-- Some guidance on timing, via Steve Scalise’s office: Around 10:30 a.m., the House will have its first votes of the day. Then the chamber will begin formal debate. Between approximately 1:15 p.m. and 1:45 p.m., the House will vote on this legislation. Members are being told they’ll be free to leave the floor by 2:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.
-- What you need to know about the state of play: This vote is going to be very close, and the whipping will continue until the last minute.
House Republicans can afford to lose no more than 22 GOP votes. The running whip count that Amber Phillips has been keeping for us is fluid, but she has 20 members who are on the record saying they are opposed to or leaning no on the bill. Another 35 are undecided or refuse to say, and 23 more have switched to yes.
That leaves very little margin for error. Rep. Jason Chaffetz has even returned to D.C. after getting foot surgery in Utah – before he was supposed to travel – so that he can vote.
GOP leadership aides say they are mindful that the bill cannot pass by just one vote. They know that, if that happens, Democrats can run attack ads describing each supporter of the bill as “THE DECIDING VOTE” on a measure that remains quite unpopular. How do they know this? Because they successfully used that talking point against Democratic senators for three election cycles in a row.
Annoyingly for the strategists tasked with holding the majority, the number of Republicans with safe seats who are voting no is putting a lot more pressure on vulnerable members in swing districts to support the bill. These guys might normally get a pass because they’re going to face tough races in 2018. But House GOP leaders are now calling in all of their chits.
If you want to watch someone closely today, look at Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, who represents a suburban Denver district that went for Hillary Clinton. He issued a carefully worded statement yesterday that gave him cover to go either way and reflected the pressure he’s under from all sides: “The critics of the House bill are being totally disingenuous when they say the bill dooms those with preexisting ailments. … But I worry that, under the current language, a small percentage of those with preexisting conditions may not be adequately protected. If House Leadership will work to tighten protections for those with preexisting conditions, I'm a yes on sending this bill to the Senate for further consideration. If not, I'm a no, and we’ll go back to the drawing board to clean up the mess created by the Affordable Care Act.”
Also keep an eye on Florida’s Carlos Curbelo. He’s close with party leadership and has grander ambitions, but Clinton carried his district – which stretches from Miami to Key West – by 16 points. “The easiest thing to do in this town is to say no,” he told one of our reporters on the Hill yesterday afternoon. “That’s usually the politically expedient thing to do. If I believe this legislation can be improved by the time it comes back to the House, I will be supporting it.” When a CNN reporter followed up last night, he remained undecided:
He’s not alone in holding his cards very close to the vest. Presumably, a lot of members really want to vote against a bill full of fodder for attack ads. But they know they must walk the plank if leadership cannot get their colleagues on board.
Consider the case of California’s Darrell Issa:
A reporter for The Hill posted this on Twitter:
After blowback in San Diego and local press coverage, he tweeted this yesterday:
And Arizona’s Martha McSally:
To be sure, other Republicans remain firmly against the bill. This is from a Kentucky Republican:
-- Here are 10 storylines to follow today:
1. Fred Upton’s compromise will get credit for salvaging the bill. The Michigan Republican gave cover for people to switch from no to yes by extracting more financial assistance — $8 billion over five years — to help people with preexisting conditions pay for medical costs.
2. From a public policy perspective, the concession to Upton may not actually help people with preexisting conditions very much. Amy Goldstein explains: “The linchpin … is an iffy, ‘back to the future’ idea for dealing with what has been an intractable dilemma … Leading health policy experts said the amendment raises big questions about how — and how well — it would work in practice. Among the most significant: How many states would back away from the federal protections for people with medical conditions? And how many of those people would lose their coverage because of other changes in the House plan? …
“A Republican House aide familiar with the amendment, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, portrayed the people who would need the extra help as ‘a small, narrow group,’” Amy reports. “However, Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that the number of Americans with medical conditions and no insurance could increase under the GOP plan because the ACA’s subsidies would be replaced by smaller, more restrictive ones. And, Levitt said, it is impossible to anticipate how far the amendment’s money would have to stretch without knowing how many states would try to get rid of the current insurance rules. It is also unclear what would happen once the money was gone in five years.”
The director of The Post’s fact checking unit, Glenn Kessler, warns readers to be skeptical of promises that people with pre-existing conditions will not be hurt by the bill: “When it comes to health care, readers should be wary about claims that important changes in health-care coverage are without consequences and that people are ‘protected’ – or that the changes will result in massive dislocation and turmoil. There are always winners and losers in a bill of this size. In this case, if the bill ever became law, much would depend on unknown policy decisions by individual states — and then how those decisions are implemented.”
3. The lack of buy-in from industry groups and other key stakeholders is making it harder to get certain wavering Republicans on board. “There aren’t many local doctors, local hospital chief executives or insurance executives pushing these Republicans to vote for Ryan’s bill — because their national associations all oppose the legislation,” Paul Kane wrote in his column yesterday. “This has left these undecided Republicans without many allies back home. Instead of pointing to support from local hospital officials, they’re getting an earful from them about what is wrong with the legislation. … Republican leaders say they spent time with groups such as the American Medical Association and AARP, to no avail.”
Several prominent advocacy organizations reiterated their opposition even after yesterday’s changes. The president of the American Medical Association said “none of the latest legislative tweaks under consideration changes the serious harm to patients and the health care delivery system.” Millions would still lose coverage or have to pay far higher insurance costs “as a direct result,” said Andrew Gurman. The AARP argued that the changes “would make a bad bill even worse,” increasing out-of-pocket costs for Americans ages 50-64 and weakening the fiscal stability of Medicare, which covers people over 65.
4. The House is voting before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office gets a chance to estimate just how many people will lose coverage under this bill and how much it grows the deficit.
