The Daily 202: Secrecy backfires on Mitch McConnell as Senate health-care bill teeters – Washington Post

John Thune and Mitch McConnell stand as Donald Trump arrives for a meeting with Republican senators about health care in the East Room of the White House yesterday afternoon. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Mitch McConnell miscalculated.

The Senate majority leader believed that the blowback for keeping his health-care bill secret would be less than the blowback for negotiating it in public.

On optics, he was correct. Polls show that most voters don’t really care about process. They weren’t particularly angry that he sought to forge consensus behind closed doors – or that he was being hypocritical by doing exactly what he used to attack Democrats for.

But the Kentuckian misread the degree to which members of his own conference wanted a seat at the table. With little margin for error, he also had too much confidence in his ability to hammer out a compromise that could win over both hardliners who want full repeal and moderates who want to protect Medicaid expansion.

McConnell reluctantly bowed to pressure from within his own ranks yesterday and postponed a vote until after the Fourth of July recess.

At least nine Republican senators are now on the record as being against the legislation in its current form, including three who said so after McConnell postponed the vote. With Vice President Pence ready to provide the tie-breaking vote, McConnell can only afford two defections.

By ignoring regular order, McConnell thought he would save time and move on quickly to other priorities, like overhauling the tax code. Last week, he flippantly dismissed complaints about bypassing the committee process. “No transparency would be added by having hearings in which Democrats offered endless single-payer system amendments,” the leader said at a press conference. “That is not what this Republican Senate was sent here to do.”

Many of his members felt otherwise. There was technically a working group of senators that came up with the bill, but McConnell was in the driver’s seat. Republican senators who were invited to closed-door “listening sessions” say they were sounded out about what they could and couldn’t support. But several grumbled that they couldn’t get any information out of leadership about what was and wasn’t on the table. Others said privately that the meetings felt less substantive and more like a box-checking exercise.

“Seems like around here, the last step is getting information, which doesn’t seem to be necessarily the most effective process,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said before the draft was unveiled last week.

“I always believe legislation is best crafted through the normal order,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told the Portland Press Herald earlier this month. “I think it’s much better to have committee consideration of bills, public hearings and to have a full debate.”

It should be no surprise that both proved particularly hesitant to get behind the bill that finally emerged.

As Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) put it:

I am pleased with the decision to delay the vote – now is the time to take a step back and put the full legislative process to work.

— Jerry Moran (@JerryMoran) June 27, 2017

Another consequence of the secretive process is that almost no Republican senators have been out there trying to sell the bill – to the public or to each other. Dozens of GOP lawmakers who privately planned to vote for the motion to proceed today made a public show of saying that they were undecided and still studying the proposal. They avoided local reporters and put out opaque statements that gave themselves plenty of wiggle room, as they waited to see how things shook out. This meant that almost no Republicans put out statements defending the measure on Monday night when the Congressional Budget Office announced that millions of fewer Americans would have insurance if it passes. That ensured one-sided coverage in the press, which in turn made it even harder for members to justify supporting the bill.

Pat Toomey and Ben Sasse confer privately outside a GOP lunch. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Consider Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who knows as much about health policy as any Republican in the conference but has steered clear of delving into the public debate because there is no political upside. At the Koch summit in Colorado over the weekend, he was noncommittal and insisted he was still reading the proposal. He declined to speak to local reporters and broke his silence – announcing that he has concerns – only after McConnell delayed the vote.

Today’s Omaha World-Herald story about Sasse’s evasiveness notes that he wasn’t alone: “In response to a reporter’s question Tuesday, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) confirmed that she has thoughts on health care. Any she would like to share? ‘No, not today,’ Ernst said as she hurried out of the Capitol. ‘I’m just going to keep studying the bill.’”

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) should be one of the easiest votes for leadership to lock down, but even he avoided taking a firm position. His spokesman revealed that their office received 224 constituent calls against the bill between Thursday and Monday – and just two in favor.

McConnell leaves the White House yesterday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Repealing Obamacare, which unified Republicans for six years, has now become the party’s albatross. Dan Balz calls it “a sprawling objective still in search of a solution”: “In a worst-of-all-worlds environment, Republicans continue to struggle with what they’re selling … Whatever overarching arguments they hope to make on behalf of their legislation have been lost in a welter of competing claims and demands among senators with different priorities and dissimilar ideological viewpoints. … The Republicans’ major selling point is that Obamacare is collapsing. McConnell said Tuesday that a Republican solution will be superior to the status quo. Exactly how, Senate Republicans haven’t been able to say.”

On major legislation that has gone through regular order, there are typically lots of senators who feel some sense of ownership. Also, think of the “Gang of Eight” that reached a grand bargain on immigration in 2013. The bill advanced (though it failed in the House) because there were four Republicans and four Democrats who were willing to go on TV to aggressively tout it, even though it included compromises that neither side was fully comfortable with.

“Dealmaking behind closed doors is common in the contemporary Congress. Still, the GOP’s extreme secrecy in hammering out a health-care deal strikes me as different in both degree and kind from past practice,” said Sarah Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “First, most closed-door bargaining in the Senate is bipartisan. … Second, when leaders close the doors, it’s often because the legislative process has ground to a halt. … Third, McConnell’s tactics are particularly unusual because Republicans are trying to legislate on one of the nation’s most complicated policy issues. Health care affects one-sixth of the economy … Usually, issues that demand secret negotiations are must-pass measures about to hit a nonnegotiable deadline, such as failing to raise the debt ceiling or to fund the government on time.”

Don Ritchie, the historian emeritus of the Senate, said that the chamber has not taken such a partisan, closed-door approach to major legislation since in the years before World War I. A century ago, Senate Democrats, at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, drew up major tariff reforms while shutting out Republicans. But when Democratic leaders tried that again when they had large majorities during the Great Depression, rank-and-file senators revolted. It hasn’t happened since, he told the Los Angeles Times.

McConnell speaks to reporters after meeting with Trump at the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Conservative thought leader George Will opens his column this morning with a dig at the GOP’s process: “Two Junes ago, when the Supreme Court upheld, 6 to 3, a challenged provision of the Affordable Care Act, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, vented: ‘Congress wrote key parts of the Act behind closed doors. … Congress passed much of the Act using a complicated budgetary procedure known as ‘reconciliation,’ which limited opportunities for debate and amendment, and bypassed the Senate’s normal 60-vote filibuster requirement. … As a result, the Act does not reflect the type of care and deliberation that one might expect of such significant legislation.’ Now, however, Republicans run things, so…”

George laments that the travails of the Senate bill reflect how impossible it is to get rid of an entitlement once it has been created, a theme I wrote about in March:“Henceforth the health-care debate will be about not whether there will be a thick fabric of government subsidies, mandates and regulations, but about which party will weave the fabric. So, ‘repeal and replace’ will be ‘tweak and move on.’ And even if the tweaks constitute significant improvements, Obama will have been proved right when, last October, he compared the ACA to a ‘starter home.’”

Yes, it is absolutely true that Democratic leaders worked out many health-care hiccups behind closed doors to pass Obamacare in 2009. But they made full use of the committee process. Fact Checker Glenn Kessler has written a detailed history of how the ACA came together: “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. … During the private talks, (Harry) 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.”

“Some version of secrecy has to happen. You’re not going to get anywhere if that’s not the case,” said C.R. Wooters, a top House Democratic aide when the Affordable Care Act was being passed. But he added to the Associated Press: “Most of our real private meetings were the final tweaks, not the original bill. I think that’s the difference. The general parameters of the bill were widely known.”

The secrecy has also made it easier for opponents to mobilize. People weren’t sure if their interests were being protected because McConnell held his cards so close to the vest.

One majorly under-covered angle in the press coverage of why the Senate has punted is the widespread opposition of GOP governors. “More than half a dozen Republican governors, including several from states with Republican senators, expressed either grave reservations or outright opposition to the bill,” Alex Burns reports on A17 of the New York Times:

  • Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) rejected the Senate proposal so forcefully that he helped sway his state’s Republican senator, Dean Heller, to oppose the measure.
  • Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) had a press conference in D.C. yesterday to call the Senate bill “unacceptable,” saying it would victimize the poor and mentally ill, and redirect tax money “to people who are already very wealthy.”
  • Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) signed onto a letter Monday with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) urging the Senate to slow down.
  • After the Senate bill got pulled, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) publicly released a letter he sent to Senate leaders warning that the proposal would “lead to cuts in eligibility, loss of coverage or significant increases in state taxes.”

— Trump’s inability to twist the arms of wavering Senate Republicans, despite his best efforts, makes him looks impotent. “History suggests that presidents who have governed successfully have been both revered and feared. But Republican fixtures in Washington are beginning to conclude that Trump may be neither, despite his mix of bravado, threats and efforts to schmooze with GOP lawmakers,” Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker report. As GOP consultant John Weaver puts it, “When you have a 35 percent approval rating and you’re under FBI investigation, you don’t have a hammer.”

The kicker of their story includes an excellent illustration of how Trump’s lieutenants have struggled to deal with congressional Republicans: “In March, when House Republicans were slow to rally behind the health-care bill, White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon told Freedom Caucus members that they must stop waffling and vote for the legislation. Bannon was immediately rebuffed by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), who has been in the House for more than three decades. Barton icily told Bannon that the only person who ordered him around was ‘my daddy’ — and that his father was unsuccessful in doing so, according to several Republicans with knowledge of the meeting. In an interview Tuesday, Barton smiled wryly when asked about the incident. ‘I will admit on the record that I took exception to a comment that he made,’ Barton said.”

Even in private, Trump is unfamiliar with what the bill he has endorsed would actually do: The president convened Republican senators in the East Room yesterday afternoon so that members could air their grievances. “A senator who supports the bill left the meeting at the White House with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan — and seemed especially confused when a moderate Republican complained that opponents of the bill would cast it as a massive tax break for the wealthy,” Glenn Thrush and Jonathan Martin report in the Times. “Trump said he planned to tackle tax reform later, ignoring the repeal’s tax implications.”

