Elephants in the Room Loom Over D.C.: This Week in Washington

(Bloomberg) -- Thanksgiving week is supposed to be one of the quietest weeks on the Washington calendar. This is a year, however, without quiet.

Nafta talks continue, and they’re not close to resolution. Robert Mueller’s probe continues with a drip-drip-drip of more and more subpoenas. And President Trump may escalate his war of words with North Korea, as the White House has promised an announcement on whether the country will be added to a list of state sponsors of terror.

Next week sees a showdown Senate vote on taxes, and the week after that a government funding deadline and possible shutdown showdown. One week later, the Alabama Senate election and a key test of the potency of recent sexual harassment scandals at the ballot box.

The list of proverbial elephants in the room are so many that it includes actual elephants.

Specifically, President Trump will decide whether the U.S. will allow African elephant hunting trophies to be imported. Trump says he’ll make an announcement this week, and is signaling that he won’t allow it, reversing an earlier decision by his own Interior Department.

Amid all that seriousness, one of the sillier moments in the presidential calendar comes on Tuesday.

That’s when President Trump is scheduled to pardon the annual Thanksgiving turkey. The turkeys (there are always two in case one gets stage fright) are treated to a luxury D.C. hotel stay before going to the White House. There, handlers and the White House staff simply have to hope the birds don’t do anything to embarrass the president on live television.

One day, a president will decide this is all a bit ridiculous, stride up to the begobbled beast, shelve the pardon and declare the turkey delicious. Sadly, not this year. Instead, they’ll be sent to live the rest of their lives in the lap of avian luxury.

Later in the week Washington will pause for the Thanksgiving holiday. The Trumps will spend it at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

Sexual assault scandals

NBC has landed an interview with Leigh Corfman to air early today to kick off what will probably be another week of accusations of unacceptable actions levied against powerful men.

Corfman was among the first women to accuse Roy Moore of sexual assault when she was a young teenager. Moore remains defiant in the face of mounting accusations, but just weeks before the Dec. 12 Alabama Senate special election, the Republican’s polling lead has evaporated. In Minnesota, Democratic Sen. Al Franken had been talked of as a possible presidential contender in 2020. No longer. Indeed, with an Ethics Committee investigation looming, it’s unknown if he’ll be able to hold onto his seat.

Expect more of this. Several media organizations are looking into allegations on Capitol Hill. Some questions being asked:

  • Representative Jackie Speier told a House panel she knows of two sexual harassers currently serving in Congress. Who are they?
  • Congress’ office responsible for handling harassment and discrimination complaints has paid out $17 million in settlements since the 1990s. While sexual harassment is only part of what that office deals with, the cause of those settlements remains a mystery.

Insulting the whip count

An unusual move from President Trump Sunday highlights the very fragile vote math for Senate Republicans on taxes. As it stands, the GOP can lose two votes and still pass their tax bill. Right now, Ron Johnson is a no on the bill as written, and Susan Collins says she wants major changes.

In stepped @RealDonaldTrump to make the math harder:

  • "Sen. Jeff Flake(y), who is unelectable in the Great State of Arizona (quit race, anemic polls) was caught (purposely) on ‘mike’ saying bad things about your favorite President. He’ll be a NO on tax cuts because his political career anyway is ‘toast.’"

Set aside personal animus between the two for a moment, and you find that Flake is a senator who votes with Republican leaders 99 percent of the time, according to data tracked by Bloomberg Government. Furthermore, Flake isn’t considered one of the harder votes to win here. Flake’s office, for the record, says he’s still reviewing the bill. They add that his vote will have nothing to do with the president.

The Senate will take up their tax bill next week. If they want to pass the bill, Trump’s prediction about where Flake will end up better be wrong.

Other notable events

  • TransCanada Corp. will find out on Monday whether Nebraska will allow the company to begin laying pipe for the Keystone XL pipeline
  • Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen gives a speech on Tuesday at New York University’s Stern Business School, as part of its “In Conversation with Mervyn King” series
  • The Federal Reserve on Wednesday issues minutes from its most recent monetary policy meeting
  • The U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving on Thursday; U.S. equity and bond markets will be closed

Read more

  • Link to the Washington Weekly Agenda for the week of Nov. 20

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