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Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider
Updated: 11 hours 47 min ago

Difficult road ahead in Congress for bill to slow legal immigration into U.S.

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 03:02

Despite a very big public boost from President Donald Trump and White House officials, a plan to scale back on legal immigration into the United States, and to emphasize more highly skilled workers, faces a tough fight in the Congress, as key Republican Senators quickly signaled their disagreement with the plan.

“The President is all behind this,” Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) told me a few hours after he joined with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and the President at the White House on their bill, nicknamed the “RAISE” Act.

“This was a landmark event to get started on an issue that was a seminal issue for him in the campaign,” Perdue added.

Pres. Trump: The Raise Act will favor green card applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves, contribute to economy pic.twitter.com/Xww4ZLTAul

— ABC News (@ABC) August 2, 2017

“What we’ve got to do right now is get some support for it,” Perdue acknowledged, as some of the early red flags against the idea were raised by fellow Republicans in the Senate.

“I’ve always supported merit-based immigration,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

“Unfortunately, the other part of this proposal would reduce legal immigration by half, including many immigrants who work legally in our agriculture, tourism and service industries,” Graham added, noting worries about the impact on his state’s agriculture, tourism and service sectors.

I support a merit-based system but I'm concerned that drastic cuts to legal immigration would run counter to the needs of our economy

— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) August 2, 2017

“The solution for stagnant wages isn’t reducing legal immigration,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL).

“We can do better,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). “Limiting legal migration isn’t the answer.”

Even more ominous was the opinion of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA).

Sen. Grassley on Cotton/Perdue immigration legislation. pic.twitter.com/s7ykHZNpy0

— Lissandra Villa (@LissandraVilla) August 2, 2017

Statements like that raised questions about whether an immigration-related bill could really be the President’s first major legislative victory in the Congress – and whether there is even time to act on it, given the summer break for lawmakers until Labor Day, and then the September that will be packed with debates on the budget, taxes, the debt limit, and a possible government shutdown.

“This is not going to be an easy thing,” Perdue acknowledged.

Worth remembering as we consider this immigration proposal: It does not have 60 votes in the Senate, so it's not going to become law.

— Phil Elliott (@Philip_Elliott) August 2, 2017

As for Democrats in Congress, they didn’t take long to make clear their strong opposition to the plan.

“From the start, President Trump has pushed a hateful, senseless anti-immigrant agenda that instills fear in our communities, weakens our nation, and dishonors our values,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“This dumb proposal would have barred my family,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA). “I grew up with lots of Polish and Italian neighbors. It also would have barred many of them.”

As for legislative action, Perdue said that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) would introduce a companion bill in the House; it was not immediately clear if the House Judiciary Committee would act on the bill this fall.

Trump signs into law bipartisan Russian sanctions bill

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 14:51

Faced with a near unanimous message from both parties in Congress, President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed into law a bill that steps up economic sanctions against Russia, which included provisions that would prevent the President from relaxing sanctions put into place by the Obama Administration, in retaliation for Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Mr. Trump held no signing ceremony for the bill, which also included new sanctions against Iran and North Korea. In a written statement, he expressed his displeasure with the details of the measure.

“While I favor tough measures to punish and deter aggressive and destabilizing behavior by Iran, North Korea, and Russia, this legislation is significantly flawed,” the President said.

The last line of the President’s statement drew some interest as well.

“I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress,” Mr. Trump said.

The sanctions plan had been approved 419-3 in the House, and 98-2 in the Senate, making a veto override almost a certainty, if the President had chosen that route.

The reaction was immediately positive from Republicans in the Congress, many of whom see U.S.-Russian relations in a totally different view from the President.

Pleased @POTUS signed the #RussiaSanctions bill! https://t.co/YzIohqy0K3

— Rep. Pete Olson (@RepPeteOlson) August 2, 2017

The White House had made clear for weeks that the President was not interested in signing the bill, but he had few options, given the level of support in both parties for the move.

“Russia, North Korea and Iran must be held accountable for their continued acts of aggression,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), the chairman of the House Rules Committee.

“This was a necessary step that we took,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said he spoke with the President at length about the bill last Friday.

Corker on Russia sanctions signing Stmt: "I understand the words ya'll are focused on is 'seriously flawed,' as always, but, whatever…"

— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) August 2, 2017

“I think it was long overdue,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been investigating Russian meddling in 2016.

Warner told reporters he hoped the new law “would send a strong message to Russia that we can’t have interference in our elections going forward.”

“The Republican Congress must not permit the Trump White House to wriggle out of its duty to impose these sanctions for Russia’s brazen assault on our democracy,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

BREAKING: White House official: Trump signs bill imposing sanctions against Russia for election meddling.

— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) August 2, 2017

“Today we sent a clear message to Moscow that we will not tolerate its attacks on democracy – from interference in our elections to aggression in Ukraine,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Trump still pushing for GOP health care bill, as Senate leaders embrace hearings

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 11:42

While Republicans in the Senate have announced plans for bipartisan hearings on health care beginning when Congress returns to work after Labor Day, the White House is making clear that President Donald Trump continues to look for more immediate answers on a GOP health care bill that would involve getting only a majority of Republican votes in the Senate, as he meets Wednesday afternoon with one key GOP lawmaker, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.

Portman has made clear to reporters in recent days that while last week’s defeat of the GOP ‘skinny’ bill was a setback, he’s not ready to give up on the GOP figuring out how to get to 50 votes in the Senate.

“I think we should be working together and I think that’s a way to see if we can put the pieces back together on legislation that makes sense,” Portman said this week – and he arrives at a White House today that has not given up on the GOP bill.

As the sun rose on Wednesday, it still wasn’t clear what the President would do about the next round of scheduled payments to insurance companies, known as CSR’s – or Cost Sharing Reductions – which help lower-income Americans afford health insurance through the Obama health law exchanges.

“We’re continuing to try to push a new healthcare system,” incoming White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Tuesday. “We know that Obamacare is failing. We know that inaction is simply not okay.”

Health care alert – Sen Rob Portman R-OH to meet with President Trump on Wednesday at the White House

— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) August 2, 2017

“I like the idea that we’re not quitting,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who met with the President in recent days about his idea to include a different formula on block grants to the states that would cover health care money.

“We haven’t tried all options yet,” Graham told reporters just off the Senate floor.

Other Republicans agreed that the White House shouldn’t give up on the GOP health care bill, which was just one vote short of victory.

“I think the President is frustrated,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-ND) said of the lack of final action by the Senate on health. “I happen to agree that we should move forward.”

Big shift on health care, as Senate Republicans opt for September hearings.

DETAILS: https://t.co/boNVp1wmDr pic.twitter.com/oThCGPAscB

— WOKV News (@WOKVNews) August 2, 2017

But while the President was pushing for a GOP-only health care bill, top Republicans were already shifting into a different mode, setting bipartisan hearings for after Labor Day in a key Senate committee.

“We will hear from state insurance commissioners, patients, governors, health care experts and insurance companies,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the main Senate panel that deals with health policy matters.

“For the short term, the proposal is by mid-September to see if we can agree on a way to stabilize the individual insurance market,” Alexander added.

HELP will hold hearings the wk of Sept 4 on actions Congress should take to stabilize & strengthen the individual health insurance market

— Sen. Lamar Alexander (@SenAlexander) August 1, 2017

On the Senate floor, there was no indication of any plan by Republican leaders to hold a new vote on health care; for now, they remain one vote short, as few on Capitol Hill believe there is a chance that any of the three “No” votes will flip anytime soon – Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

Collins made clear on Tuesday that she was all for the new round of bipartisan hearings in September, and not a rush to simply change the existing GOP health bill.

“I’m very excited about that,” Collins said of the post-Labor Day hearings. “I believe that’s the direction we should have gone in, in the first place.”

The current plan is to have the Senate work through next week, and then go home for a three week summer break – without a new Senate vote on the health care issue.