If the numbers are bad after the fact, it’s not like Republicans can say they didn’t know because they didn’t wait to get the estimate. That excuse wouldn’t wash with most voters. Initial outside guesstimates based on the details we know are not pretty.
Opening himself up to charges of hypocrisy, Paul Ryan complained in 2009 about Democratic efforts to move the health bill. "I don’t think we should pass bills that we haven’t read and don’t know what they cost,” the congressman said on MSNBC. Watch the clip:
Democrats are already seizing on the lack of a score. You'll hear a lot more comments like these two in the hours to come:
5. More broadly, Ryan’s prestige is on the line. This could be a huge short-term victory for him. CNN’s Stephen Collinson says the Speaker will regain some of the luster he lost when he was forced to pull the bill in March: “When he failed to make good on a push to pass Obamacare repeal the first time, Ryan told reporters that moving from an opposition party, as the GOP was in the Obama years, to a governing party in control of Congress comes with ‘growing pains.’ A narrow vote to pass the American Health Care Act on Thursday would not represent a coming of age for the Republican majority, but it will at least restore confidence that the GOP can come together to pass an agenda that had been assumed before the health care debacle, to herald a new era of conservative governance.”
Ryan has put all his cards on the table. “He has framed Obamacare repeal as a moment of truth for his party, telling rank-and-file members in a private meeting this week that what they do will ‘define’ Republicans for years to come,” The Hill’s Scott Wong and Alex Bolton note.
6. The White House also has a lot riding on this. There has been a full-court press on leadership and members to move a bill. Spotted at the Capitol just yesterday: Vice President Pence, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, CMS administrator Seema Verma, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
Price makes the case for the current version of the House bill in an op-ed for CNBC: “The bill will repeal the foundation and most corrosive elements of the current healthcare law and, more importantly, take power out of Washington and give it back to patients and doctors, while providing tens of billions of dollars in additional federal help for patients with pre-existing conditions.”
7. The next two weeks could be rough for Republicans, no matter how they vote. After today, lawmakers return home for a two-week recess. There was a heavy push to hold the vote now because many involved in the process feared that the measure would fall apart if they waited until after May 16 when members had heard an earful from their constituents about problems in the bill. Members who vote for it will need to defend themselves back home in the coming days, and members who vote against it could face ire from conservatives in their districts who are angry that they didn’t follow through on a central campaign promise.
8. The GOP civil war will continue: Some moderates are very mad at their leader for negotiating with the Freedom Caucus.
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) may even be ousted as the head of the centrist Tuesday Group for negotiating with the tea-party-aligned Freedom Caucus to revive the bill. “MacArthur has become so toxic within the group that he’s intentionally stayed out of final negotiations this week, as leaders try to cajole dozens of centrists to accept the deal he brokered with conservatives,” Politico’s Rachael Bade and Kyle Cheney report. “My amendment has caused far more of a stir than I anticipated,” he told them in an interview Wednesday. “And I made the judgment that I think for me, particularly with the moderates, it’s better if I stay out of the way at the moment.” MacArthur said one moderate colleague even told him, “You are going to make us lose the majority.” Asked if he is worried about his leadership position, MacArthur responded, “We’ll see.”
9. No matter what happens, all this uncertainty about the future of the law is already taking a serious toll on the health system. “The insurance industry, which has long depended on stability, is trying to react to a highly uncertain political environment that shows no signs of stabilizing soon,” Carolyn Johnson reports. “Amid arguments in Congress … insurers must make practical decisions in the next two months whether to sell plans in the marketplace next year. Billions of dollars in federal payments that help reduce deductibles and out-of-pocket costs have become a political football, with politicians refusing to commit to long-term promises about the payments. And the future of the marketplaces longer-term is hard to read amid the uncertain fate.”
There has been a flurry of ominous developments in recent days that raise concerns about the coming collapse of the insurance marketplaces. Three examples:
- Iowa’s last major Affordable Care Act insurer threatened yesterday to pull out from the state’s marketplace next year. “If Minnesota-based Medica follows through on its threat not to sell plans in 2018, Iowa could be the first state to lack any insurers on its exchanges in all but a handful of counties,” Carolyn explains. “At the start of 2017, Iowa outwardly appeared to be an ACA success story, with three insurance companies selling competing plans on its exchanges broadly. But last month, two of Medica’s competitors said they would exit the state’s marketplace next year, citing financial losses. And on Wednesday, Medica released a statement saying its continued participation ‘is in question.’”
- Meanwhile, Aetna announced yesterday that it will pull out of Virginia’s individual marketplace next year, as it was on track to lose more than $200 million this year on insurance sales to individuals.
- And Anthem chief executive Joseph Swedish said in an earnings call that his company, which has 1.1 million members in the exchanges, will consider exiting marketplaces – if there isn’t a commitment to funding the federal payments that reduce out-of-pocket costs, called cost-sharing reductions.
10. Assuming the bill passes, it will immediately become the Senate’s problem. One core argument being made to undecided House members is that voting for this bill gets the issue off their plate. You might recall that, in March, at least eight Senate Republicans said they had fundamental problems with the bill being considered. ABC News’s Ali Rogin outlines the pockets of resistance in a new story:
- Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz all tweeted that they would oppose anything short of a full repeal of Obamacare. They also said the House bill's tax credit structure to help people pay for coverage amounted to a new entitlement.
- Cory Gardner, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito — from states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA – were concerned about the proposal's lack of protections for expansion beneficiaries.
- Susan Collins opposes efforts to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood.
- Tom Cotton said the House bill did not do enough to address rising premiums and deductibles.
