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    Scaramucci declares war on Priebus, Bannon


    Anthony Scaramucci, the flashy and sometimes profane Wall Street financier, was brought on as White House communications director last Friday. It’s already clear he’s a lot more than that.In six days, he has launched a brutally edged campaign to...

    Anthony Scaramucci, the flashy and sometimes profane Wall Street financier, was brought on as White House communications director last Friday. It’s already clear he’s a lot more than that.

    In six days, he has launched a brutally edged campaign to identify White House leakers, threatened to “fire everybody” in the communications shop, and has declared war on chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon.

    Scaramucci, who boasted that he reports directly to President Donald Trump, has described his role as “fixing the place,” said one person who spoke with him this week.

    And he’s wasting no time.

    In a vulgar interview with The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza on Wednesday night, Scaramucci laced into Priebus for trying to “c--- block” him from a job in the White House, called him a “f------ paranoid schizophrenic,” and questioned Bannon’s loyalty.

    “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own c---,” he said.

    One person who talked with Scaramucci said he talks openly about getting rid of Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chairman whose job has appeared to be in jeopardy for months.

    "He's got to go," this person said, summarizing Scaramucci’s comments about Priebus.


    It’s unclear how the New Yorker interview will impact Scaramucci’s standing with Trump, but the president has already praised Scaramucci’s brawler instincts, including his ability to get a retraction from CNN on an article that linked Scaramucci to the Russia investigations. But his attacks on fellow aides are sure to draw some condemnations and questions about his own future in the West Wing.

    Scaramucci suggested in a tweet on Thursday evening that he would pull back on the profanities, but he did not apologize. "I sometimes use colorful language. I will refrain in this arena but not give up the passionate fight for @realDonaldTrump's agenda. #MAGA," he wrote.

    Later in the evening, he appeared to push some of the blame on Lizza. "I made a mistake in trusting in a reporter. It won't happen again," he tweeted.

    Lizza, however, wrote in his piece that Scaramucci did not ask for the conversation to be off the record or on background.

    One White House official described the incident as a bump in the road for Scaramucci — and said that there was no expectation that he would be fired or punished for the interview. Nor any expectation that Trump will be inflamed by it.

    "He didn't say anything negative about Trump," this person said.

    White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered a defense of Scaramucci on Fox News on Thursday evening, saying he's someone who's "very passionate" about Trump.

    "This is a guy who sometimes uses colorful, and in many circles probably not appropriate language," Sanders said. "He's very passionate about the president and the president's agenda, and I think he may have let that get the best of him in that conversation."

    Scaramucci’s arrival was described by one adviser as “a cannonball from a diving board into a pool.” With his brash outer-borough New York ethos and flair for showmanship, Scaramucci is perhaps more like Trump himself than anyone else on the White House staff — and his appointment is a clear signal that the president is walking away from his initial embrace of establishment Republicans familiar with Washington.

    Instead, Trump is choosing the gut-driven approach that won him the presidency. And that especially doesn’t bode well for Priebus.

    The chief of staff has seen his power base steadily erode, losing first his deputy Katie Walsh, who departed the administration in March and recently returned to the RNC, and then press secretary Sean Spicer, who resigned after it was clear that Scaramucci would be above him in the West Wing.

    Some in the West Wing had thought it would be Priebus who would leave once the news of Scaramucci’s hiring broke.

    In a potentially ominous sign, Priebus’ usual defenders in the White House seemed subdued on Thursday, a noticeable shift from earlier in the administration, when public criticism of the chief of staff was met with a rapid response. No one seemed empowered to defend Priebus, unlike in the early days, when two paragraphs in a story about him could prompt six or more phone calls.

    One person who spoke with Priebus over the weekend said he’d wanted to make it to one year in the White House, but has settled for staying “at least through health care.”

    One reason Priebus and his allies opposed Scaramucci coming on board was that they knew “he wouldn’t just be a comms person going on TV,” one West Wing official said.

    Priebus has begun calling allies and asking for advice on whether he should stay in the job and how he should handle the situation, according to people familiar with the talks. One such call went to Speaker Paul Ryan earlier this week, who advised Priebus to stay and that the president needed him. “They speak often,” said Doug Andres, a Ryan spokesman, who declined to comment further.


    Priebus has continued to hold daily meetings in his office, but people no longer feel like they have to attend, one senior White House official said.

    Newly elevated press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to give Priebus a direct vote of confidence at the daily briefing Thursday, saying the president would “let you know” if he wasn’t happy with his staff. “The president enjoys healthy competition,” Sanders said.

    Scaramucci got the president’s blessing before going on television and criticizing Priebus on Thursday morning — just before the daily 8 a.m. meeting where Priebus typically tries with little luck to set the agenda for the day.

    The communications director, who described Priebus last week as a sibling-style rival, responded to a question about his relationship with the chief of staff by mentioning the biblical brothers Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel.

    Scaramucci taunted Priebus over leaks again, hours after posting and then deleting a tweet that seemed to suggest he believed Priebus had been involved in the release of his financial disclosure, a public document that was released by a federal government agency. “If he wants to prove he’s not a leaker, let him do it,” Scaramucci said on CNN.

    He said there are only two people who can be trusted in the White House. “I can tell you two fish that don’t stink,” Scaramucci said to CNN. “That’s me and the president.”

    “There are people inside this administration that think it’s their job to save America from this president,” he added.

    Priebus told others he did not leak Scaramucci’s financial disclosure form and that he doesn’t understand why Scaramucci would make such an accusation without facts. He has tried to soldier on in the job, showing up early in the West Wing every morning. “Everyone knows he’s not in charge,” said one senior West Wing official.

    Whether Scaramucci, who seems to have an innate understanding of Trump, remains his “flavor of the month,” in the words of one adviser, seems unclear. But friends say Trump is already more comfortable with Scaramucci — who is forceful and smooth on TV — and that he respects Scaramucci for his business acumen.

    “If this is less of a s---show because Anthony Scaramucci is imposing some discipline and getting things done, that’s good for the country. It’s good for the country to have a functioning government even if you disagree vehemently,” said Stu Loeser, a friend and former press secretary to Michael Bloomberg. “Anthony is helping the president and will continue to help the president.”

    Loeser's comments came before Scaramucci's New Yorker interview published.


    Scaramucci doesn’t have much government experience, and that could create problems, said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University, even if Trump loves his machismo and public appearances. The administration is far behind on staffing and has struggled to get its legislative agenda through.

    “It is totally out of control, chaos,” Zelizer said. “This is unnerving people in Washington and everywhere, where the president’s advisers can’t get him to do anything and are behaving like this.”

    Trent Lott, a lobbyist and former Senate Majority Leader, said he didn’t understand the reasoning behind some of the White House's actions, particularly the president’s tweets.

    “They really need to get some positive things to talk about,” Lott said.

    And Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who serves as a surrogate for Trump, offered some advice to Priebus, as he copes with being on the ropes: "Just do your job."

    "Ignore the noise, assume it's noise," he said in an interview. "He's the chief of staff and he's the chief of staff until he isn't."

    Annie Karni contributed to this report.


    Pentagon takes no steps to enforce Trump's transgender ban


    The Pentagon is bracing for White House guidance on enforcing President Donald Trump's decision to ban transgender people from the armed forces — orders that military and legal experts say could kick out thousands of troops who just a year ago were...

    The Pentagon is bracing for White House guidance on enforcing President Donald Trump's decision to ban transgender people from the armed forces — orders that military and legal experts say could kick out thousands of troops who just a year ago were told they could serve openly.

    The White House indicated Thursday that the president intends to carry out the decision he announced in a series of tweets that, taken at face value, would mean drumming out all service members who identify as transgender.

    “The White House will work with the Department of Defense and all of the relevant parties to make sure that we fully implement this policy moving forward and do so in a lawful manner," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.

    "They are going to have to work out the details," she added.

    Ultimately, it will be up to the Pentagon to begin updating its guidelines. But it is unclear whether the troops in question — as many as 15,000 by some estimates — would face honorable or dishonorable discharges if the military indeed forces them out.

    A dishonorable discharge would strip them of access to a number of veterans’ benefits, including mental health and educational help.

    But even an honorable discharge could be problematic, said Kristofer Goldsmith, president and founder of High Ground Veterans Advocacy, a civic group for military veterans.

    When troops were discharged under the so-called "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy — which permitted gays and lesbians to serve only if they kept their sexual orientation secret — the reason for discharge was listed as “homosexual admission” or “homosexual conduct” on the official forms, essentially outing the veterans to potential employers.

    Congress and then-President Barack Obama lifted the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in late 2010.

    Goldsmith said it’s unclear if the Trump administration will create a “transgender” separation code that could reveal veterans’ gender identities to future employers and potentially create problems.


    “I think that’s very possible,” he said. “Until we receive further guidance from the White House, I’m just going to assume the worst.”

    The president said Wednesday in a series of three tweets that transgender troops would no longer be allowed to serve "in any capacity." The announcement sparked fierce criticism from lawmakers in both parties, while advocacy groups immediately threatened to take the president to court to overturn any ban.

    In the most dramatic sign of confusion, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs wrote in a message to top military officers on Thursday that there will be “no modifications” to the military’s transgender policy, until the White House drafts a formal request for a policy change.

    Marine Gen. Joe Dunford also told the chiefs of the military branches and senior enlisted leaders that the military will continue to “treat all of our personnel with respect.”

    “I know there are questions about yesterday's announcement on the transgender policy by the President,” Dunford wrote in the internal communication. “There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President's direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.”

    Dunford's message was seconded later in the day by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' chief spokeswoman.

    "The Department of Defense is awaiting formal guidance from the White House as a follow-up to the Commander-in-Chief's announcement on military service by transgender personnel," Dana White said. "We will provide detailed guidance to the Department in the near future for how this policy change will be implemented.

    "The Department will continue to focus on our mission of defending our nation and on-going operations against our foes, while ensuring all servicemembers are treated with respect," she added.

    The Pentagon's position underscored how the military, like legal experts, does not consider the president's social media pronouncements to be policy.

    In an appearance at the National Press Club, Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, said later Thursday that Dunford is “exactly right” and that the military will work through new guidance when it gets a formal directive from the White House through normal channels.

    “We grow up and learn to obey the chain of command, and my chain of command is secretary of the Army, secretary of Defense and the president,” Milley said. “We will work through the implementation guidance when we get it. …To my knowledge, the Department of Defense, Secretary Mattis has not received written directives yet.”

    Milley also doubled down on Dunford’s message that every service member — “bar none” — should and will always be treated with dignity and respect.


    Under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military faced criticism for its efforts to find gay and lesbian troops and kick them out of the military. In one example, the Navy tried to kick out a sailor for identifying himself as gay in an AOL directory associated with his personal email account. The sailor sued the military and was ultimately allowed to retire with his full benefits.

    Goldsmith also said advocacy groups are worried about a similar effort to locate and remove transgender service members.

    “Without any court hearings, without any opportunity to defend themselves, they’re administratively separated. Their entire life could be turned upside down,” Goldsmith said. “The lack of humanity of those tweets makes it seem like the president would not protect people from that type of inquisition. That is extremely disturbing.”

    Matt Thorn, the executive director of OutServe-SLDN, an advocacy group for sexual minorities in the military, said that because of the vagueness of Trump’s tweets, the policy could be anything from searching for and kicking out transgender troops to merely blocking new transgender recruits from entering the military.

    “There are so many questions,” Thorn said. “It’s unprecedented. DoD has never reversed itself on a major policy like this.”

    But Thorn said he believed that Mattis would protect troops from the harshest fate. He cited the secretary’s remarks at his confirmation hearing about not rolling back protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military members, as well as his criticism of an amendment from Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) that would have stopped the military from paying for gender reassignment surgery.

    “I just don’t see him being vicious on this,” Thorn said. “If he’s forced by the president do to this, I think he’ll be as methodical as possible and will tread very carefully.”

    Only a formal directive through the chain of command would lead to a real policy change, said Tobias Wolff, a professor at University of Pennsylvania Law School.

    He said Dunford’s statement makes it clear that the Pentagon does not make major changes to its policy because of a tweet — “and he was right to do so.”

    “The chairman of the joint chiefs is respecting the rule of law and the role of the secretary of Defense, and he is protecting commanders in the field from having good order and discipline undermined,” Wolff said. “General Dunford should never have been put in this position. It is a reflection of the crisis we now face with this increasingly unstable and reckless individual occupying the presidency.”

    Dru Brenner-Beck, a retired Army judge advocate general and president of the National Institute for Military Justice, told POLITICO that under normal procedure the president would issue an executive order instructing the Pentagon to go about changing the department’s personnel policy. But that would occur only after Defense Department officials coordinated with various parts of the military and weighed in on the proposed changes in the draft order.

    Brenner-Beck said it’s legally questionable whether a declaration from the president’s personal social media account is enough to launch the process of rewriting Pentagon regulations.


    “How do you implement a tweet?” she said. “Usually you would have some kind of an actual policy document that comes down.”

    A Defense Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Thursday that the Pentagon is scrambling to coordinate with the White House for guidance, noting the urgent need to explain to the troops what it means.

    Transgender troops — who by some estimates number as much as 15,000 and as few as 1,300 — have been allowed to serve openly since June 2016. The Pentagon has been studying ways to implement the decision for new recruits, including questions about housing and medical care.

    Mattis last month ordered that review to be extended another six months.

    The Pentagon's policy changes have not been without controversy. House Republicans, as part of defense spending legislation now under consideration, have sought to prohibit the Pentagon from paying for troops' gender transition surgery.

    But virtually no one has suggested drumming them out of the military altogether.

    "Everyone was confused and I think there are still confused," said Radha Iyengar, a senior economist at the government-funded RAND Corp., who wrote a recent study for the Pentagon on the medical costs associated with transgender service members. "I think the Joint Chiefs statement helps that but we are waiting to see what the actual policy is."


    Inside Trump’s snap decision to ban transgender troops


    After a week sparring with his attorney general and steaming over the Russia investigation consuming his agenda, President Donald Trump was closing in on an important win. House Republicans were planning to pass a spending bill stacked with his campaign...

    After a week sparring with his attorney general and steaming over the Russia investigation consuming his agenda, President Donald Trump was closing in on an important win.

    House Republicans were planning to pass a spending bill stacked with his campaign promises, including money to build his border wall with Mexico.

    But an internal House Republican fight over transgender troops was threatening to blow up the bill. And House GOP insiders feared they might not have the votes to pass the legislation because defense hawks wanted a ban on Pentagon-funded sex reassignment operations — something GOP leaders wouldn’t give them.

    They turned to Trump, who didn’t hesitate. In the flash of a tweet, he announced that transgender troops would be banned altogether.

    Trump’s sudden decision was, in part, a last-ditch attempt to save a House proposal full of his campaign promises that was on the verge of defeat, numerous congressional and White House sources said.

    The president had always planned to scale back policies put in place during the administration of President Barack Obama welcoming such individuals in combat and greenlighting the military to pay for their medical treatment plans. But a behind-the-scenes GOP brawl threatening to tank a Pentagon funding increase and wall construction hastened Trump’s decision.

    Numerous House conservatives and defense hawks this week had threatened to derail their own legislation if it did not include a prohibition on Pentagon funding for gender reassignment surgeries, which they deem a waste of taxpayer money. But GOP leaders were caught in a pinch between those demands and those of moderate Republicans who considered the proposal blatantly discriminatory.

    “There are several members of the conference who feel this really needs to be addressed,” senior House Appropriations Committee member Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said Tuesday. “This isn’t about the transgender issue; it’s about the taxpayer dollars going to pay for the surgery out of the defense budget.”


    That’s why House lawmakers took the matter to the Trump administration. And when Defense Secretary James Mattis refused to immediately upend the policy, they went straight to the White House. Trump — never one for political correctness — was all too happy to oblige.

    “[P]lease be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

    The president’s directive, of course, took the House issue a step beyond paying for gender reassignment surgery and other medical treatment. House Republicans were never debating expelling all transgender troops from the military.

    “This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire,” a senior House Republican aide said in an email. The source said that although GOP leaders asked the White House for help on the taxpayer matter specifically, they weren’t expecting — and got no heads up on — Trump’s far-reaching directive.

    While Democrats and centrist Republicans are already blasting the move, one White House official said the decision would be “seen as common-sense” by millions — though likely vociferously protested by others. White House officials also noted that conservatives had pushed for the ban, including in a May letter that was signed by dozens of right-leaning groups.

    “It’s not the worst thing in the world to have this fight,” the administration official said.

    The announcement, multiple sources said, did not sit well with Mattis, who appeared to be trying to avoid the matter in recent weeks. An extensive Defense Department review of the policy was already underway, but a decision wasn’t expected for months.