McConnell lays out August Senate priorities:
1) FBI Director
2) Trump nominations
3) VA bill
4) FDA user fees

— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) August 1, 2017

By Tuesday evening, the Senate had already achieved two of those goals stated by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, confirming the new FBI Director, and approving a VA choice bill. Also, a big batch of military nominees were confirmed on Monday.

Notable for not being on that priority list in August was the health care issue, which might not be the preference for the President.

“We want to continue to make (health care legislation) a priority. We want to work with Congress to do that,” said Sanders.

Big shift on health care, as Senate Republicans opt for September hearings

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 19:50

Unable to find a 50th vote for a GOP plan to overhaul Obamacare, Republicans on Tuesday announced they would hold hearings in the Senate after Labor Day, in hopes of spurring a bipartisan agreement in Congress on short term plans to stabilize markets for individual insurance policies, just before insurance companies set their premiums for 2018.

“We will hear from state insurance commissioners, patients, governors, health care experts and insurance companies,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“For the short term, the proposal is by mid-September to see if we can agree on a way to stabilize the individual insurance market,” Alexander added.

The decision was a big turnaround for Republicans, who had steadfastly avoided hearings on their plan to overhaul the Obama health law.

Senate health cmte chair Alexander calls for " small, bipartisan & balanced" bill to stabilize insurance markets. That's actually a BIG deal

— Noam Levey (@NoamLevey) August 1, 2017

“I’m glad to get to work on health care with Sen. Alexander,” said the top Democrat on that panel, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). “We’ve tackled tough issues together before.”

“I’m very excited by that,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) about the announcement of the bipartisan hearings. “I think that’s the direction we should have gone in the first place.”

Like Collins, the idea of more hearings, and a deeper explanation of what’s involved on health care also resonated with another of the Republican “No” votes as well.

“I like process; I think process is good for all of us,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on Monday. “I think it makes us a better institution.”

Alexander said the process of developing some kind of interim health care plan would not only be bipartisan, but would involve more than just the members of his committee, as Republicans changed their tune on working with Democrats from where things stood a week ago, when the GOP ‘skinny’ bill was defeated.

McConnell: "it’s pretty obvious our problem on healthcare is not the Democrats. We didn’t have 50 Republicans." (Not how he put it last wk)

— Lisa Desjardins (@LisaDNews) August 1, 2017

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – for a second straight day – didn’t even mention health care on the floor of the Senate, as he talked about what he hoped to get the Senate to accomplish during the first two weeks of August.

Meanwhile, some Republicans were still exploring ways to find 50 votes – only from Republicans – for a GOP health care bill.

“I like the idea that we are not quitting,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to reporters just off the Senate floor. “We haven’t tried all options yet.”

Down at the White House, officials were still publicly urging GOP leaders not to give up.

“We know that Obamacare is failing, we know that inaction is not okay,” said incoming Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

But for now, the push to get something done that is wide-ranging, seems to be going on the back burner – though Republicans still remain just one vote away from getting enough support for a broader package in the Senate.

Little movement on health care as GOP talk pivots to tax reform

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 02:53

As Senators returned to work on Capitol Hill for the first time since last week’s defeat of a bare bones GOP bill to overhaul the Obama health law, there was no indication of an immediate attempt by Republicans to rush a new proposal forward for a vote, as party leaders and rank and file GOP lawmakers started talking more about a major push on tax reform later this year.

“I’m now moving on to tax,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who like other Republicans expressed frustration with last week’s defeat on health care, but said that until one of three GOP Senators who voted against the health care bill is ready to switch their vote, it’s time to deal with other agenda items.

“This is an unacceptable outcome, I’m outraged by it,” said Perdue, “and we’ve got to keep pushing to see if we can get something done through committee.”

From Republicans of all stripes – that was a common theme – now is not the time to quit, even if the votes don’t seem to be there.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll have hearings,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). “I think we should be working together, I think that’s a way to see if we can put the pieces back together on legislation that makes sense.”

.@LindseyGrahamSC on health care reform: I am 1000% with #DonaldTrump on this. We should be politically horsewhipped if we don't try again. pic.twitter.com/rjynAIYtF7

— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 31, 2017

“We can’t stop,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who had refused comment in the immediate aftermath of the Friday vote, as he acknowledged to this reporter that he left the Senate floor after that vote in a very dejected state.

“There are a lot of people at home who are facing very high premiums, extremely high deductibles. They’re still expecting us to get something done,” the Oklahoma Republican said of the GOP health care effort.

Most of the activity on figuring out a way forward was coming from the House, where several dozen lawmakers from both parties were already talking about ways to cut a middle-of-the-road deal to come up with bipartisan ways to improve the health care situation.

"Let's try to figure out where those areas of common ground exist." –@RepKinzinger on how Congress can fix health care in a bipartisan way. pic.twitter.com/WYqej4Mdj4

— No Labels (@NoLabelsOrg) July 31, 2017

“It’s time we come together to get things done for the American people,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY).

As for the GOP effort to do a health care bill only with Republican votes, the situation did not seem promising on Monday, even as GOP Senators talked about how to come up with a new plan that could get 50 votes in the Senate.

Of the three Republicans who voted “No” on early Friday, none of them seemed to be ready to switch their vote in exchange for some slight tinkering with the GOP health plan:
+ Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is not expected back until after Labor Day.

+ Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has made clear that she wants substantive changes.

+ Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) told reporters she wants a full review, not some quick amendments that are forced on GOP Senators with little time to review.

“The proposals and the process that we had engaged in was not the best way to do this significant reform effort,” Murkowski told reporters in the Capitol, after returning from a weekend in Alaska, where she said she received strong support for her “No” vote.

“I have been through more than my share of airports in the last 36 hours,” Murkowski told reporters, as she detailed a fishing trip where she caught about 50 pounds of King Salmon.

“The outpouring of support, and thanks – and tears,” Murkowski said, describing a similar airport scene of thanks to one that greeted Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) when she arrived in Bangor, Maine on Friday.

Murkowski told me that at every Alaska airport she went to over the weekend, people came up to her thanking her for her vote, some in tears.

— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) August 1, 2017

Murkowski spoke to a small group of reporters for seven minutes – one of my colleagues was shocked when he heard that, because the Alaska Republican so often avoided extended time with reporters in the run up to the health law vote.

But this time, she seemed completely at peace with her vote against the GOP ‘skinny’ bill.

@jamiedupree Near Lisa Murkowski's house on Capitol Hill. pic.twitter.com/r3fpHIGzu3

— JDLand (@JDLand) August 1, 2017

Meanwhile, at the White House, officials weren’t giving up on the Senate just yet.

“We’re continuing to push forward, hopefully, with the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. We’ve never been shy about that, and we’re going to continue to do that,” said incoming Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“I think he and I both want to get something done,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said of President Trump, after a phone call between the two on the health care issue.

But the problem for Republicans is a simple one of numbers right now – the GOP is short on votes in the Senate.

And while President Trump has demanded that Senators stick around deep into August to work out a deal, there was no sense in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol on Monday that such a deal was going to emerge.

Instead, White House officials were already talking about the next big legislative fight – one that could be even more difficult than health care.

Marc Short – head of WH legislative affairs – says tax bill on the House floor in October and Senate in November.

— Richard Rubin (@RichardRubinDC) July 31, 2017

For now though, other than bullet points, there is no tax bill.

Scaramucci ousted as White House Communication Director

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 18:59

The staff changes and upheaval continued at the White House on Monday, as White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci was pushed out of his post after less than two weeks on the job, and just hours after President Donald Trump welcomed his new Chief of Staff, former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

Scaramucci, who had been brought into the White House just two Fridays ago, on July 21, had been grabbing the headlines repeatedly in that time, most notably with a profanity-laced interview with the New Yorker magazine, as the hedge fund financier evidently fell from grace in no time.

After getting his position, Scaramucci had told reporters there would be a number of people fired at the White House; many might not have assumed that would include him before the end of July.

