Trump Is Said to Seek Cutting Corporate Tax Rate to 15 Percent – New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump has instructed his advisers to make cutting the corporate tax rate to 15 percent a centerpiece of his tax-cut blueprint to be unveiled this week, according to people with knowledge of his plans, even if that means a significant reduction in revenue that could jettison his campaign promise to curb deficits.

Cutting the corporate tax rate to 15 percent from its current 35 percent level was one of Mr. Trump’s marquee campaign promises, part of his vision of carrying out “maybe the biggest tax cut we’ve ever had.” But he has yet to publicly embrace the move since taking office, and his decision to do so now could set up a showdown with Congress over a proposal that would most likely blow up the deficit.

The White House is planning to formally roll out its tax plan on Wednesday, ending months of speculation about the president’s intentions for rewriting the tax code and following a prolonged period of confusion in which he and his top advisers sent mixed messages about what elements they favored and how the tax cut would be structured. The people who described Mr. Trump’s corporate tax cut target, first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Monday, did so on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it before an official announcement.

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The president plans to unveil the tax cut during a week when Republicans will be trying to pass a spending measure needed to keep the government from shutting down. Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act remains a legislative priority, although whether it is considered more important than a tax overhaul changes frequently.

The 15 percent rate is lower than what House Republicans proposed in the tax cut blueprint being pitched by Speaker Paul D. Ryan, and it could be difficult to move through Congress. Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said on Monday that such a deep cut might not be well received by Mr. Trump’s party because of its potential to increase the deficit.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated last year that the corporate tax cut plan Mr. Trump had proposed, which at the time included the repeal of the alternative minimum tax, would cost $2.4 trillion over a decade. Still, Steven Mnuchin, the secretary of the Treasury, said on Monday that he was confident the administration’s tax proposal would “pay for itself” through economic growth. He said a growth rate of 3 percent was achievable.

Mr. Mnuchin also said the Trump administration would lay out plans to cut middle income tax rates, simplify the tax code and make American companies more competitive with foreign ones.

The White House would not say if it is on board with the “border adjustment” tax, a 20 percent tax on imports that is central to Mr. Ryan’s plan. There are also lingering questions about what shape the rest of the plan will take, and even about the timetable for pushing it through. Mr. Trump has said that he still believes a health care overhaul effort that collapsed last month must be completed before the plan to rewrite the tax code can advance.

White House officials declined to comment on the 15 percent target, which people close to the administration cautioned could change between now and the announcement on Wednesday, perhaps repeatedly. They warned that the details were sketchy at best, and others who have discussed the tax overhaul plan with administration officials in recent days said there was still indecision at the highest levels about what elements to include and in what form.

The Wednesday deadline, set hastily by Mr. Trump last week in a comment that appeared to catch some of his closest advisers off guard, was an effort to showcase an ambitious plan for economic growth during his first 100 days in office. During the campaign, he promised to introduce a tax cut proposal to Congress in the first 100 days. But he has had no major legislative achievements to point to as evidence of an activist economic agenda.

The 15 percent cut represents a return for Mr. Trump to the economic vision that animated his campaign, and a victory of sorts for Mr. Mnuchin, who has been a supporter of the plan. The cut also helps Mr. Mnuchin jockey for position as the driving force behind the tax overhaul effort.

“Our analysis has always shown that of all the economic bang for the buck from all of the changes that were in the original Trump plan, you get the most economic juice from cutting the corporate rate,” said Stephen Moore, an economist at the Heritage Foundation who advised Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.

One question that Mr. Trump will have to answer, Mr. Moore said, is whether the 15 percent rate would apply only to corporations or to small businesses, as well. But there are plenty of other unknowns, he added.

“They can change their minds,” Mr. Moore said. “They’ve been all over the map.”

Members of Mr. Trump’s team of economic advisers are set to meet with Republican leaders in Congress on Tuesday to discuss the plan.

Mr. Hatch said in an interview with NBC that such a deep cut was troublesome because it would add to the deficit. “I have some real reservations about it, but I’m open to good ideas wherever they come,” Mr. Hatch said. “All I can say is, I think it’s got a long way to go and it’s going to be a difficult matter to get through both bodies.”

Roberton Williams, a fellow at the Tax Policy Center who analyzed Mr. Trump’s campaign tax plan, said its high cost would make it more difficult to push through Congress.

“It’s very expensive, and that’s a problem,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s a real heavy lift to get the revenue necessary to pay for these things.”

Mr. Williams said the president’s recent emphasis on tax “cuts” suggested that he was prepared to lose revenue and hope that economic growth will make up the difference. However, Mr. Williams said, such a plan could be difficult for fiscal conservatives to swallow.

“That makes it a lot harder with the budget hawks in Congress,” he said.

Republicans are expecting to pass tax legislation without the support of any Democrats using the Senate’s budget reconciliation procedure. That requires only 51 votes for passage. But if changes to the tax code add to the deficit, they would expire after 10 years, adding uncertainty for businesses and possibly hurting economic growth.

Economic advisers from Mr. Trump’s campaign had been unhappy that he seemed to be drifting away from the tax principles that helped get him elected. But on Monday, Lawrence A. Kudlow, one of the economists who helped craft Mr. Trump’s plan, said he was pleased that Mr. Trump appeared to be returning to those roots.

