With five holdouts on health-care bill, McConnell is in for a final frenzy of negotiation – Washington Post

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The stark divide among Republicans on reshaping the nation’s health system came into full view over the last few days.

Formally unveiled Thursday, the Senate Republican plan came under immediate friendly fire from within Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s GOP conference. The Kentucky Republican now has just a few days to try to navigate the perilous path in trying to appease one bloc of holdouts without losing votes from another bloc.

It sets up a final frenzy of negotiation, as McConnell has determined he’ll finish with the legislation one way or another by the end of this month. If he’s not careful, the GOP leader could end up being lambasted by conservatives and liberals alike for cutting narrow deals to try to buy off votes from individual senators in a similar manner used for passing the Affordable Care Act.

McConnell can only afford to lose two of the 52 Republicans in the Senate, but as the week went on, he had many more holdouts than that.

The highest profile defection, for now, came from Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who is usually a go-along-get-along acolyte to party leadership.

But Heller faces the most difficult reelection next year of any Republican and his state’s governor, Brian Sandoval, is extremely popular and remains a staunch supporter of the current funding structure for Medicaid’s expansion that led to nearly 300,000 of his residents to get health coverage.

“It’s simply not the answer,” he said Friday, with Sandoval at his side. He left some wiggle room to possibly support a rewritten draft but he made clear that his concerns went beyond just the Better Care Reconciliation Act’s phase out of federal support for the Medicaid expansion beginning in 2021. He questioned the plans protection for consumers to have guaranteed coverage for critical conditions and other proposals.

“It’s going to be very difficult to get me to a yes,” Heller said.

His comments came after a quartet of Senate conservatives announced their opposition to the legislation “as written” shortly after McConnell released the plan Thursday, on top of another handful of senators who have expressed concerns about various provisions in the 142-page draft.

One of those conservatives, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), received less attention than Heller but made clear just how far apart the two sides are in a nearly 900-word letter Friday to his constituents about the proposal. “No, the Senate healthcare bill released [Thursday] does not repeal Obamacare. It doesn’t even significantly reform American healthcare,” Lee wrote.

He went on to outline a demand that would in some ways undermine the very structure of the bill, allowing states to completely opt out of the law and create their own health-care systems. It’s the sort of demand that conservatives like but will be fiercely opposed by Democrats, as well as some Republicans, who fear that it would create too much chaos in the marketplace.

Republicans are acknowledging that they expect to know by Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest, whether they have the votes to pass the plan. If he can do it, McConnell then must spend the rest of the summer working with the House to see if they can pass the Senate bill, in whole, or negotiate a new compromise.

All of this makes the coming week’s initial vote — a simple parliamentary motion to begin debate — the critical test of support that will signal whether the legislation rises or falls.

“We take great care in doing the whip process, so we know before we go to the floor how the votes will turn out, so we’ll know that before that happens,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the majority whip, said Thursday.

Until now McConnell has said very little in public, operating what could be called a strategy of political risk minimization.

His secretive process has been criticized loud and clear, from Republicans and Democrats, but most of it has been directed at him. He does not mind absorbing media lashes if it keeps the heat focused on him and not his Republican colleagues. He did so last year when he absorbed most of the Democratic attack for refusing to consider the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland while his Republican incumbents faced little criticism for the move on the campaign trail.

The legislation will be in public view just a few days before the key votes, and by Friday the issue will be resolved, avoiding the long and politically debilitating negotiations that Democrats went through in 2009 and 2010.

But Democrats got a law passed, a really big one that went on to provide insurance to tens of millions of people, and they are now, after years of passively defending the ACA, fully engaged in promoting its benefits and trying to make Republicans look like mean-spirited accountants trying to balance the books on the backs of the poor.

McConnell must decide if he wants to cut side deals to win or if a good faith effort that comes up short is a better path forward politically.

So far the proposal only includes a modest $2 billion for a new funding stream to fight the opioid epidemic, an issue critical to a pair of Midwestern Republicans, Sens. Shelly Moore Capito (W. Va.) and Rob Portman (Ohio).

Once the Congressional Budget Office reports in the next few days about the financial impact of the proposal, McConnell will have a better sense of how many billions more in opioid funding could secure Portman and Capito’s votes.

Will Nevada get its own specific carve out on Medicaid funding to win over Heller?

That’s what McConnell’s nemesis, former Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), did in 2009 to win over wavering Democrats to pass the ACA. Then the majority leader, Reid included a provision that provided full federal funding for the Medicaid expansion just to Nebraska, winning the vote of then-Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who saw the initial proposal as an unfunded mandate.

The proposal was blasted as the “Cornhusker Kickback” and it was eventually nixed as the final version of the law had 100 percent funding for all states for three years and then phased down to 90 percent federally subsidized for Medicaid’s expansion.

“This bill is a legislative train wreck of historic proportions,” McConnell said the day that Reid, Nelson and other Democrats unveiled the final package just before Christmas 2009.

Now, McConnell faces a similar dilemma.

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Sean Spicer banned TV cameras. Again. So we annotated his briefing. Again. – Washington Post


White House press secretary Sean Spicer listens during a Jan. 20 news briefing. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

White House press secretary Sean Spicer barred television cameras from a media briefing on Friday and prohibited live audio broadcasts, marking the third time this week that spokesmen for President Trump have imposed such restrictions. 

In keeping with a promise we made Monday, The Fix has annotated a transcript of the session, since it could not be seen on TV. We’ll continue the practice when White House spokesmen go off camera. To view an annotation, click on the yellow, highlighted text.

MR. SPICER: I want to start with some good news. We continue to see great progress by Congressman Steve Scalise, but additionally, it’s great to note that just a few minutes ago George Washington Hospital has announced that Mike Mika, who was also involved in that shooting, has been upgraded to good condition. So we continue to keep an eye on the situation and wish him a speedy recovery on his way to getting out of the hospital. And so that’s a great way to start this.

Back to business here. This morning, after a series of meetings with Secretary of State Tillerson, Homeland Security Secretary Kelly, and Secretary of Defense Mattis, the president was honored to sign the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act surrounded by a group of our nation’s great veterans and their brave families.

As we all know, the VA scandals exposed unacceptably long wait times for our nation’s veterans and issues with tracking their care. In response, Congress passed the Veterans Access Choice and Accountability Act in 2014, which has since brought many more instances of poor performance and misconduct by the VA to light.

The bill the president signed this morning further empowers Secretary Shulkin and the VA to protect our veterans from this kind of misconduct in the future. It’s one part of the president’s comprehensive plan to modernize the VA so that it gives the veterans the care, treatment and support that they so richly deserve.

Back in March, many of you may remember they signed the Veterans Choice Improvement Act so that more veterans can see the doctor of their choice and they don’t have to travel long distances or wait for care. Already under the Choice program, this year, veterans have received 42 percent more approvals to see a doctor that they have chosen. And he signed an executive order in April creating the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection within the VA to hold employees who fail our veterans accountable. At the same time, this office rewards and retains the many VA employees who do a fantastic job and it protects the honest employees who expose wrongdoing.

At the signing, he called on Congress to pass legislation then that he signed this morning with Secretary Shulkin to give the authority he needed to best protect those who protect us. Since taking the reins at the VA, Secretary Shulkin has carried through a thorough review to uncover all of the problems and challenges it inherited from the previous administration. He’s imposed new standards of accountability and transparency, and just this month he announced that the VA will finally sync up its medical records with the Department of Defense so that veterans will be treated as a single patient across the system, a long-overdue step, giving them the seamless care that they deserve throughout their service and beyond.

As he said many times, the president cares deeply about the men and women who have served our country, and he was glad to sign the VA Accountability Act this morning that takes another step toward shaping the VA into a department that is truly worthy of our veterans.

Also this morning, the Department of Justice expressed its full support for Texas’s efforts towards improving public safety by mandating that statewide — towards improving — by mandating statewide cooperation with federal immigration laws that require the removal of illegal immigrants who have committed crimes. The president has made a commitment to keep America safe, and Texas’s SB4 law is critical to maintaining cooperation from state and local enforcement partners in that mission.

The federal government must have the proper assistance from state and local authorities to effectively enforce immigration laws and keep our communities safe. And that’s, frankly, what Texas’s law does. Given the strong federal interest in facilitating this cooperation, the Trump administration is glad to be putting its full support behind Texas’s effort.

As he said yesterday, the president is very supportive of the draft Senate health-care bill, which represents the next step in repealing and replacing Obamacare. It’s time to — for all Republicans to unite and fulfill this promise that we’ve been talking about for over seven years, and that we would rescue them from the mess that they — was created by imposing a risky health-care experiment on our country several years ago.

With costs rising and options dwindling, it’s clear that the risk that we were given didn’t pay off. Just ask the people of New Hampshire, where another insurer just announced that it will stop offering insurance on the state’s Obamacare exchange. The president and his entire team will be looking forward to working with all senators who are willing to come to the table to amend, finalize and pass the bill so that we can deliver a world-class health-care system in place of the failing system that we have now.

And with that, let’s get into some questions. John.

Q    The president this morning, in an interview with “Fox and Friends,” seemed to indicate that he thinks that the special counsel may have some conflicts of interest, one being his friendship with Comey; another being the fact that one of the people that he’s hiring, bringing on — special counsel’s officer were either Hillary Clinton supporters, and the president said even some of them are — even worked for Hillary Clinton. Is he still ruling out firing this special counsel?

MR. SPICER: Nothing has changed on that in terms of his position on it.

Q    And his position is?

MR. SPICER: That while he retains the authority — anyone who serves (inaudible), I believe — Steve and I had a healthy exchange with — but that he has no intention of doing that.

Q    And does — he seemed to suggest this morning there might be a circumstance under which Mueller should take himself out. Can you tell us —

MR. SPICER: Yeah, that’s one. Obviously, I would refer to Marc Kasowitz in terms of the president’s legal strategy on that. But I’ll just leave it at that. But good try.

Q    Sean, on health care, what is the president’s current outlook on the Senate bill, given some of the reservations that some of the senators raised yesterday? And does the president feel that Senator McConnell should pull the bill next week if he doesn’t have the number that — the numbers to pass it, or is time to vote?

MR. SPICER: Well, we’ll approach that in the same way that we approach the House bill. I’m not going to be — I wasn’t prescriptive then with Speaker Ryan in terms of when they’re ready to vote, they’ll vote. Senator McConnell has said that he wants a vote next week, and that’s up to him to run the chamber the way he sees fit. But the president is very supportive of the bill. He wants to work with all the members to improve it in any way that can help facilitate that passage and make it a stronger bill. And he intends to work with all the individuals — he’s got a lot of respect for the four senators in particular on the Republican side that have come forward — wants to work with them.

But I know Senator Manchin talked about potentially getting some Democrats together, and the president welcomes that.

Q    Sean, thank you.

MR. SPICER: Welcome.

Q    Thank you. What is the president’s level of involvement at this point in terms of trying to push the bill forward or not? Can you give us a sense of whether he’s taking calls?

MR. SPICER: He’s not — he’s had a couple calls with Majority Leader McConnell. As you’ll recall, I think last week we had six senators here. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that continued involvement. As you recall, it’s a very similar situation as to what it was in the House, right — that he had several House members come in and out prior to the lead-up of the vote. And as the vote got closer, in working with the whip team in the House and the legislative affairs team here, he identified members that had concerns, or continued to call them.

I expect a similar process at this point. But he’s had meetings with members. He was on the phone with Senator McConnell. But also Secretary Price, Seema Verma, the legislative affairs staff, the chief and staff, and others are intimately engaged in this, having conversations with senators, providing feedback to the president. He’s providing guidance back, as far as he’ll continue to tweak it. But I think we have a fairly robust discussion going on right now.

Q    Sean, what is the vice president’s role in the Senate health-care bill? How involved has he been? And how involved do you see him being going forward?

MR. SPICER: The vice president has played a very important role. He’s been up there. He goes to the policy lunch once a week. He’s constantly on the phone with him. And he’s been a huge asset, as he was in the House side.

But again, to Maggie’s question, I’d say right now it’s a fairly similar process. The legislative affairs team is identifying concerns that individual members have, or ideas and suggestions that they have, feeding them back to the team and asking for the president’s input, technically, on some of those technical matters, and providing feedback.

So as we get closer to that vote, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with a lot of the support that’s already come out, and I think we’ll continue to work through, in particular, the four individuals who have expressed some ideas and concerns. And we’ll get to it.

Steve.

Q    So you’re saving the president for the tail end of the process? Is that what you’re saying?

MR. SPICER: No. I think — and Maggie can correct me if I’m wrong — but I think she was asking what the process was. And I think that we’re following a similar pattern, which is he has engaged with them. I mean, I think we’ve talked about the number — the individuals that he’s had over to the White House and met with, and he’s also had some pull-asides here and there when they’ve come over for different things. So he has personally engaged with them.

The question about — Maggie had specifically asked about phone calls. And I think that while he has addressed it here and there, the type of push that you saw at the end of the vote, before the House, we’re not at that phase where —

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. SPICER: Yeah. And just because of the nature of — these are individuals — I mean, because of the numbers, the Senate being what it is, and the numbers that we have to get to 50 plus one is in a different place than the House, where you had many more members to address.

Q    When you look at the House bill and the Senate legislation, is the Senate legislation the preferred vehicle for this going forward?

MR. SPICER: I think the president is very supportive of the Senate bill. There’s a lot of ideas in there. He’s talked about having heart, and he likes a lot of the reforms that have been in there. He’s committed to making sure that no one who currently is in the Medicaid program is affected in any way, which is reflected in the Senate bill, and he’s pleased with that.

So I think he is very pleased with that bill, and he wants to continue to push it forward. But in the same way, the way he dealt with the House — I mean, if there’s other ideas and amendments as the bill moves forward that would strengthen it, he’s all ears.

Athena.

Q    And what is the argument he’s making, or plans to make, to the senators he’s trying to get on board? Is it a policy-focused argument, getting the nitty-gritty? Or is it a larger argument about this being the last best chance, or the best chance to keep a campaign promise?

MR. SPICER: It’s a good question, because I think it depends on the senator and what their concerns are. I mean, if you look at some of the individual senators that have expressed concerns, from Rand Paul to Ted Cruz, there are differences in what their individual concerns are. And so it’s not a holistic approach.

But I think the overarching point that he’s made very consistently is that Obamacare is dead and that it is not a binary choice. It’s not “keep this or take that.” It’s “this system is failing and we must act.” That is the overarching point that he’s made to all of these individuals.

One interesting point is that when you actually look at the House side in particular, you’ve got 113 members of the Democratic caucus that are co-sponsors of single, universal care, the Bernie Sanders bill. It’s a $32 trillion alternative. So if you think about it, the bill that the House — the House bill that got passed, that’s the basis of what the Senate worked off of as a net savings.

What the majority of House Democrats support is not maintaining Obamacare, but the majority of that conference is actually supporting the Bernie Sanders universal health-care bill, which is a $32 trillion, one-size-fits-all, government-run, no-competition-forces, no-market-forces bill. And I think that is really what the choice has become.

If you think about this, the majority of Democrats in the House aren’t backing Obamacare. What they’re backing is a government takeover of universal care that doesn’t have any market forces and is going to cost our country $32 trillion. And I think that that’s the real choice that exists.

Q    Just in response to tapes, did you see that Congressman Schiff said yesterday something about, ‘I don’t think we can accept this as a complete answer, referring to the president’s tweet. His problem with it was that the president was really talking about him, and that Schiff would like to see, in writing, a response that covers the entire White House. Because the tweet suggested that maybe someone else has recordings. Does the White House plan to deliver some sort of official written response to Schiff in the House Intel Committee?

MR. SPICER: I believe — and I have to follow up — but I believe that there was some communication we have to have by close of business today. So I’ll figure out if that’s going out. But, I mean, I think the president was clear — he was asked — he said he would follow up on whether he knew of this, and I think he’s answered it very clearly.

