On Saturday morning, Senate Republicans passed a nearly 500-page tax bill that will have dramatic impacts not only the U.S. tax code, but also healthcare, domestic spending and even oil and gas drilling. The plan would cut taxes by nearly $1.5 trillion. Major corporations and the richest Americans, including President Trump and his own family, would reap the most dramatic benefits. Overall, the bill is expected to add $1.4 trillion to federal budget deficits over the next decade. The bill passed the Senate 51 to 49, with every Democrat voting against the bill and all Republicans voting for it except for Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee. We speak with Minnesota Democratic Congressmember Keith Ellison. He’s the first Muslim member of Congress. Ellison is also the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s program with President Trump’s tax bill. Just before 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, Republicans passed a nearly 500-page bill with dramatic impacts on not only the U.S. tax code, but also healthcare, domestic spending, even oil and gas drilling in the Arctic. The plan would cut taxes by nearly one-and-a-half trillion dollars. Major corporations and the richest Americans, including President Trump and his own family, would reap the most dramatic benefits. The legislation includes slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent and giving further tax cuts to wealthy business owners. The Senate version would also dramatically cut the estate tax, while a House version of the plan, passed last month, would eliminate the estate tax entirely.
Significantly, the Senate bill would also repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which experts say would cause the cost of health insurance to skyrocket, and lead to millions of people losing their health insurance. A little-known provision would even open one of the world’s last pristine wildernesses—the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—to oil and fracked gas drilling. According to a report in Public Citizen, more than half of all registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C., worked on the tax bill.
Overall, the bill is expected to add $1.4 trillion to federal budget deficits over the next decade. The New York Times reports this debt will be offset by cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other government programs that benefit the poor and middle class. Critics say these cuts could include ending access to chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.
The bill passed the Senate 51 to 49, with every Democrat voting against the bill and all Republicans voting for it except Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker. This is Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: The legislation passed last night gives incredibly large tax breaks to the very, very wealthy. It raises taxes on millions of middle-class families. It leaves 13 million more Americans without health insurance. It raises health insurance premiums by 10 percent a year. And it raises the deficit by $1.4 trillion.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Minnesota Democratic Congressmember Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress. Ellison is also the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, or DNC.
Congressman Ellison, welcome back to Democracy Now! Your response to this, well, in-the-dark-of-night passage of the tax bill, that will overhaul taxes in a way we haven’t seen in decades?
REP. KEITH ELLISON: Well, it’s really designed to reorder our representative democracy. What they will do with these massive tax breaks is they will buy each other up in more mergers, which will concentrate markets and make it much more difficult for small businesses and workers. They’ll also pay each other off and give each other more bonuses, which they will use to purchase political influence in Washington and state capitals all over the country. So, you’re talking about giving a lot of money to people who are already rich. They pretty much cannot use the money to spark consumer demand, because they’re already satiated from a financial standpoint, and will be raising taxes on many middle-class people and working-class people.
So this is really, I think, more about reordering our society, creating a hereditary aristocracy in the United States and really taking our country and leading it down a path where we will one day see a very tiny group of very, very, very rich elite people in an ocean of desperate people just trying to hang on and make it every single day—not too much different from countries that we see around the world, like Honduras, where I recently visited.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to talk about Honduras in our next segment with you and Honduran activists, but I want to turn to President Trump speaking in New York City Saturday night after the Senate narrowly approved the tax overhaul.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Out of 52 Republican senators, 51 voted, and we ended up doing it. And we didn’t need our great vice president to break the tie—Mike. We didn’t need Mike. We didn’t need anything. We voted. The Democrats left before the vote was even—somebody said “started,” somebody said “before it was over.” I don’t even care. But we got no Democrat help, and I think that’s going to cost them very big in the election, because, basically, they voted against tax cuts. And I don’t think, politically, it’s good to vote against tax cuts.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Ellison, can you respond?
REP. KEITH ELLISON: Well, I don’t think it’s good to vote for giving more money to people who don’t—certainly don’t need it. And even Trump himself stands to benefit dramatically from these tax cuts. One of the things they’re cutting is the alternative minimum tax. Last time we have tax returns for him was in 2005, where he paid about $31 million because of the alternative minimum tax. He won’t have to pay that, if this tax bill goes through. So, not only is he reordering our constitutional democracy, he is personally enriching himself—which is not new, because, of course, he’s done it ever since he swore an oath to become president of the United States. Emoluments Clause violations, all kinds of things, nepotism, you know, it’s just been awash in filling up the swamp. And so, you know, this is already the richest Cabinet we’ve ever seen. And apparently they’re not done yet, you know.
