The Republican-controlled Congress has approved a massive rewrite of the U.S. tax code that will overwhelmingly benefit corporations and the wealthiest Americans, while ending a central pillar of President Obama’s signature healthcare law. The tax bill cleared the Senate early Wednesday, then House lawmakers approved it 224 to 201. This is President Trump.
President Donald Trump: “These are the people right behind me. They’ve worked so long, so hard. It’s been an amazing experience, I have to tell you. Hasn’t been done in 34 years, but, actually, really hasn’t been done, because we broke every record. It’s the largest—I always say the most massive, but it’s the largest tax cut in the history of our country, and reform, but tax cut. Really something special.”
President Trump reportedly may sign the tax bill at his ritzy private Florida resort Mar-a-Lago. Experts estimate Trump will personally benefit from a tax cut of up to $15 million a year. Democratic lawmakers have slammed the measure, which experts say will benefit big corporations, multimillionaires, private equity managers and President Trump and his family, while hurting the elderly, low-income families, immigrants, people buying health insurance, and the island of Puerto Rico. This is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Sen. Chuck Schumer: “Now, we know they’re popping champagne down Pennsylvania Avenue. There are only two places where America is popping champagne: the White House and the corporate boardrooms, including Trump Tower. Otherwise, Americans have a lot to regret.”
The new tax code will slash the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. President Trump has repeatedly claimed the benefits to corporations will “trickle down” to workers. But a number of corporate giants, including Pfizer and Coca-Cola, have said they’ll give the windfall from the tax cuts to their shareholders, not to their workers. The tax bill will also repeal the individual health insurance mandate, which experts say will cause insurance premiums to skyrocket. The Congressional Budget Office estimates 13 million Americans are projected to lose their health insurance under the plan.
Hundreds of DREAMers flooded Capitol Hill Wednesday, as Congress is negotiating a stopgap spending measure that will not include a version of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. It appears that Congress is moving toward approving a one-month stopgap that will fund the government into January without resolving key political issues, such as immigration. This comes as seven young DACA recipients and one ally were released from jail Wednesday after six days in jail on hunger strike. The group was arrested Friday during nonviolent sit-in protests inside the offices of New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Florida Republican Congressmember Carlos Curbelo. The activists were demanding the lawmakers commit to voting “no” on a spending bill this month unless it includes a version of the DREAM Act without concessions for funding for the border wall or enhanced border security.
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner of Virginia, took to the Senate floor Wednesday to warn the Trump administration against firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
Sen. Mark Warner: “Firing Mr. Mueller or any other of the top brass involved in this investigation would not only call into question this administration’s commitment to the truth, but also to our most basic concept, rule of law. It also has the potential to provoke a constitutional crisis. In the United States of America, no one—no one—is above the law, not even the president.”
Senator Warner’s comments come as a number of Republicans are criticizing the Mueller investigation. Warner says he’s concerned the Trump administration might fire Mueller during Congress’s Christmas recess. The White House said Wednesday it is not planning to fire Mueller.
At the United Nations General Assembly, the vast majority of countries are slated to vote today on a resolution that opposes President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—as Trump has launched a furious lobbying campaign against the vote, even threatening to cut off U.S. funding to countries that vote against his decision.
President Donald Trump: “I like the message that Nikki sent yesterday at the United Nations. For all of these nations that take our money and then they vote against us at the Security Council, or they vote against us, potentially, at the Assembly, they take hundreds of millions of dollars, and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”
President Trump sparked international condemnation when he announced earlier this month the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there. Control of Jerusalem is one of the most contested issues: Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Sustained protests continue in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories, despite a brutal Israeli military crackdown. On Wednesday, dozens of Palestinian protesters were wounded after Israeli soldiers opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas against thousands of protesters. This is Hamas official Ismail Radwan.
Ismail Radwan: “We call on our Arabic and Muslim nations to surround the Israeli and American embassies in the Arab countries, then drive the American and Israeli ambassadors out of the Arab countries. We are continuing our way of resistance, using all kinds of resistance to break this decision.”
President Trump has reportedly raised the issue of the ongoing war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen on a phone call with British Prime Minister Theresa May. The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led bombing campaign and blockade in Yemen has killed more than 10,000 people and sparked a cholera epidemic and near famine.
The United Nations special rapporteur for freedom of speech says he’s concerned the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to repeal landmark net neutrality laws last week could impact the freedom of information worldwide. This is David Kaye.