“We were at 15 percent from Day 1,” Mr. Kudlow said, lamenting that Mr. Trump’s new economic advisers had discussed scrapping the campaign tax plan. “All the noise in the last week or 10 days sounds like they haven’t junked the plan.”

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White House 'confident' of averting shutdown as Trump shows flexibility on wall – Washington Post

By , and ,

The White House sought Monday to calm a jittery Washington ahead of a showdown with Congress over spending, and President Trump softened his demand that a deal to keep the federal government open include money to begin construction on his long-promised border wall.

Despite one-party control at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the brinkmanship that came to define spending battles in the Obama years has tumbled into the Trump era, as have the factional divisions over strategy and priorities that have gripped the GOP for a decade.

But with a Friday deadline looming to pass a new spending bill, the Trump administration projected confidence that a shutdown would be avoided. In the face of fierce Democratic opposition to fund the wall’s construction, White House officials signaled Monday that the president may be open to an agreement that includes money for border security if not specifically for a wall, with an emphasis on technology and border agents rather than a structure.

Trump showed even more flexibility Monday afternoon, telling conservative journalists in a private meeting that he was open to delaying funding for wall construction until September, a White House official confirmed.

“The president is working hard to keep the government open,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Monday. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he was “very confident” that an agreement would be reached by Friday, but he pointedly said he could not “guarantee” that a government closure would be averted.

At issue is whether the spending measure will explicitly allocate funds toward building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — a campaign promise that was a rallying cry for Trump’s base and one on which he is eager to demonstrate progress by Saturday, his 100th day in office.

Democrats, meanwhile, gave the White House an opening, saying they would agree to some new money for border security — so long as it did not go toward the creation of a wall, something House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called “immoral.”

In a speech on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted the idea of a wall while suggesting that a combination of smart technology and law enforcement, including the use of drones, would be “a much more effective way to secure the border” without hitting an impasse in Congress.

Republicans were working to define Trump’s campaign promise down, arguing that any form of border security would fulfill it.

“There will never be a 2,200-mile wall built, period,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a supporter of immigration reform who challenged Trump in the 2016 primaries. “I think it’s become symbolic of better border security. It’s a code word for better border security. If you make it about actually building a 2,200-mile wall, that’s a bridge too far — but I’m mixing my metaphors.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a key appropriator and member of Senate leadership, said that “there could be a wall in some places and technology in other places,” implying that there would not be funding for the wall sketched out in campaign rhetoric. “I think you’re going to get a down payment on border security generally,” he said.

Trump has asked Congress for $1.5 billion in new money to start construction on the wall, and he wants an additional $2.6 billion for the fiscal year that begins in October. The wall, experts say, would cost $21.6 billion and take 3½ years to construct.

At the White House, Spicer portrayed Trump’s position not as a demand but rather as one of two priorities — the other being additional military funding — in evolving negotiations with Congress. He left open the possibility that the president could agree to funding for border activities generally, such as additional fencing or drones.

“I’m not going to get ahead of the negotiations that are ongoing,” Spicer said.

Should lawmakers fail to find consensus by Friday, there are plans ready to quickly pass through the House and Senate what is referred to as a “short-term C.R.,” a continuing resolution to keep the government open until discussions are finalized.

The Senate returned Monday night and the House returns Tuesday from a two-week recess, leaving only three days this week when both chambers will be in session.

The more conciliatory language emanating from the White House did not stop Trump from continuing to hammer away on Twitter at what he claims is an urgent need for the wall. In a pair of posts, Trump sought to build public pressure on lawmakers to pass funding for wall construction.

“The Wall is a very important tool in stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth (and many others!),” he wrote in a morning post.

In another message several hours later, Trump wrote that if “the wall is not built, which it will be, the drug situation will NEVER be fixed the way it should be! #BuildTheWall.”

Still, Trump has left himself wiggle room to agree to sign a government funding bill that does not include money for the wall.

“My base understands the wall is going to get built, whether I have it funded here or if I get it funded shortly thereafter,” Trump said in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “That wall’s getting built, okay? One hundred percent.”

Asked if he would sign a bill without wall funding, Trump told the news service, “I just don’t know yet.”

The debate over wall funding is just one of several moving pieces congressional leaders are trying to address this week to avoid a partial government shutdown. In 2015, President Barack Obama made a deal with congressional lawmakers to fund government operations through April 28, 2017. If a new agreement isn’t reached by then, many federal employees will stop being paid, national parks will close, and a number of other changes will kick in — as in 2013, the last time the government shut down.

Since new rules about spending bills went into place after Jimmy Carter’s administration, a government shutdown has never occurred when a single political party has controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Paramount for many Republican lawmakers is funding the government, as opposed to the wall specifically. If the government shuts down, they fear, voters could blame the GOP for failing to govern, and the party could suffer the consequences in the 2018 midterm elections.

“I’d like to make it as clean as we can and fund the government,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.). “I wouldn’t mind funding the wall, but it’s a question of what we can do. The question is, what’s doable and will we make the deadline?”

Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) said that an effective “wall” along the border had been “authorized years and years and years ago,” in the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

“It’s been partially built and partially funded. He wants to fund the rest of it and build it — perfectly legitimate debate that should take place on that,” Risch said.

Asked if that debate could happen in three days, Risch chuckled. “Things get done quickly around here when they want it to get done,” he said.

