Trump gets green light for partial travel ban – The Hill

The Supreme Court delivered a win to President Trump on Monday, allowing his travel ban to take effect, albeit on a limited basis, before it hears a lawsuit against the policy this fall.

While lower courts had blocked the ban since February, the Supreme Court cited precedent to allow parts of it to take effect, stating that preserving national security is “an urgent objective of the highest order.”  

“To prevent the government from pursuing that objective by enforcing [the ban] against foreign nationals unconnected to the United States would appreciably injure its interests without alleviating obvious hardship to anyone else,” the court said.

Trump, who had predicted he would triumph at the Supreme Court, hailed the court’s decision as a “clear victory for our national security.”

“Today’s ruling allows me to use an important tool for protecting our nation’s homeland,” he said.

The travel ban can take effect in 72 hours and will block many travelers from six majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The countries affected are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

But rather than lifting the injunction against Trump’s policy wholesale, the justices crafted an exemption that allows nationals from those six countries to enter the U.S. if they have a “bona fide” relationship to a person or entity in the country.

In practice, that means that students and business travelers, as well as people with close family members, might be granted entry.

“So too would a workers who accepted an offer of employment from an American company or a lecturer invited to address an American audience. No so someone who enters into a relationship simply to avoid [the ban].” the court said. 

Enforcement of the policy will largely be left to the Trump administration.

Caroline Fredrickson, president of the liberal American Constitution Society, said it appears the justices were trying to give a little bit to both sides with their decision in the case, but may have created a recipe for disaster in doing so.  

“With the short time frame and with this administration being a little less than competent, are we going to end up with the same situation before with hasty implementation and chaos?” she said. 

Three justices on the court — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, all considered members of the conservative wing — dissented in part from the court’s decision. They said they would have reinstated the full ban.

In his dissent, Thomas called the court’s remedy “unworkable.” 

“Today’s compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding — on peril of contempt — whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country,” he said.  

“The compromise also will invite a flood of litigation until this case is finally resolved on the merits, as parties and courts struggle to determine what exactly constitutes a “bona fide relationship,” who precisely has a “credible claim” to that relationship, and whether the claimed relationship was formed “simply to avoid [the ban].”

The 90-day travel ban is intended to allow DHS time to strengthen vetting procedures for foreign travelers, with the aim of keeping out terrorists and other people who might threaten U.S. security. 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Monday said it would provide “additional details” on enforcement of the travel policy after consulting with the State and Justice departments. 

“The implementation of the Executive Order will be done professionally, with clear and sufficient public notice, particularly to potentially affected travelers, and in coordination with partners in the travel industry,” DHS said.

In addition to allowing the travel ban to take effect, the Supreme Court on Monday lifted a block on Trump’s plan to suspend the entry of all refugees to the U.S. for 120 days. That policy also reduces the cap on the admission of refugees from 110,000 to 50,000 for the 2017 fiscal year.

Like the ban on nationals from the six countries, the court said refugees who have a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the U.S. can be exempted from the ban.

“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 said. 

Trump said the court’s decision was 9-0, though the per curiam decision was unsigned, as is standard practice. Thomas said in his dissent that the court” has now unanimously found” the lower court rulings “sufficiently questionable,” but whether that signals all 9 members of the court agreed is unclear. 

At least five votes were needed to reinstate the ban in part, and at least four votes were needed to hear the government’s appeal.

Still, court watchers agreed that the justices delivered a measure of vindication to Trump after months of court losses where opponents assailed the travel ban as discriminatory against Muslims.

“I think both sides can claim some victory,” said Carl Tobias, a Williams professor of law at the University of Richmond School of Law. “It’s not a clear win for the plaintiffs, but it may be better than it looks at first blush.”

Whether the court’s decision means Trump’s policy will ultimately be upheld by the court is hard to predict. 

“You only have three [justices] who say the injunctions should all be lifted, so is it 6-3 on the merits?” Tobias asked. “It’s not clear where the justices might come out.” 

Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston and member of the conservative Federalist Society, said he’s comfortable calling the court’s decision a unanimous win for Trump. 

“There’s no recorded dissent,” he said. “Justice Sotomayor is not afraid to dissent when she wants to …  if there were to be a dissent, there would be a dissent.” 

Because the 90-day travel ban will expire before the court’s next term begins, Blackman said the court might ultimately decide to dismiss the case as moot and never hear Trump’s appeal.

“I think there’s the distinct chance this case is never argued,” he said. “If it is argued and dismissed as moot, the lower court decisions are vacated.”

Blackman called the court’s decision Monday a “sharp rebuke of the lower court ruling” that put the policy on hold.

