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Russian Network RT Loses US Capitol Hill Credentials

Broadcast reporters for Russian state-funded TV channel RT will no longer be able to report daily from the U.S. Capitol.

A committee that governs Capitol Hill access for broadcast journalists has withdrawn credentials for RT after the company complied earlier this month with a U.S. demand that it register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The law applies to people or companies disseminating information in the U.S. on behalf of foreign governments, political parties and other “foreign principals.”

The action also comes just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed legislation allowing Russia to register international media outlets as foreign agents, an act seen as the Kremlin’s retaliation for the Trump administration decision on RT. The new rules require disclosures to the Russian government and are seen as stigmatizing the news outlets as promoters of American propaganda.

 

In Washington, C-SPAN’s Craig Caplan informed RT that its credentials were being withdrawn after a unanimous vote of the executive committee of the Congressional Radio and Television Correspondents’ Galleries.

Caplan, the chairman of that committee, wrote that gallery rules “state clearly that news credentials may not be issued to any applicant employed by ‘any foreign government or representative thereof.’ ” He said the FARA registration made the network ineligible to hold news credentials, and their withdrawal is effective immediately.

Many news outlets with ties to foreign governments are required to similarly register. English-language newspaper China Daily is registered due to its affiliation with the Chinese government, for example. But the pressure on RT has angered Russian officials, who have said they will retaliate with restrictions on U.S. news outlets.

The letter was sent to Mikhail Solodovnikov of RT’s U.S.-based production company, T & R Productions. RT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. intelligence agencies have alleged RT served as a propaganda outlet for the Kremlin as part of a multi-pronged effort to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russia denies interfering.

 

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Undocumented Youths Wait on Government Funding Battle in Congress

The future of almost 800,000 undocumented young people in the United States is hanging in the balance in an end-of-year legislative pileup on Capitol Hill that could result in the shutdown of the federal government.

The government will run out of money December 8 unless Congress approves a new budget or budget extension. While the focus this week has been largely on the Senate’s approval of its tax cut bill, the budget bill could have greater short-term ramifications. The Republican-dominated Senate cannot pass it alone; Democratic votes will be needed.

But both houses of Congress will have to vote on a spending measure before it can go into effect.

And underlying all the discussions of spending priorities is finding a permanent solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gave temporary protection from deportation, and permission to legally work, to undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children.

Trump calls for legislation

President Donald Trump rescinded the Obama administration measure earlier this year, calling on Congress to pass legislation that would provide DACA recipients with a path to permanent status in the U.S. before the program phases out in March 2018.

Democrats initially pushed for stand-alone legislation to address the problem, but given the country’s contentious immigration debate, they have instead tried to tie DACA legislation to the spending bill.

Some Democrats have vowed to vote against any budget bill that does not include a DACA fix, threatening a government shutdown when the funding runs out.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has said the fix to the DACA program should “be considered on its own merits” and not as part of a larger spending bill.

Action stalled

Moves toward any bipartisan agreement stalled before a planned meeting Tuesday when Trump tweeted that he “didn’t see a deal” with Senate and House Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer of New York and Nancy Pelosi of California, respectively.

Trump tweeted a claim that a deal was being held up, in part, because Schumer and Pelosi “want illegal immigrants flooding into our Country unchecked.”

House Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland responded to Trump’s tweet in a background briefing with reporters Tuesday morning, saying, “That is absolutely false. That has nothing to do with reality — he is pandering to his angry base. DACA kids are here. They’re not flooding across the border. They’re here.”

Hoyer reiterated a Democratic claim that if brought up for a floor vote, DACA legislation would pass by 300 votes.

Schumer and Pelosi responded by withdrawing from the meeting with Trump, asking to work instead with Senate and House Republican leaders Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Ryan, respectively. The White House meeting continued with all Republicans present and no Democrats.

On the face of it, the March 2018 deadline for the program gives lawmakers room to maneuver if Congress were to pass a short-term spending bill and kick DACA down the road. The budget could be extended to Christmas to give Democrats and Republicans more room to work on a compromise.

But some DACA recipients have already lost their status.

Renewal failures

The Department of Homeland Security said in October that about 22,000 DACA recipients had failed to renew their two-year permits before an October 5 deadline. That number may come down after a review of renewal applications that may have been lost in the mail.

