Situational awareness – December 19, 2017

Good Tuesday morning from Salt Lake City.

Utahns are in favor of a ballot initiative to create an independent redistricting commission. Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation could take another year. The GOP tax package heads to the House floor on Tuesday.

Tick tock:

  • 14 days until candidates can declare their intent to gather signatures for the 2018 election (1/2/2018)
  • 34 days until the opening day of the 2018 Utah Legislature (1/22/2018)
  • 79 days until the final day of the 2018 Utah Legislature (3/8/2018)
  • 80 days until the filing period for candidates in the 2018 election opens (3/9/2018)
  • 86 days until the filing deadline for the 2018 elections (3/15/2018)
  • 91 days until the statewide caucus meetings for Utah Republicans and Democrats (3/20/2018)
  • 123 days until the Utah GOP State Convention (4/21/2018)
  • 130 days until the Utah Democratic State Convention (4/28/2018)
  • 189 days until the 2018 Primary Election (6/26/2018)
  • 322 days until the 2018 midterm elections (11/6/2018)
  • 1,050 days until the 2020 presidential election (11/3/2020)

Utahns support ballot initiative to establish independent redistricting commission

Most Utahns (57%) support the proposed ballot initiative that would create an independent redistricting commission to advise the Legislature on redrawing the political boundaries every 10 years, but 19% say they “don’t know” enough about the proposal to form an opinion.

Surprisingly, even a majority of Republicans in Utah support the proposal, as do Democrats and independent voters. [Utah Policy]

Tuesday is the day for tax reform

The GOP tax overhaul package will hit the House floor on Tuesday, where it will likely pass in short order then move to the Senate. The bill has a little more tax relief for middle-income earners, but most of the benefits still go to those at the top of the income scale. [Washington Post]

55% of Americans oppose the tax package, which is a jump of 10 points since November according to a new CNN poll. Just 33% of Americans favor the plan. [CNN]

Russia investigation could last another year

President Donald Trump’s legal team will meet with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office this week hoping that the investigation’s focus on the president will be over soon, but that’s probably not going to happen. Those close to the probe say the investigation could last another year at least. [Washington Post]

President Trump is telling close friends and advisers he expects Mueller will write a letter soon clearing him in the investigation. If that does not happen, associates worry it will enrage Trump, which could lead to him trying to fire Mueller. [CNN]

Meanwhile, the Senate investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election has taken a strange turn. Investigators have asked Green Party candidate Jill Stein to turn over documents from the election. [BuzzFeed]

Sen. Orrin Hatch denies tax negotiators bought Sen. Bob Corker’s vote

Sen. Orrin Hatch pushed back hard against allegations they included a “pass-through” provision in the final tax package that would benefit Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker to buy his vote. Corker got on board with the bill over the weekend, but some questioned the timing of the arrangement, dubbing it the “Corker Kickback.” [Utah Policy]

Sen. Mike Lee is on board with the GOP tax overhaul bill

Not that there was much doubt, but Sen. Mike Lee says he will “proudly vote” for the GOP tax package when it comes to the Senate later this week. Lee had pushed for a greater expansion in the child tax credit and got it. Lee’s decision to vote in favor of the bill virtually assures it will pass. [Utah Policy]

The Trump Doctrine

President Donald Trump unveiled his new national security strategy on Monday, reaffirming his “America First” stance. Trump slammed “failures” by previous presidents as damaging to American security.

“On top of everything else, our leaders drifted from American principles, they lost sight of America’s destiny, and they lost their belief in American greatness,” Trump said. “As a result, our citizens lost something as well. The people lost confidence in their government and eventually even lost confidence in their future.” [New York Times].

Trump considered pulling Gorsuch’s SCOTUS nomination

President Donald Trump has crowed about putting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court early in his term, but he reportedly considered rescinding that nomination because he was angry Gorsuch distanced himself from the president, and was critical of Trump’s attacks on the judiciary. Aides say Trump worried Gorsuch would not be “loyal” to Trump. It’s not clear how serious Trump was about kicking Gorsuch to the curb. [Washington Post]

Amtrak disaster

At least three people died, and more than 100 were injured when an Amtrak passenger train derailed in Washington State. The train was on a new route when it jumped the track on a highway overpass. [CNN]

The train was reportedly traveling 80 mph in a 30 mph zone during its inaugural trip on the new track. [Fox News]

It only took two minutes to scuttle a lifetime appointment

Remember the BYU grad who struggled to answer basic questions about legal procedure during a Senate confirmation hearing about his nomination to be a federal judge? He withdrew his nomination on Monday after being roundly mocked since the video went viral. [Utah Policy]

Another Salt Lake Olympics?

Utah officials say they would rather bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2030 instead of 2026, but they would be ready to go if needed. Waiting until 2030 would allow Salt Lake organizers to line up sponsorships after the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Games.

Other U.S. cities eyeing a Winter Olympic bid include Denver and Reno. [USA Today]

Quick links

  • Rep. Mia Love is one of three House Republicans who want to know how information from Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with the House Intelligence Committee leaked to the press. [Utah Policy]
  • The Congressional office that handles workplace harassment claims has declined Sen. Tim Kaine’s request for data on sexual harassment claims made in the U.S. Senate. Kaine said he would make the data public. [Politico]
  • The FBI warned Donald Trump’s campaign that the Russians would try to infiltrate their operation during the 2016 campaign. The FBI gave the same warning to the Hillary Clinton campaign. [NBC News]
  • Rep. Jim Jordan says he’s “convinced” the FBI was working to prevent Donald Trump from winning the 2016 presidential election. [Fox News]
  • The 2020 presidential campaign is already rumbling to life in Iowa. [New York Times]
  • EPA head Scott Pruitt paid an outside firm $3,000 to sweep his office for electronic surveillance devices earlier this year. [The Hill]
  • A legislative panel gave the thumbs up to a bill that encourages Utah colleges and universities to protect the free speech rights of students [Deseret News].
  • Rep. Curt Webb says he will not run for re-election in 2018. [Logan Herald Journal]
  • The Trump Administration is set to regulate carbon emissions from American power plants. The new regulations would replace, but not repeal, Obama-era guidelines. [Axios]
  • A federal judge ruled the Trump administration cannot block two undocumented pregnant teens in US custody from seeking abortions [CNN].
  • The Utah Transit Authority board approved borrowing $88.5 million next year even though the organization is $2 billion in debt. [Tribune]
  • The Utah Highway Patrol says they confiscated millions of dollars worth of illegal drugs on Utah roadways this year [Deseret News].
  • The Trump administration says North Korea was responsible for the massive global “WannaCry” ransomware attack in May. [Fox News]
  • Facebook is cracking down on what they’re calling “engagement bait,” which are posts that ask people to “like” or share or comment on them to boost their engagement numbers. [Recode]

On this day in history

  • 1606 – The Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery depart England carrying settlers who founded, at Jamestown, Virginia, the first of the thirteen colonies that became the United States.
  • 1777 – George Washington’s Continental Army goes into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
  • 1974 – Nelson Rockefeller is sworn in as Vice President under President Gerald Ford.
  • 1998 – President Bill Clinton is impeached by the House of Representatives, becoming the second president to be impeached. He was later acquitted by the Senate.