In their rulings on the travel ban, the lower courts had grappled with Trump’s statements during the campaign about enacting a “temporary shutdown” on Muslims entering the United States. 

The Fourth Circuit court, which ruled against the ban, said Trump’s order couldn’t be separated from the apparent animus against Muslims that inspired it. 

Fredrickson said if the court does hear arguments in the fall, the justices are likely to look at whether any bias against Muslims played a part in Trump’s order.

Tom Jawetz, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, said it’s disappointing the court would allow part of a “malicious Muslim and refugee ban to go into effect.”

“No amount of polish can cover up the multiple, hate-filled statements that President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump gets green light for partial travel banOPINION: Trump’s travel ban victory should force media to examine itselfCNN’s Acosta: Fox ‘always’ got questions under ObamaMORE and members of his administration have made as to the exclusionary and discriminatory underpinnings of the executive order,” he said.

John Malcolm, vice president for the Institute for Constitutional Government at the conservative Heritage Foundation, however, said he believes the court has “tipped its hand” and shown that it’s likely to uphold the president’s right to implement the immigration order. 

“I think it’s important the court not second guess the president and Congress when it comes to immigration and national security issues and that they don’t second guess them based on tweets and campaign surrogates,” he said.

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Supreme Court won’t hear a California gun case, leaving in place the state’s strict limits on concealed weapons – Los Angeles Times

The Supreme Court has rejected a major 2nd Amendment challenge to California’s strict limits on carrying concealed guns in public.

The justices by a 7-2 vote turned away an appeal from gun rights advocates who contended that most law-abiding gun owners in San Diego, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area were being wrongly denied permits to carry a weapon when they leave home.

The justices let stand a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which held last year that the “2nd Amendment does not preserve or protect a right of a member of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public.”

In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, said the court’s refusal to hear the appeal “reflects a distressing trend: the treatment of the 2nd Amendment as a disfavored right.”

The high court’s action is sure to be a disappointment to gun-rights advocates, who were cheered by President Trump’s appointment of Gorsuch to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

It is the latest of several actions by the court that suggest that although the Constitution protects an individual right to “bear arms,” the scope of that right is quite limited.

In a pair of rulings in 2008 and 2010, the justices struck down ordinances in Washington, D.C., and Chicago that banned nearly all private possession of weapons, including the keeping of handguns at home for self-defense.

Since then, however, the court has turned down a series of constitutional challenges to laws and local regulations that prohibit people from carrying guns in public or from buying and owning rapid-fire weapons.

California law says law-abiding owners may obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon if they can show “good cause.” This state law is enforced by the county sheriffs. In San Diego, Los Angeles and other urban counties, sheriffs have set a high bar for what qualifies as a “good cause,” such as a particular need for protection. “Simply fearing for one’s personal safety is not considered good cause,” a San Diego official told a judge there.

The case of Peruta vs. California has been closely watched as a test of whether 2nd Amendment rights go beyond the home. A federal district judge upheld San Diego’s strict enforcement policy, but in 2014, a 9th Circuit panel struck down the policy as unconstitutional. In a 2-1 decision, the panel said the 2nd Amendment protected a right to carry a gun in public.

But last year, the full 9th Circuit reconsidered the issue and rejected this broader view of the 2nd Amendment. Citing English history back to 1541, Judge William Fletcher said the law for centuries had restricted the carrying of concealed firearms without a license.These restrictions were enforced in the American colonies prior to the Constitution, he said.

“Based on the overwhelming consensus of historical sources, we conclude that the protection of the 2nd Amendment — whatever the scope of that protection may be — simply does not extend to the carrying of concealed firearms in public by members of the general public,” he wrote for a 7-4 majority of the appeals court.

In January, former Solicitor Gen. Paul Clement filed an appeal with the high court on behalf of gun owners. He argued that millions of law-abiding gun owners in California and elsewhere were being denied the right to carry a gun in violation of their rights to armed self-defense under the 2nd Amendment.

California Atty Gen. Xavier Becerra called the high court’s decision “welcome news for California and gun safety everywhere. It leaves in place an important and common-sense firearm regulation, one that promotes public safety, respects 2nd Amendment rights and values the judgment of sheriffs and police chiefs throughout the state on what works best for their communities.”

In a separate but related action on Monday, the justices without comment let stand a ruling from Philadelphia that restored gun-ownership rights to two Pennsylvania men who were convicted decades earlier of misdemeanors. Because the crimes could have sent them to jail for more than a year, they were prohibited from owning a gun under a 1968 federal law. But a federal judge and the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, citing the 2nd Amendment, said the men’s gun rights should be restored.

