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First Read’s Morning Clips: Reconciling the House and Senate tax bills

TRUMP AGENDA: Reconciling the Senate and House tax bills won’t be easy

Reconciling the Senate and House tax bills won’t be a walk in the park, notes the Washington Post: “Party leaders insist that there are no showstopping differences between their two bills, each of which features a decrease in the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. Still, the bills feature differences worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Lawmakers are expecting an intense period of work starting Monday as lobbyists descend on the conference committee that will negotiate differences between the two pieces of legislation. Of particular concern will be changes made hours before the Senate passed its final legislation early Saturday morning, when the Senate changed its bill to preserve a provision of the current tax code that sets an alternative minimum tax floor for very wealthy individuals. That provision would be eliminated in the House bill, and scrapping the alternative minimum tax has long been a priority for GOP tax writers.”

The Wall Street Journal, on the GOP tax plan: “Senate Republicans, in their push to pass a sweeping tax bill, undermined a research-and-development tax credit many companies use to encourage innovation, and business interests are in revolt.”

More, from Bloomberg: “On Saturday, Trump said the corporate tax rate -- which would be cut to 20 percent from 35 percent in both the House and Senate bills -- “could be 22 (percent) when” a final bill emerges. Trump’s comments -- made quickly to reporters as he left the White House Saturday for a political fundraising trip -- imposed an air of unpredictability over congressional negotiations that are due to begin with the formation of a House-Senate “conference committee” on Monday. Lawmakers will have significant differences to hammer out. But if all goes well, an agreed upon bill could be on Trump’s desk “within 10 days,” Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia said Sunday on Fox’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

Our White House team sums up the weekend’s Trump Twitter story: “President Donald Trump's personal lawyer took responsibility Sunday for a tweet that Trump sent the previous day, in which the president said for the first time that he knew his former security adviser, Michael Flynn, had lied to the FBI before he fired Flynn in February. The tweet caused an uproar in Washington because it implied Trump knew Flynn had committed a felony — lying to the FBI — when he told then-FBI director James Comey to go easy on Flynn the day after the firing… Within a few hours, Trump's personal lawyer, John Dowd, stepped in to say that he wrote the tweet, not the president. Dowd told NBC News that he drafted the tweet and then sent it to White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino to publish. When asked for the original email he sent to Scavino, Dowd said he dictated it orally.”

More, from the Washington Post: “President Trump’s personal lawyer said on Sunday that the president knew in late January that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had probably given FBI agents the same inaccurate account he provided to Vice President Pence about a call with the Russian ambassador. Trump lawyer John Dowd said the information was passed to Trump by White House counsel Donald McGahn, who had been warned about Flynn’s statement to the vice president by a senior Justice Department official. The vice president said publicly at the time that Flynn had told him he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian diplomat — a statement disproved by a U.S. intelligence intercept of a phone call between Flynn and then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.”

Shutdown watch: What’s next, via the New York Times: “Republicans are moving toward passing a two-week stopgap measure to avoid a looming government shutdown, but the path in the coming weeks is treacherous, with obstacles on both sides of the aisle as lawmakers push their own priorities, some unrelated to government spending. With government funding set to expire at the end of Friday, Republicans are aiming to buy more time so they can negotiate over a long-term spending package. The task is complicated by a feud between President Trump and Democrats, whose votes Republicans need to secure passage, and measures on the politically fraught issues of immigration and the Affordable Care Act.”

NBC’s Kailani Koenig, on Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s interview with one of us(!): “A Senate investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election has revealed a possible obstruction of justice case against President Donald Trump, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said on "Meet The Press" Sunday.”

“The FBI agent who was removed from his post last summer for allegedly sending text messages critical of Donald Trump during the presidential campaign led the bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and later served as the top agent on its probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

Billy Bush is confirming again that Trump’s Access Hollywood tape comments are authentic.

POLITICO: “Paranoia is enveloping the White House and President Donald Trump’s network of former aides and associates as Robert Mueller’s Russia probe heats up…. White House attorneys and private counsel representing both current and former Trump aides told POLITICO they immediately checked in with their clients once they learned about Mueller’s plea agreements with Papadopoulos and Flynn, asking whether they’d had any communications with their former colleagues which could have been secretly recorded while also reminding them to be diligent in avoiding conversations with anyone except their lawyer related to the Russia investigation.”

The Washington Post: “President Trump’s push for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians stems from a belief that his broader goals of stopping Iranian aggression and Islamist extremism will not be possible without it, presidential adviser Jared Kushner said in a rare public appearance Sunday.” More: “But nearly a year after Trump named Kushner, his son-in-law and senior White House aide, as point person for what he called “the ultimate deal,” there has been no public indication of where the initiative is heading. Presumed participants in the plan — described by officials as a comprehensive package including Israel, the Palestinians, Arab governments and international backers — have been kept similarly in the dark, leading to widespread speculation and anxiety.”

From NBC’s Alexander Smith: “Two dozen U.S. stealth jets were among hundreds of aircraft involved in war games intended as a show of strength to neighboring North Korea on Monday. Dubbed Vigilant Ace, the annual military drills come amid heightened tensions in the region triggered by Kim Jong Un's missile and nuclear tests and ratcheting rhetoric from both sides. A total of 230 planes will fly from eight locations in South Korea, the Air Force said in a statement.”

OFF TO THE RACES: Trump offers explicit support to Roy Moore

AL-SEN: Trump offered more explicit support to Roy Moore in a tweet this morning, which read: “Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama. We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more. No to Jones, a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet!”

Is Roy Moore winning? POLITICO notes that the polling isn’t all that helpful.

Mitch McConnell now says “I’m going to let the people of Alabama make the call.”

The New York Times: “[D]istaste for Mr. Moore, while it may lead people to write in other names or just stay home, is for many still not a good enough reason to vote for a Democrat. And here in Alabama, one of the most inflexibly partisan states in the country, where genuine swing voters are few and politics is approached with the same kind of unshakable team loyalty as college football, this is the central problem with Mr. Jones.”

MI-9: Sander Levin won’t run for reelection.

UT-SEN: From POLITICO: “Donald Trump is going all out to persuade seven-term Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch to seek reelection — a push aimed in no small part at keeping the president’s longtime nemesis, Mitt Romney, out of the Senate. Romney has been preparing to run for Hatch’s seat on the long-held assumption that the 83-year-old would retire. Yet Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, is now refusing to rule out another campaign — a circumstance Romney’s infuriated inner circle blames squarely on the president. Their suspicions are warranted: Trump has sounded off to friends about how he doesn't like the idea of a Senator Romney.”