December 7, 2017
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On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) became the highest-ranking Republican to say publicly that the GOP plans to cut spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and welfare programs next year. "We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit," Ryan said on Ross Kaminsky's talk radio show. House and Senate Republicans are in negotiations on a final tax bill that nonpartisan analysts say would add at least $1 trillion to the deficit, and they recently authorized $700 billion in 2018 spending for the Pentagon, but Medicare and Medicaid — which, along with Social Security, have their own dedicated payroll tax — are "the big drivers of debt," Ryan said.

President Trump promised during the 2016 presidential campaign that he would not touch Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security, but Ryan said he's been successfully selling Trump on the idea. "I think the president is understanding choice and competition works everywhere, especially in Medicare," he said. Social Security will probably escape, Ryan added, because it can't be changed under Senate budget reconciliation rules, meaning Republicans would need some Democratic support.

In the last two weeks, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) have also proposed cutting Medicare and Medicaid after the tax bill, to tame the national debt. Ryan added welfare programs to the mix, telling Kaminsky, "We have a welfare system that's trapping people in poverty and effectively paying people not to work." Peter Weber

7:43 p.m. ET
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PBS announced Wednesday it has "indefinitely suspended distribution" of the late-night talk show Tavis Smiley after the host was accused of sexual misconduct.

"PBS engaged an outside law firm to conduct an investigation immediately after leaning of troubling allegations regarding Mr. Smiley," the public broadcaster said in a statement. "This investigation included interviews with witnesses as well as with Mr. Smiley. The inquiry uncovered multiple credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS, and the totality of this information led to today's decision."

Variety reports PBS received several complaints of misconduct by Smiley, and its investigation found credible allegations that Smiley had sexual relationships with several subordinates, with many saying he also created a verbally abusive and threatening workplace environment. Catherine Garcia

6:58 p.m. ET
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With a win under their belt, Democratic leaders on Wednesday called on Republicans to slow down their attempt to push through their tax bill and wait to hold the vote until Doug Jones, the newly elected senator from Alabama, is seated.

Republicans say they have reached a deal on a $1.5 trillion tax plan, which lowers the corporate tax rate down to 21 percent and the top individual tax rate from 39.6 to 37 percent. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned Republicans that if a bill that heavily favors the wealthiest Americans goes through, "there will be many more Alabamas in 2018. Many more. The suburbs are swinging back to us."

Republicans, who want the House and Senate to vote on a bill by the end of next week, said they are not slowing down. "We are moving ahead as we always have been on the same timeline we've been talking about for months," Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. It's not clear when Jones will arrive in Washington; Alabama's secretary of state said the soonest the election will be certified is Dec. 26 or 27, and if the Senate goes on break as scheduled on Dec. 22, they're not expected back until Jan. 3. Once Jones is officially seated, he will cut the GOP majority down from two to one. Catherine Garcia

5:44 p.m. ET
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The chief technology officer of the Federal Communications Commission apparently has some serious doubts about his agency’s plan to repeal net neutrality, Politico reported Wednesday. The FCC is expected to vote to repeal the equal-opportunity laws Thursday.

Net neutrality rules, instituted by former President Barack Obama, banned internet service providers from blocking or degrading online content, as well as forbade these services from taking money to create "fast lanes" for lawful material. Fans of the guidelines say repealing them would allow ISPs to block certain content — even if it is legal — or create tiered pricing for online content, thus undermining the idea that "all internet traffic is created equal."

FCC CTO Eric Burger wrote in an email Wednesday to his fellow commissioners that removing these guidelines would let ISPs essentially dictate which online content get priority, while also allowing the agency to block lawful content. "Allowing such blocking is not in the public interest," Burger wrote.

Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has disputed claims that scrapping net neutrality would result in ISPs dictating web traffic, telling Marketplace on Wednesday that repeal "means better, faster, cheaper internet access." In response to Politico's story, an anonymous FCC official said that Burger's worries had been "fully addressed" in the hours since he sent his email.

The FCC's plan to repeal net neutrality is deeply unpopular. On Wednesday, 18 state attorneys general wrote a letter to Pai asking him to delay Thursday's vote to allow time to investigate complaints about the FCC's public comment process on net neutrality repeal; during the comment period, more than 2 million online comments were reportedly made using stolen or fake identities, most in favor of repeal. Kelly O'Meara Morales

3:56 p.m. ET

A forged 13-page document accusing Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) of sexual harassment apparently copied language from a legitimate complaint filed against recently ousted Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), The Daily Beast reports.

Axios wrote Tuesday that the fake document that was circulated to several major media companies looked like a lawsuit that had been filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It named a former Schumer staffer, who worked in his office from 2009 to 2012; when approached by Axios, the woman said that she had never seen the document before and that the claims are "completely false, my signature is forged, and even basic facts about me are wrong."

Right-wing personalities Charles Johnson and Mike Cernovich had "boasted" about the documents earlier this week, The Daily Beast writes, with Johnson posting on Facebook that "Michael Cernovich & I are going to end the career of a U.S. Senator." But upon closer inspection, there were several telltale signs that the documents had been forged:

The Conyers complaint references "House Rule 23" and a "mediation" process between Conyers and his accuser. The fake Schumer complaint also describes allegations as falling under "House Rule 23," which of course does not exist in the Senate. The "mediation" process in the Schumer document was never mentioned again. [The Daily Beast]

Cernovich now claims he was the victim of a "sophisticated forgery." Read the full scoop at The Daily Beast. Jeva Lange

2:49 p.m. ET
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It's been two months since The New York Times dropped its Harvey Weinstein bombshell, spurring sexual harassment victims to speak out against the biggest names in politics and entertainment.

Now, the Weinstein story continues. In a New York Times op-ed published Wednesday, actress Salma Hayek details years of horrifying encounters with the man she calls her "monster."

Hayek's op-ed revolves around her time working with Weinstein on the Miramax movie Frida, in which she starred as artist Frida Kahlo. Weinstein's abuse began with lewd sexual demands and turned to violent threats, Hayek says. He additionally tried to infuse sex appeal into the movie, which Hayek says he told her was "the only thing I had going for me." Weinstein nearly refused to release the film in theaters altogether, Hayek writes.

Frida ended up winning two Oscars, but Hayek says she just wanted to distance herself from the whole experience. Even when reporters approached Hayek for the initial Weinstein story, she declined:

I had brainwashed myself into thinking that it was over and that I had survived; I hid from the responsibility to speak out with the excuse that enough people were already involved in shining a light on my monster. I didn't consider my voice important, nor did I think it would make a difference. [Salma Hayek, via The New York Times]

But after so many women spoke out, Hayek says, she was "inspired" to come forward. Read Hayek's entire account at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:44 p.m. ET
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On Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson extended an olive branch — or at least, an olive twig — to North Korea, saying the U.S. was willing to have talks with Pyongyang without preconditions.

Predictably, Tillerson's optimism was undercut just a day later by the White House, in keeping with a year-long pattern of President Trump disregarding statements made by his secretary of state.

"Given North Korea's most recent missile test, clearly right now is not the time [for negotiations]," a White House spokesman said to Reuters on Wednesday. Last month, Trump told South Korea's parliament that he would not negotiate with Kim Jong Un unless North Korean leaders "cease their threats and dismantle their nuclear program."

While Tillerson did say that the U.S. needed "a period of quiet" before coming to the negotiating table, on Tuesday he invited North Korea to "talk anytime" — breaking with longstanding U.S. policy by opening the diplomacy door even if North Korea does not give up its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea's most recent missile test on Nov. 30 showed that it now possesses missiles that are likely capable of hitting the continental United States. Throughout Tillerson's bizarre tenure as secretary of state, Trump has frequently struck a more aggressive tone on North Korea than his top diplomat. Kelly O'Meara Morales

2:40 p.m. ET
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Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D) told her colleagues at a private Democratic Caucus meeting Wednesday that she believes some lawmakers' clothing choices are "an invitation" for sexual harassment, Politico reports. The comments reportedly stunned other Democrats in attendance, with one claiming "nearly everyone in the room's mouths were wide open aghast."

"I saw a member yesterday with her cleavage so deep it was down to the floor," Kaptur, 71, allegedly said at the meeting, which was convened to discuss recent sexual harassment controversies on Capitol Hill. She reportedly added: "Maybe I'll get booed for saying this, but many companies and the military [have] a dress code. I have been appalled at some of the dress of ... members and staff. Men have to wear ties and suits."

In a statement to Politico, Kaptur clarified that "under no circumstances is it the victim's fault if they are harassed in any way. I shared the stories from my time here in the context of the 'Me Too' legislation and how we can elevate the decorum and the dress code to protect women from what is a pervasive problem here and in society at large."

The House has a fairly strict dress code that not infrequently leads to appalling shirt-tie combinations, although House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) moved to relax rules last summer after controversy erupted over women not being allowed to wear sleeveless dresses around the chamber. Read more about Kaptur's comments at Politico. Jeva Lange

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