History Lesson: How the Democrats pushed Obamacare through the Senate – Washington Post

The Democrats argue that their process to pass Obamacare was more open. But like the Republican health care bill, their final text was written behind closed doors. (Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

“Twenty-five days of consecutive session on a bill that was partisan in the sense that Republicans were angry with it, but we still had the courage of our convictions to have a debate on the floor.”
— Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), remarks on the Senate floor, June 19, 2017

To highlight the secrecy of the GOP health-care deliberations, many Senate Democrats have pointed out that the debate over the Affordable Care Act was the second-longest consecutive session in Senate history. Schumer even sought a parliamentary inquiry on the claim, and it was confirmed by the presiding officer, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa.)

“The Secretary of the Senate’s office notes that H.R. 3590 was considered on each of 25 consecutive days of session, and the Senate Library estimates approximately 169 hours in total consideration,” she said.

The longest session, Feb. 12-March 9, 1917, concerned whether to arm merchant ships during World War I, shortly before the United States entered the conflict. That lasted 26 days.

But this statistic obscures a reality: The key work on creating the Senate version of the ACA was done in secret. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

The Facts

To reconstruct this history, as we did in a previous fact check, we reviewed news coverage of the period and transcripts, and also relied on a detailed account of the legislative maneuvering compiled by John Cannan, research and instructional services librarian at Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law. His report, published in the Law Library Journal, made the case that the “ad hoc” process that led to the ACA is “an illustrative example of modern lawmaking, especially for major initiatives.”

The biggest difference between the Democratic effort to reshape health care in 2009-2010 and the Republican effort to undermine that achievement is that the Democrats made full use of the committee process. Republicans have skipped the days of hearings and lengthy markups that were a feature of the crafting of Obamacare.

In the Senate, for instance, the drafting of a health-care bill in the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee took from June 17 to July 14, during which 500 amendments were made. In the Finance Committee, which drafted its version between Sept. 22 and Oct. 2, there were 564 proposed amendments. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) even voted for the Senate Finance version.

That effort — and a companion effort in the House — allowed for the broad outline of the Democratic plan to be apparent to the American public.

But here is where it gets complicated — and more opaque. Working secretly in his office, much like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) merged the two committee bills and unveiled his own version of a health-care bill on Nov. 18 that was scored by the Congressional Budget Office.

In a bit of legislative maneuvering, Reid offered his text as an amendment to a completely different House bill — the Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009. That’s because this bill had been sitting on the Senate Calendar of Business, avoiding the need for Reid to obtain unanimous consent to bring it up. This bill was also already obsolete — the issue had been taken care of in another bill — and so it was an ideal vehicle to start debate on the Senate floor. Reid inserted the text into the shell of the old bill.

On Nov. 21, a party-line vote allowed debate to begin on the health-care bill. But Reid still did not have the support of all Democrats. As Cannan put it:

“Democrats unhappy with the legislation’s initial form were unwilling to block its path to consideration, but they threatened to filibuster if changes were not made. Reid had to have the support of each one to get to a vote. While Republicans had not dug in their heels to fight the motion to proceed, hoping to tarnish vulnerable Democrats by forcing them to vote in a way that could be characterized as a substantive vote for the health care bill, they would not be so accommodating with the next cloture motion, and they were united in their opposition.”

So consideration of the bill “proceeded on two parallel tracks,” starting when the Senate returned to work on Nov. 30. The first track was public, with the illusion of debate and votes on amendments. The official record shows 506 amendments were offered.

Cannan says this activity suggests “a vigorous effort to alter the bill’s final form on the Senate floor. But this number is deceptive. In actuality, only a tiny fraction of these amendments has any significance” to the bill’s legislative history. Only a handful of amendments covered by a unanimous consent agreement (UCA) reached between the two sides had any relevance, he concluded. Meanwhile, “all of those amendments not covered by UCAs were ordered to lie on the table as soon as they were introduced and had no parliamentary standing at all.”

That’s because the real work was going on behind closed doors, back in Reid’s office, where he negotiated significant changes with a group of moderate Democrats. Eventually, Republicans and Democrats would no longer agree to even keep debating the matter on the floor, and so the public spectacle ended on Dec. 16. The Senate turned to other matters, including passage of a Defense Department appropriations bill, while the private negotiations continued and the Senate remained in session.

During the private talks, Reid agreed to remove a public option in the bill, as well as drop a plan to allow people between the ages of 55 and 65 to buy into Medicare. There was also a significant change in abortion coverage, which The Washington Post reported required hours of Schumer’s and Reid’s shuttling back and forth in Reid’s offices between antiabortion Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and key supporters of abortion rights, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who never sat in the same room as Nelson. Some lawmakers, like the now-retired Nelson, cut special deals. Nelson negotiated enhanced Medicaid reimbursement for his state.

Once the deals were in hand, Reid on Dec. 19 revealed a manager’s amendment revising the proposed bill, which was also scored by the CBO. He filed three successive cloture motions to end debate on the revised manager’s amendment, on his original amendment and on the original House bill. He also filed three other amendments that had the effect of “filling the amendment tree” — cutting off opportunities for the Republicans to alter the text.