For the 3rd time in 7 business days, reporters are crowded in the WH press office trying to get confirmation/details of big staffing shifts

— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) July 31, 2017

At a televised White House briefing that was scheduled before Scaramucci’s departure occurred, incoming Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shed little light on why the change happened.

“What matters most to us is not who is employed in the White House, but who is employed in the rest of the country,” Sanders said, adding that the White House “is focused on the President’s agenda.”

.@SHSanders45: Anthony Scaramucci "does not have a role at this time in the Trump administration." https://t.co/GDiJ7bysYQ pic.twitter.com/GTKhvmypLk

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) July 31, 2017

In a written statement issued by the White House, the official explanation was that Scaramucci wanted to give Kelly a “clean slate” to work with – that phrase was identical to one that outgoing White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had used when Scaramucci was hired earlier this month.

The move also came not long after President Trump pushed back against media reports of trouble at the White House, specifically using a morning tweet to deny that.

“No WH chaos!” Mr. Trump tweeted.

Democrats in Congress immediately seized on the news, and said it simply showed there was indeed chaos at the White House, as they openly mocked the President.

"No WH chaos!" https://t.co/GKMUItzboG

— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) July 31, 2017

“Another one bites the dust,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).

“Adios Mooch hardly knew ya,” added Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO).

There was even GOP scorn for Scaramucci in Congress.

“864,000 is impressively large,” Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) tweeted, saying that’s the number of seconds Scaramucci spent as White House Communications Director.

“It’s almost as if a 4 star Marine GEN just took over,” as Chief of Staff, Zeldin tweeted.

“I’m surprised The Mooch is already gone,” Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) said of Scaramucci, using his nickname. “I thought he’d last at least a few more episodes on this reality show.”

It was not immediately clear if Scaramucci would stay on in another role in the Trump Administration, or if his time was over – after just a week and a half.

Anthony Scaramucci was escorted from White House grounds today after ouster, per source familiar with the scene

— Jackie Alemany (@JaxAlemany) July 31, 2017

One thing that is different as of today is that the White House Chief of Staff will now be ‘the’ gatekeeper for President Trump, as Kelly will have all staff report to him, with no one going directly to the President, a system that reportedly caused trouble for former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

According to @SHSanders45 "all" #WH staff will report to COS @GeneralJFKelly – that would be different. #verydifferent

— Major Garrett (@MajorCBS) July 31, 2017

Senate back at work with no obvious path to GOP health care deal

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 03:12

President Trump turned up the heat on Republican Senators this weekend, using Twitter to voice his frustration and displeasure at the failure of the GOP to get a bill through the Senate that overhauls the Obama health law, but at this point there is no obvious magic formula to solve what Republicans have called a “Rubik’s Cube” on health care reform.

Here’s the latest from Capitol Hill on the health care debate:

1. No path forward on health care at this point. The U.S. Senate was supposed to be gone from Washington, D.C. this week, but while the House has left until after Labor Day, the Senate will work this week and next week – whether they make any headway on health care is an open question. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has gone home to seek treatment for brain cancer, leaving only two other GOP Senators that could flip their votes on health care – Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Judging from the press clips out of Maine and Alaska, neither one seems to be in any hurry to embrace and support Republican health care plans. In fact, Collins got a standing ovation in the Bangor, Maine airport as she arrived back in the state after voting against the GOP health bill.

In Alaska, hundreds of people held a rally to thank Murkowski on health care vote https://t.co/H2ExRyq2Ql

— Marina Fang (@marinafang) July 30, 2017

2. President Trump pushing, pushing, pushing the Senate. If you tuned out of politics this weekend, you missed a bunch of tweets from the President where he took the Senate to task, imploring Republicans to keep trying on health care, and demanding that the Senate change the rules to get rid of the filibuster (though that had nothing to do with the defeat of the GOP “skinny” health care bill on Friday). Is this the start of a new offensive by the President against his own party? Again – there are only three GOP Senators who defied the President: McCain, Collins and Murkowski. You can turn up the heat on them, or you can turn up the heat on GOP leaders and demand they change the rules, something that Republicans don’t have a majority of votes to do, either.

Unless the Republican Senators are total quitters, Repeal & Replace is not dead! Demand another vote before voting on any other bill!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2017

3. The Senate can certainly revisit the health care bill. After the health care vote debacle early Friday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell placed the House-passed health care bill back on the calendar, which means he can move to bring the bill back up for debate at any time. That means if the GOP suddenly comes up with an idea that lights up the Senate side of the Capitol, they can swiftly move back to the measure. But will that happen in the next two weeks? There are already Senators meeting on ways to figure out some new way forward.

Just to be clear, AHCA is still alive and on the Senate calendar. It can be called up when and if McConnell has 50 votes.
He has 49.

— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) July 30, 2017

4. What’s on the Senate schedule this week? The Senate will start the week by voting to shut off debate on a federal appeals court nomination from President Trump. After that, the schedule remains unclear. The Majority Leader tried to get an agreement at 2 am on Friday to bring up a major defense policy bill, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) objected. That ‘defense authorization’ measure could still be the most likely major item to be considered by the Senate. The other unknown at this point – how much fury will come from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if the Senate tries to work the next two weeks and then goes home until Labor Day?

Meanwhile, Senate tees up vote to debate nomination of Kevin Newsom to be 11th circuit court judge on Mon. Court oversees GA, FL, AL #gapol

— Tamar Hallerman (@ajconwashington) July 28, 2017

5. House GOP leaders switching gears to tax reform. While the Senate remains bogged down over health care, GOP leaders in the House have clearly decided to expend their energy on laying the groundwork for tax reform. House Speaker Paul Ryan has made that his focus in recent days, and his press staff has been pushing that story as well (see tweet below). But this reporter will again remind everyone that if you want to do tax reform under the rules of budget reconciliation (to avoid a filibuster), then you have to approve a budget resolution to do that – and so far, that has not been voted on by either the House or Senate. And we are not expected to even have the details of a tax reform bill until after Labor Day.

The Hill: "GOP to begin vigorous sales job on tax reform" https://t.co/DZalBlKzzc

— AshLee Strong (@AshLeeStrong) July 31, 2017

Trump expresses frustration, presses Senate to act on health care

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 10:00

President Trump on Saturday repeatedly used Twitter to urge Republicans in the Senate to keep trying to reach agreement on a bill to change the Obama health law, threatening to unilaterally end payments the federal government makes to insurance companies that help pay for subsidized health insurance coverage for low income Americans under Obamacare.

“Unless the Republican Senators are total quitters, Repeal & Replace is not dead!” Mr. Trump wrote on Saturday afternoon. “Demand another vote before voting on any other bill!”

Shutting off the subsidy payments, known as “CSR” or cost-sharing reduction, is one of many administrative options open to the Trump Administration. Critics say an end to those payments would immediately create problems on the exchanges, as people would be unable to pay for their insurance.

The President also seemed to threaten to cut off federal money that helps offset some of the health insurance costs of lawmakers and Congressional staff, the same benefit that is given to other federal workers.

If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2017

Democrats denounced the Trump call to do away with the cost-sharing reduction payments.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer charged that “every expert agrees that premiums will go up and health care will be more expensive for millions.”

Federal officials say seven million people receive cost-sharing payments to pay their insurance premiums under the Obama health law.

let's be clear: the president is threatening to cut off payments that help lower out-of-pocket health care costs for lower-income Americans https://t.co/j1z6uYcgtE

— Dylan Scott (@dylanlscott) July 29, 2017

As for the part of the tweet that addresses “bailouts for members of Congress,” that most likely refers to the payment made on behalf of all federal workers who get health insurance coverage through Uncle Sam, as the feds generally pay 72 percent of their monthly premium.

That’s the same for members of Congress and their staffs.

But Republicans argue that no one else who buys insurance coverage through the exchanges gets such help from the federal government – and that this amounts to an illegal setup that favors lawmakers and Capitol Hill staffers.

“President Trump should rescind the rule and make Congress live under the law as written,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL)

But Democrats – and a number of Republicans – sing a different tune, arguing that lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill should get employer provided health benefits just like any other federal worker.