The Justice Department had urged the high court to hear Sessions vs. Binderup, but it was turned down for review.

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On Twitter: DavidGSavage


Supreme Court partially revives Trump’s foreign travel ban, will hear case in the fall

Supreme Court rules for Missouri church in playground case

Supreme Court will hear case of Colorado baker who refused to make wedding cake for same-sex couple


12:55 p.m.: This article was updated with additional background.

6:55 a.m.: This article was updated with details about a dissent to the action and another gun case.

This article was originally published at 6:40 a.m.

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Support for Gay Marriage Surges, Even Among Groups Once Wary –

In the two years since same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, support for it has surged even among groups that recently were broadly opposed, according to a new national survey.

The Pew Research Center survey found that for the first time, a majority of blacks and baby boomers support allowing gays and lesbians to wed. It said Republicans are now split almost evenly, a marked shift from 2013, when 61 percent opposed gay marriage.

Image: same sex marriage celebrationImage: same sex marriage celebration

Ikeita Cantu, left, and her wife Carmen Guzman, of McLean, Va., hold up signs as they celebrate outside of the Supreme Court in Washington on June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the U.S. Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Pew’s survey was conducted by telephone among 2,504 adults across the U.S. from June 8 to 18. It was released Monday, the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling on same-sex marriage.

In the aftermath of that ruling, there were some flare-ups of defiance. A county clerk in Kentucky, Kim Davis, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Alabama’s chief justice, Roy Moore, ordered probate judges to stop issuing such licenses.

Related: Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Appeal in Gay Wedding Cake Case

But such acts of resistance have largely faded way, and same-sex marriage is now treated as a routine occurrence across the U.S. According to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, there are now more than 547,000 same-sex married couples in the U.S., including at least 157,000 couples who married in the past two years.

Some staunch opponents of gay marriage are now focusing their efforts on trying to provide legal protections to civil servants, merchants and other business people who do not want to provide services to same-sex couples. Mississippi, for example, has passed a law — now the subject of litigation in federal court — that would let businesses and government workers deny some services to gay and lesbian couples.

There’s a case now pending before the Supreme Court involving a Colorado baker who was found guilty of discrimination for refusing to sell a gay couple a wedding cake. A florist in Washington state also is expected to appeal to the high court after she was fined for violating that state’s anti-discrimination law because she would not provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

Some of the notable findings in the Pew survey:

—Overall, 62 percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage, the highest level in 20 years of Pew polling on the issue. As recently as 2010, support was at 42 percent.

—Among baby boomers, support is now at 56 percent — up from 46 percent a year ago.

—Support among blacks has risen from 39 percent to 51 percent over two years.

—Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 48 percent oppose same-sex marriage and 47 percent support it. In 2013, 61 percent were opposed.

—Support is more than 70 percent among millennials aged 18 to 36, and among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. Support is only 35 percent among white evangelical Protestants, while it is 67 percent among Roman Catholics.

RELATED: Arkansas Must List Same-Sex Parents’ Names on Birth Certificates

However, among the Catholic leadership in the U.S., opposition to same-sex marriage remains strong. Just two weeks ago, the head of the diocese of Springfield, Illinois — Bishop Thomas Paprocki — issued a decree stipulating that gays and lesbians in same-sex marriages should not be provided with communion or Catholic funeral services.

Francis DeBernardo, head of an organization of LGBT Catholics called New Ways Ministry, addressed an open letter to Paprocki on Friday.

“Many gay and lesbian couples are leading lives of heroic devotion to each other, their children, and their communities,” DeBernardo wrote. “I hope and pray that you will reflect not only on the harm that this decree will cause but also the good that can occur if you withdraw it.”

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Kellyanne Conway: Senate Health Care Bill Does Not Contain Medicaid Cuts – Mediaite

Appearing on ABC’s This Week, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway tried to make the case that the Medicaid cuts in Senate Republicans’ new health care proposal weren’t actually Medicaid cuts.

Host George Stephanopoulos pressed Conway on President Donald Trump’s looking to break his promise to not cut Medicaid considering the Senate bill actually has deeper cuts to the program than the previously passed House plan.

“These are not cuts to Medicaid, George,” Conway responded. “This slows the rate for the future and it allows governors more flexibility with Medicaid dollars because they’re closest to the people in need.”

The host pushed back, wondering aloud how Conway was able to say that $800 billion in savings wasn’t considered a cut. He also pointed to statements made by GOP senators who have said these are indeed cuts to the program.

“If you’re currently in Medicaid, if you became a Medicaid recipient through the Obamacare expansion, you’re grandfathered in. We’re talking about in the future,” she stated.

