First responder emails appear to undermine Trump’s narrative on Hurricane Maria

Emails released Thursday by congressional Democrats show correspondence between first responders that appears to undermine the Trump administration’s public reporting of the human toll from Hurricane Maria last year.

In one email, dated Sept. 29, 2017, a first responder — whose name has been redacted — describes “finding mass graves in mud slide areas,” and requests counseling support for federal first responders in the area. An unnamed Army National Guard general is included in the correspondence.

Only 16 deaths were publicly acknowledged when President Donald Trump arrived at the island days later to survey damage and meet with local officials. That number climbed to 34 hours after he left.

Independent researchers at George Washington University subsequently estimated the casualties at 2,975, a figure accepted by Puerto Rico’s commonwealth government.

Trump claimed in a tweet Thursday that the death toll from Hurricane Maria had been inflated after the storm. It’s unclear Continue reading “First responder emails appear to undermine Trump’s narrative on Hurricane Maria”

Former Equifax manager charged with insider trading linked to cyber breach

The Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission charged a former Equifax software engineering manager with insider trading, prior to the disclosure that the credit-monitoring company had suffered a massive cybersecurity breach.

Sudhakar Reddy Bonthu agreed to settle civil charges with the SEC and return gains he made through trades that the commission alleges were illegal, according to a release by the agency announcing the enforcement action.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia filed separate criminal charges of insider trading against Bonthu.

The SEC says Bonthu bought options before the company’s data breach became public and sold them for a profit of more than $75,000. That breach exposed personal information of up to nearly 150 million Americans.

The SEC says Bonthu lost his job at Equifax after refusing to cooperate with an internal investigation as to whether he violated the company’s own insider trading Continue reading “Former Equifax manager charged with insider trading linked to cyber breach”

Trump praises hurricane response amid demands for Maria death toll investigation

President Donald Trump praised his administration’s response to last year’s devastating storms even as thousands of Puerto Rican evacuees face eviction from temporary shelters and the island remains partly without power nine months after Hurricane Maria.

Meeting with his Cabinet and disaster agency officials on Wednesday for a briefing on hurricane season, which began June 1, Trump said his administration “leapt into action to coordinate the response” to last year’s storms.

“We’ve had three devastating major hurricanes,” Trump said. “America has never experienced so many large-scale disasters in such a short period of time.”

As he spoke, Puerto Ricans displaced by Maria marched on Capitol Hill demanding housing aid and Democratic lawmakers, led by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, called for an investigation of the response and the death toll from Maria.

“Will Congress yet again do nothing? Will President Trump yet again do nothing?” Rep. Darren Continue reading “Trump praises hurricane response amid demands for Maria death toll investigation”

Treasury slaps new sanctions on groups linked to Iran regime

The Trump administration has imposed new financial sanctions on a political group allied with Iran’s supreme leader, as well as individuals and companies the Treasury Department says are complicit with human rights abuses in the country.

It’s the latest round of sanctions targeting individuals and organizations with ties to Iran’s government following President Donald Trump’s exit from the nuclear deal earlier this month. Trump vowed to check what Treasury called Iran’s “malign behavior.”

“Iran not only exports terrorism and instability across the world, it routinely violates the rights of its own people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a release announcing the sanctions.

The political group the administration sanctioned, Ansar-e Hizballah, supports Iran’s top political and religious official, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and has been tied to the violent suppression of Iranian citizens, including street attacks against protesters.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control, the section of the Treasury charged Continue reading “Treasury slaps new sanctions on groups linked to Iran regime”

Puerto Rico statehood push picks up key GOP endorsement

Puerto Rico’s long-shot bid to become the 51st U.S. state got a big boost Friday when House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), whose committee oversees the commonwealth, endorsed the effort.

"I want to be very clear: I’m very supportive of Puerto Rico statehood," Bishop said at a press conference in San Juan.

Bishop’s backing will increase the momentum for a renewed political push for a historic change to the island’s status as the largest population of nonvoting citizens in the U.S. But it also comes with caveats.