“This is a clear threat to Congress: pass my health bill or as punishment I will end health care for you, your staff, and your constituents,” wrote Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT).

I would argue this is a very serious moment. President making personal threats to us and our constituents if we don't pass his bill. https://t.co/49yAOU2bnU

— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) July 29, 2017

For now on health care, the Senate is moving on, unable to generate 50 votes for several GOP health care plans, including a slimmed down “skinny” bill that lost 51-49 early on Friday morning.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) – who delivered the key vote that stopped the ‘skinny’ bill – has told colleagues he will not be coming back soon to Capitol Hill, as he is treated for brain cancer.

That leaves GOP leaders still one vote short – only Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) would be able to switch their vote, and allow a Republican health plan to go forward.

Just to be clear, AHCA is still alive and on the Senate calendar. It can be called up when and if McConnell has 50 votes.
He has 49.

— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) July 30, 2017

And Mr. Trump has made clear in recent days that he wants Republicans to give it another try.

The Senate is scheduled to be in legislative session the next two weeks, then take a three week break until Labor Day.


Senate Health care defeat symbolic of struggles for Trump agenda in Congress

Sat, 07/29/2017 - 12:56

President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda in Congress is in a familiar spot as the Congress gets ready for a summer break, as a major bill to overhaul the Obama health law remains in limbo, and GOP lawmakers are still behind schedule on a variety of budget and spending measures, which will further delay Congressional action on tax reform legislation backed by the White House as well.

Here is the latest on the Trump agenda from Capitol Hill:

1. Health care remains in Congressional limbo. After the stunning setback early Friday morning on the floor of the U.S. Senate, GOP efforts to overhaul the Obama health law were at their weakest point of 2017. Speaker Paul Ryan publicly urged Senate Republicans not to give up the effort to make changes in Obamacare, but it wasn’t clear what type of plan could get 50 votes in the Senate. Senators are supposed to work the next two weeks in Washington, so there is always some chance of a legislative miracle, but it’s a long shot at this point on the number one agenda item for President Trump and Republicans in the Congress. Can they get anything done? Or will this turn out to be a big missed opportunity for the GOP in 2017? Remember, they only need one more vote in the Senate.

.@LindseyGrahamSC is indeed at the White House this A.M., a spokesman confirms. He is discussing health care with @realDonaldTrump.

— Emma Dumain (@Emma_Dumain) July 28, 2017

2. House behind schedule on funding bills. As members of the House left for a five week summer break on Friday, they left behind a lot of unfinished work, especially on the budget. Of the dozen spending bills that fund the operations of the federal government, only four had been completed, and those were lumped together into one ‘minibus’ measure. The other eight await action – after Labor Day. GOP lawmakers constantly told reporters that they were doing a great job in acting on those bills – arguing that things are typically slow for Congress in the first year of a new President – but records show that just isn’t true. For example, in 2001, the first year that George W. Bush was in office, the House passed 9 spending bills before the August break. In 2009, the first year for Barack Obama, the House passed all 12 funding bills by August. Oh, and did I mention that all that funding work is supposed to be done by October 1? Hard to do that when you are gone for more than half of that time.

Lawmakers have until the end of Sept to pass spending bills to avert a shutdown. The House is scheduled to work just 3 weeks in that time. https://t.co/E7GO2kL7Dl

— Derek Thomas (@dlthomasNYC) July 28, 2017

3. Also not completed, a 2018 budget blueprint. It is supposed to be done by April 15, but the Republican budget resolution for next year remains on hold. Yes, it was approved by the House Budget Committee last week, but it wasn’t brought up on the House floor for a reason – there aren’t enough votes to get it approved. Why is this important? Because the budget resolution sets the groundwork for Congress to use ‘budget reconciliation’ for a major tax reform bill. But you can’t do tax reform that way if you can’t muster a bare majority in both the House and Senate for that measure. So, when you hear a lot of talk from House Republicans about plans for tax reform in coming weeks, remember, it needs a budget resolution to be approved first.

Same old Freedom Caucus/Leadership/Tuesday Group battle = break w/ no budget resolution or tax reform outline; expect rightward move in Sept https://t.co/OGnHf53dVb

— Matt Grossmann (@MattGrossmann) July 27, 2017

4. Republicans start shift to emphasis on tax reform. With health care legislation in trouble, Republicans in the House did all they could this week to highlight plans to forge a tax reform bill in the fall – but as mentioned above, they can’t start work on it under budget reconciliation until the GOP gets a budget resolution approved in the Congress. And since the House is now out until September 5 – that’s five weeks where it’s not going to happen, and then later in September, Congress will be consumed with a possible government shutdown, and the need to raise the nation’s debt limit. On Thursday, Republicans released their tax reform “principles” – it sounds nice, but gets us no closer to an actual bill, which isn’t expected until the fall. You know me – don’t show us bullet points – give us a bill with real legislative text.

How dare Congress go on recess in August when they have accomplished nothing on h.c, tax reform etc .@POTUS @SenateMajLdr @SpeakerRyan

— AmericanWoman (@LWilsonDarlene) July 28, 2017

5. Border wall money saved by the rules. While Republicans were talking a lot about the approval of $1.6 billion to build more wall and fencing along the border with Mexico, that money may have survived in the full House only because GOP leaders made sure there couldn’t be a direct vote on the money. Instead of allowing possible amendments to strike out the money, the funding was put into a ‘minibus’ funding bill by what’s known as a ‘self-executing rule’ – that made sure there was no vote for or against the border wall money. Why was that necessary? Because there was concern among Republicans that the border wall funding would be rejected by the full House.

House majority's so-called "self-executing rule": a maneuver to prevent legislators from having to go on record for or against border wall.

— Adam Isacson (@adam_wola) July 27, 2017

6. 60 votes. 60 votes. 60 votes. 60 votes. People got tired of me bringing up the 60 vote requirement in the Senate over the last few years – but it’s very important. If you don’t have 60 votes, you can’t do much in the Senate without compromise. For example, Democrats had 60 votes when they passed the basic infrastructure of the Obama health law. They had 60 votes (59 Democrats plus one Republican) when they passed the Dodd-Frank package of Wall Street reforms. So, if you are going to repeal laws like that, you will need – 60 votes – to fully repeal big laws in the Senate. The last time the GOP had 60 votes in the Senate was 1908, before the direct election of Senators. President Trump was making noise about that 60 vote requirement again in recent days, but don’t look for Senate Republicans to change the rules anytime soon.

If Republicans are going to pass great future legislation in the Senate, they must immediately go to a 51 vote majority, not senseless 60…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2017

7. The schedule tells a story. If you want the President’s legislative agenda to succeed, then you have to do the work in the halls of Congress. If you want to do the work, then you have to have the House and Senate in session. The House has eight spending bills to finish – they could do that over the next few weeks – but they won’t be in legislative session. The House could vote on a budget resolution – but lawmakers won’t be on Capitol Hill. Congress must act to raise the debt ceiling. By October 1, a temporary spending bill must be approved. None of that can be touched until after Labor Day. Here is the legislative session schedule for the House of Representatives.

8. The Senate works for two extra weeks. Unlike the House, the Senate is going to stick around into August, but other than maybe a defense policy bill, there is no major legislation expected on the floor. Instead, Republicans will keep pushing ahead on nominations that have been slow walked by Democrats. One nominee who seems likely to be voted on in the next two weeks is Christopher Wray, the President’s pick for FBI Director. But Republican Senators have also been making very clear to the President that they don’t want to see him clutter up August by pushing out Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee used Twitter to tell Mr. Trump to back off.

Everybody in D.C. Shld b warned that the agenda for the judiciary Comm is set for rest of 2017. Judges first subcabinet 2nd / AG no way

— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) July 27, 2017

Another White House shakeup: Priebus out, Kelly in as Trump Chief of Staff

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 21:44

For a second straight Friday, there was major job news from the White House, as President Donald Trump used Twitter to announce that his Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was on his way out, to be replaced by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, in another internal shakeup at the White House.