Later on in the program, Stephanopoulos had on Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a moderate who has expressed deep reservations about the bill. Regarding Conway’s comments, she said: “I respectfully disagree with her analysis.”

After @KellyannePolls says Senate GOP bill doesn’t propose Medicaid cuts, @SenatorCollins says “I respectfully disagree with her analysis.”

— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) June 25, 2017

Watch the interview with Conway above, via ABC News.

[image via screengrab]

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Pakistan oil tanker truck explosion kills at least 140 – CNN

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GOP agrees on one thing: ObamaCare taxes must go – The Hill

The near-consensus that House and Senate Republicans have reached on repealing ObamaCare taxes could boost their efforts to overhaul the tax code.

The draft healthcare bill Senate Republicans released on Thursday is similar to the House-passed bill on the ObamaCare taxes, repealing nearly all of them and delaying the “Cadillac” tax on high-cost health plans. While senators had considered keeping some of the taxes for longer than the House bill, they mostly stuck with the House plan, making only minor changes to the effective dates.

The Senate bill still faces hurdles to passage. But if it passes, it will remove an issue that otherwise might complicate Republicans’ work on tax reform.


“I think it makes it easier to work through tax reform without these fees and taxes still on the table,” said former Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.), who is now a senior government relations adviser at Arent Fox. 

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the House’s healthcare bill would lower government revenues by nearly $1 trillion over a decade; about $660 billion of that amount would come from repealing and changing ObamaCare tax provisions that are not directly related to health insurance coverage.

Congressional GOP leaders have said they want tax reform to be revenue-neutral, which requires finding offsets for tax cuts. By repealing the ObamaCare taxes in a healthcare bill, Republicans would not have to find ways to offset those tax cuts in tax-reform legislation, making the task easier.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP agrees on one thing: ObamaCare taxes must goRyan reminds lawmakers to be on time for votesLawmakers consider new security funding in wake of shootingMORE (R-Wis.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin BradyGOP agrees on one thing: ObamaCare taxes must goOvernight Cybersecurity: Trump tweetstorm on Russia probe | White House reportedly pushing to weaken sanctions bill | Podesta to testify before House IntelSenate expected to pass Russia sanctions bill for a second timeMORE (R-Texas) have already said that if a healthcare bill isn’t enacted, they will not seek to repeal the ObamaCare taxes in a tax-reform bill.

Still, it’s possible that other Republicans would end up pushing for a tax bill to repeal specific ObamaCare taxes, since many of them are unpopular. 

“Some of these taxes have strong constituencies against them who would want to see them repealed no matter what,” said Scott Greenberg, an analyst at the Tax Foundation.

The revenue provisions that pay for ObamaCare include taxes on high-income individuals as well as taxes that fall on various industries in the healthcare sector, such as the medical device and prescription drug industries. 

English said that repealing the ObamaCare taxes in a healthcare bill could make it easier for lawmakers to get those health-related industries to help them on tax reform.

“This repeal can also be part of a process of building support for tax reform by essentially addressing a top tax issue in advance” for certain industries, English said.

The House bill repeals most ObamaCare taxes in 2017, while the Senate bill repeals most of the taxes in either 2017 or 2018.

Senators had seriously considered delaying the repeal of some of ObamaCare’s taxes to help pay for their healthcare proposal. But doing so would have cost them much-needed support from outside conservative groups.

Some conservative groups such as FreedomWorks and the Heritage Foundation raised concerns about the Senate bill on Thursday, but even more might have spoken out if more ObamaCare taxes were kept for longer. 

“There was such strong unity among conservatives and libertarians that the taxes needed to go,” said Brandon Arnold, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, which is positive about the Senate bill. 

Lawmakers still have many challenges to overcome before a healthcare bill is enacted. 

Five Republican senators said they do not support the Senate proposal in its current form, and several others have raised concerns. The Senate bill can’t pass if more than two GOP senators vote against it, since all Democrats are expected to vote against it; Republicans have a 52-48 majority, and Vice President Pence can break a tie. 

Even if the Senate is able to pass an ObamaCare repeal measure, it’s unclear if House Republicans would accept it.

Still, some Republicans find it promising that the House and Senate healthcare bills have a number of commonalities, given that some senators had discussed crafting a much more moderate bill.

In addition to repealing most of the ObamaCare taxes, the House and Senate bills both eliminate the individual and employer mandates, cap federal Medicaid spending and allow states to seek waivers for some of the 2010 health law’s requirements. 

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist said that commonalities on healthcare are a positive sign for an agreement on tax reform, since Republicans tend to agree more on taxes than healthcare. 