Even when Republicans controlled the House during the Obama administration, they could rarely pass spending bills without Democratic support. That is because a number of the House’s most conservative members often refused to support such bills, making a bipartisan majority coalition a necessity. In addition, 60 votes are needed to pass a requisite procedural vote in the Senate. With just 52 seats, Senate Republicans will need bipartisan support in that chamber as well.

Among other guarantees, Democrats want assurances that insurance subsidies through the Affordable Care Act will continue to be funded. There have been discussions among Republicans that Democrats could agree to provide money for the construction of the wall in exchange for those health funds, but Democrats have refused.

Sunday morning, congressional Democrats submitted to Republicans a compromise spending plan, which included some new money for border security but only if it did not go toward a wall. Democrats also asked for assurances that the health insurance subsidies would continue to be funded, language that would shore up benefits for coal miners and a change that would expand Medicaid benefits to people in Puerto Rico, according to a senior Democratic congressional aide.

Pelosi told reporters on a conference call Monday that Congress was “on the path to get it done until [Trump] did intervene” and that the administration’s actions so far belied his campaign promise to “make Mexico pay” for the border wall.

James Norton, a former deputy assistant undersecretary for homeland security under President George W. Bush, said funding for technologies, such as cameras and radars, on the border has dropped off since the early 2000s. He said to get money for the wall or other border security measures, the administration will have to “sell specifics” to lawmakers.

“Each part is going to need to be sold in a specific way to Congress, and they’re going to have to hit the Hill hard,” Norton said. “It won’t be easy.”

Damian Paletta and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.

Read more at PowerPost

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White House 'confident' of averting shutdown as Trump shows flexibility on wall – Washington Post

By , and ,

The White House sought Monday to calm a jittery Washington ahead of a showdown with Congress over spending, and President Trump softened his demand that a deal to keep the federal government open include money to begin construction on his long-promised border wall.

Despite one-party control at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the brinkmanship that came to define spending battles in the Obama years has tumbled into the Trump era, as have the factional divisions over strategy and priorities that have gripped the GOP for a decade.

But with a Friday deadline looming to pass a new spending bill, the Trump administration projected confidence that a shutdown would be avoided. In the face of fierce Democratic opposition to funding the wall’s construction, White House officials signaled Monday that the president may be open to an agreement that includes money for border security if not specifically for a wall, with an emphasis on technology and border agents rather than a structure.

Trump showed even more flexibility Monday afternoon, telling conservative journalists in a private meeting that he was open to delaying funding for wall construction until September, a White House official confirmed.

“The president is working hard to keep the government open,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Monday. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he was “very confident” that an agreement would be reached by Friday, but he pointedly said he could not “guarantee” that a government closure would be averted.

At issue is whether the spending measure will explicitly allocate funds toward building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — a campaign promise that was a rallying cry for Trump’s base and one on which he is eager to demonstrate progress by Saturday, his 100th day in office.

Democrats, meanwhile, gave the White House an opening, saying they would agree to some new money for border security — so long as it did not go toward the creation of a wall, something House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called “immoral.”

In a speech on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted the idea of a wall while suggesting that a combination of smart technology and law enforcement, including the use of drones, would be “a much more effective way to secure the border” without hitting an impasse in Congress.

Republicans were working to define Trump’s campaign promise down, arguing that any form of border security would fulfill it.

“There will never be a 2,200-mile wall built, period,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a supporter of immigration reform who challenged Trump in the 2016 primaries. “I think it’s become symbolic of better border security. It’s a code word for better border security. If you make it about actually building a 2,200-mile wall, that’s a bridge too far — but I’m mixing my metaphors.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a key appropriator and member of Senate leadership, said that “there could be a wall in some places and technology in other places,” implying that there would not be funding for the wall sketched out in campaign rhetoric. “I think you’re going to get a down payment on border security generally,” he said.

Trump has asked Congress for $1.5 billion in new money to start construction on the wall, and he wants an additional $2.6 billion for the fiscal year that begins in October. The wall, experts say, would cost $21.6 billion and take 3½ years to construct.

At the White House, Spicer portrayed Trump’s position not as a demand but rather as one of two priorities — the other being additional military funding — in evolving negotiations with Congress. He left open the possibility that the president could agree to funding for border activities generally, such as additional fencing or drones.

“I’m not going to get ahead of the negotiations that are ongoing,” Spicer said.

Should lawmakers fail to find consensus by Friday, there are plans ready to quickly pass through the House and Senate what is referred to as a “short-term C.R.,” a continuing resolution to keep the government open until discussions are finalized.

The Senate returned Monday night and the House returns Tuesday from a two-week recess, leaving only three days this week when both chambers will be in session.

The more conciliatory language emanating from the White House did not stop Trump from continuing to hammer away on Twitter at what he claims is an urgent need for the wall. In a pair of posts, Trump sought to build public pressure on lawmakers to pass funding for wall construction.

“The Wall is a very important tool in stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth (and many others)!” he wrote in a morning post.

In another message several hours later, Trump wrote that if “the wall is not built, which it will be, the drug situation will NEVER be fixed the way it should be! #BuildTheWall.”

Still, Trump has left himself wiggle room to agree to sign a government funding bill that does not include money for the wall.

“My base understands the wall is going to get built, whether I have it funded here or if I get it funded shortly thereafter,” Trump said in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “That wall’s getting built, okay? One hundred percent.”

Asked if he would sign a bill without wall funding, Trump told the news service, “I just don’t know yet.”