“I would like to thank Reince Priebus for his service and dedication to his country,” the President wrote on Twitter. “We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!”

But it had been obvious for some time from news reports that Priebus seemed to be on thin ice in the Trump White House.

The news broke as the President returned to Washington from an event on Long Island, in New York.

Pres. Trump: "Reince is a good man. John Kelly will do a fantastic job. General Kelly has been a star." https://t.co/MpIEM5p38Q pic.twitter.com/WW6db9g3SV

— ABC News (@ABC) July 28, 2017

Priebus had been on the trip, but according to the White House Pool report, the car he was riding in was separated from the President’s motorcade, as Mr. Trump headed back to the White House.

I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2017

…and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2017

A week ago, Anthony Scaramucci was unexpectedly brought in as White House Communications Director, prompting the resignation of Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

That brought immediate questions about the ability of Scaramucci and Priebus to co-exist inside the Trump White House – and it took just a week for Priebus to be on his way out.

Earlier this week, Scaramucci even seemed to accuse Priebus of leaking material against him, reinforcing the palace intrigue involving the two men inside the Trump orbit.

On Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan – a fellow Wisconsin resident like Priebus – had downplayed the idea that Priebus was in trouble.

.@SpeakerRyan: "Reince is doing a fantastic job at the White House and I believe he has the president's confidence." pic.twitter.com/UmGCxUaSpX

— CSPAN (@cspan) July 27, 2017

Priebus had been the head of the Republican National Committee during Mr. Trump’s ascendancy in the GOP primaries, moving over to help with the campaign for November. He then was tapped as White House Chief of Staff, despite some concerns from some Trump backers, who saw Priebus as too much of the GOP Establishment.

One thing that Priebus had was good relations with the Congress, which provided a vital lifeline from Capitol Hill to the White House.

“Reince Priebus did a good job as chief of staff,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK). “His expertise and relationships with Congress benefited the White House in many ways.”

As for Kelly, he is well respected in the Congress as well, though he has ruffled some feathers with tough verbal rebukes for members of Congress who did not like some of his policy choices on immigration law enforcement.

His replacement will have to go through Senate confirmation hearings later this year.

Priebus issued this statement soon after his departure was announced by the President:

“It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve this President and our country. I want to thank the President for giving me this very special opportunity. I will continue to serve as a strong supporter of the President’s agenda and policies. I can’t think of a better person than General John Kelly to succeed me and I wish him God’s blessings and great success.”

Disappointed Republicans vow to keep trying on health care

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 15:32

Stunned by the surprise rejection of a bare bones Senate health care bill, Republicans in the House vowed on Friday to keep pressing for action on legislation to overhaul the Obama health law, urging Senate leaders not to give up, but still struggling to figure out the magic formula on a bill that can gain a majority in both houses of Congress.

“I am disappointed and frustrated, but we should not give up,” Speaker Paul Ryan said in a written statement issued after what was described as a somber closed door meeting with House Republicans, just hours after the Senate had run aground on a GOP “skinny” health bill.

“I encourage the Senate to continue working toward a real solution that keeps our promise,” Ryan said of the GOP campaign vow to repeal and replace the Obama health law.

While Ryan didn’t point the finger of blame at Senate Republicans, other GOP lawmakers did.

“At some point, the Senate is going to have to figure out how to make things work over there,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA).

.@RepMoBrooks: "If I were Mitch McConnell, I would resign and let somebody else see if they can provide the kind of leadership necessary." pic.twitter.com/2Zj9xHUlqn

— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) July 28, 2017

“They need to figure out how to become more functional,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK).

“It’s unacceptable,” said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC). “We’ve got to get this done.”

“It was a huge disappointment, I stayed up most of the night,” said Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX).

“It’s painful, it’s easy to feel upset,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH). But I’m optimistic they’re going to find a way to do something.”

GOP Rep Labrador on McCain "it's his vote. Apparently he likes Obamacare"

— Deirdre Walsh (@deirdrewalshcnn) July 28, 2017

The drama involving Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) played out after midnight on the Senate floor, as Vice President Mike Pence tried in vain to swing McCain behind a ‘skinny’ GOP health bill, the details of which had only been made public some two hours earlier.

Pence, who was at the Senate with the hope of breaking a 50-50 tie vote, instead found himself in a last ditch effort to save the streamlined plan, which had become a last resort for GOP leaders, desperately trying to pass anything.

When the roll of Senators was being called, McCain was just off the Senate floor, and did not answer his name. Moments later, he emerged, strode to the desk, and gave a thumbs down, bringing an audible gasp from the Senate floor.

Democrats used the vote to call for bipartisanship on health care, but there has been precious little of that from either party over the last seven years, and there were no predictions of a sudden outbreak of political cooperation on the issue.

“Sometimes you need a little spark,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer said on Friday, hoping that McCain’s vote will change the dynamic on health care.

“The only way we get major things done in America, in the Congress and particular in the Senate is bipartisan,” Schumer said.

Schumer, laying it on: "I hope what John McCain did will be regarded in history as a turning point."

— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) July 28, 2017

As for President Trump, he spent Friday on Twitter demanding changes to the rules of the Senate, expressing frustration that much of his agenda will need 60 votes to get around a possible filibuster.

“If Republicans are going to pass great future legislation in the Senate, they must immediately go to a 51 vote majority, not senseless 60,” the President tweeted.

But on health care, Mr. Trump’s plan only needed a majority, as filibusters are not allowed under the expedited rules of budget reconciliation.

The other reality in the Senate is that Republican leaders aren’t interested in getting rid of the filibuster, knowing that one day the Democrats will be in power, and ready to use that.


Senate deals major setback to Republican health care push

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 07:42

Republican plans to approve a slimmed down bill to overhaul the Obama health law abruptly ran aground early on Friday morning in the U.S. Senate, as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) refused to support a last minute “skinny” GOP bill, forcing Republican leaders back to the drawing board in their quest to get a bill to the President’s desk to rewire America’s health care system.

“I thought it was the right vote,” McCain told reporters as he left the Senate floor. Outside, there were cheers as the Arizona Senator – who has bedeviled members of both parties through his years – went home shortly after 2 am.

Here is how it looked from the halls of the U.S. Capitol:

1. McCain goes Maverick on health care. When the vote on the GOP ‘skinny bill’ was set to begin at about 12:35 am, it was obvious that Republicans might not have the votes to prevail, as Vice President Mike Pence lobbied McCain, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). But all three stuck to their guns, and torpedoed the GOP effort on health care. McCain was the key, as he attracted the most attention from the Vice President during a 45 minute delay on the Senate floor. The Arizona Republican had made clear for days that he didn’t like the process, he didn’t like the details of the ‘skinny’ bill, and he wanted to see more bipartisan cooperation. McCain had his GOP colleagues gritting their teeth.

McCain leaving the Capitol asked why he voted NO: "I thought it was the right thing to do."

— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) July 28, 2017

2. Republicans stunned by health care setback. The looks on the faces of GOP Senators told the whole story on the Senate floor, as the realization hit home that McCain was not going to vote with them. After the vote it was grim in the hallways just off the Senate floor. “It was a big setback,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) said tersely. “This is sad,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI). The normally chatty Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) pushed through a crowd of reporters without saying anything. “No, I don’t want to talk right now, Jamie,” Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) flatly said to me as he headed back to his office. What’s next now for the GOP on health care? “No big reforms,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). “That unfortunately will not occur.”

3. An unhappy President Donald Trump. After showering McCain with praise earlier in the week, when the 2008 Republican nominee for President returned to cast the key vote to begin this debate, Mr. Trump had to watch as McCain threw the bill into a Legislative Ditch. At 2:25 am, the President got on Twitter to issue his first reaction, taking the 51 Senators in both parties to task, and again repeating his threat to simply stand off to the side and watch the individual exchanges go down the drain. It’s not clear whether the White House will sanction bipartisan negotiations on health care, but it’s hard to imagine that this issue is just going to melt away.