    Insiders said Mattis felt there was no need to rush upending the policy, arguing the Pentagon needed time to study the issue. Its decision would affect at least 2,450 transgender active-military personnel, according to a Rand report — though military LGBT activist groups say as many as 15,000 soldiers fall into that category.

    That timeline, however, wasn’t good enough for House Republicans. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), the original author of the House’s transgender proposal, attempted to reach Mattis by phone numerous times in recent weeks to discuss the transgender issue.


    Mattis only got back to her the day she forced the matter on the House floor in mid-July. And, according to Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who opposed the Hartzler proposal, Mattis asked Hartzler to withdraw her amendment and give him space to maneuver.

    Lawmakers, including Hartzler, went around Mattis to engage the White House. Mattis knew the ban was being considered and was consulted before the announcement, according to several White House officials. But the decision ultimately came down from Trump and was “White House-driven,” Trump aides said.

    The president was also annoyed by the Pentagon delay, one person said. A different official said the White House had gotten positive reaction from conservatives, an important factor amid their displeasure with Trump’s recent bashing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    The transgender fight first surfaced in the House a few weeks ago. With the backing of almost the entire GOP Conference, Hartzler offered an amendment to a defense authorization bill that would ban funding for gender reassignment surgeries and treatments for transgender active-duty personnel.

    Republican supporters were shocked when a group of 24 mostly moderate Republicans teamed up with 190 Democrats to kill the effort in a 209-214 vote.

    Republicans spent much of a closed-door GOP Conference meeting the next morning steaming about what happened.

    “It’s not so much the transgender surgery issue as much as we continue to let the defense bill be the mule for all of these social experiments that the left wants to try to [foist] on government,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a conservative supporter of the Hartzler proposal, said last week.

    He added: “It seems to me, and all due respect to everyone, that if someone wants to come to the military, potentially risk their life to save the country, that they should probably decide whether they’re a man or woman before they do that.”


    Supporters of Hartzler’s proposal were determined to try again. Last week, they began pushing GOP leadership to use a procedural trick to automatically include the controversial proposal in a Pentagon spending package set for a floor vote this week. The idea was to tuck the provision into a rules package governing the legislation, sidestepping a second potentially unsuccessful amendment vote and adding it to the bill without a floor fight.

    Under intense pressure from moderates in the Tuesday Group to reject the idea, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his team shied away from the strategy, worried that it would make them look hypocritical for circumventing regular order.

    “Leadership should respect the will of the House — and that’s already been expressed,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a centrist who opposed the amendment. “These transgender service-people are serving our country and have signed up and agreed to risk their lives for this country, so we want to honor that commitment as well.”


    That’s when lawmakers turned to the White House for help. They figured the administration could speed up a decision and settle the dispute once and for all.

    “Conservatives were telling [the] White House they didn’t want money in a spending bill to go to transgender health services,” said one senior administration official, noting that it accelerated Trump’s decision.

    Their argument fell on sympathetic ears, White House sources said. Chief strategist Steve Bannon encouraged Trump to deal with the matter now.

    Now, some Republicans are having buyer's remorse. They didn't realize Trump was going to ban transgender people from serving in the military altogether.

    Franks, the Hartzler amendment supporter, told POLITICO that his push was more narrowly tailored to the medical procedures issue — not an all-out ban on transgender people. He wasn't sure what he thought about the broader prohibition, saying he needed to look into it further.

    Still, some, like Hartzler, were elated.

    "This was the right call by our commander in chief, to make sure every defense dollar goes toward meeting the threats that we are facing in the world," she said in an interview. "The entire [Obama-era transgender] policy… is a detriment to our readiness."


    McCain 'no' kills Senate Obamacare repeal


    The Senate Republicans’ push to dismantle Obamacare collapsed in dramatic fashion early Friday morning, when two centrist GOP women and Sen. John McCain of Arizona teamed up to sink an already scaled-back effort to dismantle the 2010 health care law....

    The Senate Republicans’ push to dismantle Obamacare collapsed in dramatic fashion early Friday morning, when two centrist GOP women and Sen. John McCain of Arizona teamed up to sink an already scaled-back effort to dismantle the 2010 health care law.

    McCain and GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska sided with all 48 Democrats to reject the Republicans’ so-called skinny repeal plan, tanking the measure by a vote of 49-51. The Senate GOP had already pretty much shunned the proposal, viewing it mostly as a route to go into negotiations with the House.

    But in gripping floor drama that began to unfold after midnight Friday, it appeared McCain had his mind made up that he would be the pivotal third vote to kill off the GOP's Obamacare repeal effort. Vice President Mike Pence talked to him at length, but it didn’t seem to change the Arizonan’s mind.

    "I do my job as a senator," McCain said after he left the Senate chamber, saying he voted against the Obamacare repeal bill "because I thought it was the right vote." He said he wouldn't go through his thought process.

    McCain previewed what was to come shortly before he entered the chamber, telling reporters: “Watch the show." Still, the veteran Republican and self-styled maverick ended up stunning his colleagues and others inside the chamber, who audibly gasped when he voted "no" on the Obamacare repeal measure.

    "I don't think we all knew until he actually did it," said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

    “This is clearly a disappointing moment,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said shortly after the vote failed at 1:40 a.m. Friday. “We worked really hard to try to develop a consensus for a better way forward.”

    He added: “Yes, this is a disappointment. A disappointment indeed.”

    The bizarre turn of events — GOP senators were gearing up to vote for a bill few if any of them actually support — came on a frenetic day of the Republican Party’s tortured bid to upend the Democratic health care law.

    On Thursday afternoon, McCain had already threatened to tank the bare-bones bill, along with Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). Saying the bill would wreak further havoc on the health care system, the trio demanded that the bill, if they voted for it, would be just the starting point for negotiations with the House. They worried that if the Senate approved the bill, the House would quickly follow suit and send it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

    After Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) offered a somewhat ambiguous commitment to go to a conference committee, several GOP senators said they still weren’t satisfied. The House leader then personally reassured a handful of senators in phone calls that the House will enter negotiations with the Senate if it passes its bill. That was enough for at least Graham and a handful of others to move forward.

    The House "will go to conference, and under no circumstances does he believe the skinny bill is good policy or good politics," Graham said of the discussion with Ryan. "He doesn't want us to be the party that repeals part of Obamacare and leaves most of it in place … The bottom line here is I think Paul sees the skinny bill as a vehicle to find a better solution.”

    But not — ultimately — for McCain.


    "I wanted to talk to him some more," McCain said, referring to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. "It's always important to talk to your governor."

    Asked how he would vote, the normally voluble McCain said: "I am not discussing that."

    The so-called skinny repeal bill would have killed Obamacare’s individual coverage mandate permanently and its employer mandate for eight years. It would also give states flexibility to opt out of some Obamacare regulations, defund Planned Parenthood for a year, repeal the medical device tax for three years and allow more pre-tax money to pay for health savings accounts.

    It was a far less dramatic rollback of the law than most Senate Republicans have previously supported.

    The Congressional Budget Office estimated late Thursday that the finalized GOP bill would leave 16 million fewer people uninsured than under the current law by 2026, while reducing the deficit by nearly $179 billion over that same time frame.

    Senate GOP leaders had viewed the measure as a bridge to continued negotiations, not a policy solution. They didn't want to be blamed for being the chamber that killed Obamacare repeal, and aimed to pass the slimmed down repeal plan in the wee hours of the morning Friday.

    Still, the outcome had remained murky late into the night. Ahead of the vote, Capito said she’d decided how she would vote but would not announce her position until bill comes up. Murkowski said the same. A spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said he was still undecided after the text was unveiled. But most other Republicans had signed on by Thursday evening, boosting confidence after doubts crept in hours earlier.


    Graham, Johnson and McCain had demanded an ironclad commitment from Ryan that the House would not take up and pass the Senate’s bill. In a statement a few hours later, Ryan sought to reassure the Senate while declining to guarantee that the Senate’s bill, which would cause a spike in premiums and millions more to be uninsured, would not become law.

    It was a tepid endorsement of the Senate leadership's drive to pass something — anything — in order to keep moving forward, but hardly more than that.

    "It is now obvious that the only path ahead is for the Senate to pass the narrow legislation that it is currently considering. This package includes important reforms like eliminating the job-killing employer mandate and the requirement that forces people to purchase coverage they don’t want," Ryan said. "Still it is not enough to solve the many failures of Obamacare. Senators have made clear that this is an effort to keep the process alive, not to make law. If moving forward requires a conference committee, that is something the House is willing to do."

    Most senators agreed that the skinny repeal was not good health care policy.

    “The skinny bill as policy is a disaster,” Graham said, explaining it would cause a crisis in the insurance markets. “I need assurances from the House speaker … if I don’t [get them], I’m a no.”

    On Thursday evening, before the “vote-a-rama” kicked off, GOP leaders were cautiously optimistic they would succeed despite the differing views on Ryan’s commitment.


    At a party lunch Thursday, McConnell made one last frantic plea to his Senate Republican members to keep the party’s Obamacare repeal bid alive. Republicans must get 50 of their 52 members on board; Pence would break a 50-50 tie to pass the bill.

    The Senate majority leader picked up some key votes, including Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Not everyone was sold, but GOP leaders were emphasizing that the bill, which would slash Obamacare’s coverage mandates and result in millions more uninsured, is not the ultimate goal. The bill also did not cut Medicaid.

    Brent Griffiths contributed to this report.


    Tax reform: Is that all there is?


    The White House, the Treasury Department and congressional leaders issued a six-paragraph statement Thursday that tried to show off their commitment to pursuing tax reform without delving into any policy specifics.The only problem? Tax overhauls live and...

    The White House, the Treasury Department and congressional leaders issued a six-paragraph statement Thursday that tried to show off their commitment to pursuing tax reform without delving into any policy specifics.

    The only problem? Tax overhauls live and die on details — and their absence, after months of weekly meetings aimed at achieving consensus, showed that the GOP’s dream of achieving tax reform may be years from completion.

    Missing from the “Big Six” leaders' statement were details such as what rates Republicans think major corporations, the wealthiest individuals and the middle class should pay. Also unresolved were the status of the estate tax and the fate of prized tax breaks, such as the ability to deduct business interest and state and local taxes.

    It was even briefer and less detailed than the one-page tax proposal that the Treasury Department and White House released in April, which drew widespread criticism at the time for being too short.

    The lone policy detail Thursday came in paragraph five when, after urging Congress to take the lead in writing tax legislation in the coming weeks, the group collectively killed off the so-called border adjustment tax, a pet project of House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas).

    The border tax, which would have applied to goods brought into the U.S., was one of the key ways that House tax writers had devised to pay for the lower rates that President Donald Trump covets, particularly his desire to reduce the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. Supporters had estimated that the border tax would bring in as much as $1 trillion over the coming decade that could have offset cuts elsewhere. But it prompted fierce opposition from retailers, other import-dependent industries and conservative activists.


    A House leadership aide said Ryan willingly dropped the idea.

    “His top priority is getting meaningful tax reform done,” the aide said. “He had no interest in holding up reform over this one policy, no matter how right he believes it to be.”

    Border adjustment had to go now for the good of demonstrating consensus to constituents during August, rank-and-file Ways and Means members said.

    “There is not question that this provision was controversial,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), adding that “Kevin Brady is not a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy.”

    But some people who had been awaiting the statement expressed deep disappointment with the results.

    “This literally started as principles yesterday and morphed into mindless pablum in 24 hours,” said one tax lobbyist, disappointed by the statement’s brevity.

    "A few vague paragraphs isn’t even a 'broad strokes' proposal — it’s more like finger painting," Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) said in a statement.

    Among other things, the death of the border tax leaves open the question of how the administration and Congress plan to offset deep tax cuts, as well as how low they intend to bring down rates.

    “The big pieces are simplification and helping take off relief for the middle class,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during Thursday’s briefing. “Those are big places we are really focused. We will continue to do that. As you saw from the statement, the border adjustment tax was taken off the table. That's another big step forward in the process.”

    Besides Ryan and Brady, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn signed the statement.


    The joint statement gave no details as to how the leaders plan to address middle-class anxiety through the tax code.

    That lack of specificity underscored the difficulties of the revenue and policy battles ahead. And Republican lawmakers know it.

    “That makes the conversation more difficult because we all now — 50 out of 52 of us — have to agree on some number for short-term deficits,” said Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, a Finance Committee member.

    He and others on the panel see rate reduction as the key to unlocking more economic growth for the U.S. But the joint statement’s lack of rate targets for companies and individuals indicates that the leaders acknowledge that Trump’s 15 percent business tax goal would be too expensive.

    It also indicates that other options for taxes on international income remain in play, such as a minimum tax favored in the Senate. The idea hasn’t proved popular in the past, but Congress is under pressure to address corporations’ motivations to shelter their money overseas rather than bring it back to the U.S.

    As part of a switch to a territorial tax system, the minimum tax would affect the profits that U.S. companies book in foreign tax havens. It’s likely to face opposition from the pharmaceutical and technology industries that now enjoy low effective tax rates.

    To some analysts and lobbyists, the statement also seemed to sideline the idea of letting all businesses immediately write off all new investments, known as full expensing.

    In the meantime, the six principals who signed the statement will play a steering role as committee staffers begin drafting legislation over the coming recess. That coordination is meant to keep the process within the broadly agreed framework so that a unified plan emerges in September — avoiding the kind of disjointed effort that’s plaguing Republican efforts to upend the Affordable Care Act.

    Rachael Bade contributed to this report.


    Want to see bipartisanship in Washington? Fire Mueller


    Democrats and Republicans alike are growing increasingly strident with their warnings to the White House that Washington would reach a political breaking point — with no turning back for President Donald Trump — if he tries to fire special counsel...

    Democrats and Republicans alike are growing increasingly strident with their warnings to the White House that Washington would reach a political breaking point — with no turning back for President Donald Trump — if he tries to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

    “Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency unless Mueller did something wrong,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who in the late 1990s served as a House impeachment manager against President Bill Clinton, told reporters on Thursday.

    “Honestly, it’d be a full blown constitutional crisis,” cautioned Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

    Trump has long complained about the multiple probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which have heightened tensions in Washington and at times distracted the White House from its policy goals. While Trump has not said he plans to fire the special counsel, his top aides have acknowledged the subject has come up.

    The many rumblings about Mueller’s future — which intensified over the past week after Trump publicly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the whole Russia affair — could unite lawmakers from both parties in a way few issues have.

    Graham on Thursday outlined bipartisan legislation that would block Trump from firing the special counsel — by requiring a judicial review first. And while that sounds like a long shot in a Congress controlled by Republicans, and with the president’s veto pen waiting, lawmakers aren’t backing down from their own investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

    In an interview Thursday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said his investigation with Democratic Sen. Mark Warner would continue no matter what Trump did to Mueller.


    “I think there are a number of options” for Congress if Mueller did get fired, Burr said, though he would not offer any details.

    “I’d say the easiest way is to make sure there is no change in the special counsel,” he added. “I’m just hopeful they won’t choose that route to go down.”

    Firing Mueller wouldn’t end the FBI investigation, either. The agents assigned to the Russia election meddling case would keep plugging away at their leads, law enforcement sources say.

    “Getting rid of Mueller doesn’t eliminate the wheels in motion,” said Asha Rangappa, an associate dean at Yale Law School and a former special agent in the FBI’s counterintelligence division.

    Trump, his lawyers and his surrogates have for weeks tried to publicly discredit Mueller’s effort, in particular several attorneys he’s brought onto the task force who have made campaign contributions to Democrats. The Republican president’s lawyer has also questioned the scope of the Mueller probe as it reportedly looks into Trump’s business dealings dating back well before he ran for the presidency. And by bashing Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation, as well as other moves by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Trump has sent repeated signals he could be laying the groundwork to kill the Mueller probe.

    To do that, Trump could order his Justice Department leadership to get rid of the special counsel, and then fire and replace them until they follow his instructions — much as President Richard Nixon did in the “Saturday Night Massacre.”

    In an interview with The New York Times last week, Trump sidestepped a direct question about whether he would consider firing Mueller.

    “I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said.

    But the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in a Tuesday morning interview that the subject has come up during his talks with Trump.


    “I'll be on the record with this: In candid conversations with the president, I've said, 'Why would you fire him?'” Scaramucci said.

    Democrats and even some Republicans aren’t buying those assurances.

    “If I were on White House staff, I’d be concerned about public perception of interrupting that process,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, a freshman Republican from Louisiana who serves on the House Judiciary Committee. “I just think they need to proceed very carefully.”

    Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he’s been in talks with Graham and other senators about their legislative effort, which would require the courts to review any White House attempt to fire a special counsel investigating a president.