— Many Republicans, including the one in the Oval Office, now worry that no health-care bill will get done. (Sean Sullivan, Kelsey Snell and Juliet Eilperin have more on our front page.)

But, but, but: Postponing the vote is not necessarily fatal. Never underestimate McConnell. Despite this miscalculation, he’s proven over 32 years in the Senate that he is a brilliant tactician. If he sincerely wants to get this done, he probably can find a way. But it will be the biggest legislative test of his tenure as majority leader.


— A new wave of powerful cyberattacks hit Europe and beyond on Tuesday, bringing to a standstill government ministries, banks, utilities and other major companies in a possible reprise of the “WannaCry” ransomware assault, which struck more than 150 nations in May.Andrew Roth and Ellen Nakashima report: “The virus even downed systems at the site of the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant, forcing scientists to monitor radiation levels there manually. Cyberattacks also spread as far as India and the U.S. … The attack mainly targeted Eastern Europe but also hit companies in Spain, Denmark, Norway and Britain. [Researchers in Russia] estimated that 60 percent of infected computers were in Ukraine and 30 percent in Russia Cyber researchers have tied the vulnerability exploited by Petya to the one used by WannaCry — a weakness discovered by the NSA years ago that the agency turned into a hacking tool dubbed EternalBlue. Petya, like WannaCry, is a worm that spreads quickly to vulnerable systems, said Bill Wright, senior policy counsel for Symantec … But that makes it difficult to control — or to aim at anyone in particular, he said. [Still], he expressed puzzlement about why firms and governments are still being hit…

“The ransomware hit Europe in the early afternoon, [and] ground zero was Ukraine. Breaches were reported at computers governing the municipal energy company and airport in the capital, Kiev … the Ukrainian postal service and the State Savings Bank of Ukraine. Grocery store checkout machines broke down, ATMs demanded ransom payments, and the turnstile system in the Kiev metro reportedly stopped working. Suspicions in Ukraine quickly fell on Russia … But no proof of the attack was presented, and Russian companies, like the oil giant Rosneft, also complained of being hit by a ‘powerful hacking attack.’”

— The attack is poorly timed for the U.S. intelligence community, which is pushing for permanent authority over a controversial surveillance program. Ellen Nakashima reports: “Senators in both parties are increasingly frustrated in their attempts to learn how much information spy agencies collect on American citizens — and even on senators themselves … At issue is a program authorized by Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, a 2008 law that Congress approved after years of acrimonious debate about foreign intelligence collection on U.S. soil without individualized warrants. The law allows the NSA to collect the communications of ‘non-U.S. persons’ — those who are not U.S. citizens, companies and residents — who are outside the United States for foreign intelligence purposes. Renewal of Section 702, which will expire in December, is the intelligence community’s highest legislative priority this year … But some lawmakers from both parties have concerns about protecting the privacy of U.S. citizens and residents.”

Outgoing Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz waves after addressing the Utah GOP Convention in Sandy, Utah. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)


  1. Outgoing Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) prompted criticism from D.C. residents after he called for members of Congress to receive up to $30,000 in annual housing stipends — lamenting that lawmakers must pinch their pennies (or, ahem, $174,000 salaries) to cover housing in “one of the most expensive places in the world.” (Jenna Portnoy)
  2. Sarah Palin sued the New York Times for defamation, aftera recent editorial linked one of her super PAC ads to a 2011 shooting in Arizona, which severely wounded then-congresswoman Gabby Giffords and killed six others. (New York  Post)
  3. House lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a measure to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to NATO’s Article 5 clause. The vote comes just one month after Trump declined to mention NATO’s mutual defense clause while speaking abroad. (The Hill)  
  4. Hugh Jackman will play Democratic presidential hopeful Gary Hart in Jason Reitman’s upcoming film, “The Frontrunner.” The screenplay, written by Reitman, longtime political journalist Matt Bai and former Bill Clinton press secretary Jay Carson, chronicles Hart’s rise and dramatic fall in the 1988 presidential nomination, after his campaign was rocked by revelations of an extramarital affair. (The Hollywood Reporter)
  5. The charred remains of a veteran television journalist were identified in Mexico this week, authorities confirmed, bringing the number of Mexican reporters who have been slain this year to seven. News of the Salvador Adame’s death comes more than a month after local news outlets said he was forced into a black SUV by a group of armed men. (Samantha Schmidt)
  6. Three Chicago police officers were indicted and charged with conspiring to cover up the shooting of Laquan McDonald, the black teenager who was killed by an officer in 2014. Video footage from his death was released the following year and prompted a wave of protests across the country, as well as a sprawling federal investigation of Chicago police. (Mark Berman)
  7. An 11-story apartment building in northwest Germany was evacuated this week, amid fears that its insulation bore similarities to the exterior cladding used in the renovation of London’s Grenfell Tower, which was consumed by a fast-spreading fire earlier this month. (Isaac Stanley-Becker and Stephanie Kirchner)
  8. Six people in the U.K. were charged for the 1989 Hillsborough stadium stampede that left 96 dead. Families of those lost pushed for a new inquiry after older charges were overturned. (The Post)
  9. A granite slab with the Ten Commandments etched into it has been placed on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol. The ACLU says it will sure. (NPR)

  10. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) raised $116,000 after he physically assaulted a reporter. The donors included 25 people who gave the maximum allowed amount of $2,700 and, most notably, the vice president of the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, whose local affiliate initially ignored the story. (The Guardian)

  11. Fed Chair Janet Yellen does not believe there will be another financial crisis “in our lifetimes.” She largely credited reforms of the banking system since the recession. (Reuters)

  12. In addition to a $2.7 billion fine, Google will also face stricter regulation from the E.U. The antitrust regulators defined Google as a monopoly, which will ease competitors’ civil suits against the tech giant. (Reuters)

  13. Facebook has reached 2 billion users. They doubled its user base in less than five years, having only reached 1 billion users in late 2012. (LA Times)

  14. A new survey shows a dramatic shift in attitudes on same-sex marriage among young white evangelicals, a group once considered among the most conservative on the issue. According to a Pew Research poll, nearly half of evangelicals born after 1964 now say they favor same-sex marriage, compared to just 26 percent of evangelicals born before that year. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
  15. Meanwhile, newly released census data in Australia found that more citizens now identify as nonreligious than anything else — surpassing Catholicism as the most common answer in the survey for the very first time. (Max Bearak)
  16. Pandora chief executive and co-founder Tim Westergren is stepping down from the company amid a broader shake-up, as the music-streaming service seeks to replace some of its key leadership positions and adapt to a changing music industry. (Alex Schiffer)
  17. A monster lobster set off alerts among TSA agents at a Boston airport this week, after a passenger tried to pass the live crustacean — weighing in at a whopping 20 pounds — through the conveyor belt at security. It’s unclear whether a long life or a clam bake awaited the lobster at the end of his journey, but the creature’s massive size is among the largest in modern memory. (New York Times)
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)


— Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort retroactively filed as a foreign agent for Ukraine on Tuesday, submitting forms that show his firm received more than $17 million in payments over a two-year period from a political party that dominated Ukraine before its leader fled to Russia in 2014. Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman report: “Manafort disclosed the total payments his firm received between 2012 and 2014 in a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing late Tuesday that was submitted to the U.S. Justice Department. The report makes Manafort the second former senior Trump adviser to acknowledge the need to disclose work for foreign interests. Manafort and a former associate in his consulting business, Richard Gates, who also worked for the Trump campaign, disclosed their lobbying campaign on behalf of Ukraine’s Party of Regions in an 87-page document which described the gross receipts the firm received, some expenses and some details of meetings undertaken to influence U.S. policy toward Ukraine. Among other meetings, Manafort disclosed one in 2013 with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, an outspoken California Republican known for advocating closer ties between the U.S. and the Kremlin …”

— Next up in the never-ending stream of Trump associates testifying to Congress about possible Russia ties: Roger Stone. He will appear July 24 before the House Intelligence Committee. Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn, Kyle Cheney and Austin Wright report: “The hearing will be closed, said Stone’s lawyer, Robert Buschel. He said his client had asked for a public hearing on Capitol Hill to address his communications last year with Moscow-linked hackers and WikiLeaks, which published personal emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta … Podesta testified Tuesday before the committee … ‘With John Podesta appearing before the committee I do feel it is essential that I have the opportunity to rebut his serial lies,’ Stone said in an email.”

— At least 10 White House officials and former Trump associates have already retained counsel in the ongoing Russia probes or are in the process of doing so. The Wall Street Journal’s Peter Nicholas and Carol E. Lee report: “President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, all have hired private attorneys, as have former campaign advisers Michael Caputo, Boris Epshteyn and Roger Stone, among others. The growing roster of legal counselors could further complicate communication inside a White House that has been rocked by divisions, and risks adding one more distraction for an administration that has struggled to keep the public focus on its policy agenda … The Trump White House has settled on a model that relies heavily on the president’s chief outside lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, and a team that includes longtime Republican communications specialist Mark Corallo and another outside attorney who is a practiced TV commentator, Jay Sekulow, to defend the president.”

— New details continue to emerge in the financial dealings between Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal attorney, and his nonprofit, the American Center for Law and Justice, which has brought him millions of dollars. Aaron C. Davis and Shawn Boburg report: “Through a complex arrangement involving ACLJ and another charity, $5.5 million was paid directly to Sekulow and five family members in salary or other compensation, tax records covering those years show. Another $7.5 million went to businesses owned by Sekulow and his sister-in-law for producing and consulting on TV, movie and radio shows, including his weekday program, ‘Jay Sekulow Live!’ And $21 million went to a small law firm co-owned by Sekulow, records show … Tax and nonprofit experts who reviewed recent disclosures by the charities at the request of The Post raised concerns about the family members’ salaries and said the charities do not meet the highest standards for transparency and accountability.”

