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Who’s comfortable — and who’s uneasy — with a changing American culture?



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WASHINGTON — America has always had its culture wars, and they’re only intensified when news events big and small are filtered through the prism of Donald Trump. (The latest debates over the Census question on citizenship, the transgender military ban, the Laura Ingraham vs. David Hogg conflict and even the popularity of the “Roseanne” reboot are just a handful of recent reminders.)

And the continuing divide over a changing American culture shows why the wars continue to rage. In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 54 percent of Americans said that they are comfortable with American society becoming more diverse and tolerant of different lifestyles, gender roles, languages and other experiences, while 25 percent said that the changes make them uneasy.

But the geographic, generational and — yes — partisan differences over the changing culture also show us some of the broad outlines of the two party coalitions.

Here’s a closer look at who’s comfortable and who’s uneasy with a changing culture.

Most comfortable

  • Clinton voters: 80 percent
  • Liberals: 80 percent
  • Prefer a Democratic Congress in November: 77 percent
  • Democrats: 74 percent
  • Whites with a college degree: 64 percent
  • Millennials: 64 percent
  • Urban dwellers: 62 percent

Most uneasy

  • Prefer a Republican Congress in November: 45 percent
  • Trump voters: 44 percent
  • Republicans: 43 percent
  • Conservatives: 43 percent
  • Rural dwellers: 35 percent
  • Whites without a college degree: 32 percent
  • Baby Boomers and older: 31 percent

On abortion and Planned Parenthood

Another key finding in the newly-released data showed that support for abortion rights has hit a new high. Fifty-five percent of Americans now say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 43 percent say that it should be illegal in all or most cases. Also hitting a new high: The popularity of Planned Parenthood, which is now rated positively by 52 percent of Americans, compared to 25 percent who rate it negatively. (That’s up from 45 percent positive/ 30 percent negative in July 2015.)

Here’s a subtle but interesting disparity between those two numbers, by the way, that provides some insight into how the politics around funding for Planned Parenthood aren’t the same as the politics around abortion generally.

On the issue of whether abortion should be legal, there’s little daylight between whites and nonwhites (who favor legal abortion in all or most cases by a net 11 and 13 percentage points, respectively.) But when it comes to favorability for Planned Parenthood, nonwhites are significantly more positive than whites. Nearly six-in-ten (59 percent) view the organization positively, while just 13 percent view it negatively; among whites, it’s 49 percent positive, 30 percent negative.

The difference is even more stark among those with lower levels of education. Among those with a high school education or less, a majority — 54 percent — say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, compared to 42 percent who say it should be legal all or most cases. But in the same subgroup, Planned Parenthood has a net positive rating by a big margin, with 48 percent viewing it positively and just 25 percent viewing it negatively.

“This is a reminder about the role Planned Parenthood plays in providing health care services and who those services are being directed towards,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the poll along with Democratic pollster Fred Yang.

New VA pick is getting pummeled on qualifications. That could be tough to recover from

The first 36 hours for new Veterans Affairs nominee Dr. Ronny Jackson have been, well, a little bumpy. Congressional Republicans and veterans groups are being very cautious (at best) about his unexpected selection. And most of the coverage has focused on how he would be walking into a leadership position in the government’s second-largest bureaucracy without any meaningful management experience.

Controversies for incoming nominees over policy, past statements or potential conflicts can be tricky — but also surmountable for many candidates if they handle them the right way. But skepticism over inexperience can be one of the hardest questions to overcome. (Remember Harriet Miers?) We know that this president is loath to change course, but if this level of criticism keeps up, it wouldn’t be shocking to start seeing some leaks about some second thoughts from the West Wing.

Trump to Putin: ‘If you want to have an arms race we can do that, but I’ll win.’

Here’s NBC’s latest reporting on how Trump has urged aides not to tout moves to crack down on Russia, from NBC’s Carol Lee, Courtney Kube and Kristen Welker: “President Donald Trump’s national security advisers spent months trying to convince him to sign off on a plan to supply new U.S. weapons to Ukraine to aid in the country’s fight against Russian-backed separatists, according to multiple senior administration officials. Yet when the president finally authorized the major policy shift, he told his aides not to publicly tout his decision, officials said. Doing so, Trump argued, might agitate Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the officials….

“Officials said the increasingly puzzling divide between Trump’s policy decisions and public posture on Russia stems from his continued hope for warmer relations with Putin and stubborn refusal to be seen as appeasing the media or critics who question his silence or kind words for the Russian leader.”

More: “Behind the scenes, however, Trump has recently taken a sharper tone on Putin, administration officials said, but the shift seems more a reaction to the Russian leader challenging the president’s strength than a new belief that he’s an adversary. Putin’s claim earlier this month that Russia has new nuclear-capable weapons that could hit the U.S., a threat he underscored with video simulating an attack, “really got under the president’s skin,” one official said… Two officials said Trump told Putin during a phone call last week after Putin’s re-election: ‘If you want to have an arms race we can do that, but I’ll win.’”