Just as McConnell appears to be determined to have a vote before the July 4 holiday so that lawmakers don’t get nervous after confrontations with constituents, Reid pushed forward with a vote before Christmas. Republicans cried foul. “I do not remember, in my 15 years in the Congress, both in the House and in the Senate, any major piece of legislation such as this being debated and ultimately brought to a final vote within such a short period of time,” declared Saxby Chambliss, at the time a senator from Georgia.

Over three successive days, the Senate took a series of votes, all of them split 60 to 39, to deal with Reid’s various amendments. Washington was snowbound, and delaying tactics by Republicans meant votes took place as late as 1 a.m., forcing the 92-year-old, wheelchair-reliant Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) — who had missed 40 percent of the roll call votes that year — to make a late-night journey through the snow and ice. One Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), even offered a prayer to stall the vote. “What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight,” he said. “That’s what they ought to pray.” (One housekeeping item: Renaming the Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009 to The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.)

Final passage came with on a 7 a.m. vote Christmas Eve morning.

All told, from the Friday night, Dec. 18, when Nelson and Boxer agreed to abortion language, to the Thursday morning/Christmas Eve of final passage, there were about five days of consideration for the final bill in the Senate.

The late David Broder, the fair-minded Washington Post columnist, was scathing in his criticism of the spectacle in a column headlined “Health Reform’s Stench of Victory.” Reid, he wrote, “reduced the negotiations to his own level of transactional morality. Incapable of summoning his colleagues to statesmanship, he made the deals look as crass and parochial as many of them were — encasing a historic achievement in a wrapping of payoff and patronage.”

The Bottom Line

As we noted, Republicans have skipped the lengthy, open process of hearings and markups of legislation that characterized the Democrats’ march to passage of the ACA. Instead, they moved directly to floor votes. Moreover, Democrats at first tried to enlist some Republican support, while Republicans have not reached out to Democrats.

But recalling the second-longest Senate session obscures the fact that the floor debate was mostly for show, an exercise designed to allow the closed-door negotiations that shaped the final bill to take place. Once the deal was struck, Reid pushed the final draft forward with as much speed as possible. That’s what McConnell is doing now, having skipped the preliminaries.

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Abortion Adds Obstacle as Republicans Plan to Unveil Health Bill – New York Times

WASHINGTON — Abortion flared up Wednesday as the latest hot-button issue to complicate passage of a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which Senate Republican leaders hope to unveil on Thursday and pass next week.

The repeal bill approved last month by the House would bar the use of federal tax credits to help purchase insurance plans that include coverage of abortion. But senators said that provision might have to be jettisoned from their version because of complicated Senate rules that Republicans are using to expedite passage of the bill and avoid a filibuster.

If that provision is dropped, a bill that has already elicited deep misgivings among moderate Republicans — and stiff resistance from Democrats, health care providers and patient advocacy groups — could also generate concern among abortion opponents, as well as conservative lawmakers.

The Run-Up

The podcast that makes sense of the most delirious stretch of the 2016 campaign.

Further complicating the measure’s prospects, insurance companies, which took a leading role in the health care fights of 1993-94 and 2009-10 but have been conspicuously quiet this year, released a blistering letter objecting to Republican plans to remake Medicaid and cut its funding.

The changes being considered in Congress could “amount to a 25 percent shortfall in covering the actual cost of providing care to our nation’s neediest citizens,” the top executives of 10 insurance companies wrote. “These amounts spell deep cuts, not state flexibilities, in Medicaid.”

As senators struggle to develop a health care bill, their handiwork appears to be too moderate for some Senate conservatives and too conservative for some Senate moderates. The latest version, without the abortion-coverage prohibition and with steep Medicaid cuts, may prove unacceptable to some in both camps. To pass it, Senate leaders can afford to lose only two Republican votes of the 52 in the chamber.

Republican senators got a glimpse Wednesday of the highlights of the bill, which was drafted in secret by the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and top aides. White House officials were granted a formal briefing, which risked irking many senators who had yet to see the actual bill.

The House abortion provision has sweeping implications because many health plans subsidized under the Affordable Care Act include coverage for abortion services. The provision has encountered outspoken opposition from officials in states like Oregon, where most health plans on the public insurance exchange cover abortion.

But senators said the provision might have to be dropped for a more prosaic reason: It may not comply with the Senate rules that Republicans are using to speed the health care bill through the Senate.

The bill is scheduled to go to the Senate floor next week under these procedures, which limit debate and preclude a Democratic filibuster.

“It’s one of the problems we have to work with,” Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and the chairman of the Finance Committee, said of the abortion issue. “We’re not quite sure how that’s going to be resolved.”

Mr. McConnell is determined to get a vote on the bill by the end of next week, before a break for the Fourth of July holiday, but he still does not have enough committed votes to ensure passage.

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, made clear on Wednesday that he was not on board with the Republican bill, which he said “sounds like Obamacare lite.”

“I’m still hoping we reach impasse, and we actually go back to the idea we originally started with, which was repealing Obamacare,” Mr. Paul said, adding, “I’m not for replacing Obamacare with Obamacare light.”

The House bill and the Senate version, like the Affordable Care Act, would provide tens of billions of dollars in tax credits to help people pay insurance premiums.

The federal government is expected to spend more than $30 billion this year on tax credits to help lower- and middle-income people pay premiums. The Senate bill would provide more assistance to lower-income people than the House bill, which bases tax credits on a person’s age.

