The 4 most important stories of the week, explained

It was a big week.

It was the kind of week where a convicted war criminal drinking poison in open court on live television ended up lost in the shuffle. The kind of week where former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn reaching a plea deal with Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors doesn’t quite make the weekly roundup cut because we don’t know what cooperation he’s offered.

It was, in short, a big week. A week where, most of all, Donald Trump scored his first really big legislative win and outlined a plan to master the national security apparatus during his second year in office.

Here’s what you need to know.

Senate Republicans are on track to pass their tax cut

After an extremely chaotic 24 hours, Senate Republican leaders rounded up the votes needed to pass a version of the GOP tax plan by offering Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) a substantive concession on the deductibility of property tax payments and offering Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) what seems to be a meaningless promise to consult him on a potential fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30:  Staffers with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer's (D-NY) office bring in pizzas for a late evening of voting in the Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill November 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. Senate Republicans are poised to pass sweeping tax cuts as early as Thursday night or Friday.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Staffers with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D-NY) office bring in pizzas for a late evening of voting in the Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill on November 30.
  • It’s not done yet: A broadly similar plan already passed the House of Representatives, but the House bill text was quite different in its details, and so there is real work to be done to reconcile the two pieces of legislation.
  • The key sticking point: Several House members — especially from California — said while voting for the bill that they still hoped for changes that would make the legislation less punitive to residents of high-tax states. The Senate legislation moves in the opposite direction from that. If there’s a sticking point in working out the differences, it’s likely to be here.
  • What’s next: Formally speaking, a conference committee will be appointed to work out the differences, but in practice, ad hoc negotiations with leadership will likely determine the final shape of legislation.

We found out about more sexual harassers

Today’s Matt Lauer and NPR’s Garrison Keillor became the latest prominent men to lose their jobs due to sexual harassment allegations.

TODAY -- Pictured: Matt Lauer on Tuesday, November 21, 2017 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)Nathan Congleton/NBC/Getty Images
Matt Lauer on the set of the Today show, on November 21.
  • What happened: Lauer was fired by NBC in advance of a Variety exposé that recounts a number of gross details, including that he “once gave a colleague a sex toy as a present” and “had a button under his desk that allowed him to lock his door from the inside without getting up.” Keillor’s dismissal by Minnesota Public Radio after complaints from a co-worker has so far largely avoided public details.
  • A look back: Lauer had a long history of odd (to put it kindly) on-air behavior toward women that looks awful in retrospect. Just last week, Keillor wrote a column calling the idea that Al Franken should resign from the Senate “absurd.”
  • What’s next? More exposés about famous men, no doubt. But for now Franken is still in the Senate, John Conyers is still in the House, Roy Moore is the odds-on favorite to be the next senator from Alabama, and Donald Trump is president of the United States. Meanwhile, the current reckoning with harassment still seems to lack solutions for women whose abusers aren’t famous enough to warrant major pieces of investigative journalism.

After Rexit

It’s been clear for months that Rex Tillerson isn’t going to be secretary of state for too much longer. But details leaked out in the press this week helped clarify what the post-Tillerson national security lineup will look like.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks while posing with Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel ahead of a bilateral at the State Department in Washington, DC on November 30, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department on November 30.
  • Pompeo up, Cotton in: By all accounts, CIA Director Mike Pompeo will be promoted to serve as secretary of state while Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton will head to Langley, Virginia.
  • A solidifying Trump administration: The rumored shake-up would symbolize the ongoing emergence of a much more stable dynamic inside Republican Party politics, where Trump now has allies like Pompeo (a former House member) and Cotton, who have strong ties to congressional Republicans.
  • A more hawkish 2018: Trump’s first year in office has so far featured an escalation of America’s small-scale military engagements and a fair amount of saber rattling on Twitter, but not much beyond that. Cotton and Pompeo, however, are superhawks, and their elevation would mark another step toward overt hostility with Iran.

North Korea launched a long-range ICBM

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea launched a missile that went 2,800 miles into space — 10 times higher than the orbit of the International Space Station — before crashing harmlessly into the Sea of Japan.

 Javier Zarracina/Vox
  • A very powerful missile: Shooting a missile that high is pointless, of course, but according to Union of Concerned Scientists missile expert David Wright, it indicates rocketry powerful enough to hit a target more than 8,000 miles away — including the entire United States.
  • Why it matters: North Korean possession of the apparent ability to shoot nuclear missiles at American cities is a powerful deterrent against US military action — a deterrent that, in light of US military operations in Iraq and Libya, and of the Trump administration’s erratic behavior regarding the nuclear deal with Iran, must seem indispensable to Pyongyang.
  • What’s next: The missile launch prompted the usual round of condemnatory statements from the United States, South Korea, and Japan. But at this point, it’s pretty clear that nobody has a strategy to stop the DPRK.