factor in this environment now?

TRENDE: Well, I think if you looked six months ago, you would say it was doomsday for the Republicans with the Republican down in the 30s, showing a double-digit lead for Democrats. But that’s just not the world we’re in today. The president is up into the low to mid 40s, and his job approval, the generic ballot has closed to a four-point lead for the Democrats, so I think we’ve gone from Democrats being heavy favorites to take the House to something of a dead heat and maybe a thumb on the scale for the Republicans…

JENKINS: I don’t know if you saw yesterday a headline on ‘The New York Times’ saying that even California Democrats are feeling the heat out there. They’re worried about the prospects of Republicans actually having amazing results there. What do you make of that?

TRENDE: No, I think it’s a real concern for the Democrats. They have this top two primary system where everyone runs in the same race, and the top two make it to the election. There’s a lot of Democrats running, they could divide the democratic vote, and you could end up with two Republicans in the general election shutting the Democrats out, which is sort of a nightmare scenario for Democrats.

West Virginia Election: Coal Man Don Blankenship Says He is “Trumpier than Trump”

May 7, 2018

Don Blankenship said on Monday that he is “Trumpier than Trump” in response to a tweet from the president urging West Virginians to support the GOP Senate candidate’s primary opponents.

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“As some have said I am Trumpier than Trump, and this morning proves it,” Blankenship, a former mining CEO, said in a statement responding to a tweet from Trump.

“The President is a very busy man and he doesn’t know me, and he doesn’t know how flawed my two main opponents are in this primary,” Blankenship said. “The establishment is misinforming him because they do not want me to be in the U.S. Senate and promote the President’s agenda.”

Blankenship also said he had resurrected the GOP in West Virginia.

“West Virginia voters should remember that my enemies are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and my opponents would not even be running as Republicans had I not resurrected the Republican Party in West Virginia,” he said.

Trump tweeted on Monday that West Virginians should support either West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey or Rep. Evan Jenkins in the GOP primary over Blankenship, a former coal executive who was convicted of violating mine safety and health standards.

Republicans fear that if Blankenship won the primary, he would almost certainly lose to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in November. They also think he could cause collateral damage on other GOP candidates.

Blankenship, who was in prison for a year after his conviction, has been surging in recent polling.

The Republican establishment has responded by fiercely pushing against his nomination.

Republicans fear that Blankenship’s nomination could be a repeat of last year’s Alabama special election where Roy Moore beat the more moderate Luther Strange for the Republican nomination only to be beaten by the Democratic candidate Doug Jones after allegations broke that Moore had sexually assaulted underage women.

The West Virginia primary will take place on Tuesday.

TAGS HILLARY CLINTON, LUTHER STRANGE, EVAN JENKINS, BARACK OBAMA, JOE MANCHIN ROY MOORE, WEST VIRGINIA, DON BLANKENSHIP, PATRICK MORRISEY, DONALD TRUMP

http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/386484-blankenship-im-trumpier-than-trump

U.S. Senate set to vote on ending U.S. war operations in Yemen

March 20, 2018
Militants loyal to Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi take their positions in Taiz, Yemen, March, 30, 2015. The United States military has been engaged in Yemen since 2015 but a vote on Tuesday could end its operations there. File Photo by Anees Mahyoub/UPI

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March 20 (UPI) — The Senate is scheduled to hold a vote Tuesday on whether to end the U.S. military’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war.

The GOP Senate Cloakroom on Twitter said the Senate will vote on S.J. 54 at approximately 4:15 if all debate time on the measure is used.

The measure, brought forth by Senators Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., seeks to end U.S. military’s now three-year involvement in Yemen by invoking the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which says that the U.S. president can approve engagement in combat abroad “only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”

Neither of those conditions have been met, the senators argue, making the U.S. operation in Yemen illegal.

The United States began supporting Saudi Arabia’s military involvement in Yemen under President Barack Obama in 2015. That operation has continued under President Donald Trump and today, U.S. troops are on the ground conducting various ground operations, the Pentagon confirmed.

But if the Sanders-Lee-Murphy resolution passes the Senate, it will likely have little affect on troop levels in Yemen because it gives an exception to U.S. military attacks on Al Queda and Islamic State.

But the resolution would put limits to how much the U.S. military can assist Saudi Arabia’s military attacks on Yemen. Currently, the U.S. provides the Saudis with air-to-air refueling, intelligence assessments and other military advice.

