The Hill’s Morning Report — Trump tax returns to be released; Senate omnibus advances
The House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday voted along party lines to publicly release former President Trump’s tax returns, marking the culmination of a yearslong battle during which Trump defied tradition by keeping his finances confidential.
Following hours of debate behind closed doors, the Democratic-controlled committee approved the release of six years’ worth of Trump’s tax returns, but it could take some time before any information is made available to the public.
“This was not about being punitive,” Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said after the vote Tuesday. “This was not about being malicious.”
Democrats have said they needed Trump’s records to assess an IRS program that audits presidents, while Republicans argue that rationale was a pretext for a politically motivated fishing expedition. In 2020, The New York Times reported that Trump paid “no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.” Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 tax return, theoretically allowing him to avoid income tax for nearly 20 years, the paper reported in 2016 (The Hill and The New York Times).
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) told CNN that the release of the documents could be delayed for “a few days” to make time for redactions of personal information, such as Social Security numbers.
“Trump claimed tens of millions of dollars in losses and credits without the type of substantiation an ordinary taxpayer would likely provide,” Doggett said in a Tuesday statement. “Donald Trump had big deductions, big credits, and big losses—but seldom a big tax bill. Many questions about foreign entanglements and conflicts remain unanswered and unknown.”
The New York Times: The release of Trump’s tax returns could herald a new era for taxpayer privacy. Revealing private documents risks a tit for tat with Republicans set to retake control of the House of Representatives.
Democratic lawmakers say the 154-page summary of the House Jan. 6, 2021, select committee’s findings — in addition to the four criminal referrals to the Department of Justice (DOJ) — provide “more than enough” evidence for special counsel Jack Smith to indict Trump, writes The Hill’s Alexander Bolton. But they acknowledge that at this point, a criminal investigation, prosecution and expected trial are likely to stretch into the 2024 election year, which will thrust the Justice Department into a political maelstrom. Democrats say Attorney General Merrick Garland will likely face criticism if he fails to act on the Jan. 6 committee’s referrals.
The Atlantic: The prosecution of Trump runs into some serious First Amendment troubles, but they are surmountable if the government takes into account his other actions on Jan. 6.
▪ Vox: Democrats have long assumed young voters would save them, but both parties have badly misunderstood what drives young people to vote.
▪ Reuters: The man behind Trump World’s myth of rigged voting machines.
▪ CBS News: Trump aide testified he saw Trump “tearing” documents; former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows also once told him, “Don’t come into the room.”
▪ The Hill: Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) trade public barbs over House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), “space lasers.”
▪ The Hill: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is “pulling” for McCarthy to become Speaker, despite disagreements.
LEADING THE DAY
© Associated Press / J. Scott Applewhite | Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the Capitol on Dec. 13.
Senators are scrambling to finish work on a 4,155-page omnibus spending package before a winter storm unleashes blizzard conditions across the country and could wreak havoc on airports and roads right before Christmas. The Senate on Tuesday voted 70-25 to proceed to debate of the bill, marking the clearing of a major procedural hurdle (Reuters). Democratic and Republican lawmakers say they hope they can pass the $1.645 trillion package this evening, giving the House a chance to pass it on Thursday, before government funding runs out Friday at midnight.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday urged colleagues to pass the bill as soon as possible to avoid the risk of getting marooned in Washington.
“We must finish passing this omnibus before the deadline on Friday when government funding runs out, but we hope to do it much sooner than that because we’re mindful that a nor’easter is barreling down the East Coast on Thursday and Friday,” Schumer implored colleagues on the floor.
The funding measure is the last major must-pass bill on the legislative docket before the start of the 118th Congress in January, when divided government will make legislating even harder than it currently is, making the omnibus a magnet for lawmakers to try to cram in their priorities (Politico).
The Hill’s Aris Folley breaks down what made it into the almost $1.7 trillion bill — and what didn’t.
House Republican leadership is urging its members to vote down a sweeping government funding package expected to come to a vote this week, clashing with their counterparts in the Senate who are pushing for its passage. Republicans opposing the omnibus have been pressing for Congress to put off government spending through early next year, saying the move is necessary to give the party more sway in funding talks as Washington prepares to usher in a newly GOP-led House (The Hill).
GOP senators, meanwhile, had a message for a group of current and incoming House Republicans who are threatening to stop any bill supported by someone who votes for the omnibus spending package in its tracks: We don’t care (The Hill).
“It’s not [good]. … I mean, really? If you just think about what they’re suggesting, it flies in the face of maturity and the ability to lead,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a former House member who plans to vote against the omnibus spending bill, told The Hill. “The reality is this kind of chest thumping and immaturity doesn’t instill confidence in their ability to lead. Now, maybe it helps Kevin get elected Speaker — I hope it does. I hope he becomes Speaker. I want him to become Speaker, but it’s not a good start to leading.”