He also said that Republicans might be more comfortable voting for an ObamaCare repeal bill now that Republican Karen Handel won a competitive special election for a House seat in Georgia where healthcare was an issue. 

“The House and Senate bills are more alike than I thought they would be,” Norquist said. 

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Dems push leaders to talk less about Russia – The Hill

Frustrated Democrats hoping to elevate their election fortunes have a resounding message for party leaders: Stop talking so much about Russia.

Democratic leaders have been beating the drum this year over the ongoing probes into the Trump administration’s potential ties to Moscow, taking every opportunity to highlight the saga and forcing floor votes designed to uncover any business dealings the president might have with Russian figures. 

But rank-and-file Democrats say the Russia-Trump narrative is simply a non-issue with district voters, who are much more worried about bread-and-butter economic concerns like jobs, wages and the cost of education and healthcare.

In the wake of a string of special-election defeats, an increasing number of Democrats are calling for an adjustment in party messaging, one that swings the focus from Russia to the economy. The outcome of the 2018 elections, they say, hinges on how well the Democrats manage that shift. 

“We can’t just talk about Russia because people back in Ohio aren’t really talking that much about Russia, about Putin, about Michael Flynn,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) told MSNBC Thursday. “They’re trying to figure out how they’re going to make the mortgage payment, how they’re going to pay for their kids to go to college, what their energy bill looks like.  

“And if we don’t talk more about their interest than we do about how we’re so angry with Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBannon: Trump’s strategy is ‘let the warfighters fight the war’Chin up Democrats, Georgia special election should give hopeZuckerberg visits Iowa as part of US tourMORE and everything that’s going on,” he added, “then we’re never going to be able to win elections.”

Ryan is among the small group of Democrats who are sounding calls for a changing of the guard atop the party’s leadership hierarchy following Tuesday’s special election defeat in Georgia — the Democrats’ fourth loss since Trump took office. But Ryan is hardly alone in urging party leaders to hone their 2018 message. 

Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) has been paying particularly close attention to voters’ concerns because he’s running for governor in 2018. The Russia-Trump investigation, he said, isn’t on their radar.

“I did a 22-county tour. … Nobody’s focusing on that,” Walz said. “That’s not to say that they don’t think Russia and those things are important, [but] it’s certainly not top on their minds.”

Rep. Peter WelchPeter WelchDems push leaders to talk less about RussiaHouse Dems slam Trump’s ‘betrayal’ on drug pricing Washingtonians take center stage at Will on the HillMORE (D-Vt.) delivered a similar message, saying his constituents are most concerned with two things: dysfunction in Washington and the Republicans’ plans to repeal ObamaCare. The controversies surrounding Trump, he said, don’t tally. 

“We should be focused relentlessly on economic improvement [and] we should stay away from just piling on the criticism of Trump, whether it’s about Russia, whether it’s about Comey. Because that has its own independent dynamic, it’s going to happen on its own without us piling on,“ Welch said. 

“We’re much better off if we just do the hard work of coming up with an agenda. Talking about Trump and Russia doesn’t create an agenda.” 

The intrigue over Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and potential collusion with Trump’s campaign has engulfed Capitol Hill since even before the president was sworn in. Both the House and Senate Intelligence committees have launched investigations, and the Justice Department has named a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to lead a third probe. 

Democrats have gone out of their way to keep the spotlight on the evolving investigations. Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) are trumpeting legislation to create an independent panel, like the 9/11 Commission, to conduct a fourth investigation.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has repeatedly used her press briefings and cable news appearances to raise questions about Trump’s “political, personal and financial” ties to Moscow.  

“What do the Russians have on Donald Trump?” she asked earlier this month in a common refrain. 

And the Democrats, who have few opportunities to force votes on the House floor, have spent a lot of energy pushing proposals that would require Trump to release his taxes, which many Democrats suspect will expose business ties between Trump and Russia. The latest such vote was Wednesday, marking the 10th time this year Democrats have forced the issue.

“It’s important for us to have the returns on tax reform, it’s important to have it on the Russia investigation,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee’s tax subpanel, said on the floor.

Democratic leaders have defended their focus on the Trump-Russia affair, arguing that it’s not a distraction from the local economic issues that resonate in their districts.  

“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday. 

But even some leaders are ready to acknowledge that the Russia investigation alone won’t lead to a Democratic comeback. 

“As much as I think people in Washington tend to focus on the issues of Russia, and the president and the Republicans’ inability to get much of anything accomplished, … we need to focus on the local issues,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), chairman of the caucus. 

“That’s what gets Democrats elected.”

