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Fate of Obamacare repeal uncertain in Senate

Mitch McConnell’s current whip count to repeal Obamacare is far short of 50 votes. There is still no bill, and even Republicans are moaning about the rush and lack of transparency.

The GOP plan to jam through a bill over the next 10 days amounts to a rare political risk by McConnell with no guarantee of success — and one that could jeopardize his Senate majority long-term if the bill ends up being viewed as poorly as the House-passed bill, which has a 17 percent approval rating.

McConnell himself wouldn’t guarantee passage on Tuesday, or even commit to a vote next week, though that is his plan. Some Republicans suspect the Senate majority leader has a master legislative stroke ahead, but it appears that only the canny Kentucky Republican has any inkling of what will transpire next week.

With a razor-thin margin, McConnell can afford to lose only two votes. A handful of moderates and conservatives have already — and loudly — voiced their concerns with the Senate bill so far, meaning McConnell is going to have to choose between making the moderates happy, making the conservatives happy or somehow splitting the difference.

“We don’t have a bill. But I’m confident,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “It’s my job to find 50 votes. We’re going to have 50 votes.”

Unlike with most legislative gambits on Capitol Hill, Republicans are divided on what exactly is going to happen: Those close to leadership believe passage is likely next week, while others on the periphery of the caucus are far less bullish and say the same intractable debates over pre-existing conditions, Medicaid and Planned Parenthood are still raging.

Already, the emerging GOP bill is drawing critics from across the spectrum of the GOP Conference, not to mention furious Democrats.

“I think you’re going to wind up with what you had with the House bill. About 20 percent of the public’s going to think it’s a good idea,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who appears to be an almost certain “no” vote. “No Democrat’s going to like it; that’s half the public. And half the Republicans are going to say: My goodness, it certainly doesn’t look like repeal.”

Republicans believe that setting a deadline of next week is necessary to get the Senate GOP out of its rut and its circular negotiations. And McConnell could always introduce a bill this week and pull it before next week’s vote is held, still leaving him with a month to get the bill across the finish line before the August recess, considered a harder legislative deadline.

There is no formal whip count right now, though leadership is aware of two moderates, at least a trio of conservatives and a half-dozen senators from Medicaid expansion states who need to be placated. Whether those wobbly Republicans will vote for the bill is unlikely to be clear until a Congressional Budget Office score emerges early next week that will spell out in plain English what the bill would do, including how much it would cost and how many people would lose health coverage.

“I assume we’ll vote on this bill whether we have 50 votes or not,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), one of McConnell’s deputies. “On a bill like this, everything happens in the last 10 days.”

Most senators said things are impossible to game out at this stage, barely a week before the vote, with no bill text in hand and no CBO score. Several Republicans on Tuesday hedged their support until they see text, but said they want to have at least several days to review it.

An activist approached Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the Russell Office Building to ask him when the health care bill would be public. His response: “I don’t know.”

“I can’t say no to something I haven’t seen. It’d be nice to say no, but I haven’t seen something to say no to,” he growled when asked about how he can turn his process complaints into action.

After weeks of lengthy meetings on health care and little movement toward consensus, one thing has become clear: McConnell is ready to change the conversation. His preference is to pass a bill, but he and the rest of his caucus are ready to reach a conclusion.

Republicans say that when McConnell puts the bill up for a vote, the bill will be boiled down to a binary decision by leaders: Either you’re on the side of Obamacare, or you’re against it.

“It’s hard for eight years to be critical of something and then turn around and vote against [repealing] it,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), a close leadership ally.

For all the public complaints from Republicans about the lack of transparency, senators aren’t generally taking their complaints behind closed doors, which could suggest a rosier outlook for McConnell than many senators’ comments have suggested. At a party lunch on Tuesday, Republicans mostly just listened to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price talk about changes he can make through executive branch authority.

But there are exceptions.

“I won’t vote yes until I’ve satisfied myself that it’s a continuous improvement over what we currently have, and I’ll need information to make that determination,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said gruffly after party meetings on Tuesday. “I’ll have to see what the final bill is. And by the way, I think the American people ought to have enough time with the final bill as well.”

Senate Republicans are moving forward amid the uncertainty in part because they are largely insulated from short-term political blowback with a highly favorable battleground map in 2018. It’s difficult to envision how Republicans could lose the Senate next year in response to passing an unpopular bill, though they could pay a price in 2020 if the public sours on the opaque, partisan process or the results of the repeal effort, which will likely come into focus by the next presidential election.

It’s not lost on Republicans the price that Democrats paid by passing Obamacare: losing the House, then the Senate and statehouses and governors’ mansions across the country.

“If at the end of the day, this ends up easing some of the pain that’s out there right now relative to health care, I think people will look favorably upon that,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). “If it ends up making things worse, I think they will look upon it very much like the ’09 bill passage did” among Democrats.

In the short term, Dean Heller of Nevada is the most vulnerable Senate Republican, the only incumbent up for reelection in a state won by Hillary Clinton. But he says he’s willing to follow McConnell and risk his seat if the bill is favorable to his state.

“I will vote for this if it’s good for the state of Nevada,” Heller said Tuesday. As to whether the emerging outline is good for the state, Heller couldn’t yet say. “I’m going to find out when I see the CBO,” he said. “What will make me comfortable is a discussion with the governor.”

Indeed, the fortunes of the bill will develop over the next week and may not come into focus until perhaps a day or so before the vote. A group of about a half-dozen senators from Medicaid expansion states are still resisting reduced spending rates on Medicaid, and conservatives say they can’t commit until they are convinced that the bill lowers premiums.

