• White House/Andrea Hanks(WASHINGTON) -- Christmas at the White House in the eyes of President Donald Trump has been a “big” and “merry” affair in his first year on the job.“I told you that we would be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again, right?” the president told a gathering at a recent speech in Missouri.The Trumps are ringing in the holidays with a dizzying flurry of Christmas-themed events that have packed the presidential mansion throughout the month of December.First lady Melania Trump expects to host and attend with her husband approximately 20 holiday receptions, her office said. She will also throw the doors open to roughly 25,000 guests who will shuffle through the festive state floor in addition to 100 open houses expected by the end of the year.“The first lady has seen to every detail,” the first lady's press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, told ABC News. Planning began in June, she said.Decking the halls took a small army. More than 150 volunteers and White House staff wrapped 53 Christmas trees with 18,000 feet of twinkle lights and hung more than 12,000 ornaments on their branches, according to the first lady's office.Doors and windows across White House grounds are adorned with 71 wreaths. And from the White House kitchen, pastry chefs cut and decorated 31,000 Christmas cookies and assembled a candy-studded, 350-pound gingerbread version of the presidential mansion.It took a combined 1,600 hours of labor to get 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in the Christmas spirit, according to the White House.Who pays for the decorations? Administration officials would not reveal the total cost of the Trumps' first White House Christmas or discuss how it compares to other administrations, but Grisham said the “Christmas décor is budgeted."And while the style is unique, the amount of Christmas decoration in the Trump White House appears consistent with that of their predecessors.A colorful illustrated brochure depicting this year's themed decorations -- and signed by Donald, Melania and Barron Trump -- is distributed to each of the thousands of guests. Illustrator Jim Starr of Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, told ABC News that he took on the project pro bono."It was an honor to be asked by the White House to do it," he said. He got 25 tickets for White House Christmas tours in return. Aides declined to say how much was spent in printing costs.As for the yards of garland, ribbon, bows and other various decor, current and former White House aides said many pieces are reused.“There’s a warehouse that has all the White House Christmas decorations from all the years, so what we’d do is we go in there and use those, and those are already bought and paid for,” said Deesha Dyer, who served as the social secretary during the Obama’s final two Christmases at the White House.The National Park Service said it has helped purchase the 53 trees dotting the inside of the White House -- a similar number it acquires ever year.“This year, the trees were purchased from farms in West Virginia and North Carolina,” Park Service spokesperson Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said.Congress designated the White House a historic site in 1960, giving partial responsibility for its care and upkeep to the National Park Service.Who pays for catered receptions? While thousands of Americans get a chance to see the White House Christmas decor firsthand, a significantly smaller, select group gets a coveted invitation to one of the receptions where the bar is open and lavish spreads of food are served on festive buffets.“Those events are populated with political supporters, state party chairman, so they cannot be paid for with government money. These are really private events,” said Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush. “So the Republican National Committee pays for the receptions where there’s food and drink.”A Republi
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Twelve House Republicans, including 11 who hail from districts in states won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, voted against the GOP's ambitious $1.5 trillion measure that rewrites the nation's tax code.The 11 blue state Republicans who voted no are all from California, New York or New Jersey, and represent mostly suburban districts that Democrats are targeting in their quest to retake the House in the 2018 midterm elections.Representatives Dan Donovan, R-NY, John Faso, R-NY, Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-NJ, Darrell Issa, R-CA, Peter King, R-NY, Leonard Lance, R-NJ, Frank LoBiondo, R-NJ, Dana Rohrabacher, R-CA, Chris Smith, R-NJ, Elise Stefanik, R-NY and Lee Zeldin, R-NY all voted against H.R. 1, The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.Rep. Walter Jones, R-NC, was the only Republican from a state that Donald Trump won in 2016 to vote against the bill.The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), immediately pounced on news of the bill's passage, painting the legislation as a giveaway to wealthy Americans and promising to use it as an issue in the upcoming midterms.“Democratic candidates are already running against this tax scam and winning the debate in their communities, and passing this historically unpopular bill will have far-reaching electoral consequences for House Republicans next year," DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly said in a statement Tuesday.Recent polling on the GOP tax plan indicates that many believe the bill benefits wealthy Americans over the poor and middle class. In a CNN/SSRS poll released Tuesday, 66% of respondents said the bill will do more for wealthy Americans than the middle class or the poor, and 65% of respondents in a Quinnipiac poll released on December 13 said the wealthy will benefit the most from the plan.In defending their votes, the House Republicans who voted no cited a new limit on a deduction key to their constituents, and pointed to the already high tax burden they faced as another reason for their vote."The people of New Jersey already carry an extremely heavy tax burden. They need and deserve tax cuts. Unfortunately, H.R. 1 caps the federal deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) which will lead to tax increases for far too many hardworking New Jersey families," New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement released Tuesday. "I had hoped to be able to vote for a pro-growth tax bill. However, H.R. 1 forces New Jersey residents to pay for tax cuts for residents in other states. I voted ‘No’!"Rep. John Faso of New York said the bill did not fit his criteria of helping "increase economic growth, increase worker paychecks, incentivize small business investment and ensure New York families are better off."Others, including Zeldin, Stefanik and Rohrabacher had already announced their opposition to the bill earlier this week.