And while support for DACA is bipartisan, it may not be enough. Both parties are reluctant to risk the political blowback that would occur if either side appears responsible for a government shutdown.

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Poll: Nearly Half of Americans Oppose Republican Tax Bill

Opposition has grown among Americans to a Republican tax plan before the U.S. Congress, with 49 percent of people who were aware of the measure saying they opposed it, up from 41 percent in October, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.

Congressional Republicans are trying to rush their tax legislation to a vote on the Senate floor before the end of the week. President Donald Trump strongly backs the bill and wants to sign it into law before the end of the year.

In addition to the 49 percent who said they opposed the Republican tax bill, 29 percent said they supported it and 22 percent said they “don’t know,” according to the Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll of 1,257 adults conducted from Thursday to Monday.

When asked “who stands to benefit most” from the plan, more than half of all American adults surveyed selected either the wealthy or large U.S. corporations. Fourteen percent chose “all Americans,” 6 percent picked the middle class and 2 percent chose lower-income Americans.

The tax bill being crafted in the Senate would slash the corporate tax rate, eliminate some taxes paid only by rich Americans and offer a mixed bag or temporary tax cuts for other individuals and families.

As congressional discussion on the bill has unfolded, public opposition to it has risen, on average, following Trump’s unveiling of a nine-page “framework” on September 27 that started the debate in earnest, Reuters/Ipsos polling showed.

On October 24, for example, among adults who said they had heard of the “tax reform plan recently proposed by congressional Republicans,” 41 percent said they opposed it, while 31 percent said they “don’t know” and just 28 percent said they supported it.

Trump and his fellow Republicans are determined to make a tax code overhaul their first major legislative win since taking control of the White House and Congress in January.

The House of Representatives on November 16 approved its own tax bill. The Senate is expected to decide on Wednesday whether to begin debating its proposal, as the measure moves toward a decisive floor vote later this week.

The two chambers would need to reconcile differences between their plans before legislation could be sent to the White House for Trump’s signature.

In the November 23-27 poll, 59 percent of Republicans supported the tax bill, 26 percent said they did not know and 15 percent opposed it. Among Democrats, 82 percent opposed it, 11 percent said they did not know and 8 percent supported it.

 

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Who is Irwin Steven Goldstein?

Irwin Steven Goldstein, President Donald Trump’s nominee for under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, is a communications and marketing executive with experience at large corporations as well as in government.

Goldstein is the senior vice president of BP Global Solutions, a New York consulting firm.

According to the bio on his company’s website, Goldstein “has a passion for building compelling brands and developing and executing communications strategies that connect diverse audiences.”

In a written statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after his nomination, Goldstein wrote, “Those who seek to undermine America do so by spreading misinformation about our people and our objectives. We can fight these efforts by inspiring the world with our shared humanity and our great compassion.”

Moira Whelan, who served as the deputy assistant secretary for digital strategy at the State Department during the Obama administration, said Goldstein would be a potential lead in the fight to combat Russia’s dissemination of false information about the United States.

In an article last month in Foreign Policy magazine she wrote: “In September, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to nominate Irwin Steven Goldstein as under secretary for public diplomacy at the State Department. He would be a key player in the effort to push back against Russian disinformation efforts around the world and in the United States.”

Goldstein’s qualifications do match those of his predecessors — former White House senior adviser Karen Hughes during George W. Bush’s administration and the former Time editor Richard Stengel during Obama’s.

His experience includes seven years as executive vice president and chief communications officer for TIAA, a Fortune 100 financial services firm providing retirement security to individuals in the not-for-profit sector.

Goldstein served as vice president and chief communications officer for Dow Jones/The Wall Street Journal during the period following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the administration of President George H.W. Bush, he was an assistant to the secretary and the director of public affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior. He previously was a press secretary and chief of staff on Capitol Hill.

As senior vice president of BP Global Solutions, he advises start-up technology ventures in the transportation and health care spaces.

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FCC’s Pai, Addressing Net Neutrality Rules, Calls Twitter Biased

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, accused social media company Twitter of being politically biased  Tuesday as he defended his plan to roll back rules intended to ensure a free and open internet.

