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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump walks off his plane at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sept. 17, 2016. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

Republican tax plan extends tax break to private jet owners

11/17/17 12:47PM

When Congress takes up a massive tax bill, it's inevitable that lawmakers are going to tuck some pretty controversial measures into the package. The House Republican version, for example, included "a lucrative break for golf-course owners," even as raised taxes on some middle-class families.

It's the kind of policy Donald Trump is likely to appreciate.

Business Insider today highlights a similar piece of the Senate Republicans' plan.

One of those exemptions in the Senate version of the bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), would give a break to owners of private jets.

Currently, the federal government imposes an excise tax on the use of private planes for every flight an aircraft makes. Under the Republican tax legislation, costs for maintenance and other support activities for the planes would be exempt from the excise tax.

The article added that, according to an analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation, the price tag on this tax break is quite modest -- less than $50 million in tax revenue over 10 years -- probably in part because so few Americans can take advantage of the benefit.

For proponents of the Republican tax plan, this may seem like a defense: in a trillion-dollar package, the argument goes, a policy that costs less than $50 million isn't worth much of a fuss.

But isn't that backwards? If it's "only" $50 million over 10 years, why include it at all?

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.17.17

11/17/17 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* In a bit of a surprise, the latest Fox News poll out of Alabama shows Doug Jones (D) leading Roy Moore (R) in their upcoming Senate special election, 50% to 42%.

* The same poll also found Barack Obama with a higher favorability rating in Alabama than Donald Trump, which suggests the poll is suspect, or the winds of change are blowing in a direction Republicans aren't going to like.

* Though he was under considerable party pressure to run for the Senate next year, Rep. Fred Upton (R) has instead decided to run for re-election in his Michigan district in 2018. The GOP has not yet fielded a top-tier challenger to take on Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D).

* Speaking of Midwestern Senate races, Rep. Luke Messer (R) is considered a top-tier candidate who hopes to take on Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) in Indiana next year, but the Associated Press reports that the congressman's only address in the Hoosier state is his mom's house.

* In October, the DCCC's fundraising for the 2018 cycle outpaced the NRCC's fundraising, $7.7 million to $4.5 million. It's the sixth month in a row the DCCC has enjoyed this advantage, which is unusual given the fact that Republicans have the House majority.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Why the White House's 'welfare reform' focus matters

11/17/17 11:20AM

Ahead of the House Republicans' vote yesterday on the regressive GOP tax plan, Donald Trump traveled to Capitol Hill to help apply a little 11th-hour pressure. The president's remarks weren't recorded, but by all accounts, he made a rather predictable pitch in support of the party's far-right efforts on tax policy.

But the Washington Post took note of something else Trump reportedly told his House allies.

Trump thanked party leaders, expressed optimism about the Senate bill, and said he believed that Congress ought to move to "welfare reform" after completing the tax bill, according to several members in the room.

The Hill had a related report, quoting unnamed House GOP members who said Trump specifically brought up welfare reform as of one his priorities. The article added, "The welfare line got a big applause, with one lawmaker describing it as an 'off-the-charts' reception."

And while I'm sure the president was delighted by the applause, the political world needs to understand what the White House means by "welfare reform" -- because it may not mean what everyone thinks it means.

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U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross gestures as he leaves after addressing delegates at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in east London, on November 6, 2017.

Trump's faux-billionaire cabinet secretary faces new troubles

11/17/17 10:42AM

When it comes to Donald Trump's beleaguered cabinet, there's no shortage of controversies, and one high-profile member has already been forced to resign. But of all the competing stories, the mess surrounding Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' finances might be the most entertaining.

Two weeks ago, Forbes magazine reported that Ross, one of the president's billionaire cabinet members, appears to have been lying about being a billionaire. The article explained, in striking candor, that "Ross lied" to the magazine, and the "fibs, exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and whoppers" have been ongoing for over a decade.

This led the Bloomberg Billionaires Index to lower its net worth calculation for Ross to $860 million from $3 billion.

And while $860 million is the kind of extraordinary wealth most of us will never see, there's a whole round of new questions about the scope and consequences of Ross' alleged dishonesty. Forbes reported this week:

Six Senate Democrats requested an investigation of Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on Monday, following reports that he apparently lied about his net worth and held onto investments in a shipping company that does business with a Russian enterprise partially owned by associates of Vladimir Putin.

In a letter to the inspector general of the Commerce Department, the lawmakers also asked for an investigation of Wendy Teramoto, Ross' chief of staff, who worked with him for years at his investment firm WL Ross & Co. before joining the Commerce Department.

Among other things, these Senate Dems suspect Ross may not have been truthful with Congress during his cabinet confirmation process. Their letter asked the Commerce Department's inspector general to examine "whether Secretary Ross has provided fabrications about other assets or shielded the existence of assets, and the extent to which false representations impacted the evaluation of and implementation of the ethics agreements he must now follow."

And then, of course, there's Donald Trump himself, who hasn't yet reacted to this story, but who probably should given the circumstances.

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Without mentioning Donald Trump by name, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denounced Trump's recent remarks about restricting Muslim travel during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 8, 2015. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Senate GOP pushes tax hike on families making less than $75,000

11/17/17 10:00AM

At a press briefing yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued that Donald Trump likes both of the competing tax plans being considered by the Republican-led House and Republican-led Senate. "Both bills achieve the president's priorities," she said. "That's been his focus: tax cuts for middle-class families."

The argument might be more compelling if it in any way reflected reality. The GOP plan in the House increases taxes on millions of middle-class households, and as the Washington Post reported, the Senate GOP's tax plan moves even more aggressively away from Trump's purported "focus."