The debate over wall funding is just one of several moving pieces congressional leaders are trying to address this week to avoid a partial government shutdown. In 2015, President Barack Obama made a deal with congressional lawmakers to fund government operations through April 28, 2017. If a new agreement isn’t reached by then, many federal employees will stop being paid, national parks will close, and a number of other changes will kick in — as in 2013, the last time the government shut down.

Since new rules about spending bills went into place after Jimmy Carter’s administration, a government shutdown has never occurred when a single political party has controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Paramount for many Republican lawmakers is funding the government, as opposed to the wall specifically. If the government shuts down, they fear, voters could blame the GOP for failing to govern, and the party could suffer the consequences in the 2018 midterm elections.

“I’d like to make it as clean as we can and fund the government,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.). “I wouldn’t mind funding the wall, but it’s a question of what we can do. The question is, what’s doable and will we make the deadline?”

Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) said that an effective “wall” along the border had been “authorized years and years and years ago,” in the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

“It’s been partially built and partially funded. He wants to fund the rest of it and build it — perfectly legitimate debate that should take place on that,” Risch said.

Asked if that debate could happen in three days, Risch chuckled. “Things get done quickly around here when they want it to get done,” he said.

Even when Republicans controlled the House during the Obama administration, they could rarely pass spending bills without Democratic support. That is because a number of the House’s most conservative members often refused to support such bills, making a bipartisan majority coalition a necessity. In addition, 60 votes are needed to pass a requisite procedural vote in the Senate. With just 52 seats, Senate Republicans will need bipartisan support in that chamber as well.

Among other guarantees, Democrats want assurances that insurance subsidies through the Affordable Care Act will continue to be funded. There have been discussions among Republicans that Democrats could agree to provide money for the construction of the wall in exchange for those health funds, but Democrats have refused.

Sunday morning, congressional Democrats submitted to Republicans a compromise spending plan, which included some new money for border security but only if it did not go toward a wall. Democrats also asked for assurances that the health insurance subsidies would continue to be funded, language that would shore up benefits for coal miners and a change that would expand Medicaid benefits to people in Puerto Rico, according to a senior Democratic congressional aide.

Pelosi told reporters on a conference call Monday that Congress was “on the path to get it done until [Trump] did intervene” and that the administration’s actions so far belied his campaign promise to “make Mexico pay” for the border wall.

James Norton, a former deputy assistant undersecretary for homeland security under President George W. Bush, said funding for technologies, such as cameras and radars, on the border has dropped off since the early 2000s. He said to get money for the wall or other border security measures, the administration will have to “sell specifics” to lawmakers.

“Each part is going to need to be sold in a specific way to Congress, and they’re going to have to hit the Hill hard,” Norton said. “It won’t be easy.”

Damian Paletta and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.

Read more at PowerPost

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State Department website removes article touting history of Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate – Washington Post

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The State Department on Monday removed from its website an article about the history and lavish furnishings of President Trump’s privately owned Florida resort club Mar-a-Lago, following questions about whether the federal government improperly promoted Trump’s moneymaking enterprises.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pointed to the travelogue-style blog piece Monday, asking in a Twitter message why the State Department would spend “taxpayer $$ promoting the president’s private country club.”

The State Department issued a statement Monday apologizing for “any misperception.”

“The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders,” the statement said.

It was not clear whether the item had been vetted for legal or ethical concerns.

The short item had been posted on a promotional website called “Share America” on April 4, ahead of Trump’s meeting at Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping. A version of the item was recently reposted on the website maintained by the U.S. Embassy in London, where it caught the attention of watchdog groups.

The item adopted Trump’s term “winter White House” for the ­members-only club. It did not expressly encourage foreigners to visit Mar-a-Lago, although other articles on the same website actively promote U.S. tourism. The item did note that the estate “is located at the heart of Florida’s Palm Beach community.”

“By visiting this ‘winter White House,’ Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer,” the item read. “The ornate Jazz Age house was designed with Old-World Spanish, Venetian and Portuguese influences” and filled with original owner Marjorie Merriweather Post’s collection of antiques, the article noted.

The item included photographs of the house and sumptuous interiors, and copies of Trump tweets mentioning Mar-a-Lago.

The article gave a brief summary of the 1927 mansion’s history, including Post’s desire that it be used by U.S. presidents as a retreat and the subsequent decision by the U.S. government that the property was too expensive to maintain. Trump bought it in 1985.

“After refurbishing the house and adding an events space, Trump opened the estate to dues-paying members of the public in 1995 as the Mar-a-Lago Club,” the State Department item read. “Post’s dream of a winter White House came true with Trump’s election in 2016. Trump regularly works out of the house he maintains at Mar-a-Lago and uses the club to host foreign dignitaries.”

One watchdog group, American Oversight, called for an investigation by the State Department inspector general and said it would request public records documenting how the blog post was created.

The State Department describes the “Share America” site as its “platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”

The site is produced by the department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, which produces material distributed by U.S. embassies.

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State Department website removes article touting history of Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate – Washington Post

By ,

The State Department on Monday removed from its website an article about the history and lavish furnishings of President Trump’s privately owned Florida resort club Mar-a-Lago, following questions about whether the federal government improperly promoted Trump’s moneymaking enterprises.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pointed to the travelogue-style blog piece Monday, asking in a Twitter message why the State Department would spend “taxpayer $$ promoting the president’s private country club.”

The State Department issued a statement Monday apologizing for “any misperception.”