None of those objections even begin to take into account the rules of reconciliation, which mean that certain key provisions of the House bill are likely to be struck down by the parliamentarian.
-- In other words, THE HEALTH 202 cannot come soon enough. Paige Winfield Cunningham will launch our new daily newsletter next Tuesday with daily insights on health policy and politics. Sign up here.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s 95-year-old husband, will step back from his royal duties starting this fall, Buckingham Palace announced. The queen will continue her full schedule of official events.
THE CAPITALS CHOKE – AGAIN!
-- “For Caps, just another ‘bad bounce’ for a pantheon filling up fast with them,” by Barry Svrluga in Pittsburgh: “It’s a terrible state of existence when every odd bounce that works against you has to be woven into the tapestry as part of some generations-long drama — and a depressing one at that. But it is the very existence of the Washington Capitals, and who knows when — or if — that will change. Welcome, then, Dmitry Orlov and his right skate to this disaster. They’re part of the story now, like it or not. This is what you need to know: Orlov, one of the Capitals’ very own defensemen, deflected the puck into his own net Wednesday night. He was not pressured to do so. There were no Pittsburgh Penguins within three rivers of him. Goalie Braden Holtby was happy to allow Orlov to play the puck, to clear the puck, to do anything other than — oh, I don’t know — kick the puck into his own yet. Yet that’s just what Orlov did…
“The Capitals lost, 3-2, in the fourth game of their second-round playoff series against the Penguins. They now trail the series 3-1. The Penguins won the game without Sidney Crosby, their captain and their conscience, who sat out with a concussion. To save their season, the Capitals must win Saturday night in Washington just to force a Game 6 on Monday in Pittsburgh, which they must win just to force a Game 7 next week back in D.C., which they must win to have any hope of altering their national reputation as chokers. ‘Right now, it’s Game 7 every game for us,’ said captain Alex Ovechkin, who was — rightly — critical of his own lousy play Wednesday.”
GET SMART FAST:
- Puerto Rico requested a form of bankruptcy protection. Grappling with an enormous public-sector debt now standing at $73 billion, the move amounts to the largest-ever U.S. municipal bankruptcy -- far outstripping Detroit’s $18 billion restructuring -- and sets up a showdown with Wall Street creditors. (Thomas Heath and Tory Newmyer)
- The Federal Reserve expects economic growth to rebound after a soft first quarter, signaling the central bank is likely to continue gradually raising short-term interest rates this year if it is right. Officials voted unanimously to hold their benchmark rate steady in a range between 0.75% and 1%, after a two-day policy meeting. (Wall Street Journal A1)
- A Marine Corps recruit who was hazed by his drill instructor during boot camp suffered chemical burns so severe that his skin was “liquefied” and required skin grafts, according to newly-released documents. The injuries occurred after the recruit was ordered to perform unauthorized exercises on a bleach-covered floor – and worsened after he was told he would not be able to graduate with his peers if he sought medical attention. (Dan Lamothe)
- Facebook announced it will add 3,000 people to its monitoring team to police the site for inappropriate or offensive content – a hiring spree that comes after its popular Facebook Live feature was used to broadcast several horrifying murders. (New York Times)
- The number of journalists being killed in Mexico has spiked in recent months, and a scathing new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists blames the government. Characterizing the deaths as “preventable,” the committee says indifference and rampant corruption have contributed to the spike in violence, and allows those accused of wrongdoing to silence their critics. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
- Harvard Law will begin accepting students in their junior year of college, as part of a deferred-admissions program designed to encourage students to pursue another experience before beginning their legal education. In particular, school officials hope to lure students interested in science, technology and engineering – a skill set that is increasingly in demand in the legal field. (Susan Svrluga)
- Vladimir Putin met with his Turkish counterpart to push a proposal for the creation of “deconfliction zones” in Syria, with what Putin claimed was U.S. support. The talks with Recep Erdogan reflect possible growing cooperation between nations once deeply at odds over the conflict. (Andrew Roth and Karen DeYoung)
- An American contracting company that was paid millions by the U.S. government to secure an Iraqi air base ignored reports of theft, sex trafficking, alcohol smuggling and repeated security breaches before firing the internal investigators that were looking into the violations, according to a report by the Associated Press on Wednesday. The AP’s story is based on more than 100 documents, interviews with multiple company employees and the two fired investigators, Robert Cole and Kristie King. The violations, if proved, would likely amount to a serious breach of contract and — because Pentagon auditors were kept in the dark — could open up the company and its employees to possible legal action. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)
- The Red Sox have permanently banned a fan who allegedly used the N-word during a game at Fenway Park. (Des Bieler)
- A German-born soccer player who plays for Afghanistan’s national team says she was detained at a U.S. airport for hours after traveling here to attend a soccer camp. Customs and Border Patrol officers allegedly declined to tell her why she was being held but asked a number of probing questions about who paid for her flight and who she will be staying with during her trip. (Marissa Payne)
- Seven bounty hunters swarmed a Nissan sedan in Tennessee, firing shots and triggering a high-speed car chase as they attempted to serve an arrest warrant. But inside the vehicle, they discovered an innocent man – and now they have each been charged with first-degree murder. (New York Times)
- “Morning Joe” co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski are engaged to be married, Page Six reports. Scarborough popped the question during a trip to the south of France to celebrate Brzezinski’s 50th birthday, the gossip sheet reports.
- Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) will get married on Saturday to the sister of Rep. Mike Kelly's wife. The 71-year-old met her at a grief group after losing his wife two years ago. (CNN)
- Alanis Morissette’s former manager was sentenced to six years in prison for stealing millions of dollars from the singer and other famous clients. Morissette said he committed the theft in a “drawn-out and sinister manner” that could have bankrupted her in less than five years, and would cry if she asked questions about her finances in order to “take advantage” of her empathetic nature. (Travis M. Andrews)
- A Maryland principal who created a “smash space” at her elementary school so teachers could swing baseball bats at broken furniture as a form of stress relief is resigning from her job. In a statement, she called her decision a “lapse in judgement” and a “misguided” attempt to provide staff with an outlet for pent-up energy. (Donna St. George)
- America’s first famous serial killer, who designed a labyrinthine “Murder Castle” complete with trap doors, peepholes and rooms doubling as makeshift gas chambers, was sentenced to be hanged in 1896. But did he really die? The public isn’t sure. Now, after more than 100 years, his descendants have agreed to have his body pulled from the grave for DNA evidence – settling a decades-long score about whether the infamous and sadistic con man managed to cheat his own death. (Travis M. Andrews)
THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- FBI Director James Comey defended his decision to go public on Clinton and stay quiet on Trump during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He told lawmakers the idea that his actions may have swayed the presidential election makes him “mildly nauseous,” but he was not contrite. He also told the panel that he was confident in the FBI’s handling of an ongoing probe of any contacts between Russian officials and any Trump associates, Devlin Barrett and Karoun Demirjian report: “Through nearly four hours of sometimes combative questioning … Comey offered his most full-throated explanation of his actions to date, and he never wavered from his core contention — that the FBI has stayed above the political fray even as its investigators probed senior aides to both the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates."
Key quote: "Lordy, has this been painful," Comey said. ‘I’ve gotten all kinds of rocks thrown at me and this has been really hard, but I think I’ve done the right thing at each turn. ... It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election. But honestly, it wouldn't change the decision." (Read the full transcript of Comey’s testimony here.)
- He offered new details about what FBI agents found last fall after realizing Huma Abedin’s former spouse Anthony Weiner’s laptop contained thousands of work emails involving Clinton. “Somehow, her emails were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information,’’ Comey said [of Abedin], adding later, “She appears to have had a regular practice of forwarding emails to him for him to print out for her so she could deliver them to the secretary of state.”
- Out of the 3,000 emails probed, however, just a dozen contained classified information, but they were messages investigators had already seen. “Really the central problem we had with the whole email investigation was proving people … had some sense they were doing something unlawful. That was our burden, and we were unable to meet it,’’ Comey said.
- Meanwhile, Democrats repeatedly contrasted Comey’s decision to talk about Clinton’s email probe while not disclosing that the FBI had begun secretly investigating potential ties between Trump officials and Russia. Comey said he treated both cases consistently and that the biggest difference was that one investigation was “over or nearly over,” and the other was just beginning.
- The FBI director disputed Trump’s recent assertion that he gave a “free pass” to Clinton “for many bad deeds,” defending his agency for conducting a “competent, honest and independent investigation.”
-- Finally, Comey said he felt compelled to go public about his thinking on not prosecuting Hillary after Bill Clinton boarded Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s plane in Phoenix last June. Dana Milbank explains in his column: “Comey decided to ‘step away’ and announce, without consulting the Justice Department, that (she) shouldn’t be charged. In Comey’s telling, this public announcement in turn required Comey to speak up again in October, when more emails were found. ‘Having done that … and then having testified repeatedly under oath that we’re done,’ he said, ‘it would be a disastrous, catastrophic concealment’ not to go public on Oct. 28 with the newly discovered emails. … If Bill Clinton hadn’t boarded that plane in June, Comey might not have spoken out in July, which means he wouldn’t have felt compelled to speak up again in October, which means Hillary Clinton would have won the election in November.”
-- Former national security adviser Susan Rice has declined to testify before a Senate subcommittee on Russia’s election meddling. In a letter addressed to Lindsey Graham and Sheldon Whitehouse, Rice said she was prepared to accept the invitation when she believed it was a “bipartisan overture,” but declined when she learned that Whitehouse (D-R.I.) did not agree to the request. Rice considered the invitation a "diversionary play" to distract from the investigation into Russian interference, including contacts between Trump allies and Russians during the campaign, CNN reports. "I'm disappointed," Graham said in a statement last night. "I don't know why she won't come before the committee to tell us what she did or didn't do. But we'll deal with her later."
-- Trump today plans to relax enforcement of rules barring tax-exempt churches from participating in politics, as part of a long-anticipated executive order on religious liberties. John Wagner, Abby Phillip and Julie Zauzmer report: “The order will also offer unspecified ‘regulatory relief’ for religious objectors to an Obama administration mandate … that required contraception services as part of health plans. But it will not include a controversial provision contained in a draft leaked in February that could have allowed federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees or single mothers on the basis of faith. The sweep of the order … appeared significantly narrower than in the February draft, which had alarmed civil libertarians, gay rights and other liberal advocacy groups and prompted threats of lawsuits.”
Trump, on the campaign trail, vowed to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment -- a 60-year ban on churches and other tax-exempt organizations supporting political candidates. But the provision is written in the tax code and would require an act of Congress to fully repeal. One administration official said Trump would instead direct the IRS to “exercise maximum enforcement discretion of the prohibition." Such a direction could be subject to legal challenge and would not necessarily extend beyond a Trump presidency.