▪ Politico: Senate trudges toward a vote on the $1.7 trillion spending bill amid conservative pushback.
▪ The New York Times: New spending bill makes it easier for Americans saving for retirement.
▪ NBC News: Government funding bill gives the DOJ extra money for Jan. 6 prosecutions.
The House isn’t the only congressional chamber taking steps this week to counteract Trump, as legislation to overhaul how Congress counts electoral votes moves one step closer to becoming law, writes The Hill’s Al Weaver. The omnibus funding package includes the Electoral Count Reform Act, an update to the 1887 edition that raises the threshold for objections to Electoral College votes from one member in each chamber to one-fifth in both chambers.
“It will arguably save our democracy,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who helped negotiate the proposal, told The Hill. “What we wrote is not foolproof. Malevolent actors could still steal an election, but it makes it a lot harder.”
Cannabis advocates are in disbelief after Congress failed to pass a bill to allow weed businesses to access banking services, a huge setback for the growing industry, writes The Hill’s Karl Evers-Hillstrom. The omnibus spending bill does not include the SAFE Banking Act, a bipartisan measure that would undo federal restrictions that make it difficult for legal cannabis businesses to access financial services.
Incoming Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) has tapped Rep. Suzan DelBene (Wash.) to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. DelBene’s nomination comes after two California Reps. — Ami Bera and Tony Cárdenas — sought the spot as DCCC chair. Ultimately, leadership decided they needed to elevate a woman to the role (CNN and The Hill).
“I’m ready to get to work with our new leadership team and all corners of our Caucus to win back the House Majority,” DelBene said in a statement. “Democrats are dedicated to showing Americans that governance can work, advancing the policies that will make a difference to families, workers and communities, and pushing back against MAGA Republican extremism and chaos.”
The Biden administration on Tuesday asked Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to rule against 19 GOP-led states that initiated court action to keep the controversial Title 42 immigration policy in place. The move is a response to Roberts’s administrative stay in which he temporarily halted the end of the policy, set to end Wednesday.
Under the pandemic-era Title 42 policy, U.S. border officials are allowed to skip asylum processing for migrants from many countries, instead quickly expelling the migrants back to their home country (The Hill).
The White House has braced for withering congressional inquiries from the moment Biden’s Afghanistan pullout began to go wrong, and the investigation by congressional Republicans with a new House majority would probably gear up just as Biden launches his reelection campaign early next year.
The August 2021 withdrawal marked a low point in Biden’s presidency as desperate scenes from Kabul aired across the world, and the probe would probably resurface troubling issues (The Washington Post).
▪ Politico: Biden’s strategy for a far-right Israel: Lay it all on incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is expected to name figures with racist and other extreme views to top slots.
▪ Axios: Biden in a newly surfaced video: The Iran nuclear deal is “dead.”
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is en route to visit Washington in person today, marking the first time the Ukrainian president has left his country since before Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday encouraging them to “be present for a very special focus on Democracy Wednesday night” as Zelensky prepares to address a joint session of Congress (The Hill). He is also expected to meet with Biden at the White House as the administration plans to announce the delivery of an additional $1.8 billion in aid and a Patriot missile battle system to help Ukraine with its air defenses (Reuters and CNN).
Marking the 300th day of the war, Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday both handed out medals —Zelensky traveled to the eastern city of Bakhmut to recognize Ukrainian soldiers, while Putin honored Russian occupation figures and propaganda leaders inside the gilded halls of the Kremlin. While Russian forces are digging in across much of the 600-mile front after a series of battlefield defeats, Moscow has stepped up its attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, aimed at plunging the nation into darkness this winter (The New York Times and Reuters).
Ukrainian officials are concerned that a long, drawn-out war of attrition will degrade U.S. and other international military and economic support for Kyiv, writes The Hill’s Laura Kelly. Congress has proposed $45 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine — exceeding Biden’s request for nearly $38 billion in funding through 2023. The president is further expected to announce that the U.S. will provide more advanced air defense systems to help Kyiv survive under Russian assaults on its energy and electricity infrastructure.
Russia’s invasion has systematically destroyed Ukrainian cultural sites. A New York Times investigation has identified 339 that sustained substantial damage this year.
▪ The Washington Post: Some female leaders handled COVID-19 and other crises very well, an analysis shows.
▪ Foreign Policy: How the world learned to love fossil fuels again.
▪ Reuters: The world fears a new COVID-19 wave in China, ponders how to help Xi Jinping.
▪ Politico EU: Spain thrown into crisis after top court blocks judicial reform.
▪ NPR: The Taliban ban women in Afghanistan from attending universities.
■ Was the world collapsing? Or were you just freaking out? by Katherine Miller, staff writer, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3Wg66NM
■ The oversight House Republicans could do — but probably won’t, by John T. Bennett, columnist, Roll Call. https://bit.ly/3FHB1eN
WHERE AND WHEN
👉 The Hill: Share a news query tied to an expert journalist’s insights: The Hill launched something new and (we hope) engaging via text with Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack. Learn more and sign up HERE.