The Senate bill would also repeal most of the taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act. It would delay the effective date of a tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health coverage, but Republicans plan to offer an amendment next week to eliminate this “Cadillac tax,” which is opposed by labor unions and employers.

Senators Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine, both Republicans, said they understood that the House restrictions on the use of tax credits for insurance covering abortion had encountered parliamentary problems.

“What I heard earlier from the parliamentarian is they didn’t think it would pass” muster under Senate rules, Mr. Tillis said.

Mr. Tillis and Ms. Collins said they understood that Senate Republican leaders were hoping to devise some kind of workaround to address concerns of anti-abortion lawmakers. But it was not clear whether those anti-abortion lawmakers would be satisfied with such a plan, which could involve separate legislation.

Republicans have been promising to repeal the health law ever since it was signed by President Barack Obama in 2010. On Wednesday, in the final hours before the Senate repeal bill was to be unveiled, members of Congress, consumer groups and health care executives engaged in frenetic advocacy in hopes of shaping the bill.

Women’s groups and at least two moderate Republicans, Ms. Collins and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, continued to object to a provision of Mr. McConnell’s bill that would cut off funds for Planned Parenthood.

The leaders of 10 insurance companies told Mr. McConnell that proposed caps on federal Medicaid spending would cause “an enormous cost shift to the states,” forcing them to raise taxes, reduce benefits, cut payments to health care providers or eliminate coverage for some beneficiaries. Among those who signed the letter were top executives from AmeriHealth Caritas, Molina Healthcare, Blue Shield of California and Healthfirst, in New York.

But Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, said the Medicaid provisions were one of the bill’s chief attractions for him.

“In my state,” Mr. Kennedy said, “we are now spending 47 percent of our budget on Medicaid. That’s up from 23 percent in 2008. It’s crowding out money for universities and roads and public safety and coastal restoration, and it just keeps climbing.”

Even senators who might support the legislation said they did not want to be rushed.

Asked how he felt about the prospect of voting for a bill a week after its release, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said, “I’d feel terrible about it.”

Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said, “I need the information, I need to hear from constituents, and that’s going to take some time.”

Debate on the Senate bill will be shaped by an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, which will estimate the impact on federal spending and the number of people without health insurance. Under the House bill, the office said, the number of uninsured would be 23 million higher than under the Affordable Care Act in 2026. And for some older Americans and sick people, it said, premiums and out-of-pocket costs could be significantly higher.

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Saudi king names son as new crown prince, upending the royal succession – Washington Post

By and Kareem Fahim,

CAIRO — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman elevated his 31-year-old son Wednesday to become crown prince, ousting his nephew in a seismic shift in the royal succession line that could have deep ramifications for the oil-rich monarchy and the broader Middle East.

Since Prince Mohammed bin Salman emerged from obscurity two years ago, his impact has been widely felt in Saudi Arabia and across the region. He is seen as a modernizer of his hidebound kingdom and a champion of its frustrated youth. But he is also a forceful, and some say hotheaded, advocate for Saudi Arabia’s regional dominance who has thrust the country into bitter feuds with neighbors, as well as involvement in a destructive civil war in Yemen.

Because of his youth — and his father’s age (81) — the new crown prince is poised to play a pivotal role in forging the policy and identity of this key U.S. ally and the Arab world’s largest economy. But he also faces numerous obstacles in implementing his vision for a new Saudi Arabia, analysts said.

On Wednesday, after a flurry of royal decrees, Salman replaced Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was also relieved of his influential position as interior minister, in which he oversaw security and counterterrorism operations. The new crown prince will become the kingdom’s first deputy prime minister while retaining his control of the Defense Ministry and other portfolios.

The surprise announcement marks the first time since Saudi Arabia’s first ruler, King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, that a Saudi monarch has designated his son rather than a brother as his heir apparent. And it is only the second time since the kingdom was founded in 1932 that a grandson of ibn Saud has been named crown prince — and its potential future king. The move also consolidates power within King Salman’s family, while weakening the influence of the families of his brothers and their sons.

[New crown prince wants to reimagine Saudi Arabia — with a bit more fun]

“The reshuffle marks the first real test of the ruling Al Saud family’s ability to manage the inevitable generational shift from the sons of Ibn Saud, to his grandsons,” Torbjorn Soltvedt, a Middle East analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk consulting firm, said in a statement.

The change arrives at a critical time for the Sunni-ruled Muslim kingdom as it grapples with the economic fallout from declining oil prices and a costly military campaign it leads against Shiite rebels in neighboring Yemen. The kingdom also is heading a bloc of Arab nations that has begun a controversial campaign to isolate the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, accusing it of supporting and financing terrorism.

The White House said President Trump congratulated the new crown prince in a phone call Wednesday and “discussed the priority of cutting off all support for terrorists.” It said they also talked about how to resolve the dispute with Qatar and achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace.

[U.S. issues unusual public warning to Saudi Arabia and UAE over Qatar rift]

The ascension of Mohammed bin Salman, along with other recent appointments by his father, completes a shift to a younger generation of leaders within the ruling family, one that could bring economic and social change to a nation where women are forbidden to drive, cinemas are banned and coffee shops are segregated by gender. The young prince already is promoting a plan to create jobs for women and modernize a society in which nearly two-thirds of the population is younger than 30 and women make up 22 percent of the workforce.