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  • ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Abdul El-Sayed says America is ready for its first Muslim governor. He's thrown his hat in the ring in his home state of Michigan, banking on his advocacy for progressive policies like a single payer health care and legalizing marijuana to reap the tax benefits."Think about what it would mean for our country," El-Sayed said, "if one of the states that helped push Donald Trump over the edge turned around and elected a 33-year-old Muslim-doctor as governor."A first-generation American, El-Sayed is also a former star athlete, Rhodes Scholar and university professor. He cut his teeth in public service as director of Detroit's public health system, a job he took on at just 30 years old. At the time, El-Sayed was working as a professor at Columbia University and became frustrated studying health disparities and feeling like he could not have an immediate impact."I really wanted to be a part of fixing the problem," he said. "I didn't feel a sense of urgency in the room. I think a lot of folks in the academy do great work and it matters, but they're so far removed from the people who suffer the disparities that they study. And I think when you take the time to expose yourself to that, the sense of urgency comes back."After accepting the job as director of Detroit’s public health system, El-Sayed and his team instituted social programs that delivered free glasses to every child in the city that needed them, rebuilt the animal control system and created peer-mentorship programs for mothers who are newly pregnant.“We were able to deliver a set of goods and services to people in the city that hadn't been delivered for a very long time,” he said.Realizing that he was still limited in his ability to enact policy change as health director, El-Sayed said he decided to run for Governor. He said he wanted to build “the kinds of institutions that empower people to have their best, most dignified lives.""So much of the work that we needed to do in places like Detroit and in places like Flint and other places like Kalkaska ... require an agenda that puts people's well-being first," El-Sayed said. "I wasn't seeing that either at the city level or at the state level."But, running for elected office wasn’t always a consideration for El-Sayed. He said the first person to ever tell him to consider a career in politics was former President Clinton, who was his college commencement speaker. El-Sayed was valedictorian at his college and said that Clinton approached him after his speech and asked why he was going to medical school and suggested he should consider running for office.At the time, just six years after 9/11, El-Sayed recalls thinking elected office was not possible for someone like him. It wasn’t until 2004, when he saw President Obama speaking at the Democratic National Convention, that he felt a “young brown man with a funny name” like himself could run for office.Now, he wants to lead the state that won Donald Trump the presidency by campaigning on unity, hope and creating faith in a new generation of leadership.“It has been a hard 10 years in Michigan, but I hope that we can think about what we want to build together," El-Sayed said, "that we are willing to dignify all of us, as equal under the eyes of the law, and equal under our state's goals and aspirations and then build that way."Check out the full conversation on this week’s episode of "Uncomfortable."Download and subscribe to the "Uncomfortable" podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Stitcher, and ABC News podcasts.El-Sayed was interviewed as part of a series called "Uncomfortable," hosted by Amna Nawaz, that offers in-depth honest conversations with influential leaders about issues dividing America.
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  • ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- Republicans are on the brink of sending President Trump their first bona fide legislative accomplishment, as both chambers of Congress prepare to pass tax reform on Tuesday.The House of Representatives is expected to clear the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act conference report on Tuesday afternoon. While top Republicans say they expect the bill to easily pass, a familiar class of 13 moderates who opposed tax reform in the House the first time around are expected to remain opposed.“I'm still going to be a no,” Rep. Dan Donovan, R-New York, said. “The changes in the SALT deduction actually don't satisfy the needs of the people that I represent. It's still a bill that's going to give tax relief to other parts of America on the backs of New Yorkers. And so, I'm still going to vote no.”Once the lower chamber approves the measure, the Senate is expected to quickly follow suit. If the legislation survives any potential Democratic procedural challenges in the upper chamber, the president could sign the bill as early as Wednesday.With the GOP unable to send the American Health Care Act to the White House, passage of the tax overhaul would finally furnish a decisive legislative victory for the president, closing out one of Trump’s chief campaign promises just before Christmas. But Rep. Peter King, another New York Republican who plans to vote against the plan, says that Republican voters in his district won’t count the bill as a win for the president.“People who voted for Trump are very disappointed,” King told reporters Monday evening. “It's certainly unpopular in my district. That's all I'm hearing from Republicans.”The legislation maintains seven tax brackets, with the country’s wealthiest earners enjoying a top-rate decrease from 39.6 percent to 37 percent. It also dramatically cuts the corporate rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.Republicans crafted the bill with the aim to simplify the tax code by cutting loopholes for special interests. But the new rules preserve many popular deductions, such as for mortgage interest, student loans, adoptions and charitable giving.The measure also repeals Obamacare’s individual mandate, which requires people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. That could lead to 13 million more Americans without health insurance, according to the Congressional Budget Office, though it would save $338 billion in federal health insurance subsidy payments over the next decade.The bill, which carries an estimated $1.5 trillion price tag over 10 years, is not expected to win any Democratic support. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi points to a new analysis from the non-partisan Tax Policy Center that predicts 86 million people would see a tax increase compared to current law by 2027, while 83 percent of the anticipated benefits would be reaped by the wealthiest one percent of taxpayers.“Republicans will vote to let the wealthiest one percent steal the future of the middle class in America,” Pelosi, D-Calif., stated. “The GOP tax bill will go down as one of the most scandalous, obscene acts of plutocracy ever.”Rep. Kevin Brady, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, says that analyses focusing on the back end of the 10-year window are misleading because many of the individual tax breaks expire in eight years.“That's just cherry-picking the numbers,” Brady said. “Look, we've just finished eight years of Washington spending your money. Let's try eight years of you spending your money and making America competitive and then a future Congress can decide is that right for this country. My guess is they're going to say people should keep more of what they earn.”Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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