* Adam Cancryn and Dan Diamond report on another Trump administration official getting into the act:
The Trump appointee who oversees Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare quietly directed millions of taxpayer dollars in contracts to Republican communications consultants during her tenure atop the agency — including hiring one well-connected GOP media adviser to bolster her public profile.
The communications subcontracts approved by CMS Administrator Seema Verma — routed through a larger federal contract and described to POLITICO by three individuals with firsthand knowledge of the agreements — represent a sharp break from precedent at the agency. Those deals, managed by Verma’s deputies, came in some cases over the objections of CMS staffers, who raised concerns about her push to use federal funds on GOP consultants and to amplify coverage of Verma’s own work. CMS has its own large communications shop, including about two dozen people who handle the press.
Verma, a close ally of Vice President Mike Pence, has become a lightning rod for pushing work requirements in Medicaid and spearheading the Trump administration’s efforts to unilaterally unwind pieces of Obamacare. She previously worked as a consultant to conservative states seeking to reshape health care programs for the poor.
I’ll admit that I hadn’t expected this. While Verma has always been one of the most malevolent figures in the Trump administration, as she has devoted her energies to making sure as few poor Americans as possible have health coverage, I never pegged her to be part of the administration’s sweeping effort to increase government corruption.
* Erica Werner, David J. Lynch, and Emily Rauhala report that one of Trump’s few actual policy victories may be in jeopardy:
President Trump’s effort to rework a major trade deal with Canada and Mexico is showing increasing signs of faltering on Capitol Hill, straining under a variety of angry complaints from lawmakers of both parties who won’t commit to backing the plan.
Trump reached agreement with Canada and Mexico last year to update the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. But Congress must approve the deal, and the White House has been unable to mollify the growing group of critics.
The administration’s goal is to get the pact approved ahead of Congress’s annual August recess. It’s not clear if that timeline is realistic. But delaying action past Labor Day could greatly increase political risk because of the accelerating presidential campaign.
In the latest obstacle, key Republican senators including Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) have begun insisting stridently that Trump lift steel and aluminum tariffs imposed on Canada and Mexico as a precondition to any congressional vote.
Nobody knew trade policy could be so complicated.
* A new Emerson College poll in Pennsylvania shows every Democrat tested beating Trump in a general election matchup.
* Stephen I. Vladeck argues that Attorney General William P. Barr should resign in protest over Trump’s decision to argue in favor of a lawsuit that would immediately nullify the entirety of the Affordable Care Act.
* David Corn explains what the real Russia hoax is.