TRUMP AGENDA: Trump continues to reject evidence of Russia's intervention in 2016
A big look at Trump and Russia in the Washington Post: "Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House. The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government's response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government… The feeble American response has registered with the Kremlin. U.S. officials said that a stream of intelligence from sources inside the Russian government indicates that Putin and his lieutenants regard the 2016 "active measures" campaign — as the Russians describe such covert propaganda operations — as a resounding, if incomplete, success."
And meanwhile, via NBC's Alastair Jamieson: "Putin praises Trump on economy, says Russia collusion claims are 'invented'"
Yesterday's White House drama, from Ali Vitali and Kristen Welker. "Omarosa Manigault Newman, a White House aide and former "Apprentice" contestant, was forced out of her job, even though the White House said she resigned, a senior Trump administration official told NBC News on Wednesday night. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told NBC News earlier Wednesday that Newman had left her job as director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison "to pursue other opportunities." A White House official said earlier that she and President Donald Trump had a "nice" conversation on Wednesday, which the official described as "very cordial." But a source close to the White House said Wednesday night that Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly, made the decision to terminate Newman's employment. She was escorted off the White House grounds on Tuesday night after trying to re-enter the residence to debate the terms of her departure, the source said."
Omarosa's departure is another blow for diversity in the White House, notes the Washington Post.
Here's the latest on the tax bill, from our NBC News team: "Republicans in the House and Senate have reached an agreement in principle on their sweeping tax package that will slash individual and corporate rates, White House and GOP sources said Wednesday. Once the details are ironed out, Republicans hope to have a vote in the Senate first, then the House, with the legislation done in Congress by next Wednesday, a White House official said. It can then be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature. Two Republican sources familiar with the outlines of the deal confirmed to NBC News that the corporate tax rate would be cut to 21 percent, while the top tax rate for individuals would drop to 37 percent from 39.6 percent. The new rates would take effect next year."
More, from the New York Times: "The House and Senate versions of the tax bill started from the same core principles — sharply cutting taxes on businesses, while reducing rates and eliminating some breaks for individuals — but diverged on several crucial details. In the end, more of the Senate bill appeared to be included in the final version, though lawmakers continued to make significant changes from the legislation that passed either the House or the Senate."
"The final agreement is expected to steer clear of some of the more controversial changes in the House plan, including taxes on graduate-student tuition waivers, the repeal of deductions for student-loan interest and medical expenses and the end of tax-free private activity bonds used for projects such as hospitals and affordable housing," writes the Wall Street Journal. "It was unclear how Republicans made these changes and stayed within the $1.5 trillion tax-cut limit they set for themselves."
And here's what's going on with the net neutrality fight, from NBC's Alyssa Newcomb and Jo Ling Kent: "Your future internet experience now rests in the hands of the Federal Communications Commission, which is expected to vote on Thursday to end rules requiring internet service providers to treat all traffic as equal. The five members are expected to vote 3-2 along party lines to scrap Obama-era net neutrality rules, returning to a "light touch"approach and ending what Chairman Ajit Pai has called the federal government's "micromanaging" of the internet."
More, via the Washington Post: "Federal regulators are expected to vote Thursday morning to allow Internet providers to speed up service for some apps and websites — and block or slow down others — in a decision repealing landmark, Obama-era regulations for broadband companies such as AT&T and Verizon. The move to deregulate the telecom and cable industry would be a major setback for tech companies, consumer groups and Democrats who lobbied heavily against the decision. And it would be a sweeping victory for Republicans who vowed to roll back the efforts of the prior administration, despite a recent survey showing that 83 percent of Americans — including 3 out of 4 Republicans — opposed the plan."
POLITICO: "The White House is preparing to unveil its long-awaited $1 trillion infrastructure plan soon after President Donald Trump signs the GOP tax overhaul, hoping to begin 2018 with another big legislative win — but its approach is already drawing resistance from Democrats who are in no mood to cooperate."
Two of Trump's controversial judicial nominees won't move forward. NBC has the story here.
And finally, this story out of Kentucky is having reverberations nationwide. "Rep. Dan Johnson died by "a probable suicide" Wednesday night, just two days after allegations surfaced that he had sexually abused a teenage girl at the church where he was a pastor…Johnson was accused by a woman of molesting her when she was 17 after a New Year's party in 2012, according to a wide-ranging report published Monday by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting…. Around 6 p.m. Wednesday, Johnson wrote on Facebook that the allegations were false and sent a farewell to his church followers and family."
OFF TO THE RACES: Next up on the political calendar — Pennsylvania
What's next for more special elections? The New York Times: "Republicans are now bracing for the possibility of another unexpectedly difficult special election, in March, this one in a conservative-leaning House district in western Pennsylvania, and they are resigned to having to spend money to protect what has been a safe seat. Further, [Rep. Charlie] Dent, who has already said he will not seek re-election next year, confirmed he has had conversations with TV news executives about becoming an analyst, raising the possibility that he would leave his seat early and create yet another special election for his party. ("I have no definitive plans," he said.)"
AL-SEN:NBC's Alex Seitz-Wald, on how Democrats are dreaming big after their Alabama victory: "With Jones putting them one seat closer to taking the Senate, Democrats are eyeing not only Arizona and Nevada, but bigger reaches in Texas and Tennessee, where former Gov. Phil Bredesen recently jumped in the race… There is no path back to power for Democrats that ignores the South, and Democrats are also looking at governors races in some of the reddest states in the country — Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kansas and even Alabama, where Republican Gov. Kay Ivey suffered some collateral damage from Moore."
Jonathan Allen writes that Steve Bannon is regrouping. "The first step, according to sources in Bannon's camp, is to use the defeat in conservative Alabama to argue that Republican Roy Moore would have won if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other establishment GOP leaders hadn't abandoned him in the face of allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls. Moore denies that he did anything improper."
Black women turned out for Jones. Here's why, per NBC's Chandelis Duster and Foluké Tuakli.
Doug Jones says "it's time to move on" and for Roy Moore to concede.
MT-SEN: The Star Tribune profiles incoming senator Tina Smith.
NY-GOV: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded to a question about sexual harassment in state government. It didn't go well.
SC-GOV: Does the Alabama loss for Steve Bannon have consequences for the South Carolina governor's race?
TN-SEN: "Democrat James Mackler, a Nashville attorney and Iraq War veteran, is dropping out of next year's U.S. Senate race in Tennessee after his bid became a long-shot following the entry of former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen."
TX-27: "In the first overt sign that U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, is losing support among his Republican colleagues in the Texas delegation, the embattled congressman's most prominent primary challenger announced the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, late Wednesday," writes the Texas Tribune's Abby Livingston.