The House will convene today, with votes postponed to 6:30 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 10 a.m.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. He will meet with Zelensky at the White House.
The vice president has no public schedule.
© Associated Press / Mark Lennihan | A Wells Fargo bank in New York City in 2021.
Wells Fargo has agreed to pay a $1.7 billion fine and another $2 billion in damages to settle claims that it engaged in an array of banking violations over the last decade, harming millions of consumers.
The $3.7 billion settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau comes after years where the bank allegedly committed violations ranging from improperly repossessing cars to erroneously denying mortgage loan modifications and wrongfully freezing or closing customers’ accounts. The agency said the Tuesday settlement is merely another step in addressing long-running harms allegedly committed by the bank — affecting more than 16 million consumers from 2011 to 2022 (NBC News and The Wall Street Journal).
“Wells Fargo’s rinse-repeat cycle of violating the law has harmed millions of American families,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said in a statement. “The CFPB is ordering Wells Fargo to refund billions of dollars to consumers across the country. This is an important initial step for accountability and long-term reform of this repeat offender.”
Elon Musk said he will step down as the CEO of Twitter as soon as he finds someone “foolish enough” to succeed him. He recently put his own tenure as CEO in the hands of users through a Twitter poll, and the majority of respondents voted for his ouster, though Musk will stay on as the company’s owner and ultimate decision-maker (NPR).
Six weeks after Musk’s takeover, Twitter’s finances are looking increasingly rickety, as the platform loses revenue and faces about $1 billion in annual interest payments. Since taking the reins of the company, He has fired more than half its staff and driven away advertisers with his chaotic and conflicting approach to free speech. Musk said in November that Twitter had seen a “massive drop in revenue” due to advertisers leaving the site. Left-leaning nonprofit watchdog group Media Matters for America estimates that half of the site’s top 100 advertisers — who account for $750 million in revenue this year — have left (Semafor).
Following the results of the Twitter poll, where 57.5 percent of votes were in favor of Musk stepping down, he now has the job of finding a replacement for the floundering social media network. A source told Bloomberg News that the search for a new CEO could be drawn out and not yield results quickly.
▪ The Hill: Twitter will limit policy polls to paying subscribers, Musk says.
▪ Vox: Twitter enters its chaotic new multicolored, multishaped check mark phase.
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
The Biden administration on Tuesday announced it will release ownership data for all 7,000 hospitals that participate in Medicare in an effort to boost transparency. The move comes amid a rapid increase in private equity investments in hospitals, resulting in an increasingly concentrated market. As of last year, private equity firms owned about 4 percent of hospitals. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the data will be published in an easily searchable format online and include detailed information about each owner (The Hill).
“We are pulling back the curtain and letting the sunshine in on hospital and nursing home ownership because it is what the public deserves,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “As we work to expand access to high-quality, affordable health care, we will make sure there is transparency to ensure that facilities are held accountable and people can make the best-informed decisions on their care.”
Information about COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot availability can be found at Vaccines.gov.
Case counts of COVID-19, the flu and respiratory syncytial virus are ticking up as temperatures drop and more Americans are spending time indoors, The New York Times reports. If you are planning to fly during the holiday season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Transportation Security Administration suggest that it’s a good idea to mask up but are not requiring travelers to do so.
“CDC recommends properly wearing a high-quality mask or respirator over the nose and mouth in indoor areas of public transportation (such as airplanes, trains, buses, ferries) and transportation hubs (such as airports, stations and seaports),” the agency says on its website.
▪ Axios: Congress saves big health care decisions for last.
▪ The New York Times: Killings of children and teenagers under 18 increased sharply in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, federal researchers reported. Black communities were disproportionately affected.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,088,280. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 2,703 for the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The CDC shifted its tally of available data from daily to weekly, now reported on Fridays.)
© Associated Press / Gabriel Ugueto/National Museum of Natural History | An illustration of a group of adult and newly born Triassic shonisaurus ichthyosaurs.
And finally… 🐋 Fossil experts may have finally solved a decades-old mystery of how at least 37 school bus-sized marine reptiles died about 230 million years ago and become embedded in stone in what is now central Nevada.
Scientists from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and other institutions posit that the fossil graveyard near an old silver mine represents an early example of one of the most fundamental and deeply ingrained animal behaviors — migration. At the Nevada site, scientists found bones from the giant ichthyosaur Shonisaurus, which looks like a massive, out-of-shape dolphin. The finding offers a rare window into the behaviors of prehistoric animals, which isn’t always captured by individual fossils (Smithsonian Magazine and The Washington Post).
“It’s a really fascinating site, and it’s exciting to see new research being focused on this important ichthyosaur graveyard,” University of Manchester paleontologist Dean Lomax, who was not involved in the new study, told Smithsonian Magazine.
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