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Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider
Updated: 3 hours 58 min ago

Senate Republicans scramble to save GOP health care bill

11 hours 41 min ago

In a surprise to many in his own party, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday postponed plans for a vote this week on a GOP health care bill, as internal divisions among Republicans burst into the open on the best way to overhaul the Obama health law, delaying any vote until next month at the earliest.

Here is what’s next on the health care front:

1. No vote until after the July Fourth break. The plan from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was to have a final vote on a GOP health bill by this Friday at the latest. Instead, the new plan is to come up with some deals and secure the 50 votes needed for passage in July. “I think this is a good decision,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who expressed optimism that a vote could take place the week of July 10. “We’re so close,” Perdue added. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is Congress only feels the pressure to act right before a vacation break – and that doesn’t happen again until July 28, just before lawmakers take a five week summer recess.

2. Some not so subtle GOP messages. One thing that was striking were the statements issued by several GOP Senators – after the vote had been delayed – as several Republicans waited to publicly pronounce their opposition and concerns. For Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), it was the level of Medicaid spending. Maybe the biggest surprise was a statement from Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) – who wasn’t on anyone’s radar – that he was opposed to the bill as it currently stands. To me, Moran is a canary in the coal mine for broader GOP concerns about the details of their health care bill.

The Senate healthcare bill missed the mark for Kansans and therefore did not have my support.

— Jerry Moran (@JerryMoran) June 27, 2017

3. Some Republicans sounding some odd notes. Along with the statement from Sen. Moran, another post-delay item deserves a note, from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who had been critical of how the GOP health care bill was being cobbled together. “The first draft of the bill included hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the affluent,” Lee said in a statement, a line that sounded more like something that a Democratic Senator might say, rather than a very conservative Republican.

4. Who can McConnell peel off on health care? While various GOP Senators said they opposed the Republican health plan, they also included the caveat that they don’t like the way it is right now. Things could change in coming days and weeks in order to get someone to vote “Yes.” But for Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), his message in a telephone town hall to voters back in the Silver State on Tuesday night was that he doesn’t expect major changes in how the GOP bill would deal with the Medicaid program, and that means he remains opposed. “I do not believe that Ronald Reagan would have supported this health care bill,” Heller said. I’ll put him down as a “No” for right now.

"This just shows you they don't have the votes right now…and they can't count on mine going forward." — Heller on GOP postponing vote

— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) June 28, 2017

5. But don’t declare the bill dead just yet. Remember, the House came back from several near-death experiences on health care in March and April, and still managed to get something approved in May. So, just because the Senate has thrown a tire in June does not mean that the entire bill is going into the Legislative Ditch. Speaker Paul Ryan said – a few hours before the Senate got the chain wrapped around the axle – that he wouldn’t bet against his Senate counterpart. The Majority Leader will be tested now, and we’ll see how Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) performs in the spotlight. It’s his chance to show us how the Art of the Deal works in the U.S. Senate.

Ryan: "I would not bet against Mitch McConnell…I have every expectation the Senate will move this bill."

— Phil Mattingly (@Phil_Mattingly) June 27, 2017

Stay tuned.

Short on votes, Senate Republicans delay vote on GOP health bill

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 18:50

Unable to muster enough votes, Republican leaders in the Senate said on Tuesday that they would not force a final vote on a GOP health care bill this week, trying to get extra time to negotiate a plan which could win the backing of 50 Republican Senators, as a vote seemed like to slip into the month of July.

“It’s a big complicated subject,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who downplayed GOP troubles, vowing not to give up on changes to the Obama health law.

“Legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anybody would hope,” McConnell added, as GOP Senators were to meet later in the day with President Donald Trump at the White House.

.@SenateMajLdr on health care vote delay: "We're going to continue discussions" within conference, White House "very anxious to help." pic.twitter.com/MYkLRc8nQH

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) June 27, 2017

“We will not be on the bill this week, but we are still working to get 50 people in a comfortable place,” McConnell said.

With five Republicans already saying they couldn’t support the bill unveiled last week – and maybe more opposition lurking in the wings – McConnell didn’t have much of an option, other than to try to re-group and forge a new deal.

“The schedule may have changed a little bit; the one thing that hasn’t changed is that Obamacare is collapsing,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD).

“We owe it to the people back home to give this every ounce of effort we can,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).

“We are so close,” Perdue told me as he left a closed door meeting of GOP Senators in the Capitol. “We’ll end up voting on it the minute we get back after the Fourth of July.”

But even with talk of a delay in July, there were also ominous signs for the GOP, as some more moderate Senators cast doubt on how a deal could be reached which bridges the gap between the moderate and conservative wings of the GOP.

Maine GOP Sen Collins is going to White House but said still had many "fundamental problems" w/bill + didn't see how "tinkering" could fix

— Deirdre Walsh (@deirdrewalshcnn) June 27, 2017

There were some in the GOP who were not pleased with the decision to delay; Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said the basic choice is keeping Obamacare or doing something to change it.

“If we’re going to reject something that is offered other than Obamacare, then you are saying you want Obamacare over that,” Inhofe told reporters after leaving the closed door GOP meeting.

Obamacare is not working for Oklahoma. My thoughts on today's delay of the Senate health care vote. pic.twitter.com/RndwP80BYu

— Jim Inhofe (@JimInhofe) June 27, 2017

But while Inhofe was ready to vote for the GOP bill, more than enough GOP Senators were not – and with only two votes to spare, the Republicans had to change tactics.

“A vote this week would have been rushed,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI).

After the announcement that the vote would be delayed, several GOP Senators then said publicly they were opposed to the bill as written – Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, and Jerry Moran of Kansas.

The Senate healthcare bill missed the mark for Kansans and therefore did not have my support.

— Jerry Moran (@JerryMoran) June 27, 2017

“I continue to have real concerns about the Medicaid policies in this bill, especially those that impact drug treatment at a time when Ohio is facing an opioid epidemic,” Portman said in a written statement.

Republicans struggle to move forward on Senate health care bill

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 02:39

Hours after the release of a Congressional Budget Office review of a Republican health care bill in the Senate, GOP leaders on Monday night found themselves on the defensive, as a small group of Senate Republicans indicated they might not even vote this week to start debate on the GOP health bill, let alone support the final product.

“CBO says 22 million people lose insurance,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who made clear the GOP plans to reduce Medicaid spending by $772 billion over ten years was unacceptable in her home state.

Collins was joined by several other Republicans in publicly saying that without changes, they are not ready to begin debate this week:

I want to work w/ my GOP & Dem colleagues to fix the flaws in ACA. CBO analysis shows Senate bill won't do it. I will vote no on mtp. 1/3

— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) June 26, 2017

Mike Lee's spokesman tells me: "Lee will not vote to proceed to a bill he can't support."https://t.co/eGe2fSyA09

— John McCormack (@McCormackJohn) June 26, 2017

Ron Johnson on the motion to proceed to the GOP health care bill: "I would highly doubt I would support it."

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

Also ready to vote against the “motion to proceed” to the health care bill – Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV).

Democrats meanwhile used speeches on the Senate floor – and social media outside on the steps of the Capitol – to make their argument that the GOP bill should be shelved immediately.

Ummm…people streaming to the Capitol. Crowd getting bigger and bigger and bigger. #HealthcareBill pic.twitter.com/SKnjQtzrBh

— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) June 27, 2017

The original plan had been for the Senate to vote on Tuesday to begin debate on the GOP health care bill, with a final vote expected on Thursday or Friday – but that timeline seemed to be on hold for the time being.