“We’ve seen the shift of power coming for some time, and the steady centralization of power under King Salman and the purview of his son,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

Even as deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman — popularly known as MBS — was given immense powers by his father. As defense minister, he runs the Saudi campaign in Yemen. As the head of an economic council, he has overseen efforts to revamp the kingdom’s energy policies and build a diverse economy that will sustain itself long after the country’s oil reserves have run out.

[Iran calls Saudi hierarchy shifts a ‘soft coup’]

Most members of the Saudi royal family supported the prince’s ascension, erasing any remote fear of a challenge to the new crown prince. Mohammed bin Nayef himself publicly pledged his loyalty to the new crown prince in a well-choreographed televised moment.

The crown prince’s rise, some analysts said, has been in the works for several months. A series of decrees in April propelled young royals in their 30s into influential diplomatic and national security positions while undermining Mohammed bin Nayef’s power. Together, the appointments represent a generational makeover of a system once dominated by much older and more experienced royals.

“This new generation’s loyalty is by all accounts to the rising prince,” Joseph Bahout, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East Program, wrote in a May post.

Since his father came to power in January 2015, Mohammed bin Salman has been brash, outspoken and ambitious. Unlike many Saudi princes who attended elite Western universities, the crown prince was educated in Saudi Arabia and does not speak English fluently. He favors wearing sandals over loafers. But his homegrown credentials have made him popular among many Saudis, especially younger ones.

“He is said to allow his views to be challenged — but does not change them,” Simon Henderson, a Middle East expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote on the group’s website. “His greatest strength, or weakness, may be his ruthlessness.”

Today, he has the ear of his father and the kingdom’s business community.

In 2016, he introduced a post-petrodollar plan that included selling off some of the oil giant Saudi Aramco and creating a sovereign wealth fund to rival those of neighboring Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. But the blueprint also brought complaints from a society that has become accustomed to cradle-to-grave largesse from the Saudi state. Among the belt-tightening measures was a cut in subsidies for gasoline and electricity.

[Can Saudi Arabia really pivot away from oil?]

The crown prince is the main driver behind Vision 2030, a far-reaching blueprint to overhaul the Saudi economy and society, focused on live concerts, arts festivals and other forms of Western-style entertainment. But such efforts have also brought complaints from conservative Saudis.

Regionally, said Diwan, the crown prince’s rise almost certainly means the continuation of “a more assertive Saudi policy abroad and a strong alliance with the UAE in pursuing those policies.” Both have shared goals of rolling back Iranian influence and taking stronger action against independent political Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

The crown prince is already the kingdom’s primary liaison with the Trump administration, and his ascension is widely expected to improve ties with Washington. Relations were strained under President Barack Obama over Iran and a 2015 nuclear deal.

In Yemen, the crown prince is the architect of the faltering and bloody Saudi military intervention that has led to thousands of civilian deaths. The kingdom’s hard-line stance on Qatar, which the new crown prince backs, is also becoming a point of tension with Washington.

Meanwhile, the prince has been courting Russia, sensing an opportunity to use oil diplomacy to lure Moscow away from Iran.

And assessments of the crown prince as a “reformer,” by the kingdom’s standards, did not mean that he would deviate from policies that have been condemned by human rights advocates as brutal, including mass executions.

“The reality is Prince Mohammed has stood alongside and publicly defended the king as young men have been tortured and executed for peacefully protesting,” said Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, an international human rights group.

Fahim reported from Istanbul. Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.

Read more:

State Department issues unusual public warning to Saudi Arabia over Qatar rift

By backing Saudi Arabia, Trump may be sowing the seeds of conflict

Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world

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The Latest: Handel calls early results ‘encouraging’ – Washington Post

By , and Elise Viebeck,

BROOKHAVEN, Ga. —

Thousands of voters in the suburbs north of Atlanta grabbed the country’s attention Tuesday as a special congressional election neared its end as a referendum on President Trump.

In Washington, party leaders — and Trump — were paying close attention to what has become the most expensive House race in history, hoping to make the case by day’s end that they were better positioned to jump-start Trump’s stalled agenda on Capitol Hill — or thwart it.

“KAREN HANDEL FOR Congress,” Trump tweeted as day broke Tuesday, touting the Republican candidate and former Georgia secretary of state. “She will fight for lower taxes, great health care strong security — a hard worker who will never give up! VOTE TODAY!”

Democrats spoke excitedly about Jon Ossoff, 30, a polished former congressional staffer who has raised more than $23 million and built a devoted grass-roots following, all while courting Republicans by bemoaning “wasteful” spending. They see his competitive candidacy in ruby-red suburbia as a possible harbinger ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when Democrats need to win 24 GOP-held seats to reclaim the House majority.

The race also could have a more immediate impact on Trump’s priorities. Republicans are laboring to agree on legislation to revise the Affordable Care Act. A GOP win on Tuesday could bring new momentum to their push to pass a bill in the Senate, while a defeat could embolden those who are concerned about the bill to more forcefully oppose it.

On Tuesday night, Handel took the stage shortly before 8 p.m. to thank supporters gathered in a small, second-floor ballroom in Brookhaven where Fox News aired on TV screens and older pop hits gently floated from the loudspeakers.

Handel talked up the early returns, in particular the in-person early voting totals in Fulton County, which had her ahead.

“We did exactly what we wanted to do, which was to make sure we kept things really close in absentee ballot and in-person early voting,” Handel said proudly as she stood at the lectern with her husband, Steve.