The lack of bill text has only heightened the uncertainty and delayed the tough choices facing Senate Republicans until they actually hold the bill in their hands.

“I’m not going to tell you I’m going to vote for something I’ve never seen,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). “You’re asking hypotheticals. So I have to answer in the hypothetical.”

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Secrecy boosts GOP’s Obamacare repeal push

Senate Republicans are closer than ever to voting to repeal Obamacare after three months of work that’s unparalleled in its secrecy and speed. They’re unapologetic, though. Because so far, it’s working.

The closed-door deliberations, which have left even some GOP senators in the dark, have prompted widespread charges of hypocrisy and even a fair amount of heartburn within a party that railed for seven years against Democrats’ rush to pass their 2010 health reform law.

But it’s that secrecy that has also helped put the GOP within potential reach of dismantling Obamacare and handing President Donald Trump his first big legislative win.

By keeping the process under wraps, Senate Republican leaders have largely bypassed the headaches and inevitable blowback when any ambitious piece of legislation sees the light of day — especially one that has already become wildly unpopular if polls on the House GOP’s effort to overhaul the U.S. health care system are any indication.

They’re also betting that for all the stone-throwing from the left, voters already convinced that Congress is broken won’t punish Senate Republicans for putting yet another dent in the institution.

“I’ve always said I would’ve preferred a more open process,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said. “But if you just wait and say, ‘Oh, we want an open process,’ then you never get that. So at some point you’ve got to play the cards dealt to you.”

The Senate GOP’s speed play comes after House Republicans barely pushed through their own version of Obamacare repeal — an effort hampered by fierce criticism over both its secrecy and Congressional Budget Office projections the proposal would leave millions more Americans without health insurance.

Senate Republicans pledged to learn from the backlash and start from scratch on their own bill. Instead, they appear to be largely keeping the House-passed bill’s framework and moved their deliberations completely out of public view.

GOP lawmakers have spent the two months since debating broad policy during closed-door lunches, and confining the details to small-group meetings. The actual bill-writing has fallen to an even more select group.

“The leader is really writing this bill,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), referring to Mitch McConnell and his staff. “I mean, we can say the Finance Committee is. We can say the Budget Committee is. We can say the HELP Committee is. But the leader’s office is really writing the bill.”

That’s left much of the rest of the conference in the dark on the legislation’s final details, prompting uneasiness among lawmakers facing daily questions about the bill. A number of GOP senators say they’ve expressed private concerns about the process to Republican leaders, and have increasingly tried to fend off criticism by saying publicly they wish the conference had taken a different route.

“Health care is such an important thing, I think we should’ve debated it in open, in committee hearings,” said Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, perhaps the most outspoken Republican skeptic. “If you do it on one side only, what you’re setting yourself up for is failure.”

Sen. Pat Toomey, who has spearheaded conservative senators’ effort to quickly end enhanced funding for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, bristled at questions about the GOP’s strategic secrecy.

“You can ask leadership for their reason,” the Pennsylvania Republican said. “They do what they do.”

Still, GOP senators aren’t slowing the march toward a vote, reasoning that the closed-door process has boosted their ability to briskly debate and cobble together proposals that could reshape health care for millions of people.

Republicans have only a limited period to repeal Obamacare under arcane Senate rules that require only 50 votes. They say that bypassing public hearings and committee markups saves valuable time that would otherwise be consumed by unyielding Democratic opposition. And avoiding the public scrutiny that comes with debating every provision in public has upped the odds that Senate Republicans can keep their thin majority united long enough to push the bill through the chamber.

“At the end of the day, you’re judged by what you get,” said one GOP senator, dismissing concerns about the lack of public feedback on the bill. “At the end of the day, they’re not going to be critical of how we got there.”

Others, including McConnell, wave off criticism of the GOP’s tactics as identical to the Democrats’ approach in the run-up to Obamacare’s party-line passage seven years ago. In fact, the approaches differ sharply: The 2009 debate over Obamacare spanned more than a year and included public hearings, committee markups and roundtables, with then-President Barack Obama at times taking questions directly from congressional Republicans.

Pressed on the contrast, GOP senators argue that lawmakers have nevertheless debated health care countless times in the several years since Obamacare’s passage.

“There’s been all this talk about having hearings,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said, exasperated. “My God, I went through how many hours of hearings?”

That hasn’t stopped Senate Democrats from seizing on the GOP’s secrecy, hoping to boost public criticism of a bill that they’re powerless to stop. During an all-night occupation of the Senate floor, Democrats railed against the repeal effort not only for rolling back Obamacare but for threatening to forever rewrite the rules for passing bills in a chamber famously known as the world’s greatest deliberative body.

“Perhaps some of the biggest issues of humanity were debated in an open forum — we have records of those discussions, records of those deliberations,” said New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker. “Tonight, it’s remarkable to me, it’s almost tragic to me, to see a process that is so broken, a process that is so secretive.”

Urged on by liberal activists, Democrats are weighing the strategy of grinding the Senate to a halt, in hopes of dragging out the chamber’s work and forcing the repeal bill to go public long enough to mobilize stronger opposition.

But Republicans’ secrecy has succeeded even in muting that resistance.

Activists have had no new proposals to rally against, and groups across the health care spectrum that hoped to help improve the House-passed repeal bill have found few opportunities to pressure senators over what’s ultimately included in the bill.

As for the public, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) dismissed speculation that voters would make Republicans pay a price.

“If you really want to judge whether Obamacare is a good election-year issue, then look at the last three election cycles,” he said.

