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Trump Threatens NFL and Attacks ESPN host

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sits beside President Donald Trump, who suggested to Forbes that the two should compare IQ tests. - DOUG MILLS/THE NEW YORK TIMES
  • Doug Mills/The New York Times
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sits beside President Donald Trump, who suggested to Forbes that the two should compare IQ tests.

By PETER BAKER
© 2017 New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump threatened Tuesday to use federal tax law to penalize the National Football League over players who kneel in protest during the national anthem as he sought to escalate a political fight that has resonated with his conservative base.

In one of a series of combative early morning tweets, Trump said that Congress should eliminate a law that has allowed the NFL central office to avoid paying taxes as a nonprofit entity. “Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country?” he wrote. “Change tax law!”

The tax break for the NFL has been a point of controversy for years, and other conservatives have taken up the cause in recent weeks as the president has repeatedly assailed the league over the player protests. But the idea would be more about symbolism than impact. The tax break applies only to the central office, not the teams, which already pay taxes as for-profit organizations, and the NFL voluntarily gave up the tax exemption for its league office in 2015.

The latest blast against the league was only one of several topics the president addressed on Twitter on Tuesday morning. He attacked Congress for rejecting his plans on health care, Democrats for their stance on immigration legislation and the ESPN sports network for a commentator who criticized him.

Among his targets, Trump focused his fire again on Jemele Hill, the “SportsCenter” host on ESPN who previously called the president a white supremacist. Hill was suspended Monday for suggesting that fans boycott advertisers of the Dallas Cowboys after the team owner, Jerry Jones, threatened to bench players who knelt during the national anthem.

“With Jemele Hill at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have ‘tanked,’ in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

In a magazine interview released Tuesday morning, he also challenged his own secretary of state to an IQ contest.

Speaking with Forbes magazine, Trump was asked about reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called him a “moron.” Trump said he was smarter than Tillerson. “I think it’s fake news,” he said. “But if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”