    “There are definitely conversations about what can and should be done if Robert Mueller is fired because the president has raised it implicitly in some of his statements,” Blumenthal said.

    Trump’s public humiliation of Sessions this week has fueled speculation the president might fire his attorney general. Legal experts say Sessions was right to recuse himself since he played a public role in Trump’s 2016 campaign, but Trump said he wouldn’t have picked the Alabama Republican if he’d known Sessions would step back from the investigation.

    For now, Sessions is still on the job, but lawmakers said under no circumstances should Trump try to dump him while Congress is out of town in August. A recess appointee, who could serve for a period without being confirmed by the Senate, would be unacceptable, they said.

    “Let me say, if such a situation arises, Democrats would use every tool in our toolbox to stymie such a recess appointment,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned in a Senate floor speech this week.


    “If you're thinking of making a recess appointment to push out the attorney general, forget about it. The presidency isn’t a bull, and this country isn't a china shop,” Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican and frequent Trump critic, said Thursday.

    Sessions’ defenders also included Graham, who warned Trump there would be “holy hell to pay” if he tried to fire the attorney general, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, who has vowed not to hold any confirmation hearings this year to replace Sessions if he loses his job.

    Still, several Republicans interviewed Thursday downplayed the notion that Mueller would be fired — despite Graham's dire public warnings.

    “Good for Lindsey Graham,” said Colorado GOP Rep. Ken Buck, another member of the House Judiciary Committee. “It’s just a distraction I’m not going to get distracted by.”

    Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who flirted with taking a Trump Cabinet appointment, said he’d spoken with Graham about his legislation but refused to say whether he supported the concept until he’d read it more closely.

    “There cannot be a real discussion taking place at the White House about firing Mueller. Since that cannot possibly be true, there’s no reason to answer a question based on that conjecture,” Corker said.

    Across the Capitol, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a prominent Trump supporter, said lawmakers would make better use of their time by trying to rein in Mueller through legislation that requires him to hire nonpartisan attorneys who haven’t made campaign contributions. He also wants a deadline established for Mueller’s investigation, limits over which issues he can cover and a budget stating how much money can be spent on the investigation.

    “Congress’ action shouldn’t be so much trying to send a message to the president [about firing Mueller], should that happen, as it is to send a message to Mueller,” he said.


    Congress sends Russia sanctions to Trump's desk, daring a veto


    The Senate on Thursday delivered Donald Trump the first big bipartisan rebuke of his presidency, giving final approval to a package of sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea that constrains his bid to defrost relations with Moscow.The Senate voted...

    The Senate on Thursday delivered Donald Trump the first big bipartisan rebuke of his presidency, giving final approval to a package of sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea that constrains his bid to defrost relations with Moscow.

    The Senate voted 98-2 to approve the sanctions bill that cleared the House earlier this week. Trump must now decide whether to sign a measure that allows Congress to block any attempt to ease or end penalties against Vladimir Putin's government and imposes new sanctions in response to a Russian electoral disruption campaign that the president continues to dispute.

    The House passed the sanctions package on Tuesday in an overwhelming 419-3 vote, and an intra-GOP squabble that threatened to delay its passage was quickly resolved Wednesday night.

    The White House has avoided taking a clear position on the sanctions legislation all week, with communications director Anthony Scaramucci telling CNN on Thursday that Trump "may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are, or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians."

    If Trump does decide to veto the bill, Congress has shown it could easily override him.


    In stark contrast to the partisan warfare that has marked the health care debate, senior Republicans and Democrats paid tribute to their counterparts across the aisle Thursday for cooperation on the sanctions bill.

    "This bill has taken passion, tenacity and all of us working together to bring out the best in this body," Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee said on the floor before the bill's final passage.

    The only no votes on the bill were Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and Vermont independent Bernie Sanders.

    Corker also hailed the congressional oversight language that the White House had resisted as a bid by lawmakers to grow "more and more relevant, to garner back the powers we have given to the executive branch."

    Corker, a longtime ally of the Trump administration, said he has talked to both the president and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the sanctions bill in recent days and "gotten no indication from them that they plan to veto it."

    "It's just not a good way to start a presidency to veto something and then be soundly overridden," Corker told reporters. "It wouldn't be something I would do, but they may choose to do it."


    Senate releases 'skinny' Obamacare repeal bill


    The Senate released its long-awaited slimmed down Obamacare repeal bill late Thursday night, just hours before the chamber hopes to advance its last-ditch effort to scrap the 2010 health care law. The so-called skinny repeal bill eliminates the law's...

    The Senate released its long-awaited slimmed down Obamacare repeal bill late Thursday night, just hours before the chamber hopes to advance its last-ditch effort to scrap the 2010 health care law.

    The so-called skinny repeal bill eliminates the law's requirement for most individuals to have health insurance and repeals the employer mandate for eight years. It also defunds Planned Parenthood for one year, temporarily scraps a tax on medical devices, expands Obamacare waivers allowing states to develop their own health care systems and increases contribution limits to health savings accounts for three years.

    The latest legislation is a far cry from more sweeping Obamacare repeal bills that the Senate rejected this week. Senate Republicans are insisting they must pass a more comprehensive health plan if the upper chamber can advance the legislation on Friday.

    Several Republican senators Thursday evening trashed the skinny bill as bad policy, vowing to oppose it unless Speaker Paul Ryan committed to allowing a conference committee to change the legislation. Ryan later issued a statement asserting the House would be "willing" to participate in a conference committee and not simply pass the skinny repeal bill.


    Several Republicans would not say how they will vote on the bill as of Thursday night.

    Many insurance experts believe the skinny repeal measure would do substantial harm to the individual insurance market. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that scrapping the individual mandate would lead to a 20 percent increase in premiums and 15 million more uninsured Americans.

    “It restores freedom to Americans that Obamacare took away,” McConnell said in introducing the legislation.

    Paul Demko contributed to this report.


    Full text: Senate 'skinny' Obamacare repeal bill


    The full text of the Senate "skinny" Obamacare repeal bill:AMENDMENT NO.llll Calendar No.lllPurpose: In the nature of a substitute.IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES—115th Cong., 1st Sess.H. R. 1628To provide for reconciliation pursuant to title II of...

    The full text of the Senate "skinny" Obamacare repeal bill:

    AMENDMENT NO.llll Calendar No.lll

    Purpose: In the nature of a substitute.

    IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES—115th Cong., 1st Sess.

    H. R. 1628

    To provide for reconciliation pursuant to title II of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2017.

    Referred to the Committee on llllllllll and ordered to be printed

    Ordered to lie on the table and to be printed

    AMENDMENT IN THE NATURE OF A SUBSTITUTE intended to be proposed by lllllll

    Viz:

    Strike all after the enacting clause and insert the following:

    SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

    This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Health Care Freedom Act’’.

    TITLE I

    SEC. 101. INDIVIDUAL MANDATE.

    (a) IN GENERAL.—Section 5000A(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended—(1) in paragraph (2)(B)(iii), by striking ‘‘2.5 percent’’ and inserting ‘‘Zero percent’’, and (2) in paragraph (3)— MCG17700 S.L.C. (A) by striking ‘‘$695’’ in subparagraph (A) and inserting ‘‘$0’’, and (B) by striking subparagraph (D). (b) EFFECTIVE DATE.—The amendments made by this section shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2015.

    SEC. 102. EMPLOYER MANDATE.

    (a) IN GENERAL.— (1) Paragraph (1) of section 4980H(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended by inserting ‘‘($0 in the case of months beginning after December 31, 2015, and before January 1, 2025)’’ after ‘‘$2,000’’. (2) Paragraph (1) of section 4980H(b) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended by inserting ‘‘($0 in the case of months beginning after December 31, 2015, and before January 1, 2025)’’ after ‘‘$3,000’’. (b) EFFECTIVE DATE. —The amendments made by this section shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2015.

    MCG17700 S.L.C.

    SEC. 103. EXTENSION OF MORATORIUM ON MEDICAL DEVICE EXCISE TAX.

    (a) IN GENERAL.—Section 4191(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended by striking ‘‘December 31, 2017’’ and inserting ‘‘December 31, 2020’’. (b) EFFECTIVE DATE.—The amendment made by this section shall apply to sales after December 31, 2017.

    SEC. 104. MAXIMUM CONTRIBUTION LIMIT TO HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNT INCREASED TO AMOUNT OF DEDUCTIBLE AND OUT-OF-POCKET LIMITATION.

    (a) IN GENERAL.—Subsection (b) of section 223 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended by adding at the end the following new paragraph: ‘‘(9) INCREASED LIMITATION.—In the case of any month beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2021—‘‘(A) paragraph (2)(A) shall be applied by substituting ‘the amount in effect under sub-section (c)(2)(A)(ii)(I)’ for ‘$2,250’, and ‘‘(B) paragraph (2)(B) shall be applied by substituting ‘the amount in effect under sub-section (c)(2)(A)(ii)(II)’ for ‘$4,500’.’’. (b) EFFECTIVE DATE.—The amendment made by this section shall apply to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017.

    MCG17700 S.L.C.

    SEC. 105. FEDERAL PAYMENTS TO STATES.

    (a) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding section 504(a), 1902(a)(23), 1903(a), 2002, 2005(a)(4), 2102(a)(7), or 2105(a)(1) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 704(a), 1396a(a)(23), 1396b(a), 1397a, 1397d(a)(4), 1397bb(a)(7), 1397ee(a)(1)), or the terms of any Medicaid waiver in effect on the date of enactment of this Act that is approved under section 1115 or 1915 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1315, 1396n), for the 1-year period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act, no Federal funds provided from a program referred to in this subsection that is considered direct spending for any year may be made available to a State for payments to a prohibited entity, whether made directly to the prohibited entity or through a managed care organization under contract with the State. b) DEFINITIONS.—In this section: (1) PROHIBITED ENTITY. —The term ‘‘prohibited entity’’ means an entity, including its affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, and clinics— (A) that, as of the date of enactment of this Act— (i) is an organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and exempt from tax under section 501(a) of such Code; MCG17700 S.L.C. (ii) is an essential community provider described in section 156.235 of title 45,Code of Federal Regulations (as in effect on the date of enactment of this Act), that is primarily engaged in family planning services, reproductive health, and related medical care; and (iii) provides for abortions, other than an abortion— (I) if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest; or (II) in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself; and (B) for which the total amount of Federal and State expenditures under the Medicaid program under title XIX of the Social Security Act in fiscal year 2014 made directly to the entity and to any affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, or MCG17700 S.L.C. clinics of the entity, or made to the entity and to any affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, or clinics of the entity as part of a nationwide health care provider network, exceeded $1,000,000. (2) DIRECT SPENDING.—The term ‘‘direct spending’’ has the meaning given that term under section 250(c) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 (2 U.S.C. 900(c)).

    TITLE II

    SEC. 201. THE PREVENTION AND PUBLIC HEALTH FUND.

    Subsection (b) of section 4002 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (42 U.S.C. 300u–11) is amended—(1) in paragraph (3), by striking ‘‘each of fiscal years 2018 and 2019’’ and inserting ‘‘fiscal year 2018’’; and (2) by striking paragraphs (4) through (8).

    SEC. 202. COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTER PROGRAM.

    Effective as if included in the enactment of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (Public Law 114–10, 129 Stat. 87), paragraph (1) of section 221(a) of such Act is amended by inserting ‘‘, and an additional $422,000,000 for fiscal year 2017’’ after ‘‘2017’’.

    MCG17700 S.L.C.

    SEC. 203. WAIVERS FOR STATE INNOVATION.

    Section 1332 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (42 U.S.C. 18052) is amended—(1) in subsection (a)(3)— (A) in the first sentence, by inserting ‘‘or would qualify for a reduction in’’ after ‘‘would not qualify for’’; (B) by adding after the second sentence the following: ‘‘A State may request that all of, or any portion of, such aggregate amount of such credits or reductions be paid to the State as described in the first sentence.’’; (C) in the paragraph heading, by striking ‘‘PASS THROUGH OF FUNDING’’ and inserting ‘‘FUNDING’’; (D) by striking ‘‘With respect’’ and inserting the following: ‘‘(A) PASS THROUGH OF FUNDING.—With respect’’; and (E) by adding at the end the following: ‘‘(B) ADDITIONAL FUNDING.—There is authorized to be appropriated, and is appropriated, to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, out of monies in the Treasury not otherwise obligated, $2,000,000,000, to remain available until the end of fiscal year 2019. Such MCG17700 S.L.C. amounts shall be used to provide grants to States that request financial assistance for the purpose of— ‘‘(i) submitting an application for a waiver granted under this section; or ‘‘(ii) implementing the State plan under such waiver.’’; (2) in subsection (b)(1), in the matter preceding subparagraph (A)— (A) by striking ‘‘may’’ and inserting ‘‘shall’’; and (B) by striking ‘‘only’’; (3) in subsection (d)(1), by striking ‘‘180’’ and inserting ‘‘45’’; and (4) in subsection (e), by striking ‘‘No waiver’’ and all that follows through the period at the end and inserting the following: ‘‘A waiver under this section—‘‘(1) shall be in effect for a period of 8 years unless the State requests a shorter duration; ‘(2) may be renewed for unlimited additional 8-year periods upon application by the State; and ‘‘(3) may not be cancelled by the Secretary before the expiration of the 8-year period (including any renewal period under paragraph (2)).’’.


    Sessions: Trump's attacks on me are 'hurtful'


    Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday that President Donald Trump's attacks on him are "hurtful," but that he still believes the president is a "strong leader."Asked by Fox News whether he thinks the president's criticisms of him are fair,...

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday that President Donald Trump's attacks on him are "hurtful," but that he still believes the president is a "strong leader."

    Asked by Fox News whether he thinks the president's criticisms of him are fair, Sessions responded, "Well, it kind of is hurtful. But the president of the United States is a strong leader."

    Sessions added, "He is determined to move this country in the direction he believes it needs to go to make us great again. And he's had a lot of criticisms, and he's steadfastly determined to get his job done, and he wants all of us to do our jobs and that's what I intend to do."

    Trump has been making disparaging comments about Sessions on Twitter, in interviews and in public for days, saying that he is “disappointed” that the attorney general recused himself from the Justice Department’s ongoing Russia probe.

    But Trump has not moved to fire him, and so far Sessions has resisted quitting.

    In a separate interview from El Salvador, Sessions told The Associated Press that he plans to stay on as attorney general as long as Trump will have him, despite it not having been the “best week” in their relationship.

    “I serve at the pleasure of the president,” he told the AP, noting that Trump had the right to choose someone else to the lead the Justice Department. “I’ve understood that from the day I took the job.”

    The AP reported that while Sessions said this week has not been the “best” between him and Trump, they have a “harmony of values and beliefs.”


    Spicer on the loose


    Sean Spicer doesn't need the bushes anymore.Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had just wrapped up her daily briefing when her gleeful predecessor came bounding up the White House driveway Thursday afternoon. He had been in meetings off campus, he...

    Sean Spicer doesn't need the bushes anymore.

    Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had just wrapped up her daily briefing when her gleeful predecessor came bounding up the White House driveway Thursday afternoon. He had been in meetings off campus, he said, and hadn’t been able to catch his old show on television.

    A departing press secretary with what appears to be at least a mild case of senioritis, smiling Spicer also didn’t have much to say about the latest, drama-filled episode of "As The White House Turns.”

    Why is nobody defending chief of staff Reince Priebus — Spicer’s former boss at the Republican National Committee — in the face of online and on television attacks from the new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, that he is a “leaker”?


    "Today's not the best day to ask me,” Spicer punted, as he cruised by the permanent television cameras stationed on the White House lawn. “I'm catching up in real time.”

    After a beat, he threw a scrap to his former ally, adding, “He's done a great job helping to implement the president's agenda."

    Does Spicer support how Scaramucci is doing the job of communicating for the president so far? Spicer laughed. "I don't think Anthony needs me critiquing him. He's got a clean slate to implement the president's agenda."

    Did he have any defense of Trump’s Twitter announcement Wednesday that transgender individuals would be barred from serving in the military?

    “You can ask Sarah,” he said. It’s no longer, really, his problem.

    But he’s also still here, planning to stay on for another month, existing happily in a floating space where the pressures of one demanding job are over and the stress of whatever comes next is still a big, and probably lucrative, question mark.


    Minutes after his hustle up the driveway, Spicer was spotted in an East Room ceremony, where the president awarded the Medal of Valor to the police officers who responded to the shooting last month of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise at a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia.

    Spicer later told POLITICO he’s still here because he wants to ensure a smooth transition of the communications department, even though it’s not clear what his title is now — Sanders last week was named press secretary — and he is spending some of his workday hours lining up his next gig.