“I wanted to come down and really give an extraordinarily heartfelt thank you to every single one of you in this room,” she added, her voice slightly cracking. “Campaigns, they obviously keep the doors open because of the contributions from donors. But campaigns are won by the foot soldiers and people like you. … Whatever happens tonight, this is the most incredible group of winners I have ever had the privilege of working with. Y’all rock.”

Many of the men in the crowd — most of them with silver hair — were in dark blazers, in spite of the heat. But it wasn’t all country club casual: one couple wore leather jackets with “Bikers for Trump” across their backs.

Handel was leading by more than 5,000 votes around 9:20 p.m. with 39 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.

Polls in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District opened at 7 a.m. on a humid morning, with commuters casting ballots with iced coffees in their hands on their way to child-care centers, office parks and downtown Atlanta.

Throughout the afternoon, most polling places remained busy, although torrential rain slowed the lunchtime turnout and there were flash flood warnings from the National Weather Service. Voting hours were extended by 30 minutes at two polling places where voters experienced delays casting ballots electronically on Tuesday morning. All other polls closed at 7 p.m.

Handel and Ossoff are vying to fill the seat vacated by Tom Price, who held it from 2005 until he joined Trump’s Cabinet this year as health and human services secretary.

A record turnout is expected: About 120,000 people have already voted, according to Georgia officials — nearly a quarter of registered voters here.

[Most Republicans in the Georgia special election are willing to give Trumpcare a chance]

In another early tweet, Trump took a swipe at Ossoff’s centrist positioning and dismissed him as a liberal who “wants to raise your taxes to the highest level and is weak on crime and security, doesn’t even live in district.” Ossoff lives just outside the district with his fiancee.

Despite the contest’s national sheen and implications, many voters here said they will make their decision based less on Trump and more on how they view the two candidates, whose salvos have inundated televisions in a clash that has grown bitter and tense.

That dynamic could complicate the import that this race will carry beyond Tuesday. Special elections are often seen as microcosms of the national mood, but they do not always indicate coming political waves.

Inside the packed ballroom of a Westin in Sandy Springs, just a mile from Handel’s headquarters, a crowd of more than 1,000 remained buoyant and optimistic, even as some analysts questioned if Ossoff had hit his mark in the early vote.

Each time televisions showed a vote tally on CNN with Ossoff ahead, the crowd started chanting: “Flip the Sixth! Flip the Sixth!”

Some supporters said their ability to turn such a traditional Republican stronghold into a battleground was a victory in and of itself.

“We’re still going to be here,” Bill Atherton, 41, who works for a nonprofit that helps low-income families. “Now we believe we have a strong enough movement, not only to flip this district but inspire others.”

That was the kind of inspiration that struck Fran Brennan, 61, who came from central Michigan to spend a week in the district knocking on doors and making phone calls, along with a dozen or so friends.

A local labor leader, Brennan said that she felt “scared” after Trump’s victory in November but that this election was a key point in trying to push back against his agenda.

“We believe that this can be the turning point for the county. We feel that Jon has already won,” she said.

In this race, Trump has been everywhere and nowhere. Both contenders have mostly avoided talking about him at length in the final days. Handel has focused on turning out establishment, Trump-wary Republicans with classic GOP appeals, while Ossoff has talked up his willingness to be a bipartisan voice.

On Monday night, Ossoff never mentioned Trump once, even as TV trucks parked outside the shopping center where his campaign office is located and cable channels took the scene live in prime time. Homemade posters on the wall — scribbled in thick strokes with the slogan “Humble. Kind. Ready to fight” — did not mention Trump, either.

Ossoff — standing before a raucous crowd of hundreds, his sleeves rolled up — spoke passionately about women’s rights, gay rights and the urgency of addressing climate change. He knocked “those cynics in Washington, D.C.”

“There are people across this district, across this state, across this country who have lost faith,” Ossoff said, his voice quieting. “In this room, right now, is the team that can help to begin to restore that faith.”

Win or lose, Ossoff’s campaign will provide a frame for an ongoing debate within the Democratic Party as it struggles to find its way back to power, having been shut out in Washington and decimated on the state and local levels. That its candidate in this race is the unseasoned Ossoff is evidence of how thin its ranks have become.

On April 18, Ossoff nearly topped the 50 percent threshold that would have given him an outright victory in an 18-candidate primary field. Falling just short, he has found himself in a runoff against Handel, who has scrambled to consolidate the district’s Republican voters.

With Trump’s status as a political outsider who has violated political norms as backdrop, Handel and her supporters have pointedly embraced her experience and welcomed high-profile Republicans such as Price and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor, as surrogates, knowing that most well-educated and wealthy voters here prize stability over populism or ideological purity.

Over the weekend, Handel, who has been active in social conservative circles for years, avoided discussing Trump but knocked Ossoff as someone with “San Francisco” values who identifies with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). It was an unsurprising attack meant to rouse regular Republicans but also a sign of her uneasiness with how to align with Trump.

At Handel’s final campaign event Monday in Roswell, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) boasted of having spent 17 years in Congress before becoming governor, the sort of insider trait candidates normally hide these days. Deal said that Ossoff “never had a real job.”

As Deal spoke about how Handel would be the first woman to serve in Georgia’s congressional delegation, he kept returning to her credentials.