The tax bill Senate Republicans are championing would give large tax cuts to the rich while raising taxes on American families earning $10,000 to $75,000 over the next decade, according to a report released Thursday by the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress's official nonpartisan analysts.

President Trump and Republican lawmakers have been heralding their bill as a win for hard-working Americans, but the JCT report casts doubt on that claim. Tax increases for households earning $10,000 to $30,000 would start in 2021 and grow sharply from there, JCT found. By 2027, most Americans earning $75,000 a year or less would be forced to pay more in taxes, while people earning more than $100,000 a year would continue to pay less.

It's worth emphasizing that the Joint Committee on Taxation is basically the Congressional Budget Office for tax bills. This isn't a think tank or an advocacy organization; this is the congressional office responsible for scrutinizing tax bills for federal lawmakers.

And right now, that scrutiny is telling senators that the current Republican legislation would raise taxes on American households earning less than $75,000. If the GOP's goal is "tax cuts for middle-class families," the Senate Republican's proposal does the exact opposite.

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The skyline of Washington, D.C., including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, US Capitol and National Mall, is seen from the air at sunset in this photograph taken on June 15, 2014. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Trump's DHS community outreach director quits over racist record

11/17/17 09:20AM

Marc Short, the White House's legislative affairs director, recently told NBC News, "I think the president believes it is his role to improve race relations." If so, Donald Trump has his team have quite a bit of work to do.

The Washington Post reported late yesterday, for example:

A political appointee in the Department of Homeland Security abruptly resigned after the disclosure Thursday he previously made derogatory remarks about black people and Muslims on conservative talk radio.

Rev. Jamie Johnson, who was appointed the head of the DHS's Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships in April, appeared on the program in 2008. The comments resurfaced Thursday after CNN published a report about them with audio snippets.

And what a report it was. Johnson, who was appointed to lead the DHS's outreach office by John Kelly, now the White House chief of staff, established quite a record of ugly rhetoric towards minority groups.

CNN's piece highlighted one particularly striking instance in which Johnson explained his belief that black people were anti-Semitic out of jealousy of the success of Jewish people.

"I think one of the reasons why is because Jewish people from their coming to America in great waves in the early part of the 1800's immediately rolled up their sleeves and began to work so hard and applied themselves to education and other means of improvement and other means of climbing the, I hate this phrase, but the social ladder if you will," Johnson said. "And they have done exceptionally well for themselves. For only representing about 1.4% of America's population, they make up 12% of America's millionaires. Why? Because they work.

"And it's an indictment of America's black community that has turned America's major cities into slums because of laziness, drug use and sexual promiscuity."

Remember, the Trump administration put this guy in charge of the DHS's "neighborhood partnerships."

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An activist holds up a sign outside the State Department during a protest of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 7, 2014 in Washington.

After spill, Trump's Keystone XL assurances appear ridiculous

11/17/17 08:40AM

Two years ago, during the Republican presidential primaries, Donald Trump denounced President Obama's decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. As the Republican put it at the time, there was no "no downside" to the project.

Two years later, Trump is now president and fond of pointing to his approval of the Keystone pipeline as one of his favorite accomplishments. That's problematic on a variety of levels, starting with the emergence of a "downside" Trump said wouldn't exist.

Part of the controversial Keystone Pipeline was shut down Thursday after more than 200,000 gallons of oil leaked in South Dakota, the state and the company that runs the pipeline said Thursday.

Brian Walsh, an environmental scientist for the Ground Water Quality Program of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, told NBC News that TransCanada, the Calgary-based company that operates the Canada-to-Texas line, reported the leak Thursday morning in a sparsely populated area of Marshall County, near Amherst in the northeastern part of the state.

As Rachel noted on last night's show, the environmental impact matters, as does the timing. In just a few days, officials in Nebraska are scheduled to decide whether to permit the Keystone XL project to run through their state. Chances are, they'll hear quite a bit about the South Dakota spill between now and their decision.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland joint news conference

Trump goes after Al Franken, but remains silent on Roy Moore

11/17/17 08:00AM

Kellyanne Conway was asked yesterday morning why Donald Trump has said nothing in response to Roy Moore's sexual-misconduct allegations. "He's been very busy here working," Conway said from the White House.

Evidently, the president managed to pry himself away from his work to weigh in on the sexual-misconduct allegations surrounding Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).

"The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?"

Let's just get some of the basic details out of the way. First, we don't know that any other related photographs of Franken exist. Second, on the heels of mocking Hillary Clinton for misspelling a Russian word nearly nine years ago, Trump spelled "Frankenstein" wrong. Third, in the Mary Shelley story, Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster.

But even putting all of that aside, whether the president understands this or not, Trump is playing a dangerous game here.

For example, Trump may prefer to pretend the controversy didn't happen, but he was recorded bragging about sexually assaulting women. The Republican said, among other things, that he kisses women he considers attractive – "I don't even wait," Trump claimed at the time – which he said he can get away with because of his public profile.

"When you're a star, they let you do it," Trump said on the recording. "You can do anything. Grab 'em by the p—y."

After Trump denied having done what he bragged about doing, several women came forward to accuse the Republican of sexual misconduct. He insisted the allegations were false -- the official White House position is that each of the accusers are liars -- though some of those women accused him of actions Trump boasted about on the "Access Hollywood" recording.

If the president has somehow convinced himself that he has some credibility on this issue, and that the political world should focus on Franken's controversy instead of his own, Trump is mistaken.

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About The Rachel Maddow Show

Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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