Pai, a Republican named by President Donald Trump to head up the FCC, unveiled plans last week to scrap the 2015 landmark net neutrality rules, moving to give broadband service providers sweeping power over what content consumers can access.

“When it comes to an open internet, Twitter is part of the problem,” Pai said. “The company has a viewpoint and uses that viewpoint to discriminate.”

He pointed to Twitter’s refusal to let Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, advertise a campaign video with an anti-abortion message.

“To say the least, the company appears to have a double standard when it comes to suspending or de-verifying conservative users’ accounts as opposed to those of liberal users,” Pai said.

A spokesperson for Twitter said that at no time was Blackburn’s video censored and that her followers would have been able to still see it.

“Because advertisements are served to users who do not necessarily follow an account, we therefore have higher standards for their content,” the Twitter spokesperson said.

Twitter in October declined a campaign video advertisement by Blackburn, who announced she was running for the U.S. Senate, saying that a remark by Blackburn about opposing abortion was inflammatory. Twitter later reversed its decision.

Internet-based firms’ letter

Pai’s criticism came a day after Twitter and a number of other internet-based companies — including AirBnb, Reddit, Shutterstock, Tumblr and Etsy — sent a letter urging the FCC to maintain the net neutrality rules.

Trump is a prolific user of Twitter, often posting his thoughts on the news of the day. He used Twitter throughout his presidential campaign to circumvent traditional media and talk directly to voters.

Pai has also been a frequent user of the website — acknowledging during the speech, “I love Twitter” — to push his case in favor of the rule changes. On Tuesday afternoon, he even posted a link to his remarks critical of Twitter on his own Twitter account.

Following Pai’s remarks on Tuesday, at an event organized by the libertarian-leaning R Street Institute, two other FCC commissioners said they would support his proposal when they vote on December 14.

Big internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications have favored a repeal of net neutrality. On the other side, websites such as Facebook and Alphabet’s Google have favored the rules.

The rules prohibit broadband providers from giving or selling access to speedy internet, essentially a “fast lane,” to certain internet services over others.

“So when you get past the wild accusations, fearmongering and hysteria, here’s the boring bottom line,” Pai said. “The plan to restore internet freedom would return us to the light touch, market-based approach under which the internet thrived.”

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Judge Rules in Trump’s Favor on Consumer Agency Leadership

A U.S. District Court judge in Washington ruled Tuesday in favor of President Donald Trump in his bid to install White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Judge Timothy Kelly declined to stop, on an emergency basis, the president from making Mulvaney the acting director of the CFPB.

 

In doing so, Kelly ruled against Leandra English, the CFPB’s deputy director. English had requested an emergency restraining order to stop Mulvaney from becoming acting director, claiming the position was rightfully hers.

President Donald Trump celebrated the ruling on Twitter, calling it, “A big win for the Consumer!”

English’s lawyer, Deepak Gupta, said they are evaluating their legal options and deciding “how to proceed next.”

Mulvaney is a former small-business owner and congressman who once called the agency a “sick, sad” joke that should be abolished.

“This agency will stay open. Rumors that I’m going to set the place on fire or blow it up or lock the doors are completely false,” he told reporters on Monday. “I am a member of the executive branch of government. We intend to execute the laws of the United States.”

The battle over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau boiled over last week.

Former Director Richard Cordray, criticized by conservative Republicans and business interests in Washington, abruptly resigned and named English, his chief of staff, as deputy director, meaning she would be his successor.

Trump countered by appointing Mulvaney, who opposes government regulations on business as much as Cordray believes they are essential.

2011 law cited

English had argued that the law that created the agency in 2011 clearly spelled out that she should be acting director. Her lawsuit against Mulvaney asked the court to deny the Trump administration’s claim that another law gave the president the power to name an acting director.

The White House and bureau lawyers, in turn, said there were precedents showing that Trump was authorized to fill temporary vacancies in federal agencies even when another law of succession might be on the books.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was founded after the global financial crisis of 2008. Its job is to protect consumers against predatory lending and and other questionable practices by banks, credit card companies, lenders and debt collectors.

Republicans, including Mulvaney, have said the agency has too much power and loads down banks with too much bureaucracy.