The Utah Republican has said he plans to leave Congress in 2020 since he would lose his committee chairmanship due to term limits even if Republicans retain control of the House. He also says he wants Puerto Rico to recover from the longer-term economic issues that have plagued the U.S. territory for the last decade.

The commonwealth has been Continue reading “Puerto Rico statehood push picks up key GOP endorsement”

Trump sanctions Venezuelan cryptocurrency

President Donald Trump has sanctioned Venezuela’s new currency, the petro, a cryptocurrency that the U.S. government says is intended to evade international penalties on the nation’s regime.

The order issued on Monday prohibits all transactions related to the petro or other digital currencies issued to benefit Venezuela’s government.

The sanctions are the latest effort by Trump to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who has increasingly clamped down on the country’s opposition. Maduro ostensibly offered the tokens as a way to raise money and evade sanctions as Venezuela descends into political and economic crisis.

“The petro is a scam ripe for exploitation,” a senior administration official said on a conference call with reporters. “Investing in the petro should be seen as directly supporting the dictatorship” of Maduro.

Maduro claimed the new currency would be backed by oil from the petroleum-rich country’s nationalized energy industry, and that $735 million has already Continue reading “Trump sanctions Venezuelan cryptocurrency”

Big data vs. the credit gap

There’s a catch-22 at the core of the U.S. financial system: To get credit, you need to already have established a credit history. Millions of Americans never find a way around the contradiction, and as a result, are locked out of things like credit cards or student loans that the rest of the population can take for granted.

Banks and other financial companies usually rely on the three major credit reporting agencies to decide whether to let you have credit, using something called your FICO score, an algorithm based on your credit history. No credit history; no FICO score. (If you have a thin credit history or a bad score, you might be able to get a car or a loan, but you will pay higher interest rates and fees.)

But not having a credit history is not the same thing as being a credit risk. In fact, Continue reading “Big data vs. the credit gap”

Puerto Rico’s governor plans to privatize electric utility

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said he plans to privatize the commonwealth’s beleaguered electric power utility.

In an announcement Monday afternoon, Rosselló said he intends to sell off assets of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. PREPA, as it’s known by its English acronym, has struggled to fully restore power following Hurricane Maria’s devastating landfall on the territory last year.

Rosselló said he plans to prioritize the sale of the electric utility as part of a new fiscal package he will present to the territory’s federal oversight board.

Rubio, Puerto Rico governor spar over tax reform

Sen. Marco Rubio said he is “disappointed” in Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló for calling him out over the new Republican tax bill H.R. 1 (115) suggesting the commonwealth’s leader is blame-shifting because of criticism of his job performance.

The disagreement between the two leaders centers on provisions of the new bill that could put companies in Puerto Rico at a competitive disadvantage because they would be treated as if they’re offshore firms subject to higher taxes than mainland-based corporations.

Rosselló threatened political retribution Monday when he told Rubio’s hometown paper, The Miami Herald, that he was “very disappointed with the fact the Senator Rubio is going to be voting for this tax bill particularly when we had the opportunity to address the potentially devastating effects on Puerto Rico.” Rosselló is a Democrat and a member of the island’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party.

Rubio told POLITICO he was Continue reading “Rubio, Puerto Rico governor spar over tax reform”

Historic tax reform vote lined up with GOP bill finalized

Republicans unveiled on Friday their final, compromise plan to rewrite the tax code, putting them on the brink of a historic victory in Congress that’s sure to reverberate into next year’s elections.

The legislation would cut both business and individual taxes as part of the biggest tax revamp in 30 years. It is poised to be carved into law next week when Congress sends it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Republicans are trumpeting the increases in take-home pay millions would see under the plan, while Democrats call it a giveaway to the rich while emphasizing some middle-income people would see their tax bills climb.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told Republican lawmakers on a phone call that the House will vote on the plan Tuesday, before the Senate, according to a person on the call.

The agreement came after last-minute haggling in which Republican leaders bowed to Sen. Marco Continue reading “Historic tax reform vote lined up with GOP bill finalized”

GOP makes last-minute tax bill changes to win over holdouts

House and Senate negotiators have agreed on last-minute changes to their sweeping tax measure in order to win over GOP holdouts — although it’s unclear whether it’ll be enough for a pair of Senate Republicans to come on board.

The negotiators have agreed to expand the child tax credit at the behest of Sen. Marco Rubio, who announced on Thursday that he would be a "no" unless the credit was made more generous. The refundable portion of the child tax credit was increased from $1,100 to $1,400, according to a senior Senate GOP aide.

News of the changes leaked out as a joint panel of lawmakers from both chambers began signing the legislative text they intend to be the final version of tax reform. They plan to release that text publicly at the end of the day on Friday.

Still, Rubio and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who also wants a Continue reading “GOP makes last-minute tax bill changes to win over holdouts”

Final tax bill vote in House won’t come next week, GOP leader says

The House will not vote next week on a final agreement to rewrite the tax code, though House and Senate negotiators are expected to work through the weekend.

“It will not come up next week, but if it could, I would bring it up as soon as we come out of conference, because I do believe the American people are waiting for a Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told colleagues late Thursday in remarks on the House floor.

His comments come as lawmakers work behind closed doors on a compromise tax plan that they can send to President Donald Trump to sign into law. Lawmakers have provided little guidance as to when they might wrap up their work, beyond saying they want to finish this year.

Dec. 22 has been widely seen as the unofficial deadline in recent days, as that’s the date federal funding Continue reading “Final tax bill vote in House won’t come next week, GOP leader says”

Lobbyists push GOP in last-minute scramble to save tax breaks

Lobbyists have launched an all-out effort to save tax breaks and protect powerful industries as the Republicans’ tax overhaul lurches toward President Donald Trump’s desk.

Builders and real estate interests are pushing to save the mortgage interest deduction. Businesses are fighting to strip out a last-minute provision inserted into the Senate bill that would preserve the corporate alternative minimum tax. And a coalition of trade groups and local government leaders is urging Republicans not to cut the state and local tax deduction.

With Trump pressing Congress to send him a bill before Christmas, lobbyists must decide where they want to focus their efforts over the next week.

Some are working the senators and representatives who will make up the conference committee charged with ironing out the differences between the House and Senate bill. Others are working to persuade Republican leaders or leaning on the members of Congress whose constituents may Continue reading “Lobbyists push GOP in last-minute scramble to save tax breaks”

House conservatives almost topple tax vote

House conservatives threatened to derail a key tax vote on Monday in an attempt to win more influence over the GOP’s spending strategy, just four days before the deadline to fund the government.

In a dramatic political stunt, more than a dozen members of the House Freedom Caucus withheld their support for a crucial procedural vote on the GOP’s tax bill, threatening an embarrassing blow to GOP leadership.

The conservatives eventually relented, approving what had been thought to be a formality — a motion to appoint negotiators to hammer out a final tax bill with the Senate.

But the frenzy on the House floor underscored the divisions within the GOP over a spending strategy this month, and that the Republicans’ march toward overhauling the tax code — which has proceeded with relatively little drama so far — could get caught up in the process.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Continue reading “House conservatives almost topple tax vote”

First Republican senator breaks with GOP on tax bill

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said Wednesday that he does not support the current version of the Senate GOP’s tax bill — becoming the first Republican senator to outright oppose the party’s plan to overhaul the tax system.

Johnson, a not-unfamiliar headache for GOP leaders, told the Wall Street Journal that he is unhappy with how the legislation treats so-called pass-throughs — business owners who pay taxes on their companies through the individual side of the tax code.

The senator, who co-founded a small manufacturing business before getting into politics, told the publication that he believes the Republican plan benefits corporations — which will see their tax rates drop from 35 percent to 20 percent under the proposal – over pass-throughs.

“I have no problems in making all American businesses competitive globally,” Johnson told the Journal. “This isn’t anti-big corporation at all. When you’re going to do a tax reform, Continue reading “First Republican senator breaks with GOP on tax bill”

Top House tax writer says GOP is fighting the ‘ferocity of the status quo’

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) Friday defended his choices to eliminate or trim numerous popular deductions in tax reform, an early flashpoint in the legislation GOP leaders rolled out on Thursday.

“The call is this: Do we want a tax code that may have special provisions that you may use once in your life,” or simpler deductions to use on an annual basis in addition to tax cuts, Brady said in a POLITICO Playbook interview.

Brady also acknowledged that wealthy Americans may pay more than the top 39.6 percent tax rate Republicans have advertised. POLITICO reported Thursday that a proposed surcharge on taxpayers who earn more than $1 million in taxable income would push them into a 45.6 percent tax bracket.

The 429-page tax bill includes deep tax cuts for corporations, small businesses and individuals. But to cover the cost of those cuts, tax writers Continue reading “Top House tax writer says GOP is fighting the ‘ferocity of the status quo’”

Utah Republican fuels speculation Hatch will retire

A Utah Republican added fuel to speculation that Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) will retire and former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney may run for the seat.

While on their way to the House floor, Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) told another House Republican she expected Hatch, 83, to retire in 2018 at the end of his current term. Love said she would not run for Hatch’s seat. The exchange took place in front of a POLITICO reporter.

"No, but Hatch isn’t sticking around,” Love said when asked whether she would run for the Senate if Hatch step down. “We’re trying to get Mitt," Love added, referring to Romney.

Whether Hatch will run for reelection is an open question right now. First elected in 1976, Hatch is one of the longest-serving senators in history. He’s chairman of the Finance Committee – the most powerful panel in the Senate – Continue reading “Utah Republican fuels speculation Hatch will retire”

Puerto Rico’s governor calls for cancellation of controversial contract

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló called for the cancellation of an electrical repair contract that has stirred controversy around the hurricane-stricken island’s recovery.

In a news conference Sunday, Rosselló urged the immediate end of an agreement between the commonwealth’s electric utility, PREPA, and Whitefish Energy, a two-year-old Montana-based company whose selection for a no-bid contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars has drawn intense political scrutiny.

In a release, Rosselló said the decision was “intended to reaffirm our commitment to transparency in the contracting process in the government of Puerto Rico and to achieve the highest degree of efficiency possible in the restoration of the power grid of our island, in the shortest amount of time possible.”

During Sunday’s news conference, Rosselló also criticized the federal government for a delay in sending brigades from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"The goals I established are aimed at achieving Continue reading “Puerto Rico’s governor calls for cancellation of controversial contract”

Property-tax deduction could help GOP reform bill

House tax writers’ decision to allow an itemized deduction for state and local property taxes in their reform plan could be a step toward quelling a revolt against the plan by Republican lawmakers from high-tax states.

Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) announced the change on Saturday, an apparent concession in a hard-fought battle that led 20 House GOP lawmakers to vote against the budget bill — the vehicle for a tax overhaul — last week. Some of those lawmakers also threatened to withhold their votes from the tax-reform bill, which House leaders plan to release on Wednesday, unless their concerns were addressed.

Brady and other House GOP leaders have been seeking to end the federal deduction for state and local taxes that people pay, as part of their tax overhaul. But Republican lawmakers from high-tax districts in New York, New Jersey and other states have been pushing back, Continue reading “Property-tax deduction could help GOP reform bill”

Trump administration weighs slashing mortgage deduction

A tax break popular with homeowners and the real estate industry could take a hit as Republicans look for ways to pay for their tax reform plan.

Despite promises from the Trump administration in April that it would “protect the homeownership … deductions,” multiple sources tracking tax reform said that the cap on the mortgage interest deduction — currently set at the interest on up to $1 million of mortgage debt — could be lowered in tax reform.

That would be a slap in the face to an industry that strongly supported President Donald Trump during his presidential bid: He overwhelmingly won a straw poll by the National Association of Realtors during its annual meeting last year.

The topic came up during a White House roundtable with real estate industry representatives on Monday. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, a key decision-maker on tax reform, and his lead deputy on Continue reading “Trump administration weighs slashing mortgage deduction”