“The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders,” the statement said.

It was not clear whether the item had been vetted for legal or ethical concerns.

The short item had been posted on a travel promotional website called “Share America” on April 4, ahead of Trump’s meeting at Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping. A version of the item was recently reposted on the website maintained by the U.S. Embassy in London, where it caught the attention of watchdog groups.

The item adopted Trump’s term “winter White House” for the ­members-only club. It did not expressly encourage foreigners to visit Mar-a-Lago, although other articles on the same website actively promote U.S. tourism. The item did note that the estate “is located at the heart of Florida’s Palm Beach community.”

“By visiting this ‘winter White House,’ Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer,” the item read. “The ornate Jazz Age house was designed with Old-World Spanish, Venetian and Portuguese influences” and filled with original owner Marjorie Merriweather Post’s collection of antiques, the article noted.

The item included photographs of the house and sumptuous interiors, and copies of Trump tweets mentioning Mar-a-Lago.

The article gave a brief summary of the 1927 mansion’s history, including Post’s desire that it be used by U.S. presidents as a retreat and the subsequent decision by the U.S. government that the property was too expensive to maintain. Trump bought it in 1985.

“After refurbishing the house and adding an events space, Trump opened the estate to dues-paying members of the public in 1995 as the Mar-a-Lago Club,” the State Department item read. “Post’s dream of a winter White House came true with Trump’s election in 2016. Trump regularly works out of the house he maintains at Mar-a-Lago and uses the club to host foreign dignitaries.”

One watchdog group, American Oversight, called for an investigation by the State Department inspector general and said it would request public records documenting how the blog post was created.

The State Department describes the “Share America” site as its “platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”

The site is produced by the department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, which produces material distributed by U.S. embassies.

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State Department website removes article touting history of Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate – Washington Post

By ,

The State Department on Monday removed from its website an article about the history and lavish furnishings of President Trump’s privately owned Florida resort club Mar-a-Lago, following questions about whether the federal government improperly promoted Trump’s moneymaking enterprises.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pointed to the travelogue-style blog piece Monday, asking in a Twitter message why the State Department would spend “taxpayer $$ promoting the president’s private country club.”

The State Department issued a statement Monday apologizing for “any misperception.”

“The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders,” the statement said.

It was not clear whether the item had been vetted for legal or ethical concerns.

The short item had been posted on a promotional website called “Share America” on April 4, ahead of Trump’s meeting at Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping. A version of the item was recently reposted on the website maintained by the U.S. Embassy in London, where it caught the attention of watchdog groups.

The item adopted Trump’s term “winter White House” for the ­members-only club. It did not expressly encourage foreigners to visit Mar-a-Lago, although other articles on the same website actively promote U.S. tourism. The item did note that the estate “is located at the heart of Florida’s Palm Beach community.”

“By visiting this ‘winter White House,’ Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer,” the item read. “The ornate Jazz Age house was designed with Old-World Spanish, Venetian and Portuguese influences” and filled with original owner Marjorie Merriweather Post’s collection of antiques, the article noted.

The item included photographs of the house and sumptuous interiors, and copies of Trump tweets mentioning Mar-a-Lago.

The article gave a brief summary of the 1927 mansion’s history, including Post’s desire that it be used by U.S. presidents as a retreat and the subsequent decision by the U.S. government that the property was too expensive to maintain. Trump bought it in 1985.

“After refurbishing the house and adding an events space, Trump opened the estate to dues-paying members of the public in 1995 as the Mar-a-Lago Club,” the State Department item read. “Post’s dream of a winter White House came true with Trump’s election in 2016. Trump regularly works out of the house he maintains at Mar-a-Lago and uses the club to host foreign dignitaries.”

One watchdog group, American Oversight, called for an investigation by the State Department inspector general and said it would request public records documenting how the blog post was created.

The State Department describes the “Share America” site as its “platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”

The site is produced by the department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, which produces material distributed by U.S. embassies.

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Why cutting corporate tax and raising the deficit might not hurt Trump politically – Washington Post


Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (right) listens as President Trump speaks during a meeting on the Federal budget in the White House on Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

For those who’ve tracked Republican politics over the past few years, the Trump administration’s proposal to slice the corporate tax rate without worrying about deficits seems like an anathema. Trump himself repeatedly criticized his predecessor on the campaign trail for allowing the national debt to balloon, but here he is arguing that adding to that debt is of secondary concern to reducing taxes owed by big business. (To be fair, Trump also repeatedly talked about cutting corporate taxes as a candidate, often repeating the incorrect charge that American businesses faced the highest taxes in the world.)

But recent polling bolsters the idea that the move is politically safe for Trump — assuming that he continues to be largely concerned with appeasing his base as opposed to expanding it outward.

1. Concern about the deficit has declined over the past few years.

Every month Gallup asks Americans to identify their single-most important political issue. In January 2013, the second-most commonly cited concern was the deficit or the debt, in the wake of the Capitol Hill showdown over the so-called “fiscal cliff.” At that time, 30 percent of Republicans considered it the most pressing issue, outpacing the 12 percent of Democrats who said the same.

As Barack Obama’s second term wound on, though, the issue faded in importance. In the most recent Gallup survey taken this month, only 3 percent of respondents said it was the most pressing political issue. In recent months, the number has been consistently in that range.