The New York Times reported that State Department and Pentagon officials are strongly opposed to the resolution and warned senators that ending U.S. involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen cold damage relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

“New restrictions on this limited U.S. military support could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counter-terrorism and reduce our influence with the Saudis,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a letter to congressional members last week.

Sanders has criticized the Saudi war in Yemen — and the U.S. military’s support of it — as making matters worse in a country that is already among the poorest in the world.

“Every 10 minutes, a child under the age of five dies of preventable causes in Yemen,” Sanders said in February. “What few Americans know, however, is that the U.S. military is making the crisis worse by helping one side in the conflict bomb innocent civilians.”

Bipartisan, Centrist Senators Outflanked Party Leadership to End Shutdown

January 23, 2018

Bipartisan group grew frustrated by party leaders’ standoff over immigration; some lawmakers and White House officials were surprised fight fell to Senate and not House

Senators gathered to celebrate their bipartisan effort outside the chamber in Washington on Monday, following a procedural vote aimed at reopening the government.
Senators gathered to celebrate their bipartisan effort outside the chamber in Washington on Monday, following a procedural vote aimed at reopening the government. PHOTO: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON—The 2018 government shutdown may go down as one of the shortest, and much of the credit for that is going to a bipartisan group of senators who wrested control from their own leadership.

Inside the Capitol, Democrats attributed their decision to allow the government to reopen to a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) to bring an immigration measure to the Senate floor if an agreement can’t be reached before Feb. 9. Outside the Capitol, progressive activists attributed the reversal to the lack of a plan for how to stand firm.

“Democrats went into battle and then buckled and weren’t ready for it,” said Adam Green, a co-founder of The Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “There should have been an outside game that was planned.”

How Senate Democrats got to the point of charging forward on Friday night and then pulling back on Monday morning is the story of a Republican party more organized than the Democratic insurgents and centrists in both parties who challenged the partisan rhetoric of both Mr. McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.)., forging a path forward during meetings where one senator nearly broke a glass elephant with a “talking stick.”

A shutdown could be repeated in several weeks if lawmakers fail to reach agreement on a sweeping range of immigration policies, including protecting those children brought illegally to the U.S. by their parents.

This article is based on dozens of interviews with lawmakers, administration officials and advocates.

That the Senate would become the focal point of the shutdown surprised some of Washington’s top officials, who saw greater risks in the House.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump dialed into a meeting of the Freedom Caucus, a group of staunch House conservatives, and warned: “We’re one party and we control the House, Senate and White House,” said one senior administration official with knowledge of the call. “Shutting down the government is not productive to us gaining leverage on the issues we care about.”

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the call “sent a very clear message” and added: “That was the best work he did.” The House passed a short-term extension of government funding later that day.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) sided with the liberal wing of his caucus that was skeptical that Republicans would take up immigration legislation.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) sided with the liberal wing of his caucus that was skeptical that Republicans would take up immigration legislation. PHOTO: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Some Senate Democrats, many of whom expected the spending bill would fizzle in the House, weren’t fully prepared for the shutdown fight now upon them.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) was pushing a three-week spending deal—shorter than the measure that passed the House—and a commitment by Mr. McConnell to take up immigration legislation. Centrist Democrats, crowded around Mr. Schumer’s desk on the chamber floor, wanted to back the Graham fix.

Mr. Schumer sided with the liberal wing of his caucus, saying there was no guarantee Mr. McConnell would allow the legislation to pass, people familiar with the matter said. The Democratic caucus was also still steaming over Mr. Trump’s controversial remarks about African immigrants.

On the other side of town, Mr. Trump was smarting over Mr. Schumer’s characterization of a lunch in which they had discussed immigration issues, including funding for a border wall.

Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) met privately with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), above, on Monday morning.
Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) met privately with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), above, on Monday morning. PHOTO: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“It took the president by surprise that Schumer would mischaracterize the meeting that badly that quickly,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “The president decided: That’s the end of those negotiations…That’s when we first realized that we might go to a shutdown.” Mr. Schumer has stood by his recollections of the meeting.

Later that evening, Mr. Mulvaney spoke with the president, who said for the first time he thought a shutdown was likely. “OK, what’s going to happen?” Mr. Trump asked. He told him: “Make sure we keep open as much of the government as we can.”

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, all but five Democrats lined up behind their leader and blocked the spending bill on a procedural measure that needed 60 votes. The government officially shutdown at 12:01 a.m.—before the final vote, 50-49, was gaveled to a close.