    Spicer was just back from a whirlwind day in New York City, meeting with network executives about what might come next. “This is the phase where you just say ‘Hi’ to everybody,” he said, noting there was no discussion of money or offers of employment.


    “I’m not going to tell you that,” he said of whether he might be a future contestant on “Dancing with the Stars,” a possibility that came up on Wednesday in his meeting with ABC. Spicer still occupies his old office, complete with a couch and a fireplace, while Scaramucci, for now, operates out of a smaller, more modest office two doors down.

    Spicer was greeted by reporters departing from the briefing room, some of whom thanked him for putting in his time — a once combative relationship turned friendly and jokey in its final hurrah.

    One reporter extended, as a chewy olive branch, a packet of cinnamon gum, Spicer’s addiction made famous by comedian Melissa McCarthy on “Saturday Night Live.”

    Another one pitched him an idea for a memorable send-off.

    “Invite Melissa McCarthy to come with you and jointly do a farewell,” the reporter said.

    “Uh huh,” he responded. “Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”


    Why Trump’s White House Won’t Stop Leaking


    The new White House communications director is launching a take-no-prisoners mole hunt, promising to stop future leaks. He won’t succeed.Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked in dozens of political organizations that all leaked to varying degrees. In...

    The new White House communications director is launching a take-no-prisoners mole hunt, promising to stop future leaks.

    He won’t succeed.

    Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked in dozens of political organizations that all leaked to varying degrees. In 2008, I was the national press secretary for the Republican National Committee when internal concerns about vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin turned the final weeks of John McCain’s presidential campaign into a gusher of leaks.

    In contrast, last year I was the communications director on Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, an organization that proudly rarely leaked. Our campaign embraced a practice of not indulging self-serving media narratives that distracted from our message, which helped discourage unauthorized leaks—even as it became clear Donald Trump would win the nomination. (Our campaign was so leak-free that when CNN claimed to have a leak in the final weeks of Rubio’s run, I confidently went on air to call BS.)

    To borrow from Tolstoy: Political organizations that don’t leak are all alike; every one that does leak is leaky in its own way. In some leaky organizations, people leak to advance agendas or undermine opponents. Some leakers seek to enhance their egos or curry favor with reporters. Sometimes people leak without even realizing it, speaking carelessly to journalists or lobbyists, who then repeat the story to others. The common thread is that unauthorized leaks are a symptom of political organizations that have a broken culture: They lack unity, trust and self-discipline.

    This is not to excuse leaks or leakers. The improper sharing of information outside an organization inevitably paralyzes it, which leads to more dysfunction and failure. President Trump is completely justified to be outraged about the leaks in his White House. But mole hunts inevitably lead only to more moles, and more leaks.

    Trump’s White House is not leaky because of a few bad apples. The No. 1 reason why it leaks is because his team lacks unity. It’s not without irony that many of the leaks are about the very staff infighting that is causing the leaks.

    In business, employees are united by the common purpose of maximizing profits. Political organizations have no financial bottom line: They must unite around a shared vision and purpose. During the campaign, Trump united his team around the goal of winning an election. But in the White House, Trump has failed to unite his team (let alone the American people) around an organizing principle that is larger than defending the president’s own reputation. Without a common purpose, factions feel the need to leak against one another.

    The leaks are also the result of deep disloyalty, for which the president has only himself to blame. Trump demands blind loyalty from his subordinates. But blind loyalty does not exist in politics, except among sycophants and people without principles—neither of whom make for trustworthy aides. If Trump wants loyalty from his Cabinet and staff, he must recognize that loyalty is a two-way street and show them more respect than he has to date. With his attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he’s demonstrating precisely the opposite: Even his most loyal supporters cannot expect loyalty in return.

    Finally, even if the team is loyal and united, a political organization that does not promote self-discipline will always suffer from leaks. Washington is filled with journalists and lobbyists who built their careers trading information. The temptation to curry favor with powerful influencers is real, especially for aides with big egos or little experience. Obviously, this White House has plenty of both, which makes it even more important that Trump model the behavior he wants to see in others.

    Instead, the president’s tweets and interviews show a lack of discipline. It is no secret that he continues to have off-the-record conversations with the news media and sometimes shares more than he should. In this environment, it’s not realistic to expect discipline from staff when the boss sets a poor example.

    Trump’s frustration is understandable, especially after his remarkable political achievements in 2016. However, his presidential campaign leaked like a sieve for many of the same reasons that his White House does. The problems are more acute now only because his team lacks the shared goal of winning an election.

    “You are either going to work inside the culture the way the president wants it or you’re gonna be on Pennsylvania Avenue out here selling postcards to the tourists,” Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, said on Fox News this week.

    With all due respect, he has it backward. The leaks will stop only if President Trump instills a culture of unity, loyalty and self-discipline in his administration.

    If the current culture does not change, the leaks will continue no matter how many White House aides are sent to join the tourists on Pennsylvania Avenue.


    Justice Department briefing at White House fuels ethics worries


    A briefing a top Justice Department official and top Homeland Security official delivered at the White House Thursday on anti-gang efforts is drawing renewed warnings of blurred ethical lines between the White House and law enforcement.Principal...

    A briefing a top Justice Department official and top Homeland Security official delivered at the White House Thursday on anti-gang efforts is drawing renewed warnings of blurred ethical lines between the White House and law enforcement.

    Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Rob Hur and Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director Thomas Homan spoke from the press briefing room podium in a previously-unannounced addition to the not-so-regular White House briefing.

    Hur and Homan were flanked by some compelling visuals: TV monitors showing images of tattoos belonging to MS-13 gang members, including enough of the face of one alleged gang participant to identify him.

    The scene troubled several former Justice Department officials, including Hur's predecessor in the Obama administration, Matthew Axelrod. He said the move was particularly unwise at a time when Justice's independence seems to be under challenge by President Donald Trump's extraordinary and sustained public criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    "Voices from all corners have spoken out this week on why DOJ's independence is critical to maintaining the rule of law. Having a DOJ official brief from the White House podium was an unfortunate decision that sends a distressingly mixed message," said Axelrod, now a partner at the Linklaters law firm.

    During the briefing Thursday, Hur and Homan both discussed specific ongoing criminal cases involving alleged gang-related violence, including murders.

    "Earlier this year, members of this clique committed several high-profile murders in El Salvador. The shooter in these murders fled to the United States and is now in ICE custody pending immigration proceedings," Hur said. "The United States law enforcement and federal prosecutors recently targeted members of the same clique operating here in Maryland, charging 16 defendants with racketeering. Murder and attempted murder. The last of whom was sentenced this year to life imprisonment."


    "Recently, two MS-13 members who were juveniles arrested as part of operation matador have been implicated in the quadruple homicide of four young adults in New York. An additional MS-13 arrest admitted to being complicit in homicides of two juvenile females," Homan said as he decried the violent tactics associated with the gang.

    While top Justice Department officials have sometimes appeared at White House events to discuss policy issues in recent years, some ex-officials said it was a mistake for law enforcement officials to be discussing individual cases from a venue like the White House briefing room.

    "The Department of Justice generally goes to great lengths to maintain arms length distance from the White House when it comes to when it comes to specific criminal or investigative matters," said William Yeomans, who worked at the Justice Department from 1978 to 2005. "Having people from DOJ who engage in ongoing operations go to the White House to speak from the podium probably suggests the traditional lines are not being observed."

    Yeomans said the presentation would be less troubling if it had taken place at the Justice Department or the Department of Homeland Security.

    "I do think the venue makes a difference," he said. "We are very sensitive about politicizing prosecutions in our democracy. Under rule of law, the worst thing that can happen is that people get prosecuted for political reasons."

    A Justice Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration, Emily Pierce, added: "This is going to give the idea to someone or another that the White House is affecting enforcement in cases which is absolutely beyond the pale and wrong for them to do."

    Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores declined to respond to the criticism Thursday. However, when similar concerns were raised in June, she defended the propriety of Justice Department officials delivering their message at the White House.

    "The Department of Justice is committed to making America safe again through fundamental law enforcement principles and will not hesitate to speak out in any venue about policies that endanger neighborhoods and communities around the country," Flores told NPR.

    Some critics said the presentation was particularly worrisome because it appeared to be part of a deliberate campaign to get Sessions back into Trump's good graces.


    After a Fox News interview Wednesday where incoming White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci called for a crackdown on leaks, Flores issued a statement heartily endorsing the voluble official's remarks. And much of Hur's statement Thursday seemed aimed at convincing not only the press corps, but also Trump himself, that Sessions is hard at work carrying out Trump's call to erdaciate MS-13 and other violent gangs populated in part by illegal immigrants.

    While the briefing was ongoing Thursday afternoon, Trump appeared to join in by tweeting: "Big progress being made in ridding our country of MS-13 gang members and gang members in general. MAKE AMERICA SAFE AGAIN!"

    Earlier in the day, in an unrelated case, Trump further blurred the lines between the White House and criminal prosecutions by taking to Twitter to argue that the media was not paying enough attention to the recent arrest of an aide to Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) The aide, Imran Awan, pled not guilty to a bank fraud charge and is awaiting trial.

    One danger of such statements is that defense attorneys will jump on them to argue that the case is being pursued for political reasons and that jurors could feel pressure to convict as a result of the president or White House's interest in the case.

    In the Maryland MS-13 case Hur discussed, several defendants have pending appeals, several others are awaiting sentencing, and at least one remains a fugitive and could face a trial in the future.

    "Obviously, there's the possibility of unfair prejudice there," said Yeomans, who served as chief Judiciary Committee counsel to Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) from 2006 to 2009. "That is why presidents are very reluctant to talk about ongoing criminal matters."

    A Justice Department official said Thursday that Hur was selected to speak because of his personal experience prosecuting gang cases. However, it is a certainty that if Hur's boss—Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—appeared in the White House briefing room, he would face a flurry of questions about his decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, his role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and Trump's unusual public attacks on Rosenstein and Sessions.

    In June, the Justice Department selected another frontline expert—U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber—to speak at the White House podium about the problems allegedly caused by sanctuary city policies.


    Sessions himself was a surprise speaker at a White House press briefing in March, where he delivered a similar message about the threat posed by sanctuary cities. He was traveling in El Salvador Thursday and is expected to remain there through Friday, even as Trump travels to New York to speak out about MS-13 violence.

    In a Fox News interview Thursday, Sessions called the president's criticism "kind of hurtful."

    A Justice Department official said ICE provided the photos for Thursday's briefing. An ICE official who asked not to be named could not identify the people in the photos and disputed that any of the pictures showed anyone's face.

    "The photos did not show faces. The intent was not to disclose identities or even highlight those particular cases, but rather to show gang tattoos among those we’ve encountered, which Mr. Homan mentioned are among the many factors we consider when identifying gang members," said the official.

    When White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders took to the podium after Hur and Homan Thursday, she said she hoped senators considering health care legislation would work in the same spirit as those pursuing the gang crackdown.

    "Just like the dedicated men and women of ICE and DOJ who are unquestionably producing results every day in these fights against vicious cartels, Senate Republicans now have an opportunity this evening to deliver on one of our biggest promises to the American people," she said.

    Ted Hesson contributed to this post.


    Sanders: Scaramucci let passion 'get the best of him' on Priebus, Bannon remarks


    White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said new communications director Anthony Scaramucci let his passion for serving President Donald Trump "get the best of him" when he made explosive remarks about fellow Trump administration staffers...

    White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said new communications director Anthony Scaramucci let his passion for serving President Donald Trump "get the best of him" when he made explosive remarks about fellow Trump administration staffers Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon.

    "This is a guy who sometimes uses colorful and, in many circles, probably not appropriate language," the newly named press secretary said on Fox News on Thursday, addressing Scaramucci's explicit interview with The New Yorker in which he called Priebus a “f------ paranoid schizophrenic,” and said of Bannon, "I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own c---."

    "He's very passionate about the president and the president's agenda, and I think he may have let that get the best of him in that conversation," Sanders added.

    Despite the feuding of Scaramucci with Bannon and Priebus spilling into public view, Sanders maintained that the White House is focused on fulfilling its obligations to the American people and not getting caught up in personnel squabbles.

    "The bottom line is most of us here at the White House are focused on who has a job out in America, not who has a job here," she said.


    Scaramucci in recent days has come out swinging from within the West Wing, publicly threatening to "fire everybody" to stop damaging reports from leaking to the media and daring Priebus to come forth and prove that he is not one of the senior administration officials allegedly leaking information.

    Prior to Sanders' appearance on Fox, Scaramucci tweeted that he would seek to stop using his “colorful language” in the public sphere.

    “I sometimes use colorful language,” he tweeted. “I will refrain in this arena but not give up the passionate fight for @realDonaldTrump's agenda. #MAGA”


    Senate Majority PAC raised $4.5M in first half of 2017


    Senate Majority PAC, the Democratic super PAC controlled by allies of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, raised $4.6 million in the first six months of 2017, its fastest-ever fundraising start at the beginning of an election cycle.The super PAC has...

    Senate Majority PAC, the Democratic super PAC controlled by allies of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, raised $4.6 million in the first six months of 2017, its fastest-ever fundraising start at the beginning of an election cycle.

    The super PAC has spent little, and ended June with $4.5 million in the bank.

    Senate Majority PAC is expected to play a major role in Senate Democrats' defensive effort in 2018, when 10 Democratic senators are facing reelection in states President Donald Trump won last November. In five of those states — Indiana, West Virginia, Montana, North Dakota and Missouri — Trump won by more than 10 percentage points.

    Democrats are also targeting Republican senators in Nevada and Arizona.


    The super PAC raised between $1 million and $3 million in the first six months of the 2012, 2014 and 2016 election cycles. In June 2011, the equivalent time period when the same class of senators was last on the ballot, Senate Majority PAC had just over $1 million in the bank. It had less on hand at the same time in 2013 and 2015.

    “Senate Majority PAC is off to its best start ever because Democratic donors are energized to beat Republicans in 2018," said JB Poersch, the group's president. "The GOP has undermined American families at every turn. Senate Democrats' commitment to a real economic agenda will help contribute to our success in 2018."


    Guam delegate to Congress facing ethics inquiry


    Madeleine Bordallo, Guam’s delegate to Congress is under investigation for a potential ethics violation, the House Ethics Committee announced on Thursday evening.The substance of the inquiry is unclear. But its existence was made public Thursday under...

    Madeleine Bordallo, Guam’s delegate to Congress is under investigation for a potential ethics violation, the House Ethics Committee announced on Thursday evening.

    The substance of the inquiry is unclear. But its existence was made public Thursday under a decade-old process requiring the Ethics Committee to disclose the targets of investigations 45 days after complaints have been referred.

    Bordallo’s matter was referred to the committee in June by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent entity established in 2008 to police lawmakers’ conduct. OCE refers cases to the House Ethics Committee when there’s a “substantial reason to believe” that they’re credible. The committee has another 45 days — until Sept. 11 — to decide whether to make a ruling in Bordallo’s case or prolong it indefinitely.

    A spokesman for Bordallo, who has represented Guam in Congress since 2003, called the announcement the result of a “politically motivated complaint.” The spokesman, Adam Carbullido, noted that referrals to the Ethics Committee don’t amount to a finding of any violation.

    “Congresswoman Bordallo is cooperating fully with the Committee and is committed to abiding by the rules of the House and federal law,” he said. “She asserts that no violation has occurred and looks forward to timely resolution by the Ethics Committee.”


    Candidate for DHS job withdraws because of transgender ban


    A candidate for a senior position at the Department of Homeland Security withdrew from consideration on Wednesday, citing President Donald Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from serving in the military.John Fluharty, a former executive...

    A candidate for a senior position at the Department of Homeland Security withdrew from consideration on Wednesday, citing President Donald Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from serving in the military.

    John Fluharty, a former executive director of the Delaware Republican party, informed a DHS official in an email Wednesday morning that he was pulling out of contention to be the assistant secretary of partnership and engagement at the department.

    “As I mentioned in our conversation, I am a strong advocate for diversity, both in the Republican Party and in government,” Fluharty wrote in an email obtained by POLITICO. “The President’s announcement this morning — that he will ban all of those who identify as transgender from military service — runs counter to my deeply held beliefs, and it would be impossible for me to commit to serving the Administration knowing that I would be working against those values.”

    Fluharty, who is openly gay, said he interviewed for the job on Tuesday, one day before Trump’s surprise tweet that the government “will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity” in the U.S. military.

    The decision blindsided much of the federal government, including many at the Defense Department and in the White House. It has led to widespread confusion about the what will happen to openly transgender members of the military, and the White House has not yet provided clarity on the issue.