— Some in Washington fear that special counsel Bob Mueller will be pressured to release the findings of his Russia investigation before the 2018 midterms, especially given the shadow that Democrats believe Jim Comey’s announcement about Hillary Clinton’s emails cast over the 2016 election. Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn reports: “While it’s unclear how long it will take Mueller to wrap up his investigation, veterans of past White House scandals say that with the midterms already being framed as a referendum on Trump’s presidency, both Republicans and Democrats can be expected to push Mueller to go public with whatever he has before voters go to the polls … The special prosecutor doesn’t face a set deadline, and the regulations establishing Mueller’s office only say he must issue a final report to the Justice Department when he’s finished investigating.”

In this April 7 image released by the US Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/Released)


— The United States said Tuesday that it has observed Syrian chemical warfare personnel visiting “known production facilities” for the past two weeks, suggesting President Bashar al-Assad is preparing fresh strikes on the rebel-held north of the country, and shedding further light on a White House statement warning his regime would pay a “heavy price” for using chemical attacks on the Syrian people. Louisa Loveluck, Dan Lamothe and Ellen Nakashima report: The White House statement Monday night indicated publicly for the first time that the Syrian army still possessed the capacity to launch chemical attacks on rebel-held areas of the country. On Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman said the activity was centered at least in part on an aircraft hangar at Syria’s central Shayrat air base, which in April was hit by U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles in a barrage of airstrikes. This week, satellite imagery showed a Syrian aircraft parked near a building “associated with chemical weapons” at the base.

“U.S. military officials declined to say what kind of chemical weapons may be at Shayrat now, or how they were observed. Speaking to the [AP], Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister for national reconciliation, denied that Assad’s government possesses chemical weapons and accused the White House of releasing its [statement] as part of a ‘diplomatic battle’ against Syria at the U.N.” Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told lawmakers in Washington that Monday’s late-night White House statement  was a “direct warning” to Assad’s regime: “It is very much letting them know we are not going to give you a pass on killing men, women and children,” Haley said. Asked whether the focus on Assad’s targeting of civilians represents a widening of the U.S. mission in fighting terrorism in Syria and Iraq, Haley replied: “I don’t think we have to pick one or the other.”

— Trump’s ominous message Monday night to Syria was crafted by a tight circle of his security officials, who wrote the language in a “fast-moving effort” hours after the president received the new intelligence. Politico’s Annie Karni and Nahal Toosi have more: “[Trump’s] blunt, public warning … was cobbled together in a series of hurried discussions, squeezed in between meetings … and kept among a small, tight circle of top officials. [James Mattis and Rex Tillerson] both arrived at the White House late Monday afternoon [and upon their arrival] … were informed of Trump’s plan to issue a public warning to [Assad]. H.R. McMaster … had already been briefed and had weighed in on the plan … But no stand-alone principals meeting followed to discuss the intelligence, which Trump received Monday morning … Rather, over the course of the day, officials said, McMaster, Mattis, Tillerson and a few other top officials had the opportunity to ‘work the language’ of the statement, in between meetings with Modi. None of them expressed any hesitation or disagreement … But a Defense Department official acknowledged that the events were ‘fast-moving’ and that there were minimal deliberations about the bold move …’”

South Korean protesters march toward the U.S. embassy in Seoul during a rally against the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system. (Jung Yeon-Je/Getty Images)


— South Korean President Moon Jae-in is coming to the United States to meet with Trump for the first time this week – but the summit is shaping up to be a challenging one, as both leaders hold sharply divergent approaches to dealing with North Korea and the deployment of an American antimissile system.Anna Fifield reports: “’The summit should really be about drawing the big picture, but instead they will be focusing on areas of potential friction,’ said James Kim, a specialist in U.S.-South Korea relations … ‘A lot will hinge on how the two leaders get along and the chemistry between them.’ Moon … has been doing his best to appear conciliatory … But his message was muddied when one of his top advisers delivered a very different statement in Washington. If North Korea suspends its nuclear and missile activities, then Moon would ask the U.S. to scale back its joint military exercises with South Korea, Moon Chung-in, [one of Moon’s advisers], said at the Wilson Center …” Moon’s administration later tried to distance itself from the remarks, but it may have fueled Washington’s worst fears about his “sunshine policy” of engagement with Pyongyang.

Meanwhile, Trump’s nascent administration has espoused a “maximum pressure” approach toward North Korea in an attempt to make it abandon its nuclear weapons program. Pressure to stay tough is likely to increase after the death of Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old detainee who was released to the United States in a coma earlier this month. “Now, despite their political and policy differences, much will depend on how Trump, who places a premium on personal rapport, and Moon get along.  With this in mind, the Moon administration has sent emissaries to Washington to learn how [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe] got into Trump’s good graces and to discover the pitfalls he needs to avoid.” One of Moon’s aides has suggested that the pair will get along well: “Trump doesn’t like flamboyant characters like himself,” he said. “They are yin and yang.”

— The State Department issued its formal downgrading of China yesterday on its record of sex trafficking and forced labor. Carol Morello reports: “China was dropped one notch on a watch list to Tier 3, the lowest ranking, in the State Department’s annual human trafficking report. The report said China had made no meaningful efforts to curb forced labor and human trafficking, and suggested the country had backslid by decreasing law enforcement efforts … [Rex] Tillerson said one reason for China’s downgrade in this year’s report was ‘because it has not taken serious steps in its own complicity in trafficking, including forced labor from North Korea.’ China took umbrage at being lumped in the same category as North Korea and Syria.”

— White House officials are saying that the president has grown increasingly frustrated with China’s lack of action against North Korea and may now punish them through trade regulation. Reuters’ Steve Holland reports: “The officials said Trump was looking at options including tariffs on steel imports, which Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross already has said he is considering as part of a national security study of the U.S. steel industry. Whether Trump would take any steps against China remains unclear. The officials said there was no consensus on the way forward with China and they did not say what other options were being studied. No decision was expected this week.”

— The Trump administration is also considering a harsher stance against Pakistan. Reuters’ Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali report:Potential Trump administration responses being discussed include expanding U.S. drone strikes, redirecting or withholding some aid to Pakistan and perhaps eventually downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, the two officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Other U.S. officials are skeptical of the prospects for success, arguing that years of previous U.S. efforts to curb Pakistan’s support for militant groups have failed, and that already strengthening U.S. ties to India, Pakistan’s arch-enemy, undermine chances of a breakthrough with Islamabad. U.S. officials say generally they seek greater cooperation with Pakistan, not a rupture in ties, once the administration finishes a regional review, due by mid-July, of the strategy guiding the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.”

— French President Emmanuel Macron has invited Trump to Paris for Bastille Day in July. The New York Times’ Aurelien Breeden reports: “It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Trump would accept the invitation, which was also extended to his wife, Melania, according to a statement from the Élysée Palace. But the traditional military parade in Paris on this Bastille Day, July 14, will also commemorate the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I to fight alongside the French, British and other Allies.”

David Ignatius argues in his column today that countries around the world are following Trump’s lead in adopting a “me first” philosophy in diplomatic relations: “The politics of national self-interest is on steroids these days. For global leaders, it’s the ‘me’ moment. The nearly universal slogan among countries that might once have acted with more restraint seems to be: ‘Go for it.’ The prime catalyst of this global movement of self-assertion is, obviously, President Trump. From early in his 2016 campaign, he proclaimed his vision of ‘America first’ in which the interests of the United States and its companies and workers would prevail over international obligations … Nobody wants to seem like a chump in Trump world. When the leader of the global system proclaims that he won’t be bound by foreign restraints, the spirit becomes infectious. Call the global zeitgeist what you will: The new realism. Eyes on the prize. Winning isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only thing.”

— Congress’s attempt to pass new sanctions on Russia and Iran has hit yet another snag. Karoun Demirjian reports: “Some lawmakers are expressing new concerns over the breadth of energy sanctions in the legislation. Oil industry executives and some foreign diplomats are prodding them to water down the measure … Aides in both parties describe behind-the-scenes worries over a change to a 2014 prohibition against U.S. companies participating in oil development ventures on Russian territory. The bill broadens that to restrict participation in any potential oil production project, anywhere, in which a Russian energy company is involved. The change has the oil industry raising an alarm — and energy state representatives voicing 11th hour concerns … The second guessing around the bill’s energy provisions is an added inconvenience to negotiators like Corker, who were expecting the Senate’s overwhelming vote to propel the legislation through the House with strong enough majorities to overcome any threat of a veto.”

— Key decision-makers in the blockade of Qatar by Persian Gulf states converged in Washington yesterday to discuss the diplomatic battle. Karen DeYoung reports: “Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just days after his government dismissed a list of demands from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt as an illegal attempt to limit Qatar’s sovereignty and control its foreign policy. As Thani and Tillerson conferred behind closed doors at the State Department, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters at his country’s embassy here that the demands were nonnegotiable … While some gulf officials have privately said there is room for negotiation in the non-terrorism demands, the public position of their governments remains unyielding.”

Boys play on a border division between Mexico and the United States in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Herika Martinez/Getty Images)


— A U.S. Customs and Border Protection official said Tuesday that the agency plans to select four to eight firms in the coming weeks to build prototypes for Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. Tracy Jan reports: “The prototypes — including a reinforced concrete barrier wall as well as one made of an alternative material with see-through capability — will be built in San Diego. [The official, Ronald Vitiello], said Tuesday that the agency has entered the second phase in evaluating contract proposals [and firms are expected to complete construction by September]. He would not say how many companies are in contention, but said it was a ‘substantial group.’  ‘We are on schedule,’ Vitiello said … [He] acknowledged that there are at least 130 miles along the border where a wall would be impractical, because of natural barriers such as lakes, rivers and a mountain range.  Among the immediate priorities will be replacing 14 miles of fencing in San Diego, 20 miles of vehicle barriers in El Paso, and installing 35 new gates in the Rio Grande Valley …”

— A Detroit federal judge temporarily halted the deportations of more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals nationwide, issuing a stay of removal for a people who advocates say could face persecution, torture and death upon returning to their native country.Samantha Schmidt and Abigail Hauslohner report: “The order comes days after [U.S. District Judge Mark] Goldsmith halted the deportations of at least 114 Iraqis — most of them Chaldean Christians — in the Detroit area. Monday’s decision expands the order nationwide — against the government’s wishes — and affects potential deportees living in numerous states, including Tennessee and New Mexico. The removal orders stem from sweeping raids earlier this month in which [ICE] arrested dozens of Iraqis across the country. The raids also followed a recent deal between Iraq and the Trump administration … In an effort to remove itself from [Trump’s] travel ban, Iraq agreed to begin accepting Iraqi nationals subject to removal even if they don’t have travel documents.”