Over the weekend, Mr. Trump largely receded from public view, save for a few tweets touting the nation’s economic gains and criticizing Democrats for their role in the dispute that the White House said was “holding our troops hostage and our border agents hostage.” His re-election campaign ran ads that claimed Democrats were “complicit” in murder perpetrated by immigrants in the country illegally.

Democrats, meanwhile, found their offices inundated with phone calls.

“I called and left messages at their offices,” Gregg James, the vice president of a Minnesota branch of the American Federation of Government Employees, said of his efforts to reach Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and Tina Smith (D., Minn.) He said he understood their concerns about immigration but that “we never feel shutting down the government is the right thing to do.”

Senate Republicans and Democrats alike were also growing frustrated with their leadership. A group of nearly two dozen members began meeting in the offices of Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) to hash out a solution.

“It is a pretty poor excuse to sit here and say: We can’t deal with President Trump,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), a member of the group, said on the Senate floor. “We don’t have to deal with President Trump. We are the U.S. Senate. We can make our own decisions.”

The Collins-led sessions began to grow. At one meeting, the senators used a Native American “talking stick” as a way of designating which member would speak at any given moment.

A gift to Ms. Collins from Sen Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.), its use wasn’t without drama, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Alexander at one point nearly broke a glass elephant with the talking stick during a dispute with Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) The senators eventually switched to using a basketball, tossing it to the next person due to speak. And Mr. Alexander apologized to Mr. Warner.

On Monday morning, the bipartisan group gathered with muffins, bagels and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. “We had so many people in the office that we were running out of chairs,” Ms. Collins said.

One issue that helped bond the group was the frustration vented toward their own leaders, Mr. McConnell and Mr. Schumer.

“I don’t believe that either leader on either side should have the powers that they have,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), said Monday, complaining that it was too easy for leaders to force their conferences to block deals. “We weren’t going to be beaten into submission.”

Ms. Collins met privately with Mr. McConnell on Monday morning and urged him to make a stronger statement about his commitment to moving the immigration bill. “So that’s what happened, really,” Ms. Collins said.

Midday Monday, 28 Democrats who had initially voted to block government funding changed their positions and cleared the way for passage of the spending bill.

Write to Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com, Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com and Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/centrist-senators-outflanked-party-leadership-to-end-shutdown-1516673596

With Alabama Loss, Trump and GOP Face Political Reckoning — “We remain bitterly divided.”

December 13, 2017

Democrat Doug Jones’s Senate win may further drive a wedge between the president and party leaders

Roy Moore telling his supporters that he wouldn’t yet concede defeat late Tuesday in Montgomery, Ala.
Roy Moore telling his supporters that he wouldn’t yet concede defeat late Tuesday in Montgomery, Ala. PHOTO: DAN ANDERSON/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

The Donald Trump /Steve Bannon takeover of the Republican Party will have to be put on hold.

Tuesday’s Senate race in Alabama represented an attempt by the president and Mr. Bannon, his foremost political strategist, to show that they weren’t only in control of the party but could use their rebellious, antiestablishment message to drive their new version of the GOP to victory.

Instead, Roy Moore, the candidate Messrs. Trump and Bannon fully supported, lost in a state Republicans had controlled comfortably for most of the past two decades. Mr. Moore was a seriously flawed candidate, controversial enough to have been tossed off his own state’s Supreme Court twice, and more recently accused of having made improper sexual advances on teenage girls. Thus, much of the loss to Democrat Doug Jones will be laid at the candidate’s feet.

Still, the loss is a huge blow to Mr. Trump personally. He now has backed three straight candidates for statewide office who have lost. He backed the loser in the Virginia governor’s race. He backed the loser in the Alabama Republican Senate runoff. And, in the past two weeks, he threw his full support behind the man who lost in the Alabama Senate general election.

The implications are enormous. If Mr. Trump’s message and personal power aren’t enough to win a state in the deep-red South, then mainstream Republicans will have little reason to think they can rely on those factors elsewhere. Nor will they think they are compelled to follow the lead of their own president on matters political.

That, in turn, will drive a further wedge between the president and Republican leaders—particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—who never wanted the party to throw its support behind Mr. Moore in the first place.

Similarly, Mr. Bannon’s pledge to field and fund nationalist, rabble-rousing Republicans to challenge a whole series of Republican senators up for re-election next year will strike less fear in the hearts of the party’s mainstream. His ability to act as a kind of Pied Piper leading a long string of candidates formed in his image to the front ranks of the party now is in doubt and will be resisted with new vigor by party regulars who fear he could lead the party to a broader disaster.

