Morning News Brief: Tax Overhaul Plan, Honduras Election
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Whatever this Republican tax bill does - does it help the middle class? Does it focus more on helping the wealthy? - well, the party and the White House are about ready to own this.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Yeah. And it could be President Trump's first big legislative win. The House is expected to vote tomorrow. The Senate, likely voting on Wednesday. But the debate over the bill's benefits continues. Here's Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on CNN's "State Of The Union"...
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STEVEN MNUCHIN: For low-income people and middle-income working families, their taxes are going down.
INSKEEP: ...While Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen tells ABC's "This Week" that corporations are actually the big winners.
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CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: It's a huge giveaway to big corporations. Millions of middle-class taxpayers will see their taxes go up, even though Republicans promised that would not happen.
GREENE: All right. Let's bring in Scott Detrow from NPR's Politics team. Hi there, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Morning, David.
GREENE: So it looks like this is going to be the first major win for Republicans and President Trump. I mean, are they coming away with what they hoped for here?
DETROW: Not all of what they wanted but a lot of it. They wanted to cut taxes. For a lot of people, they have. This will likely be the biggest tax bill to pass in decades.
This was sold as a middle-class tax cut, though, and the bulk of the benefits here go to corporations and the wealthy. Republicans also talked a lot about simplifying the tax code. And in the end, this remains just as complicated as ever - seven tax brackets, everything else. You know, given how the year is gone, it seemed like Republican leaders, in the end, weren't looking for a personal record here. They just wanted to finish the race and get something done that they could campaign on.
GREENE: Looked to be in question just days ago, when it looked like some senators were uncertain - but you had Republican Senator Bob Corker, who had been a no on this bill, he has even come around now after a late provision was added. Right? What can you tell us about that?
DETROW: He's a great example of that mindset. He had had major problems all along, specifically when it comes to how this would raise the debt. And he voted no the first time around. But Corker said last week this is a rare opportunity for Republicans to boost the economy. He didn't want to stay in the way of it. But he will be an interesting voice to watch this week.
There was reporting over the weekend that a provision added into the bill in conference would really help Corker's commercial real estate business. He's on the defensive here. He released a letter last night saying he had nothing to do with that and asking Senate leaders how this got into the bill. But you can expect a lot of pressure on Bob Corker between now and the vote on that issue.
GREENE: Yeah. It sounds that way.
Well, another story we're going to be following all this week - I'm sure, Scott - Robert Mueller's investigation that the Trump transition team, their lawyers, have been really trying to discredit the special counsel. They say he illegally obtained emails. Mueller's denying that he did anything wrong here, that it was just the course of a criminal investigation. But my question is about these emails. What do they tell us about where his investigation is going?
DETROW: Well, the transition seems to be such a big focus of the investigation. Remember, Michael Flynn has already pleaded guilty to lying about his meeting with Russia's ambassador during the transition. So the fact that Mueller has thousands of emails, that they come from top transition aides during this period - could be really notable.
It's also an interesting example of how much Mueller and his investigation are being attacked by Trump allies and how little he's willing to do in the public sphere to respond right now. He's letting the work speak for itself. Might make sense in a criminal organization - politically, questionable.
INSKEEP: And there is a political dimension to complaining about how these emails were obtained. But ultimately, as Muller knows, it's going to be decided by a judge. If there really is some question about whether this is legitimately obtained evidence, it's going to be thrown out of court.
GREENE: NPR's Scott Detrow. Thanks, Scott, we appreciate it.
DETROW: Thanks, David.
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GREENE: All right, let's talk about Honduras now, a country where there are calls for a new election.
INSKEEP: Yeah, many people have been contesting the results ever since the vote on November 26. Protesters contend there was widespread fraud. Violent protests have led to the deaths of at least 17 people, we're told.
Now, yesterday, an electoral tribunal declared that the current President, Juan Orlando Hernandez, is the winner. But then the Organization of American States - it's kind of like a United Nations for the Western Hemisphere - the OAS said the election deserves a do-over.
GREENE: Well, let's bring in NPR's Carrie Kahn from Mexico City. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning. And sorry for the scratchy throat. It was my Honduran souvenir.
GREENE: No, we all have been going through that. It's that time of year, isn't it?
INSKEEP: Tea with honey is good for that, Carrie.
KAHN: Doing that right now.
GREENE: ...And lemon juice with water
Carrie, the OAS, as Steve mentioned - sort of like the U.N. for that region, right? So this is the big deal that they're calling for a new election in Honduras.
KAHN: This is pretty big. And it was - they gave a stunning list of reasons why they felt there needed to be new elections. The head of the election monitoring mission in Honduras presented them in a lengthy press conference last night.
It was so technical, but I'll just give you some of the most stunning irregularities they noted. They said there were deliberate human intrusions into the computer system that counted the vote. They said there were intentional elimination of digital traces in the system. And they even pointed to open ballot boxes.