“We are hungry for qualified, capable women that carry the Republican banner,” Deal said.

While the affluent district has long been solidly red territory — Price breezed to a 23-point victory in November — it has not been quite as friendly to Trump’s brand of Republicanism. He won it over Hillary Clinton by only one percentage point in November’s general election — and lost it to Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) in the GOP primary.

Though the two contenders rarely mention Trump, the national significance of the contest has brought forth a flood of advertising and organization.

Spending in the race by the campaigns and outside groups has topped $50 million, making it by far the most expensive House contest in U.S. history.

Kane reported from Sandy Springs, Ga., and Viebeck reported from Washington. Michelle Baruchman, Sean Sullivan and Karen Tumulty in Washington contributed to this report.

Read more at PowerPost

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The other number that might inspire some panic among congressional Republicans – Washington Post


President Trump on the South Lawn of the White House. (Michael Reynolds/European Pressphoto Agency)

It looks as though the special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District — the most expensive House race in history — will be a toss-up.

At any other time, Republican Karen Handel would likely be expected to win election by a decent margin, but the race has turned into the first domino in an elaborate resulting pattern.

If Handel beats Democrat Jon Ossoff, Republicans in close House districts will be able to breathe a little easier, knowing that a winnable race taking place under the cloud of a historically unpopular president could still be won. If Ossoff wins, though, Republicans worried about keeping their jobs next year have new cause for concern. And that dark cloud, President Trump, will have new reason to worry, since his fate lies in their hands should the investigation into his possible attempts to obstruct justice head south.

Fairly or not, that number, the results of the special election, will loom large in the thinking of Republicans in swing districts. But on Tuesday morning, another new number emerged that will make every Republican along Pennsylvania Avenue wary. A new poll from CBS News found that Trump’s job approval had fallen to 36 percent from 41 percent in late April. Of more concern, though, was the figure for Republicans: Only 72 percent of Trump’s own party thinks he’s doing a good job. That mirrors a recent poll from the Associated Press, which found that only three-quarters of Republicans held positive views of Trump’s job performance.

The last time CBS polled on Trump’s job approval, in late April, 83 percent of Republicans viewed him positively. That’s a decline of 11 points. Other recent polls have also shown a downward trend.

One point of concern unearthed by CBS is that Republicans are far less likely to approve of Trump’s handling of the Russia investigation than they are of his handling of the economy or terrorism. While two-thirds of Americans think that the Russia investigation is serious, most Republicans think that the investigation is little more than a distraction — though a majority think that the investigation should continue without Trump firing the special counsel.

Back to the original question, though: How serious a problem is this for congressional Republicans who may have to decide whether to defend Trump to their constituents?

Trump was inaugurated five months ago Tuesday. His approval rating among members of his own party tracked with President Barack Obama’s early approval ratings early in his tenure, but as time has passed, Trump’s approval ratings among Republicans have slipped lower while Obama’s approval ratings with Democrats held fairly steady.

Of even more concern to congressional Republicans in swing districts is that Trump is much less popular with independents than Obama was over his first five months.

Holding Republicans doesn’t mean much in a close race if you lose Democrats by a wide margin and if independents drift away.

We can look at that data another way. Trump’s numbers among members of his own party have been a bit lower than Obama’s; among independents, much lower.

The broader context here is important, though. Obama’s first few months in office included the traditional honeymoon period that new presidents get. Over the course of his two terms, though, a wide partisan gulf emerged, with Democrats viewing him positively and Republicans negatively. Most of the movement in his poll numbers stemmed from movement among independents.

If we compare all of Obama’s poll numbers to Trump’s over his first 150 days, there’s more overlap — including among independents. Among members of each president’s own party, Trump’s distribution is actually slightly better.

The implication is that Trump inherited a partisan pattern from Obama. But then, Trump should still be in his honeymoon period among Republicans. The CBS poll suggests that may be coming to a quick end.

One last note. Over the weekend, the blog Lawfare looked at President Richard Nixon’s approval ratings among Republicans as the Watergate investigation unfolded. Nixon’s approval was under 60 percent among Republicans for months before he actually resigned. That’s good news for Trump, suggesting that even in that less-partisan era, pressure on Capitol Hill Republicans to act against the Republican president wasn’t significant enough to force a vote on impeachment, even when that president was much less popular with the party than Trump is.

If Handel loses Tuesday and if Trump’s approval ratings among Republicans continue to erode — or if there’s a shift against the president in the investigation — the position of congressional Republicans will shift quickly. But if Handel wins, and if Trump can generally hold steady among Republicans, the 2018 calculus looks a bit different. Like Handel, most Republicans wouldn’t embrace Trump’s presidency on the campaign trail next year, but luckily for Trump, they won’t be pushing to campaign with President Pence, either.

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Spicer on shakeup rumors: ‘I’m right here’ – The Hill

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday did not deny reports that he might be leaving his spot behind the lectern as part of a reshuffle of the West Wing communications staff. 

“I’m right here,” Spicer said with a chuckle, telling reporters, “You can keep taking your selfies.”

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The comments came during Spicer’s first on-camera briefing in eight days, an unusually long gap that sparked rumors the press office might undergo a shakeup that would result in his role changing.