    Department officials confirmed Fluharty was under consideration, though it’s unclear whether he was in line to get the job at the department.

    “He was one of many candidates being considered and he withdrew from consideration,” DHS spokesman David Lapan wrote in an email. “We’re not aware of anyone else who withdrew for that reason.”

    DHS has had trouble filling the assistant secretary of partnership and engagement position. David Clarke, the sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, who had come under criticism for a series of deaths at the jails he oversees, was under consideration for the job. But DHS announced in June that he was no longer in contention.


    The assistant secretary, which does not require Senate confirmation, coordinates outreach to state, local and tribal officials and law enforcement.

    Fluharty said he was contacted about the prospect of applying for the position last week, and agreed to do the interview on Tuesday. Though he was interested in the post, he opted against it after the president’s announcement.


    Pelosi defends Brady amid campaign investigation


    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is defending Rep. Robert Brady amid a federal probe into allegations his campaign illegally paid a primary challenger to drop out in 2012. The investigation came to light this week after Carolyn Cavaness, a former...

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is defending Rep. Robert Brady amid a federal probe into allegations his campaign illegally paid a primary challenger to drop out in 2012.

    The investigation came to light this week after Carolyn Cavaness, a former campaign manager and fiancee of Jimmie Moore, Brady's 2012 challenger, pleaded guilty for her role in helping illegally transfer $90,000 from the lawmaker’s campaign coffers to Moore.

    Pelosi said she has confidence in Brady, who has served in the chamber for nearly two decades and is the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee.

    “I know that Congressman Brady has fully cooperated with authorities and he has done nothing wrong,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters during her weekly news conference Thursday.

    Pelosi said she hasn’t talked to Brady about the investigation, which was revealed earlier this week. Brady, a central figure in Pennsylvania politics, who has led the Philadelphia Democratic Party for 30 years, has denied any wrongdoing in the case through his attorney.

    Neither Brady nor Moore have been charged in the case. But prosecutors have indicated they think Brady attempted to influence at least one witness in the case. The Philadelphia Inquirer has identified that witness as former Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode.


    "We categorically deny any allegation that the congressman tried to influence a witness. We think it’s ludicrous," James Eisenhower, Brady's attorney, told POLITICO.

    Jeffrey Miller, the attorney for Moore, also denied any wrongdoing on his client's part. "I don’t think Moore, my client, committed a crime," Miller said.

    Cavaness, appearing in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on Tuesday, pleaded guilty to one charge of making a false statement in a federal proceeding.

    Cavaness said she helped create a company to funnel the money and falsified Federal Election Committee reports to hide the payments, which far exceed the $2,000 cap one candidate is allowed to give another in a primary. Moore is a former municipal court judge in Philadelphia.

    Brady has not been charged with a crime but his lawyer has pushed back on the idea that the lawmaker was involved in any kind of illegal scheme, saying the funds were used on legitimate expenses, including to purchase a one-year-old poll the Moore campaign had commissioned.

    "The congressman authorized his campaign to purchase an extensive poll that the Moore campaign had done not just on the race but on the district and the attitude toward the congressman by various demographic groups," Eisenhower told POLITICO.

    "We think that’s what the government is confused about here. They’re looking at the campaign contribution limits. ... But that’s not the law when you purchase an asset," he added, referencing the $2,000 cap.

    The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported the purchase of the poll.

    Assistant U.S. attorney Eric Gibson rebuts Brady's explanation in Cavaness’ plea agreement, unsealed Wednesday, saying the lawmaker’s campaign had no need to buy the poll in 2012 since it was outdated and Moore had already dropped out of the race at that time.

    In addition, Brady had already been given an informal copy of the poll in 2011. His campaign paid $65,000 for the poll, which Moore’s campaign commissioned for only $32,000, according to Gibson. Neither Brady nor Moore are named in the plea agreement, referred to only as Candidate A and Candidate B.


    Moore's attorney said Brady's campaign agreed to pay off his client's debts after Brady and Moore met in February 2012 but that there was nothing illegal in the transaction.

    "The agreement was that they would pay off [Moore's] debts, which came to approximately $90,000, all legitimate debts. And the money was transferred from Brady to the people that were owed the money," Miller said.

    "If they were trying to conceal through a straw party the transfer of the funds, which they weren’t, the last thing in the world they would’ve done was create a corporation for the payment of money."

    Moore later told Cavaness that Brady had also offered to secure jobs for the two of them during the candidates' meeting, according to the plea document.

    The remaining portion of the $90,000 – $25,000 – was paid from Brady’s campaign to Cavaness for consulting work the prosecutor says she never performed.

    “The defendant took these actions knowing and intending that their purpose was to conceal the fact that [Brady’s] campaign committee had given [Moore] $90,000 in exchange for [Moore’s] agreement to withdraw from the 2012 primary,” Gibson wrote.

    Eisenhower said Brady "really wouldn't know" if Cavaness performed the work she was hired to do, saying the details of her employment were handled by others involved with the campaign.

    Cavaness and Moore used about $40,000 of the funds to pay back campaign debts and reimburse personal loans, while the rest was spent on “personal expenses,” according to Gibson. It is unclear what, if anything, happens next in the case directly involving Brady and Moore.

    “The status of the matter right now is what I would call, to use the cliche of the year, up in the air. I don’t think the government is sure what they’re going to do,” Miller said, noting he spoke to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Brady’s attorney on Thursday.

    Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.


    Democratic Rep. Delaney eyes 2020 presidential run


    Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) plans on bypassing runs for governor and reelection and has told associates he is seriously considering a bid for president in 2020, according to two Democratic sources.Five Democratic sources in the state said buzz about...

    Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) plans on bypassing runs for governor and reelection and has told associates he is seriously considering a bid for president in 2020, according to two Democratic sources.

    Five Democratic sources in the state said buzz about Delaney's intentions for 2018 and 2020 has been building for weeks, with increasing chatter about a presidential bid. Delaney, who could self-fund a run for governor, will skip a challenge against popular GOP Gov. Larry Hogan. He will also leave Democrats to defend his district, which he nearly lost in 2014. Democrats in the state believe he will announce his plans in a Washington Post op-ed on Friday.

    Delaney, a political moderate and former banker, gave serious thought to running for governor, keeping tabs on Hogan’s campaign operation well into the spring. It was clear Delaney was looking beyond his district, which stretches from wealthy D.C. suburbs to Maryland’s far western edge. He had given Democratic state legislators eyeing his seat permission to start raising money for potential campaigns, and has formed a leadership PAC he could use to curry favor with his congressional colleagues.

    A presidential bid would seem quixotic: Delaney is little-known even among Democratic operatives, and his moderate stances and background in finance don’t match a left-leaning Democratic primary electorate.

    Delaney spokesman Will McDonald did not respond to an email and a phone call seeking comment.

    Delaney, is worth about $90 million after founding two commercial banks and taking them public, making him one of the House’s wealthiest members. In the House, he has sought to build bipartisan coalitions around legislation to improve the nation’s infrastructure. He won his seat in 2012, upsetting a prominent Democratic state legislator in a primary and then ousting GOP Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in the general election.


    Three Democratic state legislators — Dels. Aruna Miller and Bill Frick, and state Sen. Roger Manno — are running for Delaney’s seat. Miller raised just over $350,000 in the second quarter, while Frick pulled in a tad more than $200,000.

    Delaney’s decision to skip the governor’s race against Hogan, whose approval rating often tops 70 percent in public polling, removes a self-funder from the mix in the Democratic primary and leaves the moderate lane wide open for other candidates. Prominent Bernie Sanders supporter and former NAACP President Ben Jealous, former Obama State Department official Alec Ross, lawyer Jim Shea, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, state Sen. Rich Madaleno and Maya Rockeymoore-Cummings, the wife of Rep. Elijah Cummings, are all actively campaigning or considering runs.


    Cuomo on Trump's infrastructure plan: 'Where is it?'


    Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday excoriated President Donald Trump for failing to follow through on his campaign promise to create a $1 trillion infrastructure program."Remember the $1 trillion dollar infrastructure proposal that he spoke about?”...

    Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday excoriated President Donald Trump for failing to follow through on his campaign promise to create a $1 trillion infrastructure program.

    "Remember the $1 trillion dollar infrastructure proposal that he spoke about?” asked Cuomo during a Thursday speech on the Upper East Side. “One trillion dollars. Where is it? What happened to it? It was the single best idea that I heard come from his campaign, and now it's disappeared.”

    At the start of the Trump administration, officials in New York and New Jersey spoke hopefully about the Trump administration's infrastructure rhetoric.

    In particular, they argued that a New York-based real estate guy like Trump would surely understand the importance of building a new rail tunnel across the Hudson River to replace the one that's now falling apart, and on which the region's economy relies.

    But the federal transportation department is now equivocating about whether it wants to honor the prior administration’s commitment to split the cost of a new cross-Hudson rail tunnel with Amtrak, New York and New Jersey.

    In his proposed budget, Trump zeroed out funding on which the tunnel was to rely. And his transportation department recently withdrew from the entity tasked with building the project, citing potential conflicts of interest. Further, officials have repeatedly said that should an infrastructure plan materialize, it will call for significant private sector and local contributions.

    “New York State has stepped up and we have committed $5 billion to Gateway, and I am proud of it, and I think it's a fair investment for the state to make,” Cuomo said. “But we need President Trump to fulfill the federal commitment to make Gateway a reality.”

    Building a new tunnel and repairing the existing one is now expected to cost $13 billion. The overall Gateway project, which includes a new Portal Bridge and an expanded Penn Station, is expected to cost more than $20 billion.

    Cuomo, who used to be equivocal about the tunnel but is no longer, traveled to Washington D.C. on Wednesday to talk with transportation secretary Elaine Chao about the project.

    He described her as "very impressive" and praised her for helping move his Moynihan Station and LaGuardia Airport projects along.

    But the Gateway program is considered the region's top infrastructure priority. The existing Amtrak tunnel is a linchpin in its Northeast Corridor. New Jersey Transit customers rely on it to commute to their jobs in Manhattan. And it was deteriorating rapidly even before Hurricane Sandy flooded it with brackish water.

    And on Gateway, Cuomo said he thinks the administration has no idea what it's doing.

    "In terms of the funding going forward, Gateway for example, I don’t know what the plan is," he said. "I don’t think they know what the plan is."

    Now, advocates worry that the region will, for the second time in a decade, miss an opportunity to build a new tunnel.

    That, Cuomo said on Thursday, would be “catastrophic.”

    “There is no other way for it to happen without federal participation,” Cuomo said. “And my friends, it must happen. It's a very simple concept. You have an old tunnel that is damaged that will collapse at one point, and when it collapses you'll see a collapse of the Northeast economy.”


    Democrats vow investigation, lawsuit over ‘political blackmail’ against Murkowski


    Democrats and their allies off the Hill pushed back hard at the Trump administration on Thursday after a report that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke threatened projects important to Alaska in retribution for Sen. Lisa Murkowski's vote against health care...

    Democrats and their allies off the Hill pushed back hard at the Trump administration on Thursday after a report that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke threatened projects important to Alaska in retribution for Sen. Lisa Murkowski's vote against health care legislation.

    House Democrats vowed to seek an investigation into Zinke's call to Murkowski and fellow Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan on Wednesday — a day after Murkowski voted against taking up Obamacare repeal — to warn them that the administration's support for energy projects in the state are now at risk. And a conservation group that often works with Democrats sought internal documents on Zinke's calls as well as to any others that he may have made to other GOP swing votes on health care.

    The Freedom of Information Act request filed by the group, the Western Values Project, seeks records of any contact Zinke made with the Alaskan senators as well as Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), according to a copy shared with POLITICO.

    The group plans to sue Interior to force the release of any relevant information that it doesn't receive by the time its legal window closes, Executive Director Chris Saeger said.

    Meanwhile, Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee plan later Thursday to seek an investigation conducted by the Government Accountability Office or Interior's independent inspector general, according to a spokesman.

    Murkowski confirmed to reporters Thursday that the call with Zinke took place, as well as a second call she received from President Donald Trump on Tuesday, the day she voted with Collins against taking up the GOP's Obamacare repeal bill.

    She denied any suggestion that she had used her power as chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over Zinke's department, to hit back by postponing a committee meeting that would have included votes on three Interior nominees.


    In addition to her energy panel gavel, Murkowski chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee in charge of deciding how much money Interior has to spend each year.

    Zinke holds ample sway over the state of Alaska, where the federal government controls 61 percent of the land in the state. Interior is reviewing a multitude of projects tied to Alaska energy development, including a possible opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas drilling and allowing offshore oil drilling in currently off-limits Arctic waters.

    Sullivan touted that potential to develop more of the state's resources in urging that his senior senator and the Trump administration return to harmony.

    "[T]hat cooperation has been very useful and very important in the last six months, reversing what the previous administration did to Alaska," Sullivan told reporters. "So, from my perspective, the sooner we can get back to that kind of cooperation between the administration and the chairman of the [energy] committee, the better for Alaska and the better for the country.”

    Asked if he had any advice for Murkowski, Sullivan demurred: “I’m not telling Sen. Murkowski anything. I work super closely with Sen. Murkowski, but that’s my statement.”

    Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) offered advice of his own to the Trump administration on the matter. "I've been doing this for a long time and I’ve seldom seen threats to be very effective," Blunt said.

    Arizona's Raul Grijalva, the House Natural Resources panel's top Democrat, said Zinke had crossed the line.

    “Running a department of the federal government means you serve the American people as a protector of their rights and freedoms,” Grijalva said in a statement. “It doesn’t mean you serve the president as a bag man for his political vendettas. Threatening to punish your rivals as political blackmail is something we’d see from the Kremlin."

    Beyond its stewardship over oil and gas resources, Interior also has the final say over whether to allow a road through Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to take residents of an isolated village reach a nearby hospital, something Murkowski has pushed for years.

    “Even if this road provides health care access to hundreds, which is very much in doubt, Secretary Zinke thinks the price to build it is a vote to deny health care access to millions,” Grijalva said.

    Zinke's phone call, first reported by the Alaska Dispatch News, came after Trump tweeted his displeasure with Murkowski's vote. But Murkowski is unlikely to face serious political consequences in the near term. She will not be up for reelection until 2022, and she has previously proved her political mettle in the state — winning a rare write-in victory to be reelected in 2010 after she lost the GOP primary to a Tea Party challenger.

    House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop on Thursday defended Zinke's call to Murkowski.

    "That is not unprecedented, [he] has a right to do that," Bishop told reporters in the Capitol. Bishop said former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell would call him "complaining about some things that we were doing."

    Spokespeople for the Interior Department, Murkowski and Sullivan did not respond to requests for comment.

    Alaska Oil & Gas Association President Kara Moriarty called the threats “unfortunate.”


    “As the secretary has said, they want to have American energy dominance, and the only way to do that is through Alaska,” Moriarty told POLITICO. “When the time comes when Alaskan energy projects are in front of Congress, I hope they are considered on their merits and not used as a political chits.”

    Environmentalists were unsparing in their assessment.

    “Ryan Zinke is revealing himself as Trump’s hitman. He’s now threatening to hold public lands and energy policy hostage over a health care bill. This is the U.S. government, not the Corleone family," Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement.

    Zinke is not the first member of Trump's Cabinet without a health care portfolio to insert himself into the debate over the Senate's effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. The Energy Department earlier this week posted, then deleted, a tweet saying it was time to "discard" the law, with a link to an op-ed on the subject from DOE Secretary Rick Perry.

    Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) asked GAO Wednesday to investigate whether Perry or others at DOE violated federal laws relating to lobbying and influencing the public.

    Meanwhile, some Republicans back in Alaska said Murkowski’s vote was stirring up trouble for her at home, with state GOP Chairman Tuckerman Babcock saying his party is in “full revolt.”

    “I think among Republicans it is causing tremendous damage,” Babcock said in a phone interview Thursday, citing “a grass-roots swell” of comments on Facebook pages for the party, Murkowski and Sullivan. “It’s evident to me that the Republicans [in Alaska] are in full revolt over the idea that these promises aren’t going to be kept.”

    He added that Interior’s ownership of so much of Alaska raises the stakes of any clash with Zinke.

    “What the secretary of Interior does will have a major impact on Alaska. He’s absolutely vital to moving forward with the development of the coastal plain at ANWR, National Petroleum Reserve on the Western North Slope, building the road from King Cove, the land exchange that Congressman [Don] Young has gotten through the House of Representatives,” Babcock said.

    “I’m just hitting the tip of the iceberg on how important a cooperative relationship is with that department.”

    Seung Min Kim, Esther Whieldon and Jake Lahut contributed to this report.