— Following the Supreme Court’s decision to allow a scaled-back version of the travel ban, the administration must figure out its own next steps on the controversial executive order. Matt Zapotosky reports: “The U.S. already has stepped up vetting of foreigners, having consular officers around the world ask visa applicants for their social media handles and requiring applicants to list 15 years of travel history, including the source of funding for their trips. Trump’s travel ban, though, contemplates even more-restrictive measures, and the president himself has, counter to the representation of Justice Department lawyers, suggested that the measure is not a mere ‘pause’ for assessment … The court’s decision did not offer finality. Although the justices partially lifted lower courts’ injunctions on Trump’s ban, they said they would take up the case fully in their October term … By the time the court hears the case, the landscape almost certainly will have shifted.”

— Speaking of the Supreme Court, the justices’ decision to allow Missouri’s Trinity Lutheran church access to a federal grant for playground resurfacing has school voucher supporters cheering. Emma Brown reports: “[Voucher advocates called] the decision a first step toward an end to state bans on using public money to pay tuition at parochial schools … Voucher opponents said they were disappointed by the court’s decision to allow public money to go to a religious facility, saying it chipped away at the separation of church and state. But they emphasized that the court’s majority opinion was narrowly written and does not broach questions about whether taxpayer dollars may be used for religious purposes such as religious education … The Supreme Court’s decision in the Trinity Lutheran case ‘marks a great day for the Constitution and sends a clear message that religious discrimination in any form cannot be tolerated in a society that values the First Amendment,’ Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime proponent of voucher programs, said in a statement.”

— The administration has decided to revoke a rule that allowed the EPA wide discretion over regulating water pollution. Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin report: “Testifying before Congress, [EPA Administrator Scott] Pruitt — who earlier said he would recuse himself from working on active litigation related to the rule — said that the agency would ‘provide clarity’ by ‘withdrawing’ the rule and reverting standards to those adopted in 2008 … A withdrawal was expected, based on the executive order Trump signed in February targeting the rule. But this is the first clear signal of how the EPA will act on the president’s order … The administration’s push to revoke the rule has sparked nearly 500,000 public comments, many of which urge the federal government to preserve the existing regulation.

— Shortly before reversing the agency’s recommendation of a ban on a pesticide shown to harm children’s brains, Pruitt met with the chief executive of Dow Chemical. AP’s Michael Biesecker reports: “Pruitt’s schedule shows he met with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris on March 9 for about a half hour at a Houston hotel. Both men were featured speakers at an energy industry conference. Twenty days later Pruitt announced his decision to deny a petition to ban Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide from being sprayed on food, despite a review by his agency’s scientists that concluded ingesting even minuscule amounts of the chemical can interfere with the brain development of fetuses and infants.”

— House Republicans still cannot reach a consensus on a 2018 fiscal budget resolution. Mike DeBonis reports: “Passing a budget is about much more than next year’s spending for GOP lawmakers. It also sets the stage for special budget procedures — known as reconciliation instructions — that will allow Republicans to pass major legislation without a filibuster from Senate Democrats. But even the promise of tax reform and long-term spending cuts has not yet been enough to bring a fractious group of House Republicans together … [A] thorny issue has derailed the talks: how much entitlement spending to trim from the federal budget over the coming decade. Most Budget Committee Republicans are prepared to trim $200 billion from the federal budget over 10 years, but hard-line conservatives are pushing for even more cuts to federal spending that now totals roughly $4 trillion a year.


— Government agencies continue to be severely understaffed five months into the Trump presidency. Kevin Uhrmacher reports: “In the all-important State Department, the Senate has confirmed only one-third of positions that President Barack Obama had at the same point in his presidency. And that’s not because, as Trump claims, Senate Democrats are blocking his nominees … Trump is way behind other recent presidents in nominating people for the Senate to vote on. The State Department is more settled than other major federal agencies. In more than half of Trump’s 15 primary executive departments, only one Trump appointee has been confirmed: the secretary who heads the agency.”

— The White House is making some attempts to address their understaffing problem: Chris Campbell, staff director for Senate Finance Committee Republicans, has been tapped to serve as the Treasury’s assistant secretary for financial institutions. Politico’s Ben White reports: “The job is among the most critical at Treasury as the department, led by Steven Mnuchin, tries to push forward some of Trump’s signature goals, including a major tax reform package and sweeping changes to Wall Street regulations. Treasury also faces the need to raise the nation’s borrowing limit in the coming months to avoid a potentially catastrophic default. But Campbell’s departure is bound to raise new questions about the prospects for overhauling the tax code, as well as the future of Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, 83, who has discussed retiring.

Trump adviser and hedge fund executive Anthony Scaramucci has been named chief strategy officer of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Reuters reports: “Scaramucci, a Republican fundraiser, has been working at the Washington-based bank since the middle of June and also remains in consideration to become ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”

— Trump is also behind on ambassadorship nominations in comparison to other administrations. Politico’s Nancy Cook and Nahal Toosi report: “So far, Trump has nominated 20 ambassadors, with six confirmed, including the ambassador to the United Nations … By this point in their first terms, President Barack Obama had nominated 40 ambassadors with three confirmed excluding the U.N. ambassador, while President George W. Bush had nominated 27, with three confirmed … The Trump administration is taking 77 days on average to confirm ambassadors to countries, while Obama nominees 26 days and Bush’s 11.”


— Despite this week’s deluge of breaking news, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spent time at yesterday’s White House briefing to lambaste the media in general and CNN in particular for its recent retraction. Abby Phillip reports: “Sanders spent nearly two minutes in an uninterrupted answer — her first of the briefing — calling into question CNN’s credibility, although she did not name the network … She later criticized news outlets, which she claimed reported stories based on anonymous sources, of having ‘no sources at all’ … In all, the criticism against the media ate up nearly five minutes of a 17-minute question-and-answer session by the spokeswoman … Reporters had already sat through a 40-minute briefing by Energy Secretary Rick Perry about the White House’s ‘energy week.’”

— Sanders’ attack was harsh enough to spark objection from a Breitbart News report. Callum Borchers reports: “‘Does the president actually expect us not to report on stories of a foreign country trying to influence the presidential election?’ Charlie Spiering asked. Sanders unapologetically continued … After several minutes, one journalist in the room seemingly couldn’t take it anymore. ‘Come on,’ interjected Brian J. Karem, a reporter for the Sentinel newspapers in Maryland. ‘You’re inflaming everybody right here, right now with those words.’ He continued: … ‘We’re here to ask you questions. You’re here to provide the answers. And what you just did is inflammatory to people all over the country who look at it and say, “See, once again, the president is right, and everybody else out here is fake media.” And everybody in this room is only trying to do their job.’”

— During her criticism of “fake news,” Sanders cited a journalist who has been criticized for his journalistic methods. Aaron Blake writes: “In the span of a few seconds, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attacked the media for inaccuracies and then turned around and urged them to watch a new video from conservative undercover video journalist James O’Keefe, who has stood accused of deceptive editing and tactics. Huckabee Sanders even qualified — twice — that she couldn’t vouch for the accuracy of O’Keefe’s new video. But she nonetheless said everyone should watch them … Citing O’Keefe fits well with a particularly long paper trail suggesting the White House’s accuracy crusade is hopelessly one-sided and self-serving.”

— The deputy press secretary’s logic in attacking CNN reflects that of her boss, who repeatedlytweetedabout the retraction yesterday. Philip Bump writes: “[Trump’s] career — part salesman, part showman, part hustler — taught him a key lesson that, as it turns out, was as effective against the media as an IED could be against a military caravan: Never admit you’re wrong … But simply by refusing ever to admit he was wrong — by consistently and fervently insisting that, in fact, he was right — Trump built a stunningly robust defense against anyone claiming otherwise … CNN’s admission of error is, in their articulation, an admission that everything CNN does is suspect. It’s proof CNN is flawed and, therefore, it is broadly definable as ‘fake news.’”

— The retraction could not have come at a worse moment for CNN and the media industry more generally. Paul Farhi writes: “The Scaramucci story was another ill-timed setback for CNN, which like other news organizations is under intense scrutiny from Trump and his supporters. The highly charged environment has led CNN Chairman Jeff Zucker to stress internally the need to ‘play error-free ball’ in reporting on Trump.”

The fake 2009 Time magazine cover hanging at the Trump National Doral Miami Golf Shop. (Angel Valentin For The Washington Post)


David Fahrenthold’s must read story reveals Trump’s very own brand of “fake news” — featuring himself: “The framed copy of Time magazine was hung up in at least five of [Trump’s] clubs, from South Florida to Scotland. Filling the entire cover was a photo of Trump. ‘Donald Trump: The ‘Apprentice’ is a television smash!’ the big headline said. ‘TRUMP IS HITTING ON ALL FRONTS … EVEN TV!’ [another read]. This cover — dated March 1, 2009 — looks like an impressive memento from Trump’s pre-presidential career. To club members … it seemed to be a signal that Trump had always been a man who mattered … the kind of star who got a cover story in time. But that wasn’t true. The Time cover is a fake. So how did Trump — who spent an entire campaign and much of his presidency accusing the mainstream media of producing ‘fake news’ — wind up decorating his properties with a literal piece of phony journalism? The Trump Organization did not respond to questions … [But] at 5 p.m. Tuesday, a [spokeswoman] said that the magazine had asked the Trump Organization to remove the phony cover from the walls where it was on display.”