-- Trump has begun putting in place a new team to oversee the banking industry, which his top advisers hope to leverage in their efforts to ease industry rules and make it easier for financial companies to lend money. Renae Merle and Damian Paletta report: “The appointments mark the beginning of what some Democrats fear is an effort to roll back rules put in place after the financial crisis to prevent banks from ripping off borrowers or taking on too much risk. On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced it would replace the head of one of the industry’s top regulators with banking lawyer Keith Noreika. A day earlier, Trump’s pick to lead the [SEC], Jay Clayton, was confirmed by the Senate. And Trump is close to filling a vacant position at the Federal Reserve that could play a key role in easing industry regulations. For Trump, such appointments may be the most efficient way of fulfilling his promise to ‘dismantle’ 2010’s financial reform law, known as the Dodd Frank Act. The House is considering legislation that includes many of the changes Wall Street wants, and the White House on Wednesday threw its support behind the legislation, known as the Financial Choice Act. By peppering the banking industry’s regulators with new leadership, some of the same goals can be reached more quickly."
-- “A political appointee hired by the Trump administration for a significant State Department role was accused of multiple sexual assaults as a student several years ago at The Citadel military college,” ProPublica’s Justin Elliott reports: “Steven Munoz was hired by the Trump administration as assistant chief of visits, running an office of up to 10 staffers charged with the sensitive work of organizing visits of foreign heads of state to the U.S. That includes arranging meetings with the president. At The Citadel, five male freshmen alleged that Munoz used his positions as an upperclassman, class president and head of the campus Republican Society to grope them. In one incident, a student reported waking up with Munoz on top of him, kissing him and grabbing [him] … In another, on a trip to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., a student said that Munoz jumped on him in bed and he ‘felt jerking and bouncing on my back.’” Munoz’s hiring raises questions about the Trump administration’s vetting of political appointees, as reports on his investigation are easy to find “via a simple Google search.”
-- Trump is doing away with the White House's Cinco de Mayo celebration, according to a report from Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion – moving from the executive grounds a 16-year-old tradition used by former presidents to connect with the Hispanic community. “Instead of a White House celebration this year, one headlined by Vice President Pence will be held at a to-be-determined location and with a reduced guest list,” The Hill reports. “The White House did not respond to a request for comment and has not issued an official announcement of any planned events for the holiday.”
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST WATCH:
-- At least nine people who worked on Trump's transition have now registered as lobbyists, highlighting holes in the president’s pledge to keep people from cashing in on government service. Politico’s Theodoric Meyer and Michael Stratford report: “Many are registered to lobby the same agencies or on the same issues they worked on during the transition … A former ‘sherpa’ who helped to guide Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos through the Senate confirmation process is now registered to lobby her department. The former head of the transition’s tax policy team has returned to his old company to lobby Congress on tax reform. One ex-member of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative team is now registered as part of a team lobbying on behalf of a major steelmaker. Because of the way the transition’s six-month lobbying ban was worded, the former staffers may not be violating it. Regardless, their trips from lobbying to government service and back run counter to Trump's campaign promise to close Washington’s revolving door.”
-- New York Times, “U.S. Investigates Work at Saipan Casino Project With Trump Tie,” by Neil Gough and Cao Li: “Han Dong was operating a crane in China’s rust belt last August when he heard about a chance to make it big in America. Local recruiters told him he could make as much as $2,900 a month, or nearly four times the average wage in China — and could even eventually apply for an American green card. Instead, Mr. Han said, he ended up working on the construction site of a casino in Saipan, an American commonwealth in the Pacific Ocean, where federal officials are investigating working conditions at a project managed by Chinese construction firms. An American green card, which would allow him to be employed legally … no longer appears very likely. For the U.S., the Saipan situation comes as [Trump] calls for tougher limits on immigrants working illegally. In that regard, the investigation in Saipan carries a twist of irony: The chairman of the company that is building the casino hotel was once a protégé of Mr. Trump’s own casinos in Atlantic City.”
-- A woman featured in Ivanka Trump’s new book, “Women Who Work,” slammed the first daughter for including her – asking for her name to be removed until the younger Trump “stops being complicit.” She is among several women who have reacted less-than-enthusiastically after learning they had been praised by the first daughter. (Danielle Paquette)
DEBATING THE OMNIBUS:
-- The House passed the $1.1 trillion spending package that funds the government through the end of September on a vote of 309 to 118. Mitch McConnell has filed for cloture, and it will sail through the Senate. (Kelsey Snell)
-- Some of the president’s most prominent supporters are mad because they think he got rolled so badly in his first major spending negotiation with Congress. The headline on Ann Coulter’s syndicated column today, for example, is “Swamp people: 47; Trump: 0.” The provocateur says the spending plan is “a spectacular failure” and “straight out of George Soros’ dream journal”: “If this is the budget deal we get when Republicans control the House, the Senate and the presidency, there’s no point in ever voting for a Republican again. Not only is there no funding for a wall, but … the bill actually prohibits money from being spent on a wall. … Democrats have got to be pinching themselves, thinking, ‘Am I dreaming this?’”
-- Pushing back on that narrative, the Senate Republican Conference (led by John Thune) has created a video to tout key elements and conservative victories in the measure. Here is a first look:
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- Hubris? Following a private meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Trump vowed to work as a “mediator” in the Middle East and expressed a high degree of confidence that he will help Israel and Palestine negotiate a peace deal.
- Trump cast the United States in a more intermediary role. “I will do whatever is necessary to facilitate the agreement, to mediate, to arbitrate anything they’d like to do, but I would be a mediator or an arbitrator or a facilitator,” he said. “Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Let’s see if we can prove them wrong, okay?”
- "Absent was any mention of a sovereign Palestine, long a bedrock of American and international peacemaking efforts, or how he would address other festering issues that have sundered past efforts at negotiations such as the fate of Jerusalem," Anne Gearan and John Wagner note. "In his brief public remarks with Abbas, Trump did not mention Jewish home-building in the occupied West Bank, something past presidents have made sure to reference, if only obliquely, as an impediment to peace. And he said nothing about his pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a symbolic shift that Arab leaders including Jordan’s King Abdullah II have warned Trump could wreck a chance for peace.”