Jennifer Haberkorn and Burgess Everett contributed.

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Frustrated House members push GOP leaders for partisan spending package

Rank-and-file House Republicans, frustrated by the lack of wins on crucial spending issues, are pushing GOP leaders to get more partisan.

Support is building among GOP members to hold a summer vote on a Republican spending package decorated with GOP goodies, an idea first proposed by House Appropriations Committee cardinal Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.). Some House appropriators who like the idea are moving full steam ahead to write the bill, multiple sources said. And supporters argue that while their idea may never pass the more moderate Senate, it will buy the leadership goodwill with the conference while giving Republicans a leg up on spending negotiations with Democrats this fall.

But some leaders and appropriators are privately worried about the short window before the August recess and the risk of embarrassment if a GOP spending bill fails to clear the notoriously divided House Republican Conference. The debate will come to a head during a closed-door meeting Wednesday that is likely to highlight early fissures within the House GOP.

“I think it’s vitally important that we as a Republican Conference put our marker down as to what we believe and what we stand for, and let’s pass a conservative House Republican funding package,” Graves said in an interview. “I think the conference is ready and desires to vote on our vision for the Republican Party, and aligning that as best as we can with the administration’s priorities.”

House Republicans during the Wednesday conference are expected to consider whether to pursue the Graves plan. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will lay out several alternatives, including a “security bus” — a smaller, national security GOP appropriations package that would boost the military.

Nobody appears to want to make a firm decision. GOP leaders on Wednesday will encourage the conference to plot a path forward. Appropriators, meanwhile, say they’re waiting for guidance from leadership.

It’s an awkward situation because the proposal even pits appropriators against appropriators. While several appropriators — including top cardinals with subcommittee gavels — back the idea, others privately are grumbling and hoping leadership will pan it altogether.

Republican House members who’ve campaigned on fiscal responsibility their entire careers hoped they’d finally get to pass more GOP spending priorities now that their party controls the White House and Congress. But they’re increasingly resigned that nothing has really changed since Senate rules require eight Democrats to do virtually anything.

Enter Graves, the financial services subcommittee chairman close to GOP leaders. He pitched his fellow appropriators and McCarthy on the idea of passing a GOP spending package about six weeks ago — even if it doesn’t pass the Senate. And he presented the proposal to members a few weeks ago, arguing it allows Republicans to show constituents what they would support if they could pass something without Democrats.

Many Republicans, frustrated by the lack of input they’ve had on appropriations bills that have been stalled in recent years, applauded. They envision something like ex-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) put on the floor in early 2011, when Republicans first seized the majority and, over the course of several days, voted on hundreds of amendments to a massive GOP spending package.

“We’re 100 percent behind the Graves idea,” said Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.), whose group has endorsed the plan. “If we get past August, and then we’re in September, and then there is some kind of rollout and in 24 hours you’ve got to vote on something that you’re still trying to process and read, it’s not going to be a good thing.”

Walker said conservatives are willing to deal with higher spending levels if they can offer amendments with their own priorities.

“I think it’s a great idea!” said Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, a Freedom Caucus member. “It would help focus the country.”

But some in leadership and on Appropriations are concerned about time — particularly after lawmakers lost much of last week after Wednesday’s congressional baseball practice shooting.

If appropriators work every day from now until the end of the July, they may be able to finish the package. It would likely have to go straight to the floor, probably the last week before the August recess, in what’s bound to be a tedious process for staff who will work nonstop to get hundreds of amendments lined up and ready — just as they did in 2011.

There’s also concern about an already packed July calendar. The House will also have to pass a potentially more-moderate Obamacare replacement and probably raise the debt ceiling — two controversial votes that will be a heavy lift for GOP leaders.

Even if Republicans could finish the bill and find time to vote, leadership is also concerned about doing all the leg work only to find that it can’t pass. They want rank-and-file Republicans to commit to supporting their GOP legislation — even if some of their prized amendments go down.

Some also expect moderates to balk at taking tough votes for nothing, given the bill is essentially a public relations statement and will have no chance of becoming law. Controversial amendments dealing with government contractors and hiring practices for gay applicants, or the Confederate flag, are likely to surface — votes Republicans typically try to avoid.

Still, many in the conference say it’s time for change. And they want to show the GOP base they’re trying.

“The last election is not far from our memory, and we cannot ignore what people all across this country said. … ‘Go clean things up, get spending under control, rebuild our military,’” Graves said. “We’ve got a chance to show the American people what that is, and this is our one opportunity to do that.”

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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Spicer searching for candidates to take over White House briefing

White House press secretary Sean Spicer is leading a search for his own replacement at the briefing room podium as part of a larger plan to shake up the White House communications operations, according to two people with knowledge of the effort.

Last week, Spicer and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus reached out to Fox News personality Laura Ingraham about the role of press secretary and Daily Mail editor David Martosko about the role of communications director, according to a White House official.

Spicer and Priebus have had preliminary discussions with Ingraham and Martosko met with chief strategist Steve Bannon last week, according to the White House official.

Ingraham declined to comment. In a phone call, Martosko said “I can’t hear you,” and then hung up. He did not respond to an e-mail inquiry.

FOX News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, who was considered for press secretary during the transition, is not interested in the position and has not been interviewed, according to the people familiar with the effort.

The search for new members of the White House communications team comes after Mike Dubke resigned from the communications director job last month, and Spicer once again took on dual roles as the White House faces numerous scandals, including the deepening Russia probes.

Trump has been quick to blame his communications shop for his administration’s troubles, with the president and senior staff expressing their displeasure with the way Spicer and Dubke handled the response in the hours following the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, according to two White House sources.