And this one was most troubling - they asked a Georgetown University professor to analyze the results. And he concluded that there was an extreme statistical improbability that late election returns could have swung so heavily toward the incumbent who declared the winner. So the observer team gave the electoral process a poor grade. And then the secretary general of the OAS said last night, it's impossible to say with any certainty who won. Let's do a do-over.
GREENE: Wow. So I mean, that - a lot of technical language but basically saying, like, this election was rigged in a serious way.
KAHN: They don't go that far, but they were pretty close to it.
GREENE: But the technical language suggests a lot, I guess. So - well, President Hernandez's rival Salvador Nasralla was, I know, in transit when the declaration of the winner came out. What is Nasralla saying about these accusations?
KAHN: Yeah. He was on his way to Washington, D.C., to meet with the OAS and U.S. officials. And he had a stopover in Miami. And he went on Facebook from the airport terminal decrying the decision by the electoral officials. And he urged the Honduran people to continue fighting.
In Honduras, his ally, the former president Mel Zelaya, read a statement urging people to take to the streets to protest. And he also made a stunning declaration, which sort of took me a bit aback. He urged the armed forces and the National Police to only take orders from Salvador Nasralla and not repress the people as they continue to protest.
GREENE: This sounds, potentially, very tense and like the violence might not be over in that country.
KAHN: Definitely, it is a very tense situation. It's uncertain how it's going to be resolved. They would have to do this election before the middle of next month, when the new president is supposed to take office. So it's unclear how they'll proceed now.
INSKEEP: This has become a global feature of democratic elections - hasn't it? - questions again and again and again about the legitimacy of the election, questions about whether somebody messed with the computer systems in computerized votes. The same question was raised about the 2016 election here. Now we should be clear - no evidence whatsoever that votes were actually changed here in the United States in 2016 - but apparently, different questions being raised in Honduras.
GREENE: Yeah, not a nice way to...
KAHN: Definitely, we'll have to see what the United States and the Trump administration says about this. For now, they've been mum on the irregularities. They've asked for a transparent process but have been silent on these questions that the OAS has raised.
GREENE: NPR's Carrie Kahn, reporting from Mexico City.
KAHN: You're welcome.
GREENE: And feel better.
KAHN: Thank you.
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GREENE: All right, I'm going to say this. Disney made a jump to box office hyperspace over the weekend.
INSKEEP: (Imitating spaceship whirring). "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" brought in an estimated $220 million domestically, which is the second-best opening ever in North America, beaten only by the same movie's predecessor, "The Force Awakens."
This news came within days of Disney's announcement - Disney produced "The Last Jedi" - Disney's announcement that it plans to buy much of 21st Century Fox.
INSKEEP: Quite a moment for Disney. Hadas Gold is a media reporter for CNN. She's with us. Hey, there.
HADAS GOLD: Hello.
GREENE: So Disney has this good run here. They're now buying much of 21st Century Fox - or they plan to. Are we going to feel some kind of change from all that?
GOLD: We will. Disney is planning, really, for the future in this deal. They are buying most of 21st Century Fox's movie and television production content, including their stake in Hulu, that streaming service.
For Disney, this is all about streaming. They are planning not only to continue with their ownership stake of Hulu - they now own 60 percent of it once this deal goes through - they also are planning to launch two other streaming services, one focused more on sports and one will focus more on sort of children and entertainment. So now they've got sports, children and entertainment, and then Hulu will be more for adults.
And this is really a consolidation of all of this content to get them more ways to bring their content to consumers in the ways that consumers are now watching television and movies, which is on their phones, tablets and over streaming.
GREENE: So if Disney has its hand in more and more content, then, creatively speaking, does that mean that movies and content are going to look more and more similar?
GOLD: Not necessarily. If you look at Disney's history - for example, when they took over Pixar - they tended to sort of let them be and do their own thing creatively. Obviously, with any sort of big ownership, we are going to see some changes. And in Hollywood right now, they're going to be some free agents - some presidents, maybe, of various studios.
But for the most part, the way we've seen Disney handle these types of things before is we should see things just kind of continue the way that they have been before. However, if you are really looking for that "X-Men" versus "Avengers" matchup, you may actually get to see that now.
GREENE: (Laughter) OK. That's good news. So it does - I mean, bottom line, it means less choice for entertainment, even if Disney tries to let some of these parts of Fox stay true to who they were in the past.
GOLD: Yeah, Disney says, you know, that they are - this is better for consumers. But analysts that I've spoken to said, actually, this will decrease competition and decrease choice, which could potentially mean higher prices for consumers because Disney will control so much of the content and will now also possibly control how we consume that content as well with their streaming service.
GREENE: All right, Hadas Gold is media reporter for CNN, talking to us about Disney, which had a big win at the box office with "The Last Jedi." And they're ready to buy a lot of Fox, so it's quite a moment.
Hadas, thanks. We appreciate it.
GOLD: Thanks, everyone.
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