10 things you need to know today: December 14, 2017

1.

Congressional Republicans on Wednesday reached a deal to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the GOP tax overhaul. The joint bill would expand tax cuts for the richest Americans, while giving big tax cuts to corporations and smaller ones for the middle class and low-income families. The legislation also would end ObamaCare’s insurance mandate, a significant step toward realizing the GOP goal of dismantling the Affordable Care Act. “The cynical voices that opposed tax cuts grow smaller and weaker, and the American people grow stronger,” President Trump said at the White House. Democrats called for Republicans to hold off the vote until Senator-elect Doug Jones, who upset Roy Moore in Alabama’s special election, is seated, probably in January. His victory cut the GOP’s Senate majority to one seat.

2.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) said Wednesday that he planned to appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, his former chief of staff, to fill the seat of Sen. Al Franken (D), who has said he is stepping down after being accused of touching several women inappropriately. “I am resolved to do everything I can to move Minnesota forward,” said Smith, who reportedly plans to run in November for the right to finish Franken’s term. Smith vowed to follow in the footsteps of progressives who have held the seat before, including Sens. Paul Wellstone, Eugene McCarthy, and Walter Mondale. Smith, who would be the 22nd woman in the Senate, promised to make a “better, more inclusive, and just future for all of us.”

3.

Walt Disney Co. is buying 21st Century Fox’s film and TV studios for $52.4 billion in a landmark all-stock deal unveiled early Thursday. Disney also is assuming $13.7 billion in 21st Century Fox debt, bringing the deal’s total value to $66.1 billion. The sale comes after nearly 50 years of expansion by Fox media mogul Rupert Murdoch, 86, and leaves his company with remaining assets focused on news and sports. The purchase will help Disney battle new rival content providers. It also gives Disney a controlling stake in Netflix-rival Hulu. Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger said acquiring “this stellar collection of businesses” will help his company satisfy growing demand for content that is “more compelling, accessible, and convenient than ever before.”

4.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday hiked interest rates by 0.25 percent as expected, but kept its projections of future increases unchanged despite accelerating economic growth. It is the third time the Fed has raised rates this year as the economy improves and it winds down its effort to stimulate the economy. The Fed’s benchmark short-term rate will now be between 1.25 percent and 1.5 percent. The Fed announced the move after a two-day policy meeting. The hike is seen as a sign of the central bank’s confidence in the strength of the U.S. economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose after the announcement to close at a record high for the fourth straight day.

5.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s staff has filed a report with Capitol Police after the surfacing of what the New York Democrat says is a fraudulent document describing phony allegations of sexual harassment against him. The document says Schumer targeted a specific staff member, who was named as the plaintiff. The now-former staff member told The New York Times on Wednesday that the harassment claim, which appeared in a document resembling a court filing, was “completely false.” Schumer’s spokesman, Matt House, said the senator’s office had given the document to police “and asked them to investigate and pursue criminal charges, because it is clear the law has been broken.” The move was seen as a new tactic in combating “fake news” following attempts by activists to feed bogus information to news organizations.

6.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended Special Counsel Robert Mueller in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday as Republicans accused Mueller of presiding over an investigation biased against President Trump. Republican lawmakers said their allegation was supported by newly released text messages in which FBI agent Peter Strzok and agency lawyer Lisa Page last year described the prospect of a Trump presidency as “terrifying,” and said Hillary Clinton “just has to win.” Strzok was dismissed from Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion by Trump associates after Mueller learned of the texts. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said, “The public trust in this whole thing is gone.” Rosenstein said Mueller is “conducting himself appropriately” and should be allowed to continue his work.

7.

The three Republican commissioners on the Federal Communication Commission, led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, are expected Thursday to approve Pai’s proposal to rescind 2015 net neutrality rules adopted under former President Barack Obama to guarantee equal access to the internet. The two Democratic commissioners are expected to vote against Pai’s proposal. The new rules will at least theoretically allow broadband internet providers to block or throttle access to certain sites, or provide special “fast lanes” for content providers or customers who pay extra; they also scrap consumer protections, prevent states from passing laws that contradict the FCC’s rules, and shift a good deal of the FCC’s internet oversight powers to the Federal Trade Commission. The plan is broadly unpopular, and critics plan legal challenges.

8.

White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former reality TV star and one of President Trump’s highest-profile African-American associates, resigned abruptly under pressure on Wednesday, White House officials said. One official said Manigault Newman did not “go quietly,” and despite reports she had submitted a letter of resignation, American Urban Radio Networks reporter April Ryan said White House chief of staff John Kelly had fired Manigault Newman, who was “even escorted out” of the White House. Manigault Newman served as director of communications for the Office of the Public Liaison. Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, has sought to impose greater discipline in the White House and reportedly grew frustrated with Manigault Newman’s attention-grabbing style.

9.

PBS announced Wednesday it had “indefinitely suspended distribution” of Tavis Smiley’s late-night talk show after he was accused of sexual misconduct. “PBS engaged an outside law firm to conduct an investigation immediately after learning of troubling allegations regarding Mr. Smiley,” the public broadcaster said in a statement. “This investigation included interviews with witnesses as well as with Mr. Smiley. The inquiry uncovered multiple credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS, and the totality of this information led to today’s decision.”

10.

Three women told The New York Times that music mogul Russell Simmons had raped them. Four women spoke to the newspaper on the record, describing violent sexual misconduct from 1988 to 2014. Simmons, 60, “vehemently” denied the allegations. “These horrific accusations have shocked me to my core and all of my relations have been consensual,” he said. Last month, Simmons announced he was stepping down from his companies after screenwriter Jenny Lumet accused him of sexual assault, the second woman to do so. Simmons apologized for being “thoughtless and insensitive.” He said he had “re-dedicated myself to spiritual learning” and healing, and was working toward “witnessing the birth of a new consciousness” about women, but would “not accept responsibility for what I have not done.”