— The decision to fake a Time cover seems an unnecessary one for Trump, who has appeared on 14 actual Time covers — but not all of them have been very flattering to the president. Callum Borchers writes: “13 of Trump’s real covers have been published in the past two years, since he entered politics. His other cover is from 1989. So, Trump was at least 20 years into a 26-year drought when the phony cover was created [in 2009] … Perhaps he was looking for something more current to adorn his club walls … Among the real Time covers, many portray Trump in an unflattering light, and even the positive ones are pretty restrained. Trump, a loyal Page Six reader who has suggested that the National Enquirer deserved a Pulitzer, prefers a more effusive, tabloidy style. Thus the fake cover bears headlines that would never grace a real issue of Time: ‘Donald Trump: The “Apprentice” is a television smash!’”

— Meanwhile, the Trump Organization will receive millions of dollars to release the owner of a Toronto hotel complex from using his name, Bloomberg’s Katia Dmitrieva reports: “JCF Capital ULC, the closely held U.S. firm that owns the Trump International Hotel & Tower in the city’s downtown business district, reached a buyout deal to exit the contracts with the Trump Organization’s hotel unit, the companies said Tuesday in a statement. While no breakup fee was disclosed, the amount was at least $6 million … Signage may be removed from the 65-story tower as soon as Aug. 1 … The agreement to remove the U.S. president’s brand marks the first step toward revamping the property, which has faced a history of construction delays and lawsuits. Most recently, it’s been a site for protests against [Trump’s] comments …”

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch pauses with Chief Justice John Roberts outside the U.S. Supreme Court. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)


— “Gorsuch asserts himself early as force on Supreme Court’s right,” by Robert Barnes: “If the Supreme Court’s compromise decision Monday on the travel ban grabbed the headlines on the court’s final day, those who study the court were at least as focused on what they could learn about the 49-year-old Coloradan chosen by Trump to fill the seat of the late Antonin Scalia … The bottom line, according to most accounts, is that Gorsuch is a Scalia 2.0, perhaps further to the right … The views he expressed on the final day came in dissents or concurrences he wrote or joined with other justices. He has sided far more frequently with Justice Clarence Thomas on the court’s far right than with [Chief Justice John] Roberts, closer to the center … [Roberts] seems positioned to become the court’s pivotal justice in the future.”

— “Maine tried to raise its minimum wage. Restaurant workers didn’t want it,” by Caitlin Dewey: “As the Maine House voted on a bill to reduce the minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers, Jason Buckwalter and a dozen fellow servers huddled in a back room listening to the vote call at the Bangor steakhouse where they work. They all hoped to hear one thing: that state legislators had voted to lower their wages. Some cried with relief, Buckwalter said, when the final vote ended at 110-37 — overwhelmingly in their favor. The vote, which took place on June 13, marked the conclusion of a months-long political saga that has upended conventional wisdom about the minimum wage. [In] Maine, servers actively campaigned to overturn the results of a November referendum raising servers’ salaries from $3.75 in 2016 to $12 by 2024,  saying it would cause customers to tip less and actually reduce their take-home income. The servers’ campaign against increasing the minimum wage was a blow to labor activists, who believed the Maine referendum could kick off similar votes in places such as New York, Massachusetts and D.C. Instead, some servers in those places are already mobilizing against a higher salary.”

— “Last year, June was National Pride Month. This year, it isn’t,” by Philip Bump: “Starting in 2009 and for the next seven years, Obama declared June as National LGBT Pride Month, recognizing gay people and calling ‘to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people.’ In 2017, it isn’t. Pride Month is one of four Obama-era proclamations that President Trump declined to continue. The other three that Trump didn’t continue? National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, National Building Safety Month and National Colorectal Cancer Month — although that last observance was only added in Obama’s second term.”


The president lashed out again at the “fake news media” on Twitter this morning, but this time CNN was not the target:

The failing @nytimes writes false story after false story about me. They don’t even call to verify the facts of a story. A Fake News Joke!

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

Some of the Fake News Media likes to say that I am not totally engaged in healthcare. Wrong, I know the subject well & want victory for U.S.

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

The president blamed Democrats for the health-care bill’s stumbles:

With ZERO Democrats to help, and a failed, expensive and dangerous ObamaCare as the Dems legacy, the Republican Senators are working hard!

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

From Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.):

You invited ZERO Democrats to your White House meeting today.

— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) June 27, 2017

House Speaker Ryan recognized disabled veterans:

America’s disabled veterans deserve the best care in the world. Congress and the @WhiteHouse are committed to making sure they get it.

— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) June 26, 2017

A veteran and Democratic member of Congress hit back:

Unless they need Medicaid.

— Ruben Gallego (@RubenGallego) June 27, 2017

Two moderate Republican senators talked among themselves at the health-care meeting:

Best picture from the Trump health care meeting?

— Tim Hogan (@timjhogan) June 27, 2017

Close second…

— Tim Hogan (@timjhogan) June 27, 2017

From a Republican strategist on the pro-Trump super PAC’s attack ads against Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.):

Donald Trump is attacking Republicans.

Let that sink in, you supine cowards in Congress.

It’s only a matter of time for you, too.

— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) June 27, 2017

Sen. Bernie Sanders responded to the ongoing FBI investigation into his wife Jane’s leadership of the now-defunct Burlington College:

BERNIE SANDERS breaks his silence on FBI inquiry, asserts to @ErinBurnett it’s a politically motivated, “pathetic” attack against his wife

— Manu Raju (@mkraju) June 27, 2017

All politicians hate investigations. All cry “political motivation.” Democrat, republican, socialist, whig. Oldest & lamest play in the book

— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) June 28, 2017

The intel community appears to have been caught somewhat off-guard by the administration’s announcement yesterday about a potential threat in Syria:

5 US defense, military & intel officials tell NBC News they were caught off guard by the White House Assad statement

— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) June 27, 2017

From Obama’s foreign policy adviser:

This is astonishing. Hard to overstate how bizarre it is to publicly threaten to bomb another country without a process with State and DoD

— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) June 27, 2017

A CNN reporter criticized Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s press briefing yesterday:

Does this feel like America? Where the White House takes q’s from conservatives, then openly trashes the news media in the briefing room.

— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) June 27, 2017

The president’s son responded:

Does it feel like America where one of the networks (@CNN) gives debate questions to their preferred candidate ahead of time?

— Eric Trump (@EricTrump) June 28, 2017

And on the energy secretary’s participation in the briefing:

Rick Perry is the only Trump aide who does not want to leave the press briefing podium

— Tom Namako (@TomNamako) June 27, 2017

From the assistant managing editor of the conservative blog RedState, regarding the CNN resignations over their retraction:

When do the resignations for pushing the Seth Rich conspiracy happen?

— Jay Caruso (@JayCaruso) June 27, 2017

From a New York Times reporter:

Many of the pro-Trump pundits and bloggers mocking CNN’s retraction today wouldn’t dream of holding themselves to the same high standard.

— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) June 27, 2017

New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins’s investment advice went south:

!!! Biotech stock @RepChrisCollins was pitching to GOP lawmakers in the Capitol plunges 92% after drug trial failure

— Scott Wong (@scottwongDC) June 27, 2017

In response to the fake Time cover hanging in some Trump properties:

Cut @realDonaldTrump some slack. Weren’t we all Person of the Year in 2006?:

— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) June 27, 2017

Put yourself on the cover of SI. We won’t tell anyone it’s fake 😉

— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) June 27, 2017

From a Virginia representative:

Wow, my first cover of Time. Asked my staff to frame this and hang it in all four of my offices. @realDonaldTrump

— Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) June 27, 2017

While on the phone with the prime minister, Trump called over an Irish journalist and mentioned her “nice smile”:

Video of the bizarre moment when President @realDonaldTrump called me over during his call with Taoiseach @campaignforLeo Varadkar.

— Caitriona Perry (@CaitrionaPerry) June 27, 2017

This 2010 Photoshop tutorial, showing how to fake a Time cover, includes a sample barcode. Same code on Trump’s fake

— David Fahrenthold (@Fahrenthold) June 27, 2017

The president had a phone call with the prime minister of Ireland:

Pres pool watched Pres Trump on hold for at least 90 seconds waiting for the new Irish Prime Minister to pick up.

— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) June 27, 2017

Regarding Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s request for a D.C. housing stipend:

Jason should buy fewer iPhones. Maybe that’d help.

— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) June 27, 2017

A “Hunger Games” fan visited Capitol Hill:

Overheard on the 3rd floor of the Senate side of the Capitol, 7pm: someone whistling the mockingjay call from Hunger Games

— Kelsey Snell (@kelsey_snell) June 27, 2017

Vladimir Putin speaks with Megyn Kelly during an interview on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. (Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters) 


— Vanity Fair, “Can Megyn Kelly outrun her NBC ‘nightmare’?” by Sarah Ellison: “The week between the debut of the Jones promo and the actual interview became, on some level, a microcosm of the problem that many media observers predicted when Kelly joined NBC in January for a reported $17.5 million per year. During her time at Fox News, Kelly acquired the nickname ‘Me-Again’ on account of a perceived ability to put herself in the center of affairs. And as the [Alex] Jones P.R. crisis festered, her new colleagues at NBC appeared to be sucked into her latest headline. Sunday Night hustled to produce the segment through the weekend. Visitors to the studio would see chairs labeled “leave in place” for Kelly’s staff. Kelly’s staff had to work on ‘four hours of sleep a night,’ a person familiar with the situation told me. As scrutiny mounted, Kelly‘s staff had been living a ‘nightmare,’ this person said …”

— The New Yorker, “The Gay Men Who Fled Chechnya’s Purge,” by Masha Gessen: “Many of the men caught up in the sweep are married. There is no blueprint for being gay in Chechnya—most of the men I interviewed talked about times when they were convinced that there were no other gay men in their land—and the pressure to marry and have children is immense. In reality, [Chechnya] is a state within a state … a more extreme version of Russia: a mafia state that uses religious rhetoric to enforce control over its citizens. [But] families also act as enforcers of ever more brutally interpreted traditional law. Family members carry out so-called honor killings of women who are perceived to have transgressed by having inappropriate contact with men, and they will murder men who have brought shame upon the clan. Nokhcho told me, ‘If my family found out … And I’m not just talking about men—I mean, there are women in my family who would kill me.’”