3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2017

So great that John McCain is coming back to vote. Brave – American hero! Thank you John.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017

4. Zombie health care bill. I have cautioned my colleagues for months not to declare this GOP effort dead, and I will repeat that advice again, even in the wake of this defeat on the Senate floor for Republicans. All it takes is one deal to flip McCain, Murkowski or Collins, and the GOP would be back in business. Remember, lots of people thought Speaker Ryan was wrong to keep pushing in the House, but then he suddenly found the votes for a bill that many thought was dead in early May. I wouldn’t write off that possibility in the Senate, especially if Republican Governors – like McCain’s in Arizona – get more involved in the process. All it takes is one vote, and it could be the Democrats looking glum. “We’re going to have to pick up the pieces and keep going,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI).

The bill is not dead – McConnell just returned it to calendar.

— julie rovner (@jrovner) July 28, 2017

5. Can there be any real bipartisan deal making? There have been talks for some time among Senators who are former Governors and insurance commissioners in both parties – now we’ll see if those gain more traction in a bid to find common ground to do something on health care. Some like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) have been talking about brokering a bipartisan deal for months – Manchin told reporters repeatedly that he didn’t think those efforts would have a chance until the GOP lost a vote in the Senate. Now we’ll see if anything changes on that front.

I ask each & every one of my colleagues to search their hearts for what their purpose of being here is. We must work in a bipartisan manner. pic.twitter.com/KSdEANa0gE

— Senator Joe Manchin (@Sen_JoeManchin) July 28, 2017

6. The demonstrators outside the Capitol. When I went out to grab some dinner around 7 pm, I was surprised at how few people were outside the Capitol; I had expected a larger crowd with the health bill ready to come to a vote. Well, the size of the crowd did grow in the hours after that, and when the GOP ‘skinny’ bill was defeated, you could hear the roars from outside echoing back into the halls of the Senate. Just as it was a defeat for Republicans, it was a victory for Democrats and progressive groups, which had worked hard to try to preserve the Obama health law. The House victory for Republicans on health care in early May had been a bitter setback for Democrats. This time, those opposed to GOP reform plans enjoyed the moment.

Here's the moment the crowd outside the Capitol learned Republicans didn't have the votes. pic.twitter.com/vawKkdygoY

— Emma Roller (@emmaroller) July 28, 2017

7. What was in the “skinny” GOP bill? If you went to bed at a reasonable hour on Thursday, you missed the two hour life span of the new GOP proposal, the “Health Care Freedom Act.” After complaining for seven years (in many ways incorrectly), that Democrats had abused the legislative process in the passage of the Obama health law, Senate Republicans made the Democrats look like pikers. The bill surfaced just after 10 pm, there was two hours of debate, and then a vote. In between, a report surfaced from the Congressional Budget Office. Yes, the bill was only 8 pages long, but it was a brand new proposal that had suddenly emerged, with little time to be evaluated. Don’t overlook these details – as I mentioned above, they could resurface at any time in the future.

Senate sends bill to Trump that toughens sanctions on Russia, Iran, North Korea

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 23:08

In an overwhelming vote of 98-2, the U.S. Senate on Thursday sent President Donald Trump a bipartisan bill that places new economic sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea, as members of both parties joined to send a message not only to those three regimes, but also the the White House, on the subject of U.S.-Russian relations and the 2016 campaign.

“We will not tolerate attacks on our democracy. That’s what this bill is all about,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) declared on the Senate floor, as Senators in both parties directly linked Russian interference in last year’s elections to this legislative effort.

“This bill will prevent President Trump from relaxing sanctions on Russia without Congressional review,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). “We’re all concerned about that.”

“Today’s legislation will help us more forcefully defend our interests and hold these destabilizing regimes accountable,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

“This measure makes clear that Iran, North Korea and Russia will always be held accountable for their malicious actions,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK).

US senate has passed a sweeping new Russia sanctions bill by a vote of 98-2. Now headed to Trump for signature or veto

— Robbie Gramer (@RobbieGramer) July 27, 2017

But because of the provisions that limit the President’s authority on sanctions against Russia, the White House has been reluctant to endorse the effort, as hours before the vote, officials were still refusing to say whether President Trump would veto this bill.

“We continue to support strong sanctions against those three countries. And we are going to wait and see what that final of legislation and make a decision at that point,” said spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

But the Senate vote of 98-2, and the House vote of 419-3, showed a Congress that was almost united in support of the plan, suggesting there would be more than enough votes to override a veto by Mr. Trump.

Just voted for Russia sanctions. @POTUS needs to sign our bill now and show Russia that meddling in our elections has serious consequences.

— Tom Udall (@SenatorTomUdall) July 27, 2017

“President Trump should sign this bill as soon as it hits his desk,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). “Otherwise, he risks encouraging Russia’s interference in future elections.”

The plan targets Russian’s energy, intelligence and defense sectors with sanctions, and also includes provisions to challenge Russian disinformation and propaganda efforts in Europe.

From the outset, Mr. Trump has advocated a less confrontational approach with Russia, one that has been repeatedly rejected by members of both parties – and this bill was one more piece of evidence on that front.

“This bipartisan bill is about keeping America safe, and I urge the president to sign it into law,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

House approves $1.6 billion for Trump border wall as part of spending ‘minibus’

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 21:27

Following through on a prime 2016 campaign pledge from President Donald Trump, the House on Thursday approved a $1.6 billion down payment to start building a new border barriers in Texas and California, adding that money to a broader $788 billion package containing four of the twelve bills that fund operations for the federal government in 2018.

“The best thing we could do as a good neighbor to Mexico, is to build a wall where it is needed, as President Trump has talked about,” said Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX).

“When you go to various portions of the border now, it is a single strand of wire,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ). “A border wall is important, it’s imperative.”

The plan would pay for 60 miles of a new barrier – both in the form of a wall and a levee. All of that would be in Texas. There would also be 14 miles of new fencing in California.

“Some things are working on the border are working,” argued Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX). “And one of those things that is working is a wall in the big cities.”

House passes spending package w/ $1.6B for Trump's border wall, 235-192. 5 Rs voted no, while 5 Ds voted yes.

— Cristina Marcos (@cimarcos) July 27, 2017

Democrats denounced the plan, as they pointed out that Mr. Trump’s campaign pledge of making Mexico pay for the wall is not happening.

“Mexico is not paying for it, nor would anybody in their right mind think that Mexico is ever going to pay for it,” said Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL).

“Not many of us believed that,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY).

“This money should be used to give the American people real security, not politically motivated gimmicks,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL).

Dishonest media says Mexico won't be paying for the wall if they pay a little later so the wall can be built more quickly. Media is fake!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2017

There was no direct vote on the $1.6 billion in border wall money in the House, as Republican leaders used the rules to prevent that from happening, worried that there would not be a majority in favor of such funding.

Two of the five House Republicans who voted against bringing the $1.6 billion in wall funding up for a vote represent districts along large swaths of the border – Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), and Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM).

Hurd has argued for a high-tech approach to the border, with sensors, radar, drones and cameras, instead of a wall.

“We can’t double down on a Third Century approach to solve 21st Century problems if we want a viable long-term solution,” Hurd said.

Texas GOP split on wall:

Rep. Carter (supports) serves a district just north of Austin

Rep. Hurd (opposed) oversees 800 miles on border

— Sarah Ferris (@sarahnferris) July 27, 2017

The border wall funding was included along with spending for four other areas of government – for the U.S. military, the Legislative Branch, energy and water programs, as well as spending for veterans programs.

Eight other funding bills – including spending on the Department of Homeland Security – are not going to be voted on in the House before lawmakers leave Capitol Hill for a summer break that extends until Labor Day.

Clock ticks as “Skinny” Senate GOP health bill remains a mystery

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 11:32

With half of the debate completed in the U.S. Senate on a House-passed bill to overhaul the Obama health law, Republicans have yet to reveal the details of what may be the only GOP option that can get a majority of votes, a streamlined measure which would change only a few provisions of current health law.