Despite the abrupt nature of the firing, Spicer and Dubke caught heat for failing to line up surrogates to go on television and for not having talking points that called out the hypocrisy of Democrats, who criticized Comey when he was investigating Hillary Clinton.

As Trump has continued to lash out at his communications team amid the intensifying investigations, the White House has pulled back from daily on-camera press briefings, with Spicer and deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders increasingly conducting gaggles with reporters that include no cameras and no audio.

Sanders on Monday confirmed that interviews are underway for new members of the communications team.

“We have sought input from many people as we look to expand our communications operation,” Sanders said. “As he did in the beginning, Sean Spicer is managing both the communications and press office.”

Sanders, however, has told people that she doesn’t want the job of press secretary, according to a source close to her.

And as Spicer interviews job candidates, he has been pushing to move into a new role senior to both the communications director and press secretary, according to the people familiar with the discussions.

“Spicer should be elevated and if he’s not, I would not blame him for leaving,” said the White House official. “The president owes him this much for all he’s done for him. Sean is indispensable and I think the president knows that.”

Despite his push for an elevated job, Spicer has appeared to be sidelined at times in recent weeks. He accompanied the president on his foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Europe in May, but wasn’t included among staffers who joined Trump at his meeting with the Pope—an oversight widely regarded as a slight for the devout Catholic.

Since Trump’s return, Spicer has shared the briefing responsibilities with Sanders.

But it’s not clear when or if dramatic changes to the communications shop will occur. An adviser to Trump said the president hasn’t yet signed off on making changes to the communications shop.

“Until you have the president buying in, any outreach or talk, is just that,” this person said.

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Sources: Senate GOP prepares for Obamacare repeal vote next week

Senate Republicans are preparing to vote on Obamacare repeal next week, according to multiple sources familiar with the negotiations, potentially leaving rank-and-file lawmakers with no more than a week to review legislation that would affect millions of Americans and one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

Senators are expected to see the text of the bill as soon as the end of this week, those sources said, provided this week’s work goes smoothly. The timeline could change based on the response from individual senators toward the proposal at party meetings, but Republicans are increasingly optimistic they can hold a vote next week if this week’s lunch talks go well.

“I believed the majority leader when he said he’s going to take it up. I expect us to vote on it next week,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). “It’s close. Everybody’s been counting [votes] since the beginning. It’s been close since the beginning.”

Such a timeline would mean Republicans would have about a week to review text of a bill to repeal the 2010 health care law. Burr said he would be comfortable with that timeline: “We’ll debate it for 20 hours.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said he hopes Republicans have “as much time as it takes” to study the proposal. Democrats have slammed Republicans for moving so quickly and without holding public hearings.

“It’s not a light bill,” Hatch said. Asked whether they will vote this month, he replied: “We could. But clearly I wonder if we could.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tried on Monday evening to get Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to commit to allowing at least 10 hours to review the legislation before it comes to the floor for a vote. McConnell wouldn’t commit to such a number.

“We’ll have ample opportunity to read and amend the bill,” McConnell said.

The timeline could blow up because there is no final deal yet on any of the sticking points and negotiations are still extremely fluid. McConnell can lose just two senators in his 52-member caucus to pass the bill, with Vice President Mike Pence as a tie-breaker.

Democrats have been revving up their opposition to the legislation, organizing hours of speeches on Monday attacking the GOP’s secretive process. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) called it “an affront to democracy itself.”

Democrats spent Monday drawing a contrast between the passage of Obamacare and its potential repeal, emphasizing that hundreds of Republican amendments were considered and Congress devoted weeks to debate in committee and on the floor before the bill, also known as the Affordable Care Act, was passed.

“We had a month of debate in the United States Senate in 2009 — that seems like a reasonable amount of time” for the GOP bill, said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

But Republicans threw the Democrats’ own history on health care back at them, arguing that Democrats deployed secretive techniques and the party-line budget reconciliation process to ultimately pass a portion of Obamacare into law.

“I hope they’ll have more time than we did on Christmas Eve when [former Sen. Harry] Reid produced his bill,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

Republican leaders believe that entering the July 4th recess with their Obamacare quagmire unsolved could lose votes as well as hurt the GOP politically. But the rushed timeline could put rank-and-file Republicans in a tough spot with little time to deliberate such a consequential vote.

“We’re going to need a significant amount of time,” to review text, said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). “More than hours.” His remarks are the latest from rank-and-file GOP senators who have grumbled publicly about the process even as their leadership has vowed to steam ahead.

Last week, Republicans discussed insurance market stabilization in the short term as well as how to overhaul Medicaid and wind down its expansion. One proposal being floated would phase out the law’s Medicaid expansion over three years beginning in 2020 or 2021 and eventually curb the Medicaid growth rate more strictly than the House-passed bill, but that proposal has not yet been agreed on.

This week, Republicans will discuss how far to cut Obamacare’s regulatory regime and how much to beef up the House bill’s tax credits to help people buy insurance. Conservatives want to gut the regulations as much as possible; there is more consensus on the tax credits but not necessarily how to pay for them.

There is no guarantee the legislation will pass given the party divisions. But McConnell has made clear to associates he prefers not to let the bill linger so the Senate can turn to funding the government, raising the debt ceiling and rewriting the tax code, according to people who speak with him regularly.

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Democrats to halt Senate business over Obamacare repeal

Democrats will grind Senate business to a halt in a protest against Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare.

Beginning Monday night, Democrats will start objecting to all unanimous consent requests in the Senate, according to a Democratic aide. They plan to control the floor of the chamber Monday night and try to force the House-passed health care bill to committee in a bid to further delay it.