    House weighs 'martial law' for Obamacare repeal


    House Republicans leaders are instructing lawmakers to hold off leaving for August recess this weekend in case the Senate passes Obamacare repeal legislation and the House comes under pressure to act.In an email to lawmakers Thursday, House Majority...

    House Republicans leaders are instructing lawmakers to hold off leaving for August recess this weekend in case the Senate passes Obamacare repeal legislation and the House comes under pressure to act.

    In an email to lawmakers Thursday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), raised the possibility that they might need to take votes in the coming days if the Senate approves a health care bill. House Republicans are also gearing up to waive chamber rules mandating they wait three days after a bill is made public to vote on the legislation on the floor, what's known as "martial law" in the House.

    The latter gives Republicans flexibility to take up the Senate repeal bill immediately.

    "While last votes are currently scheduled to take place tomorrow, Members are advised that — pending Senate action on health care — the House schedule is subject to change,” McCarthy's announcement to members reads. "All Members should remain flexible in their travel plans over the next few days."

    Senate Republicans are moving toward a critical vote on a narrow repeal bill they hope will keep the GOP's long-stall health care effort alive. Should their so-called "skinny repeal" bill pass, House Republicans will have several options for next steps — none of them received well in the more conservative lower chamber.

    Most senior Republican lawmakers agree the House cannot pass the Senate’s “skinny repeal” — nor do they want to, viewing it as a watered down shell unworthy of enactment. The legislation would repeal the Obamacare mandates and some taxes but leave subsidies and Obamacare's Medicaid expansion in place.

    House members may be forced to try to pass the bill, however, should President Donald Trump put the weight of the White House behind it. And multiple House Republicans sources say leaders have been gauging what such a vote might look like.

    It wouldn't be pretty. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told Ryan on the House floor Thursday afternoon that such a bill would, essentially, go down in flames.

    "I can assure this isn't going to the president," he said.


    More likely, the House and Senate would go to conference — though multiple House Republicans said privately they were skeptical about that idea as well. The House would need to vote to instruct conferees to move down that path, another reason why they may have to delay August recess by a day or two.

    “Until we actually know what [the Senate bill looks like], it’s just too hard to plan,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of the whip team. “We’ve got to see it, and we’ve got to figure out what the White House attitude is toward it.”

    During a Thursday morning whip meeting, Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) detailed the various ways the House could proceed. Leaders cannot make a decision until they see the final text of the Senate bill and get input from the White House.

    It’s unclear whether Trump, eager for a win during a tumultuous time for his administration, will tell members he would sign the bare-bones plan. White House sources have said for months that the president isn't focused on policy specifics; his priority is signing something to make good on his campaign promise.

    That’s why most House GOP leaders are not panning the Senate’s slimmer repeal idea. During a press conference Thursday morning, Ryan said, “I’m going to reserve judgment until I see what the Senate actually produces.”

    Republicans also knocked down a Democratic attempt to limit the fast-tracking "martial law" authority to only votes that go to conference. In other words, Republicans opted to maintain flexibility so they could bring the "skinny" bill to the floor.

    Ryan's team may need to give an answer soon, however. Three Senate Republicans Thursday afternoon vowed to block "skinny" repeal's passage unless Ryan vowed he would go to conference — not try to jam the legislation through the House.

    Rank-and-file Republicans in the House, meanwhile, have made clear they don’t like the Senate's bill.

    “That’s just a vehicle for getting us to conference. I don’t think that’s a serious effort to fix the health care system,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who played a key role in the House's repeal effort.


    “I don’t think that’s going to help — skinny repeal is a way to get it conference,” agreed Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.). “The problem is, premiums have gone through the roof.”

    Asked if he thought the Senate bill would bring down premiums, he answered: “I don’t. I don’t.”

    Even House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Or.), who’s intentionally tried to give the Senate room to maneuver, seemed uneasy with the path the Senate had taken.

    “The parliamentarian just ruled the 1132 waiver provision out, which is really problematic,” he said, referring to a provision that helped win over the Freedom Caucus in the House.

    That policy — allowing states to opt-out of Obamacare insurance regulations — was struck under Senate procedural rules.

    Walden said he’s not sure how much time it will take for the House to come up with a plan.

    “It depends on what they send," he said. "What is it that we can send back or can we just pass?... Is there something we can do in conference? Is there not? All the options remain on the table."

    Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.


    Republicans try to bait Democrats on single-payer vote


    A single-payer health care system may be the holy grail for many progressives, but a Republican plan to put Senate Democrats on the record voting for it couldn’t get support even from Bernie Sanders.Democrats on Thursday afternoon sat out a vote on a...

    A single-payer health care system may be the holy grail for many progressives, but a Republican plan to put Senate Democrats on the record voting for it couldn’t get support even from Bernie Sanders.

    Democrats on Thursday afternoon sat out a vote on a proposal for a completely government-run health care system, denouncing it as a ploy designed to score political points against vulnerable red-state Democrats and drive a wedge between the party to distract from the GOP’s health care struggles.

    Four Democrats and one independent — Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Jon Tester, Joe Donnelly and Angus King — voted with all of the chamber's Republicans against the amendment, which failed 0-57. The four Democrats are facing reelection in states that President Donald Trump won.

    “I’m not going to support something that’s a sham, and that’s a sham,” Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said before the vote. “Not at the same time they’re planning to kick people off their health insurance. It’s a bait and switch.”

    The introduction of single-payer health care into a conversation about unwinding Obamacare offers an inflection point for Democrats who have long shied away from endorsing the universal coverage system. The reality is, single payer is gaining steam in the liberal base, and mainstream Democrats like Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have taken up the cause in Congress. A majority of House Democrats support a “Medicare for All” bill in the House, which is the functional equivalent of a single-payer system.

    Thursday’s vote, though, wasn’t the moment for Democrats to throw down the gauntlet on single payer. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) derided his own amendment as “socialized medicine” that makes up the “heart and soul” of the Democratic vision for health care.

    Sanders, a Vermont independent who’s led the charge for single payer, had vowed to protest the amendment and encouraged other Democrats to do so.

    Polling shows growing support among Democrats overall for a government-run health care system amid Republican efforts to tear down the 2010 Affordable Act. A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll in June found 64 percent of Democrats backed a single-payer or national health plans, while the Pew Research Center that same month found a majority of Democrats support the idea for the first time in three years of polling.

    Still, Democratic leaders have long resisted advocating for a massive expansion of the government’s role in health care, wary of alienating independent voters and hanging swing-state senators out to dry on what’s long been a divisive issue.

    The party’s economic agenda released this week notably excluded single payer, but Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the idea “is on the table” among other less divisive options for expanding government-sponsored coverage, such as allowing near retirees to buy into Medicare.

    Senate Democrats face a tough electoral map in 2018, raising concerns that full-throated support for single payer could bury the party deeper in the minority. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Tester are among those who have expressed skepticism about a single-payer system.

    If Republicans’ Obamacare repeal effort collapses, liberal activists are hoping to seize the moment to push for single payer. But Tester dismissed the idea as “just talk” earlier this month.

    “In this environment, that’s all it’ll be,” Tester said.


    Democrats are facing growing pressure from activists on the left who, despite supporting Obamacare, were disappointed that the law left the private insurance system largely intact. McCaskill has walked a tightrope on the issue, telling constituents at a town hall this month that she’s concerned about the cost of such a program. However, she said now she believes Obamacare should have included a government-run public option to compete with private insurers.

    “I was against it at the time,” she said in early July. “So I think I made a mistake on that.”

    Democrats hesitant to embrace single payer can point to several failed state efforts to establish their own systems.

    Money has proven a major obstacle, with states struggling to raise hundreds of billions of dollars to ensure care for all of their citizens. Vermont’s 2014 attempt at establishing single payer collapsed over concerns that payroll taxes on businesses meant to fund the program would hurt the state’s economy. In Colorado, a single-payer ballot measure opposed by the state’s Democratic governor was overwhelmingly defeated last year.

    California’s Democratic legislature devolved into infighting earlier this year after Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon shelved legislation creating a single-payer system. It would have cost an estimated $400 billion per year to cover everyone without premiums or out-of-pocket costs, according to a legislative analysis.


    Trump's top Middle East aide ousted


    Derek Harvey, the president’s top Middle East adviser, was dismissed on Thursday by national security adviser H.R. McMaster—further shrinking the ranks of White House aides hired by McMaster’s ousted predecessor, Michael Flynn. “McMaster wants...

    Derek Harvey, the president’s top Middle East adviser, was dismissed on Thursday by national security adviser H.R. McMaster—further shrinking the ranks of White House aides hired by McMaster’s ousted predecessor, Michael Flynn.

    “McMaster wants his own guy,” said a senior White House aide. The White House did not immediately announce a replacement for the job of National Security Council senior director for the Middle East.

    The move comes as McMaster, a three-star Army general, seeks his footing in a White House where rivals have undermined him with disparaging leaks—and where President Donald Trump himself has occasionally clashed with his top foreign policy adviser.

    Harvey had a long-standing relationship with McMaster dating to their service as advisers to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq during the 2000s. But it was Flynn, a former colleague of Harvey’s at the Defense Intelligence Agency, who brought Harvey to the Trump NSC, and talk that McMaster wanted him out had recently circulated among national security insiders.

    Since replacing Flynn in February, McMaster has removed several staffers hired by Flynn, who was ousted over his contacts with Russia’s ambassador. Those so-called “Flynnstones” include former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, although McMaster failed in an effort to replace the NSC’s director for intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who is close to Trump advisers skeptical of the national security establishment. That group includes the senior White House aides Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.

    Harvey was viewed as one of Trump’s more hawkish foreign policy advisers—particularly on Iran, whose leadership he has studied closely and which he recommends confronting more aggressively. He has also been a staunch critic of the Iran nuclear deal. And Harvey has pushed for a strong U.S. military role against the Islamic State in Syria. Many military officials consider him the government’s most knowledgeable source on the Sunni insurgency in Iraq and Syria.

    “Gen. McMaster greatly appreciates Derek Harvey’s service to his country as a career Army officer, where he served his country bravely in the field and played a crucial role in the successful surge in Iraq, and also for his service on Capitol Hill and in the Trump administration. The administration is working with Colonel Harvey to identify positions in which his background and expertise can be best utilized,” said NSC spokesman Michael Anton.


    McMaster has weathered recent rumors that he might quit or be fired—which senior White House aides dispute—and was reportedly angry that Trump has rejected his recommendations for sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

    Harvey, who did not reply to a request for comment, may take a position elsewhere in the administration, an NSC aide said.


    Pity Paul Ryan: Moderates adopt Freedom Caucus tactics


    Moderate Republicans have watched for years as conservative hard-liners tanked legislation in the House — all while dutifully falling in line with leadership and being knocked as "squishes" by some of their colleagues.But lately, some in the centrist...

    Moderate Republicans have watched for years as conservative hard-liners tanked legislation in the House — all while dutifully falling in line with leadership and being knocked as "squishes" by some of their colleagues.

    But lately, some in the centrist Tuesday Group have started to adopt the power-in-numbers strategy of the Freedom Caucus. And the get-tough approach is yielding results.

    Resistance from moderates almost torpedoed the House Obamacare replacement this spring, and resulted in billions in additional funding to help people with pre-existing conditions — a requirement for some centrists' support. Earlier this month, they banded with Democrats to sink two controversial amendments overwhelmingly supported by their GOP colleagues, including one barring the Pentagon from spending money on gender reassignment changes for troops.

    Centrist Republicans have also told Speaker Paul Ryan they will not back a budget without a broader spending deal with Democrats. And this week, they helped crush a rank-and-file effort to pass a massive GOP appropriations package full of goodies for the base but that has no chance of passing the Senate. The spending bill was extremely popular with most of their Republican colleagues, infuriating those who supported the plan.

    Tougher tactics from centrists will exacerbate Ryan’s already-difficult job of wrangling his fractious conference. The Wisconsin Republican and his leadership team find themselves twisted in knots trying to find 218 votes to pass almost anything of consequence. Now they’ll need to take more seriously the demands of vulnerable swing-district members as well as rabble-rousers on the right.

    “I think there’s a lot of us who are like, ‘Don’t put us in a position of having to vote for something that has tremendous political risk to us and, substantively, is just done for negotiation purposes,’” said Rep. Thomas Reed, one of several centrists who told leadership he would not back the 12-bill spending package.

    Lacking the votes, leadership is set to pass a slimmed-down, less controversial measure that funds the Pentagon and a few other agencies.


    It’s quite a change for the House GOP. Tuesday Group members are typically leadership’s greatest sympathizers, always more eager than their ideologically driven colleagues to show that Republicans can govern.

    Take Reed for example. By all accounts, the New York Republican has always been considered a leadership ally. He helps muscle votes as a deputy whip, and he boasts a prized panel post on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

    But when Ryan and his team came up short on votes for their GOP spending package, Reed told them to look elsewhere for help. The fourth-term centrist said he’s sick of taking tough votes for the team, then reeling from the political fallout back home — only to see the conservative plan die in the Senate.

    “I think there is some frustration in a sense that we came here to govern," he said. "And to go through these exercises? … I don’t see a path to the finish line, and I don’t see the strategy."

    The Tuesday Group hasn’t gone as far as the Freedom Caucus, of course. It’s not churning out official positions against legislation and certainly isn’t as vocal as the conservatives, who have nearly perfected their no-holds-barred tactics.

    But GOP insiders said the change is notable, albeit subtler. For instance, most Republicans were shocked and furious when moderates sank the amendment on transgender troops during the defense authorization bill in early July. Moderates knew what was coming, whispering among themselves on the floor in a loosely laid plan to bring it down.

    Before President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced a ban on transgender people serving in the military, some Republicans had been trying to persuade GOP leaders to do an end run around the moderates and tuck the amendment into the bill using a procedural loophole.

    Sources say Tuesday Group leaders Elise Stefanik of New York and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania were adamant that leaders better not go there. And centrists made it clear that if a ban on gender reassignment surgery was included, moderates wouldn’t hesitate to take down the entire “minibus” measure of spending increases for the Pentagon.


    Moderates also recently sunk a controversial amendment on Islam from Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona. It would have instructed the Pentagon to, essentially, make a list of good and potentially bad Muslim thought leaders. Moderates, who worried about religious profiling, put their foot down, rejecting the proposal with Democrats in a defeat that stunned opponents of the text.

    “I think a lot of members have learned from observing others,” said centrist Republican Carlos Curbelo of Florida, referring to the Freedom Caucus.

    On the GOP spending package, Curbelo continued: “Everyone knows that at the end of the day we’re going to need a bipartisan deal and a bipartisan spending package, so let’s get it done and focus less on messaging.”

    Rep. Dave Reichert, a centrist Republican from Washington, argued that moderates like him are the so-called Majority Makers. And since Republicans' hold on the House hinges entirely on them keeping their seats, they shouldn’t be subject to controversial votes that could haunt them on the ballot.


    That, Reichert said, is already happening too often: “I think that there are some members who feel like a certain group of people within the conference are taking some votes that they don’t necessarily need to take… certain votes that might be bills that divide our constituency that we represent in our districts.”

    At some level, moderates have a certain amount of leverage conservatives don’t — even if they’ve rarely used it. Leadership relies on them to support must-pass, often-controversial legislation that the far right refuses to back, including votes to avert government shutdowns.

    This fall, House Republican leaders will look to these very members to help raise the debt ceiling since a majority of the GOP Conference likely won’t be on board.

    “They rely on us to achieve outcomes that they can’t always advocate themselves, OK? And please, use that on the record,” said Dent, who’s often referred to as the ringleader of the GOP’s centrist flank.

    Moderates say they'll be ready to support GOP leaders when they take steps toward bipartisan solutions. But until then, they can expect more resistance from the center.

    “I know how to push the red button,” Dent warned.


    Graham: Firing Mueller would be 'beginning of the end' of Trump's presidency


    Sen. Lindsey Graham sent a sharp warning Thursday to President Donald Trump that it “could be the beginning of the end” of his presidency if he makes moves to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.The South Carolina Republican, who in the late 1990s...

    Sen. Lindsey Graham sent a sharp warning Thursday to President Donald Trump that it “could be the beginning of the end” of his presidency if he makes moves to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

    The South Carolina Republican, who in the late 1990s served as a House impeachment manager against President Bill Clinton, said Trump would be crossing a serious “red line” by ordering the ouster of the lead investigator who is probing his campaign’s ties to Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

    “Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency unless Mueller did something wrong,” Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill, where he outlined plans to introduce legislation next week that would move to block any Trump attempts to fire Mueller.

    Graham said his bill — which he promised would have Republican support and “all the Democrats” — would mandate that any special counsel established to investigate either a president or his staff can't be fired “unless you have judicial review of the firing.”

