November 16, 2017
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House Republicans passed their $1.5 trillion tax overhaul bill 227-205 on Thursday as the GOP presses to land the legislation on President Trump's desk before the end of the year, The New York Times reports. Thirteen Republicans and 192 Democrats voted against the bill.

"I just have too many constituents who are going to see their taxes go up," explained New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin.

The Senate is working on its own version of the legislation, and major differences with the House bill will have to be reconciled before it goes to the president. For example, the Senate version leaves seven tax brackets, versus the House proposal's four brackets, and it lowers the top rate for wealthy individuals to 38.5 percent from 39.6 percent.

The Senate has less room for party defections, too, with a mere 52-to-48 margin, and with two Republican senators already criticizing the proposal on Wednesday, questions may arise over whether the legislation can pass in its current form. Read more about the differences between the House and Senate tax overhaul plans at The Week. Jeva Lange

November 16, 2017
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A judge on Thursday declared a mistrial in the corruption case against Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.). "I find you are unable to reach a verdict and that further deliberations would be futile," U.S. District Judge William Walls told the jurors, per The Philadelphia Inquirer's Andrew Seidman, "and that there is no alternative but to declare a mistrial."

The jurors had come to Walls earlier Thursday to say they were deadlocked — after having told Walls first on Monday that they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Menendez faced 18 counts of corruption, accused of providing favors for Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen in return for expensive gifts and thousands of dollars in donations.

Menendez and Melgen have denied all charges, saying the exchanges were the result of a close friendship. The jury had been deliberating for seven days, but on Thursday said, "We cannot reach a unanimous decision. Nor are we willing to move away from our strong convictions." The Washington Post notes that "while mistrials are generally considered wins for defense lawyers and losses for prosecutors, the Justice Department will likely feel significant internal pressure to put [Menendez] on trial again." Kimberly Alters

November 16, 2017

Democratic Sen. Al Franken (Minn.) issued a statement in response to reporter Leeann Tweeden's account of him groping her in her sleep and kissing her without her consent while on a USO tour in 2006. "I respect women," he said. "I don't respect men who don't. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed."

It was Franken's second statement in response to the allegations Thursday, after he initially told an NBC reporter that he did not remember the incident "in the same way" as Tweeden described it but nonetheless sent his "sincerest apologies to Leeann." Regarding a photo Tweeden provided of him groping her breasts while she was asleep, Franken said it was "clearly intended to be funny but wasn't."

In his second, longer statement, Franken said: "There's no excuse [for the photo]. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself." Franken said he was asking for an ethics investigation into his own conduct, concluding: "What people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward." Read the full statement below. Jeva Lange

November 16, 2017
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Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) are expected to announce their unlikely partnership on gun legislation Thursday, signaling yet another bipartisan attempt to bridge party differences in the wake of tragic mass shootings across the country in recent weeks.

The Cornyn-Murphy bill is "narrow in its focus," The Washington Post writes, and aims to encourage states and federal agencies to actually report infractions that would prohibit a person from buying a gun to a national database. The legislation was spurred in part by the man who opened fire in a Texas church earlier this month; he had managed to obtain weapons due in part to the fact that the Air Force failed to report his 2014 domestic violence conviction to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Millions of such records are missing from the database, one study found, with "at least 25 percent of felony convictions ... not available."

On the topic of gun control, Murphy and Cornyn are unlikely allies. After joining the Senate only a few weeks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened in his home state, Murphy is recognized as one of the Hill's most outspoken voices on background checks. Cornyn, on the other hand, has argued to focus on "mental illness," noting that the Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza, stole his mother's gun and would not have been stopped by a background check.

Following a floor speech by Murphy last week about the lack of legislative action after mass shootings, Cornyn was inspired to approach the Connecticut senator about a bipartisan deal. Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has also played a role in writing the legislation, and more Republicans are expected to get on board. Read more about the bill at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange

November 15, 2017
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The Democratic director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray, will step down at the end of the month, The New York Times reports. Cordray was appointed by former President Barack Obama as the first director of the bureau, established as a part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulations, and his five-year term was not due to expire until the summer of 2018.

Cordray's job consists of "scour[ing] the financial marketplace for misbehavior like that of Wells Fargo, which CFPB fined $100 million for opening unauthorized accounts in what has become the bureau's signature enforcement action," CNBC writes. Despite the tension of his job under President Trump, Cordray insisted in a March interview that "I think that the independence of a consumer watchdog is very much worth fighting for. It's really important work."

Cordray is expected to run for governor in his home state of Ohio, although he didn't allude to his plans in an email to the agency's employees. "It has been a joy of my life to have the opportunity to serve our country as the first director of the consumer bureau by working alongside all of you here," he wrote. "I am confident that you will continue to move forward, nurture this institution we have built together, and maintain its essential value to the American public. And I trust that new leadership will see that value also and work to preserve it." Jeva Lange

November 14, 2017

At least four people were killed in a random shooting rampage in northern California's Tehama County on Tuesday, The Washington Post reports. The attack reportedly followed a "domestic violence incident" involving the suspected shooter, who was killed by police.

The alleged shooter, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns, opened fire on at least seven sites in the rural region, including an elementary school. A number of children were wounded, although none were reported killed. "I know that we have [airlifted] a number of students," said the county's assistant sheriff, Phil Johnston. "I know that the school's been cleared. I know that we have children that were attending school in a safe location at this time."

The gunman appeared to be "randomly picking targets," NBC Bay Area reports. The attack follows a spate of tragic mass shootings across the country, including an attack in Las Vegas last month that killed 58 and an attack in a small-town Texas church that killed 26 last week. Jeva Lange

November 14, 2017

Senate Republicans announced Tuesday they will be including a repeal of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate in their tax plan. "Repealing the mandate pays for more tax cuts for working families," wrote Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) in a statement.

President Trump has put pressure on Republicans to repeal the "very unfair" individual mandate, which is the portion of ObamaCare that requires individuals to purchase health care or face a fine. Its elimination would free up more than $300 billion over a decade, The New York Times reports, "because ... a decline in the number of people with health coverage" means "the government would spend less money on subsidized health plans." Jeva Lange

November 14, 2017

The first U.S. trial in the massive FIFA corruption case began Tuesday in Brooklyn, with a key witness alleging that six media companies, including Fox Sports, paid bribes for soccer rights, BuzzFeed News' Ken Bensinger reports. The prosecution's witness, Argentinian-Italian sports marketing executive Alejandro Burzaco, "said his company had partnerships with all those companies and he is personally aware of their bribery," Bensinger tweeted.

Three South American soccer officials — including the president of the region's governing body, Juan Ángel Napout — are accused of conspiracy to "take bribes from sports marketing companies in exchange for lucrative marketing rights to soccer tournaments, including the Copa America and Copa Libertadores," Reuters writes. Napout's lawyer told jurors that after Burzaco was indicted, he "cut a sweetheart deal with the government and began telling stories."

As sports analyst Roger Pielke Jr. observed on Twitter, FIFA "gifted" Fox the 2026 World Cup rights in 2015. "The [2022] Qatar World Cup has never made any sense outside FIFA's burgeoning pursestrings, but in order to forge ahead with the tournament it looks like they're going to have to make some sacrifices and financial make goods elsewhere," reported Awful Announcing at the time. "How else does one explain the stunning announcement that FIFA has suddenly agreed to extend their agreement with Fox and Telemundo for American television rights through the 2026 World Cup instead of opening them up for bidding?" Jeva Lange

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