Earlier on Monday, the Congressional Budget Office found that the plan would mean 22 million fewer people would have health insurance by 2026, not much different than the estimates for a similar bill that was approved by the House in early May.

The CBO report found that of the 22 million – 15 million would lose insurance coverage from changes to the Medicaid program, while another 7 million people would lose coverage because of changes in the nongroup and individual insurance marketplaces.

The CBO review had good news on the money front for the GOP, as the plan would save an estimated $321 billion over ten years on the federal deficit, spending $1.022 trillion less than current law, while reducing federal tax revenues by $701 billion from 2017-2026.

The White House derided the CBO report, arguing their estimates have never been close; meanwhile, the President was doing what he could do from the sidelines to try to sway Republicans to his side.

“He made several calls to multiple Senators to hear their concerns and get their ideas, and understand where they’re at and what needs to get done,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

But with Republicans only able to lose two votes, GOP leaders were struggling to keep the GOP health bill on track in the Senate.

Supreme Court delivers legal victory to President Trump on travel and refugee order

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 14:53

In a big legal victory for President Donald Trump, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday almost totally set aside a pair lower court injunctions that had blocked Trump Administration plans to bar visitors and refugees from six mostly Muslim countries. The move allows most of the President’s controversial travel plan to go into effect immediately, while still allowing legal challenges to the effort later this year.

“Today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision is a clear victory for our national security,” the President said in a written statement issued by the White House.

“My number one responsibility as Commander in Chief is to keep the American people safe,” Mr. Trump added.

While he celebrated, it was not a total victory for the President, as the Supreme Court carved out some caveats to Mr. Trump’s plan for travelers and refugees, saying that if they have a relative in the United States, or some other direct tie to the U.S. – then those people cannot be blocked by the Trump Administration from traveling here at this time.

Those points, and the broader discussion over the “travel ban” will be argued later this year, as the Supreme Court said it would still hear a legal challenge to the Trump travel order.

But for now – much of it goes into effect.

“If you don’t know someone in the US, if you don’t have a job offer or admission to a University – then the travel ban applies to you,” said immigration lawyer Mana Yegeni. “The travel ban goes into effect for refugees unless they have family in the United States.”

BREAKING: Supreme Court will review Trump travel ban, allows it to take effect in most instances.

— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) June 26, 2017

But for those travelers and/or refugees without a direct reason to come to the United States, the Supreme Court said the President clearly has the right to deny them entry.

“But when it comes to refugees who lack any such connection to the United States, for the reasons we have set out, the balance tips in favor of the Government’s compelling need to provide for the Nation’s security,” the Court declared in a Per Curiam opinion.

Those who would qualify for travel to the United States would include:
+ Students who have been admitted to a university
+ A foreign national who wants to visit a family member
+ Someone who has accepted a job in the U.S.
+ An academic who has been invited to give a lecture.

The Supreme Court decision though made clear that immigration groups may not simply add the names of people to their client lists, and try to get them admitted to the United States as a result.

While there was no detail given on whether the decision was unanimous, or how the Justices came down on the Trump travel and refugee order, three Justices – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch, wrote that they would have allowed the entire Trump Administration plan to take effect without any limits.

Today’s Supreme Court decision was significant in one way – there was no mention at all of various items that received a lot of attention from lower court judges.

“No references to Trump tweets, TV interviews, websites, etc.,” said Andy Grewal, a law professor at the University of Iowa. “I predict full reversal in the fall.”

Where are all the hot takes by anti-Trump journalists and pundits telling us how his tweets would doom the travel ban?!?

— Chris Barron (@ChrisRBarron) June 26, 2017

The political reaction in Congress broke along party lines as expected, as Democrats expressed frustration with the Supreme Court’s course.

“Disappointing to see even one iota of Trump’s travel ban in effect,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who labeled the Trump order “hateful and hurtful.”

GOP health care bill faces showdown week in the Senate

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 00:54

Almost everywhere I went this weekend and ran into someone I knew, there was one question asked by just about everyone – whether it was at the pool, on the golf course, or grilling burgers in my back yard – “Will the Republicans get their health care bill through the Senate this week?”

Let’s take a look at what the GOP has to do to get that bill approved.

1. A test for the Senate Majority Leader.  The hamburgers had barely touched the grill on Sunday evening, when my father – a veteran of many legislative showdowns on Capitol Hill – asked whether I thought the GOP could get the health bill approved in the Senate by the end of the week. My answer is much like where we were with the House bill at the beginning of May – I can see the GOP passing this by the narrowest of margins, and I can also envision the bill getting delayed because of concerns among GOP Senators.  Remember, the House had a couple of false starts before finally mustering a majority for the Republican health plan.

Senate Republicans face key week as more lawmakers waver in support for health-care bill

— devcode88 (@devcode88) June 26, 2017

2. President Trump warming in the bullpen.  Just like he did when he cajoled reluctant Republicans in the House to get on board with a GOP health care plan, the White House has already had the President reaching out to GOP conservatives who aren’t quite sure they really want to vote for this overhaul of the Obama health law. Over the weekend, the President again made clear – that despite concerns over individual provisions in the bill, and how it might change health insurance options in the individual market – this is better than the current Obamacare situation. Expect to hear that argument a lot more this week from the White House.

I cannot imagine that these very fine Republican Senators would allow the American people to suffer a broken ObamaCare any longer!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2017

3. There really is no role for Democrats. Just like in 2009 and 2010 as the Obama health law made its way through the House and Senate – when Republicans did not have the votes to leave their imprint on the bill – Democrats are simply on the sidelines, as they lob verbal grenades at the GOP on an hourly basis. It’s important to remember this week that Republicans have almost no margin for error, as just three GOP Senators could tip the balance of this debate if they refuse to back the Republican health bill. All Democrats can do is watch from the sidelines, and hope they have an impact.

We got the Senate bill text on Thursday. This bill would overhaul our entire health care system but the GOP wants to vote next Thursday!

— Dick Durbin (@DickDurbin) June 25, 2017

4. Have you read the bill? Why not? The GOP health bill is just 142 pages long – but even if you sit down to read it, I guarantee that most of you won’t be able to figure out what it says. Why? Well, that’s because it is basically an amendment to the underlying Obama health law, and if you don’t have that language on hand, you won’t really know what the Republicans are trying to change, and how. The original Affordable Care Act was well over 2,000 pages long – and the reason that this GOP bill is so short is simple – it just amends the Obama health law – this is not “repeal and replace” by any measure.

Because it leaves most of Obamacare in place. https://t.co/8lnG9385JU

— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) June 25, 2017

5. The GOP Senators who might vote ‘No.’ If I had to list a group of Republicans to watch, my morning line would look this way:

I WILL SAY THIS SENATOR IS OPPOSED TO THE BILL
1) Rand Paul – most likely to vote “No” at this point
2) Dean Heller – Nevada Senator said on Friday that there must be changes

POSSIBLE NO VOTE
3) Mike Lee – said this weekend he thinks the bill doesn’t significantly reform health care. But I still wonder if he gets to “Yes” with some late changes.
4) Susan Collins – CBO report is important, plus Planned Parenthood. Still not sure she votes “No.”
5) Lisa Murkowski – Planned Parenthood & bill details important. Important one to watch.