And again, it’s not just money to buy luxury goods. It’s money to reorder our constitutional democracy, which is why I am urging everybody to become the most effective grassroots activists you can. This is essential that we have a resurgence in democratic participation. And I don’t mean big-D Democrat, I mean small-D democrat. I mean getting involved in your neighborhood, your community. This is no time to say, “I’m not into politics.” This is a time to go headlong into the welfare of this nation.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Ellison, the Senate tax bill would roll back the estate tax on inherited wealth, as you mentioned, which currently applies to—
REP. KEITH ELLISON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —about 5,000 of the wealthiest U.S. families.
REP. KEITH ELLISON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Following the vote, Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley praised the move, telling The Des Moines Register, “I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.” Congressman Ellison?
REP. KEITH ELLISON: Well, you know, the elites always want to shame the poor—right?—and everyone else. I mean, the fact is, this economy is based on 70 percent of the people driving consumer demand. If people do not purchase goods and services, this economy will grind to recession. And that is why, if you are going to do a tax cut, it ought to really be aimed at low-income and middle-income people. That might actually spur demand. But the way they’ve done it is to just give, you know, more to people who already have everything. So, the economic impact of getting rid of the estate tax will not be greater investment or greater consumer demand. It will simply be more money for political influence, mergers and more bonuses.
In fact, let me just tell you, I mean, you know, these taxes will literally worsen the economy. They will make the economy more sclerotic, if you will, because, you know, it is really putting hands in the hands of working people that allows them to open new businesses, do more hiring and really—you know, really do more for the economy. You put money in the hands of people who don’t need it, all they’re going to do is just what I already outlined—more political influence.
And as mentioned before, Amy, you know, this economy already has the signs of plutocracy, already has the signs that it’s at a point where the richest people are simply trying to extract wealth from the working and middle classes for themselves. This tax bill just makes that all the worse.
And my last point on this is that, look, rich people already have a lot of money. There’s literally trillions of dollars in cash held by corporations, their stock valuations at an all-time high. They do not need a tax cut to do anything. They can invest now, if they wanted to. They don’t want to, because they can make more money just by mergers and stock buybacks and stuff like that. So, this is really just sort of a travesty.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a video about the tax plan posted on Twitter by Senator Jon Tester of Montana. The video went viral over the weekend, Tester tweeting a message with the video, saying, quote, “I was just handed a 479-page tax bill a few hours before the vote. One page literally has hand scribbled policy changes on it that can’t be read.”
REP. KEITH ELLISON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: “This is Washington, D.C. at its worst. Montanans deserve so much better.”
SEN. JON TESTER: It’s the night where we’re going to be voting on the tax bill. I just got the tax bill 25 minutes ago. This was the tax bill. See how thick it is? This is what it looks like. Oh, no, let’s look at the bill. This is what it really looks like. I want you to take a look at this, folks. This is your government at work. Here’s the bill as it’s written. Here’s the modifications that are in it. I can read one word. It’s called “add this language.” Can you tell me what that word is? If you can, you got better eyes than me. This is unbelievable. We’re doing massive tax reform on an absolute incredible timeline. This is going to affect everybody in this country. It’s going to shift money from middle-class families to the rich. It’s amazing. And we’ve been given this 20 minutes ago, 25 minutes ago. And we’re supposed to vote on it in a couple hours.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Jon Tester of Montana. Congressman Ellison, can you explain what now happens next? That’s the Senate.
REP. KEITH ELLISON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Your body of Congress is the House, of course. You have a slightly different tax plan. Explain: Is this a done deal? For example, drilling in the Arctic, given to Senator Murkowski of Alaska; the ending of the individual mandate under Obamacare—that’s in the Senate bill, not in the House bill.
REP. KEITH ELLISON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happens now.
REP. KEITH ELLISON: No, by no means is this a done deal. That’s why we need activists to really, really kick it up a notch. I mean, the fact is, is that they’re going to have to have a conference committee in order to get one unified House-Senate bill. And then they’re going to have to repass it. So there will be more—at least one more vote in each house on the bill after it has been conferenced, because, if you think back to your high school civics, you know, you have to have the same bill passed through both houses, and then that is what will go to the president’s desk for signature. So, for activists who want to preserve constitutional democracy, who don’t believe in hereditary aristocracy, who believe that teachers ought to be able to deduct the 250 bucks of school supplies that they bring—they might spend their own money for in a classroom, then you still have time to fight this horrible piece of legislation.
