National News

National News at a Glance

Posted December 19, 2017 9:26 p.m. EST
Updated December 19, 2017 9:27 p.m. EST

Tax Overhaul Advances, Despite Grumbles and the Need for a Do-Over

Republicans took a critical step on Tuesday toward notching their first significant legislative victory of the year as the House voted to pass the most sweeping rewrite of the tax code in decades. The Senate was on the verge of also approving the $1.5 trillion tax bill. The bill would be the biggest legislative accomplishment for Republicans since President Donald Trump took office. The day was not without hiccups, however, as several small provisions were found by the Senate parliamentarian to violate the budget rules. As a result, the House will need to vote again on the tax bill.

Train in Crash Was Speeding. Inquiry Asks Why.

The investigation into the fatal Amtrak crash near Tacoma, Washington, is focusing on the possibility that the engineer was distracted by a cellphone, another person in his cab, or something else when the train barreled into a curve 50 mph over the posted speed limit. The crew did not activate the emergency brake before the derailment near Tacoma on Monday morning, said Bella Dinh-Zarr, the National Transportation Safety Board official overseeing the investigation, which might indicate that the engineer failed to perceive the danger. Excessive speed appeared to be the immediate cause, but the reason for that speed remained unknown.

EPA Delays Bans on Uses of Hazardous Chemicals

The Environmental Protection Agency will indefinitely postpone bans on certain uses of three toxic chemicals found in consumer products, according to an update of the Trump administration’s regulatory plans. Critics said the reversal demonstrated the agency’s increasing reluctance to use enforcement powers granted to it last year by Congress under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The EPA declined to comment. In a news release earlier this month, the agency wrote that its “common-sense, balanced approach carefully protects both public health and the environment while curbing unnecessary regulatory burdens that stifle economic growth for communities across the country.”

A Federal Ban on Making Lethal Viruses Is Lifted

Federal officials on Tuesday ended a moratorium imposed three years ago on funding research that alters germs to make them more lethal. Such work can now proceed, said Dr. Francis S. Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, but only if a scientific panel decides that the benefits justify the risks. Some scientists are eager to pursue these studies because they may show how a bird flu could mutate to more easily infect humans, or could yield clues to making a better vaccine. Critics say these researchers risk creating a monster germ that could escape the lab.

House Secretly Paid $115,000 to Settle Harassment Claims Over Four Years

The House of Representatives secretly paid $115,000 to settle three sexual harassment claims between 2008 and 2012, Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., chairman of the House Administration Committee, said Tuesday. The figure brings to $199,000 the amount paid out of a fund controlled by Congress’ secretive Office of Compliance since 2008, under a confidential procedure that most lawmakers say they did not know existed until recently. Harper released the new figures Tuesday as part of an ongoing review by his committee, which is working on overhauling the way sexual harassment claims are handled in Congress.

Senate Panel Rejects Trump’s Nominee to Lead Export-Import Bank

Two Republican senators broke with their party Tuesday to block President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Export-Import Bank, a setback for the White House that reflects divisions in the Republican Party over the role that the government should play in steering the economy. The nominee, former Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., who had wanted to see the government’s export credit agency shuttered, was rejected by the Senate Banking Committee in a 13-10 vote, the first by the committee against a Trump administration nominee. Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Michael Rounds, R-S.D., joined 11 Democrats to reject the nomination.

In Virginia, a Lesson in the Power of a Single Vote

The Democratic wave that rose on Election Day in Virginia last month delivered a final crash on the sand Tuesday when a Democratic challenger defeated a Republican incumbent by a single vote, leaving the Virginia House of Delegates evenly split between the two parties. The victory by Shelly Simonds, a school board member in Newport News, was a civics lesson in every-vote-counts as she won 11,608 to 11,607 in a recount conducted by local election officials. Simonds’ win means a 50-50 split in the state House. Republicans have controlled the House for 17 years.

The Green Party, and Russia’s Meddling

Senate investigators are scrutinizing links between Jill Stein, the Green Party’s 2016 presidential nominee, and Russia’s campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, searching for evidence of possible conspiracy. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Monday that the committee was “just starting” to look at Stein’s campaign along with another campaign, which he declined to name, as it continues its investigation of the Trump campaign. Burr has previously suggested the committee is looking at aspects of the Clinton campaign.