CONSERVATIVES ON THE FENCE
6) Ted Cruz – Yes, I know Cruz has said he has concerns. So did the Freedom Caucus in the House, but most of them ended up voting for the bill.
7) Ron Johnson – Same thought for the Wisconsin Republican as Cruz. Can’t see either of them being the 51st vote against the bill.
8) Bill Cassidy – No matter what he said to Jimmy Kimmel, I still think it is unlikely that Cassidy votes against the Senate bill. But we’ll see.

OTHERS:
9+) I see all sorts of other Senatorial names mentioned like Portman, Cotton, Isakson, Rounds and Capito.  Maybe Capito and Portman might have concerns on Medicaid that could cause some troubles, but it still seems like most GOP Senators are ready to vote for this bill.  It will come down to just a couple of Republicans – three “No” votes would be enough to derail this plan.

Latest whip count on #SenateHealthCareBill:
45 yea 55 nay @GOP opposed: Paul, Cruz, Lee, Heller, Johnson, Cassidy, Collins.

— KOMO Newsradio (@komonewsradio) June 25, 2017

Clearly, the GOP leadership – and the White House – has some legislative arm twisting to do in coming days.

If this plan stays on track, it could well be voted through on Thursday or Friday.  And if that happens, I wouldn’t rule out the GOP thinking about bringing it right to the floor of the House for a final vote.

But we’ll see if we actually get that far.  Stay tuned.  It will be a very interesting week in the halls of Congress.

 

U.S. House moves to bolster lawmaker security in wake of baseball shooting

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 12:00

Responding to concerns about personal security for lawmakers after last week’s gun attack at a Congressional baseball practice, U.S. House leaders are moving to provide extra money to members for protection back home, as well as new funding to bolster the work of police and security officials on Capitol Hill.

Under a plan approved by a House spending subcommittee on Friday, the Congress would provide an extra $7.5 million next year to the Capitol Police for an “increased security posture” around the Capitol, along with $5 million to the House Sergeant at Arms to help with security for lawmakers back in their districts.

“We are taking a new fresh look at security,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS), the Chairman of subcommittee that deals with funding for the Legislative Branch.

Our FY18 Legislative Branch funding bill increases efficiency & transparency in Congress, enhances security for Members & our constituents. pic.twitter.com/FI36tF2XeH

— Rep. Kevin Yoder (@RepKevinYoder) June 22, 2017

“The tragic events of June 14 weigh heavily on these deliberations,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which could vote on the extra money as early as this next week.

Also being put into motion is a separate plan to funnel an extra $25,000 to each member of the House – about $11 million in all – to help them increase security back in their districts.

“The scariest part for us is there used to be this impression by the public that we all had security everywhere we went,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH).

“Now, everyone knows that isn’t the case,” Ryan added, as he lent his support to the extra funding for security as well.

The money in this budget bill would not take effect until the new fiscal year – which starts October 1 – so, House leaders are ready to okay extra money immediately for members worried about security back in their districts.

Roll Call newspaper reported that could be approved in coming days by the House Administration Committee.

Yoder said Congressional leaders are also waiting to see if money raised in campaign contributions for House elections could be put to use for security as well.

“Pending an FEC (Federal Election Commission) decision, we’re also looking at whether campaign funds could be used to continue to support security upgrades at personal residences,” Yoder added.

Trump signs new law to allow VA to more quickly fire workers for poor performance

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 16:33

With strong bipartisan support from both houses of Congress, President Donald Trump on Friday signed into law a plan to make it easier for the Veterans Affairs Department to get rid of employees for poor performance or misconduct, all in an effort to improve veterans health care and other services.

“We’re taking care of our veterans and we’re taking care of them properly,” said the President, as he signed the bill at a White House ceremony.

“Those entrusted with the sacred duty of serving our veterans will be held accountable for the care they provide,” Mr. Trump said.

President Donald Trump on the VA accountability bill: "This is one of the largest reforms to the VA in its history" https://t.co/NXXQ4plpBk

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 23, 2017

New legislation was needed from Congress mainly because previous efforts to make it easier to fire employees at the VA had become bogged down in the courts, even preventing the VA from getting rid of people like the former head of the Phoenix VA health care director, where a health care scandal broke out in 2014.

“We won’t be able to accomplish any of the reforms we need to in the VA if we don’t get the right people in place,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin, who with the support of the President, has pressed ahead with internal changes.

Shulkin said this new law would “make it easier and quicker to hold our employees accountable.”

.@SecShulkin of @DeptVetAffairs joins @POTUS 4 signing Veterans Affairs Accountability & Whistleblower Protection Act pic.twitter.com/Yf3MsFZLbr

— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) June 23, 2017

Among the changes in the bill:

+ A streamlined VA process to fire, suspend or demote workers for misconduct or poor performance

+ The Secretary would have the power to reduce the pension of a VA worker if that person is convicted of a felony crime that influenced their job performance

+ The VA would be allowed to claw back bonuses given to employees who are later found to have engaged in misconduct

The new law also includes provisions to protect whistleblowers from retaliation inside the VA, and gives greater authority to the VA Secretary to fill top positions more quickly inside the VA health care system.

“As you all know – all too well – for many years, the government failed to keep its promises to our veterans,” Mr. Trump said, saying “we are just getting started” on major changes to the VA, one of his central campaign promises in 2016.

Armed with new health bill, GOP leaders look for 50 votes in Senate

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 02:30

With the public release on Thursday of an updated health care bill from Senate Republicans, the focus on Capitol Hill quickly shifted from what is in the measure to how many votes the GOP could muster, as separate groups of moderates and conservatives expressed concern about some of the details, even as the Senate Majority Leader was aiming to hold a vote late next week.

Here’s some of the back story on who is not on board in the Senate:

1. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) – A negotiator on the fence. Cruz was one of the 13 GOP Senators who spent weeks behind closed doors trying to forge a deal on health care. But when the text of the Republican bill was publicly released, the Texas Republican was not supporting the plan, as he stressed that it was just a “draft,” saying the GOP plan “does not do nearly enough to lower premiums. That should be the central issue for Republicans – repealing Obamacare and making healthcare more affordable.” Cruz as of now says, “I cannot support it as currently drafted, and I do not believe it has the votes to pass the Senate.”

Straying from Texas Republicans, Ted Cruz opposes GOP health care bill https://t.co/GoJTYN3vT2

— Austin Now (@Austin_CP) June 23, 2017

2. Along with Cruz – Lee, Paul and Johnson. Three other more conservative Republicans also expressed public reservations about the plan, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI). Hours after the bill was made public, the four of them issued a joint statement, which indicated they were ready to keep negotiating for a better deal:

I am one of four Republicans not ready to vote for #HealthcareBill: https://t.co/Iys8FFFq7a @SenTedCruz @SenRonJohnson @SenRandPauI

— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) June 22, 2017

“Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor. There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current healthcare system but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their healthcare costs.” The most outspoken of this foursome has been Paul.

Will this health care bill pass?

"Not in its existing form," Sen. Rand Paul says https://t.co/ksy8fbfsty https://t.co/KP4uyeycla

— CNN (@CNN) June 22, 2017

3. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME): Waiting on the CBO. On the other side of the Republican coin, more moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine indicated that she liked some of the provisions in the new draft bill, and said she was open to supporting it. But she told reporters who mobbed her just off the Senate floor that she would not commit to voting for the new Republican health measure until she has seen the review by the Congressional Budget Office that is expected out early next week. “I’m still reviewing the text of the bill,” Collins said. “I very much want to see the CBO assessment.”