Janet.

Q    Just real quick on Medicaid. You mentioned a moment ago something about Medicaid. I want to make sure I’m clear. So is the president comfortable with the changes to the Medicaid program in the Senate bill, and how that would roll back the expansion at a certain date? Is he comfortable with that aspect?

MR. SPICER: I think right now, as I said, he’s very supportive of the current bill.

Q    And real quick on Qatar. Does the White House have any response to the demands that the Saudis have made of the Qataris?

MR. SPICER: The four countries that are part of that, we believe it’s a family issue and that they should work out. If we can help facilitate those discussions, then so be it. But this is something that they want to and should work out for themselves.

Zeke.

Q    Thanks, Sean. Just following up on Janet’s question there. One of those demands would be shut down Al Jazeera. The United States generally has spoken out in favor of free and independent press — (inaudible) about Al Jazeera one way or the other in this case. But does the White House believe that it’s appropriate that the free press is something that’s on the table for restoration of diplomatic relations?

MR. SPICER: Again, we’re not — we’re willing to play a facilitating role in those discussions. But that’s a discussion that those countries need to have among themselves.

And so until we’re asked to join that and facilitate it, I’m not going to get in the middle of that discussion.

Q    And second question. In this morning’s Washington Post there’s an item about some friends of the president inquiring about his health. I’m wondering, is Dr. Jackson of the military office — of the medical unit, the president’s personal physician — has the president seen him? And will the White House commit to releasing sort of the annual physician’s letter that has been customary of presidents for years?

MR. SPICER: I know Admiral Jackson travels everywhere with the president, so he consults him regularly. I don’t have an update on his particular vitals but I will follow up on the letter. But I know that Dr. Jackson — Admiral Jackson is intimately involved in the president’s care and provides him feedback — whatever medical issues he has.

Alex.

Q    Does President Trump think special counsel Robert Mueller is partisan?

MR. SPICER: I think his comments this morning speak for themselves as to his views on Robert Mueller.

John Gizzi.

Q    Thank you, Sean. Two brief questions. First, it was reported on one of the networks that the president referred to the American Healthcare Act as a mean bill and he wanted more money that was coming in. Did he actually say that, or could you confirm or deny whether he used that term to describe it and call for greater funding for parts of it?

MR. SPICER: I will tell you that I don’t comment on private conversations that the president has.

Q    All right. And the other thing I do want to know was, on Tuesday night, in a public conversation, his speech that he delivered in Cedar Rapids, the president called for legislation that would deny welfare benefits to illegal immigrants for five years. It has been widely reported that has been on the books for 21 years, going back to when President Clinton signed the omnibus welfare reform legislation in 1996. Was that a misstatement on the president’s part, or was he aware that this is already on the books?

MR. SPICER: The president is aware that law exists. I think the president’s concern generally speaking with all the immigration laws is that they’re not being enforced.

We’ve got several laws that are on the books but they’re not being enforced. I think the president believes that we need to do what we can — I mean, obviously, he’s been very clear on immigration and on — especially from our southern border. But that law, while on the books, has not been enforced and clearly either needs to be reexamined, enforced, or new legislation needs to be introduced.

I’m sorry — Hallie.

Q    I have two questions for you. One is a follow-up from earlier in the week. You were asked whether the president believes Russia interfered with the 2016 election, and said you hadn’t had a chance to have that conversation. So I’m wondering if you’ve had that conversation. And if so, if the president is concerned about that interference.

MR. SPICER: I have. Thank you. And the only point that I would make, just as a point of clarification, he commented I think it was January 5th or 17th, something like that, on that at the time. And he said Russia probably interfered but maybe some other countries did as well.

Q    He said, “I think it was Russia but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

MR. SPICER: There you go. Thank you.

Q    And so does he stand by that? Is he concerned about that, Sean?

MR. SPICER: Of course. He’s concerned about any country or any actor that wants to interfere in elections. I confirm that he stands by that.

But he’s — and he’s taken two I think very large steps. One is cybersecurity, to make sure — he signed an executive order. His homeland security adviser is working diligently to make sure that we take steps to protect the integrity of our election system and all of our other cyber defenses.

And then secondly, he instituted an election commission that is making sure that we look at all of how we’re voting, and to make sure that we maintain integrity in all of our voting process to make sure that we have faith in it. And that includes cyber, it includes voter I.D., it includes all sort of systems. I expect that commission to have several announcements in probably the next two weeks, and potentially some hearings in July.

But there’s going to be continued activity. But the President takes that very seriously, and I think those two actions in particular point to his commitment to it.

Q    So to follow up on that then, Sean, what do you say — we’ve talked to dozens of state officials who say they simply have not heard much from this administration regarding how to protect their own voting systems. What do you say to those critics who say you’re not doing enough?

MR. SPICER: I think those official — state and county, and I think down to the municipal level — will get a letter next week from the commission asking them to help facilitate some transfer of data back to us so we can begin the process of a thorough review of the systems. And we will continue to engage them and find out ways that we can strengthen the integrity of our system and make sure that we have the utmost confidence in our voting system.

Blake.

Q    Thanks, Sean. The front row gets an A for effort. Let’s see how the back row (inaudible).

MR. SPICER: All right. You have a lot to live up to. (Laughter.)

Q    This question is on health care. Obviously, the House bill and the Senate draft discussion, they’re similar but they’re different. Does the President at this point have a preference to either one? And if so, which one?

MR. SPICER: I think right now he’s, as I mentioned, very supportive of the Senate bill. Let’s get that passed, and then, obviously, we’ll go to conference. And so there’s elements of the Senate bill that he’s very pleased with, but let’s — our goal is to work through the process, get it passed through the Senate, and then have that discussion in conference.

Q    And let me ask you — comments that you made this morning. You talked about — you were asked about the strategy and you talked about how several high-level people within the administration have been provided technical assistance, working with members and Senate leadership to ask — or to talk, rather, about additional changes that might be necessary. I’m curious as to what those — specifically what those additional changes in the Senate bill that you view might indeed be necessary.

I think you’ve got four Republican senators in particular that have expressed — each one of them has concerns, and in order to get over 50 votes we’re going to — we’ll listen to them and to others that will help strengthen the bill and get us to that point. But that’s — part of that — that’s part of the process. Same thing that we did in the House side too.

Q    So nothing specific from the White House point of view as far as —

MR. SPICER: Well, I don’t want to — I mean, again, this is a discussion that we’ll have with those senators, but I’m not going to telegraph it right now. As I mentioned — correctly quoting me from earlier this morning — that we’re going to have those conversations with them, find out what additions, suggestions, ideas they have that strengthen the bill and help it move forward.

Q    Real quick wanted to follow up on health care. Is the President eager enough to get rid of Obamacare that he would accept a bill that he doesn’t like? Or if he doesn’t get what he wants out of the Senate and/or out of conference, would he veto it and make them go back to the drawing board?

MR. SPICER: Well, of course — in theory, if he doesn’t like something, he’s not going to sign it. As I’ve said, he’s very supportive of the Senate bill as it stands. So I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.

Q    And the follow-up to that is there are four members of the Republican Party who say that the problem with it is that it’s really too much like Obamacare and they want to see it completely jettisoned.

MR. SPICER: That’s not entirely accurate.

Q    Well, all right, I’m paraphrasing —

MR. SPICER: Again, he’ll work with them and our staff will work with them, and we’ll look at issues that can get us there. But I think — you know, and I mentioned Senator Manchin himself also noted that he would like to sit down and work, and I think if we can find — if we can grow that number even larger, he would love to do it.

Q    Will he sit with Democrats?

MR. SPICER: Senator Manchin is a Democrat.

Q    I mean, other than —

MR. SPICER: He mentioned that he might have some additional folks that have expressed to him a willingness to work together. And I think the President has been clear, if anybody has a willingness to move this forward and get it done, he’d love to be — work across party lines.

Q    Thank you, Sean. We saw the President’s tweet about China’s role in the North Korea crisis. He just met with Mattis and Tillerson, who met with their Chinese counterparts yesterday. He characterized at this point what he thinks about China’s role in North Korea and whether he’s preparing to impose what are called secondary sanction on Chinese entities that are flouting international sanctions.

MR. SPICER: I will not comment on the second part of that for obvious reasons, but good try.

Look, he remains hopeful that we can work with China, both politically and economically, to apply the pressure on North Korea. He commented personally, and I’ll reiterate, that he continues to be very troubled by what happened to Otto Warmbier and would like to see China do more.

Q    So you’re not hopeful — I’m sorry. He’s hopeful, he’s not impatient at this point? He hasn’t lost patience with China?

MR. SPICER: I just would say that he remains hopeful that we can find a way forward.

Q    Sean, on the —

MR. SPICER: Steve.

Q    I want to ask you about Russia, because this week the Russians canceled planned talks in St. Petersburg. It’s been widely reported that two weeks from now, in Germany, the President and Vladimir Putin are supposed to have some kind of talk on the sidelines of the G-20. Is it the President’s intention to have a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Germany?

MR. SPICER: Obviously, Steve, we have a lot of countries that we will probably have bilaterals with on the sidelines of the G-20, as well as during the visit to Poland. Not — that wouldn’t happen during that, but there are countries that we are planning bilats with both during the stop in Poland as well as during the two days that we’ll be at the G-20.

Q    Does the President want to meet with Vladimir Putin?

MR. SPICER: I think that he understands that we have a role — to the extent that we can work with Russia to solve some problems and to cooperate, if we can find that willingness that we’d like to do it. And when we have an update on the schedule as we grow closer to the G-20, I’m sure we’ll provide that to you.

Q    How would you describe the current state of American-Russian relations?

MR. SPICER: I don’t know what word you’re — I mean, they have — we maintain a — I’ll give you a good example. We continue to have deconfliction with them in Syria. I think that’s a positive thing. I think we enjoy normal diplomatic relations with them. And, as the President has said very — on numerous times that if we can find areas of agreement with Russia, especially with respect to the fight against ISIS, safe zones in Syria, then we’ll do it. But it’s got to be on terms that are in the best interest — in our national interest.

John Decker.

Q    Thanks a lot, Sean. When the President tweeted out earlier this week that China’s efforts at applying pressure on North Korea, in his words, has not worked out, was he referring to the idea that China has not applied the necessary pressure on North Korea, or that North Korea has received that pressure and it has specifically not responded to whatever pressure China has applied?

MR. SPICER: I will just say that, as I mentioned to Olivier, he remains hopeful that they will continue to apply additional pressure that will seek a better outcome in terms of North Korea. But I’ll leave that tweet for itself and continue discussion through diplomatic channels.

Q    So when he seemed to sort of abandon the idea of getting China to apply that pressure to North Korea, at the same time it’s — let me just finish — at the same time, it seems as if Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson are going to continue that effort. Is there a conflict there in terms of what the President wants to perhaps not do and what the Secretaries of Defense and State want to do in applying that pressure to North Korea through China?

MR. SPICER: So can you just expand on that, just to —

Q    Well, it seems like the President has given up on trying to get China to apply pressure —

MR. SPICER: No, I don’t think that’s true. As, I mean, I mentioned, he remains hopeful that they will apply both diplomatic, political and economic pressure to force North Korea to do the right thing.

Q    Sean, two questions for you. One, just on the tapes, in an interview this morning, the President said he believes his tweet about the tapes influenced Comey to tell the truth in his testimony. So two-pronged question here. Is his position now that Comey was truthful in that testimony? And is he conceding that he used Twitter in a way he believes to change the behavior of a congressional witness?

MR. SPICER: I’m not going to comment any further than the comments that he made this morning.

Q    Separately — on a separate topic. On the briefings, you said Monday about your decision to hold these off-camera briefings, off-audio briefings, “There are days that I’ll decide that the President’s voice should be the one that speaks, and iterate his priorities.” Today the President spoke, so did you this morning — had an interview with Fox News. What’s the reasoning for not answering questions on camera today?

MR. SPICER: The President gave lengthy remarks today on camera, spoke about the VA bill. Hope you carried it.

Q    You spoke on camera, too, earlier.

MR. SPICER: I know, I did. See how much on-camera there is? I mean, look, I think — as I said, you referenced the comments I made on Monday; I made the same comments — similar comments in December and January. And some days we’ll do it. I think it’s great for us to come out here and have a substantive discussion about policies.

I don’t think that the be all and end all is whether it’s on television or not. We’ve made ourselves available a lot of times and will continue to do. But I’d rather sit here and have a very enjoyable conversation with you on issues on a Friday afternoon, and let the President’s comments stand on the great things that he’s doing on behalf of our nation’s veterans.

Alex.

Q    A follow-up on the tapes. You were also on Fox this morning —

MR. SPICER: I was. Thank you for watching.

Q    Yeah. But you indicated that the President’s tweet on the tapes successfully influenced Comey to tell the truth in his testimony. So do you believe that he lied about — is it the White House’s position that he still lied about the President pressuring him to end the Flynn investigation? Is that still the White House position?

MR. SPICER: I believe that the President’s remarks on Fox and Friends this morning reflect the President’s position.

Q    So that would mean that he believes that Comey told the truth.

MR. SPICER: I don’t think I need to do any further analysis than what the President himself said the intention was.

Yes.

Q    Thank you, Sean. I have two questions, if I may. First is about — during yesterday’s meeting between President Trump and the Chinese State Councilor, Yang Jiechi, President Trump expressed his interest in joining Belt and Road Initiative. Could you tell us more about their meeting?

MR. SPICER: I can’t. I mean, obviously I think we sent a representative to that conference, but I’m not going to get any further than the discussion that they had.

Q    So we heard that Jared and Ivanka have accepted an invitation to visit China by the end of this year. Could you comment on that, as well?

MR. SPICER: They have.

Q    Take one question, Sean?

MR. SPICER: I know because Goyal has got a visit coming on Monday, so he gets a question on Friday.

Q    Thank you, sir. Two questions.

MR. SPICER: Are you excited?

Q    This will be the first face-to-face meeting —

MR. SPICER: It will.

Q    Yes, sir. This will be the first —

MR. SPICER: Better get ready.

Q    — face-to-face meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi. So is President Trump ready to accept him and welcome him, because both have the same dream? Prime Minister Modi is saying “Make in India,” and President Trump is saying “Buy American,” and make in America — or “Hire American.” So my question is, so much is there on the plate when Prime Minister Modi arrives here. He’s saying that he will have a great meeting with the President because we have many things in common, as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned. So what can we expect between the two leaders?

MR. SPICER: Well, first, I want to wish the people of India a happy 70th anniversary on their independence.

But during the meeting, the President and the Prime Minister will discuss ongoing cooperation, including counterterrorism, defense partnership in the Indo-Pacific region, global cooperation, burden-sharing, trade, law enforcement, and energy. I think it’s going to be a very robust discussion.

Q    And a separate question, please —

MR. SPICER: Yeah.

Q    Thank you. On Wednesday, June 21st was the International Day of Yoga, which was declared by the United Nations three years ago under the leadership — initiative by Prime Minister Mode. Any citation you think President Trump will issue? Or what he has — any message as far as yoga is concerned? Because yoga means less trips to the doctors and hospitals.

MR. SPICER: I don’t have — (laughter) — anything on yoga at this point. But I appreciate the —

Q    Show us a stance. (Laughter.)

MR. SPICER: Trey.

Q    Thank you. I have two questions — one on North Korea and one on health care. Starting with health care, does the President consider the Senate bill a full repeal of Obamacare? The four senators you talked about, they say that they don’t feel it’s a full repeal, which is why they’re not supporting the current draft.