“Look, it’s no secret we’ve had a couple vacancies, including our communications director, he’s been gone for a while,” Spicer said. “We’ve been meeting with potential people that may be of service to this administration. I don’t think that should come as any surprise but we’re always looking for ways to do a better job of articulating the president’s message and his agenda.”

The spokesman added that, “when we have an announcement of a personnel nature, we’ll let you know.”

Spicer has held two jobs since the resignation of Mike Dubke as communications director last month. The embattled spokesman has reportedly been interviewing candidates to replace him on the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room podium as part of a shift that could see him take on another White House post. 

Trump has been critical of the White House communications office, saying in an interview last month that they have struggled to keep up with his fast-paced style. The president’s tweets have often undercut official messages put forth by the White House, which staff have privately complained about. 

The president has publicly mused about having fewer press briefings, and instead, conducting more press conferences and in-person interviews. 

“As a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” Tump tweeted last month. “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future “press briefings” and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”

But thus far, no sweeping changes have been enacted and Trump has not stepped up his own media engagement. He has not conducted a solo press conference since February and his last television interview came on May 13.

This story was updated at 3:39 p.m.

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A look at Americans detained in North Korea in recent years – Washington Post

By Kim Tong-Hyung | AP,

SEOUL, South Korea — Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died days after being released from North Korea in a coma, was one of several U.S. citizens who have been imprisoned in the country in recent years over a variety of alleged crimes, including subversion, anti-state activities and spying. He’s also a rare Western detainee who came out of the country in rough shape — the vast majority of Americans detained by the North have been released in relatively good condition.

The United States, South Korea and others often accuse North Korea of using foreign detainees to wrest diplomatic concessions. Three Americans remain in custody in the North.

A look at some of the Americans who have been detained by North Korea in recent years:

KENNETH BAE

Bae, a Korean-American missionary from Lynnwood, Washington, was imprisoned for more than two years after North Korea charged him for anti-state activities.

Bae, now 48, was detained in November 2012 while leading a tour group in a special North Korean economic zone. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for “hostile acts” after being accused of smuggling in inflammatory literature and trying to establish a base for anti-government activities at a border city hotel.

While in detention, he told a pro-North Korea newspaper based in Japan that he felt abandoned. His family said he suffered from chronic health issues, including back pain, diabetes, an enlarged heart and liver problems.

Bae went home in November 2014 after a secret mission by the U.S. intelligence chief at the time, James Clapper, secured his release, as well as that of Mathew Miller, another American detainee. A month earlier, North Korea released another U.S. citizen, Jeffrey Fowle, after detaining him for six months for leaving a Bible in a nightclub in the city of Chongjin.

After returning to the United States, Bae thanked then-President Barack Obama and the North Korean government for releasing him. “It’s been an amazing two years. I learned a lot, I grew a lot, I lost a lot of weight,” he said.

___

MATTHEW MILLER

Miller, who returned home with Bae, was held captive in North Korea for several months after being convicted of entering the North illegally to commit espionage and sentenced to six years of hard labor. North Korea’s Supreme Court said Miller, then 24, tore up his tourist visa at Pyongyang’s airport upon arrival in April 2014 and admitted to the “wild ambition” of experiencing prison life so that he could secretly investigate North Korea’s human rights situation.

Weeks before his release, Miller spoke briefly to The Associated Press at a Pyongyang hotel, where the North Korean government allowed him to call his family. He said he was digging in fields eight hours a day and being kept in isolation, but that his health wasn’t deteriorating.

___

LAURA LING and EUNA LEE

In 2009, North Korea detained Ling and Lee, journalists who had been working on a story about North Korean defectors, for illegally crossing the border. They were sentenced to 12 years in a labor camp.

The two were later freed after former President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang and negotiated their release. North Korea’s state media said then that late leader Kim Jong Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong Un, granted a special pardon to Ling and Lee after Clinton apologized to Kim.

A month after their release, Ling and Lee wrote about their imprisonment in an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times. They said they had not spent “more than a minute on North Korean soil before turning back” when North Korean soldiers chased them and dragged them back across the border from China.

They wrote that they endured “rigorous, daily interrogation sessions” in North Korea, but didn’t give a detailed account of the questioning or their treatment during their detention.

___

CURRENT DETAINEES

The three Americans currently held in the North include Kim Hak Song and Kim Sang Dok, who both worked at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology before their detention earlier this year over unspecified crimes. The school is the only privately funded university in North Korea and is unique for having a large number of foreign staff.

Kim Dong Chul, a South Korean-born U.S. citizen, is serving a 10-year term with hard labor for alleged espionage following his arrest in October 2015. In his public confession, Kim said he was a spy for South Korean intelligence and was trying to spread religion among North Koreans.

Some foreigners have said after their release that their declarations of guilt had been coerced while in North Korean custody.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Ohio college student freed by North Korea in a coma has died – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Ohio college student freed by North Korea in a coma has died
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea for nearly a year and a half, died Monday afternoon, his parents said. Mr. Warmbier had been medically evacuated and returned to Cincinnati last week in a coma. Fred and …
Family: Freed student who died has ‘completed his journey’Miami Herald
AP News in Brief at 12:04 am EDTWashington Post
The Tragic Death of Otto WarmbierHuffPost
Washington Times –kfor.com –Sacramento Bee –Business Insider
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Senate Democrats Try to Gum Up Works Over Affordable Care Act Repeal – New York Times

WASHINGTON — Democrats vowed on Monday to slow work in the Senate to a crawl to protest the secrecy surrounding the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, as Republican leaders raced to prepare a bill for a vote as soon as next week.