Sen Collins: “I cannot support a bill that is going to result in tens of millions of people losing their health insurance” via @MeetThePress pic.twitter.com/LCMuqBNU8C

— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) June 22, 2017

4. From the heartland – worries about opiod funding. One vote to watch is that of Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who has made no bones about his concerns that Medicaid funding to the states is being restricted too much by GOP plans, especially when it comes to funding for programs to deal with the opiod crisis. Portman made clear he likes some of the changes in the bill “to reduce premiums in the individual insurance market, but I continue to have real concerns about the Medicaid policies in this bill, especially those that impact drug treatment at a time when Ohio is facing an opioid epidemic.” Like Cruz, Portman helped develop this bill, but he’s not voting for it – yet.

Sen Portman (who was on health care working group) says he has "real concerns about the Medicaid policies in this bill" –> pic.twitter.com/s3Ioj1SrMF

— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) June 22, 2017

5. Two very important votes from Alaska. The way that the GOP health plan impacts health care in The Last Frontier could play a big role in how this bill does in the Senate. While Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) is seen as a more likely vote for the Republican plan, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has repeatedly made clear her concerns with how the numbers get crunched for Alaska taxpayers. Murkowski said she will work with officials back in her state to analyze the new GOP bill. One other hangup for her is how the bill blocks money for Planned Parenthood, a move that’s been opposed both by Murkowski and Sen. Susan Collins.

Just asked Murkowski about defunding @PPFA.

"I support Planned Parenthood."

The bill defunds it for a year.

"I do not support defunding."

— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) June 22, 2017

6. Others say they’re “studying” the bill. A number of reports added more names to the list of possible GOP opponents, but I’m not so sold on them being the deciding vote against the plan. These names include Dean Heller of Nevada, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Corey Gardner of Colorado, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. For several of them, especially Capito and Heller, the issue of Medicaid funding is a big deal in this bill. The problem for Republicans is that if you ease up on spending restrictions to Medicaid, then you probably lose some conservatives because of that. GOP leaders hope to find a sweet spot in between.

“I have serious concerns about the bill’s impact on the Nevadans who depend on Medicaid,” Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said. #NoTrumpcare

— fuzionbunny (@fuzionbunny) June 22, 2017

7. Does the GOP bill pass the Jimmy Kimmel test? Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) has talked a lot about devising a health care plan that where “no family should be denied medical care, emergency or otherwise, because they can’t afford it” – something that caught fire after late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel told of his child’s medical troubles. Cassidy was part of the group that designed the GOP plan, and while some people see him as a fence-sitter, he seemed to be giving some good signs about his feelings on the bill, telling Fox News on Thursday evening that the plan would push insurance premiums down.

8. Does this pass? Can the Senate get the job done? While this blog has shown there are a number of GOP Senators who might have issues with the health care bill, will they really not support the plan if it comes to a vote next week? That’s the million dollar question right now. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear that he wants to force a vote – but he has also left the door open for legislative changes to the plan in coming days. Congressional leaders don’t usually roll the dice on major legislation. We’ll see in coming days if McConnell can muster the votes to pass this plan before lawmakers go home for the July Fourth break.

Does Leader McConnell have 50 votes for these ideas? https://t.co/6KcRjkf3Ke

— John R Parkinson (@jparkABC) June 22, 2017

Trump admits he has no tapes of conversations with Comey

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 17:20

Almost six weeks after he suggested on Twitter that he might have “tapes” of conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, President Donald Trump on Thursday acknowledged that he “did not make” and does “not have” any such recordings, which had drawn interest from lawmakers in Congress.

“James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” the President tweeted just three days after firing Comey last month.

But in a pair of tweets on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Trump said if there are tapes, he doesn’t have them.

…whether there are "tapes" or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2017

Asked if the President regretted his original “tapes” tweet, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders would only say, “I don’t think so.”

The question of whether there were “tapes” of conversations between the President and Comey had roiled the Congress, and the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Asked about it during his testimony earlier this month before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey said, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” as he said it would be fine to release them to the public.

Several committees in Congress had asked for the tapes as well.

Comey: “Release all the tapes. I’m good with it.” https://t.co/FbmTfZFI1g

— NBC News (@NBCNews) June 8, 2017

The White House had for weeks refused to directly answer questions about whether the President had a taping system that he used in the Oval Office, and if he did, whether it had recorded conversations with Comey.

The President had plenty of opportunities before today to say there were no tapes; at a joint news conference with the leader of Romania earlier this month, Mr. Trump sidestepped a direct answer about tapes, and simply promised to let reporters know his answer in the future.

“I’m not hinting about anything,” the President said, saying he would let reporters know the answer “in a short period of time.”

Senate Republicans release details of GOP health overhaul bill

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 15:19

After weeks of closed door negotiations, Senate Republicans on Thursday released their plan to overhaul the Obama health law, as GOP leaders again signaled they are ready to push ahead with a vote in the full Senate as early as next week.

The 142 page bill – labeled a ‘discussion draft’ – was posted online by the GOP, as the Senate Majority Leader made clear he’s ready to move forward.

(Here is a summary put out by the GOP on the new Senate bill.)

“Obamacare isn’t working – by any nearly any measure it has failed,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who said action is needed now by the Congress.

Democrats immediately denounced the plan.

“It’s every bit as bad a the House bill,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer. “In some ways, it’s worse.”

“I think it’s a good proposal overall,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), trailed by a pack of reporters as he left a closed door meeting of GOP Senators where the health plan was rolled out.

“It’s the first time that we’ve really looked at it as far as the details are concerned,” McCain added.

Like McCain, many other GOP Senators had little to say about the details of the plan, having just seen them a few minutes earlier in their meeting.

“The bill is on line for all of you to read,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who was mobbed by reporters for comment.

As for what’s in the GOP plan – here are some of the emerging details:

1. The plan seems to mirror what’s been approved in the House. Yes, there are differences in how Senate Republicans would change provisions of the Obama health law, but the basics of the Senate plan are familiar. “In broad strokes, the Senate bill is just like the House,” said Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation, who has been a critic of GOP efforts on health care.

Speaker Ryan on the Senate health care bill: "I'm not going to opine on their process," but I'm eager for it to pass https://t.co/in7Y5d3WGy

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 22, 2017

2. List of “Essential health benefits” for Medicaid coverage would be phased out. This is part of a two pronged effort by Republicans to make it easier to offer health coverage that does not cover all ten of the “essential health benefits” under the Obama health law – policies that require insurance companies to offer health policies that cover ten different categories of coverage, from maternity care to lab services, hospitalization, emergency care, wellness and more. This provision would end those requirements after 2019, allowing states to determine what insurance companies should cover after that date. Backers argue that will allow less expensive plans to be sold to consumers, which don’t cover as many items.

3. Individual mandate penalty set a $0, made retroactive for taxpayers. Like the House bill, the Senate GOP health plan effectively gets rid of the penalty for not having health insurance coverage, as it sets the penalty at $0. But the fine print also says that provision is effect after December 31, 2015 – which means it would cover the 2016 tax year. That would seem to mean that people who paid a fine associated with their 2016 taxes could get that fine refunded.