-- In a speech to State Department employees, Rex Tillerson offered the most expansive expression of his worldview since his confirmation hearing. From Carol Morello and Anne Gearan: “He said many policies and practices enacted decades ago must be modified to meet the realities of a post-Cold War era. President Trump’s ‘America first’ philosophy means restoring ‘balance’ in relationships with allies, such as in trade and defense spending. ‘We just kind of lost track of how we were doing. And as a result, things got a little bit out of balance,’ he said.”
Amid criticism that the Trump administration has de-emphasized human rights and embraced authoritarian rulers, Tillerson said American values should not necessarily be a condition for policies that must serve U.S. security and economic interests first: “If we condition too heavily that others must adopt this value that we’ve come to over a long history of our own, it really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests. It doesn’t mean that we leave those values on the sidelines. It doesn’t mean that we don’t advocate for and aspire to freedom, human dignity and the treatment of people the world over. We do. And we will always have that on our shoulder everywhere we go.”
-- French presidential candidates Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen faced off in a hostile and insult-ridden debate last night – shifting away from the country’s typical restrained political tenor and opting instead for a vicious, American-style brawl. “Your project is to live off fear and lies — that is what your father lived off,” Macron said to Le Pen, invoking her father and convicted Holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen. Meanwhile, Le Pen wasted no time in going after Macron, an investment banker, as the epitome of the financial elite – saying France would be a “trading floor” if he was elected. “I hope we won’t learn that you have an offshore bank account in the Bahamas,” she said to her opponent. “I hope.” France heads to the polls this weekend for the final round of voting in a contest that could determine the future of the European Union. (James McAuley)
-- Fun read --> -- “Emmanuel Macron is 39 and his wife is 64. French women say it’s about time,” by Mary Jordan in Paris.
-- British Prime Minister Theresa May accused E.U. officials of meddling in her country's June election – an explosive charge that comes amid escalating tensions over Brexit negotiations. Karla Adam reports from London: “Speaking outside her Downing Street offices, the British leader accused E.U. politicians and officials of issuing ‘threats’ that have been ‘deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election. Tensions between the continent and the U.K. have ratcheted up after a German press report about a dinner last week at which May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker discussed Britain’s exit. The leaked account painted an unflattering portrait of May. May initially dismissed the report as ‘Brussels gossip,’ but by Wednesday her tune had changed. ‘In the last few days, we have seen just how tough these talks are likely to be,’ May said. ‘Britain’s negotiating position in Europe has been misrepresented in the continental press.’ May’s strong language highlights how poisonous the negotiations have already become. But her remarks also signal a deliberate domestic strategy as May seeks to cast herself in the British election as someone who can go toe-to-toe with European officials." In response, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “playing party games with Brexit in the hope of winning advantage for the Tories in the general election.” And Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon said that May was “playing a dangerous game” and that her comments could “poison” the atmosphere in future Brexit talks.
-- As the White House continues to deliberate the future of the Paris climate agreement – considering whether to stay in the pact but renegotiate it in some form, or opt out entirely -- groups on both sides have began publicly lobbying the president in hopes of influencing his decision. Juliet Eilperin reports: “The governors of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington state, all Democrats, sent a letter to Trump on Wednesday saying they ‘stand ready as state leaders to continue to support the achievement of the existing’ U.S. international climate commitment ‘and if possible to go further, faster.’ Meanwhile the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute published a paper laying out the legal and economic case for exiting the agreement, stating, ‘Failure to withdraw from the agreement would entrench a constitutionally damaging precedent, set President Trump’s domestic and foreign policies in conflict, and ensure decades of diplomatic blowback.’”
OBAMA OUTLINES VISION FOR HIS LIBRARY:
-- In his second public appearance since Jan. 20, Barack Obama unveiled plans for his future presidential center, painting a picture of a buzzing hub for youth and community programs on the South Side of Chicago. “Obama fielded questions from residents at a forum near the site, delving into nitty gritty details of traffic patterns, green space and job creation, while avoiding any mention of his successor in the White House,” the Associated Press reports. “The event was held at the South Shore Cultural Center, a park facility where the Obamas held their wedding reception 25 years ago.”
- The Obama Center will feature three structures, including a tower-like museum and tree-lined walkways. There will also be a public plaza, classrooms, recording studios where musicians could help young people work on music and space for movie directors could take on community storytelling. The center will, of course, have exhibits with campaign memorabilia and personal artifacts. “Let’s face it, we want to see Michelle’s dresses,” Barack joked.
- Obama said construction of the 225,000 square-foot project will take about four years, but programming will begin this year.
- He said he and Michelle will personally donate $2 million to summer job efforts in the city.
WHY THE CURRENT PRESIDENT’S IGNORANCE OF HISTORY IS PROBLEMATIC:
-- “Trump has a dangerous disability,” by George F. Will: “It is urgent for Americans to think and speak clearly about President Trump’s inability to do either. This seems to be not a mere disinclination but a disability. It is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence. … The United States is rightly worried that a strange and callow leader controls North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. North Korea should reciprocate this worry. … He lacks what T.S. Eliot called a sense ‘not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence.’ His fathomless lack of interest in America’s path to the present and his limitless gullibility leave him susceptible to being blown about by gusts of factoids that cling like lint to a disorderly mind. … Americans have placed vast military power at the discretion of this mind, a presidential discretion that is largely immune to restraint by the Madisonian system of institutional checks and balances. So, it is up to the public to quarantine this presidency by insistently communicating to its elected representatives a steady, rational fear of this man whose combination of impulsivity and credulity render him uniquely unfit to take the nation into a military conflict.”