“I don’t know what the “skinny” repeal looks like,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) to a group of reporters, as he acknowledged doing the bare minimum on health care might be about the only way to keep GOP options open on changes to Obamacare.

“What you’re really voting on is to try to keep the discussions alive between the House and Senate,” Corker told reporters.

Corker says "content" of skinny bill not the point, rather it is "forcing mechanism" for conference with House

— Peter Sullivan (@PeterSullivan4) July 26, 2017

The way the “skinny” Republican option has been described in recent days is this:

+ Zero out the tax penalty on the individual mandate (note – this does not “repeal” the mandate – it just reduces the penalty to $0).

+ Zero out the employer mandate penalty

+ Repeal the medical device tax.

But there were rumblings on Wednesday that the details of the plan would have to be fiddled with, leaving GOP Senators in the dark on what they might be voting on late on Thursday night, or Friday.

McCain, with his usual sass, on where he's at with skinny repeal: "It changes every hour, how can I judge it?"

— Emma Loop (@LoopEmma) July 26, 2017

“I want to see what it says; I don’t know what it says – no one knows what it says yet,” Corker said.

“All of this right now is procedural setup to get to an end that none of us are certain what it’s going to look like,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

“I’d rather comment when we see it actually formulated,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) of the “skinny” Senate bill.

Down at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Trump was continuing to press GOP Senators for action, using his platform on Twitter to make one more direct appeal on Thursday morning.

Come on Republican Senators, you can do it on Healthcare. After 7 years, this is your chance to shine! Don't let the American people down!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 27, 2017

But as the day began, it wasn’t clear whether there would be 50 Republican votes for any GOP health plan in the Senate – skinny or not.

For seven years, many Republicans and conservative groups have pushed a story line that wasn’t completely true about the Congressional debate on the Obama health law – that few hearings were held, that the bill text was kept a secret until the bitter end, that the House and Senate votes were done in the middle of the night, and more.

Having covered the legislative battle over the Obama health law, many of those criticisms weren’t entirely accurate – but the irony right now is that the GOP may be following a health care script in 2017 which mirrors many of their own complaints from 2009 and 2010.

Senate defeats “clean repeal” as GOP eyes “skinny” health care bill

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 20:56

For a second straight day, the full Senate voted down a leading GOP plan to make major changes in the Obama health law, as Republicans continued to struggle with how best to forge a plan that can win approval in the Senate later this week, with growing talk that the GOP Senators may try to pass a bill that does very little, in hopes of starting Congressional negotiations on a final deal, or even to have the House just accept a ‘skinny’ Senate plan.

“We’re working our way to the end – which is uncertain,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

The latest plan to be rejected by the Senate was similar to a bill which had won Congressional approval in 2015, but had been vetoed by President Barack Obama, what Republicans labeled a “clean repeal” – even though it was nothing close to an actual repeal of the Obama health law.

“It is just trying to peel back Obamacare,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) argued in vain on the Senate floor, as he acknowledged the ‘clean repeal’ is “only a partial repeal.”

But while this plan was approved two years ago, it failed this time, mustering only 45 votes, as seven GOP Senators broke ranks to doom the measure. Only 43 Republicans had backed the first big GOP amendment on Tuesday.

7 GOP Senators voting "No" – Capito WV, Heller NV, Collins ME, McCain AZ, Portman OH, Alexander TN, Murkowski AK

— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) July 26, 2017

Of those seven Republican “No” votes, only Collins had voted against the plan in December of 2015; the other six were all for it, back when an Obama veto was a certainty.

Here's @SenAlexander's explanation for his surprise NO vote on the ACA repeal bill just now: pic.twitter.com/4teP2JyKIg

— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) July 26, 2017

Meanwhile, more and more Republican energy was being focused on an extremely limited health care bill – labeled ‘Skinny repeal’ – as a way to pass a bill through the Senate later this week, which would then lead to negotiations between the House and Senate in the month of August.

“Skinny repeal” would involve zeroing out the tax penalties for not having health insurance under the individual and employer mandates, and repealing the medical device tax.

No other provisions would be touched.

“I could live with that,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), as a number of GOP Senators embraced the idea, seeing it as a way to avoid defeat in the Senate, and giving time for more negotiations on a final health care plan.

Rounds says intent is just to pass skinny bill to get to conference to give time for CBO scores on changes

— Peter Sullivan (@PeterSullivan4) July 26, 2017

Sen. Ron Johnson tells me he would support skinny repeal to move the process forward to conference. Not happy with it on its own.

— Tara Golshan (@t_golshan) July 26, 2017

“What you’re really voting on is trying to keep the discussions alive between the House and Senate,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who expressed frustration that the Senate might have to use the ‘skinny solution’ as a fall back.

“It’s disappointing that we find ourselves where we are,” Corker told a group of reporters.

Democrats denounced the idea.

“Skinny repeal should be called ‘gut it and run,'” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as critics said the plan would not reduce premiums for those in the individual insurance market.

Remember the vote that really matters in Vote-a-Rama is the McConnell substitute at the end of the process. Think Friday 5 a.m.

— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) July 26, 2017

Over in the House, some Republicans weren’t exactly thrilled with the idea of a ‘skinny’ bill, but said the Senate must keep the process moving.

“My feeling is, I’m glad I’m not a Senator,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) with a laugh.

White House: Details still TBD on Trump ban on transgender members of military

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 19:20

Hours after President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he would ban transgender individuals from serving in any role in the military, the White House acknowledged that the policy details would still have to be worked out with the Pentagon, as officials were unable to answer the basic question of whether transgender troops would be kicked out of the military immediately under the President’s ban.

“When the President made the decision yesterday, the Secretary of Defense was immediately informed,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, confirming reports that the Pentagon had been blindsided by today’s announcement.

Asked repeatedly how the President’s decision would affect those who already serve in the armed forces, Sanders said that’s all to be worked out.

“I would imagine the Department of Defense would be the lead on that,” Sanders said, at one point threatening to end the briefing as she was peppered with questions about the subject.

Asked what happens to transgender members of the military currently serving in Afghanistan, the White House cannot answer.

— Matt Viser (@mviser) July 26, 2017

“Again, the implementation policy is going to something the White House and the Department of Department of Defense have to work together to lawfully determine,” Sanders told reporters.

The story erupted without warning on Wednesday morning, when the President suddenly tweeted that transgender individuals would not be allowed to “serve in any capacity” in the military.

After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017

….Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017

….victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017

The Pentagon made clear that it was not part of the final decision, telling reporters to call the White House for an explanation – but there was no answer by the afternoon to the simple question of would transgender service members be booted immediately out of the military.

“That’s something that the Department of Defense and the White House will have to work together as implementation takes place,” Sanders said.

On Capitol Hill, there was disbelief expressed by both parties about the decision, and the lack of details.

Senator Hatch's full comments on the issue of transgender Americans in the military. #utpol pic.twitter.com/EDS6JRXJaj

— Senator Hatch Office (@senorrinhatch) July 26, 2017

“The President’s tweet this morning regarding transgender Americans in the military is yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who noted the lack of details, and the fact that the Pentagon had announced a 6-month review of the matter on June 30.

“We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so—and should be treated as the patriots they are,” McCain added.

White House has no actual policy on transgender troops, no idea what happens to current troops, & no timeline for guidance to Defense Dept.

— Dominic Holden (@dominicholden) July 26, 2017

So far, the Trump policy on transgender service – is just the President’s tweets.

Senate easily defeats first GOP plan to overhaul Obamacare

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 02:31

Hours after Republicans barely mustered enough votes to start debate on a House-passed GOP bill designed to overhaul the Obama health law, the Senate easily rejected one plan put forward by Republican Senators, as GOP leaders continued to struggle to figure out how to forge a health care bill that could win final approval on the Senate floor later this week.