And, you know, Trump just said he doesn’t care whether he had any Democrats vote for it or not. He just said it. And he also said none of us voted for it. We can’t vote for it. It’s awful. It’s really shocking that any Republicans voted for it. Is Corker the only one who wants to stand on his belief that mounting deficits are not good? My question for Republicans is: What happened to your concern about deficits? I thought you didn’t like them. Suddenly they’re OK. I mean, this is outrageous. They’re literally borrowing money to give it to rich people and huge corporations. And it’s just really a travesty. Now is the moment for real activism.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Ellison, I wanted to get to a bunch of headlines. Last week, President Trump drew international outrage after he retweeted three violent videos shared by a leader of a fringe right-wing group called Britain First, the videos purporting to show violence carried out by Muslims, videos posted early Tuesday by Britain First deputy leader Jayda Fransen. Two of the videos retweeted by Trump, which were filmed in Egypt and Syria, presented without context, were titled, “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” and “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” A third video, titled “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” shows one teenager kicking and punching another. The tweeted claim was widely reported as false, including by the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C., which tweeted, quote, “@realDonaldTrump Facts do matter. The perpetrator of the violent act in this video was born and raised in the Netherlands. He received and completed his sentence under Dutch law.” Then, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders grilled by reporters over the videos.
PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real, and that is what the president is talking about. That’s what the president is focused on, is dealing with those real threats. And those are real, no matter how you look at it.
REPORTER 1: So it doesn’t matter if the video is fake?
REPORTER 2: Even if it’s a fake video?
PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I’m not talking about the nature of the video. I think you’re focusing on the wrong thing.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Trump’s retweets drawing praise from his far-right supporters, including the Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who tweeted, “This is why WE LOVE TRUMP and WHY the FAKE NEWS MEDIA HATES TRUMP. He brings to light what the lying, Fake News Media Won’t. The truth is the media covers up horrific numbers of racist hate crimes against White people!” That was David Duke endorsing President Trump. Theresa May, his ally, the prime minister, conservative prime minister of Britain, condemning President Trump for what he’s done. What do you feel has to happen now?
REP. KEITH ELLISON: Well, I feel we have to denounce Donald Trump—again—for promoting racism and hatred and division. But I want folks listening to your broadcast to understand this is not just the ramblings of some old crazy guy. The fact is, is that Donald Trump knows that as he rifles money from the working and middle classes up to the super rich, he has to sow division among working people, because if working people and middle-class people really take a look at his economic policy, they will come together, and they will stop it. So, what he has to do is to promote racism—hate the Muslims, hate the Latinos, hate the blacks, you know, have male—men and women at each other’s throats, you know, make sure we repress the trans people. And he’s trying to tell all of us Americans that we are our own problem, not him. And that’s not true. He’s the problem.
The fact is, is that Americans don’t hate their Muslim neighbors. They don’t hate their Latino neighbors. We have got to build human solidarity in this country, because human solidarity is what’s going to allow us to come together to protect our democracy and to protect our economy. So reject the hate. Turn it away. Don’t buy it. And reach out to a neighbor. He is trying to sow division so that he can distract us from what he’s doing to us.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Ellison, President Trump is expected to decided today whether the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city and whether the U.S. will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump’s planned announcement coming after senior adviser Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, told the Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., Trump hasn’t decided yet. Israel has occupied, of course, East Jerusalem since '67. Palestinian leaders have condemned any plans by the U.S. to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. This coming as documents handed to investigators as part of the plea deal show General Flynn was ordered to speak with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak by a “very senior” member of the presidential transition team, cited by many news outlets as Jared Kushner, Kushner reportedly ordering Flynn to work with Russian officials to delay a U.N. Security Council vote on a resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Start with the first part. Start with this week being declared Jerusalem week by President Trump, and whether he will—what his decision will be.
REP. KEITH ELLISON: Well, you know, I believe in the two-state solution, an Israeli state and Palestinian state side by side in peace and security. And so, issues of where the capitals will be has always been something that is going to be negotiated in the course of a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. This unilateral departure from that is really upsetting, you know, the idea that we’re going to have a negotiated settlement. It is simply something that will delay peace. It will make it much more difficult to obtain peace in the Middle East. And it is, again, another dramatic departure from diplomacy, from negotiated settlements. It’s just Trump, you know, stomping all over what we’ve been trying to do as a nation to foster a negotiated two-state solution for many, many years. So it’s really a horrible tragedy.
On the issue of Michael Flynn, he’s already entered a plea of guilty. You know, I was a criminal defense lawyer for 17 years, and I can tell you that with all the bad things he did, if he only is pleading to this one charge of lying to the FBI, he probably is offering very substantial assistance. I don’t know that. I’m not sharing privy information. But just based on my experience, I think Michael Flynn is going to be telling some things that Donald Trump might rather keep secret. But it’s about time for some sunshine, about time for some things to come to light. So, that’s what I have to say about that.