Without the votes to block Obamacare repeal, Democrats are turning to procedural moves they believe will underscore their most powerful argument: Republicans are hiding their repeal plan from the public and using Senate procedures to keep it a secret.

“Republicans are drafting this bill in secret because they’re ashamed of it, plain and simple,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “These are merely the first steps we’re prepared to take in order to shine a light on this shameful Trumpcare bill and reveal to the public the GOP’s true intentions: to give the uber-wealthy a tax break while making middle class Americans pay more for less health care coverage. If Republicans won’t relent and debate their health care bill in the open for the American people to see, then they shouldn’t expect business as usual in the Senate.”

Holding the floor on Monday evening won’t change the timing of a health care vote. And Democrats are unlikely to be able to force the House bill to committee or delay it. But it will force Republicans to answer for what Democrats say is a rushed process and bad policy.

Some Senate Democrats also are preparing to block lengthy committee hearings beginning on Tuesday, although Democratic leaders have not announced or confirmed that decision. Any senator can block a hearing from extending past the first two hours of the Senate’s day. But when partisan tensions are high, the hearing requests are sometimes denied to make a point.

Democrats also plan to make a series of parliamentary inquiries to highlight differences between the passage of Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, and Republicans’ efforts to write and pass their bill.

Progressive groups have been pressuring Senate Democrats to forcefully oppose the Republican repeal efforts. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to hold a floor vote by the end of next week, although it is unclear whether enough of his Republican members support a plan to do so.

Democrats may still allow some honorary, bipartisan resolutions.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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McHenry steps up as Scalise recovers

Rep. Patrick McHenry is about to be thrust into the spotlight during one of the most sensitive — and consequential — moments of the year for House Republicans.

McHenry, a skilled vote counter who currently serves as chief deputy majority whip, will temporarily take over for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, whose return to the House may be weeks or months away after he was shot last week.

That means McHenry could be on the hook for helping to persuade an extremely divided Republican Conference to pass the Senate’s potentially more moderate replacement for Obamacare, as well as passing a 2018 budget and raising the federal debt ceiling — some of the most contentious votes of the year.

At the same time, McHenry is grappling with the tragedy of what happened to Scalise, his close friend. The North Carolina Republican spent hours in a Washington hospital awaiting updates after last week’s horrific incident, and lawmakers said he was visibly shaken by the tragedy.

In a brief interview Monday, McHenry said Scalise built the whip team for success when he picked his deputy whips and his staff, and McHenry said they’ll work closely together to “get the job done” in Scalise’s absence.

“The whip team will remain strong and continue to do what Steve set us out to do, and we’ll be ready for when he returns,” McHenry said. “He’s going to be missed, but he’s set a standard for what’s expected and we know what we need to do to get the job done.”

On Tuesday and Thursday, McHenry will host a blood drive for Scalise — just as he takes the reins of the weekly whip meeting for several dozen GOP vote counters.

“The partnership between Rep. Scalise and Rep. McHenry has always been an important part of this whip operation, and that will continue to be the case,” said Scalise’s spokesman Chris Bond. “McHenry is a very capable chief deputy whip, and as he steps up in coming weeks, the other members of our whip team will also keep up their great work and our staff will continue working hard as well.”

Bond added: “As Whip Scalise’s health improves, we look forward to him becoming more and more engaged, and returning once he’s ready.”

Scalise nearly died on June 14 when a shooter identified as James T. Hodgkinson opened fire during a Republican congressional baseball practice. A bullet went through Scalise’s left hip, shattered bone and tore through blood vessels and organs. Scalise went into shock from severe blood loss.

Scalise’s medical team at MedStar Washington Hospital Center upgraded his condition from “critical” to “serious” over the weekend, and his surgeon told reporters Friday he was feeling a “lot more confident and more optimistic” about his recovery.

Still, Scalise’s doctors have made it clear that the Louisiana Republican will be out for an extended period, and will undergo additional surgeries to repair internal injuries, as well as require extensive rehabilitation after leaving the hospital.

Lawmakers and aides say the temporary transition in the whip team is expected to be smooth, if not seamless. Scalise and McHenry have worked closely for three years and have established a complementary system of “good cop-bad cop” when it comes to corralling votes.

Scalise also has a fine-tuned whip operation that will continue to work while he’s in the hospital, led by his chief of staff Brett Horton, floor director Matt Bravo, deputy floor director Chris Hodgson and floor assistant Ben Napier. Those staffers already coordinate on a daily basis with McHenry and his top aide, Parker Poling, who can often be seen on the House floor helping Scalise’s staff twist arms and muster votes.

Scalise, for his part, is already clamoring for news and updates on the legislative agenda from the hospital. Though he only fully regained consciousness on Saturday, according to hospital updates, Scalise already expressed a desire to be conferenced in for leadership meetings as soon as possible, according to one source.

“[Scalise] may not be at the whip team meeting or on the floor during votes, but he’ll be making phone calls and participating in big, game-time decisions we need to make,” said one source familiar with the situation. “He’ll be a voice in the room even when he’s recovering.”

Scalise and McHenry first became friends when Scalise ran for Republican Study Committee chairman at the end of 2012. Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) had the backing of the RSC board and most senior members and was favored to win by a long shot. But McHenry helped Scalise whip up support, resulting in an upset victory that launched Scalise on an upward trajectory into the GOP leadership.

The duo, whose offices were near each other in the Rayburn House Office Building, tag-teamed again after Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) suddenly lost his primary to conservative challenger Dave Brat. In June 2014, when then-Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ran for Cantor’s post, Scalise threw his hat into the ring for whip — and McHenry once again helped rally the troops for the win.

After he won, Scalise asked McHenry to be his deputy, one of the few leadership positions that are appointed, not elected.

“Steve’s success as whip has been instrumental to keeping the promises we made to our constituents,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a statement. “With Patrick McHenry as chief deputy whip, dozens of talented members of Congress for his whip team, and a dedicated staff, the whip operation is well situated to continue performing their work at the very highest level.”

At just 41, McHenry is the youngest member of a youthful GOP leadership, especially compared with their older Democratic counterparts. But like Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the bow tie-wearing McHenry is already a Washington veteran, having been appointed as a special assistant in the Labor Department in 2001, when he was only 26 years old.

Sharp-tongued and eminently quotable, McHenry followed that job with a two-year stint in the North Carolina House of Representatives. In 2004, at age 29, he was elected to Congress, becoming the youngest member at that time.

The North Carolina Republican was a fierce partisan during his early tenure in the House, repeatedly attacking then Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and questioning President Barack Obama’s birthplace, even when it got him into trouble.

After Republicans took back the House in 2010, McHenry got a subcommittee gavel on the Financial Services Committee, and started to win plaudits as a legislator. He’s known among his colleagues for his dry humor and sarcasm — and among reporters for turning questions on the interrogator.

In leadership, Scalise and McHenry approached the job whipping votes with different yet complementary styles. Scalise, a friendly face known for his optimism and back-slapping, has always preferred to sit down with members for long chats to move votes. And since he’s a night owl, Scalise often calls in members to talk late into the evening to get a sense of their thinking.

McHenry, who’s constantly buzzing about on the floor from member to member, has been known to press lawmakers quickly for the hard sell.

“McHenry and Scalise are a team in every sense of the word,” said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), a deputy whip who works closely with the pair. “Scalise has been very generous with McHenry. He includes [McHenry] in every senior-level meeting, he takes him into the [Daily Management Meeting].”

Hudson was referring to the gathering of the top House Republicans, where key decisions are made on what bills will come to the floor and when. McHenry, he added, is “highly intelligent and he knows the members extremely well.”

With Scalise out, McHenry will be doing more legwork than ever. It could also be an important moment for McHenry, a rising star in the House, to show he’s leadership material down the road.

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Georgia special election comes to a messy end

MARIETTA, Ga. — In the final hours before voters go to the polls in Georgia’s special election Tuesday, national attention focused on a polarizing ad that almost no one in this Atlanta-area district saw — a cable television spot that ties Democrat Jon Ossoff to the “violent left” in the wake of last week’s shooting of GOP House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

It’s a fitting conclusion to a race that’s been nationalized from the start.

Both campaigns were quick this weekend to condemn the ad, which was backed by only a small, five-figure buy and buried amid a massive flood of other television ads. But it attracted widespread publicity in a contest that’s evolved into a referendum on the early months of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“When will it stop? It won’t if [Democrat] Jon Ossoff wins on Tuesday,” the ad’s narrator warns. “Because the same unhinged leftists cheering last week’s shootings are all backing Jon Ossoff, and if he wins, they win.”

Paid for by the obscure Principled PAC, the spot featured news footage of Scalise on a stretcher, leading to an outcry and speculation about whether it might help Republican Karen Handel.

The candidates themselves, however, focused on offering closing platitudes in an effort not to offend their key voting groups.

For Handel, the final day meant a three-stop rumble through friendly territory, her last-minute play to jack up turnout in GOP strongholds. The campaign supporters who surrounded her wore stickers reminding, “REPUBLICANS who stay home elect DEMOCRATS.”

Shortly after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy dropped by her first event, Handel briefly spoke to supporters here at the Cherokee Cattle Company restaurant while her canvassers combed the suburban streets.

“I know my opponent has a lot of money,” said Handel, as the National Federation of Republican Women bus lingered outside. “But my money is on you, the grassroots.”

Ossoff, in perfunctory remarks roughly two hours later, kicked off a canvass at his Sandy Springs field office.

“It is the home stretch, we’ve got less than 30 hours until the polls close,” he warned in the second of his four events Monday, as he raced to persuade skeptical moderates to back him in the district that’s been Republican for decades. “It’s a neck and neck race, there’s nothing more effective in getting out the vote than neighbors knocking on neighbors’ doors, so thank you for being here.”

Despite the national attention, for much of the campaign and on election eve, Trump himself was barely mentioned. The candidates walked a tightrope, aiming to avoid antagonizing the voters they need most.

Ossoff avoided talk of Trump during his brief remarks Monday, instead turning his focus to former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who campaigned with him Monday. Kander, who narrowly lost a Senate race in November, was one of the few national party figures whom Ossoff’s team would use as surrogates given the party’s tenuous brand in the district.

Handel’s balancing act was to try to fire up the Republican base without mentioning the president’s name at all. There were few pieces of Trump paraphernalia to be seen at Handel’s second stop Monday — just one Make America Great Again hat and a handful of understated buttons. When it came time for the candidate herself to address the nationwide focus on her contest, just a day after she rallied with a pair of Cabinet secretaries, Trump’s name didn’t come up.

“The enthusiasm really is there: everywhere I go throughout the district, they don’t want someone who was hand-picked by Nancy Pelosi,” she said. “They want someone who can carry on the great leadership we’ve had from Tom Price, Johnny Isakson and Newt Gingrich.”

Trump, however, inserted himself into the race Monday by book-ending the day with tweets urging Georgians to support Handel and attacking Ossoff. An outside group run by members of his campaign team pumped in a late injection of cash to back Handel’s efforts.

Even as the candidates insisted that it’s unfair to read the race as anything more than a contest to represent a suburban Atlanta district, the national spotlight was unavoidable. The race is already by far the most expensive congressional contest ever — up to $50 million in spending, according to an Atlanta Journal Constitution tally — and national groups have reported pumping in over $750,000 in new investments to swing the vote in the final five days alone, according to a POLITICO analysis of federal filings.

Another reminder of the stakes came from former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, who sent Handel’s email list a stark warning: “With Election Day tomorrow, this race is in a dead heat with serious national implications.”

Then there was Kander, who stood next to Ossoff Monday and thanked his volunteers: “You know the whole country is watching.”

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Fighting for the Oppressed around the World with Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin

Sheriff Joe Arpaio is known for opposing immigrants in the United States. In the past, he has been accused of abusing the immigrants and turning a blind eye to the issues affecting immigrants. On his part, he encourages harassment, rape and child molestation. These are not the only people that he has managed to piss off in the past few years. He had been sued by Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin in a case they won receiving a settlement of $3.75 million. Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey are well known for their careers. Jim is the founder of an organization called Village Voice Media while Michael Lacey is the founder of Phoenix New Times.

The gentlemen said that they had filed a case against Joe on 18th October 2007 when he ordered their arrests. The two gentlemen had been arrested for exposing grand jury proceedings covering the sheriff. They are not the only people to be subpoenaed as the readers who had read the story were also issued with papers. Michael and Jim are known for dedicating their lives to defending the first amendment. The settlement was awarded by the ninth circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. They said that they would use the money for charitable causes within the state of Arizona and in the United States. Among the things that this fund will be used to fund include civic participation, freedom of speech and immigrants’ rights. The fund will also be used to fund human and civil rights movements.

Another organization that strives to change the lives of other people around the world is Amnesty International. Up to date, this organization has over 7 million members who help the organization in one way or the other. They say that their mission is to be part of research that will play a role in helping reduce human rights abuse. At the same time, the organization allocates some of its resources in helping people whose rights have been violated to get justice. This organization was born out of an article called the Forgotten Prisoners by an activist lawyer known as Peter Benenson. Amnesty International was, therefore, established in the year 1961 and has maintained its offices in London since then. This organization manages to change things by influencing public opinion. Once the public opinion about an issue has changed, they can exert pressure on the government which has to look into the issue.

Amnesty International focuses on several issues. These issues include prisoners of conscience as well as people who have been hindered from expressing their opinions because of one or two reasons. However, the organization has a mission of not interfering with political questions. Before the organization can engage on an issue, it has to do its due diligence to ensure that it has its facts correct. However, the organization emphasizes the need of solving issues in a non-violence way. Among the areas that they have specialized in the last 40 years include refugees’ rights, ending torture as well as rights of prisoners of conscience.

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The radical idea behind Trump’s EPA rollbacks

The Trump administration isn’t just pushing to dramatically shrink the Environmental Protection Agency, chop a third of its budget and hobble its regulatory powers. It’s also trying to permanently limit the EPA’s mission — while portraying doing so as a return to the agency’s roots.

What Administrator Scott Pruitt calls his “Back to Basics” agenda would refocus the agency on narrow goals such as cleaning up toxic waste and providing safe drinking water — the kinds of issues that inspired the EPA’s creation in 1970 amid a public outcry about burning rivers and smog-filled skies. But it would abandon the Obama administration’s climate regulations, along with other efforts that Pruitt argues exceed the agency’s legal authority.

President Donald Trump has endorsed this notion as well, promising that the U.S. will have “the cleanest air” and “the cleanest water” even in his speech this month repudiating the Paris climate agreement.

Pruitt has labeled this vision “EPA originalism,” in a nod to some conservatives’ long-running arguments that judges should interpret the Constitution as the Founders understood it. But several former EPA chiefs say Pruitt and Trump have it wrong — and that the agency’s mission was never as narrow as the current administration wants it to be.

“I don’t personally think you can say, ‘I’m somehow going back to what the basic responsibilities of EPA are,’” said Lee Thomas, who led the agency during Ronald Reagan’s second term. “That’s not what EPA is, that’s not where the laws are, and that’s not where the risk is.”

Christine Todd Whitman, George W. Bush’s first EPA administrator, disputes Pruitt’s decision to focus on a limited set of EPA programs, such as the toxic-waste cleanups it carries out under the 1980 Superfund law.

“I don’t think it has to be an either-or, nor should it be,” Whitman said, adding: “Superfund is not the only issue for human health. Water pollution is a huge issue and very important and you need to work on it, but it’s not the only issue. Air is an issue, too. Even if you don’t want to believe in climate change, you’ve got to believe that carbon and mercury are not good for you.”

EPA did not make Pruitt available for an interview, but he told Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that his aim is for EPA to achieve “tangible” results through “a restoration of its priorities,” such as cleaning up the nation’s 1,300 Superfund sites.

“These are issues that go directly to the health of our citizens that should be the absolute focus of this agency,” Pruitt told Strassel, who was the first to praise him as an “EPA originalist.” Pruitt added: “This president is a fixer, he’s an action-oriented leader, and a refocused EPA is in a great position to get results.”

Pruitt has also defended Trump’s proposal for a 31 percent budget cut at his agency in fiscal year 2018, which would force it to shed about a fifth of its workforce — saying EPA’s core functions would survive. “I believe we can fulfill the mission of our agency with a trimmed budget, with proper leadership and management,” he said at an appropriations hearing that had him fielding complaints from Republicans and Democrats alike.