— The Atlantic, “How One Pastor Is Bridging the Partisan Divide,” by Yoni Appelbaum: “[Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton] wanted to challenge his congregants to address pressing social challenges, despite [partisan] divisions. So Hamilton teamed up with a local TV news station [who] created segments to be aired at the church, which Hamilton would then discuss with his congregants. One of the first dealt with the struggles of Kansas City’s public schools … ‘You could feel the discomfort in the room, because our folks lived in the suburbs with the best school systems,’ he recalled. ‘Do you think God cares about the 32,000 children, or the teachers?’ Hamilton asked his congregants. ‘And if he doesn’t, what do you think God cares about?’ They passed around the offering plates. But instead of asking for donations, Hamilton used them to distribute postcards with the contact information of teachers and administrators, urging congregants to reach out to them and offer help. Today, the church gives more than half a million in donations every year to six area elementary schools, and supports a variety of tutoring and enrichment programs …”

— The Sacramento Bee, “How Donald Trump is killing romance,” by Angela Hart: “Since his election, the president has become a new measure of compatibility – much like someone’s age, religion, wanting kids or simply finding things in common. Dating, online and off, is more supercharged with politics than it’s ever been, said online dating experts who specialize in matchmaking. ‘His presidency has created this new deal-breaker,’ said Laurie Davis Edwards, a relationship coach … ‘I’ve never seen it like this before, where people say ‘no’ to Trump supporters, or they only want to date other Trump supporters,’ she said. ‘It tells me that people are valuing politics much higher as a preference than they were before.’”


“An ICE agent visited a restaurant. About 30 employees quit the next day …” from Tim Carman and Avi Selk: “The co-owner of a dockside Baltimore restaurant has revealed that nearly his entire kitchen staff resigned after an [ICE] agent demanded their papers in the latest example of the national debate over immigration. In an open letter to his customers Saturday, BoatHouse Canton owner Gene Singleton blamed the Trump administration ‘for targeting the Hispanic community.’ So now the restaurant is short 30 workers, with the remaining staff working double shifts and the departed seeking help from an immigrant advocacy agency. ‘Properly documented and potentially less than properly documented are all fearful of being separated from their families, many with small children,’ Singleton wrote in a Facebook post Saturday, a day after their departure. ‘Many went home to pack up and leave.’ They were, Singleton told [The Post], ‘some of the best citizens we have.’”



“Fallon Snaps Colbert’s 5-Month Winning Streak,” from The Hollywood Reporter: “It was bound to happen eventually. The tight audience battle between Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon tipped back in NBC’s favor last week. With an abbreviated average, on account of CBS excluding Thursday and Friday repeats, NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon averaged a slim 34,000 viewers more than CBS’ The Late Show With Stephen Colbert for the week. That’s the first time since the week of Jan. 30 — read: the Trump inauguration — that NBC has posted such an advantage. Late Show has won the total viewer race for the five months since.”


President Trump will lead an energy roundtable in the morning before greeting the 2016 World Series-winning Chicago Cubs in the afternoon. He will later meet with “immigration crime victims” and give a speech at his own D.C. hotel for the RNC dinner.

Vice President Pence will spend the day in Cleveland, visiting a metal fabrication company and delivering a speech on health care and the economy. 


Republican Rep. Steve Womack (Ark.) on his caucus’s inability to pass a budget resolution: “It’s almost like we’re serving in the minority right now … We just simply don’t know how to govern.”


— D.C. will have another gorgeous day, before intense heat returns this weekend. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “It doesn’t get much better than this for late June. High pressure dominates today, providing mostly sunny skies and low humidity (dew points in the upper 40s to near 50). Temperatures reach comfortably warm highs in the low 80s with light winds.”

— The Nationals bested the Cubs 6-1, largely thanks to a superb pitching performance by Max Scherzer, Jorge Castillo reports.  

— Maryland education officials will bring on an independent investigator to look into claims that the Prince George’s County school system inflated graduation rates, Donna St. George reports

— Two people died when they were struck by an Amtrak train in Northeast D.C. late last night, Martin Weil reports

— Theodore Roosevelt Island has fallen prey to some nasty insects. Martin Weil reports: “The National Park Service said Monday that it was closing the 88-acre island temporarily to remove trees that have already fallen prey to the invader, an insect no more than a half-inch long, called the emerald ash borer. A recent survey has found extensive tree damage, the park service said. Damaged trees along the island’s many trails pose a hazard, the agency said, and it has contracted for services to help park service personnel get them out and reopen sections of the park quickly.”


Stephen Colbert warned that if Senate Republicans don’t pass their health-care bill now, “there is a serious danger that someone might read it”:

[embedded content]

Seth Meyers explored Trump’s views on private prisons:

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A former Republican congressman explained why he came around to Obamacare:

Fmr. GOP Rep. David Jolly was once anti-Obamacare, until he found himself unemployed with a pre-existing condition.

— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) June 27, 2017

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said that he didn’t think the health-care fight was over:

Supporters of Planned Parenthood protested the Senate health-care bill on Capitol Hill, and some even donned Handmaid’s Tale garb:

The Post’s Callum Borchers explains why CNN had to retract a story related to the Russia investigations:

The Post’s David Fahrenthold breaks down the fake Time cover decorating the walls of some Trump properties:

Joe Biden recounted his experience of being the only white lifeguard in 1962 at his local pool, which was just renamed in his honor:

A new report addressed a crucial issue: which states have the fattest pets:

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Police in Helicopter Attack Venezuela’s Top Court, Dropping Grenades – New York Times

A rogue faction of the Venezuelan police attacked the country’s Supreme Court in Caracas on Tuesday, dropping grenades from a helicopter, Venezuelan government officials said. It was a rare uprising by government personnel in a country that has been on edge from mass protests and economic crises.

A video shot from a window and posted on Twitter shows a helicopter swooping in a circle around a building as explosions are heard.

Another video posted on social media on Tuesday showed a uniformed man identified as Oscar Pérez, flanked by masked, heavily armed men dressed in uniforms, taking responsibility for the operation. The speaker said he represented a coalition of military, police and civilian personnel who opposed what he called “this transitional, criminal government.”

“We are nationalists, patriots and institutionalists,” the man said. “This fight is not against other state security forces. It is against the impunity imposed by this government. It is against tyranny. It is against the death of young people fighting for their legitimate rights.”

It was not clear where the attackers were on Tuesday night or how much support, if any, they had. It could not be determined whether the attack resulted in casualties.

Elsewhere in Caracas, opposition members of Parliament said they were being besieged by armed government supporters.

Ernesto Villegas, Venezuela’s minister of communication and information, said on national television that President Nicolás Maduro had been briefed on “an act of violence” launched from a helicopter that belongs to a law enforcement agency.

Mr. Villegas characterized the event as an “uprising against the republic, the Constitution.”

Mr. Maduro condemned the attack in a televised address, calling it part of a “coup plot.”

He said the assailants launched grenades, including one that did not explode, while a “social event” was taking place in the court complex. He said the gunmen shot from the helicopter into offices and then flew over the building. “They could have left several dozen deaths,” he said. The president said he had “activated the entire national armed forces to defend people’s right to serenity.”

Mr. Maduro said, “Sooner or later we will capture the helicopter and those who have committed this armed attack.” His remark suggested the assailants were at large and in control of the aircraft.

Venezuela has been rattled for weeks by protests against the government, some of which have turned violent. It has resorted to increasingly heavy-handed tactics, including torture, to beat back demonstrations, according to accounts by detained demonstrators and human rights activists.

The turmoil has created rifts in the governing party, most notably the defection of the attorney general, Luisa Ortega, who broke ranks with Mr. Maduro in March. She accused him of trampling on constitutional norms after the Supreme Court, which is packed with government loyalists, issued a ruling significantly weakening the powers of the opposition-dominated Parliament.

For more than two years, Venezuelans have been reeling from the country’s worst economic crisis in generations. The price of oil, which long bolstered the economy and paid for social programs, has plummeted. Inflation is at record levels, and supermarket shelves are empty.

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On Senate Health Bill, Trump Falters in the Closer’s Role – New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump began his all-hands meeting with Republican senators at the White House on Tuesday by saying they were “very close” to passing a health care bill, just as efforts to fast-track a vote this week collapsed.

If Republicans do manage to broker a deal — as Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, pledged to do during a lively East Room back-and-forth with the president — it is not likely to be because of Mr. Trump’s involvement. Until Tuesday afternoon, the president was largely on the sidelines as the fate of one of his most important campaign pledges played out.

Mr. McConnell, who kept the president at a polite arm’s length while he oversaw negotiations over the bill, asked Mr. Trump to arrange the meeting with all 52 Republican senators during a morning phone call, in part to show senators the White House was in fact fully engaged, according to two people with knowledge of the call.

When asked by reporters clustered on the blacktop outside the West Wing if Mr. Trump had command of the details of the negotiations, Mr. McConnell ignored the question and smiled blandly.

Mr. Trump and his staff played a critical role in persuading House Republicans to pass health care legislation in May, with the president personally calling dozens of wavering House members. But the Trump team’s heavy-handed tactics have been ineffective in the Senate, and White House officials determined that deploying Vice President Mike Pence, a former congressman with deep ties to many in the Senate, was a better bet than unleashing Mr. Trump on the half-dozen Republicans who will determine the fate of the Senate bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Trump, who is fond of telling friends he is a “closer,” became more involved over the past few days, reaching out to a few reluctant conservatives like Senators Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who emerged from an Oval Office meeting on Monday saying he was more optimistic about getting to a yes.

“The White House has been very involved in these discussions,” Mr. McConnell said in announcing that a vote on the bill was postponed until after the Fourth of July recess. “They’re very anxious to help.”

Yet over the past few weeks, the Senate Republican leadership has made it known that it would much rather negotiate with Mr. Pence than a president whose candidacy many did not even take seriously during the 2016 primaries. And some of the White House’s efforts have clearly been counterproductive.

Over the weekend, Mr. McConnell made clear his unhappiness to the White House after a “super PAC” aligned with Mr. Trump started an ad campaign against Senator Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, after he said last week that he opposed the health care bill.

The majority leader — already rankled by Mr. Trump’s tweets goading him to change Senate rules to scuttle Democratic filibusters — called the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to complain that the attacks were “beyond stupid,” according to two Republicans with knowledge of the tense exchange.

Mr. McConnell, who has been toiling for weeks, mostly in private, to put together a measure that would satisfy hard-liners and moderates, told Mr. Priebus in his call that the assault by the group, America First, not only jeopardized the bill’s prospects but also imperiled Mr. Heller’s already difficult path to re-election.

Mr. McConnell and “several other” Republican senators expressed their irritation about the anti-Heller campaign during the White House meeting, according to two people, one of them a senator, who were present.

The move against Mr. Heller had the blessing of the White House, according to an official with America First, because Mr. Trump’s allies were furious that the senator would side with Nevada’s governor, Brian Sandoval, a Republican who accepted the Medicaid expansion under the health law and opposes the Republican overhaul, in criticizing the bill.

According to the senator, the president laughed good-naturedly at the complaint and signaled that he had received the message.

A few hours later, America First announced it was pausing its advertising assault against Mr. Heller, insisting it was doing so because of his willingness to come to the White House meeting with Mr. Trump.

America First was founded by a group of Mr. Trump’s loyalists — many of them with deep connections to Mr. Pence, including Nick Ayers, a Republican consultant who is regarded as the vice president’s top political adviser. The group compared Mr. Heller to Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, and vowed a seven-figure advertising campaign against him.

Mr. Heller, the only Senate Republican who will face voters next year in a state carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, is the top target for Democrats facing a Senate map with few opportunities in 2018. And there were already seven groups — a mix of health care advocacy organizations and more partisan Democratic efforts — on the air in Nevada assailing the Republican health care overhaul, according to a Republican ad buyer tracking the ad traffic.

Neither Mr. McConnell’s office nor his top outside political advisers were warned about an impending attack on one of their most endangered incumbents. “They didn’t check in with anybody,” said Josh Holmes, Mr. McConnell’s former chief of staff. “There was no clearing of channels, no heads-up, nothing.”

Republican senators across the ideological spectrum have indicated their unease with the health bill. But Mr. Trump has few ties with the group, and several Republicans who remain on the fence have tangled with Mr. Trump, either during the presidential campaign or since.

Top Trump lieutenants like Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, who lobbied members on the House bill, have been all but sidelined. Mr. Priebus has also played a much diminished role.

Mr. Pence has been far more active in seeking out Republican senators. Seema Verma, Mr. Pence’s former adviser in the Indiana Statehouse and now a top administration health care official, has also been trying to reassure senators that their states will have flexibility on Medicaid under the bill, while Mr. Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, now the White House legislative affairs director, has been quarterbacking the effort from his hideaway in the Capitol.

Until Tuesday’s meeting at the White House, Mr. Trump had spoken with only a few members of the Senate, according to an administration official. The pace was nothing like the dozens of calls he made to help pass the House’s health bill, aides said.

A senator who supports the bill left the meeting at the White House with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan — and seemed especially confused when a moderate Republican complained that opponents of the bill would cast it as a massive tax break for the wealthy, according to an aide who received a detailed readout of the exchange.

Mr. Trump said he planned to tackle tax reform later, ignoring the repeal’s tax implications, the staff member added.

After the meeting, Mr. Trump played the role of cheerleader on Twitter, encouraging his weary Republican allies to keep working.

“I just finished a great meeting with the Republican Senators concerning HealthCare,” he wrote. “They really want to get it right, unlike OCare!”

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Sarah Palin Sues The New York Times – HuffPost

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has sued The New York Times over an editorial she alleges defamed her by tying her to the 2011 shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, then a Democratic representative from Arizona.

Palin filed the complaint over an editorial the Times published this month following the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) at a baseball game in Virginia. Titled “America’s Lethal Politics,” the piece initially linked activity by Palin’s political action committee to another shooting in Arizona in 2011 that killed six people and injured Giffords and a dozen others. That link was never established, and the Times issued a correction and apologized on Twitter for the error. 

Palin’s suit alleges the initial editorial defamed her “by publishing a statement it knew to be false: that Mrs. Palin was responsible for inciting a mass shooting at a political event.” 

We published an editorial last night on the shooting at the G.O.P. men’s baseball team practice field in Alexandria.

— NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) June 15, 2017

We got an important fact wrong, incorrectly linking political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Giffords. No link was ever established.

— NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) June 15, 2017

Following the editorial’s publication, Palin blasted the Times’ actions as “sickening” and said the “media is doing exactly what I said … should not be done.” She had earlier said she was exploring legal options.

“Despite commenting as graciously as I could on media coverage of yesterday’s shooting, alas, today a perversely biased media’s knee-jerk blame game is attempting to destroy innocent people with lies and more fake news,” she wrote on Facebook after the Virginia shooting. “As I said yesterday, I’d hoped the media had collectively matured since the last attack on a Representative when media coverage spewed blatant lies about who was to blame. There’s been no improvement. The NYT has gotten worse.”

The Times on Tuesday told CNN’s Dylan Byers it had not reviewed the suit, but said it would “defend against any claim vigorously.”

.@NYTimes spox tells me they have not reviewed @SarahPalinUSA’s claim yet “but will defend against any claim vigorously.” Full story to come

— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) June 28, 2017

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Supreme Court to take case on baker who refused to sell wedding cake to gay couple – Washington Post

By ,

The Supreme Court on Monday said it will consider next term whether a Denver baker unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to sell them a wedding cake.

Lower courts had ruled that Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, had violated Colorado’s public accommodations law, which prohibits refusing service to customers based on factors such as race, sex, marital status or sexual orientation.

There are similar lawsuits from florists, calligraphers and others who say their religious beliefs won’t allow them to provide services for same-sex weddings. But they have found little success in the courts, which have ruled that public businesses must comply with state anti-discrimination laws.

[Colorado court sides against baker who cited religious beliefs, refused same-sex marriage cake order]

The court granted the case after weeks of considering it. In 2014, the justices declined to revisit a New Mexico Supreme Court decision that found that a photographer violated a state civil rights law when she declined to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.

Since then, the high court has found that marriage is a fundamental right that states may not prohibit to gay couples.

The justices also reversed the Arkansas Supreme Court and said the state must list same-sex parents on birth certificates in the state. To refuse, the court said, is to deny married same-sex couples the full “constellation of benefits” that government has linked to marriage.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined Justice Neil M. Gorsuch’s dissent, which said the law regarding such issues is not yet settled and stable.

The Washington Supreme Court found that Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., violated a state civil rights law that bars discrimination in public businesses on the basis of sexual orientation. The court also ruled that the law does not infringe on her free speech.

The Texas Supreme Court is considering a challenge to Houston’s provision that gives the same benefits to spouses of gay workers as it does to those of straight workers. Gay rights activists say the Supreme Court’s 2015 landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges should have settled the issue.

[Supreme Court rules gay couples nationwide have right to marry]

In the Colorado case, David Mullins and Charlie Craig visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in July 2012, along with Craig’s mother, to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception. Mullins and Craig planned to marry in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages were legal at the time, and then hold a reception in Colorado.

But Phillips refused to discuss the issue, saying his religious beliefs would not allow him to have anything to do with same-sex marriage. He said other bakeries would accommodate them.

The couple filed a complaint, and in 2014, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission determined that Phillips’s action violated state law. That ruling was upheld in Colorado state courts.

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Koch Network ‘Disappointed’ in Health Care Bill, Targets Midterm Elections –

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Just days before an expected Senate vote on the Republican health care plan, the leaders of the Charles and David Koch network had few words of praise for the GOP bill at a retreat here this weekend. Top aides of the organization say they are “disappointed” with the bill’s contents because, in their view, it doesn’t do enough to dismantle the Affordable Care Act but say they are working to make it better.

“At the end of the day, this bill is not going to fix health care,” said James Davis, a spokesperson for the Koch network, an affiliation of groups run by the politically active billionaire businessmen.

The semi-annual gathering brought together donors who contribute at least $100,000 per year to the upscale Broadmoor resort at the foot of the Rocky Mountains to discuss policy — and the next campaign.

The organization plans to spend between $300 and $400 million on politics and policy in the 2018 mid-term election, which is more than the network spent in the 2016 election when they stayed on the sidelines of the presidential election because of their distaste for then-candidate Donald Trump. The organization, however, has spent the past three election cycles drumming up opposition to Obamacare and running campaigns against it.

Related: GOP Health Bill Breaks Trump’s Promise to Lower Deductibles

While panels here included a broad range of their conservative and libertarian policy and political priorities, and fundraising for them, health care was a persistent topic.

Attendees include six senators and five House members who mingled among the nearly 400 donors over the course of the three-day event. Five of the six senators in attendance have said they are either undecided or opposed to the Senate GOP’s Better Care Reconciliation Act as it is currently written.

Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a repeat guest of the Kochs, participated in a discussion open to the press where he was asked by the moderator if he’d support the Senate bill. Sasse demurred, saying, “The press is here, right? I have nothing to announce.”

Sasse admitted to dodging the question, telling the moderator who noted his evasiveness, “I was actually ducking, but whatever” to laughter.

Sasse did express some of his concern with the bill, saying that it doesn’t take into account employee mobility in the health care system. He said that he also hasn’t finished reading the 143-page bill and said it’s little more than a “Medicaid reform package.”

Just days after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled his plan that repeals all of Obamacare’s taxes on the wealthy and the health insurance industry and dramatically cuts Medicaid, the organizations under the Koch umbrella remain largely opposed to it because of the subsidies for people to purchase insurance and, they say, it doesn’t do enough to rid insurance companies of coverage requirements.

They vowed to challenge Republicans who don’t support their objectives.

“Our network voraciously opposed Medicaid expansion in state after state,” said Tim Phillips, head of Americans for Prosperity, during a session with reporters who had to be invited to attend.

“These Republicans who expanded Medicaid were flatly wrong,” Phillips added, referring to Govs. Brian Sandoval of Nevada and John Kasich of Ohio among others. “So we’re going to continue holding these Republicans accountable.”