“The challenges the GOP faced remain and the finger pointing will only increase,” said Douglas Heye, a longtime top Republican congressional aide. “We remain bitterly divided.”

For Democrats, the victory in a state they never dreamed of winning just a few months ago delivers a jolt of energy—and, perhaps as important, could encourage balky donors who have left the party’s national machinery seriously underfunded this year. Heading into a crucial midterm election year, that combination of energy and dollars—and a belief in actually being able to win races in what last year was Trump country—is essential for Democratic hopes.

Perhaps most encouraging for Democrats, the same coalition of voters that propelled the party to victory in Virginia last month also emerged in Alabama. Exit polls showed that women made up a slight majority of the electorate and went for the Democratic Mr. Jones over the Republican Mr. Moore 58% to 41%. Nonwhite voters, principally African-Americans, made up one-third of the electorate and went for the Democrat 88% to 11%. And voters under the age of 30 went for Mr. Jones by a 60%-to-38% margin.

Democrats now will try to ride that combination of voters—women, minorities and young voters—to victory in race after race next year. They will need to pick off a net of only two Republican Senate seats to win the majority there, though that actually will be a tough assignment in light of the large number of Senate seats Democrats have to defend, several in GOP-leaning states.

Another key question Alabama’s results bring to the fore is whether Democrats can take control of the House of Representatives next year. That, too, remains an uphill climb.

The key numbers to keep in mind as Democrats approach that challenge are 24, 23 and 12.

Democrats need to turn 24 House seats from Republican to Democrat to take control. Their best chance at winning that number starts with the 23 House seats held by Republicans from congressional districts that Hillary Clinton won in last year’s presidential election.

They will have to pick off most of those to win the House.

Meantime, they have to defend the seats of 12 Democratic House members from districts Mr. Trump carried last year.

In short, it’s still a tough task for Democrats in the contest that really will determine the contours of Washington in the era of Mr. Trump.

They will need a national wave. The results in Alabama certainly don’t guarantee such a wave. But they do suggest it’s possible.

Write to Gerald F. Seib at jerry.seib@wsj.com

Appeared in the December 13, 2017, print edition as ‘Trump, GOP Face Political Reckoning.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/with-alabama-loss-trump-and-gop-face-political-reckoning-1513141779

Announcement coming from Sen. Franken amid fresh accusations

December 7, 2017

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, facing fresh allegations of sexual misconduct and vanishing support from fellow Democrats, appears on the brink of resigning from the Senate.

Franken’s office said he will make an announcement at 11:45 a.m. Thursday in a speech on the Senate floor. His office tweeted Wednesday evening that he had not made “a final decision” on resigning.

But a majority of the Senate’s Democrats called on the two-term lawmaker to quit after a woman emerged Wednesday morning saying he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006. Hours later, another woman said Franken inappropriately squeezed “a handful of flesh” on her waist while posing for a photo with her in 2009. That brought the number of women alleging misconduct by Franken to at least eight.

Franken, the former comedian who made his name on “Saturday Night Live,” faces a chorus of calls to step aside, and Democratic senators said they expected their liberal colleague to resign.

“Enough is enough,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable, and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.”

Gillibrand was the first to call for Franken’s resignation on Wednesday, but a torrent of Democrats quickly followed.

Led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-I.L., lawmakers from across the political spectrum spoke Wednesday against sexual harassment in the workplace. They took aim at forced arbitration clauses in many work agreements. (Dec. 6)

“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behavior,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state. “It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. It’s time for him to step aside.”

Though the writing appeared to be on the wall, Franken’s departure was not certain. A tweet posted Wednesday evening on Franken’s Twitter account said: “Senator Franken is talking with his family at this time and plans to make an announcement in D.C. tomorrow. Any reports of a final decision are inaccurate.”

Late in the day, Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York added his voice.

“I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately,” Schumer said.

The resignation demands came in rapid succession even though Franken on Wednesday vehemently denied the new accusation that came from a former Democratic congressional aide, who said he tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006.

The woman, who was not identified, told Politico that Franken pursued her after her boss had left and she was collecting her belongings. She said that she ducked to avoid his lips and that Franken told her: “It’s my right as an entertainer.”

Franken, in a statement, said the idea he would claim such conduct as a right was “preposterous.”

But it was clear his position had become untenable.

Fellow Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who spoke to Franken, wrote on Twitter, “I am confident he will make the right decision.”

The pressure only mounted Tuesday, when Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., resigned after numerous allegations of sexual misconduct. Rep Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., faces pressure to resign as well over allegations reported by Buzzfeed that he repeatedly propositioned a former campaign worker.

While Franken apparently is departing, Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore could be arriving, if he prevails in a Dec. 12 special election. Multiple women have accused the 70-year-old Moore of sexual misconduct with them when they were teens and he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s. If Moore is elected, it could create a political nightmare for Republicans, who have promised an ethics probe.

A national conversation about sexual harassment has intensified this fall after the heavily publicized case of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was accused of many acts of sexual misconduct, including rape, by actresses and other women. Just on Wednesday, Time magazine named as its person of the year the “silence breakers” — women who have come forward on sexual harassment.

Punishment has been swift for leaders in entertainment, media and sports while members of Congress have tried to survive the onslaught of allegations.

Franken already faced a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into previous claims by several other women that he groped them or sought to forcibly kiss them.

The allegations began in mid-November when Leeann Tweeden, now a Los Angeles radio anchor, accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour in Afghanistan.

Other allegations followed, including a woman who says Franken put his hand on her buttocks as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Two women told the Huffington Post that Franken squeezed their buttocks at political events during his first campaign for the Senate in 2008. A fourth woman, an Army veteran, alleged Franken cupped her breast during a photo on a USO tour in 2003.

Franken has apologized for his behavior but has also disputed some of the allegations.

___

Associated Press writers Juliet Linderman in Washington and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.

Senate Passes Sweeping Revision of U.S. Tax Code

December 2, 2017

Republican-backed plan lowers corporate rate to 20% and reduces individual rates

Senate staff talk on the first floor of the Capitol in Washington on Friday.
Senate staff talk on the first floor of the Capitol in Washington on Friday. PHOTO: ALEX EDELMAN/ZUMA PRESS

WASHINGTON—The Senate passed sweeping revisions to the U.S. tax code past midnight Saturday after Republicans navigated a thicket of internal divisions over deficits and other issues to place their imprint on the economy.

The bill, which included about $1.4 trillion in tax cuts, would lower the corporate rate to 20% from 35%, reshape international business tax rules and temporarily lower individual taxes. It also touched other Republican goals, including opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and repealing the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance, which would punch a sizable hole in the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But some objectives, such as repealing the alternative minimum tax, fell by the wayside in last-minute wrangling.

“In the end it all came together and we’re pretty excited about what we’ve been able to accomplish for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said in an interview Friday. “We’ve got a corporate rate at 20% that we think makes us competitive in the world again and provided substantial middle-income tax relief.”

The bill passed 51-49, with all but one Republican voting for it and all Democrats voting against. The sole Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, stated his opposition before the vote, citing worries it would expand budget deficits.

The bill’s ultimate passage would mark a legislative victory for President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans. Mr. Trump has made the tax overhaul a centerpiece of his economic policy goals, focusing on a rewrite of business taxes, which he has argued make the U.S. uncompetitive internationally. The bill could also give lawmakers something to campaign on in the 2018 midterm elections.

Democrats blasted the bill, calling it an unacceptable giveaway to corporations and the wealthy. They also criticized last-minute Republican adjustments and waved handwritten amendments around the Senate floor to show how hastily the changes were being made.

“A flurry of last-minute changes will stuff even more money into the pockets of the wealthy and the biggest corporations while raising taxes on millions in the middle class,” Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the chamber’s Democratic leader, said.

The House and Senate still need to reconcile competing versions of the tax plan, something GOP leaders hope to do by Christmas. The House and Senate bills overlap in many ways, and lawmakers expressed optimism about getting a final deal done.

“The bills are not all that different,” Mr. McConnell said. “We tried to move ours somewhat in the House direction.”

Senate Republicans called their bill an economic booster shot, their best chance to create faster sustained growth and higher wages. But it comes with risks. Congress’s own nonpartisan analysis found that the economic benefits would be modest and fade over time.

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the tax cuts wouldn’t pay for themselves, as Republicans promised. Instead the analysis found they would increase deficits by $1 trillion over a decade, even after accounting for economic growth.

Reconcile This

The House and Senate tax bills differ in some important ways which will need to be sorted out in a conference committee of lawmakers from both chambers before final passage.