A recent Harvard-Harris poll reveals the risks inherent for the Democrats, who are hoping to make big gains — or even win back the House — in 2018. The survey found that while 58 percent of voters said they’re concerned that Trump may have business dealings with Moscow, 73 percent said they’re worried that the ongoing investigations are preventing Congress from tackling issues more vital to them.  

“While the voters have a keen interest in any Russian election interference, they are concerned that the investigations have become a distraction for the president and Congress that is hurting rather than helping the country,” said Harvard-Harris co-director Mark Penn.

With that in mind, many Democrats said they’re going out of their way to focus on the economy — and downplay the Russia saga — when they’re at home.  

“If you see me treating Russia and criticisms of the president and things like that as a secondary matter, it’s because that’s how my constituents feel about it,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.). 

“I don’t think anybody wants to give a pass to illegal or unethical activity,” he added. “But in life we all have priorities, and the first priority for my constituents is to their families — as it should be.”

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In health-care bill, two prized Republican goals converge – Washington Post

By Damian Paletta,

The Senate Republican health-care bill would achieve a historic convergence of GOP priorities, placing major, permanent caps on Medicaid spending and providing a significant tax cut for wealthy Americans.

President Trump and congressional Republicans describe the legislation as fulfilling their promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, but key provisions are also aimed at making progress on the GOP’s long-held goal of cutting entitlement spending.

The legislation would sharply break with pledges Trump made during the 2016 campaign to block reductions in Medicaid spending and to deliver tax cuts primarily to the middle class.

All together, it shows how long-term conservative goals of cutting taxes and entitlement spending have overtaken Trump’s agenda, as the bill faces critical votes in the Senate as soon as next week that could take it to the precipice of becoming law. Reducing taxes, Republicans argue, will boost the economy, and shrinking spending on programs such as Medicaid will slow the growth of the federal debt.

“When otherwise has this been done?” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a Republican and a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. “You can’t name any combination of tax cuts and entitlement reforms like this in one bill.”

“This is a historic enterprise, and it explains why the screaming coming out of the left is so fierce,” he added.

Republicans have been on a multi-decade quest to fundamentally alter Medicaid, which provides health benefits for low-income Americans and those with disabilities. Medicaid is run jointly by states and the federal government, but conservatives have long decried it as wasteful and bloated with spiraling costs.

The Senate bill would give states the option of changing Medicaid into a “block grant” program or putting firm caps on its spending based in part on how many people live in each state. Just as significant, the bill would arrest future Medicaid spending with tight controls on how much the program can grow.

Meanwhile, the legislation would leave in place reductions in spending for Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly, that were part of the Affordable Care Act. Republicans previously slammed those cuts as robbing the program to pay for Obamacare.

The Senate bill would also deliver roughly $1 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years, including cuts to the rates wealthy Americans pay on investment income and to a levy charged to health insurance companies.

Democrats argue that the Republicans’ ideological goals will be fulfilled at the expense of millions of poor people who will lose access to health care — in some cases with life-or-death consequences. The liberal Center for American Progress issued a report Thursday arguing that the Senate bill would cut benefits so much that it could “result in 18,100 to 27,700 additional deaths in 2026.”

The Affordable Care Act, which passed with support from only Democrats in 2010, increased access to Medicaid benefits by changing the eligibility threshold and providing more federal taxpayer dollars to cover new enrollees.

Since the law passed, many states — run by both Democrats and Republicans — have expanded their Medicaid programs to take advantage of the new federal support. The authors of the ACA had intended for all states to do so, but the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not compel states to participate in the expansion of the program.

The average number of people receiving benefits from Medicaid and a health-care program for low-income children has risen 30 percent under the ACA, to 74.6 million people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That represents roughly 23 percent of all Americans. By some measures, Medicaid covers more Americans than any other safety net program, larger than even Social Security or Medicare by total enrollment.

Among other things, it covers 45 percent of all births in the United States.

The Senate bill would allow Medicaid’s expansion under the ACA to continue until 2021, but then it would contract the extra federal spending until the expansion is eliminated in three years. States could replace the lost federal money, if they wanted to continue covering the same number of people, by spending more on their own.

And the measure would permanently transition Medicaid into a block grant arrangement or put strict caps on how much money each state receives, shrinking the program far beyond its pre-Affordable Care Act size.

Republicans have tried to transform Medicaid into a block grant program since at least the Reagan administration, an effort that has repeatedly failed. President George W. Bush made a similar attempt that never gained traction. Now, Republicans are on the cusp of achieving these changes.

Supporters say converting the program into block grants will control its costs and give states more flexibility to tailor benefits to specific needs.

