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Friday's Mini-Report, 9.22.17

09/22/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Future of Trump's Muslim ban: "The White House could issue new requirements this weekend for travelers entering the United States, replacing President Donald Trump's controversial ban on visitors from six Muslim countries, administration officials tell NBC News."

* Puerto Rico's financial difficulties make matters much worse: "As Hurricane Maria plowed on from a stricken and sodden Puerto Rico, residents on Friday faced the arduous work of rebuilding that awaited them, a task made all the more formidable by the fact that, for now, the island has no power."

* Quite a story:  "President Donald Trump’s attorneys in the probe of Russian election interference are being funded in part through a Republican Party account with a handful of wealthy donors -- including a billionaire investor, a property developer seeking U.S. government visas and a Ukrainian-born American who has made billions of dollars doing business with Russian oligarchs."

* More Trump-Russia: "Special counsel Robert Mueller has sought phone records concerning the statement written aboard Air Force One defending a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians at Trump Tower last year that was set up by Donald Trump Jr., according to two people familiar with the investigation."

Korean peninsula: "Army counterintelligence officials in South Korea are investigating fake mobile alerts and social media messages warning American military families and Defense Department personnel of orders to evacuate the volatile peninsula on Thursday."

* Afghanistan: "President Donald Trump and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani delivered contradictory assessments Thursday of the situation on the ground as the U.S. military operation there enters its 16th year."

* Military history: "For the first time, a woman is set to become a Marine Corps infantry officer, a milestone in the Corps' 242-year history. The woman, whose name has not been released, is scheduled to graduate from the physically demanding infantry officer course Monday. She will be the first women to complete the 13-week course. Since it was opened to females in 2012, 36 women have enrolled in the course."

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Image: FILE PHOTO: U.S. Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain listens as he is introduced at a campaign rally in Fayetteville

McCain cannot 'in good conscience' vote for GOP repeal bill

09/22/17 02:20PM

If Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) goal was to play a consequential role in the fight over health care, he's succeeded beautifully.

Two months ago, it was the Arizona Republican who cast a dramatic deciding vote that derailed his party repeal push. Two weeks ago, it was McCain who seemed to throw a lifeline to the repeal crusade, telling reporters he was prepared to support the Graham-Cassidy proposal.

And this afternoon, it was the veteran lawmaker who announced his opposition to the Graham-Cassidy plan, effectively sealing its fate.

"I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried. Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will effect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it. Without a full CBO score, which won't be available by the end of the month, we won't have reliable answers to any of those questions.

"I take no pleasure in announcing my opposition. Far from it. The bill's authors are my dear friends, and I think the world of them. I know they are acting consistently with their beliefs and sense of what is best for the country. So am I.

"I hope that in the months ahead, we can join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to arrive at a compromise solution that is acceptable to most of us, and serves the interests of Americans as best we can."

McCain added that he'd consider a bill like Graham-Cassidy "were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment," but that hasn't happened.

Let no one say he didn't warn us this would happen. As recently as two days ago, McCain told reporters, "Nothing has changed. If McConnell wants to put it on the floor, that's up to McConnell. I am the same as I was before. I want the regular order." Two days earlier, the Arizona Republican said, "I'm not the one that waited nine months to bring up an issue. And we just went through that last fiasco. It's not my problem that we only have those few days left."

I guess he wasn't kidding.

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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

GOP 'moderates' give up on concessions they once deemed important

09/22/17 12:44PM

Over the summer, during the various stages of the health care repeal fight, several Senate Republicans at least went through the motions. Unwilling to look like knee-jerk partisans, GOP senators like Ohio's Rob Portman and West Virginia's Shelley Moore Capito -- sometimes labeled as "moderates" by news outlets -- said they weren't prepared to endorse the Republican plan because it was a Republican plan.

Instead, they had certain conditions. These senators said they wanted increased investments to address the opioid crisis, for example, and additional protections for Medicaid beneficiaries. Without some concessions from GOP leaders, these senators said, their support was in doubt.

Two months later, those same senators have apparently decided they no longer care about these conditions. Roll Call reported this week:

Republican senators face the prospect of backtracking from their previous public stances in order to support fast-moving legislation that would significantly overhaul the U.S. health care system.

Concerns about the impact on people suffering from opioid addiction, drastic cuts to Medicaid and the lack of robust analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office appear to have vanished as the GOP hopes to advance a bill to repeal the 2010 health law before the fast-track budget reconciliation mechanism they are using expires on Sept. 30.

It's almost as if many Senate Republicans weren't especially serious about their stated principles. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said he opposed Medicaid cuts. Portman and Capito prioritized opioid investments. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he cared about a legitimate, thorough process -- including a proper score from the Congressional Budget Office -- and a lengthy policy debate.

A big chunk of the Republican Party, including Donald Trump himself, said protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions must be part of any GOP health care package.

And yet, here we are. Graham-Cassidy cuts Medicaid, ignores the opioid crisis, is advancing through a ridiculously truncated process, and eliminates guarantees for those with pre-existing conditions.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.22.17

09/22/17 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* With only a few days remaining ahead of Alabama's Republican Senate primary runoff, a new statewide poll from the Fox affiliate in Mobile found Roy Moore with a decent lead over appointed Sen. Luther Strange, 54% to 46%.

* The Senate Leadership Fund, the Senate majority leadership's super PAC, reportedly made an additional $630,000 investment in support of Strange's campaign this week.

* Moore and Strange debated last night, with the latter repeatedly emphasizing his endorsement from Donald Trump. On a related note, the president has tweeted twice over the last 24 hours that Strange is in contention thanks to Trump (because everything is always about him).

* Speaking of the president, nearly a full year after the 2016 campaign, Trump declared this morning that he believes "Crooked Hillary Clinton ... was a bad candidate." I'm going to assume he'll continue to periodically tweet this, apropos of nothing, for the rest of his life.

* The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows the president's approval rating inching higher, though when it comes to the 2018 midterms, Democrats still enjoy a six-point advantage on the generic congressional ballot.

* During his presidential campaign, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) generally didn't focus much attention on foreign policy, but ahead of a possible 2020 bid, he's apparently expanding his repertoire of interests. The Vermont independent presented his vision on international affairs in a speech yesterday.

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Image: Bill Cassidy,Lindsey Graham

Poll shows weak public support for latest Republican repeal plan

09/22/17 11:20AM

There are literally no major health care institutions in the United States that believe the latest Republican health care plan is a good idea. From doctors to nurses, hospitals to insurers, patient advocates to state officials, the entire industry has scrutinized the Graham-Cassidy legislation and called for its swift defeat.

On this, GOP policymakers are completely alone. They've convinced themselves -- and no one else.

But what about the public? There hasn't been much in the way of polling -- the legislation was only introduced last week -- but Vox this morning highlighted what I believe is the first national survey on the pending proposal.

With their deadline fast approaching, Senate Republicans' rush to repeal and replace Obamacare remains as unpopular as ever with the public.

Only 24 percent of Americans support Graham-Cassidy, the health care bill Republicans are furiously whipping to pass ahead of September 30, according to a new poll released Thursday by Public Policy Polling. The poll is the first to date of the proposed legislation, which would cripple Obamacare's exchanges and sharply cut long-term Medicaid spending while also taking billions of funding from blue states that implemented Obamacare and giving it to red ones that did not.

In case these results didn't make the repeal crusaders feel discouraged enough, let's not overlook the fact that the same PPP results found public support for the Affordable Care Act reaching 54% -- well over double the support for the latest Republican plan to repeal it.

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Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., during a press conference where he announced he will vote no on the proposed GOP healthcare bill at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building on Friday, June 23, 2017 in Las Vegas.

Nevada's Dean Heller is at war with himself over health care

09/22/17 10:47AM

Three months ago tomorrow, Sen. Dean Heller (R) of Nevada made a dramatic announcement. Standing alongside his home state's Republican governor, Nevada's Brian Sandoval, Heller became the first GOP senator to declare his opposition to his party's health care repeal plan.

By any fair measure, it was a bold move, which changed the trajectory of the fight. After Heller broke ranks, citing the importance of protecting Medicaid beneficiaries, other Republican senators soon followed, and the initial plan crafted by the GOP leadership failed.

But as political pressure increased, Heller wavered. When it came time to consider the Republicans' "skinny repeal" measure, for example, the Nevada senator toed the party line and voted with his party. Complicating matters, Heller soon after said he was "pleased" that the bill he voted for didn't pass.

A couple of weeks later, Heller claimed credit for having protected Medicaid from his own party, only to turn around soon after and become a leading sponsor of the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson plan that would impose deep Medicaid cuts.

CNN reported yesterday:

The shifts, Heller's Republican and Democratic opponents say, suggest he is operating out of fear -- first worried about not looking like a moderate, and then looking too much like a moderate.

I think that's right, and I think the result has pushed Heller into total incoherence. As a candidate, he endorsed ACA repeal, like nearly every other Republican. But when push came to shove, he announced his opposition to his party's repeal plan, then he supported a different repeal plan, then he was happy about the failure of the bill he voted in favor of, then he co-authored a different plan that does the one thing he said he's against.

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Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval holds a signing ceremony for Senate Bill 432, which allocates millions of dollars for low performing schools, June 3, 2015, in Las Vegas. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Governors become important foes of Republican repeal plan

09/22/17 10:14AM

When four Republican senators unveiled the Graham-Cassidy health care plan last week -- yes, it really was just last week -- a reporter asked the quartet if they'd secured the support of governors who'd been skeptical of previous repeal plans. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) replied that it was still a "work in progress."

A week later, we can now say those efforts failed spectacularly. The Nevada Independent reported last night:

Gov. Brian Sandoval said Thursday that the flexibility fellow Republican Sen. Dean Heller promised will be good for Nevada in a health-care bill he’s sponsoring is a “false choice” because the legislation will also slash funding.

Sandoval, in a statement to The Nevada Independent, said he would not “pit seniors, children, families, the mentally ill, the critically ill, hospitals, care providers or any other Nevadan against each other” because of the steep cuts to federal funding the state would face if the Heller-sponsored measure were to pass. A state analysis, also obtained by The Nevada Independent, agrees with independent calculations from various health-care organizations estimating Nevada will lose between $600 million and $2 billion in federal funding by 2026 if the legislation passes.

Sandoval is hardly alone. Even if we put aside criticism from Democratic governors -- whom GOP senators are inclined to ignore -- the number of Republican governors who are publicly opposed to the Graham-Cassidy plan continues to grow.

We noted the other day that GOP governors representing Ohio, Nevada, Maryland, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire have rejected the proposal. Soon after, New Jersey's Chris Christie (R) said he's against it, too. A day later, New Mexico's Susana Martinez (R) also gave the legislation a thumbs-down.

At one point this week, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) reportedly suggested his home state governor, Louisiana's John Bel Edwards (D), wasn't opposed to his repeal bill. Edwards disagreed, making clear he's against it, too.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump aides 'aren't sure' about real-world impact of repeal bill

09/22/17 09:20AM

When House Republicans first tried to pass a far-right health care plan in the spring, it enjoyed Donald Trump's enthusiastic support. When House GOP officials tried again two months later with a slightly different proposal, the president endorsed it, too.

In the Senate, Trump quickly threw his support behind the Republican leadership's plan. When it failed, and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) pushed an alternative approach, Trump endorsed it. When it failed to garner support, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) unveiled a related bill with several key changes, Trump endorsed it, too. When it fell short, and Republicans pursued "skinny repeal," Trump, once again, backed the plan.

The various GOP health care proposals have varied in important ways, but they've all had one thing in common: the enthusiastic support of the Republican president who appears to be hopelessly lost about even the most rudimentary details in this debate.

Now, with congressional Republicans making one last regressive push to uproot the nation's health care system, Trump has -- you guessed it -- endorsed the Graham-Cassidy plan. But as Politico noted, the White House has no idea what would happen to Americans if the proposal were actually imposed on the public.

One official said the concerns from governors have alarmed some in the White House -- and that "we really aren't sure what the impact will be" of passing the bill.

At least we've achieved some degree of unanimity on this: congressional Republicans who are eager to pass the bill have no idea what would happen if it's implemented, and the president who's eager to sign the bill is similarly clueless. None of these GOP officials has the foggiest idea how many Americans would lose coverage, how unstable the markets would become, how states would respond, or how much more consumers would pay for care -- but it might pass next week anyway.

Have I mentioned that we're talking about a life-and-death debate about one-sixth of the world's largest economy?

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Image: Tom Price

Price's private-jet travel more extensive than previously reported

09/22/17 08:40AM

We knew HHS Secretary Tom Price's private-jet travel was bad. We didn't know it was this bad.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has taken at least 24 flights on private charter planes at taxpayers' expense since early May, according to people with knowledge of his travel plans and a review of HHS documents.

The frequency of the trips underscores how private travel has become the norm -- rather than the exception -- for the Georgia Republican during his tenure atop the federal health agency, which began in February. The cost of the trips identified by POLITICO exceeds $300,000, according to a review of federal contracts and similar trip itineraries.

When Politico first broke this story earlier in the week, there was some question about who was picking up the tab for Price's charter flights. That question has now been answered: we're paying for it.

The far-right cabinet's secretary spokesperson told the New York Times the other day that Price's chartered flights were necessary to accommodate his "incredibly demanding schedule," but Politico's reporting suggests there were cheaper commercial flights available for many of these trips.

The new defense, offered yesterday pointed to Price's role in the federal response to the recent hurricanes, which might make more sense if most of his private-jet travel hadn't occurred long before the storms reached the U.S.

Indeed, the closer one looks at the details, the worse they appear. Politico's article added, "In June, Price spoke at a physicians association conference in San Diego, where he vowed to wring out wasteful spending in the government's health care programs. Getting 'value' for spending 'is incredibly important,' he said. Price took a private plane to get to the meeting, which was one stop on a five-state sprint of charter travel that cost $50,420."

Let's get a few things straight:

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