David Kaye: “If the American system somehow restricts the ability of information to get out in the U.S., that will obviously also have an impact on the availability of information to the rest of the world about information in the U.S., perhaps about academic and science—scientific information, health information.”
In Honduras, a brutal military crackdown against protesters supporting the opposition party continues, with multiple people killed and dozens more wounded in recent days amid the ongoing political crisis. On Wednesday, the United States signaled its support for the incumbent U.S.-backed President Juan Orlando Hernández, who was declared the winner of the November 26 election late Sunday night by the government-controlled election board. The opposition party, the Alliance Against the Dictatorship, as well as the Organization of American States have called for new elections, amid reports of widespread fraud and vote rigging. A senior State Department official said the U.S. has no credible evidence to dispute Hernández’s victory. Across Honduras, protests continue against what many are calling an electoral coup. There are reports the military has assassinated and beaten protesters, including attacking protesters in the hospital; shooting tear gas into peoples homes, including where there are children and pregnant women; and launching a violent crackdown against Afro-indigenous Garifuna protesters.
In Colombia, the United Nations says more than 100 human rights activists and community leaders have been murdered this year. The United Nations says most of the activists killed were Afro-Colombian and indigenous, and that the most dangerous regions are places where the FARC has withdrawn from power, following a peace deal reached last year. Community groups say land defenders are especially targeted for assassination.
In Mexico, journalist Gumaro Pérez Aguinaldo has been assassinated in the southern state of Veracruz, becoming at least the 12th journalist to be killed in Mexico so far this year. He was attending a Christmas pageant at his son’s school in the city of Acayucan, when armed men burst into the classroom and murdered him in front of a room filled with schoolchildren. Pérez covered police for multiple outlets, including the news site he founded, La Voz del Sur, or The Voice of the South. He is at least the third journalist murdered in the city of Acayucan in Veracruz in recent months. This comes as, in Texas, an award-winning Mexican journalist is fighting against deportation back to Mexico. He is currently in immigration detention. He says he fears for his life if he is deported. We’ll go to an exclusive jailhouse interview later in the broadcast.
The European Union is threatening to strip Poland of its voting rights in Brussels, as the right-wing Polish government overhauls the judiciary, despite deep public opposition. Polish protesters and the European Union say a slew of recent legislation, including two new laws signed by Polish President Andrzej Duda on Wednesday, undermine the independence of the courts. This is European Union official Frans Timmermans.
Frans Timmermans: “Sadly, our concerns have deepened. Within a period of two years, a significant number of laws have been adopted—13 in total—which put at serious risk the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers in Poland.”
The Trump administration has approved an export license that will allow Ukraine to buy weapons and firearms from U.S. arms manufacturers. The approval represents a lifting of the Obama-era de facto restrictions on arms exports to Ukraine, although there was never a formal ban. The move comes amid an ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia in which 10,000 people have been killed since 2014.
In Peru, a political crisis is escalating, as the Congress is slated to vote today on whether to impeach President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. He faces charges of having attempted to conceal his business ties to the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, which is at the center of a massive corruption scandal that has spread across Latin America.
Back in the United States, in Virginia, judges have now declared the race for a pivotal Virginia House of Delegates seat tied—only one day after a recount showed Democrat Shelly Simonds winning by one vote. The judges now say Simonds is exactly tied with her challenger, Republican incumbent David Yancey. In the balance hangs control of the Virginia House of Delegates. Under Virginia law, the tie will now be broken “by lot”—effectively, a coin flip.
Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney has sued USA Gymnastics, saying officials paid her to keep silent about sexual abuse by team doctor Larry Nassar. The Wall Street Journal reports USA Gymnastics paid Maroney $1.25 million to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Her lawyer says the gold medalist signed the non-disclosure because she needed the money for “lifesaving psychological treatment” as a result of the trauma from the sexual abuse. Dozens of female athletes, including members of the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, have accused Nassar of penetrating their vaginas with his fingers and covering up the abuse by pretending it was part of a medical treatment.
And the Swedish parliament is slated to approve legislation today that would change its rape laws in order to place the burden of proof onto the accused attacker, not on the alleged victim. Under the new sexual consent legislation, people will have to receive affirmative verbal or physical action demonstrating consent before initiating sexual contact. In explaining the legislation, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said, “It should be obvious. Sex should be voluntary. If it is not voluntary, then it is illegal. If you are unsure, then refrain!”