Related: Senators Urge Slowdown on Senate Health Care Vote

Two senators in attendance, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Jeff Flake of Arizona, have pressing concerns about the politics of health care when it comes to 2018. Flake is expected to have a difficult re-election campaign next year and Gardner is head of the campaign committee that works to elect Republicans to the senate and often attends the Koch retreats, which is a fruitful opportunity to recruit donors to the NRSC. Both have said they need to consult with their governors and stakeholders in their state before they decide how they vote on the measure that is likely to come up for a vote this week.

Others at the retreat included conservatives Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas who both came out last week opposing the bill in its current form, taking similar positions as the Kochs.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the second ranking Republican in the Senate, was also there. As the Republican whip, tasked with finding the votes to pass the measure. “It’s going to be close,” Cornyn told reporters here of the vote expected at the end of this week.

When asked if President Donald Trump was going to help pass health care this week, Cornyn said, “We’re trying to hold him back a little bit.” A super PAC backing President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence announced that they’d run a million dollar ad campaign against Republican Senator Dean Heller in Nevada after he announced his opposition to the health care bill.

Cruz was seen in deep discussion with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who helped to usher in the a compromise amendment with moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., that led to the passage of the House health care plan last month.

Meadows told a small group of reporters that he could support the Senate bill if changes were made, including a proposal by Cruz that would allow states to offer Obamacare plans along side non-compliant Obamacare insurance that lack robust coverage.

Cornyn said he’s been talking with Lee and Cruz to “address their concerns.”

The Koch network, through the non-profit Americans for Prosperity and the super PAC Freedom Partners, came out strongly against the House health care bill until changes were made that reduced requirements on insurance companies that they must offer robust, and in effect, more expensive health plans.

The Koch group has mixed reactions overall to the Trump administration. They praise his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and his effort at rolling back regulations and reforming the Veterans Affairs Department. But they are disappointed with their disinterest in moving forward on criminal justice reform.

Marc Holden, co-chair of the network, said that despite set backs with Jeff Sessions as attorney general, they’re “still grinding on it” at the federal level. Holden adds that there are a few allies within the Trump administration who support their bipartisan efforts to undo overly stringent sentences for nonviolent offenders and make it easier for convicted felons to re-enter society after time served.

“We’re still excited about the progress on Capitol Hill,” Holden said, predicting that criminal justice reforms would get the support of 70 senators.

One of the featured guests at this seminar is former Dallas Cowboys player Deion Sanders. He partnered with Koch-backed Standing Together on a $21 million effort to fight poverty in Dallas.

“We’re going to make life so much easier for others,” Sanders said during a plenary session with Charles Koch. “It doesn’t take courage to stand with this man. It takes common sense to stand with this man.”

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

By Ashley Parker, and ,

Senate Republicans are facing down an increasingly daunting challenge to secure the votes necessary to pass legislation to dramatically change President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law, and several senators said they would like more time to debate and tweak the plan as GOP leaders push for a vote this week.

At least five Republicans have already come out against their party’s bill — which can only afford to lose two votes — and over the weekend, more began expressing serious reservations and skepticism about the proposal.

The mounting dissatisfaction leaves Senate Republican leaders and the White House in a difficult position. In the coming days, moves to narrow the scope of the overhaul could appeal to moderates but anger conservatives, who believe the legislation does not go far enough to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

A key moment will arrive early this week when the Congressional Budget Office releases an analysis of the bill that estimates how many people could lose coverage under the Republican plan, as well as what impact it might have on insurance premiums and how much money it could save the government.

The stalled Republican effort to pass a sweeping rewrite of the Affordable Care Act was further threatened Sunday when Republican senators from opposite sides of the party’s ideological spectrum voiced their disapproval, imperiling hopes for a Senate vote this week and President Trump’s chance to fulfill a core campaign pledge. 

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Sunday expressed deep concerns about how the bill would cut expanded Medicaid funding for states, a key pillar of the Affordable Care Act that several centrists in the Senate are wary of rolling back, saying on ABC’s “This Week” that she worries about “what it means to our most vulnerable citizens.”

Collins also said she is concerned about the bill’s impact on the cost of insurance premiums and deductibles, especially for older Americans. 

“I’m going to look at the whole bill before making a decision,” she said, later adding, “It’s hard for me to see the bill passing this week.”

Underscoring the challenge facing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), speaking on the same Sunday show, also voiced concerns with the bill — but for entirely different reasons.

Paul — who, along with fellow Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mike Lee of Utah, has already said he cannot support the current bill — rejected the Republican plan as not fiscally austere enough but said that in the face of an impasse, he could support legislation that simply repeals Obama’s health-care law.

“I’ve been telling leadership for months now I’ll vote for a repeal,” Paul said. “And it doesn’t have to be a 100-percent repeal. So, for example, I’m for 100-percent repeal, that’s what I want. But if you me 90-percent repeal, I’d probably vote for it. I might vote for 80-percent repeal.”

But simply repealing Obamacare or large parts of the law without making any other changes to the nation’s health-care system is not a realistic political possibility at the moment.

McConnell and his team remain convinced they must call a vote soon to avoid having health-care discussions dominate the summer, when they aim to move on to retooling tax legislation. In their circle, further talks are also seen as an opening for others to bolt.

“It’s not going to get any easier,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told reporters on the sidelines of a three-day seminar organized by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch in Colorado Springs. “And, yes, I think August is the drop deadline, about August 1.”

As senators took to the airwaves Sunday, there were developments behind the scenes as GOP leaders made calls and worked to cobble together votes. But no firm decisions on vote-winning revisions were made.

There was new talk among key GOP figures about wooing moderates by altering the bill’s Medicaid changes, according to two people involved who would not speak publicly. By tweaking how federal funding is determined for Medicaid recipients and linking aspects to the medical component of the consumer price index, there is a belief that some moderates could be swayed, since they want assurances that funding would keep up with any rises in the cost of care, the people said.

Then would come the tightrope: If some senators can be persuaded to support revisions to the Medicaid portion of the bill, several conservatives are warning that unless their amendments are also included, they are unlikely to support the legislation. The hope is that a combination of those Medicaid changes and amendments from conservatives could pave the way to passage.

Progress in these conversations could postpone a vote for a couple weeks until after the Fourth of July holiday, the people said, but Senate leadership and the White House want to move this week if they can.

The administration itself, meanwhile, is sending mixed signals. An allied leadership PAC is launching an intensive advertising campaign against centrist Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), a no vote, to pressure him to support the bill. And on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said Trump “is working the phones, he’s having personal meetings, and he’s engaging with leaders.”

Still, the president’s own support for the legislation has at times been lukewarm. Over the weekend, he acknowledged he once called the initial Republican bill, which originated in the House, “mean” in a private meeting, but also urged senators on Twitter to pass it. 

Trump’s aides have seemed to signal that the White House is more likely to support the final Senate proposal over the original House bill going forward, and speaking this weekend on “Fox & Friends,” Trump said, “I want to see a bill with heart.”

Conway added that “the president and the White House are also open to getting Democratic votes,” and asked, “Why can’t we get a single Democrat to come to the table, to come to the White House, to speak to the president or anyone else about trying to improve a system that has not worked for everyone?”

But Democratic support seems unlikely. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), speaking on “This Week,” said Democrats would only sit down with Republicans if they stop trying repeal Obamacare. In an interview with The Washington Post, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) spoke of trying to postpone a vote on the bill to mount a stronger fight against it.

“One of the strategies is to just keep offering amendments, to delay this thing and delay this thing at least until after the July Fourth break,” Sanders said. “That would give us the opportunity to rally the American people in opposition to it. I think we should use every tactic that we can to delay this thing.”

In fact — despite Trump’s campaign promise he would not cut Medicaid — the Senate bill includes deep cuts to projected spending on the program, deeper even than the House bill over the long run, and is expected to leave millions without or unable to afford health insurance.

On Sunday, there was also some confusion — or misdirection — about what exactly the Senate bill would do. Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), claimed the Republican plan “will codify and make permanent the Medicaid expansion,” and added, “No one loses coverage.” His comments echoed those by Conway, who told “This Week,” “These are not cuts to Medicaid.”

Johnson, the senator from Wisconsin who surprised some fellow Republicans by co-signing a letter asking for more changes to the bill, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that there was no hurry to vote before the end of June.

“There’s no way we should be voting on this next week. No way,” Johnson said. “I have a hard time believing Wisconsin constituents or even myself will have enough time to properly evaluate this, for me to vote for a motion to proceed.”

At the same time, Johnson said he was not a pure no on the bill.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who criticized the secretive process by which the new bill was crafted and had preferred his own compromise to extend most of the Affordable Care Act, struck a similar tone on “Face the Nation.” After saying he was undecided, he clarified that small changes could win his vote.

“There are things in this bill that adversely affect my state that are peculiar to my state,” Cassidy said. “If those can be addressed, I will. If they can’t be addressed, I won’t. So right now, I am undecided.”

Progressive activists spent the weekend warning that Republicans such as Johnson and Cassidy could vote for the bill with minor tweaks. In Columbus, Ohio, at the second of three rallies Sanders and organized to pressure swing-state Republican senators, MoveOn’s Washington director, Ben Wikler, warned a crowd of at least 1,000 activists that the protests of Senate Republicans might amount to nothing more than kabuki theater.

“This is the week when Mitch McConnell and Republicans are going to introduce these tiny amendments and Republicans are going to say, ‘Oh, the bill is fixed! Oh, I can vote for it now!’ ” Wikler warned. “Are we going to let him get away with that?”

And looming over the discussions is another challenge: the Republican-controlled House, where any revised Senate bill would head and its ultimate fate would be decided. According to a White House official, Trump advisers are keeping in close touch with the conservative House Freedom Caucus — which helped tank the White House’s initial health-care push — as the Senate considers the bill, making sure that whatever ends up passing could pass muster with House conservatives.

David Weigel reported from Columbus, Ohio. James Hohmann in Colorado Springs contributed to this report.

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