On the other hand, Trump’s proposal would slash many of the same toxic-waste and clean-water programs that Pruitt has put at the center of the agency’s mission.

The tension highlights disputes over EPA’s role as environmental threats have evolved, as well as the Trump administration’s efforts to achieve lasting reductions in the government’s regulatory powers.

So far, Pruitt has launched rollbacks of Obama’s greenhouse gas rules for power plants, delayed deadlines for polluters and slowed agency work on new regulations, and most recently helped persuade Trump to withdraw from the Paris deal.

Pruitt has also placed a greater emphasis on considering economic concerns in the agency’s decisions. He has cited that reasoning when he has rolled back regulations on climate change, air pollution and clean water, even in cases where the Supreme Court has said costs cannot factor into a regulation.

“We’re going to improve the environment in this country, protect our water, protect our air, but at the same time do it the American way,” Pruitt said in an April speech at a coal mine in Sycamore, Pennsylvania. “Grow jobs and show the rest of the world that we can achieve it.”

But the powers of the EPA administrator are limited: While he or she can have huge influence over the agency’s direction, Congress has laid out its scope and responsibilities in laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

That means Pruitt cannot act like a “tinhorn dictator” by deciding which laws to avoid “in favor of economic development,” said Thomas Jorling, a former Senate Republican staffer who co-authored the Clean Air Act in 1970 and the Clean Water Act in 1972. Jorling, who filed a court brief last year defending the Obama EPA’s landmark climate regulation, accused Pruitt of being “disingenuous” by focusing the agency on a limited set of priorities.

“It’s all basically a smokescreen to their real intention, which is kind of a moral and ethical corruption, to … restore the dependence of the United States energy system on fossil fuels,” Jorling said.

Pruitt maintains that the agency’s Obama-era leaders vastly overstepped EPA’s authority by issuing regulations such as its greenhouse gas limits for power plants. Pruitt previously made that argument while waging legal fights against the EPA when he was Oklahoma attorney general.

Pruitt said last month that he has not yet decided whether to craft new climate rules after repealing the Obama versions.

But his Republicans critics say it’s wrong to reject climate change as an EPA priority, even if there’s room for debate on the scope of Obama’s actions. The Supreme Court has ruled that EPA must regulate greenhouse gases if they threaten human health and welfare, which the agency has concluded they do.

States say Superfund sites are big issues in their communities, said Thomas, the former Reagan administration EPA leader, but the risks of climate change are “significantly higher.”

“There’s a lot more uncertainty around [global warming], but that doesn’t mean you don’t deal with it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the rollbacks under Pruitt go well beyond climate change. Pruitt has ordered a rewrite of the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. rule, a sweeping regulation that sought to define which waterways and wetlands fall under the federal government’s purview. And he remains critical of the Obama administration’s efforts to tighten smog standards when much of the country has yet to meet previous limits — even though the Clean Air Act says EPA is supposed to base those decisions solely on the latest health science.

In addition, Pruitt has said his philosophy will involve fewer instances of the federal government overriding state cleanup plans it deems insufficient. And he says EPA will use fewer consent decrees — settlements negotiated with companies that have violated regulations — a practice Republicans have long criticized as “regulation by litigation.”

Instead, Pruitt aims to focus on the Superfund program, cleanups of polluted “brownfields,” and drinking water infrastructure, all of which involve economic development. He has also placed an emphasis on implementing last year’s bipartisan chemical safety reforms, especially the process that approves new chemicals for use in products.

Myron Ebell, a longtime critic of climate change science and the Trump administration’s former transition leader for EPA, supports Pruitt’s originalism mission because it dials back the agency’s reach.

“It seems to me EPA has fairly clear statutory responsibilities under a number of statutes, and those statutory responsibilities should come first,” said Ebell, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and the Environment.

“But over time and particularly in the Obama administration, they have taken on a whole lot of things which are entirely discretionary, that they don’t have to do, they’re not required by law to do it, but they decided to do it anyway,” Ebell added.

But Jorling, the former Republican staffer, said people like Ebell have their history wrong.

Jorling said he and Leon Billings, his late Democratic counterpart in writing the landmark air and water laws that Pruitt is now entrusted to enforce, believed that the statutes they wrote were not static. Instead, they were designed to adapt to new situations.

“It’s a complete misreading of those statutes and it really denigrates the senators and members of Congress that I worked for and with at the time,” he said of the arguments Pruitt and his supporters make. “They were very concerned that you don’t just write a statute for the past. You write a statute for the future.”

Georgetown environmental law professor William Buzbee agreed that the laws’ legislative history shows they were “not written to be frozen in time, but to give EPA important protective roles that will evolve in light of improved science and understanding of emerging risks.”

For example, the Clean Air Act includes a catch-all provision, Section 111, that allowsd the agency to address newly discovered pollutants not covered elsewhere in the law. EPA had used that provision just five times over the decades, mostly on obscure pollutants, before the Obama administration wielded it to target carbon dioxide from power plants.

Gina McCarthy, Pruitt’s immediate predecessor as EPA administrator, said it’s “crazy” to believe that the agency’s role was not intended to evolve to include new problems like climate change.

“Is EPA supposed to respond and say, ‘We’re really busy cleaning up Superfund sites from the ’60s. We really can’t address the problems that you’re facing today?’” McCarthy asked. “Is that what they’re really suggesting? And as long as we catch up with the damage that was in place when these laws came in, that we’ll have done our job? That doesn’t make any sense.”

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