2. Republicans are more, not less, likely to support increased deficits if it means cutting taxes.

Last month, Quinnipiac University asked Americans how they felt about the prospect of across-the-board tax cuts — a broader category of reductions than what Trump appears to be about to propose, but the results were still suggestive.

A plurality of Americans opposed such cuts, even if the effects didn’t increase the federal deficit. But nearly half of Republicans backed such cuts even if the deficit increased. Overall, three-quarters of Republicans backed cuts depending on how the deficit was affected, a far larger percentage then independents or Democrats who said the same.

3. Trump voters are far more supportive of corporate cuts than other voters — and foresee far more positive effects.

Shortly before Trump took office, Politico and the Harvard School of Public Health surveyed voters to gauge their interest in a number of possible Trump focal points. Included among them was the question of tax cuts for corporations.

While only about a fifth of respondents backed reducing corporate tax rates, Trump voters — perhaps primed by Trump’s candidacy — were nearly twice as supportive, with 39 percent of that group saying they backed the idea. Trump voters were also more likely to back cuts for upper- and middle-income Americans but, interestingly, were less likely to back cuts for poorer Americans.

That same poll offered another clue as to why Trump fans might back corporate tax cuts: They were far more likely to foresee positive effects from doing so. More than 6-in-10 Trump voters figured that slashing corporate tax rates would result in a spike in jobs and economic growth, about twice the public on the whole. Only 5 percent of Trump backers figured that cutting corporate rates wouldn’t help create jobs or expand the economy; five times as much of the general population held that negative view.

The summary makes the point clearly. Trump voters back corporate tax cuts, assuming that there will be economic growth to offset any increase in the deficit. That’s the argument that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin offered last week. Sure, non-Trump supporters and non-Republicans might balk — but if there’s one thing that we’ve learned over the course of the past 100-odd days, it’s that such concerns don’t offer much pause to President Trump.

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In Chicago, Obama tells young leaders that 'special interests dominate the debates in Washington' – Washington Post

On April 24, in his first public appearance since leaving office, former president Barack Obama spoke with young adults in Chicago on finding common ground in Washington politics. (The Washington Post)

CHICAGO — In his first public appearance since leaving the White House in January, former president Barack Obama told young leaders here Monday that “special interests dominate the debates in Washington” and that getting involved in their communities is the best antidote to the divisiveness dominating the country’s politics.

Obama, who has kept a relatively low public profile since the end of his second term, did not mention President Trump once during the 90-minute event at the University of Chicago, but said he was determined to galvanize younger Americans to do more politically because they were the ones best positioned to bridge the current political divide.

“The single most important thing I can do is to help in any way prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world,” said Obama, who sat onstage, wearing a black suit, white button-down shirt and no tie, with a half-dozen Chicago-area activists in their teens and 20s, as dozens more student leaders watched on.

He admitted that he failed to realize his “aspirational” goal of uniting Americans in red and blue states, but said the country is not as divided as it sometimes seems.

“That was an aspirational comment,” the former president said of his famous 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, prompting laughter from the audience at the University of Chicago. He added that when talking to individual Americans from different political backgrounds, you learn that “there’s a lot more that people have in common” than it would appear. “But, obviously, it’s not true when it comes to our politics and our civic life.”

[Obama’s post-presidency is like no other]

In keeping with his previous vow not to criticize his successor, Obama — speaking days before Trump’s 100-day mark — made little mention of Republicans’ rush to dismantle his legacy back in Washington as quickly as possible. Republicans are debating whether to try again this week to dismantle parts of the Affordable Care Act after failing to vote on a bill in March. Trump has signed executive orders and bills from Congress undoing Obama-era regulations on everything from climate change to guns. And the Senate just appointed a conservative to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court after refusing to hold nomination hearings last year on Obama’s pick, D.C. Circuit Court Chief Judge Merrick Garland.

Obama referred to none of that. Instead, he focused on political polarization, which he ascribed to gerrymandered electoral districts, money in politics, a politicized media and voter apathy, especially among young people.

“The one thing I’m absolutely convinced of is: Yes, we confront a whole range of challenges, from economic inequality and lack of opportunity, to the criminal justice system to climate change to issues related to violence. All those problems are serious, they’re daunting,” Obama said. “But they’re not insolvable. What is preventing us from tackling them and making more progress really has to do with our politics and our civic life.”

The session, which took place at an intimate hall near where he got started as a community organizer, and a few miles away from where he gave his carefully orchestrated farewell address this year, marks the start of public appearances the former president will deliver in the United States and overseas. He’ll be in Boston next month to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, and in Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italy to attend the The Global Food Innovation Summit.

His wife, Michelle, for her part, will deliver her first paid speech Friday in Orlando at a meeting of the American Institute of Architects.

On Sunday, Obama had met behind closed doors with members of Chicago Create Real Economic Destiny (CRED) program, an initiative headed by his former education secretary, Arne Duncan, which aims to provide job opportunities for the city’s at-risk young adults. An aide said in an email that the meeting was “the first in ongoing conversations and efforts” by the Obamas to work with private and public groups “that are committed to tackling violence, poverty and unemployment in communities around the country.”

Monday’s audience was filled mostly with aspiring Chicago-area college students, dressed in their best suits and ties, many of whom grew up watching and cheering Obama’s political rise.

Jon LeVert and Marquise Davion, both student government leaders and film majors at the Columbia College Chicago, said they were looking for the former president to give some assurance that things aren’t as bad as they hear it is in Washington, and a road map on how to make things better in their communities.