Russia test-fires another missile after expelling dozens of U.S. diplomats

Of course, these Trump-Putin revelations come as Russia claims that it has test-fired a missile of the type that Putin bragged about (when he “got under the president’s skin.”) … *And* as Russia is retaliating for the expulsion of 60 of its diplomats from the United States by expelling 60 American diplomats from its own country. … *And* as POLITICO is reporting that Russian ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov has been pleading with Sen. Orrin Hatch for help securing meetings with U.S. lawmakers and officials who have refused or ignored his requests.

On the TODAY show, Antonov said of the current tensions: “It depends upon us to decide whether we are in Cold War or not. But … I don’t remember such [a] bad shape of our relations.”

Sessions won’t name a second special counsel to probe alleged FBI bias

Earlier this month, we noticed that some noteworthy members of Republican leadership were joining the call for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a special counsel to look at allegations of political bias in the FBI. Yesterday, we got our answer from Sessions: No dice. (although he does say that the U.S. attorney in Utah is also probing the issue, in addition to the DOJ inspector general.)

Here’s more from NBC’s Pete Williams: “Appointing a special counsel, Sessions said Thursday, is “by design, reserved for use in only the most extraordinary circumstances.” He noted that since the special counsel rules were established in 1999, they’ve been invoked only twice. In the meantime, Sessions said, the Justice Department ‘has successfully investigated and prosecuted many high-profile, resource-intensive matters.’”

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Boris Johnson told 'up your game' and 'listen to shop floor' in fishing row



A FORMER Brexit Party MEP has called on Boris Johnson to “up your game” to help British fishermen amid claims post-Brexit trade barriers had left some within the industry struggling to survive.

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Biden calls for ‘peace and calm’ in wake of Daunte Wright shooting in Minnesota



President Joe Biden on Monday called for “peace and calm” in the wake of the”tragic” fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright in Minnesota.

“I haven’t called Daunte Wright’s family, but my prayers are with the family. It’s really a tragic thing that happened,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office of Wright’s death Sunday. “The question is, was it an accident? Was it intentional? That remains to be determined by a full-blown investigation,” he said, describing the body-camera footage of the shooting as “fairly graphic.”

Wright, 20, was shot after he was pulled over in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center for allegedly having an air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror, which is illegal in Minnesota. Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said he believes, based on the body camera footage, that the officer who shot Wright mistakenly believed she was firing a taser and not her gun.

The shooting took place about 14 miles north of where George Floyd was killed last year, as former police officer Derek Chauvin is standing trial for Floyd’s murder. Floyd’s death set off a wave of protests across the country last year, some of which led to rioting and looting.

Biden called for any protests to Wright’s shooting to remain “peaceful,” echoing a plea from Wright’s mother.

“There is absolutely no justification, none, for looting, no justification for violence. Peaceful protests, understandable, and the fact is that, you know, we do know, that the anger, pain, and trauma that exists in the Black community in that environment is real, it’s serious, and it’s consequential. But it will not justify violence and/or looting,” he said.

“And we should listen to Daunte’s mom, who is calling for peace and calm,” he said.

Asked if he’d deploy federal resources to help keep the peace if necessary, Biden noted that he’d already done so because of the Chauvin trial.

“There are already federal resources,” Biden said. “There will not be a lack of help and support from the federal government if the local authorities believe it’s needed.”

Emma Thorne contributed.

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Trump-era tax change emerges as wedge issue in Democrats’ infrastructure debate



Dissent whether to reinstate unlimited state and local tax deductions has emerged as a critical wedge in Democrats’ path to advancing President Joe Biden’s sweeping infrastructure plan.

Unlike most of former President Donald Trump’s policies, which the Biden administration has aimed to largely undo, the institution of the so-called SALT caps by Congress in 2017 has received support among elements of the Democratic Party — not least of all from the president himself.

Progressive groups have maintained the deduction predominantly benefits the wealthy, and the White House has signaled it wants to keep them because they can help pay for the infrastructure plan. Calls to reverse the caps, and restore the unlimited deduction, however, have emanated from a growing number of moderate Democrats predominantly from the Northeast and California — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. — where property-owning residents of those high-tax states stand to benefit from the relief on their federal taxes.

The debate puts Biden, who campaigned on reversing most of Trump’s tax moves, including the SALT caps, in the unusual spot of siding against reversing a Trump policy.

Democratic strategists and lawmakers say the battle should come as no surprise: Trump set up this very fight to occur when he included the controversial caps on SALT deductions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The measure has, as intended, divided Democrats into a wealthier, establishment camp that favored the uncapped deductions, and a more populist and progressive wing that outspokenly supports higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for social programs and reduce income inequality.

“Democrats haven’t shown that they’re all in this together. And Mr. Biden doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room here,” said Glenn Totten, a veteran Democratic strategist.

“For now, all this debate does is make the job of Mitch McConnell and the Republicans easier because it frames it as a blue state versus red state issue,” he added. “Which was one of the intentions of the SALT caps in the first place.”

‘Not a revenue raiser’

The White House has repeatedly signaled that SALT caps are the rare policy issue from the Trump era that Biden supports.