Even before the Affordable Care Act passed, Medicaid costs were growing faster than the broader economy, a dynamic that many conservatives argued was unsustainable and needed to be addressed.

“There’s two issues here,” said Charles Blahous, a conservative health policy expert who served as a federal trustee for the Social Security and Medicare trust funds from 2010 until 2015. “There’s the problems in Medicaid that were created under the Affordable Care Act, and then there are the problems that predated that. Medicaid was already on a financially unsustainable course before the Affordable Care Act.”

Critics say the changes will break a model that has covered millions of Americans for more than 50 years, cutting people off from coverage and potentially putting lives at risk.

“This is not just a repeal of Obamacare,” said Donald Berwick, a former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the Obama administration. “It’s a repeal of the social contracts that have been established in American health-care policy since Medicaid and Medicare were passed in 1965.”

Total federal spending on Medicaid reached $389 billion in 2017, a figure that is projected to grow to $650 billion by 2027 without any changes. Medicaid spending increased 9.7 percent in 2015, compared with 4.5 percent growth for Medicare.

In May, the House passed its own bill that would repeal the Medicaid expansion and give states the option of converting the program to a block grant or capping costs based on a per capita measurement. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that these changes would cut Medicaid spending by $834 billion over 10 years, leading the program to cover 23 million fewer people.

The Senate bill would make the same changes, although in a slightly different way.

Both the House and Senate bills would adjust Medicaid spending caps until 2025 based on a measurement of inflation that takes into account the increase in health-care costs, though the caps would be less strict for older Americans and people with disabilities.

The House bill would keep that measurement in place, but the Senate bill would change it in 2025 so that the caps would probably increase even more slowly, saving money while limiting potential benefits. The nonpartisan Urban Institute estimated that the Senate’s measurement could cut spending by an additional $467 billion over 10 years compared with the House legislation.

“With this bill, we’re cutting — we’re amending — the original Medicaid legislation of 52 years ago that says the feds will split the cost with the states,” said John Baackes, chief executive of L.A. Care Health Plan, a California insurer that has 2 million Medicaid members. “This goes way beyond repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act.”

On taxes, the House and Senate bills would repeal all the levies put in place by the Affordable Care Act. These include a 0.9 percent tax on people who earn more than $200,000 a year.

Those same earners would also see the elimination of the 3.8 percent surcharge on certain kinds of investment income.

These changes would cut about $350 billion over the next decade, according to the CBO.

The Senate bill would also eliminate an “annual fee,” or tax, on health-care companies, which would save an additional $145 billion.

Paige Winfield Cunningham, Max Ehrenfreund and Carolyn Johnson contributed to this report.

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At the White House’s emerging tech event, drones are one of the day’s big topics – TechCrunch

Tech leaders gathered today at the White House for a series of focused sessions on hot topics in tech. Thursday’s event, titled “American Leadership in Emerging Technology,” is the second big piece of the White House’s Technology Week, continuing on from Tuesday’s discussion about modernizing government technology.

“We’re on the verge of new technological revolutions that could improve, virtually, every aspect of our lives, create vast new wealth for American workers and families, and open up bold, new frontiers in science, medicine, and communication,” President Trump said in his opening remarks.

Drone regulation was among the day’s biggest breakout topics. The attendee list was stacked with executives from the unmanned aircraft space, including PrecisionHawk CEO Michael Chasen, Airspace CEO Jaz Banga, Measure CEO Brandon Declet, Trumbull Unmanned CEO Dyan Gibbens and Kespry CEO George Mathew.

Airspace’s Banga shared his highlights from the event with TechCrunch. According to Banga, the conversation focused on regulatory challenges at the level of state and local governments, including how to speed up the regulation process so that innovation in the sector wouldn’t be stifled. The group discussed how to expedite the process of building out registries that would identify and track drones and drone pilots, as well as how to monitor drone traffic.

Banga noted the “speed and openness” of the conversation, which concentrated on ways to prevent the government from hindering American innovation in the sector. The administration cited the example of the Wright brothers as a model — “they want the same for drones while maintaining safety for all.”

Thursday’s sessions also tackled the future of 5G wireless networks, repeating a similar vision of deregulation that would allow tech companies to move quickly in the space. Executives from AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile were in attendance.

“We shouldn’t apply burdensome rules designed for 100-foot towers to small cells the size of a pizza box,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wrote in a Tech Week op-ed. “If America is to lead the world in 5G, we need to modernize our regulations so that infrastructure can be deployed promptly and at scale.”