-- Associated Press, “Rumors surround Justice Kennedy exit, but he’s not talking,” by Mark Sherman: “Eighty-year-old Justice Anthony Kennedy is so far refusing to comment on speculation that he may soon retire after 29 years on the court. But that hasn’t stopped Trump and, obliquely, the Republican senator in charge of high court confirmation hearings from weighing in on the prospect that Kennedy could step down as soon as this spring or summer. If not this year, several former law clerks said they would not be surprised to see the justice retire in 2018.
- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley: “I would expect a resignation this summer.” He did not name any names but cited a “rumored” retirement.
- “I’ve heard the same rumors that a lot of people have heard,” Trump said in a Washington Times interview. “And I have a lot of respect for that gentleman, a lot.”
One of the main things fueling the speculation: “Kennedy scheduled his reunion of law clerks a year earlier than usual, on the last weekend in June. Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg explained the earlier reunion as a chance to mark Kennedy’s 80th birthday before the justice turns 81 in July. … (But) one former clerk, speaking on condition of anonymity, … said he thought the reunion was scheduled in that manner because of the thought that Kennedy would be retiring. … Other clerks, who also would not agree to be named, said Kennedy naturally is considering retirement because he is past his 80th birthday and thinks that some of his colleagues remained in their jobs too long.”
-- “He called himself an ‘assassin’ and persuaded ex-spies he was one of them. Was it a con?” by Ian Shapira: “He’d killed 38 people, Mark Levin told co-workers at the Daniel Morgan Graduate School of National Security, and ran a squad of covert operatives called ‘The Watchers’ who prevented terrorist attacks. He avoided uttering the three letters of his supposed employer, a renowned intelligence agency. His presence was required ‘up river,’ he’d tell colleagues. He needed to see ‘agency people.’ Those who worked with Levin at Daniel Morgan — a fledgling school that offers graduate programs to aspiring spies and diplomats in downtown Washington — did not investigate his credentials. He had convinced former CIA operatives and national security veterans that he was one of them. Now a $150 million lawsuit accuses Levin, 72, a former special adviser to the school’s president, of inventing a clandestine career to manipulate three young men who worked at Daniel Morgan into sexually abusive encounters. Levin convinced the men that naked, physical inspections would determine their futures at school and their careers in the intelligence world, the alleged victims said.” “All of it sounded credible, and I believed it because he was the boss of the school," said one 24-year-old plaintiff.
-- “Virginia power broker in the hot seat in governor’s race,” by Gregory S. Schneider: “Virginia lawmakers have long agreed on at least one thing: They enjoy the financial generosity of the state’s largest utility, Dominion Energy. A regulated monopoly … Dominion is the top corporate political donor in Richmond. It is inescapable in this town. Dominion sponsors one of the city’s primary arts venues, an international bicycle race, local sports teams, school programs — it even handed out free redbud saplings at a recent herb festival. But this year, 61 Democratic challengers for House of Delegates seats across Virginia have bucked tradition and refused donations from Dominion. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Perriello has done the same, while Republican candidate Corey Stewart called Dominion a ‘horrible corporate citizen’ … In this era of populist politics and mistrust of big institutions, the crosshairs have settled on one of Virginia’s most formidable corporate titans. [Now], Dominion, which has given $425,000 to Democrats and $356,000 to Republicans in the past year, finds its role in the political process being challenged in unfamiliar ways.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump is tweeting this morning:
Reaction to the above:
The Russian embassy in the UK appears to have tweeted this this morning:
This seems tone deaf:
-- “In a day of frantic tweets, a senator pleaded with Trump to stop a deportation. It didn’t seem to work,” by Samantha Schmidt: “At about 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sen. Bob Casey took to Twitter with a message: ‘It’s urgent.’ The senator, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, had learned that a mother and her young son were in the process of being deported to Honduras, despite the child’s apparent eligibility for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. A photo of the boy had landed on his desk, along with a note saying he had ‘nowhere to go.’ The posts began a day-long stream of fiery tweets lambasting the Trump administration and the Department of Homeland Security and calling on the president directly to halt the removal of the 25-year-old woman and her 5-year-old son, who had both been held in a family detention center in Berks County, Pa. It was a rare display for the usually mild-mannered senator, who said he has voted to double the number of border patrol agents and increase fencing and surveillance of the border. Through his tweets, Casey cast a real-time narrative of the imminent deportation, and repeatedly made impassioned pleas to the federal government to ‘do the right thing.’”
Jim DeMint had this to say about his ouster from Heritage:
Tom DeLay is back:
Some fourth (of May) jokes:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Buzzfeed, “Alex Jones Will Never Stop Being Alex Jones,” by Charlie Warzel: “On a sweltering, cloudless morning last month, Jones sat in a stuffy third-floor courtroom watching the persona he’d spent two decades building stand trial. He was fighting for custody of his three children in what would be a grueling two-week ordeal, and his lawyers were making the case that Jones' 20-year career … shouldn't be considered an indictment of his parenting skills. It was ‘performance art,’ and nothing more. A typically ordinary matter of family law had thus come to hinge on a more extraordinary question: Where does Jones the character end and Jones the person begin? Jones, an unwavering professional conspiracy theorist, is being interrogated about his true beliefs just as his golden age of conspiracy is ascendant. But conversations with 25 people in Jones’ orbit indicate that his troubles don’t stem from a split between the character and the human, but from the fact that Jones is eminently and unquestionably himself at all times. Jones has been this way since he was brawling among parked cars … It’s made him a fortune, but now that his moment is finally here, it could be his undoing.”
