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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee walks to a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, for a meeting with UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Rice continued...

With time running out, health care advocates look for GOP 'no' votes

06/26/17 09:30AM

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) didn't just announce his intention to vote against his party's health care plan late last week; he also torched the legislation itself. For all intents and purposes, the Nevada Republican's argument against the GOP bill wasn't much different from the Senate Democrats' case.

But one "no" vote among Senate Republicans won't be enough to rescue the American system from the proposal. Health care advocates will need two more GOP senators to break ranks.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) hasn't formally made an announcement, but her comments to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos yesterday suggested she isn't exactly ready to partner with her far-right colleagues.

"For my part, I'm very concerned about the cost of insurance for older people with serious chronic illnesses, and the impact of the Medicaid cuts on our state governments, the most vulnerable people in our society, and health care providers such as our rural hospitals and nursing home, most of whom are very dependent on the Medicaid program. So threading that needle is going to be extremely difficult. [...]

"I'm also very concerned about the Medicaid cuts, what it means to our most vulnerable citizens. And I'm very concerned about the cost of insurance premiums and deductibles, particularly for that very vulnerable group between the age of 50 and 64. They are particularly at risk, based on my initial analysis."

Of particular interest, the Maine Republican, widely seen as the most moderate GOP senator, added that the Senate bill "is going to have more impact on the Medicaid program than even the House bill" -- and given that Collins opposed the House bill, this wasn't a compliment. Asked about the timeline her party's leaders have in mind, Collins added, "It's hard for me to see the bill passing this week."

Republican insiders continue to work from the assumption that "moderates always cave." Whether Collins will take this opportunity to prove them wrong remains to be seen, but let's not forget that the senator is rumored to be interested in a gubernatorial campaign next year. Voting for a wildly unpopular health care bill wouldn't exactly serve as a springboard for a statewide race.

But even if Collins joins Heller among the bill's opponents, that's still not enough to stop the regressive legislation. Who else is worth watching?

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A sign at an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles, California, September 28, 2013.

An inconvenient truth in the health care debate: 'People will die'

06/26/17 09:00AM

On Friday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) raised an important argument against the Republican health care plan: "Let us be clear and this is not trying to be overly dramatic: Thousands of people will die if the Republican health care bill becomes law." Soon after, Hillary Clinton added, "Forget death panels. If Republicans pass this bill, they're the death party."

Such talk didn't impress Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). "The brief time when we were not accusing those we disagree with of murder was nice while it lasted," the Republican senator wrote.

The idea that the GOP's legislation may lead to preventable American deaths appears to be a touchy subject for some on the right. Republicans no doubt expect pushback on their regressive health care proposal, but to argue that people will quite literally die as a consequence of GOP senators' actions is apparently a talking point some on the right consider offensive and inappropriate.

The trouble is, whether the truth hurts Republicans' feelings or not, there's ample reason to believe Sanders' and Clinton's point is true. The Washington Post ran this striking quote over the weekend:

"There has never been a rollback of basic services to Americans like this ever in U.S. history," said Bruce Siegel, president of America's Essential Hospitals, a coalition of about 300 hospitals that treat a large share of low-income patients. "Let's not mince words. This bill will close hospitals. It will hammer rural hospitals, it will close nursing homes. It will lead to disabled children not getting services.... People will die."

Atul Gawande also spoke to Vox about the available evidence. "The bottom line," the surgeon and scholar said, "is that if you're passing a bill that cuts $1.2 trillion in taxes that have paid for health care coverage, there's almost no way that does not end up terminating insurance for large numbers of people. If you are doing that, then there's clear evidence that you will be harming people. You will be hurting their access to care. You will be harming their health -- their physical health and mental health. There will be deaths. As a doctor, I find this unconscionable."

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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump blames Obama for Russian attack he doesn't believe happened

06/26/17 08:30AM

The Washington Post published an extraordinary piece of reporting on Friday, documenting the Obama administration's challenges responding to the Russian attack on the American election last year. Apparently, someone summarized the lengthy piece for Donald Trump, who responded to the reporting in a rather amazing way during one of his many Fox News interviews.

"Well I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did nothing about it. But nobody wants to talk about that. The CIA gave him information on Russia a long time before they even -- before the election.... It's an amazing thing. To me -- in other words, the question is, if he had the information, why didn't he do something about it? He should have done something about it. But you don't read that. It's quite sad.”

The president also had a pair of tweets on the subject over the weekend, arguing the Obama administration knew about "election meddling by Russia," but "did nothing about it." Trump, who now apparently refers to himself in a first-person-and-first-letter way, added, "Since the Obama Administration was told way before the 2016 Election that the Russians were meddling, why no action? Focus on them, not T!"

Even by 2017 standards, this is astonishingly foolish.

First, to argue that the Obama administration did "nothing" in response to the Russian attack is plainly wrong -- Trump may have heard something about Obama imposing new sanctions on Russia that the Trump administration has thought about lifting -- and contradicted by the Washington Post article the president is only pretending to have read.

Second, as recently as last week, just a few days before the Fox interview, Trump denied that Russia intervened in the American election, dismissing the allegations as a "hoax" concocted by Democrats. Now he's saying the intervention did happen, and it was up to Obama to stop Trump's foreign benefactors' crimes.

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White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017.

Republicans reduced to lying about GOP health plan's Medicaid cuts

06/26/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump promised Americans, over and over again, in writing and in public remarks, that he would never cut Medicaid. And yet, the president is now an enthusiastic proponent for a Republican health care plan that makes brutal cuts to Medicaid.

I've been curious as to how the White House and its allies would defend this. Now we know: they're defending it by lying.

The first real indication of the GOP's rhetorical direction came on Friday, when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had this exchange during the official briefing:

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

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.

For anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the Republican plan, the idea that Medicaid beneficiaries won't be "affected in any way" is hopelessly bonkers.

And yet, Spicer isn't alone in pushing this outlandish line. Asked yesterday about the GOP plan's Medicaid cuts, Kellyanne Conway said with a straight face, "These are not cuts to Medicaid." HHS Secretary Tom Price made the same argument.

The nonsense isn't limited to Trump administration officials. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), for example, argued yesterday that "no one" would lose coverage through Medicaid from his party's plan. (The Congressional Budget Office estimated that 14 million Americans who rely on Medicaid would lose coverage under the House bill, and the Senate bill cuts deeper.)

Around the same time, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) bragged about his party's proposal to increase Medicaid spending.

We're stuck in a very strange conversation, but no one should be confused about reality.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 6.23.17

06/23/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A great report: "In political terms, Russia's interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Kremlin through cyber-forensics and intelligence on Putin's involvement. And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences."

* Middle Eastern demands: "Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries that recently cut diplomatic ties with Qatar issued a harsh list of demands on Friday, insisting that the wealthy but tiny Persian Gulf nation shut down the news network Al Jazeera, abandon ties with Islamist organizations and provide detailed information about its funding for political dissidents."

* Rachel mentioned this one briefly on the show last night: "CBS News has confirmed that congressional investigators are interested in whether Trump campaign associates obtained information from hacked voter databases."

* Nice FOIA work: "Former US Attorney Preet Bharara sent an email to Justice Department officials in New York to express concern about a voicemail he received in March from President Donald Trump's secretary, Madeleine Westerhout, according to emails BuzzFeed News obtained on Thursday from the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act."

* The outrage remains elusive: "Al Baldasaro, a former President Trump campaign adviser who called for Hillary Clinton to be 'shot for treason' over her handling of the 2012 Benghazi, Libya, attacks, visited the White House for a bill signing on Friday."

* Sadly predictable: "Newly-elected House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy does not plan to investigate Russia's meddling in the 2016 election or questions of whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice."

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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.

Key Senate Republican balks at far-right health plan

06/23/17 04:59PM

Of every Republican senator up for re-election next year, only one represents a state that Hillary Clinton won last year: Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada.

He's the same GOP senator who this afternoon announced his opposition to his party's far-right health care plan.

"This bill that's currently in front of the United States Senate ... is simply not the answer, and I'm announcing today that in this form I will not support it," Heller said at a news conference in Las Vegas with Gov. Brian Sandoval Friday morning, pointing to the bill's dramatic reductions in Medicaid. [...]

More than 600,000 people in Nevada are on Medicaid, including disabled and low-income children.

Heller added that it will be "very difficult" to get him to change his mind about the legislation.

Now, I know what you're thinking, and I don't blame you. We talked just yesterday about Republicans who publicly raise concerns about a bill they ultimately intend to support, hoping to get some concessions from party leaders before ending the charade and rejoining the party fold. It's the "squeaky wheel" approach to the legislative process, and it's been around for years.

Heller's comments, however, are qualitatively different. Anything's possible with this crowd, but his objections are based on the Medicaid cuts that are at the heart of the broader Republican effort. The Nevadan made quite a spectacle of his decision today, and unless Mitch McConnell intends to completely overhaul the entire legislation -- an unlikely scenario -- it's difficult to imagine Heller going back on his word now.

Indeed, it's entirely possible Heller made this decision with McConnell's blessing: had the Nevada Republican supported this health care monstrosity, his odds of getting re-elected, which are already suspect, would get quite a bit worse.

And so, unless Heller is prepared to make a very public betrayal, he is the first credible "no" vote from the Senate Republican conference on the GOP health care bill. For health care advocates, this is an important breakthrough, but it's not enough.

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Bill Cassidy

GOP senator on health care: "It depends on how you define 'better'"

06/23/17 12:46PM

On Capitol Hill yesterday, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) told reporters that his party's health care plan is "much better than Obamacare." Asked why, the Georgia Republican wasn't sure. "I've got to read it first," Perdue replied*.

Oh. So the senator hadn't read the GOP plan, but he's nevertheless certain that it's not only an improvement on the status quo, but it's "much better" than the Affordable Care Act.

This almost certainly captures the attitude most Senate Republican will adopt, probably without a whole lot of effort. They know they're supposed to hate the ACA; they know their party has a far-right alternative; and so they know how they're going to have to vote next week.

But when it comes to the between the Affordable Care Act and the GOP alternative, I think this is a better answer.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) expressed his support for the Senate Republicans' Obamacare repeal bill Friday, although he told the hosts of "Fox & Friends" that he had yet to commit to voting for it.

Asked if the bill bettered the state of health care, Cassidy replied: "It depends on how you define 'better.'"

Well, yes, I suppose it does.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.23.17

06/23/17 12:00PM

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

* With a little over four months remaining in Virginia's gubernatorial race, the latest Quinnipiac poll offers some good news for Democrats: Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) leads former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, 47% to 39%. Northam's lead was slightly larger before the recent party primaries.

* On a related note, Barack Obama has agreed to campaign in support of Northam, despite having supported his primary rival.

* The latest national NBC News poll found Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 50% to 42%. That's a pretty healthy advantage, but it's also very early. (Dems had a similar advantage in 2013 after Republicans shut down the government, but it didn't much help in 2014.)

* In Nevada, where Sen. Dean Heller (R) has to decide whether to vote for a regressive far-right health care bill ahead of his re-election bid next year, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) has now confirmed her intention to take on the incumbent senator next year.

* At his campaign rally in Iowa this week, Donald Trump again boasted, "We're 5-0 in special elections." That's still wrong: Republicans have won four congressional special elections by closer-than-expected margins, and a Democrat easily prevailed in a California special election earlier this month.

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