“We have these people excited to do something, it’d be great to hear from him: You can do this by x, x and x,” Davion said.

While Obama tried repeatedly during the event to emphasize the legitimacy of different political viewpoints, noting that many Americans want immigration to be “lawful and orderly” and that it is important “not to assume that everybody who has problems with the current immigration system is racist,” it remains unclear whether the message he was hoping to convey would take root. The political polarization he decried was on display just outside the hall where he spoke: Three protesters stood outside with white posters taped to their backpacks that read, “Obama, we are not on the same intramural team as Trump.”

As he talked on stage, the former University of Chicago law professor sounded less like a lecturer than an inquisitor. “What is it that you think would make the big difference in young people saying, ‘If I volunteer for this, I might make a difference?’ ” he asked high school senior Ayanna Watkins after pointing out that only one-third of young people vote in midterm elections.

As Obama pressed the point, panelist Ramuel Figueroa offered that activists need to “connect personal problems to policy issues” to get people invested in elections.

“If you’re working two jobs and can’t afford day care, it’s not because you’re lazy,” said Figuero, an undergraduate at Roosevelt University who had served in the military before starting college. Of activists, he said, “You need to demonstrate some connection.”

And Obama probed the political divide that exists on college campuses, which tend to be overwhelmingly liberal. All of the hand-picked panel members were Democrats except for one Republican, University of Chicago undergraduate Max M. Freedman. Asked by Obama whether he has a hard time being heard on a college campus as a Republican, Freedman replied, “You can expect some level of ostracization from certain people.”

“There’s a significant empathy gap, not just here, but everywhere. … We’ve cloistered ourselves,” Freedman said. “Civic engagement, at some point, will require a level of civility.”

During his time in office, Obama relished holding town halls with young people while traveling overseas. Monday’s event had a similar feel, though he was visibly looser than he was while serving as president. Even as he bemoaned how Americans had created news silos through their social media feeds, he joked, “Or maybe you’re just looking at cat videos, which is fine.” At another point, he noted that while his use of marijuana in his youth had not hurt his political career because he was forthright about it, “I would advise all of you to be a little more circumspect, in terms of your selfies.”

Obama’s re-entrance into the public spotlight comes at a time when there really is no clear leader of the Democratic Party, and its grass-roots base is demanding one.

The former president did not mention his party’s struggles after its disappointing 2016 election, but he said he wants to be a resource for young people looking to get involved politically, especially through a post-presidency foundation he is setting up. He framed engaging younger people as the best antidote to a divisive Washington.

“There’s a reason why I am optimistic, even when things aren’t going the way I want,” he said as he wrapped up his appearance. “And that’s because of young people like this.”

Obama’s interest in young leaders heartened Dorian Meighen, a student at Roosevelt University: “All that he did, he will still continue doing, and he’ll still be there to help people even though he’s not in office.”

Eilperin reported from Washington.

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State Department website touts glittering history of Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate – Washington Post

By ,

A State Department website that promotes travel to the United States included an article this month about the history and lavish furnishings of President Trump’s privately owned Florida resort club Mar-a-Lago, opening questions about whether the federal government is improperly promoting Trump’s moneymaking enterprises.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pointed to the travelogue-style blog piece Monday, asking in a Twitter message why the State Department would spend “taxpayer $$ promoting the president’s private country club.”

The State Department had no immediate comment on whether the item was appropriate or had been vetted for legal or ethical concerns. State Department spokesman Mark Toner was asked about the item during a news briefing Monday, but he said he had not heard about it. The department has promised a response.

The short item was posted on a promotional website called “Share America” on April 4, ahead of Trump’s meeting at Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping. A version of the item was recently reposted on the website maintained by the U.S. Embassy in London, where it caught the attention of watchdog groups.

The item adopts Trump’s term “winter White House” for the ­members-only club. It does not expressly encourage foreigners to visit Mar-a-Lago, although other articles on the same website actively promote U.S. tourism. The item does note that the estate “is located at the heart of Florida’s Palm Beach community.”

“By visiting this ‘winter White House,’ Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer,” the item reads. “The ornate Jazz Age house was designed with Old-World Spanish, Venetian and Portuguese influences” and filled with original owner Marjorie Merriweather Post’s collection of antiques, the article notes.

The item includes photographs of the house and sumptuous interiors, and copies of Trump tweets mentioning Mar-a-Lago.

The article gives a brief summary of the 1927 mansion’s history, including Post’s desire that it be used by U.S. presidents as a retreat and the subsequent decision by the U.S. government that the property was too expensive to maintain. Trump bought it in 1985.

“After refurbishing the house and adding an events space, Trump opened the estate to dues-paying members of the public in 1995 as the Mar-a-Lago Club,” the State Department item reads. “Post’s dream of a winter White House came true with Trump’s election in 2016. Trump regularly works out of the house he maintains at Mar-a-Lago and uses the club to host foreign dignitaries.”

The State Department describes the “Share America” site as its “platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”

The site is produced by the department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, which produces material distributed by U.S. embassies.

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Macron's strong finish in the French election shows populist wave may be ebbing – Washington Post

By and ,

BERLIN — In this era of fiery populism and muscular anti-globalist forces, politicians across Europe are suddenly discovering an electoral surprise.

It might actually pay to embrace the European Union.

