RAY SUAREZ, HOST:
Christmas may be coming early for Republicans with the final version of their tax bill now headed for a vote this week. After weeks of negotiation and some last-minute changes on Friday, House and Senate Republicans were able to come to an agreement. But is it still the once-in-a-generation tax overhaul they had hoped for? And there’s still one big agenda item Congress needs to take care of before the end of the year – that’s the budget. So will this be an opportunity for Democrats to get some of what they want? Let’s bring in national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ray.
SUAREZ: This will be the Republicans’ first major legislative win of this Congress. Are they getting what they wanted?
LIASSON: Well, you said it. They’re getting what they wanted – their first major legislative win. That’s what they really wanted. But this is a supply-side-trickle-down piece of legislation with big tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. And that is pretty much where Republicans in Congress are, despite President Trump’s populist rhetoric. Every step of the way, this bill was tweaked, and it tilted more and more and more to the wealthy. Economists say it will only have a modest effect on growth, big effect on the deficit. But at least, in the short term, everyone gets a tax cut – even a small one. And that’s what the Republicans wanted.
SUAREZ: Internally, they were talking about how they needed a win, but it is a very unpopular bill. Does this solve their political problem?
LIASSON: I think it solves one of their political problems. They can go home to their donors and to their base voters and say, we cut taxes. As you said, the bill is unpopular. And now, the big question is, will voters notice that they got a tax cut? Will they be aware that, for individual taxpayers, those cuts are only temporary? And will this bill have the effect on the economy that the Republicans hope it will?
SUAREZ: There’s still work to get budgeting done. Given how unpopular the tax bill has been with Democrats, what do you think they’ll insist on during budget negotiations?
LIASSON: Well, the Congress passed another short-term budget bill that keeps the government open until December 22. So that means, this week, they’re going to have to pass another one. What they’re talking about is passing another short-term extension that just goes into January. But the Democrats are going to try to get some kind of relief for the DREAMers – that’s the DACA bill that says that young people brought here illegally – in some cases, by their parents – could get relief from deportation. And Democrats want to make sure that if there are defense-spending hikes that domestic spending also gets increased. So when we get down to the last, final minute – whether it’s this week or in January – Democrats are going to insist on those things in return for their votes.
SUAREZ: Mara, let’s turn to another issue percolating in Washington – special counsel Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election of 2016. Lawyers representing Trump’s presidential transition have accused the Mueller team of obtaining unauthorized access to tens of thousands of emails from the transition. Explain what’s going on there.
LIASSON: What’s going on here is that the Trump transition organization is saying that Robert Mueller obtained these emails from the transition illegally. And the context for this is there has been an intense and concerted effort from the White House, from President Trump and all of his supporters in conservative media to undermine and delegitimize Mueller and say that he’s hopelessly biased against Trump and that everything he’s doing is illegitimate.
SUAREZ: And by way of explanation, what is the special counsel’s office saying in reply?
LIASSON: Right. The special counsel says that all of these emails were obtained either with the consent of the person who wrote them or through legal criminal procedures. So they feel they’re on pretty strong ground. I think that this charge is much more of a political one than a legal one. It’s just another way that Trump supporters can attack Mueller and undermine him, so that whatever he says, in the end, they can dismiss as fake news, as a witch hunt, a hoax – all of the things that President Trump has been calling this investigation.
SUAREZ: That’s Mara Liasson, NPR national political correspondent. Thanks, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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