4. Senate GOP plan also repeals Obamacare taxes. The GOP plan repeals a battery of taxes associated with the Obama health law, repealing the tax on health savings accounts, a tax on medical devices, a Medicare tax increase for higher income earners, the so-called tanning tax, and more. Some of the repeal dates are different, depending on the tax involved – for example, the medical device tax would be ended and the end of 2017, the tanning tax would end September 30, 2017, the net investment tax would be gone as of the end of 2016. Democrats say it’s nothing but a giant tax cut for the rich.

Senate GOP bill’s extreme Medicaid cuts would hurt Virginians & break Trump promises all to deliver a giant tax break to the wealthiest

— Senator Tim Kaine (@timkaine) June 22, 2017

Here are all of the ACA taxes repealed by the Senate bill, along with effective dates of repeal: pic.twitter.com/KMBJUgYE5n

— Scott Greenberg (@ScottElliotG) June 22, 2017

5. No, this is not a repeal of Obamacare. Because this health overhaul effort is being done through the expedited process known as “budget reconciliation,” it is not possible for Republicans to simply repeal the entire Affordable Care Act. Instead, this plan uses the basic structures of the Obama health law, but makes some dramatic changes along the way. Because it is not a true repeal plan, there is some heartburn in conservative circles about the details of this. But it’s really the best option that Republicans have at this point, since they do not have 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster on a regular piece of legislation.

This is a bill that does more to rescue Obamacare than it does to repeal it. Lots of up front bailout $, promised cuts come later.

— Philip Klein (@philipaklein) June 22, 2017

Just with Rand Paul, he doesn't seem happy. Says this bill amounts to "keeping Obamacare" – says he &others going to release statement soon

— Tara Golshan (@t_golshan) June 22, 2017

6. The protests didn’t take long to start. Opponents of the GOP plan were already making their voices heard on Capitol Hill, just minutes after the details were released of the Senate Republican plan. The outcome here hinges entirely on Republicans in the Senate – if they can hold 50 votes together, then the GOP will be able to get this approved as early as next week. But because their majority is only 52-48, it would only take three GOP Senators to hold things up. It promises to be a loud next week on Capitol Hill.

Protests outside @SenateMajLdr office, chanting "don't touch Medicaid, save our liberty!" pic.twitter.com/FMr0h9ZLyd

— KristinWilsonKeppler (@TheOtherKeppler) June 22, 2017

7. No immediate Congressional Budget Office cost estimate. While there had been talk that the CBO would weigh in on the new Senate GOP health plan as early as tomorrow, the CBO announced early this afternoon that nothing should be expected until “early next week.” That’s important, because under Senate rules, there must be a CBO cost estimate before a vote on a reconciliation bill.

CBO aims to release estimate for Senate health care plan early next week https://t.co/wayuIYdiX5

— U.S. CBO (@USCBO) June 22, 2017

Already a handful of Republicans are not on board with the plan, as Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) have put out a statement indicating they don’t like the GOP plan – on the other end of the spectrum, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) don’t like provisions dealing with Planned Parenthood.

Part of statement on new GOP health bill from Sen Ted Cruz R-TX pic.twitter.com/IfFCfkIHUQ

— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) June 22, 2017

Still, Republicans I’ve talked to who support the bill feel like momentum is with them; we’ll see in coming days.

Trump basks in glow of election wins, presses Democrats to cooperate in Congress

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 02:48

Back in Iowa for the first time since the November elections, President Donald Trump used a campaign rally in the Hawkeye State to reaffirm his vow to supporters that he will pursue a battery of plans to force change in the federal government and Washington, D.C., as Mr. Trump said his early successes are driving his critics “crazy.”

“All we do is win, win, win,” the President said to cheers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as he pressed Democrats to support his legislative agenda in the Congress.

“If we had even a little Democrat support, just a little, like a couple of votes – you would have everything,” he told the crowd.

Pres. Trump extends congratulations to Karen Handel and Ralph Norman after their special election victories https://t.co/egPtI72uW8 pic.twitter.com/2FsgKu88Np

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) June 22, 2017

“Just think about what a unified American nation could achieve,” the President said.

“It would be a beautiful, beautiful thing, if we could get together as two parties for our country,” Mr. Trump said.

.@POTUS: It would be a beautiful thing if we could get together as 2 parties that love our country, and come up with that great healthcare. pic.twitter.com/UdH1WkkWuB

— Fox News (@FoxNews) June 22, 2017

But the President said the goal of Democrats is obvious right now.

“They just want to obstruct,” Mr. Trump said. “They’re obstructionists,” he said to applause.

The President also urged Republicans in the Senate to stick with him on health care, and support a GOP plan that will be unveiled on Thursday to overhaul the Obama health law

“Obamacare is a disaster,” the President said. “It is over”

President Trump takes aim at the "largest tax cut in the history of the United States" https://t.co/Q0P5Pv7qCR

— NBC News (@NBCNews) June 22, 2017

But Mr. Trump acknowledged that with a narrow majority in the Senate, approval of a revised GOP health bill is not a given.

“That means we basically can’t lose anybody,” the President said of the 52-48 Senate edge.

“I hope we’re going to surprise you with a really good plan.”

FBI: Congressional baseball gunman acted alone, no ties to terrorism

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 15:49

A week after an Illinois man shot a top Republican in Congress and wounded several others, law enforcement officials said the investigation has found that the gunman acted alone when he fired dozens of bullets at lawmakers gathered for a Republican baseball practice, and that no links to any wider plot had been found by the FBI.

“At this time, the FBI has assessed that the deceased shooter, James Thomas Hodgkinson, acted alone,” said Timothy Vale, a top official in the FBI’s Washington, D.C. Field Office.

“We also assess that there was no nexus to terrorism,” Vale told reporters at a news conference, saying for now, the investigation was simply focused on the gunfire that wounded Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), two U.S. Capitol Police officers, and two others who were helping lawmakers get ready for an annual charity baseball game.

FBI: The shooter in the case of the congressional baseball practice in Virginia acted alone https://t.co/8cBpn3xSzt

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 21, 2017

“While the shooter was not known to have a history of diagnosed mental illness, he is known or was known to have an anger management problem,” said Timothy Slater, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office.

Slater said Hodgkinson had come to the Washington area in March of this year, and was living out of his vehicle, mainly in the parking lot of a YMCA near the baseball field.

Investigators did find a list of lawmaker names that had been put together by the gunman, but there was no evidence to suggest that it was some kind of ‘hit list’ or part of a broader plan to target individual members of Congress.

FBI: The man behind the attack on lawmakers in Virginia was known to have “an anger management problem” https://t.co/XRVbnHEY7l

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 21, 2017

On Capitol Hill today, Republicans were wearing yellow and purple fleur-de-lis stickers to honor Scalise, whose condition was upgraded to fair condition.

“Congressman Steve Scalise continues to make good progress,” read a statement issued by MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “He is now listed in fair condition and is beginning an extended period of healing and rehabilitation.”

Democrats struggle to find election formula to dent Trump, Republicans

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 03:28

Determined to derail President Donald Trump, Democrats thought they had a good chance to spin an upset victory in a special election runoff in Georgia for the U.S. Congress on Tuesday. Instead, they watched in disbelief as the Republican candidate, Karen Handel, won handily in a race that some Democrats had said might well be a ‘referendum’ on the Trump Administration.

It left some Congressional Democrats pained, and searching for answers.