The top finisher in the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday is Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old centrist who jets to Berlin to give speeches in English. The blue-and-yellow banner of the E.U. flutters off his campaign headquarters. He is strongly favored to beat his anti-Europe rival, Marine Le Pen, in a May 7 runoff.

After years in which the E.U. was the favorite foil for ascendant politicians on the continent, the 28-nation club may be making a comeback despite Brexit and President Trump’s euroskepticism. The Netherlands’ staunchly pro-European Green Left party quadrupled its support in elections last month. The former European Parliament president Martin Schulz is surging in polls ahead of September elections in Germany.

And Macron has promised, if elected, to help lead “an ambitious Europe,” restoring France to a preeminent place in the E.U. after years in which the French role has been diminished by its domestic struggles with unemployment, terrorism and political dysfunction. He pledges to push for reforms that would force stronger nations to protect weaker ones.

Sunday’s balloting showed French attitudes toward Europe split down the middle, with euroskeptic politicians winning nearly half the vote. In addition to Le Pen, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a far-left candidate, drew millions of votes. Opinion polls examining E.U. attitudes revealed conflicted feelings, with a majority of French respondents describing themselves as pro-E.U. but saying the institution needed deep reforms. 

Given such division, European leaders nervously watched the first-round voting to see which way France might tilt. On Monday, many political figures were unusually public about their support for Macron.

[Choice for French voters: Hope in Europe or fear of globalization]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, tweeted that Macron’s first-place finish showed that “France AND Europe can win together. The center is stronger than the populists think!”

The centrist German lawmaker Alexander Lambsdorff heaped on more praise. Macron is “a French John F. Kennedy,” he told Germany’s ZDF television on Monday.

In a rare display of cross-continental comity, Macron also was congratulated by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, a combative leftist who has sparred with the German government ever since he was forced to accept a humiliating bailout in 2015.

Pro-E.U. politicians were not the only ones to focus on Macron’s attitudes toward Europe.

Nigel Farage, the British anti-E.U. politician who helped lead last year’s Brexit campaign, tweeted dismissively that Macron gave his victory speech Sunday night “with EU flag behind him. Says it all.”

Leaders in Europe normally maintain a studious silence when the vote isn’t on their turf. That they didn’t in this case reflects the gravity for Europe of the final round of the French vote.

If Macron is elected — and opinion polls suggest he has a comfortable lead over Le Pen despite his first-round squeaker — continental leaders are cautiously optimistic that he can steer the beleaguered country back to its historically central role in European affairs. If Le Pen wins, modern Europe — defined by integration and growing cooperation across national boundaries — could fall apart after already being jolted by Britain’s decision to exit the E.U.

Analysts believe that if Macron can put more of a Gallic stamp on the E.U. machinery in Brussels, he may have a chance to shift France’s complicated attitude toward the bloc back toward more positive ground, particularly if he can also jump-start his country’s stalled economy.

“The French liked Europe when it was a greater France, but they feel today that it’s no longer the case. It’s a greater Germany,” said Eddy Fougier, an expert on anti-globalization movements at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs.

[French election: How the pollsters got the last laugh]

For all their concerns about the E.U., voters may be becoming more wary of disruptive European politicians as they watch Trump churn up political turmoil in the United States and Britain solidify its E.U. divorce plans.

Dutch euroskeptic leader Geert Wilders crashed out of front-runner status ahead of March elections in the Netherlands. Germany’s euroskeptic Alternative for Germany party spiked after Trump’s election but has more recently split and sputtered. Now the ascendant political force in Germany is Schulz, a center-left leader who spent more than two decades as a member of the European Parliament and has staked his career on a robust defense of Brussels.

And though Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star party is doing well before elections that must be called before spring 2018, few observers see them as the existential threat to Europe that a Le Pen presidency would be.

The support for the centrist politicians reflects “a reasonable approach to a reality that everybody must recognize, and that is the European Union,” said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a Franco-German former European lawmaker who supports Macron. 

“Today more and more people are concerned about how we can protect Europe and the European project,” Cohn-Bendit said. “This has a link with Trump’s election, with Brexit.”

At a time when the E.U.’s popularity is on the wane, Macron has stood apart for his unabashed support for Europe and globalization. On a January trip to Berlin’s Humboldt University, he switched to flawless English to exhort students to build a stronger Europe. The move drew praise in Germany — and darts from his far-right rivals, who said he was disrespecting the French language.

As the European powers-that-be closed ranks around Macron on Monday, they took two major risks. One is that by backing the French centrist, they will fan the flames of anti-establishment ire that have propelled Le Pen’s rise. 

“It could reinforce some of the discontent in France among those who will see this as the global elite denying them their right to vote,” said Josef Janning, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. 

The other potential pitfall is that European leaders could find it more difficult to work with Le Pen if she wins. For months before Americans voted last year, European leaders denounced Trump — only to have to make amends this year with solicitous visits to the new U.S. president at the White House.

“It would have been dumb to speak out in the way they did if they thought she could still win,” Janning said. “They seem to view that possibility as close to zero.” 

Analysts suggested that, even if Macron wins, Europe’s centrists will need to keep their expectations in check for what he can achieve. 

“It may be that Europe’s leaders have an over-interpretation of the role Macron can play,” said Claire Demesmay, who studies France for the German Council on Foreign Relations. “The anti-European mood in France will still be there — and it could increase.”

Birnbaum reported from Paris. Virgile Demoustier in Paris, Stephanie Kirchner in Berlin and Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.

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