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Trump Takes on Controversy-Laden Agenda on Capitol Hill

President Donald Trump’s year-end agenda is at a critical juncture as he heads Tuesday to Capitol Hill to rally Senate Republicans on taxes – and then pivot to negotiations with Democrats pressing for victories of their own in a separate, high-stakes showdown over the budget and immigration.

Trump is still seeking his first marquee win in Congress, but the White House and top GOP leaders have work to do to get their tax bill in shape before a hoped-for vote later this week. Party deficit hawks pressed for a “backstop” mechanism to limit the risk of a spiral in the deficit, even as defenders of small business pressed for more generous treatment for Main Street.

On a separate track from taxes is a multi-layered negotiation over a huge Pentagon budget increase sought by Trump and Republicans and increases for domestic programs demanded by Democrats. Democrats carry leverage into the talks, which have GOP conservatives on edge.

A temporary spending bill expires Dec. 8 and another is needed to prevent a government shutdown. Hurricane aid weighs in the balance and Democrats are pressing for legislative protections for immigrants known as “Dreamers,” even as conservative Republicans object to including the issue in the crush of year-end business.

Tuesday would bring Trump’s third visit to the Capitol in little more than a month – this time to make the sale to Senate Republicans on his signature tax bill. But among the holdouts are GOP Trump critics, including Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee – though GOP leaders are seeking to rope in straggling Republicans with a flurry of deal-cutting.

“There’s still some loose ends. We’re not quite there yet,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “But I think we’re going to get there, I really do.”

Trump’s sessions with big groups of Republicans tend to take the form of pep rallies, and when visiting a Senate GOP lunch last month Trump spent much of the time on a rambling account of the accomplishments of his administration.

Later on Tuesday, the bipartisan top four leaders of Congress – Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for the House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. – will head to the White House to touch gloves on a range of year-end issues.

Topping the bipartisan agenda is a heavily-sought year-end spending package to give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies relief from a budget freeze.

Trump hasn’t engaged much with Pelosi and Schumer since a September meeting that produced an agreement on a short-term increase in the government’s so-called debt limit and a temporary spending bill that is keeping the government’s doors open through Dec. 8.

Trump reveled in the bipartisan deal for a time and generated excitement among Democrats when he told then he would sign legislation to protect from deportation immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.

Trump in September reversed an executive order by former President Barack Obama that gave protections to these immigrants, many of whom have little or no connection to their home country. Shortly afterward, he told Pelosi and Schumer he would sign legislation protecting those immigrants, provided Democrats made concessions of their own on border security.

Since the president is such a wild card, neither Democrats nor Republicans were speculating much about what Tuesday’s meeting might produce.

“Hopefully, we can make progress on an agreement that covers those time-sensitive issues and keeps the government running and working for the American people,” Schumer said.

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Washington Post Says It Was Target of Failed Sting to Print Phony Roy Moore Story

The Washington Post says it was targeted by a conservative sting operation that tried to get it to print a dramatic but phony story about Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore and a pregnant teenager.

The Post broke the story about alleged sexual misconduct by Moore and his reported pursuit of teenage girls when he was in his 30s and an Alabama district attorney. Several woman gave similar accounts to the newspaper. Moore has denied the allegations and threatened to sue the newspaper.

The Post said late Monday a woman identifying herself as Jaime Phillips told a reporter that Moore impregnated her when she was 15 and forced her to have an abortion.

She told the reporter she wanted the Post to guarantee Moore would lose the election to the U.S. Senate if she told her story.

But the newspaper found numerous holes and inconsistencies in her account and her background and declined to publish her sordid tale.

Further investigation by The Post revealed that Phillips may have been working for Project Veritas — a New York organization that targets and tries to discredit mainstream media outlets and left-wing groups.

Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe declined to answer any questions from The Washington Post Monday, including questions whether Phillips worked for her.

Telephone calls to Phillips went unanswered, but she had denied working for any such group during a second meeting with Post reporters.

“We always honor ‘off-the-record’ agreements when they’re entered into in good faith,” Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron said.

“But this so-called ‘off-the-record’ conversation was the essence of a scheme to deceive and embarrass us. The intent by Project Veritas clearly was to publicize the conversation if we fell for the trap. Because of our customary journalistic rigor, we weren’t fooled and we can’t honor an ‘off-the-record’ agreement that was solicited in maliciously bad faith.”

