Government shutdown averted

A government shutdown was averted Thursday night, after the Senate passed a stopgap spending bill to keep the government from closing down at midnight Friday.

The measure passed the House on a 231-188 vote over Democratic opposition and then cleared the Senate, 66-32, with Democrats from Republican-leaning states providing many of the key votes. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the measure.

The disaster aid package will not get a vote in the Senate until next year. This means there won’t be immediate aid for Florida’s citrus farmers. Sen. Bill Nelson released a statement saying he was more resolved than ever to get the disaster bill done in January. 

“Floridians, especially our citrus farmers, sill need help after Irma,” Nelson tweeted. 

The bill has traversed a tortured path, encountering resistance from the GOP’s most ardent allies of the military, as well as opposition from Democrats who demanded but were denied a vote on giving immigrants brought to the country as children and in the country illegally an opportunity to become citizens.


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Trump likely to sign tax bill Friday

President Donald Trump will likely sign the $1.5 trillion tax bill into law Friday, White House officials predict, shortly before he departs Washington for his holiday vacation in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The bill passed the House 224-201 for a second time Wednesday after a procedural hiccup, with no Democrats backing it and a dozen House GOP members voting no.

Trump and congressional Republicans celebrated their win at the White House Wednesday, but the bill was not yet “enrolled” and ready for the President’s signature.

The plan, which critics say benefits the wealthy more than the middle class, lowers the corporate tax rate down from 35% to 21%, nearly doubles the standard deduction for individuals, repeals the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act and restructures the way pass-through businesses are taxed.

The officials predicted that January will be a busy month for Republicans legislatively. Trump plans to meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan the first week of that month to discuss their priorities for 2018, they said.

As far as a solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, these officials estimated that it will not be included in a budget deal, but “the timeline will be similar.”

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Court blocks changes to contraceptive mandate

A federal court in California Thursday blocked rules issued by the Trump administration that expanded the rights of employers to cite religious or moral objections in order to deny contraceptive insurance coverage.

In a suit brought by California, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and New York, the US District Court in Northern California issued a preliminary injunction blocking the interim rules and the rollback of the contraceptive mandate.

The Justice Department says it disagrees with the ruling and is evaluating its next steps. “This administration is committed to defending the religious liberty of all Americans and we look forward to doing so in court,” spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam said.

Following a similar ruling in a Pennsylvania case, the ACLU’s deputy legal director Louise Melling said: “The courts are validating what we have known to be true — that these rules are unlawful. They authorize employers to impose their religion on others, leaving women without coverage for basic preventive health care that is essential to their equality.”

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8.8 million sign up for Obamacare in strong showing

Some 8.8 million people have signed up for Obamacare for 2018, the first year the Trump administration has run the entire enrollment process.

That’s only 400,000 fewer than signed up on the federal exchange during open enrollment a year ago.

The administration has yet to provide details about the figures. The overall number was tweeted by Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The figures likely cover the 39 states that participate in the federal exchange,

This is not the final figure. Many states that run their own exchanges are giving residents more time to pick plans. Also, residents in several Southern states affected by hurricanes have until the end of the year to sign up.

The Trump administration cut the enrollment period in half and slashed the advertising budget by 90%. These moves led Obamacare supporters to say Trump officials were sabotaging enrollment.

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Norwood concedes defeat in Atlanta mayoral race

Atlanta mayoral candidate Mary Norwood conceded the race two weeks after the election runoff, saying she will not contest the results despite earlier calls for a recount.

Norwood had asked for a recount after results showed her opponent, Democrat Keisha Lance Bottoms, winning by a narrow margin in the December 5 runoff.

But in a change of mind, the independent candidate conceded late Wednesday night, saying while she believes there were vote irregularities, she will not contest the results.

“For the future of this city, I believe it is the right thing to do to move on and hold a new administration accountable to serve this great city well,” she said in a video posted online.

“I thank everyone who came forward to report polling situations and ballot issues that were concerning.”

Current Mayor Kasim Reed, who cannot seek reelection due to term limits and supported Bottoms, applauded the decision to concede.

“I congratulate Mrs. Norwood on a hard fought campaign and am pleased that this election has come to a close,” Reed tweeted.

“We can now focus on moving our city forward and I will continue to work with Mayor-Elect Keisha Bottoms.”

Recount request

The Fulton County election board ordered the recount following Norwood’s request for one. Georgia law allows a second-place runoff candidate to request a recount if the difference between the two is under 1% of the vote total.

The race to lead one of the largest cities in the South echoed Atlanta’s 2009 mayoral contest, when Norwood narrowly lost to Reed and requested a recount. A recount certified the slim loss.

General election

In Georgia, if no candidate secures more than 50% of the vote in the general election, a final race between the top two candidates decides the winner.

Bottoms and Norwood got about 26% and 21%, respectively, of the vote in the November 7 general election, emerging as the top two candidates from a field of 11.

Atlanta is a Democratic stronghold in a state that is largely Republican, and the city’s government remains the only major Democratic power center in a state political system dominated by Republican officeholders.

Bottoms cast Norwood as a Republican masquerading as an independent.

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2 days away, GOP still doesn’t have plan to avoid shutdown

As House Republicans spilled out of a closed-door meeting Wednesday night, it was clear that things hadn’t gone well. Members gave wildly varying accounts of the proposal that’s being cobbled together to keep the government open ahead of Friday’s shutdown deadline.

Most importantly: Do they have the votes to pass a bill?

“I don’t know,” said Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pennsylvania. “I don’t think anyone knows.”

By the dozens, members quickly shuffled to the House chamber for an unrelated vote. The leadership’s whip team scurried about the floor, taking the temperature on a number of proposals to see which one could land them the coveted number of 218 votes.

There are many different options and questions for GOP leaders.

Will the bill be a clean continuing resolution keeping the government open through January 19? Would a FISA extension be attached or separate? What about a CHIP extension? Would the disaster aid be separate? How much for defense spending?

“They have a kaleidoscope of different things going on,” Costello said.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was seen having an intense exchange with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus on the floor. Leadership is set to meet again Wednesday night.

FISA and defense spending

One especially thorny issue tripping up the GOP leadership is whether to add a three-week extension of the surveillance program that collects intelligence on non-US citizens to the stopgap bill.

“We need to keep FISA off the bill,” said Ohio’s Rep. Jim Jordan, a key player in the House Freedom Caucus.

Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas told reporters “there’s obvious disagreement by particularly people on the defense side” with a short term spending bill but that leaders would continue to work to find a way forward.

Republicans who argue the military is suffering from a string of temporary funding fixes have said they’ve had enough of punting and want to give the Pentagon a full year budget. They’re incensed the Senate won’t accept their plan, arguing that standoffs with North Korea and tensions in the Middle East warrant putting a priority on military money.

A Republican member and leadership aide both confirmed that House Speaker Paul Ryan told members in the conference meeting Wednesday night that Secretary of Defense James Mattis supported a short-term continuing resolution with defense anomalies attached, but it wasn’t clear that satisfied defense hawks.

Asked if he’s confident the conference can muster the votes to avoid a shutdown, Womack said there wasn’t much appetite to close the government. “I don’t think that our conference, given the victory we’ve just taken on tax, will risk a shutdown.”

Still, members expressed concerns about timing and sending something to the Senate that could pass before midnight Friday.

Republicans aren’t expected to make any concessions to Democrats, meaning they need as many Republican votes as possible. But for every piece of the puzzle they resolve, there’s a group of Republicans unhappy.

And if they don’t come up with a Plan B?

“Uh, we’ll be here,” said Rep. Chris Collins of New York.

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