Without the votes to stop the majority party from passing a bill, Democrats can only draw attention to the way Republicans are creating their bill — behind closed doors without a single hearing or public bill-drafting session.

Senate Republican leaders hope for a showdown vote before lawmakers leave town at the end of next week, an ambitious timeline that would spare Republicans from constituent pressure over the Fourth of July recess.

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Democrats fear that Republicans will unveil a bill that would have sweeping effects on health care, then within days try to pass it with only limited debate.

“Every Republican is trying to get to yes,” Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, said Monday on Fox News, expressing his belief that the Senate would vote on a repeal bill before the recess. He acknowledged that “there are some differences of opinion on specific details of this.”

If Republicans do not hold a vote before the Fourth of July, Democrats hope the pressure over the recess will weaken support. Then lawmakers would have just three weeks to pass a Senate bill and work out differences with the House before the planned August recess. The Trump administration also wants Congress to raise the government’s statutory borrowing limit before August, another fight that could collide with the Affordable Care Act repeal.

“If Republicans won’t relent and debate their health care bill in the open for the American people to see, then they shouldn’t expect business as usual in the Senate,” said Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate Democratic leader.

He said the actions planned by Senate Democrats, such as procedural maneuvers to slow down routine work, were “merely the first steps we’re prepared to take in order to shine a light on this shameful Trumpcare bill.”

Republicans are working on their bill as insurers around the country are announcing their intentions for 2018. On Monday, the last major insurer remaining in Iowa said it planned to stay in the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace next year. The insurer, Medica, said that it expected to offer plans statewide, even after two competitors said they would pull out, but that it was seeking rate increases averaging 43.5 percent.

“Iowa’s individual market remains unsustainable and needs a fix from Congress,” said Iowa’s insurance commissioner, Doug Ommen.

Republicans, who hold 52 seats in the Senate, are planning to pass their repeal bill using special budget rules that would bypass a Democratic filibuster. But they can afford to lose only two votes, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a tie, and more than two Republican senators have expressed qualms, from moderates like Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to conservatives like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.

So far, Republican senators have been unable to reach a consensus on a repeal bill, facing internal divisions over issues like the future of the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the rate at which Medicaid payments to states would grow in future years and federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

In impassioned speeches on the Senate floor on Monday night, Democrats complained that the bill was being developed out of public view. Before Congress adopted the Affordable Care Act, Democrats held numerous public hearings, and the Senate debated the measure on the floor for 25 days.

Senate Republican leaders plan to push through their repeal bill under arcane budget rules that would limit debate on it to 20 hours.

On the Senate floor on Monday, Mr. Schumer asked the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, if senators would have more than 10 hours to review the Senate bill before voting on it. Mr. McConnell said only that there would be “ample opportunity to read and amend the bill.”

The opaque process playing out now has drawn criticism not only from Democrats, but also from some Republican senators.

“I think it’s much better to have committee consideration of bills, public hearings and to have a full debate,” Ms. Collins told The Portland Press Herald on Friday. “That’s the process for most well-considered legislation.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have been pressing the issue, pushed by liberal advocacy groups that are demanding a more confrontational approach.

Last week, Mr. Schumer sent a letter to Mr. McConnell inviting Republicans to an all-senators meeting on health care. Mr. McConnell did not take him up on the offer.

On Monday, in a jab at Republicans for proceeding without any public hearings on their bill, Senate Democrats released a letter to Republican committee leaders in which they helpfully provided a list of rooms in the Capitol complex that could be used to hold hearings.

A coalition of groups representing patients said they had been rebuffed when they requested a meeting in Washington with Mr. McConnell.

Sue Nelson, a vice president of the American Heart Association, said on Monday that her organization had requested the meeting on behalf of more than a dozen patient advocacy groups. They were told that the majority leader was too busy, she said.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, said the senator and his staff had met with numerous groups representing patients, doctors and hospitals, especially those in Kentucky, and would continue to do so. “The notion that we are not meeting with patient groups is ridiculous,” he said.

Senate leaders have refrained from going into detail about the bill they are drafting, but some provisions being considered have become known in recent days.

The Senate bill would give states sweeping new authority to opt out of federal insurance standards established by the Affordable Care Act, congressional aides said. In that way, it appears to go further than the House-passed bill in giving states latitude to regulate their health insurance markets.

It builds on a section of the Affordable Care Act that allows states to obtain waivers for innovative health programs. But it would relax many of the requirements for such waivers that Democrats wrote into the law, signed by President Barack Obama in 2010.

Republican senators are still discussing exactly which standards could be waived. Many Republicans want to allow states to prescribe a more limited, less expensive package of health benefits than is required under the Affordable Care Act. Republicans disagree on whether states should be able to allow insurers to set higher premiums for some people with pre-existing conditions.

A Democrat, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, proposed “innovation waivers” in 2007, to allow states to find their own ways to near-universal coverage.

“The point was to say that the states, the laboratories of democracy, would have an opportunity to show that they could do better than the Affordable Care Act,” Mr. Wyden said. Republicans, he said, want “to use the waiver process so that states could do not better, but worse.”

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McCain: North Korea ‘murdered’ former detainee Otto Warmbier – CNN

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