MR. SPICER: Obamacare is — I mean, I think I’ve said it before — Obamacare is dead. So it is — you have no carriers, the premiums are skyrocketing. So whatever you want to call it, the bottom line is, it is a dead health care system. There isn’t a question about whether or not — what to do with it. We have to act. I think the President has made clear that we need to actually get a system in place.

Q    On North Korea, the government of North Korea said that Otto Warmbier’s death is a mystery to them. How does the White House respond to these comments?

MR. SPICER: I don’t think it’s a mystery. I think we know very well what happened. And I think, as the President said, it’s a disgrace.

Alexis.

Q    Sean, I had a couple questions. First, on health care. The order in which the Senate was going to vote will occur after the CBO score, and the White House was very critical of the Congressional Budget Office back in March, during the House process. So my question is, does the President believe that his discussions with lawmakers about what they want and their concern about the legislation should be guided by the CBO score? And will it influence his thinking as he looks at the bill?

MR. SPICER: I think one of the points that I made last time, Alexis — which stands — is that the CBO core function is budgetary and fiscal impacts, not on people. And they’ve been wildly off by a huge percentage when they’ve tried to score people. Their track record on doing that is not good. And so we maintain what we have all along: we want to do the right policy. And the CBO score should be used by members in the Senate to decide — to the extent that they think that helps them make a decision. But I think we all understand — look, Obamacare promised it was going to drive premiums down $2,500, it was going to bring down deductibles. It did none of that stuff.

I think the way that this bill has been constructed has done so in a way that it’s actually going to achieve the goals that the American people were promised.

All the way in the back.

Q    Can I just follow up on another topic?

MR. SPICER: Of course.

Q    Hallie was asking about Russia and the interview. I just wanted to ask you, because you were just commenting that the President does believe Russia was behind the interference in the election, that he is concerned, that the administration is taking steps. So to follow up on her question and Steve’s question — is it the President’s desire to speak directly to Putin, if he gets that chance, to say that U.S. officials believe that Russia poses a risk to the 2018 and 2020 elections, and the United States would like Russia to be on notice or on warning that the United States disapproves of this?

MR. SPICER: If and when there’s a meeting, we will have a readout for you.

Yes, ma’am.

Q    Thank you, Sean. There’s a play rendition of Julius Caesar in New York City where the character portrayed as President Trump gets assassinated. Is the President aware of this play? And if so, what’s his reaction? And also, is the Secret Service investigating it?

MR. SPICER: That’s a question for the Secret Service. You can call Kathy over there and ask her.

Look, I think it’s troubling whether it’s that or Johnny Depp’s comments. We’ve seen this. And, frankly, as far as I’m concerned, I know that the President and the first lady weighed in on Kathy Griffin’s comments. I don’t know that he’s aware about the play in particular that’s going on there. But it is, frankly, my belief, a little troubling the lack of outrage that we’ve seen in some of these instances where people have said what they’ve said with respect to the President and the actions that should be taken.

The President has made it clear that we should denounce violence in all of its forms. And I think that if we’re going to hold to that standard, then we should all agree that standard should be universally called out. And so when those actions are depicted — and I think we saw a couple folks in the media and some other places tweet out their support for that show — I’m not sure that that’s a smart thing to do. We either all agree that violence should be called out and denounced, or not. And I think that it’s concerning when you see a pattern that these comments get made, these actions get depicted, and the lack of attention that they get when it’s on our side.

Q    Sean, thank you. With regard to the bill signing from this morning, do you see this as a — because the President talked a lot about during (inaudible) federal employees and so forth. Do you see this as maybe a larger point of going through civil service reform, and which you could look at holding career-level federal employees to higher standards, and making it easier to fire certain people for certain conduct?

MR. SPICER: I think it’s a good start, yeah. This is the first step. I think it’s important that we start with our veterans. But I think everyone who serves in the public trust has an obligation to serve the public and do what they can, whether it’s our veterans or people looking for an education loan or whatever. And if you’re not doing your job, I think that we should, as a government, have a standard that if you’re not doing what the job is supposed to be doing, and you’re not helping your fellow Americans achieve what that department or agency is after, that we should make sure that there’s a process by which we can have that person removed and put in place somebody who will do it.

The President’s step this morning was a big step forward. And I think to your question, the impact of that, the signal that it sends isn’t just about veterans, obviously, but it is — it should resonate governmentwide that we expect people who serve in government to do what they can to serve our country.

Q    You mentioned veterans would be a good start. What would be the next step? I mean, would it be the (inaudible) misconduct?

MR. SPICER: We’ll wait and see. I think we’ve got a fairly robust legislative agenda right now, but if the House and the Senate wanted to move forward with something else, I’m sure we could find a way to work with them.

Q    Thank you, Sean. The Carrier plant the President visited right after the election has told employees that it would lay off more than 600 people between now and the end of the year. Its employment would actually fall below the agreement that it has with the state. Would the President reengage in that situation? Should the state claw back some of those incentives?

MR. SPICER: We’re talking about 632 jobs in this instance. This was announced last year, so what we’re hearing now is nothing new. Carrier remains committed to retaining 1,069 Hoosier jobs over the next 10 years, consistent with the deal that was reached after the election. By maintaining these jobs in Indiana, Carrier is showing confidence in the business climate and the future of the American economy.

Q    So in terms of the deals that the White House is making with individual companies, though, earlier this week you addressed Ford and you said, “At some point in the future, tax reform is what would incentivize companies to operate here.” But what sort of enforcement mechanisms does the White House have to keep these companies honest?

MR. SPICER: Well, again, remember, that deal that you’re talking about with Carrier is consistent with the deal that they struck. This is just the manifestation of the deal that was struck back in, I think it was November of last year; it could have been early December.

So this is consistent with what they said they would do back then, but I think both in terms of regulatory policy and tax policy, we need to do what we can to incentivize more companies to not just stay here, but to grow here.

Francesca.

Q    Thank you, Sean. Two separate policy topics. First of all, you said that Senator Joe Manchin III, a Democrat, is going to be looking at potentially getting some Democratic votes for the Senate health care bill. The President has said repeatedly that no matter how good this bill is, that he doesn’t think that he would get any Democratic votes for it. It now sounds like you’re saying that you do expect potentially to get some Democratic votes for it, and therefore you might not even need these four Republican senators who say that they can’t support it.

MR. SPICER: I didn’t say that.

Q    Okay.

MR. SPICER: But what I said — and just to be clear — is it’s obviously — the President believes, and for good reason — I don’t think that — he doesn’t believe that we’ll end up getting any. I think it’s encouraging that, as we evolve through this process, that you see someone like Senator Manchin say, I agree that the system is broken and I’m willing to fix it.

Now, whether or not we ultimately can get his vote, that’s another question. But I think it’s encouraging that someone like him wants to step forward and engage in a discussion about — if there’s a potential of getting his vote. And obviously that’s a discussion that — whether it’s him or someone else — I noted the other day, I think, to Hallie that a couple of times already, Senator Schumer has been very clear that there would be no engagement from Democrats.

So to see this progress I think is — I don’t want to get too far in front of it, but it’s also — it’s good to see at least one senator publicly say that they’re willing to have that discussion.

Jordan.

Q    Sorry — I said two policy questions, sorry.

MR. SPICER: You did.

Q    Totally separate subject, I wanted to follow up on what John Gizzi had asked about the —

MR. SPICER: That’s a first. (Laughter.)

Q    Follow up on what John Gizzi had said about the President’s speech on Tuesday night and the welfare requirement for immigrants. What specifically would the proposal that the President was talking about do that’s different than what is already a part of the federal law? You said he wanted to reexamine it, maybe even put in a new law. What was he proposing? How is that different?

MR. SPICER: Well, when we have an announcement on that, I’ll let you know.

Q    You said he’d be he putting in legislation soon.

MR. SPICER: I understand that. And so when we do, we’ll let you know. But at this point, we don’t have that.

Jordan.

Q    Thank you, Sean. If he White House is concerned about the message of Julius Caesar and stuff that’s said by Johnny Depp, then why was Al Baldasaro, who said that Hillary Clinton should be shot for treason for the handling of Benghazi, invited to the VA event today at the White House?

MR. SPICER: Well, obviously, as I mentioned, we also — I’d make it very clear, I don’t — I condemn all acts of violence. I don’t believe that any — and the President has said this as well — that anybody who goes out and tries to highlight those kind of actions should not be welcome. I don’t — I’m not aware of the comments he made.

But again, I’ll say it right now, that I don’t think that we should be resorting to that kind of language with respect to anybody in our country.

Q    You mean you do condemn it.

Q    You do condemn it.

MR. SPICER: I do. Thank you.

Q    Let me ask you about — one on Russia, one on health care. The Russia sanctions bill — can you talk at all about what your goals are for that bill, even a sense of timing? Is it helpful to have that bill sooner or later from this White House?

MR. SPICER: You mean the one that the Senate passed that is — got pulled back with the — I mean, that’s — right now — the Senate passed the bill, the parliamentarian rule that it had a revenue component to it and it had to have originated in the House. So now the House is looking at it.

But right now, I mean, there’s not a — there’s nothing to comment on in the sense that the Senate parliamentarian rule that because of the revenue nature —

Q    What (inaudible) opinion on whether —

MR. SPICER: Well, I mean, let’s see what it looks like. I think obviously the concern that we will have is whether or not the executive maintains the authority and the flexibility with respect to implementing sanctions both going forward to pulling back to effectively achieve a goal.

And so —

Q    It’s not a timing issue for you guys.

MR. SPICER: No, I think it’s a policy — it’s — how it’s crafted. And I think that’s something that we’re going to look at as it — assuming that the House takes up its legislation, and then when it goes to the Senate. But I think our main concern overall with sanctions is how they — how the Congress crafts them, and any potential erosion of the executive branch’s authority to implement them.

Q    And just real quick, these contested Obamacare payments —

MR. SPICER: The CSRs.

Q    — that the administration looked through this month, the President has referred to those as “ransom.” Is there any reason to believe that those will — won’t keep — won’t be approved every month until there’s a change to the health care law?

MR. SPICER: I think we committed to making them last month, and that’s as far as we will go at this time. We’re not committing to them this month. Obviously —

Q    Why is it a month-to-month thing to you guys?

MR. SPICER: Because I think that the question is, if we believe — again, I’m not going to — last month, obviously, if we can pass health care overall then that changes that. And part of it is going to be where we are in that process. But it ultimately — up to the President to decide. But the reason it’s a month-to-month is because exactly what you said, he doesn’t — the court has ruled very clearly on this instance.

Q    Can you say why he decided to make — authorize these payments?

MR. SPICER: Because again, part of it is — our goal is to ultimately transition to a health care system that doesn’t need them and isn’t a bailout to the insurance companies. So we want to get to that system as quick as possible. And our hope is that transition can take place.

Q    It seems like a — to threaten these payments on a month-to-month basis, does this risk the President’s —

MR. SPICER: It’s not a — there’s no threat. It’s just a fact. As soon as we can get it done, it’s in the best interest of a health care system, it’s in the best interest of the American taxpayer. And as soon as the President decides that we either have a system or he doesn’t want to continue the bailout, then we’ll stop. But it wouldn’t make —

Q    So (inaudible).

MR. SPICER: I don’t think — look, I’ll give you the flip side. If the President were to hypothetically say that he’s going to make the payments in perpetuity or for a year, I think that continues to prop up a failed system. It continues to do wrong by the American taxpayer. And it also doesn’t lend itself to the expediency that I think we want to — help get a new health care system in place.

Thank you guys very much.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer has had many memorable moments since he took the high-profile position Jan. 21. Here are some of the most notable. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

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Frustrated Dems say Obama botched Russia response – The Hill

The Obama administration is under fresh scrutiny for its response to Russian meddling in the election after new details emerged this week about how the White House weighed its actions against the 2016 political environment.

Then-President Obama was too cautious in the months leading up to the election, frustrated Democratic lawmakers and strategists say. 

“It was inadequate. I think they could have done a better job informing the American people of the extent of the attack,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who co-chairs the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

And even after the election was over, they say, the penalties Obama levied were too mild to appropriately punish what by all accounts was an unprecedented attack on a U.S. election.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), another House Intelligence member, called the penalties “barely a slap on the wrist.” Sen. John McCainJohn McCainFrustrated Dems say Obama botched Russia responseCoats: Trump seemed obsessed with Russia probeThe Hill’s Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal billMORE (R-Ariz.), who supports tougher sanctions Russia, said in a statement Friday that the administration “abjectly failed to deter Russian aggression” and “failed to impose any meaningful costs on Russia.”

Some Republicans argue the Obama administration only started to take the Russia threat seriously after President Trump had won the election.

Trump has called the influence operation a “hoax” and dismissed the various inquiries into Russian interference in the election — which include looking for possible collusion between his campaign and Moscow — as a “witch hunt.”

“By the way, if Russia was working so hard on the 2016 Election, it all took place during the Obama Admin. Why didn’t they stop them?” Trump tweeted Thursday.

The Obama administration announced on Oct. 7 that the theft and release of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails was part of a widespread campaign “intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.” 

But it was not until January that it issued a separate declassified intelligence report that assessed Moscow was attempting to tip the election in t Trump’s favor — and only in December did Obama approve a modest package of retaliatory sanctions and expel a compound of Russian diplomats.

Former Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson on Wednesday told lawmakers that the White House held back on responding to Russia because it didn’t want to play into fears, propagated by then-candidate Trump, that the election would be “rigged.”

“One of the candidates, as you’ll recall, was predicting that the election was going to be rigged in some way,” Johnson said. “And so we were concerned that, by making the statement, we might in and of itself be challenging the integrity of the election process itself.”

Trump had repeatedly claimed that the outcome of the election would be “rigged” against him, alleging widespread voter fraud and inaccurate polling. He provided no evidence to back up his claims, but critics feared that his rhetoric could undermine public trust in the outcome of the election. 

On Friday, The Washington Post published a detailed post-mortem of the administration’s decision-making process that showed the former president agonizing over how to prevent politicization of the threat — and arguably failing, critics say.

While Democrats appreciated Obama’s sensitivity to the potential appearance of partisanship, they say the Russian influence campaign should have been treated like any other national security threat, without respect to politics. 

“I understand the analysis, but look where we are right now. This was the worst mess our democracy has been in since the Civil War,” Swalwell said.

Other onlookers point to then-ongoing and extremely delicate negotiations with Russia over a ceasefire in Syria. The Obama administration publicly levied blame on Russia for the DNC hack and the wider interference campaign just a few days after former Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryFrustrated Dems say Obama botched Russia responseBudowsky: Dems madder than hellTillerson: ‘My view didn’t change’ on Paris climate agreementMORE officially suspended those talks.

“I think the Obama administration figured, we have to deal with the Russians in the Middle East and they didn’t want the stuff with the hacking to interfere with that,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “But I think that was a mistake because if voters don’t trust the integrity of the electoral system, we’ve got nothing left.”

Johnson defended the White House’s response, arguing the administration repeatedly banged the drum on election cybersecurity throughout the summer and fall but was appropriately leery of undermining trust in the integrity of the election.

The Oct. 7 statement, Johnson said, was one in a series of public statements — but it was overshadowed in the media by the leak of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump spoke of grabbing women by the genitals.

Other former officials are less confident that Obama went far enough in his response. 

“It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” a former senior official involved in the deliberations on Russia told The Post. “I feel like we sort of choked.”

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Consumer issues stemming from the GOP health care initiative – Washington Post

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar | AP,

WASHINGTON — Republicans in full control of government are on the brink of history-making changes to the nation’s health care system. The impact for consumers would go well beyond “Obamacare.”

Former President Barack Obama’s signature law is usually associated with subsidized insurance markets like HealthCare.gov. But the Affordable Care Act also expanded Medicaid.

Not only would the GOP legislation scale back coverage through the insurance markets and phase out the Medicaid expansion, it would also make fundamental changes to the broader Medicaid program. The federal-state program covers low-income people, from newborns to elderly nursing home residents, from special-needs kids to young adults caught in the opioid epidemic.