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Investors, for now, are more excited about the prospect of lower corporate taxes than about the risks associated with larger government deficits. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 673.60 points for the week, or 2.9%, to 24231.59. Yields on 10-year Treasury notes, which might be expected to rise if bond investors were worried about deficits, remain comfortably low, below 2.5%.

Senators began voting on amendments late Friday night and that continued into early Saturday. They defeated, 29-71, an attempt by Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Mike Lee (R., Utah) to expand the child tax credit for low-income families, which would have been paid for by setting the corporate tax rate at 20.94%.

Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie in favor of a proposal from Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) to allow the use of 529 savings accounts to pay for elementary and secondary school costs, including private-school tuition.

Saturday’s vote came after a week of long hours and frantic rewriting and deal-making. The GOP tax effort wobbled late Thursday after the Joint Committee on Taxation analysis raised the concerns of budget hawks about deficits. An attempt to add deficit countermeasures in the bill failed to clear parliamentary rules.

Mr. McConnell and his team salvaged the measure with a series of last-minute deals to sway wavering senators.

Sens. Steve Daines (R., Mont.) and Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) won bigger tax breaks for pass-through businesses such as partnerships and S corporations. Sen. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) secured more aggressive depreciation rules to encourage business investment after 2022.

Sen. Bob Corker (R. Tenn.) speaks to members of the media at the Capitol in Washington on Friday.
Sen. Bob Corker (R. Tenn.) speaks to members of the media at the Capitol in Washington on Friday.PHOTO: ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES

Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) scored a $10,000 deduction for property taxes, an expanded but temporary deduction for people with large medical expenses, and a promise of future bipartisan health-care legislation to mitigate the effects of repealing the individual health-insurance mandate.

“This bill will provide much-needed tax relief and simplification for lower- and middle-income families, while spurring the creation of good jobs and greater economic growth,” Ms. Collins said.

To help pay for some of those changes, Republicans increased a new tax on companies’ stockpiled foreign profits to 14.5% for cash and 7.5% for illiquid assets, from 10% and 5% in a previous version.

Senate Republicans abandoned other goals. They preserved the alternative minimum tax instead of repealing it. They backed off a plan to abolish the estate tax. They retained seven tax brackets instead of collapsing them into three as planned. And after years of warning about the rising national debt and promising a tax overhaul that would be revenue-neutral, they chose to proceed despite warnings the measure would add to deficits in the long run.

Lawmakers released the final changes—moving around hundreds of billions of dollars—a few hours before the last vote, and there was no updated analysis of the bill’s impact on taxpayers and the economy as Republicans moved toward voting on it.

“The Republicans have managed to take a bad bill and make it worse. It was chock-full of special-interest giveaways before tonight,” Mr. Schumer said.

The bill would overhaul much of the U.S. tax system in ways that tax experts are only beginning to understand.

Mr. Trump and some Republicans set the 20% corporate tax rate as an immovable objective and despite some occasional doubts, the GOP stuck with it. That is a win for domestic retailers and manufacturers who have spent years building the political case for a lower tax rate.

Pass-through firms, which pay their business taxes through individual returns rather than corporate returns, won major concessions. They would get a 23% deduction from individual rates. More than half of U.S. business income goes to pass-throughs, and more than half of that goes to the top 1% of households.

Tax analysts said this deduction opens new and unprecedented avenues for tax avoidance, with individuals likely seeking to declare as much of their income as possible as lower-taxed business profits.

Even in a bill that provides sizable tax cuts to many, some taxpayers are set to lose. The bill would prevent individuals from deducting state and local income taxes. That is likely to raise federal taxes on upper-middle-class wage earners in high-tax states, such as California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and New York. They are all represented by Democrats in the Senate.

The standard deduction would be nearly doubled and the child tax credit would rise, while personal exemptions would be repealed. For many households, that combination would modestly increase the amount of earnings that aren’t subject to income tax.

The bill also would push millions of households out of itemizing deductions. That would reduce the incentive to deduct mortgage interest and charitable contributions. But nonprofits, home builders and real-estate agents were unable to sway Republicans to reverse course on the measure.

Debt-reliant businesses would lose, too, under a provision that limits interest deductions to 30% of income.

Republicans said those changes were necessary to lower the rate and make other changes that would encourage investment in the U.S.

“The reforms that we make in this bill allow American companies to compete and win against those other countries around the world,” Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) said.

Write to Richard Rubin at richard.rubin@wsj.com and Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/senate-passes-sweeping-revision-of-u-s-tax-code-1512197717

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