It’s another pivotal week for President Trump and the Republican Party, at a time when Washington would probably be sleepy, were this any normal year.
The GOP is poised for a victory in the next few days — having secured enough votes to approve a tax overhaul that slashes the corporate tax rate and reshapes how taxpayers will file, especially here in California.
The Senate wasn’t a sure bet until Friday. Some last-minute maneuvering with GOP Sens. Marco Rubio and Bob Corker cleared the way for passage, even without Sen. John McCain and Sen. Thad Cochran, who support the plan but are out for health reasons.
McCain, battling brain cancer, returned to Arizona this weekend. "John will come back if we need his vote," Trump told reporters Sunday.
California's budget director made a last-ditch effort to urge GOP lawmakers to vote against the tax plan. It’s not clear how many of California’s representatives will vote no, given the measure changes the state and local tax deductions and the amount of mortgage interest families can deduct, two things that disproportionately affect some of the wealthier districts in the Golden State. (Here’s a refresher on how the delegation voted on the House version of the bill.)
Voters in the Republicans’ districts may get calls asking them to thank their members of Congress for cutting taxes, thanks to one conservative group.
Congressional Republicans are celebrating the expected win — and so are Democrats, who are hoping the tax plan will be unpopular in the districts they’re attempting to reclaim in next fall’s midterm elections.
Once the measure does pass, there’s a lot more work to do before Friday. That’s because there’s no indication the parties are any closer to a year-end budget deal to keep the government open.
"I can’t rule it out, but I can’t imagine it occurring," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said this weekend of a government shutdown.
SEXUAL MISCONDUCT INVESTIGATIONS TAKE SHAPE
More women are speaking out about allegations of sexual misconduct against Assemblyman Matt Dababneh (D-Woodland Hills). Dababneh was already set to resign at the end of the month after being publicly accused of forcing a lobbyist into a bathroom and masturbating in front of her in 2016. Melanie Mason and Seema Mehta spoke to three additional women with new accusations they said happened before he was elected. The allegations include exposing himself to a subordinate, offering to give a colleague a raise if she could arrange sex with a college student and having sex with another woman her without her consent. Dababneh has denied all of the allegations.
Defying pressure from legislative leadership, state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) refused Thursday to take a leave of absence until an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him is concluded early next year.
And Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles) said he will cooperate with an investigation into his unwanted hugs.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said a team of outside attorneys will handle both the Mendoza and Hertzberg matters.
TRUMP SAYS HE WON’T FIRE MUELLER
Amid increasing Republican attacks on Robert S. Mueller III over the scope and impartiality of his investigation of Russian campaign meddling, Trump denied Sunday he had any intention of firing the special counsel.
Earlier, the White House sought to tamp down speculation Trump would move directly against the special counsel, even as a senior Cabinet official noted the president had the authority to remove Mueller if he wished. The president spoke as a new contretemps flared over the disclosure Saturday that the Mueller team possesses tens of thousands of emails from the Trump transition team.
A lawyer for Trump on Saturday wrote to Congress accusing Mueller of having illegally obtained the transition emails and other records. That drew a rare public response from the special counsel’s spokesman, who said any emails were either obtained by "the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process."
The White House and Republican lawmakers are pressing for an end to the multiple investigations, aiming to clear the president as soon as possible before the taint of scandal further damages his presidency. Trump expects to be publicly absolved of any wrongdoing by year’s end or soon after, and several people around him say the often-impulsive president could erupt in anger if that unlikely timeline is not met.
NATIONAL POLITICS LIGHTNING ROUND
-- Trump had a call Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was a friendly chat with thanks for helping the country stop a terrorist attack, according to a White House release that ended in an exclamation point.
-- Trump, who has found it easier to say "America First" than to fit the slogan into national security strategy, will try to define the connection Monday with a speech giving a broad strategic overview of his policy.
-- A speech to the FBI marked an opportunity for Trump to reaffirm public faith in the federal justice system amid the Mueller investigation, but he instead used the address to mock reporters in the room as "fake news," slam the visa lottery system, and praise himself as "a true friend and loyal champion in the White House — more loyal than anyone else can be."
-- The Trump administration wants tighter security measures for countries in the U.S. visa waiver program.
-- Freshman Rep. Ruben Kihuen, a Democrat from Nevada, is the latest lawmaker to say he would not seek another term or resign after being accused of improper behavior toward women.
-- Roy Moore accusers feel vindicated by his defeat.
-- Track Palin is in jail over domestic violence charges.
Get the latest about what’s happening in the nation’s capital on Essential Washington.
CALIFORNIA READIES FOR FULLY LEGAL POT
Don’t expect pot shops on every corner come Jan. 1, Patrick McGreevy writes. To sell marijuana in California, retailers have to be licensed by the state, but they first must have the approval of the city or county where they plan to do business. Cities and counties can opt out of allowing commercial cannabis sales and most have — at least for now.
At the same time, the state is trying to figure out a way around the whole it’s-illegal-to-bank-when-selling-pot thing. Officials in Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration have quietly met with representatives of 65 banks and credit unions over the past few weeks about creating a network of financial institutions that would accept funds from pot businesses in a way that would guarantee federal banking regulators that the cannabis industry money is subjected to special tracking, oversight and transparency. And if it works, the "green banking" system could become a national model.
Officials plan to send out some licenses to sell marijuana by email before the new year to speed up the transition to a regulated market instituted by 2016’s Proposition 64. And a San Diego medical marijuana business was the first firm to get one.
GEORGE SKELTON: TAX PLAN WILL HIT DISASTER VICTIMS HARD
With Trump and Republican congressional leaders desperate to "achieve" something by Christmas, George Skelton writes in his Monday column, they’ll be delivering a lump of coal to disaster victims, including future burned-out homeowners in wildfires. Republicans are set on eliminating the tax deduction for uninsured casualty losses unless a national disaster is declared, Skelton writes, just one of several whammies hitting middle-class Americans from the GOP tax plan, especially in California and other high-tax states.
Until now, no major wildfire has ever ravished California in December, at least since the state began keeping records in 1932, Skelton wrote in his Thursday column. The five largest fires since then have occurred after the year 2000, and 14 of the 20 largest blazes have been in the last 17 years.
POLITICAL ROAD MAP: FOR BUDGET WRITERS, IT’S A MATTER OF WHEN
Brown and his budget advisers are quietly putting the finishing touches on the spending plan he’ll unveil next month. Democrats in the Legislature are making plans of their own, too.
But as John Myers writes in his column this week, the annual budget debate is now almost as much about when to spend money as it is how to spend it. Now in fashion: Spending that either has a delayed start or can easily be stopped if the economy changes course.
-- This week’s California Politics Podcast takes a closer look at new sexual misconduct investigation rules in the state Senate and the death of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.
-- A Times analysis of federal tax returns shows three years of payments made to Consumer Watchdog, a visible and vocal advocacy group, by a nonprofit group led by political strategist Chris Lehane. In some cases, the payments were days or weeks within public support made by Consumer Watchdog for the efforts of Lehane’s clients, including AirBnB.
-- California climate regulators have approved the state’s strategy to meet its ambitious 2030 goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
-- Proponents of making a major change to Proposition 13’s property tax protections by charging industrial and commercial properties higher rates have taken the first step to get an initiative on the 2018 ballot.
-- A conservative activist group has sued Los Angeles County and the state over the handling of "inactive" voter registration lists.
-- Rep. Maxine Waters asked the Justice Department to investigate a fake letter tweeted by her Republican opponent.
-- Leonardo DiCaprio is among the people who are donating money to an effort to oust Rep. Darrell Issa, the San Diego Union Tribune reports.
-- Comedians sent Republicans in Congress a sarcastic Christmas card in video form, calling out Reps. Steve Knight and Ed Royce for not pushing for a DACA fix by the end of the year.
Essential Politics is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Miss Friday’s newsletter? Here you go.
Please send thoughts, concerns and news tips to email@example.com.