There have been earlier attempts at debunking the charges leveled against Roy Moore as reported by The Post, including allegations the newspaper paid the women for telling it Moore sexually molested them as teens.

The Post says it never pays anyone for information.

Moore is running for the Alabama Senate seat formerly held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Polls in Alabama show him trailing his Democratic opponent Doug Jones.

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Official in Charge of US State Department Reorganization Steps Down

A senior U.S. official overseeing a reorganization of the State Department that has been criticized by current and former U.S. diplomats has stepped down after less than four months on the job, U.S. officials said on Monday.

Maliz Beams, a former financial industry executive who was named State Department counselor on Aug. 17, is “stepping away” to return to Boston, said a department spokesman on condition of anonymity. Christine Ciccone, the department’s deputy chief of staff, will take over the agency’s “redesign,” he added.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been criticized by current and former U.S. diplomats as well as by some members of Congress for his management of the agency, where may top posts have not been filled nearly 10 months into Tillerson’s tenure.

The department has also seen an exodus of senior diplomats.

Tillerson defended the department when he was recently asked about morale problems and concerns that the agency was being weakened.

“The redesign is going to address all of that. And this department is performing extraordinarily well, and I take exception to anyone who characterizes otherwise. It’s just not true,” he said on Nov. 20.

State Department officials observing the reorganization say it has been plagued with uncertainty both about what Tillerson wants to achieve and how to go about it.

“If the one thing she (Beams) was asked to do was the redesign and she is quitting … how does this not reflect poorly on the overall management of this enterprise, that is the redesign?” said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another State Department official said Beams had left of her own volition and was not fired. Beams did not immediately respond to voicemails left at her office and Massachusetts phone numbers or to an email sent to her State Department address.

The State Department spokesman declined comment on criticism of the reorganization.

A congressional aide said the effort is so amorphous that Congress is unable to pass legislation to give the agency the legal authority to make changes.

“To do that we would need to have some road map – something – and none of that has been provided,” said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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Trump Pushes for Tax Overhaul as Key Senate Votes Loom

U.S. President Donald Trump and key Republican senators were meeting Monday in a new push to advance Senate legislation to overhaul the country’s complex tax laws.

The president was having lunch with some members of the Senate Finance Committee ahead of what was expected to be a series of contentious votes in the full Senate later in the week over proposed changes to the labyrinth U.S. tax code. The tax measure could cut the country’s corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and trim taxes for millions of individual American taxpayers, depending on their specific financial circumstances.

In a Twitter comment, Trump said the legislation “is coming along very well, great support. With just a few changes, some mathematical, the middle class and job producers can get even more in actual dollars and savings.” He said a proposal planned for taxation affecting small businesses would become “simpler and really works well!”

But whether Trump’s White House push for the legislation will be enough to win approval is uncertain. The changes, if adopted, would be the biggest U.S. tax overhaul in three decades.

Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate, meaning they can only lose two dissenters, with Vice President Mike Pence poised to vote for the changes in the event of a 50-50 tie. No Democrats have announced their support for the measure and several Republican senators have voiced objections to specific provisions, leaving their eventual support in doubt.

The House of Representatives has already approved its version of the tax overhaul, but it differs in several ways from the Senate plan. If the Senate approves its proposal, the two chambers would have to reach an accord before final votes on an identical measure and then send it to Trump for his signature.

In another tweet as he returned to Washington from his Thanksgiving holiday at his oceanfront resort along the Atlantic Ocean in Florida, Trump said, “Senate Republicans will hopefully come through for all of us. The Tax Cut Bill is getting better and better. The end result will be great for ALL!”

The independent Congressional Budget Office concluded in a new report Sunday that the Senate version of the tax changes would give substantial cuts and benefits to those who earn more than $100,000 a year, while the country’s poorest taxpayers would be worse off. 

Ten months into his presidency, Trump is looking for passage of his first significant piece of legislation. He came close months ago to overhauling the health care policies championed by former President Barack Obama, but Senate Democrats uniformly opposed dismantling the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, as did a handful of Republicans, leaving Trump short of the votes he needed.

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