During press briefings last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded to multiple questions about the SALT issue by pointing out that undoing the caps “is not a revenue raiser,” even after it was pointed out to her by reporters that Democrats who support reversing the caps could easily sink an infrastructure bill.

Axios reported earlier this month that senior members of the administration felt that keeping the caps in place is “good policy” because they bring tens of billions of dollars in federal tax revenue.

A Biden administration spokesperson responded to questions from NBC News about the White House’s position on SALT by pointing to Psaki’s comments at recent briefings.

Progressive groups and strategists have said they support the SALT caps because they do, in fact, make a large portion of high earners pay more in federal taxes, which can then be used to fund progressive programs.

“It’s necessary to tax the wealthy, which has become a widely popular position. It’s clear that needs to happen. That is one way to do it,” said Maura Quint, the executive director of Tax March, a progressive group that advocates for tax fairness.

But so far, those lawmakers who want to reverse this particular Trump policy aren’t budging.

Eight moderate House Democrats, mostly from the blue states where residents were hammered by Trump’s SALT caps, penned a letter earlier this month, saying they were a hard “no” on Biden’s plan if it didn’t include lifting them.

“We’re going to keep fighting until this is part of the bill. It’s as critical as a road or a bridge or a tunnel, which is why we are going to keep fighting for it until the end,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who was one of the eight to sign the letter, said in an interview.

“The SALT deduction cap was designed to target blue states,” Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., who also signed the letter, said in an email. “We are being punished for running programs that help our citizens.”

Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., another signatory, told NBC News that, “If we don’t get it done now, we won’t get it done. I’m pushing for a full repeal.” He added, “No SALT, no deal,” repeating a mantra both he and Gottheimer have said recently.

Pelosi has said in recent days that she is a “big supporter” of and was “sympathetic” to removing the caps and that “hopefully we can get it into the bill.” Schumer, meanwhile, sponsored a bill earlier this year that would restore the SALT deduction.

That could end up being more than enough to push Biden, who had expressed support for repealing the caps during the presidential primary, to undo them and align with the moderates.

Democrats have a narrow majority in the House and must keep their defections to a minimum in order to pass a bill, unless they get Republican support. In the Senate, a host of other issues, including a robust debate over raising corporate taxes, promise to further complicate the plan’s future.

‘Retribution politics’ or tax the rich?

Prior to 2017, filers could deduct all of their state and local taxes against their federal taxes.

For taxpayers in high-tax states such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California, the SALT deduction offered potentially enormous federal tax relief, because filers could write off the large amount of state and local taxes they were paying.

But the Trump administration, as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, instituted a $10,000 cap on that deduction, meaning filers who pay tens of thousands of dollars in state and local taxes now faced a very low ceiling to what they could deduct. As a result, the amount in federal taxes these filers owed went up significantly.

Proponents of keeping SALT caps, including progressives, have pointed to the fact that their removal would disproportionately benefit the wealthy. According to a 2020 Brookings Institution analysis, 96 percent of the benefits of a SALT cap repeal would help the top fifth of all taxpayers, and nearly 60 percent of the benefits would help the top 1 percent. Twenty-five percent of the benefits of a SALT cap repeal would benefit the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers, the analysis found.

Lawmakers in high-tax blue states have claimed Trump and Republicans included the measure to punish them. (New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called the policy “retribution politics, plain and simple.”)

“It’s impossible to deny that Republicans when they fashioned their tax bill, were quick to try to use wedge issues wherever possible,” Totten said.

What happens next?

The irony that Biden’s posture on a policy created by Trump could make or break an infrastructure package isn’t lost on strategists. Several said that regardless of that unusual intersection, Biden’s apparent support of keeping the SALT caps simply helps bolster the consistency he’s so far maintained in pitching progressive policies.

“It makes for some strange bedfellows,” Democratic strategist Joel Payne said.

Payne pointed out that, even though it was a Trump-era policy, SALT caps actually align with a progressive ”bottom-up approach” to the economy — one on which the Biden presidency has been consistent.

“The president is siding with the progressive position, which has been a consistent thread in all of his policy pronouncements so far, certainly with tax policy — that wealthy and the well-connected should pay more,” he said. “And that he could possibly dig in there represents a sea change in mainstream Democratic politics.”

In Payne’s estimation, Biden “is going to negotiate on this.”

The president is scheduled to meet Monday with Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate to talk about his infrastructure plan.

What future talks look like — possibilities include giving moderate Democrats what they seek; raising the caps instead of lifting them altogether; or promising that addressing the caps will come in a different bill, possibly Biden’s promised second infrastructure bill — is just the latest example of how Biden will have to work to keep the Democratic Party’s delicate coalition together while also keeping promises to undo many of his predecessor’s policies.

Some progressives are signaling they’re willing to cede some ground.

“Fundamentally, SALT isn’t necessarily the top issue,” said Quint, of Tax March, whose group just last year had been strongly opposed to efforts to repeal the caps. “We need to be looking at larger issues like increasing the corporate tax rate, looking at a wealth tax. The SALT cap is not an area for us to get lost in or divided over.”

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