Political action moved forward in Washington on multiple fronts this week, as Republicans came together to advance their tax legislation even while feuding between the White House and a handful of Senate Republicans reached a new fever pitch.
Meanwhile, the president finally made good on his promise to declare a public health emergency over the opioid crisis, and the media world became the subject of its own story, as long-whispered tales of sexual misconduct by influential men in the industry became the subject of on-the-record accusations with heads finally starting to roll.
Here’s what you need to know.
Congressional Republicans passed a budget
A budget resolution that passed the Senate last week was adopted verbatim by House Republicans on Thursday. This has mostly been covered in terms of its procedural impact on the possibility of passing tax cuts later but it’s also an important statement of Republican Party policy priorities.
- What the budget says: The budget calls for tax cuts that would add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years, offset by about $1.8 trillion in cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and other health care programs.
- What the budget does: In terms of practical impact, the budget lets a tax cut bill that adheres to the $1.5 trillion figure pass the Senate with 50 votes, depriving Democrats of the opportunity to filibuster. The health care cuts lack such so-called “reconciliation instructions” so Republicans won’t be able to pass them without Democratic help, which they won’t get.
- What’s next? In practical terms, now Republicans need an actual tax bill. In symbolic terms it’s a reminder that even as Trump has established personal mastery over the institutional Republican Party, in policy terms he now hews much closer to orthodox budget-cutting conservatism than he did as a candidate.
More sexual harassment shoes dropped
In the wake of the New York Times’ exposé on sexual assault and harassment by film producer Harvey Weinstein, a wave of accusations is now rocking the journalism industry itself — including Vox Media, whose editorial director Lockhart Steele was fired last week — claiming a number of prominent scalps with more major revelations sure to come.
- It started at Fox: The Weinstein stories appear to have unleashed the floodgates of formal sexual misconduct allegations, but the deeper roots of the story lie in Gretchen Carlson’s exposure of Fox News founder Roger Ailes, which has spiraled into revelations of serious misconduct by at least five high-profile men at the company.
- Heads are starting to roll: The difference, lately, is that accusations are delivering results. Steele was fired, Leon Wieseltier’s forthcoming magazine was canceled after women he’d worked with at the New Republic came forward with stories of serious misconduct, and publication of Mark Halperin’s latest book has been canceled after CNN reported on accusations of misconduct leveled by several women.
- There’s more to come: Tangible results are inspiring more women to consider coming forward with their stories, and more journalists to take victims seriously and pursue stories. Media reporters are getting tips, and former New York Times editor Jill Abramson says she's in pursuit of a big story.
Retiring Republicans blasted Trump
Trump has rarely had a week untroubled by intra-party conflict, but things reached a new pitch on Tuesday, which started with a Twitter war between the president and Bob Corker (R-TN) and ended with Jeff Flake (R-AZ) offering a blistering denunciation of the president from the senate floor.
- What happened? Corker, who announced his retirement recently, has been repeatedly at odds with the White House, slamming the president’s immaturity in various ways and taking grief in return. Flake, whose approval rating had been nosediving in his home state and looked to be on track to lose a primary, announced his retirement and said he “will not be complicit” in the ongoing “corruption of the spirit” that he sees emanating from the White House.
- Why it matters: In the short-term, two off-the-reservation senators are a potential problem for the GOP legislative agenda — especially if Flake or Corker insist on opposing a tax bill that increases the deficit. In the longer term, Republicans will be favored to hold both seats after the 2018 midterms, just moving Trumpier figures into place.
- What’s next? Potentially something big. But also potentially nothing. After the dramatic Tuesday, both Flake and Corker voted in lockstep with their Republican colleagues on a bank deregulation bill and neither have announced any legislative or oversight initiatives to back up their stated concerns.
Opioid abuse is officially an emergency
On Thursday, Trump somewhat belated officially accepted a key recommendation of his own opioid commission and declared a public health emergency around the opioid abuse epidemic. It’s a dramatic sounding move whose actual impact, though real, is rather limited.
- What a declaration does: An emergency declaration lifts some regulatory restrictions, most notably giving states the authority to shift HIV money into opioid efforts and use telemedicine for patients in rural areas to receive medication-assisted treatment.
- Then there’s the wall: Trump’s speech making the announcement, like many of his public remarks on opioids, confirmed that in his mind there’s a tight link between reducing opioid addiction and building a wall on the Mexican border — a notion that most experts and research sharply dispute. (Drugs are small and inherently easy to smuggle through border crossings, wall or no wall.)
- What’s next? It’s hard to believe the modest steps authorized by the declaration of emergency will put much of a dent in the crisis. Unilateral executive action simply can’t conjure up money, and real solutions will take a lot of money. Senate Democrats have a bill that would spend $45 billion over 10 years, but so far there’s no takeup from the GOP.