“We need a genuinely new message, a serious jobs plan that reaches all Americans, and a bigger tent not a smaller one,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), who has tried to sharpen the election message of Democrats since coming to Congress after the 2014 election.

#Ossof Race better be a wake up call for Democrats – business as usual isn't working. Time to stop rehashing 2016 and talk about the future.

— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) June 21, 2017

“Let’s be a party of big economic ideas for those with stagnant wages – who seek new industry, fear monopoly, & want good jobs for their kids,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), a freshmen elected in 2016.

Khanna was more blunt away from Twitter, as he told Reid Epstein of the Wall Street Journal that national Democrats should fire their consultants, and seek out a different election message.

“I do think in the long term we need a harder edged economic message,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), one of the newer and younger Democrats in the Senate.

“Winning in Georgia 6 – a district that hasn’t elected a Democrat in three decades – was always an uphill battle,” said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), a top House Democrat, acknowledging Ossoff’s defeat.

“Still, this was a tough loss,” Crowley added.

Surprised and disappointed by the large margin in the GA special.

— US Rep Brendan Boyle (@RepBrendanBoyle) June 21, 2017

The official reaction from the campaign arm of House Democrats – the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – was that Ossoff had run a very good race in Red State America, and that Democrats “have the momentum heading into 2018.”

“Ossoff’s close margin demonstrates the potential for us to compete deep into the battlefield,” said Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM).

And frankly, if you look at the vote totals in Georgia, and another special election on Tuesday in South Carolina, it’s now four straight special elections where Democrats have done dramatically better than back in November.

But moral victories only get you so far – and Democrats are clearly chafing at their inability to turn the tables on President Trump.

While Democrats wondered what went wrong, the White House celebrated the victory.

Thanks to everyone who breathlessly and snarkily proclaimed #GA06 as a "referendum on POTUS @realDonaldTrump".

You were right. #winning

— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) June 21, 2017

“Congratulations to Karen Handel on her big win in Georgia 6th. Fantastic job, we are all very proud of you!” the President tweeted, soon after Trumps returned from dinner with Vice President Pence and his wife.

Republicans to unveil revised Senate GOP health care bill on Thursday

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 19:52

Senate GOP leaders told reporters that they should be ready on Thursday to publicly release a revised plan to overhaul the Obama health law, even as some Republican Senators acknowledged their concern about the development of the bill, which has taken place behind closed doors and with no public hearings.

“I expect to have a discussion draft on Thursday,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, saying consideration of the health care bill on the Senate floor was “likely next week.”

“For weeks now we’ve been in intense discussions with all Republican Senators,” McConnell said, defending the decision to proceed without any public hearings on the GOP proposal – the details of which remain secret.

NEW: @SenateMajLdr says he expects "discussion draft" of health care bill Thursday. https://t.co/8PvERl5hH3 pic.twitter.com/ClmvSOFRTe

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) June 20, 2017

Before the Senate can take a health care vote, the Congressional Budget Office would need to “score” the bill, and issue that review; many expect that to happen by early next week.

“Everybody will have an adequate time to take a look at it,” McConnell told reporters gathered just off the Senate floor. “I think this will be about as transparent as it could be.”

Democrats disagree with that, as for a second straight day, they filled the Senate floor with speeches denouncing the process by which the GOP bill is being cobbled together.

“The same Republicans now think it’s fine for their health care bill to be written behind closed doors without a single committee hearing,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Using social media to broadcast their arguments, several Democrats went over to the Congressional Budget Office to ask to see the GOP bill – but were not handed the keys to the Republican legislative vehicle.

Instead, they will have to wait – along with most Republican Senators – to see the bill later this week.

Sens. Murphy, Booker, and Schatz went to the CBO to try to get details on the Republican health bill, couldn't get any info. (via @MSNBC) pic.twitter.com/rxKaVQ5Rjt

— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) June 20, 2017

For now, the only question is can Republicans hold their votes in line; the GOP cannot lose more than two Senators on the health care bill.

The road to a GOP health care deal – is it really that different?

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 01:00

As Democrats took to the Senate floor on Monday evening to denounce closed door Republican negotiations on a GOP plan to overhaul the Obama health law, both parties traded barbs over how this bill was being put together, with Democrats once more zeroing in on a lack of public hearings, as it still wasn’t clear when the full Senate would vote on the top agenda item for Republicans in 2017.

“If there is not going to be a hearing, then we shouldn’t vote,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

In recent days, I’ve heard from partisans on both sides about the current situation in the Senate on health care, as Democrats denounce the GOP process, and Republicans point back to eight years ago to claim that nothing different is happening in 2017.

“Jamie, have you ever seen a bill / legislative process like this shrouded in such secrecy?” asked @wcsanders on Twitter.

Having worked my way through way too much Congressional history, I don’t like to ever say that something has “never” happened before in the House or Senate – because there probably is a legislative example that we have forgotten about from many years ago.

In some ways on this GOP health care bill, we have not seen a process like this before – but in others, we certainly have. Let’s take a look.

1. For the GOP health bill, a lack of Senate hearings. If there is one dramatic difference on the GOP health care bill, it is the absence of public committee hearings on various GOP proposals. Republicans in Congress have complained for the past seven years about how the Obama health law was put together in 2009 and 2010, but the process this time certainly has not had anywhere close to the number of public hearings and committee meetings that were held by Democrats on the Obama health law. Yes, the deck was stacked against the GOP back then because Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate, but that did not push most of the process behind closed doors. This time, instead of committee hearings and votes, the focus is on 13 Senate Republicans who are doing most of the work, which has led Democrats to hammer on the idea that all of the GOP health care work is being done in secret. The former Senate historian says nothing this big has been done so secretly in the Senate since World War I.

Senate Democrats wrote today to 3 cmte chairs requesting hearings on GOP healthcare bill & listed rooms available https://t.co/jsq7c380N0

— Craig Caplan (@CraigCaplan) June 19, 2017

2. But let’s be honest, closed door talks in Congress are not new. For all of the finger pointing from Democrats about Republicans meeting in secret on health care, let’s not forget that Congress often operates behind closed doors when forging the final details of major legislation – and health care is no different. “Democratic lawmakers have yet to read the health-care bill,” noted one story in the Washington Post from 2009 that Republicans happily emailed to reporters on Monday night, to make the case that Democrats made some late changes to their health plan without much in the way of any legislative spotlights on the details. It’s a reminder that both parties love to talk about bipartisanship, but it’s not unusual for one side to go it alone and assemble a major tax or health care bill, without the involvement of the other side.

Mitch McConnell on Obamacare bill: "We'll let you see the bill when we finally release it… Nobody's hiding the ball here" per @adamcancryn

— Jennifer Haberkorn (@jenhab) June 13, 2017

3. So, what is different about these health talks? Like 1994 and 2009, the lead on health care is being taken by the Senate Majority Leader. George Mitchell could not put together a bipartisan plan in 1994, but Harry Reid was able to keep things together in 2009-2010. Now, Mitch McConnell is trying to shepherd a health care bill to the finish line in 2017. In terms of comparing this to Congressional history, maybe what’s missing from this process is that it is not being driven by a specific committee or a powerful chairman in the House and/or Senate. So for now, there are no high stakes committee meetings where the hallways are jammed with lobbyists and reporters; instead, this GOP effort in the Senate is focused on 13 Senators of one party, meeting in the Capitol, trying to forge that agreement.

All the senators working on the health care bill:

McConnell
Alexander
Lee
Enzi

Hatch
Thune
Cruz
Cotton
Gardner
Barrasso
Cornyn
Portman

— Jimmy Greenfield (@jcgreenx) May 5, 2017

4. It’s important to remember some 2009 lessons. As we wait to see how Senate Republicans might alter the House-passed health care bill, we should go back to how Democrats made late changes with their own health plan in December of 2009. A few days before approving that bill on Christmas Eve, Senate Democrats added in a 383 page amendment, which included the “Cornhusker Kickback” and other provisions. A few months later in March, House Democrats would add in 153 pages of legislative text just a few days before the final vote. The truth is, both parties excel at dropping large amounts of legislative text on lawmakers at the last minute, and asking for a vote a few days later on a major bill that most lawmakers have not read. Last minute deals were made in 2009-2010, and may be part of the deal in 2017 as well, no matter how much Democrats complain.

5. Are we really near a final Senate vote? It depends on who you talk to, but there are some Republicans who are still forecasting a final vote in the Senate by the end of next week, before lawmakers go home for a July Fourth break. One rule that won’t be changed for health care is the need for a cost estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, which is mandatory before a Senate vote (but not in the House). Just like for Democrats back in 2009 and 2010, the Holy Grail is not a date certain for a vote, but when you can get a majority of votes. Republicans need 50 Senators plus the Vice President to provide the margin of victory on their health care package – which we are still waiting to read.

Sen. Chuck Grassley says his understanding is that the Senate will vote when they have the votes, not necessarily next week.

— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) June 19, 2017

6. One other likely difference – a much shorter floor debate. Back in 2009, Democrats started the final push on a Senate health care bill on the Monday after Thanksgiving, and didn’t stop until approval of the bill at sunrise on Christmas Eve. That was almost four weeks of time on the Senate floor, as Democrats massaged the details of the measure (and came up with changes like the Cornhusker Kickback). This time, the total debate could be no more than 20 hours of debate – the amount set forward under special expedited rules for “budget reconciliation,” which does not allow for a Senate filibuster. Democrats were more than happy to remind the GOP of that extended 2009 debate, as we wait to see if there will be final action over the next ten days on a GOP health care bill – or if this spills into July.

Oops. GOP's own 'fact sheet' notes there was a "nearly monthlong floor debate" before '09 vote on Obamacare.https://t.co/HIy4OCiLSa

— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) June 20, 2017

Senate Democrats try to turn up political heat over GOP health care bill

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 15:57

In a bid to derail GOP efforts to overhaul the Obama health law, Democrats are vowing to use the rules to slow legislative work in the Senate, trying to call more attention to closed door Republican negotiations on a GOP health care plan, and the lack of public details on how the Senate might change a health bill approved by the House in May.

“Here’s the order of people seeing the healthcare bill,” wrote Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) on Twitter. “13 dudes in secret, then Republican lobbyists, then CBO, then you and me. Sick.”

Democrats planned to showcase their frustration on health care with an evening of floor speeches in the Senate, but also by refusing to move ahead on non-controversial measures, objecting to simple “unanimous consent” requests.

“If GOP won’t debate health care in public, they shouldn’t expect business as usual in the Senate,” said Matt House, spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.

Every legislative body across the country has hearings. To not have a hearing on something that impacts 1/6 of the economy is craven.

— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) June 19, 2017

The lack of public hearings on what Senate Republicans might do on health care has been getting more and more attention from Democrats in recent weeks, as GOP leaders labor to find agreement on a plan that can get 50 votes in the Senate.

No draft bill has yet been made available, though a variety of details have emerged in recent weeks on how Republicans might alter a House-passed health bill.

Those talks involve 13 GOP Senators – no Democrats are in the room.

It’s not clear if Republicans will be able to come to an agreement fast enough to hold a vote before they leave late next week for a July Fourth break – that still seems like a long shot at this point.

Yes. You. Are.
“We’ll let you see the bill when we finally release it,” McConnell said. “Nobody’s hiding the ball here.”

— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) June 14, 2017

Democrats argue it’s time for the GOP to release the details of their revised health care plan – #ShowUsTheBill was the Twitter tag that Democrats rolled out, as they planned their public relations offensive on the Senate floor.

Last week they swiftly latched on to a quote from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who told reporters that the GOP wasn’t hiding anything on health care.

“We’ll let you see the bill when we finally release it,” the Majority Leader said.

At the White House, Press Secretary Sean Spicer wasn’t sure if the President had seen any details on the GOP health plan in the Senate; last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price had told Senators he did not know what Senate Republicans were choosing in terms of health overhaul options.

Asked if the President had seen the GOP bill, Spicer said simply, “I don’t know. I have not asked that question.”

Still slow going in Congress on Trump legislative agenda

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 12:00

With two legislative work weeks left this month, Republicans in the Congress have yet to find the magic formula to unleash action on President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda, as most of the big ticket items are still stalled behind a GOP push on health care legislation, which remains the subject of closed door Republican negotiations in the U.S. Senate.

Here’s where we stand on Capitol Hill:

1. Health care. Health care. Health care. This could be a pivotal week for Republicans in the Senate, as they try to make headway on a health care overhaul deal. If there is going to be a vote on a GOP health care bill before lawmakers leave for a July Fourth break, that would have to happen next week – which means this week would have to produce some kind of legislative breakthrough for Republicans. I can find you ten reasons why this process looks like it could turn into a burning trash dumpster at any minute. But I can also find you a lot of people who think the GOP will pull a legislative rabbit out of the hat and push something over the goal line. Whether that happens in June or July is not clear. We should have a better idea of what’s next in coming days. Democrats are trying to keep the focus on the secret talks – the GOP is having none of that.

Fake news https://t.co/fnEMkzCz0h

— JohnCornyn (@JohnCornyn) June 16, 2017

2. 2018 budget gets more behind schedule every day. Republicans in Congress know they have no chance to finish the dozen spending bills to fund the federal government by October 1, the start of the new fiscal year. The only question is how they deal with it. As of now, no funding bills for next year have been approved. Usually, that work begins in earnest in the month of June, but a delayed Trump budget slowed that process down. There are some in the GOP who are already making the case that the GOP should scrap the regular dozen appropriations bills, and just roll every bill into a big Omnibus spending measure and pass it BEFORE lawmakers go home for their August break. I’m not sure that’s going to happen, but it’s pretty interesting that it is even being discussed by the GOP.

Republican Study Committee supports the House taking up an omnibus spending bill with an "amendment process" before August recess. pic.twitter.com/2AAv3wIePs

— Jennifer Shutt (@JenniferShutt) June 9, 2017

3. Don’t hold your breath on tax bill or infrastructure. While President Trump and Congressional leaders keep talking up their work on tax cuts, tax reform, and new money for roads and bridges – that doesn’t mean anything is going to get voted on anytime soon. As of now, the Trump White House doesn’t plan to unveil a tax bill until after Labor Day, and the same goes for an infrastructure bill. One reason is that none of that can get done until the Rubik’s cube of health care gets solved by Republicans in the Congress. So, those two big bullet points of the Trump agenda probably won’t be debated or voted on this summer, no matter how much the President or anyone else talks about it.

WH's Short also said to expect tax reform bill after Labor Day, and that getting cuts more important than keeping it revenue neutral

— Justin Sink (@justinsink) June 6, 2017

4. Trump will chalk up one achievement this week on the VA. On Tuesday, President Trump will sign into law a bipartisan bill to help reform the operations of the Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s the latest effort by the Congress to make it easier for officials to fire under performing employees at the VA, as previous laws have fallen short. VA Secretary David Shulkin has moved ahead with a series of internal reforms in recent months, but even he admits there are a lot of things to get done at that department. The good news is that there are a lot of members in both parties who want to help.

#VA Secretary Shulkin testifies that even with appeals reform, it will take until 2026 to resolve the backlog of 470,000 VA appeals

— Sean Kendall Law (@vetsrightslaw) June 14, 2017

5. Trump nominations – delays by both parties. President Trump has made a regular part of his attacks against Democrats in Congress by calling Senate Democrats “obstructionists,” arguing they are slowing work on all of his nominations. In some ways, Democrats are slow walking a lot of nominations – but that’s only once they get to the Senate floor. Before then, the GOP controls the process, and one thing the Senate can’t control is how quickly the White House sends nominations to Capitol Hill. For example, it’s been ten days since President Trump made his choice for FBI Director – but the nomination papers still haven’t been sent to the Senate. You can’t hold hearings on an FBI nominee if the FBI nomination isn’t official.

17 nominations sent to the Senate today, but none are Chris Wray, who was announced as the FBI director nominee last Wednesday

— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) June 15, 2017

Trump continues to hold off on changes for immigration “Dreamers”

Sat, 06/17/2017 - 12:20

Despite repeatedly making a campaign pledge to fully reverse executive actions on immigration from the Obama Administration, President Donald Trump has so far left in place one controversial plan from his predecessor, which allows young people – known as immigrant “Dreamers” – who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents to stay here, without the threat of deportation.

The White House said Friday that the DACA program – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – remains under review, but the lack of action by President Trump on that issue has left some of his supporters openly frustrated, as they want to see an all out effort against illegal immigration.

“The real scandal? Trump has granted amnesty to 125,000 illegals under Obama’s unconstitutional order,” fumed immigration activist Mark Krikorian.

In speech last August @realDonaldTrump pledged to "immediately terminate President Obama's two illegal executive amnesties": DACA and DAPA.

— Don England (@dontspeakforme) June 17, 2017

And the numbers do bear that out – the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported that as of March 31, 124,799 people who had qualified for DACA, had their special permits renewed in the first three months of this year.

“Trump’s been expanding Obama’s illegal amnesty for going on five months now,” Krikorian added.

During the campaign, things were pretty straightforward – Mr. Trump was going to reverse the Obama executive actions on immigration, period.

“We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties in which he defied federal law and the Constitution to give amnesty to approximately 5 million illegal immigrants,” the President said in a major immigration speech on August 31, 2016.

But soon after he entered the White House, the President sent mixed signals about how he would treat Dreamers.

“It is a very, very difficult subject,” Mr. Trump said at a February 16 news conference.

The decision to leave DACA in place comes amid grumbling from some conservative quarters, amid a desire for even more action on border security and illegal immigration.

Anyone in a Southwestern state who strolls to the border & drops a brick will have done more to build the wall than @realDonaldTrump.

— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) June 16, 2017

Very glad to see Obama’s lawless DAPA amnesty has finally been rescinded.

DACA next, please.

— Josh Hammer (@josh_hammer) June 16, 2017

On the other side, immigration activists were not declaring victory, worried that President Trump will sooner or later move to rein in the DACA program, which could put millions in jeopardy of deportation.

“DACA recipients cannot rest easily when our families are still in the cross hairs of deportation agents,” said the group Mi Familia Vota.

“DACA recipients continue to be arrested, detained, and deported under the President’s deportation apparatus,” said the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

Action in Congress on major immigration legislation that might address this matter still seems unlikely.

Trump again lashes out at Russia probe, says he is being investigated

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 14:03

For a second straight day, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to vent his frustration at the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, as he publicly said that he was “being investigated” for firing FBI Director James Comey last month, appearing to confirm news reports that he is facing a possible probe dealing with obstruction of justice.

“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director!” Trump said on Twitter, appearing to refer to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

“After 7 months of investigations & committee hearings about my “collusion with the Russians, nobody has been able to show any proof. Sad!” Mr. Trump said on Twitter.

I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017

That tweet from this morning seemed to be a swipe at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who chose former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead the Special Counsel probe of Russian election interference.

Rosenstein prepared a memo for Attorney General Jeff Sessions back in early May, which raised repeated questions about how Comey had handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation – at first, that seemed to be the basis for Comey’s firing by the President, until Mr. Trump said a few days later that the Russia investigation was on his mind.

Late on Thursday night, Rosenstein issued a written statement about leaks in the Russia probe.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the release of that statement by Rosenstein, whether it was in response to recent stories that suggested the President was under investigation for obstruction of justice, or some other reason.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats saw only one headline from the latest series of Trump missives on Twitter.

“Today the President of the United States confirmed he’s under criminal investigation. Let that sink in,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA).

Mr. Trump’s latest tweets drew a concerned statement from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who said she’s worried that the President will try to fire both Mueller and Rosenstein.

“The message the president is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn’t apply to him and that anyone who thinks otherwise will be fired. That’s undemocratic on its face and a blatant violation of the president’s oath of office,” Feinstein said in a written statement.

Halfway through June, still no GOP health bill in Senate

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 02:49

Republican Senators left Washington, D.C. on Thursday in much the same position that they have been in for over a month, saying that they are making progress on a bill to overhaul the Obama health law, but seemingly not ready to unveil the details, or predict when a vote might happen, as Democrats pressed the GOP to reveal the fine print of their Senate bill.

“I don’t know of anyone who has seen a copy of this bill,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), as Democrats did all they could to press Republicans and top members of the Trump Administration for specifics.

“You have not seen it? You haven’t seen it either?” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said at a Senate hearing to HHS Secretary Tom Price.

“My staff has provided some technical assistance to individuals, but I haven’t seen it,” Price said of the Senate bill.

In the hallways of the Senate this week, there continues to be a lot of talk about specifics on health policy that GOP Senators are reviewing, but so far no draft has been released; with the month half gone, some are wondering if that will slip into July.

Reporter asks what's in Senate health bill, saying public doesn't know.

"Well join the crowd. I'm in the same category," says Orrin Hatch.

— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) June 15, 2017

Even as they try to work out the details, Republicans say they are not backing off their plan to make major changes.

“The Obamacare status quo is unsustainable and unacceptable,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD) in a speech on the Senate floor, as he said the House-passed bill was a “good start.”

But that was undermined a bit earlier in the week during a meeting between a group of GOP Senators and President Donald Trump at the White House, as multiple news reports said the President had characterized the House bill as “mean.”

“Do you agree that the house Trumpcare bill is ‘mean?'” asked Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) of Secretary Price.

“Yes or no answer,” Murray said to Price.

“It’s not a yes or no answer,” he replied.

As GOP Senators left yet another health care meeting on Thursday, there were no predictions of an imminent deal – “not there yet” was what Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) told reporters, as he wouldn’t speculate on when a bill would emerge.

As I have written for weeks, the clock is ticking on the GOP – the Senate is scheduled to work the next two weeks, then take a week off for July Fourth – Senators would then work three more weeks, and then be off from the end of July until after Labor Day.

Some still wonder if Republicans will pull a rabbit out of their hat, and get something done by the end of the month.

At least in public, they aren’t showing their cards as of yet.

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