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President Donald Trump, right, speaks during a meeting with Navajo Code Talkers including Fleming Begaye Sr., seated left, Thomas Begay, second from left, and Peter MacDonald, second from right, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Facing tax vote in Senate, Trump seizes on cultural fights

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump sized up his coming week on Sunday and tweeted that it was a “big week for Tax Cuts and many other things of great importance to our Country.”

But over the next 48 hours he dished out tweets and quips that instead put the spotlight on an assortment of other matters — Pocahontas, NFL players who kneel during the national anthem, his disputes with the news media and Democrats who are “weak on crime.”

The tangents diverted attention from Trump’s agenda at a time of maximum consequence for his tax proposal and with a crush of December deadlines looming. And they offered fresh evidence of the president’s tendency to latch on to particular cultural touchstones and refuse to let them go.

The president has been mocking Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” since last year’s presidential campaign and he reignited the feud with a passing comment during a White House ceremony on Monday honoring Native Americans.

He’s been fanning the NFL-anthem issue throughout the fall football season. And he continues to bash political opponents like Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi as tax-hiking pushovers who are unwilling to bolster law enforcement, the military or the nation’s borders.

Hours before a scheduled White House meeting with the two Democrats and Republican congressional leaders, Trump slammed Schumer and Pelosi on immigration, crime and taxes, adding, “I don’t see a deal!” The two Democrats abruptly pulled out of the meeting, prompting Trump to leave empty seats for them on either side of him in the Roosevelt Room alongside Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Trump’s broadsides may seem random but they serve the president well on another front, by energizing his core supporters with darts that are sure to delight.

Even as the White House is searching for the votes to push a major tax package through the Senate, the president and his allies are itching for a fight with Warren, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and vocal Trump critic.

Trump has long mocked Warren’s claims about being part Native American, which first surfaced during her 2012 Senate race against Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Even in a country that has grown more diverse with each passing decade, the president has brushed aside criticism that the term is a racial slur.

Warren said following a protest outside the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Tuesday that Trump “seems to think that that’s somehow going to shut me up,” and prevent her from “talking about the tax bill that would favor giant corporations instead of working families.”

“He’s wrong. It’s not going to make any difference,” Warren said.

But Trump’s allies welcome the comparisons to Warren, a liberal icon in a party grappling with a leadership vacuum and still searching for the best way to counter the president.

“It’s about her not telling the truth and the extent to which she wants to engage in a debate on this, please keep going,” said former Trump campaign aide Barry Bennett.

“The more the conversation is him vs. her or the progressive Bernie Sanders wing of the party, it makes him look even better, because frankly there are a lot of Americans in between the coasts who are scared to death of progressive values,” Bennett said.

Trump’s focus on his Republican base has been magnified in his fresh dispute with Schumer and Pelosi. Long gone are the days when the president mused about cutting deals with his Democratic counterparts “Chuck and Nancy.”

His tweet about them on Tuesday helped allay concerns among some Republicans that he might use the meeting to negotiate with Democrats — without significant GOP input — on a budget deal or to protect immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and whose protected status is set to lapse next year.

Trump’s allies dismiss the notion that the president’s focus on side issues is an unwelcome distraction during a week in which the administration hopes to clear a big hurdle on taxes and give the president a major legislative achievement before the 2018 midterm elections after frustrating setbacks on health care. The president was making the case for the tax cuts during a speech Wednesday in St. Charles, Missouri.

“There’s no option for failure here. If they don’t hang together, they’re going to hang separately in 2018,” said Stephen Moore, a fellow at the conservative-oriented Heritage Foundation who advised the Trump campaign. “There’s no room for failure here. They have to deliver.”

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— Rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct, the House is moving ahead on legislation to require anti-sexual harassment training for all members and their staffs.

The vote comes amid a wave of accusations against lawmakers that has thrust the issue of gender hostility and discrimination on Capitol Hill squarely into the spotlight, and prompted calls for the embattled lawmakers to step down.

The measure would require lawmakers, their staffs and interns “to complete a program of training in workplace rights and responsibilities each session of each Congress” that includes anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training.

The Senate unanimously adopted a similar measure earlier this month. That vote came as titans of media, entertainment and sports faced swift punishment after allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior.

Since then, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the longest serving member of the House, is under fire after a news website published a report detailing a settlement with a staffer who said Conyers sexually harassed her, then fired her after she rebuffed his advances. A second former staffer has come forward with more claims of inappropriate behavior.

Conyers earlier this week announced that he’s stepping down from his leadership position on the House Judiciary Committee. Two Democratic lawmakers, Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York and Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state have called on Conyers to resign. The Ethics Committee has opened an investigation.

Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, recently apologized after a nude photo of him was leaked on social media.

Two weeks ago, a woman came forward to accuse Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., of forcibly kissing her during a USO tour in the Middle East in 2006, before he was elected to public office. Leeann Tweeden also released a photograph in which Franken appears to be groping her breasts while she sleeps. Two other women have since accused Franken of fondling their buttocks while posing for photographs.

Franken has apologized and said he welcomes a Senate Ethics investigation.

Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., one of the resolution’s sponsors, earlier this month told a story at a House hearing about a staffer who left Capitol Hill after a current member of Congress exposed himself to her. Comstock said she does not know the identity of the lawmaker.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., another co-sponsor, revealed at the same hearing that two current members, one Democrat and one Republican, have also engaged in sexual harassment. Speier declined to name the members, citing non-disclosure agreements as well as the wishes of the victims not to identify their harassers.

Next week, that committee will hold another hearing to review the Congressional Accountability Act, and propose reforms to the way in which harassment complaints are filed and handled on Capitol Hill.

The vote comes as Alabama GOP candidate Roy Moore faces allegations of preying on teenage girls decades ago. Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have called on Moore to step aside, saying they believe the women. President Donald Trump has all but endorsed Moore, who denies the allegations.

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