House Republicans have passed their health care bill, and Senate GOP leaders are driving toward a vote next week. President Donald Trump is waiting, eager to deliver on a campaign promise to repeal the law.

Against fast-moving developments, a look at some major issues for consumers.

WHY MEDICAID MATTERS

As health care costs have kept climbing, employers cut back on coverage, and Medicaid passed Medicare as the nation’s largest public insurance program. It now covers about 70 million people, including children and able-bodied adults mostly served by private managed care plans.

The GOP’s biggest Medicaid change involves limiting future federal financing. Since its inception, Medicaid has been an open-ended entitlement, with Washington matching a share of what each state spends. Instead, Republicans propose a per-beneficiary cap.

In addition, the GOP would phase out added financing that Obama’s law provided as an incentive for states to expand the program and cover more low-income adults. About 11 million are covered by the expansion.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the House bill would reduce federal Medicaid spending by $834 billion over 10 years, and the program would cover about 14 million fewer people by 2026, a 17 percent reduction.

Governors of both parties have warned Congress that would mean a cost shift to states that undermines coverage for the vulnerable.

Medicaid limits got very little attention in the 2016 presidential campaign. The idea was a relatively late addition to Trump’s talking points. Indeed, candidate Trump had started out promising no cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a longtime GOP adviser, says the Republican approach is “180 degrees different in its economic and budgetary philosophy,” from the course steered by Obama. The Medicaid limit would move the nation closer to putting public health care programs on a budget, fiscal discipline that conservatives say is long overdue.

But the human consequences could be politically volatile. “No one wins on health care policy,” observed Holtz-Eakin.

WHAT DOCTORS ARE SAYING

Groups representing doctors and hospitals are overwhelmingly opposed to the Republican approach, because it’s likely to result in millions more uninsured people. Consumer organizations like AARP are also opposed.

Under Obama, the nation’s uninsured rate dropped below 9 percent, a historic low. Progress has stalled, partly because “Obamacare” is politically divisive. Now, the uninsured rate may start climbing again, because both the House and Senate bills cut federal financing and repeal an unpopular requirement to carry health insurance.

It “would have a profoundly negative impact on Americans,” said John Meigs, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Some Republicans argue that a Medicaid card or an “Obamacare” policy means little because either the doctor doesn’t accept notoriously low Medicaid fees, or high deductibles under the health law keep patients from coming in.

But doctors see a health insurance card as a ticket into the system, so patients can be screened for chronic conditions that can ultimately lead to serious illnesses. Obama’s law made many preventive services free of charge to the patient.

Dr. Mott Blair of Wallace, N.C., recalls a patient who got a colonoscopy that found a polyp, which undetected could have led to colon cancer.

“Now we are able to bring them in and get their blood sugars down, their blood pressure down,” Blair said in a recent interview. “They’re not going to have a disastrous complication like a stroke or a heart attack, at least not for the foreseeable future.”

PRIVATE INSURANCE CHANGES

Republicans would make no significant changes to employer-provided coverage, which remains the mainstay of private insurance.

They focus instead on the market for individual policies, which Obama’s ACA sought to reform by providing subsidies, setting requirements for comprehensive coverage, and creating online markets where consumers could compare plans. An estimated 17 million to 20 million people have individual policies. About 10 million are in the ACA’s markets.

“Obamacare’s” results have been mixed, with lower enrollment than expected, big losses for many insurers, and sharp premium increases. The situation varies from state to state, with healthy markets in some and others struggling to hang on to insurers. Consumers who are not entitled to subsidies can face shockingly high premiums.

Both the House and Senate bills would keep subsidies for private insurance, although with considerably less money. The House and Senate formulas for subsidies differ. States would be able to seek waivers from federal insurance requirements.

The Senate bill takes immediate steps to stabilize insurance markets for the next two years.

Over the long run, premiums for younger people are expected to come down. But older adults and people who require comprehensive coverage are likely to pay more.

“Low-income people will end up paying higher premiums for plans that have bigger deductibles, compared to today,” said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, commenting on the Senate bill. “Older people who are now getting premium subsidies would get substantially less help, but younger people would get more.”

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

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Trump says ‘we’ll have to see’ if Mueller should step down from Russia probe – Washington Post


President Trump and Vice President Pence walk through the White House as they arrive for a technology event on June 22, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump laid out his belief that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is biased in the expanding Russia investigation and suggested in an interview broadcast Friday morning that he may eventually need to step down.

Asked by Fox News Channel whether Mueller should “recuse himself from the investigation,” Trump said three times “we’ll have to see,” and argued that Mueller’s long friendship with fired FBI director James B. Comey and hiring of investigators with Democratic ties are “very bothersome” and “ridiculous.”

“He’s very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome,” Trump said. He added: “The people that have been hired are all Hillary Clinton supporters. Some of them worked for Hillary Clinton. I mean the whole thing is ridiculous, if you want to know the truth, from that standpoint.”

Trump has talked privately with advisers and friends about the possibility of firing Mueller, something the president would have to do by ordering his Justice Department to remove him. But in the Fox interview, he seemed to want to give Mueller more time to continue the investigation before jumping to a conclusion.

“Robert Mueller is an honorable man, and hopefully he’ll come up with an honorable solution,” Trump said of the decorated former FBI director, criminal prosecutor and Marine.

With Mueller investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its potential collusion with the Trump campaign — as well as possible obstruction of justice by Trump himself — the president maintained his innocence.

“Look, there has been no obstruction,” Trump told Fox. “There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey. But that’s been no collusion, no obstruction — and virtually everybody agrees to that.”

[Trump is struggling to stay calm on Russia, one morning call at a time]

The interview was conducted by Ainsley Earhardt, a favorite of the Trump White House and co-host of “Fox & Friends,” the cable network’s reliably favorable morning show that the president often cheers on Twitter. She interviewed Trump and his wife, Melania, at the White House during Thursday night’s congressional picnic.

Trump expressed optimism that the Senate would pass the Republican health-care bill revealed Thursday, saying the four GOP senators who stated their opposition were “friends” of his and would “probably get there.”

“We have four very good people that — it’s not that they’re opposed; they’d like to get certain changes,” Trump said. “And we’ll see if we can take care of that.” He added that health care is “a very complicated situation from the standpoint, you do something that’s good for one group but bad for another.”

Earhardt asked Trump about his announcement earlier Thursday that he had no “tapes” of his private conversations with Comey, coming clean after five-and-a-half weeks of speculating publicly that he may have been recording their talks. Trump suggested that his threat of tapes may have intimidated Comey into being more honest in his recollection of events.

“I didn’t tape,” Trump said. “And I don’t have any tape, and I didn’t tape. But when he found out that I, you know, that there may be tapes out there, whether it’s government tapes or anything else, and who knows, I think his story may have changed. I mean, you’ll have to take a look at that, because then he has to tell what actually took place at the events.”

Trump continued: “My story didn’t change. My story was always a straight story. My story was always the truth. But you’ll have to determine for yourself whether or not his story changed.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

The Daily 202: Senate Republicans want to get to yes on the health care bill – Washington Post

Ted Cruz leaves the Senate floor after a vote yesterday. The Texas senator is one of the holdouts on the health care bill, but he’s widely expected to come around. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

THE BIG IDEA: Much of the concern that Republican senators expressed yesterday about the draft health-care bill felt more like political posturing than genuine threats to torpedo the effort.

There are not currently the 50 votes necessary to advance the legislation that Mitch McConnell unveiled Thursday. There will need to be concessions and compromises, and there are several ways the push could still fall apart in the coming days.

But pretty much every Republican, including the current holdouts, wants to pass something. And no GOP senator wants to bear the brunt of the blame from the base for inaction. That factor must not be discounted.

— President Trump, who endorsed the Senate bill last night, also badly wants to get something done, and he’s made clear that he’ll sign whatever makes it through Congress.

I am very supportive of the Senate #HealthcareBill. Look forward to making it really special! Remember, ObamaCare is dead.

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

— Ted Cruz carried around a “path to yes” memo in his suit coat pocket yesterday that contained a list of his asks. “This current draft doesn’t get the job done, but I believe we can get to yes,” said the Texan, who is up for reelection next year and has been trying to rebrand himself as an effective legislator. “We continue to have positive, productive conversations.”

Cruz issued a joint statement with three other conservatives — Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mike Lee of Utah — saying that they cannot support the legislation as it stands. Parse their words carefully, and it’s notable how many outs they gave themselves.

Here is the statement in full (I’ve added italics on the wiggle words): “Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor. There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health care system, but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs.”

Many believe Cruz is bluffing and will come around, even with small concessions that let him save face. As Republican strategist John Weaver, who played top roles on the presidential campaigns of John McCain and John Kasich, put it:

If anyone actually believes Ted Cruz isn’t going to vote for final passage of this bill, well, I have some rainforest in Arizona to sell you

— John Weaver (@JWGOP) June 22, 2017

— An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which was in the field earlier this week and published yesterday, helps explain the balancing act we’re seeing from so many Republicans: Only 16 percent of Americans believe that the House health care bill is good, down from 23 percent last month. Even among Republicans, just one in three view the measure positively. But the public is basically split down the middle over Obamacare, with 41 percent saying the 2010 law is a good idea and 38 percent saying it’s a bad idea. Asked if Congress and the president should continue their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the split is similar: 38 percent say yes, 39 percent say no, and 20 percent have no opinion. But here’s the rub: 71 percent of Republicans want Congress to continue its effort to repeal the ACA, and only 12 percent of GOP voters want to move on. Independents also slightly favor forging ahead with repeal, 38 percent to 32 percent.

Those numbers demonstrate why lawmakers are eager to be perceived as extracting concessions (so they can say they made improvements), but the partisan breakdown also shows why most GOP senators are willing to get behind what remains an unpopular piece of legislation. Even as they do so, however, they are carefully positioning themselves. A bunch of Republicans who will vote yes next week released noncommittal statements yesterday suggesting that they are keeping an open mind. Marco Rubio, for example, said that he’s studying the bill and will “decide how to vote … on the basis of how it impacts Florida.”

— McConnell can only afford two defections, and he’s facing objections from the right and the middle. But if anyone can thread this needle, it’s the Senate majority leader. “McConnell unveiled his proposal knowing full well that — as currently written — it lacks the votes to win approval,” congressional correspondent Paul Kane writes. “But using a time-honored tactic of congressional leadership, the Kentucky Republican decided it was time to call the bluff of his GOP colleagues. … Republicans now head into five or six days of intense negotiations … Many GOP senators complained bitterly about the secretive process, while privately breathing a sigh of relief that they didn’t yet have to take a position on the emerging legislation.”

There are some obvious “gives” that could get a few of the wavering moderates on board: “Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters Thursday that she and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) would try to amend the Planned Parenthood restrictions during next week’s ‘vote-a-rama,’ a period when senators can offer unlimited amendments to the health-care measure,” Kane reports. “GOP insiders expect Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who oppose the bill’s deep cuts to Medicaid, to be mollified by more cash to combat the opioid epidemic.” That might leave Rand Paul as the biggest hurdle, but McConnell could afford to lose the junior senator from his state. (We’re keeping a running whip count here.)

— McConnell explicitly urged GOP senators to withhold statements announcing outright opposition to his proposal yesterday so that everyone can retain flexibility, Politico’s Burgess Everett reports. “McConnell’s strategy has been a slow burn, allowing his members to vent in private party discussions while gradually writing a bill that takes in their considerations over the past six weeks. He’s had more than 30 meetings with his members (about the proposal).”

John Thune, No. 3 in GOP leadership, is warning the conservative holdouts that Republicans will be stuck with a single-payer system if they don’t pass this bill. “If you get 80 percent of what you want in a circumstance like this, it’s going to have to be a victory because we’re not going to get 100 percent,” he told Burgess. “If we don’t get this done and we end up with Democratic majorities in ‘18, we’ll have single payer. … (McConnell) believes that, given the amount of input we’ve had from everybody, we’ll get to 50.”

Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) freely acknowledged problems with the Senate bill, but he also said that he’s “likely” to vote for it because it will be better than the status quo. “I don’t have a list of things at this point I must change,” Toomey said on a conference call with reporters, making a statement that reflects the mindset of most Senate Republicans. “Everything I want is not going to happen in one bill.”

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE SENATE BILL—

ON TIMING:

— The Congressional Budget Office said it expects to release a score for the Senate bill “early next week.

— Despite grumbling from some members of his conference, McConnell still plans on holding a final vote next week. (Sean Sullivan, Kelsey Snell and Juliet Eilperin)

— Democratshave little power to stop the vote from occurring, though 20 senators filed procedural motions designed to throw sand in the gears. Republicans will have to address each individually. This will slightly delay holding a vote and could mean some late nights next week, but it won’t stop passage if Republicans have 50 votes. (Kelsey Snell and Elise Viebeck)

— House Democrats, including Steny Hoyer, say they are on guard for a quick vote if the bill passes the Senate next week. But, again, there’s very little they can do to stop it if Republicans have the votes. (Mike DeBonis)

— Vice President Pence expressed hope last night that the bill will be signed into law before the end of the summer. (John Wagner)

Paul Ryan holds a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) on Wednesday. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

THE HOUSE VS. THE SENATE:

— Overall, the Senate bill does not go as far as the House bill in rolling back the Affordable Care Act. (Our graphics team visualized the similarities and differences between the plans. Read the full text of the Senate’s 142-page bill here.)

— The Senate version says insurers could not deny coverage based on preexisting conditions.

— Like the bill that passed the House last month, the Senate measure phases out expanded Medicaid funding for states, but it does so more gradually between 2020 and 2024.

— But because of an accounting gimmick, the Senate bill guts Medicaid much more drastically over the long-term than the House bill. Max Ehrenfreund reports: “Through 2025, both bills would adjust the cap based on a measure of how rapidly medical costs are expanding — a measure known as the CPI-M. Starting in 2025, however, the Senate bill would change the formula, instead funding Medicaid based on a measure of how rapidly all costs are rising, … General costs, however, typically rise more slowly than medical costs … After a decade or two, that discrepancy would add up to of hundreds of billions of dollars.”

— The Medicaid cuts in the Senate proposal could disproportionately hurt rural hospitals, 700 of which across the country already teeter on the brink of closure. (NPR’s Bram Sable-Smith)

— The Senate bill would cut almost $1 billion in funding for the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which provides 12 percent of the CDC’s budget, starting this October. Lena H. Sun reports: “The money supports programs to prevent bioterrorism and disease outbreaks, as well as to provide immunizations and screenings for cancer and heart disease … About $625 million goes directly to states and communities to address their most pressing health needs, including drug misuse, infectious diseases, lead poisoning, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer and tobacco use.”

— The bill appropriates only $2 billion in fiscal year 2018 to address the opioid drug epidemic, Vox’s Ella Nilsen reports. This is less than the $45 billion over 10 years that Republican Sens. Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito requested and far less than $190 billion over 10 years, which is what a Harvard health economics professor estimated this week was needed to truly address the problem.

— Both House leaders, Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi, argued that the Senate bill is not radically different from what their chamber passed last month. The Speaker is saying this so that it’s easier to get his members on board. The Minority Leader is saying it to make the point that the Senate version is not a meaningful improvement on the toxically unpopular House bill. (Mike DeBonis)

WHAT THE BILL DOES TO PREMIUMS:

— Republican promises to stabilize individual health insurance markets could prove hollow. Amy Goldstein explains why: “Republicans have vowed for months to … stave off the collapse of the nation’s most fragile health insurance markets, which serve people who buy coverage on their own. In the Senate, that turns out to be a short-term goal. (The Senate bill) would keep billions of dollars flowing — but only for two years — to health plans that have been begging for continued help with the expense of millions of lower-income customers in ACA insurance marketplaces. After 2019, the payments would stop…

“The cutoff of those payments would coincide with the end of subsidies that help the vast majority of people with ACA health plans afford their premiums. The subsidies would be replaced with smaller tax credits … The new credits would not reach as many middle-income Americans, and although they would be available for the first time to people below the poverty line, the amounts could be too small to be useful…

“Taken together, these and other features of the Better Care Reconciliation Act could drive prices up after a few years for people who buy individual insurance — a core group the ACA is designed to help. After the next three years, it also would begin a sharp downward path in federal support for Medicaid, the cornerstone of the nation’s health-care safety net for the past half-century.”

Laurie McGinley, Lenny Bernstein and Lena H. Sun provide a few illustrative examples of Americans who could be significantly impacted if the Senate bill becomes law, including a 44-year-old breast cancer survivor, a 27-year-old man receiving drug treatment through Medicaid and a 59-year-old man who works as an independent contractor.

— One way to think about all of this: Obamacare cut the uninsured rate almost in half by redistributing resources from the wealthy to the poor. This bill seeks to undo that redistribution, The New York Times’ Margot Sanger-Katz explains.

Sarah Kliff summarizes it this way on Vox: “The bill asks low- and middle-income Americans to spend significantly more for less coverage.”

An aide for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) carries a sign that shows opposition to the House Republican bill for a floor speech yesterday. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

STAKEHOLDERS PANNED THE BILL:

— Hospitals decried the cuts to Medicaid, with the chief executive of the American Hospital Association calling them “unsustainable.” (Juliet Eilperin)

— The AARP said the Senate bill allows insurance companies to charge the elderly up to five times more than young people. The senior’s lobby is mobilizing its membership against what it calls an “age tax.” (The Hill)

— A chorus of providers warned that the Senate bill would “turn back the clock on women’s health.” “This legislation deliberately strips the landmark women’s health gains made by the Affordable Care Act and would severely limit access to care,” the president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wrote in a statement.

— One exception: Insurance executives are happy because the Senate bill reverses a provision in Obamacare that penalized their companies for excessively paying top staff. (Ehrenfreund)

Barack Obama signs a bill intow law in 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

BARACK OBAMA EMERGES FROM COCOON TO DEFEND SIGNATURE ACHIEVEMENT:

— The former president made a rare public statement to denounce the Senate proposal. “Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family — this bill will do you harm,” he wrote. “And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.”

— “The 44th president did not mention his successor … but his scathing criticism and urgent tone … set up a direct public fight with the current White House occupant over the future of the nation’s health care system,” David Nakamura writes.

— On a related note, Obama will soon hit the campaign trail again. He plans to stump with Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate in the Virginia governor’s race. (Fenit Nirappil)

— Obama didn’t go as far as many Democrats on the Hill: Chuck Schumer called the draft “a step to eradicating Medicaid.” “People will die,” Elizabeth Warren said in a floor speech. “These cuts are blood money.”

BIG PROTESTS CREATED BAD VISUALS ON THE NIGHTLY NEWS:

— Forty-three disability advocates protesting the Senate draft were arrested outside of McConnell’s office. “The protesters staged a ‘die-in’ in front of the office, with many of the protesters in wheelchairs removing themselves from the chairs then lying on the floor,” Perry Stein reports.

— “Parents of sick kids try to remind Congress what the health-care debate should be about,” by Petula Dvorak: “These kids smiled, giggled and then their tubes gurgled to show what’s at stake here. It was real-life lobbying done by a brigade of 12 intrepid families who pushed their way through Capitol Hill’s offices. … ‘We heard from a lot of families that it’s really, really difficult to get in touch with any of their representatives,’ [one of the parents, Elena Hung] said. ‘They say, ‘Call your representatives,’ but most of these offices aren’t even taking calls.’ So they showed up in person.”

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Sept. 2016. (Photo by Alexei Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images. Photo illustration by Nick Kirkpatrick/The Washington Post.)

— If you read one story today: The Post just published a detailed, inside look at how the Obama administration sought to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 elections. Here are a few of the most interesting nuggets from the story by national security correspondents Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous:

“Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried ‘eyes only’ instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.” The envelope contained allegations that Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly and personally trying to influence the U.S. elections, but went even further: “The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.”

“The material was so sensitive that CIA Director John Brennan kept it out of the President’s Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report’s distribution was too broad. The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read. To guard against leaks, subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid.”

“The Obama administration secretly debated dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could ‘crater’ the Russian economy … in late December, Obama approved a modest package combining measures that had been drawn up to punish Russia for other issues.”

Some former Obama officials don’t think they did enough to stop Putin’s meddling. “It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” said a former senior Obama administration official involved in White House deliberations on Russia. “I feel like we sort of choked.”

Brennan “convened a secret task force at CIA headquarters composed of several dozen analysts and officers from the CIA, the NSA and the FBI. The unit functioned as a sealed compartment, its work hidden from the rest of the intelligence community … They worked exclusively for two groups of “customers,” officials said. The first was Obama and fewer than 14 senior officials in government. The second was a team of operations specialists at the CIA, NSA and FBI who took direction from the task force on where to aim their subsequent efforts to collect more intelligence on Russia.”

It was not until after Labor Day that Brennan had reached all members of the “Gang of Eight” in Congress. In September, Jeh Johnson, Jim Comey and White House Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco briefed congressional leaders, but it quickly “devolved into a partisan squabble” in which Democrats wanted to make the threats public while McConnell was “skeptical.”

The Obama administration sent two other warnings to the Kremlin: On Oct. 7, Susan Rice summoned Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and handed him a message for Putin; and on Oct. 31, there was a final pre-election message sent “via a secure channel to Moscow originally created to avert a nuclear exchange.”

Following Trump’s surprising win, the administration crafted a plan to form a commission headed by then-Secretary of State John Kerry to create a bipartisan commission and make recommendations about how to prevent future election meddling. Denis McDonough planned to “tabledrop” the plan at the next National Security Council meeting but then began criticizing it as weak. It didn’t happen.

Obama appears to have taken serious and secretive cyber countermeasures against Russia post-election by “authorizing a new covert program involving the NSA, CIA and U.S. Cyber Command”: “The cyber operation is still in its early stages and involves deploying ‘implants’ in Russian networks deemed ‘important to the adversary and that would cause them pain and discomfort if they were disrupted,’ a former U.S. official said.” (Read the whole story here.)

Maj. Gen. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr. (Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie/U.S. Air Force)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The Army demoted the former commander of the 1st Infantry Division for having an “inappropriate relationship” with a junior officer. Investigators said Wayne W. Grigsby Jr. called and texted a female captain “more than 850 times” and was found to be spending time at her home. (Craig Whitlock)
  2. The “Pizzagate” gunman was sentenced to four years in prison. (Spencer S. Hsu)
  3. Canada revealed that one of its Special Operations snipers shot an ISIS fighter from over two miles away in Iraq. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)
  4. The government may not strip someone’s U.S. citizenship for lying during the naturalization process without “proving the falsehood is relevant,” the Supreme Court ruled, siding with a Bosnian immigrant who faced criminal charges for lying on her application about her husband’s military service. (Robert Barnes)
  5. A federal appeals court panel upheld all but one conviction of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who in 2015 was found guilty of giving information to a journalist about a highly classified operation in Iran. But Sterling has steadfastly denied he was the source, and evidence against him is largely circumstantial. (Matt Zapotosky)
  6. A federal appeals court in Chicago upheld a lower court’s decision to overturn the conviction of “Making a Murderer” subject Brendan Dassey, affirming that his 2005 confession to the murder of Teresa Halbach was coerced. (WBAY)
  7. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt has been given his own Saturday-morning show on MSNBC, joining Greta Van Susteren and Nicole Wallace as the network seeks to broaden its lineup. (The Hollywood Reporter)
  8. The Census Bureau reported that every racial and ethnic minority grew faster than whites between 2015 and 2016. Mixed-raced and Asian Americans were the fastest growing groups at 3 percent. (NPR)
  9. The Federal Communications Commission recommended a Florida man pay a $120 million fine after he allegedly used robo-calls to trick people into fraudulent travel deals. Adrian Abramovich is said to have made almost 100 million such calls in three months. (Reuters)
  10. Uber employees are circulating a petition in support of ousted CEO Travis Kalanick returning in an active role. Over 1,000 employees clicked to support the petition. (The New York Times)
  11. The British government has ordered tests on the exterior of around 600 high-rise apartment buildings in England, seeking to avoid another catastrophic fire after a 24-story apartment tower in London burned down last week. (Karla Adam)
  12. A French fitness blogger and Instagram model died after a pressurized whipped-cream can hit her in the chest. Rebecca Burger suffered cardiac arrest from the impact and died in the hospital the following day. (Amber Ferguson)
  13. Johnny Depp invoked John Wilkes Booth to make an assassination joke about President Trump. He asked a crowd at the U.K.’s Glastonbury Festival, “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?” (CNN)
  14. It’s so hot in England that schoolboys are wearing skirts. Dozens of teenage males at a school in Exeter began sporting the new look this week after their headmaster refused to relax dress codes during a massive heat wave. (Lindsey Bever
Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, speaks to reporters after James Comey’s June 8 testimony. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

LAWYERING UP:

— Trump’s days now begin with a morning call to his lawyers about the ongoing Russia investigations. Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report: “The calls — detailed by three senior White House officials — are part strategy consultation and part presidential venting session, during which Trump’s lawyers and public-relations gurus take turns reviewing the latest headlines with him … His advisers have encouraged the calls … in hopes that he can compartmentalize the widening Russia investigation. By the time the president arrives for work in the Oval Office, the thinking goes, he will no longer be consumed by the Russia probe that he complains hangs over his presidency like a darkening cloud. It rarely works, however. Asked whether the tactic was effective, one top White House adviser paused for several seconds and then just laughed.”

— The latest lawyer to join Trump’s team is an ex-Marine who likens some cases to war. “I fight hard,” John Dowd told Reuters in an interview. “I believe that’s what I’m supposed to do. I am not a snowflake, I can tell you that.” The 76-year-old Washington lawyer, who retired from the firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in 2014, brings criminal defense and government investigation experience that has been missing from Trump’s outside legal team.

Trump sits during a meeting with House and Senate Leadership. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

TRUMP SAYS THERE ARE NO TAPES:

— “How Trump’s dubious claims make the entire government react,” by Abby Phillip: “The words leapt from the president’s mind to Twitter at 8:26 a.m. on the Friday after he fired the FBI director, setting off a cascade of activity inside and outside of the federal government. ‘James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!’ Trump wrote. With that tweet, Trump immediately deepened his own legal and political quagmire, evoking comparisons to former [Nixon] and prompting Comey to release previously undisclosed memos of his conversations with the president, which ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel … Far from knocking down the assertion that Trump had recorded conversations in the White House, his aides refused to give a definitive answer for weeks. On Thursday, 42 days later, [Trump] finally did. As most in Washington had anticipated, Trump said he did not have any such tapes. The incident highlights a new reality for Washington, which now must spring into action to bolster or refute presidential assertions of dubious origin and with no evidence to back them up. In many cases, the claims have had the opposite effect than what the president presumably intended — feeding into doubts about his credibility, deepening his legal woes and generating unflattering accounts that dominate the news for weeks at a time.”

Even when Trump has walked back a questionable comment, he has sometimes planted a new and similarly unsubstantiated claim: Yesterday, for example, in denying that he created tapes, Trump suggested that he may have been surveilled. “With all the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey,” he wrote.

— The language of Trump’s tweets refuting the existence of tapes was reviewed by multiple lawyers before publication, the New York Times’ Mark Landler and Maggie Haberman report: “The White House counsel’s office reviewed the language in the tweet … and Mr. Trump’s personal legal team was aware of it. The wording did not change significantly over the past few days. But by giving the president some room to claim he might have been referring to someone other than himself doing the taping, his wording could diminish the possibility that his original tweet could have been interpreted as pressure on Mr. Comey before his testimony to the Senate.”

— Trump ally Roger Stone said this of the tweets’ careful phrasing: “Perhaps (Marc) Kasowitz [Trump’s personal lawyer] wants to get this off the table because he’s got bigger fish to fry. I think they’re just trying to clear the deck.”

— Newt Gingrich said in an interview that, by alluding to possible tapes, the president was trying to get inside Comey’s head. He told the Associated Press: “I think he was, in his way, instinctively trying to rattle Comey … He’s not a professional politician. He doesn’t come back and think about Nixon and Watergate. His instinct is: ‘I’ll outbluff you.’”

— Unleashing on Twitter, Trump also called the idea of Russia’s election meddling a “big Dem HOAX” and accused Obama and his administration of not doing enough to “stop” Russian interference. Philip Rucker reports: “The president appeared to be referring to Wednesday’s congressional testimony by Jeh Johnson, Obama’s former homeland security secretary, who said that after the [DNC’s] email servers were hacked, the DNC declined an offer by the [DHS] to help the party committee, which also had been in touch with the FBI, identify intruders and patch vulnerabilities. DNC officials said it did not hear from DHS until months after the hack had been made public and after the FBI had worked to close the intrusion, and that the DNC provided the DHS a detailed report on the incident. In another Thursday tweet, Trump wrote, ‘If Russia was working so hard on the 2016 Election, it all took place during the Obama Admin. Why didn’t they stop them?’ In a third tweet … Trump sought to use Johnson’s testimony as proof of his vindication in the Russia investigation … Yet Johnson is not involved in Mueller’s expanding federal investigation into Russian interference and therefore would not have the knowledge or authority to exonerate Trump.”

— The search for Sean Spicer’s replacement as press secretary continues as the White House faces a near-daily barrage of complaints about its treatment of the press. CNN’s Dylan Byers reports: “So far, all that search has revealed is that the people the White House wants aren’t interested in the job and the people who are interested in the job aren’t wanted by the White House. Amid this chaos, the White House press office has opted for an ad-hoc strategy intended to screw with the media and make them look ridiculous. It will go several days without a briefing; then, when media frustration over the lack of access reaches a fever pitch, it will hold a conventional briefing. The next day, it may hold the briefing off camera, starting the process over again. The result is a toxic relationship between the White House, which thinks the press should be less adversarial, and the media, which believes its job is to be adversarial.” (The White House barred cameras and live-audio broadcasts from yesterday’s briefing for the second time in four days. Spicer also once again dispatched his deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, to field reporters’ questions.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AP/ ITAR-TASS)

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

— “The hacking of state and local election databases in 2016 was more extensive than previously reported, including at least one successful attempt to alter voter information, and the theft of thousands of voter records that contain private information like partial Social Security numbers,” Time Magazine’s Massimo Calabresi reports: “In one case, investigators found there had been a manipulation of voter data in a county database but the alterations were discovered and rectified … Investigators have not identified whether the hackers in that case were Russian agents. The fact that private data was stolen from states is separately providing investigators a previously unreported line of inquiry in the probes into Russian attempts to influence the election. In Illinois, more than 90% of the nearly 90,000 records stolen by Russian state actors contained drivers license numbers, and a quarter contained the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers [and] Congressional investigators are probing whether any of this stolen private information made its way to the Trump campaign.”

— A group of 19 Democratic senators urged the Energy Department to investigate Russia’s capability to hack and disrupt the U.S. electric grid, re-upping the request after the Trump administration refused to respond to an earlier letter in March.Dino Grandoni reports: “In April, [Rick Perry] directed his department to conduct a wide-ranging study of U.S. electricity use. But that forthcoming analysis will focus on the degree to which tax and subsidy policies, including those that benefit wind and solar power, ‘are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants; such as coal-fired or nuclear plants.’ … In their letter, [lawmakers] asked the president to shift priorities. Recent research from the cybersecurity firm Dragos revealed that Russian-allied hackers have created a cyberweapon … capable of disrupting electric systems. That malware, researchers said, was used against Ukraine in December.

— The House and Senate appear to have resolved a procedural issue on a measure to implement new  sanctions against Russia and Iran. Mike DeBonis reports: “The House objected to the Senate’s Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act that was passed earlier this week, arguing that it flouted the constitutional provision requiring revenue-raising bills to originate in the House. That prompted accusations from Democrats that the House Republican leaders were trying to stall the bill at Trump’s request  … House aides said Thursday a solution was being crafted in coordination with the Senate … What remains to be seen is how swiftly the matter will come to the House floor.

— Members of Trump’s voter-fraud panel have suggested refocusing their inquiries — on Russia’s 2016 election interference. The Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey reports: The call, by the secretaries of state in New Hampshire and Maine, presents a potential change in direction for a special commission that has widely been seen as a political smoke screen to justify the president’s unfounded claims about widespread fraud by individual voters in such places as New Hampshire and California. ‘There’s stuff coming out now that states were hacked in this election,’ said New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a member of the commission … He said, as a member of Trump’s voter-fraud commission he wants to understand whether other states’ computerized election systems were victimized and remain at risk.”

  • Trump announced three more appointees to the panel this week, and some of them are surprised they were tapped. HuffPost’s Sam Levine reports: “The three officials named were Luis Borunda, the deputy secretary of state of Maryland; David Dunn, a former Arkansas Democratic state lawmaker; and Mark Rhodes, a county clerk in West Virginia … In a Thursday interview, Dunn sounded openly stunned he was chosen for the role and admitted he did not have any expertise in elections or voting issues. ‘I don’t know why this has fallen on my shoulders,’ he told HuffPost … ‘I’m just a very small old country boy from Arkansas in this bigger commission with Vice President Pence, and I’m just going to do the best I can, to be honest.’”
Nancy Pelosi speaks during a weekly news conference in Washington. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

PELOSI DEFENDS HERSELF, AS CRITICS PLOT COUP:

— A group of unhappy Democratic lawmakers met Thursday to discuss the possibility of potentially replacing Nancy Pelosi as House minority leader, Politico’s John Bresnahan and Heather Caygle report: “Led by Reps. Kathleen Rice, Seth Moulton, and Tim Ryan, the faction believes Pelosi has to go in order for Democrats to have a chance to win the House back in Nov. 2018. Ryan unsuccessfully challenged Pelosi for party leader back in November. The unhappiness within Democratic ranks has spiked since their loss in the special election in Georgia on Tuesday.”

— Pelosi defended herself at a news conference and in an interview. She said her critics are more interested in promoting themselves than helping the party win back the majority. “You want me to sing my praises?” she asked defiantly. “Well, I’m a master legislator. I am a strategic, politically astute leader. My leadership is recognized by many around the country, and that is why I’m able to attract the support that I do. … I respect any opinion that my members have. But my decision about how long I stay is not up to them.”

— In an interview with the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin and Matt Flegenheimer, Pelosi stood her ground and “was often as dismissive of critics in her own party as she was of the Republican opposition.” Some highlights from their interview:

  • On her inter-party opposition: “Everybody wants leaders. Not a lot of people want to be led.”
  • On Democrats who lean on her fundraising abilities but “would just as soon avoid being photographed with her”: “You know what? I want them to win. I want them to win. If I were bothered by that, I wouldn’t be raising the money. What is curious to me is people say, ‘Raise us all the money and then step aside.’ It’s like, what?”
  • On restlessness among Democrats: “I think there was a level of disappointment after the election for president, because I think a number of people here thought they were destined for the administration.”
  • On caucus members who capitalize on opposing her: “It may serve their purpose statewide to say, ‘I fought the leadership.’ And I respect that.”
  • On her allies: “People just flock to support me.”

— Pelosi’s team pushed back other ways:

Pelosi aides are sending allies suggested supportive tweets on social media. Some examples. pic.twitter.com/oHrPmBlAZ7

— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) June 22, 2017

— Meanwhile, Democrats have an eight-point lead on the generic ballot test, which can indicate which party has an edge in the 2018 midterms and whether “wave” conditions exist that could augur a sweep. A fresh NBC News/WSJ poll finds that Democrats have a 50 percent to 42 percent advantage on the question of who Americans want to be in control of Congress after the 2018 midterms. John Harwood points out, “That’s the largest lead either party has held on that generic ballot question in the NBC/WSJ poll since 2013, and the first time either party reached 50 percent on that question since 2008.

Donald Trump addresses a crowd at Boeing’s South Carolina facilities in February. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

THE TRUMP AGENDA:

— A Boeing plant that Trump visited in February, where he pledged to “fight for every last American job,” announced layoffs. Danielle Paquette reports: “The company has yet to notify the affected employees — who work in operations management, engineering, quality control and training, among other roles — and represent a tiny sliver of its workforce in the state. Boeing would not say how many, exactly, could lose their jobs and when the dismissals will begin. The South Carolina plant was Trump’s first company visit outside the Beltway after he became president. The point of the trip was not to unveil a major economic policy or promote a new White House initiative, though. Rather, Trump celebrated the launch of the company’s new Dreamliner model.”

— Six hundred of the Carrier jobs that Trump claimed to have saved before he took office are headed to Mexico. CNBC’s Scott Cohn reports: “The deal … was billed not only as a heroic move … but also as a seismic shift in the economic development landscape. Nearly seven months later the deal has not worked out quite as originally advertised, and the landscape has barely budged. ‘The jobs are still leaving,’ said Robert James, president of United Steelworkers Local 1999. ‘Nothing has stopped.’ In fact, after the layoffs are complete later this year, a few hundred union jobs will remain at the plant.”

— Congressional Democrats have raised the issue of deported veterans to the president, who seemed sympathetic to the former service members. But his staff was less so. Buzzfeed’s Adrian Carrasquillo reports: “‘We should do something about this,’ Trump said, according to sources familiar with the meeting attended by Democratic Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, Stephanie Murphy and Kyrsten Sinema. A staffer quickly told the president the issue is that the men subsequently committed crimes, which eventually led to their deportation … The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) has recently taken up the deported veterans issue in a major way … Democrats are also divided on how to approach the Trump administration on immigration issues. CHC members were particularly rankled that their colleagues — especially Gonzalez — went to dinner with the president and want Trump to apologize for his comments about Mexicans during the campaign or at least be confronted on the issue before engaging further with him.”

— Congressional Republicans may model their tax reform negotiations off of the health-care talks in terms of secrecy. Politico’s Bernie Becker and Aaron Lorenzo report: “Both senior administration officials and congressional leaders are already telegraphing that the tax reform measure they hope to move this fall will largely be shaped among themselves in private meetings. While many griped about the secrecy surrounding the health legislation, few rank-and-file Republicans seem to be objecting to that approach on tax reform … Despite the lack of vocal protest so far, there’s a lot of time for another secretive legislative process to cause headaches for top Republicans, especially given the criticism aimed at the Senate GOP — including from their own members — for how they’ve put together their Obamacare replacement.”

— Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who served three years in prison for conspiracy and tax evasion, briefly returned to lobbying earlier this year and attempted to arrange a meeting between Trump and the controversial president of the Republic of the Congo. The Center for Public Integrity’s Carrie Levine reports: “Abramoff … was aiding an Italian national hoping to earn a consulting contract with the Republic of Congo that, in part, sought to polish its image in the United States. There’s no evidence that a meeting or phone call between Trump and Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso ever took place … Abramoff this month filed his retroactive lobbying disclosures at the request of the Department of Justice and promptly terminated his association with the Italian national … Abramoff [went] to great lengths to secure a meeting with Trump for Sassou Nguesso … Abramoff ‘flew to Palm Beach on his own initiative, and without any compensation’ the filing says.”

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

— “Before William C. Bradford was appointed by the Trump administration to run the Energy Department’s Office of Indian Energy, he tweeted a slew of disparaging remarks about the real and imagined ethnic, religious and gender identities of [former president Obama, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, TV host Megan Kelly] and Japanese-Americans during World War II,” Dino Grandoni scoops: “Bradford was recently appointed as director of DOE’s office in charge of assisting Native American and Alaskan tribes and villages with energy development. …  The Trump official’s tweets came before he joined the administration and include a response to a story about [Zuckerberg], urging Iowans to vote against Trump … in which Bradford said: ‘Who is this little arrogant self-hating Jew to tell anyone for whom to vote?’ Bradford also had some choice words for [Obama] in December 2016 … Referring to an unclear ‘mission in Tehran,’ Bradford asked ‘How else can a Kenyan creampuff get ahead?’”

“At DOE, Bradford is charged with helping Native Americans and Alaskan tribes and villages obtain electricity and reduce energy costs. But his tweets before joining the Trump administration display a lack of sensitivity to issues of race and gender. Bradford took aim at Japanese-Americans on the anniversary in 2016 of the opening of internment camps to detain them during World War II, saying ‘It was necessary…’

Trump has announced that two owners of sports franchises will become ambassadors. AP reports: “He’ll nominate New York Jets owner Woody Johnson to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom … Trump also announced his choice of Jamie McCourt, an attorney and former co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, to be the U.S. ambassador to Belgium.”

Justin Trudeau and Trump at the G7 Taormina summit. (Sean Gallup/Getty)

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

— As world leaders struggle to accommodate Trump’s brash, unpredictable brand of leadership, Canada is pursuing a wholly different approach: simply going around him.The New York Times’s Max Fisher reports: “As [Trump] disrupts alliances across the map, nearly every level of government in Canada has taken on new duties in a quietly audacious campaign to cajole, contain and if necessary coerce the Americans. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s strategy for managing Mr. Trump is unlike anything tried by another ally. And he has largely succeeded where even experienced leaders like Angela Merkel of Germany have fallen short. … By organizing a grass-roots network of American officials, lawmakers and businesses, Canada is hoping to contain Mr. Trump’s protectionist and nationalist impulses. Though emphasizing the benefits of harmony, the Canadians are not above flexing muscle, with a provincial government at one point quietly threatening trade restrictions against New York State. ‘We don’t have the luxury that the Germans have of an ocean between us,’ Mr. Burney said. ‘And we don’t have a Plan B.’”

— The president’s decision to retain ownership of Trump properties around the world could become an impediment when making difficult diplomacy decisions. Foreign Policy’s Phillip Y. Lipscy writes: “While the president faces incentives to protect Trump properties from the consequences of conflict, adversaries may actually be emboldened by their perception that he will act cautiously. Trump properties are physical, immovable assets largely unprotected against hostile action. The president’s failure to divest from his business empire gives U.S. adversaries an instrument of personal coercion. All manner of U.S. adversaries, including sovereign states and terrorist organizations, could seek to influence the president’s foreign policy by threatening Trump assets.”

— British Prime Minister Theresa May promised in remarks yesterday that European Union citizens who have settled in the United Kingdom would have an option to stay after Brexit, but the details of how remain unclear. The New York Times’ James Kanter reports: “More than three million citizens of other European Union countries live in Britain, while more than one million Britons live in the other 27 nations. Many of these people have formed families and raised children, and have been anxious about their status since the referendum a year ago when British voters decided to leave the union … A key issue is setting a cutoff date for European Union citizens living in Britain to qualify for what is called settled status, allowing them to remain indefinitely.”

A Yemeni man describes how his son was detained by Yemeni forces allied to the UAE  who raided his home in the southern village of Abr Lasloum. (AP/Maad El Zikry)

— “The [UAE] and allied security forces maintain a secret network of prisons in Yemen where dozens and perhaps hundreds of people are detained, routinely abused and in some cases severely tortured, according to separate reports released Thursday by Human Rights Watch and the [AP],” Kareem Fahim reports: “The investigation by the AP also found that forces from the United States, a close counterterrorism ally to the UAE, had participated in interrogations of prisoners in Yemen. American forces had been ‘yards’ away from a facility where torture took place, one Yemeni security officer told the news agency. … In its report, Human Rights Watch said it documented the cases of at least 38 people detained or arrested by Yemeni forces that are financed, armed or trained by the UAE. Witnesses told the AP of a torture method known as the ‘grill,’ [in which] victims were ‘tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire.’ That method and others were used at a detention complex at an airport in the southern city of Mukalla — one of at least 18 secret prisons in southern Yemen … run by the UAE or its allied forces.”

  • The government of the UAE denied the existence of a clandestine prison network, saying “there are no secret detention centers, and no torture of prisoners is done during interrogations.”
  • Pentagon officials also pushed back, saying that “under no circumstances do DoD personnel participate in violations of human rights.”

— Newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron proposed a large expansion of his counter-terrorism powers on Thursday – alarming civil liberties advocates even as his supporters said the plans will help keep French citizens safe. James McAuley and Michael Birnbaum report: “The changes proposed seek to wind down a state of emergency that gave French security officials broad powers and was imposed after the November 2015 Paris attacks. … Some of those powers would be made permanent, including the ability to temporarily shutter places of worship that promote extremism and conduct searches with fewer restrictions. The draft also strips some oversight powers from judges and gives security officials more latitude to act without judicial review. Critics of the emergency powers say that they have been applied indiscriminately, not just to combat terrorism. Even some analysts who believe the expanded powers can be useful in disrupting terror plots say that the efficacy wears off as militants find new ways to evade detection.”

The casket of Otto Warmbier is carried to the hearse followed by his family and friends in Wyoming, Ohio. (John Sommers II/Reuters)

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

— “‘Let’s bring it in’: Otto Warmbier’s family and friends celebrate his life at memorial,” by Susan Svrluga: “Families wearing blue and white Wyoming T-shirts, holding homemade cardboard signs and American flags, waited by the edge of the main street for Otto Warmbier’s funeral procession to drive by. As the memorial attended by thousands at the town’s high school ended, people in black dresses and dark suits joined those along the street. Many were hugging; the ceremony, a celebration of Warmbier’s life, had been funny and eloquent, much like the 22-year-old University of Virginia student who was beloved in this small suburb of Cincinnati and far beyond. Friends and family shared memories of, as one put it, ‘this inspiring goofball of a man,’ and the essential lessons they had learned from him: Work hard, explore everything, love people, think deeply and laugh easily.”

— “Navy sailors made tough call to seal flooding ship compartments, unclear if survivors were inside,” by Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Dan Lamothe: “With water rushing around them, sailors aboard the beleaguered USS Fitzgerald faced an agonizing decision. They had made several rescue attempts into the flooded portions of the 505-foot destroyer, which had collided off the coast of Japan with a much heavier container ship early morning Saturday. But they didn’t know how many of their fellow shipmates were still trapped inside or even alive, and time was running out. The sailors either had to close off the flooded areas of the ship, or they feared the entire destroyer might go down, according to three active or former members of the Navy familiar with the incident. They decided to seal the compartments shut. By Sunday, the toll of the accident became clear.”

— “Former CIA officer accused of selling top secret information to China,” by Rachel Weiner: “Kevin Patrick Mallory, 60, of Leesburg, Va., was arrested Thursday and appeared briefly in front of Judge Theresa Buchanan on counts of delivering defense information to aid a foreign government and making false statements. He asked to be represented by a public defender. Mallory had a top secret security clearance until he left the government in 2012, prosecutors say, having worked at various government agencies and defense contractors … Prosecutors say Mallory sent three documents containing classified information, one of which was labeled top secret, to a Chinese intelligence operative in May.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Lawmakers of both parties posted images of themselves reading the Senate health-care bill when it was finally released yesterday following an exceptionally private process to craft it:

Reading the health care bill. I encourage all Nevadans to do the same – you can find the bill’s text here: https://t.co/dDWt5f8frppic.twitter.com/saBgJqaX9D

— Dean Heller (@SenDeanHeller) June 22, 2017

Drew presiding duty this afternoon. Looking forward to a few hours of reading time… pic.twitter.com/41kFjyrCJo

— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) June 22, 2017

Just got out of a Banking Committee hearing. Reading the @SenateGOP healthcare bill for the first time now. I’ll share my thoughts soon. pic.twitter.com/5TrdduAO1Z

— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) June 22, 2017

Pouring over a draft of the Senate’s newly released health care bill. Will update you all shortly. #mtpolpic.twitter.com/PmYxLMkf7M

— Senator Jon Tester (@SenatorTester) June 22, 2017

Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz (Hawaii) and Bob Casey (Pa.) annotated the bill, circling certain provisions:

This is the part where they cut Medicaid even more than the House bill. pic.twitter.com/UMmFrOSgzA

— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) June 22, 2017

This isn’t a healthcare bill. pic.twitter.com/bOLv8Y0SOx

— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) June 22, 2017

Page 133. They only commit to combating the opioid crisis for a year. As bad as the house version is, at least they committed to 10. pic.twitter.com/Rg725uUY3F

— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) June 22, 2017

Page 41. They revoke the essential health benefits requirement. pic.twitter.com/1fxrRRrwyg

— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) June 22, 2017

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) seemed enthusiastic, if not a little uninformed, about the bill:

“It’s much better than Obamacare,” Sen. Purdue. on new health bill.

“Why?” we ask.

“I have to go read it.”

— Matt Laslo (@MattLaslo) June 22, 2017

Protesters of the bill appeared at D.C.’s Reagan Airport as senators flew home for the weekend:

Impressive turnout here as at Reagan National Airport protesting the Senate health care repeal bill https://t.co/WNioSbi2g1

— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) June 22, 2017

Lots of Twitter buzz about Trump’s announcement that he did not tape his conversations with Jim Comey:

Trump created this “tapes” thing, which Comey testified sparked him to leak memos to press, which got Mueller. What a self-inflicted wound.

— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) June 22, 2017

Interestingly there ARE tapes of Donald Trump promising to cover everyone, cut deductibles, and lower premiums.

— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) June 22, 2017

One New York Times reporter responded to the White House’s off-camera briefing:

3 reasons Trump is shutting down on-air briefings: 1) there are no good answers to the questions 2) he doesn’t trust his flacks 3) Twitter.

— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) June 22, 2017

Lawmakers attended the White House Congressional Picnic:

Marine band plays Star Wars theme and bipartisan crowd chowing down at WH congressional picnic pic.twitter.com/uNsRdiIJ0b

— Emily Heil (@emilyaheil) June 22, 2017

Margaret and I had big fun at the White House picnic tonight! pic.twitter.com/iApm7Embi9

— Rep. Martha Roby (@RepMarthaRoby) June 23, 2017

Great night w/ my colleagues at WH Congressional Picnic, joined by my 2 biggest fans: Mom & Dad. Thank you @POTUS & @FLOTUS for hosting us! pic.twitter.com/9YcWu4minX

— Adam Kinzinger (@RepKinzinger) June 23, 2017

Great time this evening at the @WhiteHouse picnic w/ Ed Brabson from Alamogordo & @IvankaTrumppic.twitter.com/I3CasWcqwm

— Steve Pearce (@RepStevePearce) June 23, 2017

The chief executive of JP Morgan Chase became a little more relatable: 

Masters of the Universe, they’re just like us: Jamie Dimon does meetings at Dirksen coffee shop in between other power meetings.

— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) June 22, 2017

Congressional leaders cracked down on the dress code:

Ladies of the House: there is a crackdown today on going sleeveless into the Speakers Lobby.
Forewarned is forearmed as it were

— Erica Werner (@ericawerner) June 22, 2017

I thought @SpeakerRyan supported the right to bare arms https://t.co/WQSDYsXaj8

— Haley Byrd (@byrdinator) June 22, 2017

A comment on the president’s golfing habits:

Donald Trump driving on the green with a golf cart is the most Donald Trump thing ever: https://t.co/UIY31Azjbapic.twitter.com/u1os7Emi9T

— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) June 22, 2017

Air Force One is an HGTV fan (or is this Trump’s real estate background dictating the TV tastes?):

FYI: the TVs on Air Force One are programmed to record “Property Brothers” pic.twitter.com/bM6MRF1XgQ

— Jonathan Lemire (@JonLemire) June 22, 2017

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

— Pew Research Center, “America’s Complex Relationship With Guns,” by Kim Parker, Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Ruth Igielnik, Baxter Oliphant And Anna Brown: “Integrated into the fabric of American society since the country’s earliest days, guns remain a point of pride for many Americans … At the same time, the results of gun-related violence have shaken the nation, and debates over gun policy remain sharply polarized. A new Pew Research Center survey attempts to better understand the complex relationship Americans have with guns and how that relationship intersects with their policy views. The survey finds that Americans have broad exposure to guns, whether they personally own one or not. At least two-thirds have lived in a household with a gun at some point in their lives … Today, three-in-ten U.S. adults say they own a gun, and an additional 36% say that while they don’t own one now, they might be open to owning a gun in the future.”

— Bloomberg, “The Woman Behind Trump’s Empire of Swag,” by John McCormick: “Two years ago, [Christl] Mahfouz, 39, was running a business on the verge of collapse, selling uniforms to oil and gas workers after the 2014 crash in oil prices. She was desperate to avoid bankruptcy. A devout Catholic, she says, ‘I turned to God and said, “Please help me.”’ The answer to her prayers, it turns out, was Trump.”

—  The New York Times, “A Cyberattack ‘the World Isn’t Ready For,’” by Nicole Perlroth: “There have been times over the last two months when Golan Ben-Oni has felt like a voice in the wilderness. On April 29, someone hit his employer, IDT Corporation, with two cyberweapons that had been stolen from the [NSA]. Mr. Ben-Oni, the global chief information officer at IDT, was able to fend them off, but the attack left him distraught. In 22 years of dealing with hackers of every sort, he had never seen anything like it. Who was behind it? How did they evade all of his defenses? How many others had been attacked but did not know it? The strike on IDT … was similar to WannaCry, [the cyberattack that ravaged computers at hospitals, universities, and business around the world] in one way: Hackers locked up IDT data and demanded a ransom to unlock it. But what Mr. Ben-Oni had witnessed was much worse … [and for IDT], the ransom demand was just a smoke screen for a far more invasive attack that stole employee credentials. With those credentials in hand, hackers could have run free through the company’s computer network, taking confidential information or destroying machines. ‘The world is burning about WannaCry, but this is a nuclear bomb compared to WannaCry,’ Ben-Oni said. ‘This is different. It’s a lot worse. It steals credentials. You can’t catch it, and it’s happening right under our noses.’” 

— Politico Magazine, “Jane Sanders Lawyers Up,” by Harry Jaffe: “Sanders is used to fielding softball questions from an adoring local press, but his inquisitor, Kyle Midura of Burlington TV station WCAX, had a rare opportunity to put him on the spot. Investigative reporters had been breaking stories about a federal investigation into allegations that the senator’s wife, Jane Sanders, had committed fraud in obtaining bank loans for the now defunct Burlington College, and that Sanders’s Senate office had weighed in … Sanders and his wife have been trying to ignore the federal investigation since reporters for VTDigger, an online publication, confirmed the FBI’s involvement in April. The original request for an investigation into the potential bank fraud did indeed come from Brady Toensing, an attorney who chaired Trump’s Vermont campaign, and whose January 2016 letter to the U.S. attorney for Vermont put federal agents on the trail.”

— New York Times Magazine, “Trained to Kill: How Four Boy Soldiers Survived Boko Haram,” by Sarah A. Topol: “The four children, from a fishing village in Nigeria, were among thousands abducted by Boko Haram and trained as soldiers. They learned to survive, but only by forgetting who they were.”

— New York Magazine, “Sarah Palin’s Latest Business Venture: Running a Right-Wing Content Farm,” by Olivia Nuzzi: “You might call it fake news or propaganda, with headlines like, ‘YES! Trump Fulfills Campaign Promise to Help the Coal Industry’ (approximately 70 jobs were created, by a private company, at a coal mine in Pennsylvania) or ‘EVIDENCE FOUND! Trump Was Right on Voter Fraud …’ (12 people in Indiana were charged with submitting fraudulent voter-registration applications, while Trump claimed that ‘millions’ of undocumented immigrants had voted illegally in the 2016 election). Palin [pens a few of the articles herself] … with titles like ‘INSANE’; ‘Trig’s School of Life. We’re all learning!’; ‘Alpha Males … Hot Hot Hot’; and ‘You, Sir, Are Unfortunately Being Used by Democrats.’”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

 “In S. Fla., racial epithets, arrests in tense protests over Confederate street names,” from Politico: “A black South Florida lawmaker said Wednesday he was called the N-word and a “monkey” during a clash of protests in Hollywood, Fla., over three streets named after Confederates, including a founder of the Ku Klux Klan. State Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who represents the area … recounted the ‘ugly’ scene on Twitter and in [an interview], during which he said that others were verbally abused as well. The Confederate controversy, which has surfaced before in Hollywood, has flared anew in the South Florida city, and across [the] Deep South … The movement gained momentum after the city of New Orleans on May 19 removed its famed statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee … Meanwhile, in Tampa on Wednesday, the Hillsborough County Commission voted 4-3 against removing a memorial to the Confederate …”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Republican Coal King Sues HBO Over John Oliver’s Show,” from The Daily Beast: “A Republican coal baron is suing John Oliver, HBO, Time Warner, and the writers for Oliver’s show over the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight. The suit, filed [in] Marshall County, West Virginia, holds that Oliver and his team ‘executed a meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character of and reputation of Mr. Robert E. Murray and his companies’ by airing an episode that ripped into him. ‘They did this to a man who needs a lung transplant, a man who does not expect to live to see the end of this case,’ reads the complaint … At the heart of Murray’s complaint is Oliver’s discussion of the collapse of one of his mines in Utah, which killed nine people. Oliver said on the show that a government report concluded the collapse happened because of unauthorized mining practices, and also noted that Murray holds the collapse actually happened because of an earthquake. The complaint says Murray directed Oliver’s team to studies supporting that argument—and that he deliberately ignored them.”

DAYBOOK:

President Trump will meet with three of his Cabinet secretaries in the morning: Rex Tillerson, John Kelly and Jim Mattis. He will then sign a bill addressing accountability at the VA.

Vice President Pence will travel to Colorado Springs to give a speech at Focus on the Family’s 40th anniversary celebration. He will also visit the Schriever Air Force Base and the Cheyenne Mountain Complex before attending a fundraising event for Colorado’s Sen. Cory Gardner. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Nancy Pelosi defended herself from criticisms after Democrats lost in Georgia.  “I think I’m worth the trouble,” she said at a press conference yesterday.

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

— D.C. will experience mugginess and possibly some showers as the city prepares for the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy, the Capital Weather Gang forecasts:There’s a decent chance much of the day is dry, with the best odds of rain generally ending near sunrise from overnight activity. The next bigger batch comes tonight, but isolated or scattered showers and storms are possible this afternoon into evening. Any that pop up could become strong to locally severe, with a short-lived tornado or wind damage possible. Mid-to-upper 80s are possible even with clouds, but some sunshine could boost temperatures into the low 90s as well.”

— The two candidates in Virginia’s gubernatorial race traded barbs over the Senate’s health-care bill, Fenit Nirappil reports.

— James L. Shea jumped into an already-crowded Democratic primary race to unseat Larry Hogan as Maryland’s governor next year, Josh Hicks and Fenit Nirappil report: “[Shea] led one of Maryland’s largest law firms and had chaired the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.”

— The Supreme Court rejected a new trial request from the men convicted of the 1984 D.C. gang murder of Catherine Fuller, Robert Barnes reports

— 21 business groups in the D.C. area have signed a letter to regional political leaders outlining a plan to fix Metro’s finances and restructure its board, Robert McCartney reports. At least six other plans have been presented to revamp the transit agency.   

— An argument over the involvement of white nationalist Richard Spencer has led to dueling conservative rallies in D.C. this Sunday, Justin Wm. Moyer and Perry Stein report

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Jimmy Kimmel talked to kids about health care:

[embedded content]

Seth Meyers looked at Senate Republicans’ rushed health-care vote and Trump’s speech in Iowa this week:

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Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.) said that the bill “begins to address the Jimmy Kimmel test,” which asks whether a piece of legislation would cover children with preexisting conditions:

The Post’s Michelle Ye Hee Lee fact-checked Trump’s claim that premiums in Alaska have gone up over 200 percent:

The Pizzagate shooter recorded this video on his way to D.C.:

Bill Cosby plans to hold town halls on facing sexual-assault allegations:

These elephants staged a heroic rescue of one of their young:

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Grenfell Tower: Fire started in Hotpoint fridge freezer, say police – BBC News

The Grenfell Tower fire in London started in a fridge freezer, and outside cladding failed safety tests, police say.

Insulation on the building also failed tests and the Metropolitan Police will consider manslaughter charges.

Seventy-nine people are feared dead after the blaze destroyed 151 homes in the Kensington tower block.

The government has ordered immediate testing of the Hotpoint fridge freezer which was involved.

Whirlpool, who owns Hotpoint, said: “We offer our most profound condolences to the victims, those who have lost loved ones, homes, and possessions, and to their friends and families.”

Nine of those who died in the 14 June have been formally identified so far. Nine people remain in hospital, with three people still in critical care.

Police said the fire had not been started deliberately and the speed with which the fire spread was “unexpected”.

Preliminary tests on the samples of insulation showed it burned soon after the test started, and more quickly than the cladding tiles.

However, they both failed the police’s safety tests – which are similar to those being carried out by the UK government.


What do I do if I have a Hotpoint fridge freezer?

By Kevin Peachey, BBC News

Anyone who has a white Hotpoint fridge freezer model number FF175BP or graphite fridge freezer model number FF175BG should register their appliance with the manufacturer to receive any updates.

Generally, the model number is found on a bar code on a sticker behind the salad container in the fridge.

These models were discontinued in 2009, but 64,000 were sold between March 2006 and July 2009. It is not known how many are still in use.

Owners should ring 0800 316 3826 or visit the Hotpoint website.

Fires connected to fridge freezers and other electrical appliances are relatively common.

More general advice on registering an appliance, should there be a recall, and other safety tips are available online on charity Electrical Safety First’s page.


Some 250 specialist investigators have been deployed to find out what happened.

All criminal charges are being considered “from manslaughter onwards” including health and safety and, fire offences.

Every company involved in the building and refurbishment of Grenfell Tower will also be looked at as part of the investigation.

Det Sup Fiona McCormack said police had been in the tower “from top to bottom”, adding that next week a lift would be installed to the outside of the building.

But she did say the forensic search “may not be complete until the end of the year”.

“There is a terrible reality that we may not find or identify everyone who died due to the intense heat.”

‘Didn’t pass any tests’

Det Sup McCormack says the tests carried out on the cladding and insulation were “small scale” but added: “All I can say at the moment is they [the tiles and insulation] don’t pass any safety tests.”

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The cladding, insulation, fixings and installation will be examined both individually and how they worked together.

“The investigation will be exhaustive,” said Det Sup McCormack.

“As we learn more, the scope and scale may well grow. We will look at the refurbishment. We are looking at the panelling and the entire facade of the building.”

She said she wanted to hear about anyone who was in the tower, whether or not they were meant to be in the building.

She said: “I do not want there to be any victims of this tragedy that we do not know about.

“Our priority is to understand who was in Grenfell Tower. We are not interested in people’s reasons for being in Grenfell Tower.”

She said she was concerned they did “not have the complete picture” and reassured people not to be nervous about contacting them.

“There may well be people who no one has contacted us about – who they know were in the building or have close links to Grenfell Tower.

“The Home Office has assured us that they are not interested in people’s immigration status and we are not interested in looking at that.

“What we are interested in is making sure that we know who is missing and we take every possible step to establish if they are safe and well.”

Whirlpool said it was working with the authorities to obtain access to the appliance so that it could assist with the ongoing investigations.

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Outgoing GE chief Jeff Immelt met with Trump about drones, the ‘Internet of things’ – The Boston Globe

By Toluse Olorunnipa
Bloomberg 

President Trump met with two dozen executives from technology companies and venture capital firms Thursday for advice on how the government can promote emerging technologies such as drones and the Internet of things.

‘‘We want to remain No. 1,’’ Trump told the technology company leaders. ‘‘We’re on the verge of new technological revolutions that could improve virtually every aspect of our lives, creating vast new wealth for American companies and families.’’

Executives including outgoing General Electric Co. chief executive Jeff Immelt, AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson, Sprint Corp. chief executive Marcelo Claure, and venture capitalist Steve Case, the billionaire cofounder of AOL, were invited to provide suggestions on how the administration should spur private innovation and set appropriate guidelines for new technologies.

In a public session open to reporters and television cameras, the president and corporate leaders offered fulsome praise for each other. Trump told Stephenson AT&T is doing ‘‘really a top job.’’ Precision Hawk chief executive Michael Chasen congratulated the president ‘‘on the great job you’ve been doing.’’

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The tech leaders were to hold breakout sessions on drones, connected devices and easing access to venture capital for startups outside traditional enclaves such as Silicon Valley, deputy US chief technology officer Michael Kratsios told reporters Wednesday.

Trump ‘‘will learn firsthand how these important technologies are reshaping modern life and what’s possible when our workers can fly over job sites, and when huge cell towers shrink to the size of pizza boxes,’’ he said.

The White House is using the week to highlight technology initiatives. Trump met Monday with tech executives including Apple chief executive Tim Cook and Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos to discuss ways to make the federal government more efficient. On Wednesday, the president visited Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to discuss the use of technology in agriculture.

While several chief executives of technology companies have been critical of some of Trump’s policies, particularly on immigration, they have flocked to the White House this week seeking to influence the government’s approach to technology.

AT&T’s Stephenson said before the event that he was pleased with the lighter regulations already promised by the Trump administration and that he was optimistic about the possibility of tax reforms happening this year. Lower corporate tax bills would free up more cash that companies like AT&T could channel back into capital expenditures, Stephenson said Thursday on CNBC.

On the wireless front, AT&T and the other major US carriers have drawn up plans for investing in the next stage of network infrastructure, which is being called fifth generation or 5G. The super-fast technology is expected to usher in a hyper-connected Internet-of-things era where self-driving cars can monitor and coordinate with other vehicles.

‘‘I am looking forward to sharing ideas with everyone today,’’ T-Mobile chief operating officer Mike Sievert said Thursday. ‘‘The opportunity for this country with 5G and IoT is enormous if we set things in motion the right way. It’s an impressive group of leaders heading to the White House and should be an interesting discussion.’’

Case, who now runs the investment firm Revolution, used his company website to defend his decision to engage with Trump.

‘‘I know some people will question my decision to attend the gathering of investors at the White House, but I have long advocated for leaders of any kind to engage if given the opportunity,’’ Case wrote Wednesday, highlighting his concerns with Trump’s policies on immigration and climate change. ‘‘I would argue that there is perhaps no more important time to take a seat at the table.’’

In the Internet of things, a growing number of objects and devices will become web-connected – everything from refrigerators and thermostats to cars and industrial machines.

The technology aims to improve efficiency and responsiveness by remote monitoring and automatically managing industrial manufacturing lines, households, people’s health, or traffic systems, for instance.

Corporate spending on technologies related to the Internet of things could reach $280 billion by 2020, the Boston Consulting Group estimates.

‘‘We will need to build out the infrastructure to handle this dramatic transformation,’’ Kratsios said.

Other executives attending White House talks include Honeywell International chief executive Darius Adamczyk and John Stratton, Verizon Communications’ executive vice president and president of customer and product operations.

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Shifting Dollars From Poor to Rich Is a Key Part of the Senate Health Bill – New York Times

The Affordable Care Act gave health insurance to millions of Americans by shifting resources from the wealthy to the poor and by moving oversight from states to the federal government. The Senate bill introduced Thursday pushes back forcefully on both dimensions.

The bill is aligned with long-held Republican values, advancing states’ rights and paring back growing entitlement programs, while freeing individuals from requirements that they have insurance and emphasizing personal responsibility. Obamacare raised taxes on high earners and the health care industry, and essentially redistributed that income — in the form of health insurance or insurance subsidies — to many of the groups that have fared poorly over the last few decades.

The draft Senate bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, would jettison those taxes while reducing federal funding for the care of low-income Americans. The bill’s largest benefits go to the wealthiest Americans, who have the most comfortable health care arrangements, and its biggest losses fall to poorer Americans who rely on government support. The bill preserves many of the structures of Obamacare, but rejects several of its central goals.

Like a House version of the legislation, the bill would fundamentally change the structure of Medicaid, which provides health insurance to 74 million disabled or poor Americans, including nearly 40 percent of all children. Instead of open-ended payments, the federal government would give states a maximum payment for nearly every individual enrolled in the program. The Senate version of the bill would increase that allotment every year by a formula that is expected to grow substantially more slowly than the average increase in medical costs.

Avik Roy, the president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, and a conservative health care analyst, cheered the bill on Twitter, saying, “If it passes, it’ll be the greatest policy achievement by a G.O.P. Congress in my lifetime.” The bill, he explained in an email, provides a mechanism for poor Americans to move from Medicaid coverage into the private market, a goal he has long championed as a way of equalizing insurance coverage across income groups.

Finished reading the Senate HC bill. Put simply: If it passes, it’ll be the greatest policy achievement by a GOP Congress in my lifetime.

Avik Roy (@Avik)June 22, 2017

States would continue to receive extra funding for Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid to more poor adults, but only temporarily. After several years, states wishing to cover that population would be expected to pay a much greater share of the bill, even as they adjust to leaner federal funding for other Medicaid beneficiaries — disabled children, nursing home residents — who are more vulnerable.

High-income earners would get substantial tax cuts on payroll and investment income. Subsidies for those low-income Americans who buy their own insurance would decline compared with current law. Low-income Americans who currently buy their own insurance would also lose federal help in paying their deductibles and co-payments.

The bill does offer insurance subsidies to poor Americans who live in states that don’t offer them Medicaid coverage, a group without good insurance options under Obamacare. But the high-deductible plans that would become the norm might continue to leave care out of their financial reach even if they do buy insurance.

The battle over resources played into the public debate. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said the bill was needed to “bring help to the families who have been struggling with Obamacare.” In a Facebook post, President Barack Obama, without mentioning the taxes that made his program possible, condemned the Senate bill as “a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America.”

In another expression of Republican principles, the bill would make it much easier for states to set their own rules for insurance regulation, a return to the norm before Obamacare.

Under the bill, states would be able to apply for waivers that would let them eliminate consumer protection regulations, like rules that require all health plans to cover a basic package of benefits or that prevent insurance plans from limiting how much care they will cover in a given year.

States could get rid of the online marketplaces that help consumers compare similar health plans, and make a variety of other changes to the health insurance system. The standards for approval are quite permissive. Not every state would choose to eliminate such rules, of course. But several might.

“You can eliminate all those financial protections,” said Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “That would be huge.”

Americans with pre-existing conditions would continue to enjoy protection from discrimination: In contrast with the House health bill, insurers would not be allowed to charge higher prices to customers with a history of illness, even in states that wish to loosen insurance regulations.

But patients with serious illnesses may still face skimpier, less useful coverage. States may waive benefit requirements and allow insurers to charge customers more. Someone seriously ill who buys a plan that does not cover prescription drugs, for example, may not find it very valuable.

There are features that would tend to drive down the sticker price of insurance, a crucial concern of many Republican lawmakers, who have criticized high prices under Obamacare. Plans that cover fewer benefits and come with higher deductibles would cost less than more comprehensive coverage.

But because federal subsidies would also decline, only a fraction of people buying their own insurance would enjoy the benefits of lower prices. Many middle-income Americans would be expected to pay a larger share of their income to purchase health insurance that covers a smaller share of their care.

The bill also includes substantial funds to help protect insurers from losses caused by unusually expensive patients, a measure designed to lure into the market those insurance carriers that have grown skittish by losses in the early years of Obamacare. But it removes a policy dear to the insurance industry — if no one else. Without an individual mandate with penalties for Americans who remain uninsured, healthier customers may choose to opt out of the market until they need medical care, increasing costs for those who stay in.

The reforms are unlikely to drive down out-of-pocket spending, another perennial complaint of the bill’s authors, and a central critique by President Trump of the current system. He often likes to say that Obamacare plans come with deductibles so high that they are unusable. Subsidies under the bill would help middle-income consumers buy insurance that pays 58 percent of the average patient’s medical costs, down from 70 percent under Obamacare; it would also remove a different type of subsidy designed to lower deductibles further for Americans earning less than around $30,000 a year.

Out-of-pocket spending is the top concern of most voters. The insurance they would buy under the bill might seem cheap at first, but it wouldn’t be if they ended up paying more in deductibles.

Mr. McConnell was constrained by political considerations and the peculiar rules of the legislative mechanism that he chose to avoid a Democratic filibuster. Despite those limits, he managed to produce a bill that reflects some bedrock conservative values. But the bill also shows some jagged seams. It may not fix many of Obamacare’s problems — high premiums, high deductibles, declining competition — that he has railed against in promoting the new bill’s passage.

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How Trump’s dubious claims make the entire government react – Washington Post

By ,

The words leapt from President Trump’s mind to Twitter at 8:26 a.m. on the Friday after he fired FBI director James B. Comey, setting off a cascade of activity inside and outside of the federal government to figure out what, exactly, he meant.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump wrote.

With that tweet, Trump immediately deepened his own ­legal and political quagmire, evoking comparisons to former President Richard M. Nixon and prompting congressional committees investigating his campaign’s alleged ties with Russia to demand the disclosure of any such recordings. The missive also prompted Comey to release previously undisclosed memos of his conversations with the president, which ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel who is now investigating whether Trump obstructed justice.

Far from knocking down the assertion that Trump had recorded conversations in the White House, his aides refused to give a definitive answer for weeks. Trump, ever the reality television host, teased at a news conference, “I’ll tell you about it over a very short period of time.”

On Thursday, 42 days later, he finally did. As most in Washington had anticipated, Trump said he did not have any such tapes.

The incident highlights a new reality for Washington, which now must spring into action to bolster or refute presidential assertions of dubious origin and with no evidence to back them up. In many cases, the claims have had the opposite effect than what the president presumably intended — feeding into doubts about his credibility, deepening his legal woes and generating unflattering accounts that dominate the news for weeks at a time.

[Trump says he has no ‘tapes’ of Comey conversations]

And even when Trump has walked back a questionable comment, he has sometimes planted a new and similarly unsubstantiated claim. In denying Thursday that he had created “tapes” of his conversations with Comey, for example, Trump also suggested that he may have been surveilled.

“With all the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey,” Trump wrote in one tweet, before denying that he had created any.

Before the tapes, there was Trump’s unfounded claim that President Barack Obama “wiretapped” him in Trump Tower during the campaign, setting off a flurry of official inquiries from Congress. His oft-repeated assertion during the campaign that the wall along the southern border would be paid for by Mexico is one that lawmakers in Trump’s own party believe will never happen — yet they and others in the government continue to look for some way to help the president save face.

Trump has also repeatedly claimed that millions of illegal immigrants voted in the last presidential election, with no proof. Yet in an effort to validate his comments, the Trump administration has created a commission aimed at investigating his claim of widespread voter fraud.

“What happens with the president is he shoots himself in the foot, and soon the gangrene spreads to the entire body politic,” said Norm Eisen, a former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic and a former ethics czar in the Obama administration. “This is going to be the new normal: elements of the president’s own executive branch openly, or indirectly through leaks, responding to these false tweets.”

[Earlier: Trump suggests there may be ‘tapes’ of his private conversations with former FBI director]

After Trump raised the prospect of Comey-related tapes, ­exasperated lawmakers in both parties pledged to find out one way or another. “I don’t have the foggiest idea,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said on ABC News the following Sunday.

But the most significant consequences were yet to come.

Comey told lawmakers in testimony this month that as he laid awake in his Northern Virginia bed a week after he was summarily fired, he decided to act — in large part because of Trump’s tweet.

“It didn’t dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation. There might be a tape,” he said, explaining why he leaked memos of his conversations with Trump to the media. He also testified, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes!”

Comey’s memos prompted the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller III, a former FBI director, to investigate possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russians who interfered in the election. The Washington Post has also reported that Mueller is investigating whether Trump attempted to obstruct the investigation.

“There’s nothing criminal or illegal about bluffing,” said Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor who has often defended Trump against various allegations. “I don’t think he would have said he had tapes if he had them.”

But Dershowitz acknowledged that the tweet may have been a shortsighted attempt to ensure that Comey was careful about his public statements on Trump.

“I don’t know whether it was an unforced error or a tactic, but it could have been both: a tactic that turned out to be an unforced error,” Dershowitz said. “He should have thought through all of that. I very often keep contemporaneous memos, particularly when I’m dealing with people who have credibility issues.

“Lawyers do that,” he added.

[The Fact Checker’s tally of Trump’s false claims]

A similar dynamic played out in March when Trump blasted out another shocker of a tweet claiming that Obama had wiretapped him — an implausible assertion that government officials and lawmakers moved quickly to deny.

But among Trump loyalists in the White House and in Congress, there was a spirited effort to validate the claim.

Three White House officials unearthed classified documents that suggested the Obama administration officials may have “unmasked” the names of Trump campaign associates that were contained in classified intelligence reports. Intelligence experts note that unmasking is a legal practice if done properly and completely different from Trump’s claim that he was illegally “wire tapped.”

But armed with the documents procured by the White House, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of Trump’s transition team, set out to defend the president’s tweets. Nunes later told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he felt obligated to brief the president on the unmasking issue because he was “taking a lot of heat in the news media” for his wiretapping tweets.

To intelligence experts, the controversy was an attempt by Trump loyalists to confuse two entirely separate issues — illegal surveillance and legal “unmasking” of the names of American individuals — to defend the president.

“The notion that President Obama could instruct the intel community to set up a tap on Mr. Trump’s offices is preposterous on its face. He doesn’t have that authority,” said Robert Deitz, a former general counsel at the National Security Agency and the Defense Department. “One of the things that’s interesting about Washington is that it’s a little bit of ‘Alice in Wonderland’: You hear something or you see something in the press, and you try to make sense of it.

[With a raucous rally in Iowa, Trump transports himself back to 2016]

The Trump administration has moved to accommodate the president’s dubious rhetoric in other ways.

Trump has repeatedly insisted without evidence that he lost the popular vote because of millions of illegal immigrant voters. That in turn led the White House to create a commission to study the issue — an effort widely dismissed as a sham but which nevertheless is slated to produce a report of its findings next year.

A similar phenomenon has taken hold with Trump’s proposed border wall. The president, lawmakers and his aides have floated a number of schemes to make his promise that taxpayers wouldn’t foot the bill come true, including initially financing the wall with solar panels or a border adjustment tax. Even with Mexico refusing to even entertain the idea of funding — and with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) answering “no” when asked if Mexico would be paying up — Trump hasn’t dropped the issue.

“It’s not unprecedented for people anywhere in the bureaucracy to have to do clean up or to deal with in other ways statements that are short on veracity from the man at the top,” said Paul Pillar, a former CIA officer. “What you’re talking about with the current president is a substantial difference of degree in which some of these things happen.

“There’s as much eye rolling with respect to our foreign partners. They realize the kind of boat their American counterparts have been put in,” he added.

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