-- Time Magazine, “The World Is Not Ready for the Next Pandemic,” by Bryan Walsh: “Across China, the virus that could spark the next pandemic is already circulating. It’s a bird flu called H7N9, and true to its name, it mostly infects poultry. Lately, however, it’s started jumping from chickens to humans more readily–bad news, because the virus is a killer. What H7N9 can’t do–yet–is spread easily from person to person, but experts know that could change. The longer the virus spends in humans, the better the chance that it might mutate to become more contagious–and once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before it hops a plane out of China and onto foreign soil, where it could spread through the air like wildfire. From Ebola in West Africa to Zika in South America to MERS in the Middle East, dangerous outbreaks are on the rise around the world. The number of new diseases per decade has increased nearly fourfold over the past 60 years …
“The [CDC] ranks H7N9 as the flu strain with the greatest potential to cause a pandemic … If a more contagious H7N9 were to be anywhere near as deadly as it is now, the death toll could be in the tens of millions. 'We are sitting on something big with H7N9,” says Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research.'"
-- New York Times, “In Conservative Prime Time, It’s Now Fox and Enemies,” by James Poniewozik: “When Bill O’Reilly reportedly sexually harassed his way out of the No Spin Zone, there were repercussions beyond ratings. Mr. Trump had lost one of his best TV friends. But the new prime-time Fox News lineup, which debuted on April 24, offers the president and his base something better than friendship: a steady stream of enemies. ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ is a buffet of things for viewers to oppose: the federal courts, Bill Nye, the rest of the media, California, universities, California universities. The show is expert culture-trolling … and a testament to the unifying power of mutual enemies. Like many establishment conservatives, Mr. Carlson has solved the dilemma of how to be pro-Trump by being anti-anti-Trump.”
-- New York Times Magazine, “In Mar-a-Lago Blunder, a Glimpse at the Difficulties of ‘Soft Diplomacy’ Under Trump,” by Lydia Kiesling: “At the beginning of April, a short blog post about Mar-a-Lago appeared on ShareAmerica, a web property administered by the State Department. The post was an anodyne history of the property, one of many such posts on the site, which is full of easily digestible tidbits about America meant for a foreign audience … For an American reader, I.I.P.’s body of work offers a fascinating look not only at what our government wants to tell the world but also at what it wants to believe about itself. The obvious conflicts of interest that accompanied [Trump] into office are in one sense the least of I.I.P.’s problems; the larger question is what a propaganda unit is supposed to do when the pronouncements of its head of state are so often at odds with the national vision it tries to sell to the world."
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Arizona lawmaker: Let’s end compulsory schooling and stop forcing education ‘down everybody’s throat,’” from Valerie Strauss: “Put this in the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up category: A legislator in Arizona has said that there should be no compulsory education, and he wants to repeal a state law that mandates that young people attend school. He is Paul Mosley, an extremely conservative freshman Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives … In an interview with the Arizona Capitol Times, he said wants the state to pass a law that eliminates compulsory education. He was quoted as saying: ‘The number one thing I would like to repeal is the law on compulsory education … I believe education is still a privilege, and the kids who don’t want to be there are a larger distraction to the kids who do want to be there.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Gallery Cancels Art Show after Accusations of ‘Cultural Genocide,’” from National Review: “An art gallery in Toronto canceled a scheduled exhibit of a Canadian artist’s work after she was accused of committing “cultural genocide” against indigenous people with her paintings. The artist, Amanda PL, told CBC Toronto that she ‘tried to learn all she could about the Aboriginal culture, their teachings, their stories’ and ‘capture the beauty of the art style and make it [her] own by drawing upon elements of nature within Canada that have meaning to me.’ Sounds nice, right? Well, according to critics … a better [word] could be something like ‘murderous.’ ‘What she’s doing is essentially cultural genocide, because she’s taking [indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau's] stories and retelling them, which bastardizes it down the road,’ Chippewa artist Jay Soule said … ‘Other people will see her work and they’ll lose the connection between the real stories that are attached to it.’”
At the White House: Trump will meet with Catholic Cardinals and leaders before signing the Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty, and participating in an event for the National Day of Prayer. In the afternoon, Trump will depart for New York, where he will meet with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Later in the afternoon, Trump will have an expanded bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Turnbull, and give remarks commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Pence will meet with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi of Indonesia before joining Trump as he signs the Executive Order and participates in the National Day of Prayer Event. Later in the day, Pence will participate in a meeting with members of the National Hispanic Advisory Council for Trump and then host a Cinco de Mayo reception.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
David Axelrod criticized Hillary Clinton for not taking more responsibility for losing during a CNN hit: "It takes a lot of work to lose to Donald Trump, let me tell you! He was the least popular presidential candidate to win in the history of polling, and so it wasn't just the Comey letter. The fact that she was in a position to lose because of the Comey letter is something that deserves some introspection."
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- A breezy, cloudy day before temperatures turn downright cool for the weekend. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Sunshine should start the day as thin high clouds overspread the area but the lower clouds increase by later in the morning. During the afternoon, it becomes mostly cloudy. There is only the slightest risk of a very light shower at the end of the day. Highs reach the mid-upper 60s.
-- The Nationals beat the Diamondbacks 2-1.
-- D.C. was ranked number two on the list of America’s “top 50 mosquito cities,” falling only behind Atlanta, according to a new study from the pest-control company Orkin. (Justin Wm. Moyer)
-- Tom Sietsema’s 2017 Spring Dining Guide is live. (Read it here.)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert says he has no regrets about a controversial monologue:
Sean Spicer unveils pictures of...the wrong border wall:
Vice President Pence spoke to the SBA List last night:
Watch a plane crash after hitting a power line:
There's been record flooding in Arkansas and Missouri:
Alton Sterling's aunt reacts to the DOJ decision not to prosecute the cops: