But pretty much every Republican, including the current holdouts, wants to pass something. And no GOP senator wants to bear the brunt of the blame from the base for inaction. That factor must not be discounted.
-- President Trump, who endorsed the Senate bill last night, also badly wants to get something done, and he’s made clear that he’ll sign whatever makes it through Congress.
-- Ted Cruz carried around a “path to yes” memo in his suit coat pocket yesterday that contained a list of his asks. “This current draft doesn’t get the job done, but I believe we can get to yes,” said the Texan, who is up for reelection next year and has been trying to rebrand himself as an effective legislator. “We continue to have positive, productive conversations.”
Cruz issued a joint statement with three other conservatives — Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mike Lee of Utah — saying that they cannot support the legislation as it stands. Parse their words carefully, and it’s notable how many outs they gave themselves.
Here is the statement in full (I’ve added italics on the wiggle words): “Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor. There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health care system, but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs.”
Many believe Cruz is bluffing and will come around, even with small concessions that let him save face. As Republican strategist John Weaver, who played top roles on the presidential campaigns of John McCain and John Kasich, put it:
-- An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which was in the field earlier this week and published yesterday, helps explain the balancing act we’re seeing from so many Republicans: Only 16 percent of Americans believe that the House health care bill is good, down from 23 percent last month. Even among Republicans, just one in three view the measure positively. But the public is basically split down the middle over Obamacare, with 41 percent saying the 2010 law is a good idea and 38 percent saying it’s a bad idea. Asked if Congress and the president should continue their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the split is similar: 38 percent say yes, 39 percent say no, and 20 percent have no opinion. But here’s the rub: 71 percent of Republicans want Congress to continue its effort to repeal the ACA, and only 12 percent of GOP voters want to move on. Independents also slightly favor forging ahead with repeal, 38 percent to 32 percent.
Those numbers demonstrate why lawmakers are eager to be perceived as extracting concessions (so they can say they made improvements), but the partisan breakdown also shows why most GOP senators are willing to get behind what remains an unpopular piece of legislation. Even as they do so, however, they are carefully positioning themselves. A bunch of Republicans who will vote yes next week released noncommittal statements yesterday suggesting that they are keeping an open mind. Marco Rubio, for example, said that he’s studying the bill and will “decide how to vote … on the basis of how it impacts Florida.”
-- McConnell can only afford two defections, and he’s facing objections from the right and the middle. But if anyone can thread this needle, it’s the Senate majority leader. “McConnell unveiled his proposal knowing full well that — as currently written — it lacks the votes to win approval,” congressional correspondent Paul Kane writes. “But using a time-honored tactic of congressional leadership, the Kentucky Republican decided it was time to call the bluff of his GOP colleagues. … Republicans now head into five or six days of intense negotiations … Many GOP senators complained bitterly about the secretive process, while privately breathing a sigh of relief that they didn’t yet have to take a position on the emerging legislation.”
There are some obvious “gives” that could get a few of the wavering moderates on board: “Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters Thursday that she and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) would try to amend the Planned Parenthood restrictions during next week’s ‘vote-a-rama,’ a period when senators can offer unlimited amendments to the health-care measure,” Kane reports. “GOP insiders expect Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who oppose the bill’s deep cuts to Medicaid, to be mollified by more cash to combat the opioid epidemic.” That might leave Rand Paul as the biggest hurdle, but McConnell could afford to lose the junior senator from his state. (We’re keeping a running whip count here.)
-- McConnell explicitly urged GOP senators to withhold statements announcing outright opposition to his proposal yesterday so that everyone can retain flexibility, Politico’s Burgess Everett reports. “McConnell’s strategy has been a slow burn, allowing his members to vent in private party discussions while gradually writing a bill that takes in their considerations over the past six weeks. He’s had more than 30 meetings with his members (about the proposal).”
John Thune, No. 3 in GOP leadership, is warning the conservative holdouts that Republicans will be stuck with a single-payer system if they don’t pass this bill. “If you get 80 percent of what you want in a circumstance like this, it’s going to have to be a victory because we’re not going to get 100 percent,” he told Burgess. “If we don’t get this done and we end up with Democratic majorities in ‘18, we’ll have single payer. … (McConnell) believes that, given the amount of input we’ve had from everybody, we’ll get to 50.”
Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) freely acknowledged problems with the Senate bill, but he also said that he’s “likely” to vote for it because it will be better than the status quo. “I don’t have a list of things at this point I must change,” Toomey said on a conference call with reporters, making a statement that reflects the mindset of most Senate Republicans. “Everything I want is not going to happen in one bill.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE SENATE BILL—
-- The Congressional Budget Office said it expects to release a score for the Senate bill “early next week.”
-- Despite grumbling from some members of his conference, McConnell still plans on holding a final vote next week. (Sean Sullivan, Kelsey Snell and Juliet Eilperin)
-- Democrats have little power to stop the vote from occurring, though 20 senators filed procedural motions designed to throw sand in the gears. Republicans will have to address each individually. This will slightly delay holding a vote and could mean some late nights next week, but it won’t stop passage if Republicans have 50 votes. (Kelsey Snell and Elise Viebeck)
-- Vice President Pence expressed hope last night that the bill will be signed into law before the end of the summer. (John Wagner)
THE HOUSE VS. THE SENATE:
-- The Senate version says insurers could not deny coverage based on preexisting conditions.
-- Like the bill that passed the House last month, the Senate measure phases out expanded Medicaid funding for states, but it does so more gradually between 2020 and 2024.
-- But because of an accounting gimmick, the Senate bill guts Medicaid much more drastically over the long-term than the House bill. Max Ehrenfreund reports: “Through 2025, both bills would adjust the cap based on a measure of how rapidly medical costs are expanding — a measure known as the CPI-M. Starting in 2025, however, the Senate bill would change the formula, instead funding Medicaid based on a measure of how rapidly all costs are rising, … General costs, however, typically rise more slowly than medical costs … After a decade or two, that discrepancy would add up to of hundreds of billions of dollars.”
-- The Medicaid cuts in the Senate proposal could disproportionately hurt rural hospitals, 700 of which across the country already teeter on the brink of closure. (NPR’s Bram Sable-Smith)
-- The Senate bill would cut almost $1 billion in funding for the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which provides 12 percent of the CDC’s budget, starting this October. Lena H. Sun reports: “The money supports programs to prevent bioterrorism and disease outbreaks, as well as to provide immunizations and screenings for cancer and heart disease … About $625 million goes directly to states and communities to address their most pressing health needs, including drug misuse, infectious diseases, lead poisoning, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer and tobacco use.”
-- The bill appropriates only $2 billion in fiscal year 2018 to address the opioid drug epidemic, Vox’s Ella Nilsen reports. This is less than the $45 billion over 10 years that Republican Sens. Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito requested and far less than $190 billion over 10 years, which is what a Harvard health economics professor estimated this week was needed to truly address the problem.
-- Both House leaders, Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi, argued that the Senate bill is not radically different from what their chamber passed last month. The Speaker is saying this so that it’s easier to get his members on board. The Minority Leader is saying it to make the point that the Senate version is not a meaningful improvement on the toxically unpopular House bill. (Mike DeBonis)
WHAT THE BILL DOES TO PREMIUMS:
-- Republican promises to stabilize individual health insurance markets could prove hollow. Amy Goldstein explains why: “Republicans have vowed for months to … stave off the collapse of the nation’s most fragile health insurance markets, which serve people who buy coverage on their own. In the Senate, that turns out to be a short-term goal. (The Senate bill) would keep billions of dollars flowing — but only for two years — to health plans that have been begging for continued help with the expense of millions of lower-income customers in ACA insurance marketplaces. After 2019, the payments would stop…
“The cutoff of those payments would coincide with the end of subsidies that help the vast majority of people with ACA health plans afford their premiums. The subsidies would be replaced with smaller tax credits … The new credits would not reach as many middle-income Americans, and although they would be available for the first time to people below the poverty line, the amounts could be too small to be useful…
“Taken together, these and other features of the Better Care Reconciliation Act could drive prices up after a few years for people who buy individual insurance — a core group the ACA is designed to help. After the next three years, it also would begin a sharp downward path in federal support for Medicaid, the cornerstone of the nation’s health-care safety net for the past half-century.”
-- Laurie McGinley, Lenny Bernstein and Lena H. Sun provide a few illustrative examples of Americans who could be significantly impacted if the Senate bill becomes law, including a 44-year-old breast cancer survivor, a 27-year-old man receiving drug treatment through Medicaid and a 59-year-old man who works as an independent contractor.
-- One way to think about all of this: Obamacare cut the uninsured rate almost in half by redistributing resources from the wealthy to the poor. This bill seeks to undo that redistribution, The New York Times’ Margot Sanger-Katz explains.
Sarah Kliff summarizes it this way on Vox: “The bill asks low- and middle-income Americans to spend significantly more for less coverage.”
STAKEHOLDERS PANNED THE BILL:
-- Hospitals decried the cuts to Medicaid, with the chief executive of the American Hospital Association calling them “unsustainable.” (Juliet Eilperin)
-- The AARP said the Senate bill allows insurance companies to charge the elderly up to five times more than young people. The senior’s lobby is mobilizing its membership against what it calls an “age tax.” (The Hill)
-- A chorus of providers warned that the Senate bill would “turn back the clock on women’s health.” “This legislation deliberately strips the landmark women’s health gains made by the Affordable Care Act and would severely limit access to care,” the president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wrote in a statement.
-- One exception: Insurance executives are happy because the Senate bill reverses a provision in Obamacare that penalized their companies for excessively paying top staff. (Ehrenfreund)
BARACK OBAMA EMERGES FROM COCOON TO DEFEND SIGNATURE ACHIEVEMENT:
-- The former president made a rare public statement to denounce the Senate proposal. “Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family — this bill will do you harm,” he wrote. “And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.”
-- “The 44th president did not mention his successor … but his scathing criticism and urgent tone … set up a direct public fight with the current White House occupant over the future of the nation’s health care system,” David Nakamura writes.
-- On a related note, Obama will soon hit the campaign trail again. He plans to stump with Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate in the Virginia governor’s race. (Fenit Nirappil)
BIG PROTESTS CREATED BAD VISUALS ON THE NIGHTLY NEWS:
-- Forty-three disability advocates protesting the Senate draft were arrested outside of McConnell’s office. “The protesters staged a ‘die-in’ in front of the office, with many of the protesters in wheelchairs removing themselves from the chairs then lying on the floor,” Perry Stein reports.
-- “Parents of sick kids try to remind Congress what the health-care debate should be about,” by Petula Dvorak: “These kids smiled, giggled and then their tubes gurgled to show what’s at stake here. It was real-life lobbying done by a brigade of 12 intrepid families who pushed their way through Capitol Hill’s offices. … ‘We heard from a lot of families that it’s really, really difficult to get in touch with any of their representatives,’ [one of the parents, Elena Hung] said. ‘They say, ‘Call your representatives,’ but most of these offices aren’t even taking calls.’ So they showed up in person.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- If you read one story today: The Post just published a detailed, inside look at how the Obama administration sought to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 elections. Here are a few of the most interesting nuggets from the story by national security correspondents Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous:
“Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried ‘eyes only’ instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides." The envelope contained allegations that Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly and personally trying to influence the U.S. elections, but went even further: "The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump."
"The material was so sensitive that CIA Director John Brennan kept it out of the President’s Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report’s distribution was too broad. The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read. To guard against leaks, subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid."
“The Obama administration secretly debated dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could 'crater' the Russian economy ... in late December, Obama approved a modest package combining measures that had been drawn up to punish Russia for other issues."
Some former Obama officials don't think they did enough to stop Putin's meddling. “It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” said a former senior Obama administration official involved in White House deliberations on Russia. “I feel like we sort of choked.”
Brennan "convened a secret task force at CIA headquarters composed of several dozen analysts and officers from the CIA, the NSA and the FBI. The unit functioned as a sealed compartment, its work hidden from the rest of the intelligence community ... They worked exclusively for two groups of “customers,” officials said. The first was Obama and fewer than 14 senior officials in government. The second was a team of operations specialists at the CIA, NSA and FBI who took direction from the task force on where to aim their subsequent efforts to collect more intelligence on Russia."
It was not until after Labor Day that Brennan had reached all members of the “Gang of Eight” in Congress. In September, Jeh Johnson, Jim Comey and White House Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco briefed congressional leaders, but it quickly "devolved into a partisan squabble" in which Democrats wanted to make the threats public while McConnell was "skeptical."
The Obama administration sent two other warnings to the Kremlin: On Oct. 7, Susan Rice summoned Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and handed him a message for Putin; and on Oct. 31, there was a final pre-election message sent "via a secure channel to Moscow originally created to avert a nuclear exchange."
Following Trump's surprising win, the administration crafted a plan to form a commission headed by then-Secretary of State John Kerry to create a bipartisan commission and make recommendations about how to prevent future election meddling. Denis McDonough planned to "tabledrop" the plan at the next National Security Council meeting but then began criticizing it as weak. It didn't happen.
Obama appears to have taken serious and secretive cyber countermeasures against Russia post-election by "authorizing a new covert program involving the NSA, CIA and U.S. Cyber Command”: “The cyber operation is still in its early stages and involves deploying 'implants' in Russian networks deemed 'important to the adversary and that would cause them pain and discomfort if they were disrupted,' a former U.S. official said." (Read the whole story here.)
GET SMART FAST:
- The Army demoted the former commander of the 1st Infantry Division for having an “inappropriate relationship” with a junior officer. Investigators said Wayne W. Grigsby Jr. called and texted a female captain “more than 850 times” and was found to be spending time at her home. (Craig Whitlock)
- The “Pizzagate” gunman was sentenced to four years in prison. (Spencer S. Hsu)
- Canada revealed that one of its Special Operations snipers shot an ISIS fighter from over two miles away in Iraq. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)
- The government may not strip someone’s U.S. citizenship for lying during the naturalization process without “proving the falsehood is relevant,” the Supreme Court ruled, siding with a Bosnian immigrant who faced criminal charges for lying on her application about her husband’s military service. (Robert Barnes)
- A federal appeals court panel upheld all but one conviction of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who in 2015 was found guilty of giving information to a journalist about a highly classified operation in Iran. But Sterling has steadfastly denied he was the source, and evidence against him is largely circumstantial. (Matt Zapotosky)
- A federal appeals court in Chicago upheld a lower court’s decision to overturn the conviction of “Making a Murderer” subject Brendan Dassey, affirming that his 2005 confession to the murder of Teresa Halbach was coerced. (WBAY)
- Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt has been given his own Saturday-morning show on MSNBC, joining Greta Van Susteren and Nicole Wallace as the network seeks to broaden its lineup. (The Hollywood Reporter)
- The Census Bureau reported that every racial and ethnic minority grew faster than whites between 2015 and 2016. Mixed-raced and Asian Americans were the fastest growing groups at 3 percent. (NPR)
- The Federal Communications Commission recommended a Florida man pay a $120 million fine after he allegedly used robo-calls to trick people into fraudulent travel deals. Adrian Abramovich is said to have made almost 100 million such calls in three months. (Reuters)
- Uber employees are circulating a petition in support of ousted CEO Travis Kalanick returning in an active role. Over 1,000 employees clicked to support the petition. (The New York Times)
- The British government has ordered tests on the exterior of around 600 high-rise apartment buildings in England, seeking to avoid another catastrophic fire after a 24-story apartment tower in London burned down last week. (Karla Adam)
- A French fitness blogger and Instagram model died after a pressurized whipped-cream can hit her in the chest. Rebecca Burger suffered cardiac arrest from the impact and died in the hospital the following day. (Amber Ferguson)
- Johnny Depp invoked John Wilkes Booth to make an assassination joke about President Trump. He asked a crowd at the U.K.’s Glastonbury Festival, “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?” (CNN)
- It’s so hot in England that schoolboys are wearing skirts. Dozens of teenage males at a school in Exeter began sporting the new look this week after their headmaster refused to relax dress codes during a massive heat wave. (Lindsey Bever)
-- Trump’s days now begin with a morning call to his lawyers about the ongoing Russia investigations. Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report: “The calls — detailed by three senior White House officials — are part strategy consultation and part presidential venting session, during which Trump’s lawyers and public-relations gurus take turns reviewing the latest headlines with him … His advisers have encouraged the calls … in hopes that he can compartmentalize the widening Russia investigation. By the time the president arrives for work in the Oval Office, the thinking goes, he will no longer be consumed by the Russia probe that he complains hangs over his presidency like a darkening cloud. It rarely works, however. Asked whether the tactic was effective, one top White House adviser paused for several seconds and then just laughed.”
-- The latest lawyer to join Trump’s team is an ex-Marine who likens some cases to war. "I fight hard," John Dowd told Reuters in an interview. "I believe that's what I'm supposed to do. I am not a snowflake, I can tell you that." The 76-year-old Washington lawyer, who retired from the firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in 2014, brings criminal defense and government investigation experience that has been missing from Trump's outside legal team.
TRUMP SAYS THERE ARE NO TAPES:
-- “How Trump's dubious claims make the entire government react,” by Abby Phillip: “The words leapt from the president's mind to Twitter at 8:26 a.m. on the Friday after he fired the FBI director, setting off a cascade of activity inside and outside of the federal government. ‘James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!’ Trump wrote. With that tweet, Trump immediately deepened his own legal and political quagmire, evoking comparisons to former [Nixon] and prompting Comey to release previously undisclosed memos of his conversations with the president, which ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel … Far from knocking down the assertion that Trump had recorded conversations in the White House, his aides refused to give a definitive answer for weeks. On Thursday, 42 days later, [Trump] finally did. As most in Washington had anticipated, Trump said he did not have any such tapes. The incident highlights a new reality for Washington, which now must spring into action to bolster or refute presidential assertions of dubious origin and with no evidence to back them up. In many cases, the claims have had the opposite effect than what the president presumably intended — feeding into doubts about his credibility, deepening his legal woes and generating unflattering accounts that dominate the news for weeks at a time.”
Even when Trump has walked back a questionable comment, he has sometimes planted a new and similarly unsubstantiated claim: Yesterday, for example, in denying that he created tapes, Trump suggested that he may have been surveilled. “With all the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey,” he wrote.
-- The language of Trump’s tweets refuting the existence of tapes was reviewed by multiple lawyers before publication, the New York Times’ Mark Landler and Maggie Haberman report: “The White House counsel’s office reviewed the language in the tweet … and Mr. Trump’s personal legal team was aware of it. The wording did not change significantly over the past few days. But by giving the president some room to claim he might have been referring to someone other than himself doing the taping, his wording could diminish the possibility that his original tweet could have been interpreted as pressure on Mr. Comey before his testimony to the Senate.”
-- Trump ally Roger Stone said this of the tweets’ careful phrasing: “Perhaps (Marc) Kasowitz [Trump’s personal lawyer] wants to get this off the table because he’s got bigger fish to fry. I think they’re just trying to clear the deck.”
-- Newt Gingrich said in an interview that, by alluding to possible tapes, the president was trying to get inside Comey’s head. He told the Associated Press: “I think he was, in his way, instinctively trying to rattle Comey … He's not a professional politician. He doesn't come back and think about Nixon and Watergate. His instinct is: 'I'll outbluff you.'”
-- Unleashing on Twitter, Trump also called the idea of Russia’s election meddling a “big Dem HOAX” and accused Obama and his administration of not doing enough to “stop” Russian interference. Philip Rucker reports: “The president appeared to be referring to Wednesday's congressional testimony by Jeh Johnson, Obama's former homeland security secretary, who said that after the [DNC’s] email servers were hacked, the DNC declined an offer by the [DHS] to help the party committee, which also had been in touch with the FBI, identify intruders and patch vulnerabilities. DNC officials said it did not hear from DHS until months after the hack had been made public and after the FBI had worked to close the intrusion, and that the DNC provided the DHS a detailed report on the incident. In another Thursday tweet, Trump wrote, ‘If Russia was working so hard on the 2016 Election, it all took place during the Obama Admin. Why didn't they stop them?’ In a third tweet … Trump sought to use Johnson's testimony as proof of his vindication in the Russia investigation ... Yet Johnson is not involved in Mueller's expanding federal investigation into Russian interference and therefore would not have the knowledge or authority to exonerate Trump.”
-- The search for Sean Spicer’s replacement as press secretary continues as the White House faces a near-daily barrage of complaints about its treatment of the press. CNN’s Dylan Byers reports: “So far, all that search has revealed is that the people the White House wants aren't interested in the job and the people who are interested in the job aren't wanted by the White House. Amid this chaos, the White House press office has opted for an ad-hoc strategy intended to screw with the media … and make them look ridiculous. It will go several days without a briefing; then, when media frustration over the lack of access reaches a fever pitch, it will hold a conventional briefing. The next day, it may hold the briefing off camera, starting the process over again. The result is a toxic relationship between the White House, which thinks the press should be less adversarial, and the media, which believes its job is to be adversarial.” (The White House barred cameras and live-audio broadcasts from yesterday’s briefing for the second time in four days. Spicer also once again dispatched his deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, to field reporters’ questions.)
THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- “The hacking of state and local election databases in 2016 was more extensive than previously reported, including at least one successful attempt to alter voter information, and the theft of thousands of voter records that contain private information like partial Social Security numbers,” Time Magazine’s Massimo Calabresi reports: “In one case, investigators found there had been a manipulation of voter data in a county database but the alterations were discovered and rectified … Investigators have not identified whether the hackers in that case were Russian agents. The fact that private data was stolen from states is separately providing investigators a previously unreported line of inquiry in the probes into Russian attempts to influence the election. In Illinois, more than 90% of the nearly 90,000 records stolen by Russian state actors contained drivers license numbers, and a quarter contained the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers [and] Congressional investigators are probing whether any of this stolen private information made its way to the Trump campaign.”
-- A group of 19 Democratic senators urged the Energy Department to investigate Russia’s capability to hack and disrupt the U.S. electric grid, re-upping the request after the Trump administration refused to respond to an earlier letter in March. Dino Grandoni reports: “In April, [Rick Perry] directed his department to conduct a wide-ranging study of U.S. electricity use. But that forthcoming analysis will focus on the degree to which tax and subsidy policies, including those that benefit wind and solar power, ‘are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants; such as coal-fired or nuclear plants.’ … In their letter, [lawmakers] asked the president to shift priorities. Recent research from the cybersecurity firm Dragos revealed that Russian-allied hackers have created a cyberweapon … capable of disrupting electric systems. That malware, researchers said, was used against Ukraine in December.”
-- The House and Senate appear to have resolved a procedural issue on a measure to implement new sanctions against Russia and Iran. Mike DeBonis reports: “The House objected to the Senate’s Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act that was passed earlier this week, arguing that it flouted the constitutional provision requiring revenue-raising bills to originate in the House. That prompted accusations from Democrats that the House Republican leaders were trying to stall the bill at Trump’s request … House aides said Thursday a solution was being crafted in coordination with the Senate … What remains to be seen is how swiftly the matter will come to the House floor.”
-- Members of Trump’s voter-fraud panel have suggested refocusing their inquiries — on Russia’s 2016 election interference. The Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey reports: “The call, by the secretaries of state in New Hampshire and Maine, presents a potential change in direction for a special commission that has widely been seen as a political smoke screen to justify the president’s unfounded claims about widespread fraud by individual voters in such places as New Hampshire and California. 'There’s stuff coming out now that states were hacked in this election,' said New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a member of the commission ... He said, as a member of Trump’s voter-fraud commission he wants to understand whether other states’ computerized election systems were victimized and remain at risk.”
- Trump announced three more appointees to the panel this week, and some of them are surprised they were tapped. HuffPost’s Sam Levine reports: “The three officials named were Luis Borunda, the deputy secretary of state of Maryland; David Dunn, a former Arkansas Democratic state lawmaker; and Mark Rhodes, a county clerk in West Virginia … In a Thursday interview, Dunn sounded openly stunned he was chosen for the role and admitted he did not have any expertise in elections or voting issues. ‘I don’t know why this has fallen on my shoulders,’ he told HuffPost … ‘I’m just a very small old country boy from Arkansas in this bigger commission with Vice President Pence, and I’m just going to do the best I can, to be honest.’”
PELOSI DEFENDS HERSELF, AS CRITICS PLOT COUP:
-- A group of unhappy Democratic lawmakers met Thursday to discuss the possibility of potentially replacing Nancy Pelosi as House minority leader, Politico’s John Bresnahan and Heather Caygle report: “Led by Reps. Kathleen Rice, Seth Moulton, and Tim Ryan, the faction believes Pelosi has to go in order for Democrats to have a chance to win the House back in Nov. 2018. Ryan unsuccessfully challenged Pelosi for party leader back in November. The unhappiness within Democratic ranks has spiked since their loss in the special election in Georgia on Tuesday.”
-- Pelosi defended herself at a news conference and in an interview. She said her critics are more interested in promoting themselves than helping the party win back the majority. “You want me to sing my praises?” she asked defiantly. "Well, I'm a master legislator. I am a strategic, politically astute leader. My leadership is recognized by many around the country, and that is why I'm able to attract the support that I do. … I respect any opinion that my members have. But my decision about how long I stay is not up to them.”
-- In an interview with the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin and Matt Flegenheimer, Pelosi stood her ground and “was often as dismissive of critics in her own party as she was of the Republican opposition.” Some highlights from their interview:
- On her inter-party opposition: “Everybody wants leaders. Not a lot of people want to be led.”
- On Democrats who lean on her fundraising abilities but “would just as soon avoid being photographed with her”: “You know what? I want them to win. I want them to win. If I were bothered by that, I wouldn’t be raising the money. What is curious to me is people say, ‘Raise us all the money and then step aside.’ It’s like, what?”
- On restlessness among Democrats: “I think there was a level of disappointment after the election for president, because I think a number of people here thought they were destined for the administration.”
- On caucus members who capitalize on opposing her: “It may serve their purpose statewide to say, ‘I fought the leadership.’ And I respect that.”
- On her allies: “People just flock to support me.”
-- Pelosi's team pushed back other ways:
-- Meanwhile, Democrats have an eight-point lead on the generic ballot test, which can indicate which party has an edge in the 2018 midterms and whether “wave” conditions exist that could augur a sweep. A fresh NBC News/WSJ poll finds that Democrats have a 50 percent to 42 percent advantage on the question of who Americans want to be in control of Congress after the 2018 midterms. John Harwood points out, “That’s the largest lead either party has held on that generic ballot question in the NBC/WSJ poll since 2013, and the first time either party reached 50 percent on that question since 2008.”
THE TRUMP AGENDA:
-- A Boeing plant that Trump visited in February, where he pledged to “fight for every last American job,” announced layoffs. Danielle Paquette reports: “The company has yet to notify the affected employees — who work in operations management, engineering, quality control and training, among other roles — and represent a tiny sliver of its workforce in the state. Boeing would not say how many, exactly, could lose their jobs and when the dismissals will begin. The South Carolina plant was Trump’s first company visit outside the Beltway after he became president. The point of the trip was not to unveil a major economic policy or promote a new White House initiative, though. Rather, Trump celebrated the launch of the company’s new Dreamliner model.”
-- Six hundred of the Carrier jobs that Trump claimed to have saved before he took office are headed to Mexico. CNBC’s Scott Cohn reports: “The deal … was billed not only as a heroic move … but also as a seismic shift in the economic development landscape. Nearly seven months later the deal has not worked out quite as originally advertised, and the landscape has barely budged. ‘The jobs are still leaving,’ said Robert James, president of United Steelworkers Local 1999. ‘Nothing has stopped.’ In fact, after the layoffs are complete later this year, a few hundred union jobs will remain at the plant.”
-- Congressional Democrats have raised the issue of deported veterans to the president, who seemed sympathetic to the former service members. But his staff was less so. Buzzfeed’s Adrian Carrasquillo reports: "‘We should do something about this,’ Trump said, according to sources familiar with the meeting attended by Democratic Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, Stephanie Murphy and Kyrsten Sinema. A staffer quickly told the president the issue is that the men subsequently committed crimes, which eventually led to their deportation … The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) has recently taken up the deported veterans issue in a major way … Democrats are also divided on how to approach the Trump administration on immigration issues. CHC members were particularly rankled that their colleagues — especially Gonzalez — went to dinner with the president and want Trump to apologize for his comments about Mexicans during the campaign or at least be confronted on the issue before engaging further with him.”
-- Congressional Republicans may model their tax reform negotiations off of the health-care talks in terms of secrecy. Politico’s Bernie Becker and Aaron Lorenzo report: “Both senior administration officials and congressional leaders are already telegraphing that the tax reform measure they hope to move this fall will largely be shaped among themselves in private meetings. While many griped about the secrecy surrounding the health legislation, few rank-and-file Republicans seem to be objecting to that approach on tax reform … Despite the lack of vocal protest so far, there’s a lot of time for another secretive legislative process to cause headaches for top Republicans, especially given the criticism aimed at the Senate GOP — including from their own members — for how they’ve put together their Obamacare replacement.”
-- Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who served three years in prison for conspiracy and tax evasion, briefly returned to lobbying earlier this year and attempted to arrange a meeting between Trump and the controversial president of the Republic of the Congo. The Center for Public Integrity’s Carrie Levine reports: “Abramoff … was aiding an Italian national hoping to earn a consulting contract with the Republic of Congo that, in part, sought to polish its image in the United States. There’s no evidence that a meeting or phone call between Trump and Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso ever took place … Abramoff this month filed his retroactive lobbying disclosures at the request of the Department of Justice and promptly terminated his association with the Italian national … Abramoff [went] to great lengths to secure a meeting with Trump for Sassou Nguesso … Abramoff ‘flew to Palm Beach on his own initiative, and without any compensation’ the filing says.”
PERSONNEL IS POLICY:
-- “Before William C. Bradford was appointed by the Trump administration to run the Energy Department’s Office of Indian Energy, he tweeted a slew of disparaging remarks about the real and imagined ethnic, religious and gender identities of [former president Obama, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, TV host Megan Kelly] and Japanese-Americans during World War II," Dino Grandoni scoops: “Bradford was recently appointed as director of DOE’s office in charge of assisting Native American and Alaskan tribes and villages with energy development. … The Trump official’s tweets came before he joined the administration and include a response to a story about [Zuckerberg], urging Iowans to vote against Trump … in which Bradford said: ‘Who is this little arrogant self-hating Jew to tell anyone for whom to vote?’ Bradford also had some choice words for [Obama] in December 2016 … Referring to an unclear ‘mission in Tehran,’ Bradford asked ‘How else can a Kenyan creampuff get ahead?’”
“At DOE, Bradford is charged with helping Native Americans and Alaskan tribes and villages obtain electricity and reduce energy costs. But his tweets before joining the Trump administration display a lack of sensitivity to issues of race and gender. Bradford took aim at Japanese-Americans on the anniversary in 2016 of the opening of internment camps to detain them during World War II, saying ‘It was necessary...’”
-- Trump has announced that two owners of sports franchises will become ambassadors. AP reports: “He’ll nominate New York Jets owner Woody Johnson to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom … Trump also announced his choice of Jamie McCourt, an attorney and former co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, to be the U.S. ambassador to Belgium.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- As world leaders struggle to accommodate Trump’s brash, unpredictable brand of leadership, Canada is pursuing a wholly different approach: simply going around him. The New York Times’s Max Fisher reports: “As [Trump] disrupts alliances across the map, nearly every level of government in Canada has taken on new duties in a quietly audacious campaign to cajole, contain and if necessary coerce the Americans. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s strategy for managing Mr. Trump is unlike anything tried by another ally. And he has largely succeeded where even experienced leaders like Angela Merkel of Germany have fallen short. … By organizing a grass-roots network of American officials, lawmakers and businesses, Canada is hoping to contain Mr. Trump’s protectionist and nationalist impulses. Though emphasizing the benefits of harmony, the Canadians are not above flexing muscle, with a provincial government at one point quietly threatening trade restrictions against New York State. ‘We don’t have the luxury that the Germans have of an ocean between us,’ Mr. Burney said. ‘And we don’t have a Plan B.’”
-- The president’s decision to retain ownership of Trump properties around the world could become an impediment when making difficult diplomacy decisions. Foreign Policy’s Phillip Y. Lipscy writes: “While the president faces incentives to protect Trump properties from the consequences of conflict, adversaries may actually be emboldened by their perception that he will act cautiously. Trump properties are physical, immovable assets largely unprotected against hostile action. The president’s failure to divest from his business empire gives U.S. adversaries an instrument of personal coercion. All manner of U.S. adversaries, including sovereign states and terrorist organizations, could seek to influence the president’s foreign policy by threatening Trump assets.”
-- British Prime Minister Theresa May promised in remarks yesterday that European Union citizens who have settled in the United Kingdom would have an option to stay after Brexit, but the details of how remain unclear. The New York Times’ James Kanter reports: “More than three million citizens of other European Union countries live in Britain, while more than one million Britons live in the other 27 nations. Many of these people have formed families and raised children, and have been anxious about their status since the referendum a year ago when British voters decided to leave the union … A key issue is setting a cutoff date for European Union citizens living in Britain to qualify for what is called settled status, allowing them to remain indefinitely.”
-- “The [UAE] and allied security forces maintain a secret network of prisons in Yemen where dozens and perhaps hundreds of people are detained, routinely abused and in some cases severely tortured, according to separate reports released Thursday by Human Rights Watch and the [AP]," Kareem Fahim reports: “The investigation by the AP also found that forces from the United States, a close counterterrorism ally to the UAE, had participated in interrogations of prisoners in Yemen. American forces had been ‘yards’ away from a facility where torture took place, one Yemeni security officer told the news agency. … In its report, Human Rights Watch said it documented the cases of at least 38 people detained or arrested by Yemeni forces that are financed, armed or trained by the UAE. Witnesses told the AP of a torture method known as the ‘grill,’ [in which] victims were ‘tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire.’ That method and others were used at a detention complex at an airport in the southern city of Mukalla — one of at least 18 secret prisons in southern Yemen … run by the UAE or its allied forces.”
- The government of the UAE denied the existence of a clandestine prison network, saying “there are no secret detention centers, and no torture of prisoners is done during interrogations.”
- Pentagon officials also pushed back, saying that “under no circumstances do DoD personnel participate in violations of human rights.”
-- Newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron proposed a large expansion of his counter-terrorism powers on Thursday – alarming civil liberties advocates even as his supporters said the plans will help keep French citizens safe. James McAuley and Michael Birnbaum report: “The changes proposed seek to wind down a state of emergency that gave French security officials broad powers and was imposed after the November 2015 Paris attacks. … Some of those powers would be made permanent, including the ability to temporarily shutter places of worship that promote extremism and conduct searches with fewer restrictions. The draft also strips some oversight powers from judges and gives security officials more latitude to act without judicial review. Critics of the emergency powers say that they have been applied indiscriminately, not just to combat terrorism. Even some analysts who believe the expanded powers can be useful in disrupting terror plots say that the efficacy wears off as militants find new ways to evade detection.”
-- “‘Let’s bring it in’: Otto Warmbier’s family and friends celebrate his life at memorial,” by Susan Svrluga: “Families wearing blue and white Wyoming T-shirts, holding homemade cardboard signs and American flags, waited by the edge of the main street for Otto Warmbier’s funeral procession to drive by. As the memorial attended by thousands at the town’s high school ended, people in black dresses and dark suits joined those along the street. Many were hugging; the ceremony, a celebration of Warmbier’s life, had been funny and eloquent, much like the 22-year-old University of Virginia student who was beloved in this small suburb of Cincinnati and far beyond. Friends and family shared memories of, as one put it, ‘this inspiring goofball of a man,’ and the essential lessons they had learned from him: Work hard, explore everything, love people, think deeply and laugh easily.”
-- “Navy sailors made tough call to seal flooding ship compartments, unclear if survivors were inside,” by Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Dan Lamothe: “With water rushing around them, sailors aboard the beleaguered USS Fitzgerald faced an agonizing decision. They had made several rescue attempts into the flooded portions of the 505-foot destroyer, which had collided off the coast of Japan with a much heavier container ship early morning Saturday. But they didn’t know how many of their fellow shipmates were still trapped inside or even alive, and time was running out. The sailors either had to close off the flooded areas of the ship, or they feared the entire destroyer might go down, according to three active or former members of the Navy familiar with the incident. They decided to seal the compartments shut. By Sunday, the toll of the accident became clear.”
-- “Former CIA officer accused of selling top secret information to China,” by Rachel Weiner: “Kevin Patrick Mallory, 60, of Leesburg, Va., was arrested Thursday and appeared briefly in front of Judge Theresa Buchanan on counts of delivering defense information to aid a foreign government and making false statements. He asked to be represented by a public defender. Mallory had a top secret security clearance until he left the government in 2012, prosecutors say, having worked at various government agencies and defense contractors … Prosecutors say Mallory sent three documents containing classified information, one of which was labeled top secret, to a Chinese intelligence operative in May.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Lawmakers of both parties posted images of themselves reading the Senate health-care bill when it was finally released yesterday following an exceptionally private process to craft it:
Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz (Hawaii) and Bob Casey (Pa.) annotated the bill, circling certain provisions:
Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) seemed enthusiastic, if not a little uninformed, about the bill:
Protesters of the bill appeared at D.C.’s Reagan Airport as senators flew home for the weekend:
Lots of Twitter buzz about Trump's announcement that he did not tape his conversations with Jim Comey:
One New York Times reporter responded to the White House's off-camera briefing:
Lawmakers attended the White House Congressional Picnic:
The chief executive of JP Morgan Chase became a little more relatable:
Congressional leaders cracked down on the dress code:
A comment on the president’s golfing habits:
Air Force One is an HGTV fan (or is this Trump's real estate background dictating the TV tastes?):
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Pew Research Center, “America’s Complex Relationship With Guns,” by Kim Parker, Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Ruth Igielnik, Baxter Oliphant And Anna Brown: “Integrated into the fabric of American society since the country’s earliest days, guns remain a point of pride for many Americans … At the same time, the results of gun-related violence have shaken the nation, and debates over gun policy remain sharply polarized. A new Pew Research Center survey attempts to better understand the complex relationship Americans have with guns and how that relationship intersects with their policy views. The survey finds that Americans have broad exposure to guns, whether they personally own one or not. At least two-thirds have lived in a household with a gun at some point in their lives … Today, three-in-ten U.S. adults say they own a gun, and an additional 36% say that while they don’t own one now, they might be open to owning a gun in the future.”
-- Bloomberg, “The Woman Behind Trump’s Empire of Swag,” by John McCormick: “Two years ago, [Christl] Mahfouz, 39, was running a business on the verge of collapse, selling uniforms to oil and gas workers after the 2014 crash in oil prices. She was desperate to avoid bankruptcy. A devout Catholic, she says, ‘I turned to God and said, “Please help me.”’ The answer to her prayers, it turns out, was Trump.”
-- The New York Times, “A Cyberattack ‘the World Isn’t Ready For,’” by Nicole Perlroth: “There have been times over the last two months when Golan Ben-Oni has felt like a voice in the wilderness. On April 29, someone hit his employer, IDT Corporation, with two cyberweapons that had been stolen from the [NSA]. Mr. Ben-Oni, the global chief information officer at IDT, was able to fend them off, but the attack left him distraught. In 22 years of dealing with hackers of every sort, he had never seen anything like it. Who was behind it? How did they evade all of his defenses? How many others had been attacked but did not know it? The strike on IDT … was similar to WannaCry, [the cyberattack that ravaged computers at hospitals, universities, and business around the world] in one way: Hackers locked up IDT data and demanded a ransom to unlock it. But what Mr. Ben-Oni had witnessed was much worse … [and for IDT], the ransom demand was just a smoke screen for a far more invasive attack that stole employee credentials. With those credentials in hand, hackers could have run free through the company’s computer network, taking confidential information or destroying machines. 'The world is burning about WannaCry, but this is a nuclear bomb compared to WannaCry,' Ben-Oni said. 'This is different. It’s a lot worse. It steals credentials. You can’t catch it, and it’s happening right under our noses.'”
-- Politico Magazine, “Jane Sanders Lawyers Up,” by Harry Jaffe: “Sanders is used to fielding softball questions from an adoring local press, but his inquisitor, Kyle Midura of Burlington TV station WCAX, had a rare opportunity to put him on the spot. Investigative reporters had been breaking stories about a federal investigation into allegations that the senator’s wife, Jane Sanders, had committed fraud in obtaining bank loans for the now defunct Burlington College, and that Sanders’s Senate office had weighed in … Sanders and his wife have been trying to ignore the federal investigation since reporters for VTDigger, an online publication, confirmed the FBI’s involvement in April. The original request for an investigation into the potential bank fraud did indeed come from Brady Toensing, an attorney who chaired Trump’s Vermont campaign, and whose January 2016 letter to the U.S. attorney for Vermont put federal agents on the trail.”
-- New York Times Magazine, “Trained to Kill: How Four Boy Soldiers Survived Boko Haram,” by Sarah A. Topol: “The four children, from a fishing village in Nigeria, were among thousands abducted by Boko Haram and trained as soldiers. They learned to survive, but only by forgetting who they were.”
-- New York Magazine, “Sarah Palin’s Latest Business Venture: Running a Right-Wing Content Farm,” by Olivia Nuzzi: “You might call it fake news or propaganda, with headlines like, ‘YES! Trump Fulfills Campaign Promise to Help the Coal Industry’ (approximately 70 jobs were created, by a private company, at a coal mine in Pennsylvania) or ‘EVIDENCE FOUND! Trump Was Right on Voter Fraud …’ (12 people in Indiana were charged with submitting fraudulent voter-registration applications, while Trump claimed that ‘millions’ of undocumented immigrants had voted illegally in the 2016 election). Palin [pens a few of the articles herself] … with titles like ‘INSANE’; ‘Trig’s School of Life. We’re all learning!’; ‘Alpha Males … Hot Hot Hot’; and ‘You, Sir, Are Unfortunately Being Used by Democrats.’”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“In S. Fla., racial epithets, arrests in tense protests over Confederate street names,” from Politico: “A black South Florida lawmaker said Wednesday he was called the N-word and a “monkey” during a clash of protests in Hollywood, Fla., over three streets named after Confederates, including a founder of the Ku Klux Klan. State Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who represents the area … recounted the ‘ugly’ scene on Twitter and in [an interview], during which he said that others were verbally abused as well. The Confederate controversy, which has surfaced before in Hollywood, has flared anew in the South Florida city, and across [the] Deep South … The movement gained momentum after the city of New Orleans on May 19 removed its famed statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee … Meanwhile, in Tampa on Wednesday, the Hillsborough County Commission voted 4-3 against removing a memorial to the Confederate …”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Republican Coal King Sues HBO Over John Oliver’s Show,” from The Daily Beast: “A Republican coal baron is suing John Oliver, HBO, Time Warner, and the writers for Oliver’s show over the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight. The suit, filed [in] Marshall County, West Virginia, holds that Oliver and his team ‘executed a meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character of and reputation of Mr. Robert E. Murray and his companies’ by airing an episode that ripped into him. ‘They did this to a man who needs a lung transplant, a man who does not expect to live to see the end of this case,’ reads the complaint … At the heart of Murray’s complaint is Oliver’s discussion of the collapse of one of his mines in Utah, which killed nine people. Oliver said on the show that a government report concluded the collapse happened because of unauthorized mining practices, and also noted that Murray holds the collapse actually happened because of an earthquake. The complaint says Murray directed Oliver’s team to studies supporting that argument—and that he deliberately ignored them.”
President Trump will meet with three of his Cabinet secretaries in the morning: Rex Tillerson, John Kelly and Jim Mattis. He will then sign a bill addressing accountability at the VA.
Vice President Pence will travel to Colorado Springs to give a speech at Focus on the Family’s 40th anniversary celebration. He will also visit the Schriever Air Force Base and the Cheyenne Mountain Complex before attending a fundraising event for Colorado's Sen. Cory Gardner.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Nancy Pelosi defended herself from criticisms after Democrats lost in Georgia. "I think I'm worth the trouble," she said at a press conference yesterday.
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- D.C. will experience mugginess and possibly some showers as the city prepares for the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy, the Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “There’s a decent chance much of the day is dry, with the best odds of rain generally ending near sunrise from overnight activity. The next bigger batch comes tonight, but isolated or scattered showers and storms are possible this afternoon into evening. Any that pop up could become strong to locally severe, with a short-lived tornado or wind damage possible. Mid-to-upper 80s are possible even with clouds, but some sunshine could boost temperatures into the low 90s as well.”
-- The two candidates in Virginia’s gubernatorial race traded barbs over the Senate’s health-care bill, Fenit Nirappil reports.
-- James L. Shea jumped into an already-crowded Democratic primary race to unseat Larry Hogan as Maryland’s governor next year, Josh Hicks and Fenit Nirappil report: “[Shea] led one of Maryland’s largest law firms and had chaired the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.”
-- The Supreme Court rejected a new trial request from the men convicted of the 1984 D.C. gang murder of Catherine Fuller, Robert Barnes reports.
-- 21 business groups in the D.C. area have signed a letter to regional political leaders outlining a plan to fix Metro’s finances and restructure its board, Robert McCartney reports. At least six other plans have been presented to revamp the transit agency.
-- An argument over the involvement of white nationalist Richard Spencer has led to dueling conservative rallies in D.C. this Sunday, Justin Wm. Moyer and Perry Stein report.
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Jimmy Kimmel talked to kids about health care:
Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.) said that the bill “begins to address the Jimmy Kimmel test,” which asks whether a piece of legislation would cover children with preexisting conditions:
The Post’s Michelle Ye Hee Lee fact-checked Trump’s claim that premiums in Alaska have gone up over 200 percent:
The Pizzagate shooter recorded this video on his way to D.C.:
Bill Cosby plans to hold town halls on facing sexual-assault allegations:
These elephants staged a heroic rescue of one of their young: