SENATE REPUBLICANS SCRAMBLE TO REFINE TAX CUT BILL: The scramble to alter the bill came after the Senate's parliamentarian ruled that automatic "triggers" designed to guard against big deficits would violate Senate rules. GOP leaders' main concern was winning over the hawks worried about adding more red ink to the mounting $20 trillion deficit. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had expressed confidence early in the day, but he has little margin for error with a 52-48 Republican majority. He can afford to lose only two votes while counting on Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said the bill will have "alternative, frankly, tax increases we don't want to do" to address deficit concerns. Flake said the "trigger" tax increases would raise about $350 billion over 10 years, though he didn't specify which taxes would go up.
TRUMP PRESSURED BURR, TILLIS, AND OTHERS TO END RUSSIA INQUIRY: President Donald Trump over the summer repeatedly urged senior Senate Republicans, including the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to end the panel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to a half-dozen lawmakers and aides. Trump’s requests were a highly unusual intervention from a president into a legislative inquiry involving his family and close aides. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the intelligence committee chairman, said in an interview this week that Trump told him that he was eager to see an investigation that has overshadowed much of the first year of his presidency come to an end. “It was something along the lines of, ‘I hope you can conclude this as quickly as possible,’” Burr said. He said he replied to Trump that “when we have exhausted everybody we need to talk to, we will finish.”
THE LAST DAYS OF DONALD VAN DER VAART: Van der Vaart submitted his resignation letter to his successor, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan, shortly before the two were scheduled to meet for a "pre-disciplinary conference" to discuss Regan's intent to fire van der Vaart for "unacceptable personal conduct." o support his recommendation for termination, Regan cited an opinion piece van der Vaart co-authored for the September issue of Environmental Law Reporter calling for the repeal of a permitting program that the Division of Air Quality oversees. "Your use of a small print disclaimer stating that your views may not represent the views of the department is inadequate to separate the views you expressed as a matter of personal concern in the published commentary from the required compliance activities of this department," Regan wrote in a Nov. 22 letter to van der Vaart informing him of the pre-disciplinary conference. "This action creates confusion for the public and compromises the perception of fairness and impartiality that this department needs to effectively carry out its regulatory obligations."
MYERS PARK PAT TAKES JOB ON CHARLOTTE TALK RADIO: If it seems like you’ve been hearing former Gov. Pat McCrory on the radio more and more lately, you’re not imagining things. The Republican who also long served as Charlotte’s mayor has landed a regular spot on talk radio station WBT-AM (1110) weekdays from 9 to 10 a.m., according to general manager Matt Hanlon. McCrory shares the time slot with station veteran Bo Thompson, who also hosts WBT’s “Morning News” from 5 to 9 a.m. McCrory started in September with brief early-morning spots with Thompson around 7:15 a.m., as the Charlotte station looked to capitalize on his expertise during the mayoral race, Hanlon said. After the November election, McCrory committed to his new time slot for at least a couple of months, as he weighs other job possibilities.
SESSIONS HINTS AT POSSIBLE CRACKDOWN ON RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA SALES AND USE: Attorney General Jeff Sessions hinted Wednesday that the Justice Department may take a tougher stance on recreational marijuana in the near future, a change in policy that would have a significant impact on the five states plus the District of Columbia that already allow the drug to be used for more than medicinal purposes. California is scheduled to join that group Jan. 1. Marijuana, however, remains illegal under federal law, and there was always the possibility the Trump administration could crack down. “In fact, we’re looking at that very hard right now, we had a meeting yesterday and talked about it at some length,” Sessions said at a news conference Wednesday. “It’s my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental, and we should not give encouragement in any way to it, and it represents a federal violation, which is in the law and is subject to being enforced."