The first casualty was an amended version of the “Better Care” plan from GOP leaders – along with additions from Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who wanted to add back $100 billion in Medicaid funding, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who pressed for his ‘Consumer Freedom Amendment,’ which would let insurance companies that sell regular Obamacare plans also offer lower-cost plans with less health coverage.

“What we know won’t work is Obamacare,” Cruz argued on the Senate floor.

But the Cruz plan ran afoul of strict Senate budgetary rules, and needed 60 votes for approval. Republicans were not even able to muster a majority, getting only 43 votes, as nine GOP Senators voted against the plan.

Nine GOP "No" votes on BCRA as amended : Lee, Paul, Moran, Corker, Cotton, Graham, Collins, Heller & Murkowski

— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) July 26, 2017

“We can’t give up,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), as Republicans fully acknowledged they weren’t sure where the debate was headed in terms of the details of a GOP health care overhaul bill.

“It will depend on what’s in the final bill, which nobody has any idea as to how that’s going to end up,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “It’s kind of up in the air right now.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski on whether she sees a path forward at this point: “It’s pretty late, I don’t know."

— Emma Loop (@LoopEmma) July 26, 2017

Opponents of the Republican effort were still ramping up their efforts to push back against GOP health care plans, worried that something will pass late this week by the narrowest of margins.

“The voting now means nothing,” said Andy Slavitt, who ran the operations of the Obamacare exchanges under the Obama Administration. “The backroom deals mean everything.”

Reminder, several of the upcoming votes are window dressing while GOP leadership attempts to negotiate a compromise bill behind the scenes. https://t.co/gzoJJhDkNH

— Joseph (@JoePWilliams31) July 26, 2017

More votes were set for Wednesday, as Republicans were desperately seeking a way to get almost anything approved this week – and then send that on to House-Senate negotiations.

One plan getting attention was being labeled the “skinny repeal” – zeroing out the individual and employer mandate penalties, and repealing the medical device tax, while leaving all other provisions alone.

The idea was that might be the ultimate GOP fall back plan, but still allow the health care effort to survive, with negotiations on a final bill taking place during the August break.

Pence breaks tie as Senate votes to start debate on GOP health care bill

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 19:08

With no votes to spare, Vice President Mike Pence used his Constitutional power to cast a tie-breaking vote in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, allowing Republicans to begin debate on a House-passed GOP bill that would overhaul the Obama health law, as Republicans scrambled to figure out how to cobble together a plan that could be ultimately approved in coming days by the Senate.

The narrow victory was a big win for GOP leaders and the White House, as President Donald Trump had repeatedly pressed Republican Senators in recent days to keep their promise to act on Obamacare – but this was only an initial victory.

In a speech just before the vote, and after a lengthy closed-door meeting of Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell implored fellow GOP Senators to stick together, arguing they had promised the American people that they would make dramatic changes to Obamacare.

“They didn’t send us here just to do the easy stuff, they expect us to tackle the big problems,” McConnell said.

“We can’t let this moment slip by,”McConnell declared.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on health care: "We can't let this moment slip by" https://t.co/7j5VjUmIM9

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 25, 2017

Two Republicans voted against the motion to start debate: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

A number of other key GOP moderates voted for debate to begin, but did not guarantee they would support a final product.

In the end, the crucial vote was cast by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who was just returning to the Capitol for the first time since being diagnosed with brain cancer; also pivotal was Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who held his colleagues in suspense by waiting an extended period of time before casting a vote in favor of beginning debate.

Johnson though has made clear his frustrations with the process, and with the details of the various GOP plans – it still isn’t clear how GOP leaders will find a solution that satisfies him, and several other Senators who voted to begin the health care debate.

Johnson and McConnell spoke for an extended period of time on the Senate floor, mainly just the two of them – while other Senators waited to see what Johnson would decide.

Democrats waited until Johnson and McCain had voted to vote; then each Democrat registered their opposition, to reinforce their stance on the GOP effort.

Just before the vote began, demonstrators in the Senate galleries began chanting, “Kill the bill!” and “Shame!” to the Senators below.

Protesters chant "Kill the bill. Don't kill us." in Senate chamber ahead of motion to proceed vote. https://t.co/HIUtN7uVeG

— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) July 25, 2017

The future of the GOP health care effort was immediately plunged into question with remarks immediately after the vote, as McCain scolded both parties, urging bipartisan compromise on health care.

“If this process ends in failure, which seems likely, let’s return to regular order,” McCain said, sounding a call for hearings, bipartisan negotiations and cooperation, not a repeat of recent health care efforts led by both parties, the Arizona Republican added.

“We are the not the President’s subordinates, we are his equal,” McCain added, making clear he is not a guaranteed vote for whatever bill the Senate produces in coming days.

"I will not vote for this bill as it is today," Sen. John McCain says. "It is a shell of a bill right now." https://t.co/WgDhJzmxX1 pic.twitter.com/ldXv6FCH4U

— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 25, 2017

From interviews with Senators after the vote, it is obvious that Republicans have no real idea how the GOP can forge a bill that gets 50 votes – plus the Vice President.

“We got the first step, now we’ve got to get to the hard work and get this across the line,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).

Asked what the details of that new plan would be, Perdue said simply, “Don’t know yet.”

“It will depend on what’s in the final bill, which nobody has any idea as to how that’s going to end up,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

So, starting debate was difficult – now comes the tougher assignment of putting together a magic formula that can pass the Senate.

McCain returning as Senate heads for procedural vote on health care bill

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 03:24

With President Donald Trump leaning on them from the White House, Republican leaders in the Senate are ready to push ahead with a procedural vote on Tuesday to begin debate on a House-passed GOP plan to overhaul the Obama health law, as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he would return for the vote, even as top Republicans scrambled to figure out what changes they would offer to the health care bill in coming days.

With McCain back, Senate GOP leaders can only afford to lose two votes in the Senate, which would bring about a 50-50 tie, and then allow Vice President Mike Pence to cast the deciding vote to begin debate on health care legislation.

“Obamacare has been a disaster from the start,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who joined the President in pressing reluctant GOP Senators to vote to start the debate on Tuesday.

“The first vote we will take soon is on whether or not to begin the debate at all,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, reminding Senators that they can’t offer amendments if the bill isn’t up for debate.

President Trump: "The American people have waited long enough. There’s been enough talk and no action” https://t.co/xYx1Qu22Us

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 24, 2017

The return of Sen. McCain was not announced until late on Monday evening by his office, just nine days after he stunned Capitol Hill by announcing that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, which delayed work on the issue.

But in a written statement issued by his office, McCain made clear that he was coming back for more than the health care vote.

“Senator McCain looks forward to returning to the United States Senate tomorrow to continue working on important legislation, including health care reform, the National Defense Authorization Act, and new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea,” the statement read.

Look forward to returning to Senate tomorrow to continue work on health care reform, defense bill & #RussiaSanctions https://t.co/VQBtovnwF1

— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) July 25, 2017

While McCain will vote to start debate on health care, he has not guaranteed that he will support the GOP health care bill, as he has echoed the concerns of his state’s Republican Governor, worried about how smaller increases in Medicaid money might impact his state in the future.

But even as Republicans moved toward this procedural vote – likely after members of both parties sit down for their regular lunch on Tuesday afternoon – no one knows yet what specific changes GOP leaders intend to offer for a vote, after the debate begins.

Technically, this is a vote to start debate on the bill approved by the House on health care – then, Republicans could start offering amendments on how to change the Obama health law, though the special rules of budget reconciliation will limit those amendments to matters dealing with spending and taxes.

Hey there everyone. Does anyone know what we are voting on tomorrow? Asking for a friend…

— RandPaulCopier (@randpaulcopier) July 24, 2017

As GOP leaders put the heat on Republican Senators to start that debate, they were getting help from the President, who framed the vote as a choice between keeping the status quo, or making an effort to change the Obama health law.

“Any Senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare, which is what it is,” Mr. Trump said at the White House.

“There’s been enough talk – and no action,” the President declared. “Now is the time for action.”