As Axios reports, a handful of VCs were also present, including New Enterprise Associates, Revolution LLC, Cayuga Venture Fund, 500 Startups, Lightspeed, Epic Ventures, Mohr Davidow Ventures and Arboretum Ventures.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin

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McConnell’s Calculation May Be That He Still Wins by Losing – New York Times

WASHINGTON — When it comes to managing Republicans’ best interests, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, rarely loses. So it is possible that Mr. McConnell views the potential failure of a hastily written health care bill as an eventual boon.

His presentation on Thursday of the Senate’s health care measure to Republican colleagues — after the White House and key lobbyists got a peek the night before — was met with something other than unbridled enthusiasm. According to lawmakers who were at the unveiling, members from the left and right ends of the party’s spectrum were deeply critical of the effort.

As Democrats immediately took to the Senate floor to excoriate the bill and the secretive process in which it was put together, few Republicans, even those involved in crafting it, came to defend it.

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A handful of Republicans — more than Mr. McConnell can afford to lose — were quick to disparage the measure. “I have serious concerns about the bill’s impact on the Nevadans who depend on Medicaid,” Senator Dean Heller, his party’s most vulnerable incumbent in the 2018 elections, said of his constituents.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine rendered her own lukewarm judgment, while Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia simply said she would read it, with all the enthusiasm of a college senior faced with a weekend assignment of Proust.

Four others went further. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky all said they would not vote for the bill as currently proposed.

Mr. McConnell plays his strategic cards so close to the vest that a Queen of Hearts must be tattooed on his tie. He may, of course, be convinced that the Senate can pass this bill. Perhaps after some moaning, and some changes to the bill through amendments, the 51 senators needed to get the bill over the line (or 50 if Vice President Mike Pence is summoned) will choose a good-enough effort over being tarred as the person who declined to make good on a seven-year promise to unravel President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

When it comes to voting yes, a majority of members of Congress have a policy price, and leaders often will write the check. “There’s the natural frustrations that people have” at the start of a process that often ends in legislative victory, said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee.

But there are potential costs for senators like Mr. Heller and others in repealing a law that has grown in popularity over recent years, and Mr. McConnell has always taken pride in protecting his members. Trying to come to a meeting of the minds with the House — which crafted a far more conservative bill in many respects — would be time-consuming and unpleasant.

Mr. McConnell and many of his aides are also eager to get to the business of changing the tax code, which they view as less difficult than health care, and have been working with the White House behind the scenes to get that effort started. For Mr. McConnell, cutting taxes is a much higher priority than health care, which time and President Trump have turned into quicksand for him and his fellow Republicans.

Just hours after the presentation of the Senate health care bill, Mr. McConnell met with Speaker Paul D. Ryan and White House officials to talk taxes.

Mr. McConnell is not fond of bringing bills to the floor that he does not think can pass. Should he be unable to pull together enough support on the health care bill over the next week, it would seem likely at first glance that he would make the dreaded call to the White House to let the president know that he lacked the votes.

When Mr. Ryan made that move, it was received with anger and pressure to get something — anything — off the floor, and indeed Mr. Ryan did. But Mr. McConnell and senators are generally more resistant to pressure from the White House and will keep their own interests in mind. Forcing senators from states where the Medicaid law was expanded to take that vote and have the bill fail could be costly.

“It’s a short bill,” said Mr. Corker, who, like most other members, said he still had to plow through it and talk to state insurance officials, among other steps. “But it has a big impact on a lot of people.”

However, Mr. McConnell may also decide that the matter cannot be closed without a vote and take his chances that recalcitrant members can be pulled along. Not voting would also leave House Republicans, who voted for a deeply unpopular bill in their chamber, exposed.

Simply put, coming up with a final version of the bill that pleases Ms. Collins, who is concerned that it is still too punitive for many residents of her old and relatively poor state, and Mr. Paul, who feels it is still too generous, is a tough task.

“I think everybody wants to get to yes,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, a member of the Republican leadership. “And there are some things that we’ve said all along that are dialable on this bill that we can hopefully tweak a little bit before it comes to the floor.”

He added, however, “I’m not sure that, you know, Rand will ever be there.”

Many Republicans say privately that they are eager to work with Democrats on fixes to the current law to keep the insurance exchanges from imploding. They may well wish to call Democrats’ bluff as they have insisted they want that to work in a bipartisan fashion, too.

But most instructive of all may be Mr. McConnell’s own words. In his 2016 memoir, “The Long Game,” he noted that, as minority leader, he went out of his way to make sure that one party owned the health care issue. “I wanted a clear line of demarcation — they were for this, and we were against it,” he said. Perhaps he is not excited to let that one party now be his own.

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