    “We need a check and balance here,” Graham said. He is working on the legislation with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who in an MSNBC interview on Monday described the bill as an attempt to “try and make sure that the president can’t just fire a special prosecutor.”


    Trump, his lawyers and his surrogates have for weeks been publicly discrediting Mueller’s effort, in particular several attorneys he’s brought onto the task force who have made campaign contributions to Democrats. The Republican president’s lawyer has also questioned the scope of the Mueller probe as it reportedly looks into Trump’s business dealings dating back to well before he ran for the presidency. By questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe, as well as other moves by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Trump has also sent signals he could be moving toward a much broader attempt to halt the Mueller probe.

    Procedurally, Trump could keep replacing his Justice Department leadership if they don’t follow his order to get rid of the special counsel — much as President Richard Nixon did in the “Saturday Night Massacre.”

    Trump last week sidestepped the idea of firing the special counsel in a New York Times interview. Asked directly whether he would consider firing Mueller, the president replied, “I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.” The new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in a Tuesday morning interview that the subject has come up with Trump.

    “I'll be on the record with this: In candid conversations with the president, I've said, 'Why would you fire him?'” Scaramucci said.

    Speaking with reporters Thursday, Graham also railed against Trump for his continued public humiliation of Sessions, repeating Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s comment on Wednesday night that there would be no confirmation hearings in 2017 for any Sessions replacement.


    “This effort to basically marginalize and humiliate the attorney general is not going over well with the Senate. I don’t think it’s going over well in the conservative world. If you believe Jeff Sessions should be fired, use the power you have and accept the consequences. I hope it stops,” Graham said, adding, “If Jeff Sessions is fired there will be holy hell to pay.”

    On Fox News the same morning, Graham appeared to speak directly to the president, who is known to watch the network: "I would suggest quit humiliating Jeff."

    Graham told reporters a Mueller firing would cause serious political and constitutional consequences for Trump.

    “The idea that the president would fire Mueller or have somebody fire Mueller because he doesn’t like Mueller, or Mueller is doing something he doesn’t like, then we become Russia,” Graham said. “So the red line should never be drawn. The president is not in the business of drawing red lines when it comes to the law. The law is above any presidential red line.”

    Negassi Tesfamichael contributed to this report.


    House passes spending package with border wall money


    The House passed a $789 billion defense spending package Thursday to fund the Pentagon, veterans benefits and nuclear programs, while supporting what GOP leaders have dubbed a “down payment” for President Donald Trump’s border wall. In a 235-192...

    The House passed a $789 billion defense spending package Thursday to fund the Pentagon, veterans benefits and nuclear programs, while supporting what GOP leaders have dubbed a “down payment” for President Donald Trump’s border wall.

    In a 235-192 vote, the chamber wrapped up work on the Make America Secure Appropriations Act, which bundles four of the 12 spending bills to fund the government beyond Sept. 30. Five Democrats voted for the measure, including two from the border state of Arizona.

    About 80 percent of the bill’s funding goes directly to the Pentagon — a total of more than $658 billion, which greatly exceeds Congress’ current spending limits and would require lawmakers to strike a budget deal to achieve that higher allocation.

    “We ask more of our military than ever before, and we need to support them here at home and abroad,” House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said on the floor. “This four-bill package is carefully crafted to fund our critical military priorities.”

    The rest of the funding would goes toward the departments of Veterans Affairs and Energy, as well as the legislative branch, military construction and water infrastructure.

    Although the spending package does not include funding for the Department of Homeland Security, the inclusion of money for 70 miles of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border became one of the bill’s most contentious provisions.

    The measure's passage also caps several weeks of sparring on other contentious items, such as Congress’ war authorization power and the military’s rules on transgender troops.


    Before the bill reached the floor, House leaders scrapped language that would sunset the 2001 authorization of military force, instead replacing those provisions with a directive for the Trump administration to submit a report on the AUMF.

    While Democrats were unsuccessful in their attempts to reverse the switch-up, even some GOP appropriators are saying a breakthrough could be possible now that there is a bipartisan bubbling of support for revisiting the 16-year-old war authorization.

    House leaders approached Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) to help advance the watered-down AUMF language — a sign, the appropriations cardinal says, that sentiment is slowly changing.

    “That’s the leadership reaching out and beginning to finally realize: Wait a minute, there’s something wrong here, when there’s this much bipartisan support,” Cole said.

    Still, Democrats hammered their GOP counterparts for ditching the war powers provisions, which had been debated and legitimately approved in committee.

    “The bipartisan voices calling for action will not be silenced,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said on the floor this week. “But this is just one example of regular order being abandoned in order to advance an extreme agenda.”

    While lawmakers submitted more than 330 amendments to the package, House leaders only allowed floor debate and votes on about half of those.


    The highly partisan package now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to be substantially reshaped, if not ignored altogether, as spending bills in the upper chamber require Democratic votes.

    Congress has until Sept. 30 to complete all 12 spending bills. And House Republican leaders told lawmakers this week that they could create another package after August recess with the remaining eight spending measures, which are far more difficult to pass within the divided GOP conference.

    Republican appropriators are hopeful to pass more bills on the floor, though many acknowledge that a stopgap spending bill or an all-encompassing bundle is more likely in the three remaining workweeks before the end of September.

    The fate of the security "minibus" was uncertain just days earlier. Several conservatives were threatening to oppose the package if GOP leaders did not allow a vote on a controversial amendment to ban Pentagon-funded gender-reassignment operations.

    House GOP leaders turned to Trump, who was eager to defuse that issue to see funding for his border wall materialize in the package. The president agreed to step in, and then took a step much further, tweeting Wednesday morning that he would ban all transgender men and women from serving in the military.


    Trump and Sessions try a long-distance relationship


    President Donald Trump and his “beleaguered” attorney general, Jeff Sessions, may be on the outs, but they’re making a unified push on immigration — by taking on the MS-13 gang.The group has been blamed for a series of brutal murders over the...

    President Donald Trump and his “beleaguered” attorney general, Jeff Sessions, may be on the outs, but they’re making a unified push on immigration — by taking on the MS-13 gang.

    The group has been blamed for a series of brutal murders over the past 18 months on Long Island, where Trump is scheduled to speak on Friday in a bid to pressure Congress to fork over money for his immigration crackdown, pointing to the influx of migrants from Central America as a factor in the renewed violence.

    At the same time, Sessions is 3,500 miles south in El Salvador, the epicenter of the MS-13 gang, where he’ll echo the same message in meetings with President Salvador Sánchez Cerén and other top officials.

    The president will use his Friday speech to urge Congress to back his border wall with Mexico and to greenlight funding for new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and immigration judges, administration officials told POLITICO.

    “I think it’ll be very hard for Democratic lawmakers to vote against hiring ICE officers and the other resources we need to remove some of these dangerous and violent people, like MS-13, from our country, who are quite literally terrorizing communities, committing the most heinous kinds of crimes imaginable,” said one administration official, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record about the president’s speech.


    A die-hard immigration warrior, Sessions has given Trump credibility on the issue among conservatives — a factor that is weighing on the president as he debates whether to fire the attorney general, according to another senior administration official.

    Sessions has also made eradicating MS-13 a core priority since becoming attorney general.

    "Groups of murderers and rapists and traffickers and thugs are carrying out a frontal assault on the rule of law and on law-abiding men and women in communities over the country," Sessions said during a speech on Long Island in April. "They have no right, and they must not be allowed to take control of a single city block or street corner."

    Asked whether the tension between Sessions and Trump could make it more difficult to implement the president’s immigration agenda, the first administration official said, “The president is focused on enforcing the laws of the United States, and everybody who works with him understands that.” A third administration official quipped that Sessions’ absence from the Long Island speech is “not any stranger” than anything else that’s been happening at the White House this week.

    A Justice Department spokeswoman said Sessions’ trip to El Salvador had been long planned.

    MS-13 is a transnational gang that was formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s by Salvadorans fleeing the country’s civil war.

    While the gang has existed in the United States for decades, a recent spate of grisly MS-13-connected murders involving machetes has put a spotlight on its activities and drawn the attention of the president.

    “They come from Central America. They’re tougher than any people you’ve ever met,” Trump told Time magazine last year. “They’re killing and raping everybody out there. They’re illegal. And they are finished.”


    Administration officials said Trump’s fascination with the gang stems in part from the fact that the MS-13 murders on Long Island dominated New York’s tabloid newspapers for months. Trump, a lifelong New Yorker, is a regular reader of the tabloids.

    Trump’s top aides, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior adviser Stephen Miller, have also highlighted the problem in conversations with the president. Bannon and Miller, a former Sessions staffer, have long pushed Trump to be more aggressive on immigration.

    Miller, a native of Southern California where MS-13 took root, is expected to play a central role in writing Trump’s Friday speech.

    Long Island is still reeling from the MS-13 murders, and White House aides hope the speech will ratchet up political pressure on Democrats to support the president’s immigration policies. But Democrats are unlikely to budge.

    The House is slated to vote soon on a wide-ranging spending bill that includes funding for Trump’s border wall along the Mexico border. The measure is unlikely to win support from Democrats, and it has little chance of passing the Senate.

    The administration has separately called for hiring 10,000 new ICE agents, though the president’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal called for 1,000 new agents. The budget also requested funding to hire 75 new immigration judges to deal with the backlog of nearly 600,000 immigration cases pending in the courts.

    Administration officials said they have been pressing members of Congress behind the scenes to back Trump’s priorities, hoping to score funding for new ICE agents and immigration judges by the end of the year.

    “We’re pushing Congress hard on this,” the first administration official said. “There’s no question about that.”

    Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, met with Trump in the spring to discuss his concerns with the gang and he’s been in regular contact with the president’s top aides.

    “He is committed to doing all he can to destroy MS-13. He sees this as an evil organization,” King said in an interview. “He believes that the federal government and the state and local policy working together can crush it if they move quickly and effectively.”

    King, like Sessions and others in the administration, blame the federal government’s unaccompanied minors programs, which help young people from countries in Central America enter the United States, for boosting MS-13’s numbers.

    King called for a wholesale review of the programs, something that is gaining traction in the Trump White House. Another administration official said the issue is likely to come up in Trump’s Friday speech, along with criticism of sanctuary cities, a frequent target for the president.

    The Trump administration is using the threat of MS-13 to justify many of its immigration policies. Since Trump took office, ICE has led a number of gang-related operations across the country that have resulted in thousands of arrests. And ICE has urged its agents to take action against any undocumented immigrants they come across, even if they don’t have a criminal record.

    Since the beginning of January, ICE’s investigations unit has arrested 3,311 alleged gang members, including more than 350 people believed to belong to or be associated with MS-13, according to the agency.

    But the Trump administration’s efforts are worrying immigrant rights advocates, who fear that the president’s rhetoric could cause a backlash against Central American immigrants. They are also raising red flags that the administration could round up immigrants who aren’t actually members of MS-13 and other gangs.

    “One of our top concerns is that people are going to be labeled as gang members in an overly broad manner, which could lead to more arrests and deportations even for people who have not been active in a gang,” said Shiu-Ming Cheer, a senior staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center.

    Ted Hesson contributed to this report.


    Jeff Sessions Is the Canary in the Coal Mine


    President Trump’s condemnation of his own attorney general may seem bizarre and unprecedented, but here’s something many in America’s gobsmacked chattering class are forgetting: The vaunted independence of the Justice Department took over a century...

    President Trump’s condemnation of his own attorney general may seem bizarre and unprecedented, but here’s something many in America’s gobsmacked chattering class are forgetting: The vaunted independence of the Justice Department took over a century to build, and it’s a far more fragile institution than we realize.

    The spectacle of Trump attacking Jeff Sessions, one of his earliest and most stalwart supporters, as “beleaguered” and “unfair” is certainly jarring. The president seemingly cannot help but vent his frustration over the attorney general’s decision to step aside in the Department of Justice’s probe into Russian election interference—a step that led indirectly to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. If Sessions “would have recused himself before the job,” Trump told the (“failing”) New York Times. “I would have said ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’”

    The prospect that the president might fire Sessions, whose immigration policies and draconian approach to law enforcement are anathema to the left, places Democrats in an unusual position. They despise the attorney general but find themselves bound to protect the independence of his office. But the real test lies with Republicans, who have largely looked the other way as Trump has laid waste to one political norm after another. Will they draw a sharp line in the sand, or bury their heads in it?

    It took well over a century for the office of the attorney general to accrue the very power and independence that Trump now stands poised to blow up. Originally a minor position with little authority or autonomy, over the years the AG emerged as the nation’s top law enforcement official and a key adviser to the president. The office withstood considerable strain in the latter quarter of the 20th century. But like so many civic institutions today, it is imperiled precisely because it is largely the product of traditions, and administrative rules that capture those traditions, rather than permanent statutes or laws. Once broken, it may not be so easily reassembled.

    ***

    Congress established the position of attorney general when it passed—and George Washington signed—the Judiciary Act of 1789. The first attorneys general technically served as members of the cabinet alongside the secretaries of state, war and the treasury, but the job paid so poorly—$1,500 per year, compared with $3,500 for other Cabinet posts—that most of the incumbents prior to 1854 maintained private law practices in tandem with their official responsibilities. Given the paucity of federal criminal law, the AG more closely resembled a part-time legal adviser to the president—an early version of White House counsel—than the nation's top prosecutor.

    Until 1819, the attorney general did not even have a single clerk, nor until 1821, an official office. Some of the earliest officeholders didn’t even bother to move to Washington, D.C., preferring to remain at home and travel to the capital as needed. It wasn’t until the Civil War that federal prosecutors—the forerunners to today’s United States attorneys—began to report directly to the AG; before then, they fell under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department. Edmund Randolph, the first attorney general, mused with disgruntlement that he was “sort of mongrel between the State and the U.S.: called an officer of some rank under the latter, and yet thrust out to get a livelihood in the former—perhaps in a petty mayor’s or county court. … Could I have foreseen it, [it] would have kept me at home to encounter pecuniary difficulties there rather than add to them here.”

    The power of the attorney general grew during the Civil War, as the federal state greatly expanded its scope and authority, and as the Lincoln administration required greater powers of enforcement and prosecution in light of widespread civil unrest in border states and the lower Midwest. These requirements only intensified during Reconstruction, given the surfeit of federal cases concerning confiscation of property, treason, voting rights and personal liberty.

    In response, Congress voted to formally create the Department of Justice in 1870 and to place most federal law enforcement officials, including newly titled U.S. attorneys, under the attorney general’s purview. The new law also established the office of the solicitor general—the government’s chief litigator—and introduced the first civil service protections and rules that endeavored to shield the department from political influence and caprice.

    These developments were of a kind with broader political and civil service reform movements in the Gilded Age, and with the professionalization of the legal profession during the same period. As state bar associations tightened qualifications to practice law—a development that mirrored similar movements other professions, including medicine—and universities created new legal curricula rooted in scientific discipline and case method, early DOJ lawyers jealously insisted on professional independence and stature, placing them at arm’s length from partisan political machines that treated other government jobs as grist for the patronage mill. It was during this period that the modern Justice Department took shape—an institution in but not always of whatever presidential administration temporarily occupied the White House.

    ***

    The first high-profile presidential sacking of an attorney general occurred in 1924, when Calvin Coolidge reluctantly caved to pressure by his commerce secretary, Herbert Hoover, to fire AG Harry M. Daugherty, a onetime Ohio political boss and crony of the late president, Warren G. Harding. Deeply enmeshed in the Harding administration’s many financial scandals, Daugherty later stood federal trial on charges that he received an illegal payout after the government seized the American Metal Company during World War I. At the time of his dismissal, there was little doubt that the president could replace his attorney general. Since 1789, it had been well-established tradition that all executive branch officials served as the pleasure of the chief executive.

    It wasn’t until almost 50 years later that the office of the attorney general faced—and in some respects failed—the first major test of its professional integrity and independence. In 1973, President Richard Nixon empowered his new attorney general, Elliot Richardson, to appoint an independent prosecutor in the Watergate affair. That summer, members of the Senate Select Committee on Watergate learned of the existence of secret Oval Office audiotapes that they believed might shed light on Nixon’s involvement in the execution and cover-up of the original Watergate burglary. In the tussle that ensued, Nixon claimed executive privilege and refused to hand over the tapes to Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor.

    On October 20, 1973, Nixon ordered Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refused and resigned, as did Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. It fell to Solicitor General Robert Bork, a hard-line conservative and onetime law professor at Yale, to close down Cox’s operation. The event would thereafter be known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”

    In the 50 years after Coolidge’s dismissal of Daugherty, the Department of Justice had grown in size and importance, part and parcel of the general expansion of federal authority that grew out of the New Deal era and World War II. Like other federal agencies and administrative offices, DOJ was increasingly staffed by career professionals who valued the quality and integrity of their mandate. Few people questioned the president’s right to remove executive branch officials. But many doubted the propriety of scuttling an investigation whose principal targets worked in the White House.

    To be sure, the Department of Justice had already been sorely compromised during Nixon’s presidency. In January 1972, Richardson’s predecessor, John Mitchell, who was weeks away from resigning his government post to run the president’s reelection race, hosted a small meeting to consider a coordinated effort to aid Nixon’s campaign. The brainchild of G. Gordon Liddy, an eccentric former FBI agent turned dirty trickster, Project Gemstone was budgeted at $1 million and involved not only illegal wiretaps and break-ins, but also the kidnapping and mugging of political opponents and the use of prostitutes in a targeted blackmail and confidence scheme. “Not quite what I had in mind,” Mitchell responded gruffly. When Liddy returned eight days later with a scaled-back plan ($500,000, and no prostitutes, kidnappings or muggings), White House Counsel John Dean shut down the discussion. “I don’t think this kind of conversation should go on in the attorney general’s office,” he remarked. He was right. That the nation’s top law enforcement official was conspiring to break the law—however outlandish Liddy’s plans may have been—represented a gross violation of public trust.

    Mitchell later became the first and only attorney general to serve time in federal prison.

    The next great test came some 20 years later. Not long after appointing Janet Reno as the nation’s first female attorney general, Bill Clinton came to rue his decision. In part, the frosty relationship between president and AG owed to circumstances well beyond either’s control. Early in her tenure, Reno oversaw a deadly raid on the compound of a heavily armed religious cult in Waco, Texas. She drew heated criticism for her handling of the action. It was also Reno’s misfortune to occupy the top law enforcement spot when the United States became embroiled in a controversial custody battle concerning Elián Gonzalez, a young refugee whom the federal government returned to family members in Cuba.

    But the real rift came when Reno allowed Kenneth Starr, a special prosecutor investigating potential financial improprieties that Clinton and his wife, Hillary, allegedly committed during his days as Arkansas governor, to expand his investigation into side areas. It proved a wide-ranging inquiry that ultimately unmasked the president’s improper relationship with a White House intern. At several steps along the way, Clinton considered firing Reno. But he didn’t—in part because he surely knew that public outcry would only intensify his political and legal exposure, but also because he respected or at least acknowledged the durability of the attorney general’s office as an established, independent institution.

    ***


    Trump respects no such norms or institutions. He is, for reasons still unknown to anyone outside his inner circle, deeply unnerved by special counsel Robert Mueller, and seemingly fearful in the extreme that Mueller might expand his probe to investigate financial dealings of the Trump Organization. A man famously lacking in impulse control, Trump has been fully transparent that should Mueller delve into his business practices, that decision would cross a “red line.” (Asked what the consequences of such a move would be, the president responded only that he couldn’t “answer that question because I don't think it’s going to happen.”)

    But to get to Mueller, Trump first has to get past Sessions. Which may leave him few options but to fire the attorney general.

    In that event, Democrats surely won’t cry for Sessions, whom they generally regard as a throwback to America’s not-so-distant apartheid past. But many liberals do feel bound to protect norms and institutions that seem everywhere under threat in the Age of Trump, be they public trust in science and journalism, or voting rights. Out of power, though, there is little they can realistically do to avert a constitutional crisis.

    It will fall to two men, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, to determine whether the institutional integrity and independence of the attorney general—not the man, per se, but the office—survives. The outlook isn’t good. To date, these two leaders have proved skilled arsonists, systematically pouring gasoline on and torching other important political norms like the legislative hearing process, budget scoring and the principle that the sitting president, no matter which political party he belongs to, is entitled to fill vacant Supreme Court seats.

    The question is: Will firing Sessions finally prove a step too far, even for the GOP leadership? If it doen’t, we may find that traditions and norms that took over a century to establish will not be so easily reaffirmed. That’s a danger we’ll all have to live with.


    Boy Scouts chief apologizes after Trump speech


    The head of the Boy Scouts of America apologized to the group’s members on Thursday after President Donald Trump delivered a meandering, controversial and frequently political speech to the organization's National Jamboree on Monday .“I want to...

    The head of the Boy Scouts of America apologized to the group’s members on Thursday after President Donald Trump delivered a meandering, controversial and frequently political speech to the organization's National Jamboree on Monday .

    “I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree,” Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh said in a letter published online. “That was never our intent.”

    Surbaugh noted in the letter that the group is nonpartisan and has had a “long-standing tradition” of inviting the sitting president to speak at the event since its inception in 1937. He reiterated that Trump’s appearance at the gathering was “no way an endorsement of any person, party or policies.”

    But Surbaugh acknowledged that the president’s remarks had “overshadowed” the rest of the conference and said the organization’s leadership “sincerely regret[s] that politics were inserted into the Scouting program.”

    “While we live in a challenging time in a country divided along political lines, the focus of Scouting remains the same today as every day,” he wrote.

    The group had already tried to distance itself from Trump's remarks on Monday, which were widely panned as inappropriate. “The Boy Scouts of America is wholly non-partisan and does not promote any one position, product, service, political candidate or philosophy,” the group said in a statement Monday night.


    Over the course of the speech, Trump threatened to fire his Health and Human Services secretary, repeatedly bragged about his win in the election last year and the size of the crowd, and went on a tangent about a wealthy man who “got bored with his life of yachts and sailing,” “lost all of his money,” and later ran into Trump at a cocktail party with “the hottest people in New York.”


    “It was very sad,” Trump told the kids.

    Trump also suggested that the children in the crowd had voted for him in the election when most of them would not have been eligible.

    White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday she had not seen the Boy Scouts' statement but dismissed the criticism of Trump's speech.

    "I was at that event and I saw nothing but roughly 40- to 45,000 Boy Scouts cheering the president on throughout his remarks," Sanders told reporters at the daily press briefing. "And I think they were pretty excited that he was there and happy to hear him speak to them."


    What Cain and Abel Tell Us About the War Between Priebus and Scaramucci


    Anthony Scaramucci, the new director of communications for the Trump administration, described his stormy relationship with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus as “brothers.” “We are a little bit like brothers where we rough each other up...

    Anthony Scaramucci, the new director of communications for the Trump administration, described his stormy relationship with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus as “brothers.”

    “We are a little bit like brothers where we rough each other up once in a while, which is totally normal for brothers,” he went on to explain. But in an interview Thursday on CNN in which he appeared to accuse Priebus of leaking information, Scaramucci made a startling biblical allusion. “Some brothers,” he said, “are like Cain and Abel.”

    Given the widely reported tensions between the two emerging West Wing rivals, most commentators quickly pointed out that Scaramucci’s Old Testament reference looks like a pretty direct threat to his “brother”: After all, in Genesis, Cain kills Abel.

    In that reading of the comment, Priebus perishes, which may well be what Scaramucci had in mind. But it’s not really a great analogy for him, either. This isn’t a story about crime and punishment, where Abel gets what’s coming to him. It’s a story about entirely unjustified premeditated murder.

    For those unfamiliar with the tale, a brief recap: The brothers Cain and Abel, a farmer and a cowhand, and the offspring of Adam and Eve, each bring an offering to God. God favors Abel’s offering, which distresses Cain. Though God warns Cain to control his temper, Cain kills Abel out in the field. When God hears Abel’s blood “crying from the ground,” Cain is punished, cursed to fail in his future farming endeavors, and told that he will be “a ceaseless wanderer on the earth.”

    Abel is virtually defined by his innocence. As for Cain, nothing good comes of Abel’s death. In fact, having killed his sibling, Cain is suddenly terrified that anywhere he goes, people will look at him as a murderer, and will seek to kill him for his crime. It’s hard to imagine that Scaramucci wouldn’t similarly be viewed by some in the White House and the Republican Party as a hatchetman if Priebus gets the ax. In getting rid of one enemy, you often make many others.

    One place where the parallel with the biblical story is pretty apt, though, is in the rationale for Cain’s murder of Abel: jealousy. The story starts with the two brothers offering sacrifices to God—Abel’s is accepted, and Cain’s is rejected. Genesis doesn’t tell us why one is favored and one isn’t, and that’s part of the point. God even tells Cain not to get upset about it— these things happen. Go get ‘em next time. Scaramucci’s original grievance with Priebus, even before the leaks, was reportedly that Priebus had contrived to keep Scaramucci out of the White House. The root cause of both the biblical story and the drama in the administration is basically the same: Favoritism is fickle.

    To his credit, Scaramucci has had the guts to air his complaints against Priebus, rightly or wrongly. As he put it Wednesday in a Fox News interview, “I’m more of a front-stabbing person.” When Cain kills Abel, he never verbalizes his anger, which is why Abel never sees it coming. Priebus has gotten more warning than Abel ever did—so he might be smart enough not to go out into the field with his brother, and find himself on the wrong end of the knife.

    And while Cain might be the villain of the story, at least he’s got a personality—he’s the protagonist of the narrative, even if he’s no hero. Abel, by contrast, is virtually a ghost. His name in Hebrew even means “nothingness.” He never speaks, he never communicates with God, he never makes a choice. He’s there only to die, which he dutifully does. In this media-driven society, lots of people have made the basic reckoning that fame, even if it’s infamy, beats being ignored. Scaramucci is, if nothing else, savvy about the power of the media.

    It’s also possible, though, that Scaramucci meant for us to read the roles in reverse. After all, if he wants to make Priebus out to be the bad guy, that would be Cain, not Abel. And there are some fun parallels to be found in this casting, too.

    If Scaramucci sees himself as Abel, then he could have in mind that Priebus had tried to kill his earlier attempts to join the administration. Even better is the punishment that Cain has to endure: He is not sentenced to death for killing Abel, but is doomed to wander the earth, friendless. That sounds a lot like what Scaramucci might want for Priebus: banished from the Oval Office, stripped of his influence and forced to roam the sets of whatever cable news shows will take him in.

    The Cain and Abel story is almost always read, with justification, as a statement about the corrupting influence of jealousy on the human heart, and on the power of sin to overtake our intentions. As God warns Cain, “If you not do right, sin lies in wait at the door; its urge is toward you. Yet you can be its master.” Cain, of course, doesn’t heed God’s word, and suffers the consequences. Fair warning, then, to both Scaramucci and Priebus.

    The most famous line from the biblical text is surely Cain’s claim of innocence when God asks (laying the trap) where Abel has gone: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The moral of the story is supposed to be yes: We are all our brother’s keepers, responsible for the health and welfare of those around us. It’s probably safe to say that this particular lesson isn’t getting much play in the West Wing.

    Biblical scholars have also often pointed to this story as a depiction of an early conflict between pastoralists like Abel—that is, shepherds—and agriculturalists like Cain, which is to say, farmers. So too the Scaramucci/Priebus drama is really about something bigger: The conflict between traditional Republican politics and the new Trumpian attitude. It could also represent the clash of styles between Priebus’ aw-shucks Midwesternism and Scaramucci’s New York brashness. Either way, one potential lesson of the biblical story is the same: When the two sides come to blows, no one really ends up winning.

    The story of Cain and Abel is rich with interpretive possibilities, with moral and ethical lessons, and with potential parallels to our modern experience. It’s hard to imagine, though, that Scaramucci had any of this in mind when he suggested that he and Priebus were like Cain and Abel. It seems far more likely that he was just expressing, in crude biblical terms, what everyone knew from the day he was hired: The White House just ain’t big enough for the both of them.


    Why Trump’s Ban on Transgender Servicepeople Is Flatly Unconstitutional


    President Donald Trump’s tweets Wednesday morning proclaiming that no transgender persons should be allowed “to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military” do not have the force of law, and maybe nothing like them ever will. But if the president...

    President Donald Trump’s tweets Wednesday morning proclaiming that no transgender persons should be allowed “to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military” do not have the force of law, and maybe nothing like them ever will. But if the president were to put that edict in an executive order rather than a tweet, the policy it purported to institute would be flatly unconstitutional. As stated, a wall-to-wall ban on transgender Americans in the armed forces could only be understood as rooted in what constitutional doctrine calls animus: that is, the bare dislike of a group of people. And as the Supreme Court has held in cases going back at least to the 1970s, animus is never a constitutionally valid reason for government action.

    Probably the most powerful indicator that a complete ban on transgender personnel would be rooted in animus comes from the policy’s enormous breadth. The U.S. military employs many people in combat roles, and perhaps defenders of a transgender ban would imagine trying to defend it by arguing that including transgender personnel in combat units would erode the fighting capability of those units—much as opponents of including gays and lesbians used to argue about the negative effect that openly gay and lesbian troops would have on “social cohesion.” Trump himself explained the move by tweeting that “our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming … victory,” with the presence of transgender troops being a “disruption.”

    Those arguments convince far fewer people today than they did 20 years ago as applied to gays and lesbians, and perhaps the line of reasoning is no stronger as applied to transgender personnel. (The Israeli military, which is not known for compromising its fighting effectiveness out of deference to softheaded social causes, includes transgender individuals in its ranks.) But even if courts could be convinced that transgender combat troops posed sufficient difficulties for the military so as to justify a policy of exclusion, such a conclusion would fall far short of justifying the policy Trump announced. After all, Trump’s tweets did not speak of barring transgender personnel from combat; it proposed to bar transgender persons from military service “in any capacity[.]”

    The U.S. military employs people in a lot of capacities. It has doctors, lawyers, chaplains, cartographers, meteorologists, journalists, diplomatic attaches, cargo pilots, engineers and cooks. And it’s hard to think of any reason why transgender individuals should be banned from all of those roles. Indeed, it’s hard even to think of any reason why a government might want to ban transgender persons from all of those roles—except, of course, for simple dislike of transgender individuals.

    Two other possible motives should be briefly mentioned and just as briefly dismissed. First, Trump wrote that having transgender personnel in the military would come with “tremendous medical costs[.]” The government is surely permitted to try to save money, so if this claim were true, it would open up the possibility that the policy was motivated not by sheer animus toward transgender persons but by fiscal concerns. But there is no reason why transgender personnel need burden the military with great financial costs. Yes, the military might incur such costs if it paid the bill for the medical care associated with actual gender transition, as was the policy under Obama. But if that were the concern, the military could simply stop providing that benefit, thus saving the money without barring all transgender persons.

    Second, and perhaps more cynically, such a policy might have simple political motivations. Regardless of whether the president himself bears ill will toward transgender people, his aim might be to appeal to a political base that does. But it’s well-established that one cannot escape anti-discrimination rules on the grounds that one is catering to someone else’s prejudice rather than acting on one’s own. The classic example is a restaurant that refuses to hire black waitstaff, not because the restaurant owner is a racist but because the restaurant owner thinks the customers want the waitstaff to be white. This “customer preference” argument is a known loser, and it’s no different as an argument about voters rather than customers.

    There’s also another way to think about why a transgender ban would be unconstitutional. It’s settled law that government actions discriminating on the basis of gender are subject to what constitutional doctrine calls “heightened scrutiny” and in particular that they can survive only if they are “substantially related to important government interests.” In other words, it’s not enough for the government to proffer some explanation that might conceivably explain the rationality of such a law. Instead, the government has to meet a more demanding standard. Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled that this “heightened scrutiny” standard applies not just to laws that discriminate between men and women, but to laws that discriminate between gays and heterosexuals, because the gay-straight distinction is also a matter of gender. To subject laws discriminating against transgender persons to the same heightened scrutiny would take the matter one step further, but it’s an entirely foreseeable step and not an illogical one. If laws discriminating against transgender individuals are subject to heightened scrutiny, the likelihood of the government’s being able to justify a ban against not just transgender combat troops but transgender meteorologists and engineers seems remoter than remote.

    But even if the courts are not ready to rule that discrimination against transgender individuals is subject to heightened scrutiny, it’s well-established that government action rooted merely in animus is unconstitutional. And that’s what we have here, as made clear by the sheer breadth of the ban.

    If a policy is based in animus, it is unconstitutional regardless of whether a similar policy or even the identical policy could have been enacted for permissible reasons. What makes such a policy invalid is its purpose rather than the specifics of how it is carried out.

    Presidents have, and should have, significant discretion over matters involving the military. But even the military is not a Constitution-free zone. And one of the Constitution’s minimal demands is that government not act against people for no better reason than dislike.


    13 Trump Scandals You Forgot About


    The first six months of the Trump presidency have been a whirlwind of Russia-related news, with revelations about the Kremlin’s attempt to sway the election and the Trump campaign’s possible role in the effort surfacing nearly every day. But imagine...

    The first six months of the Trump presidency have been a whirlwind of Russia-related news, with revelations about the Kremlin’s attempt to sway the election and the Trump campaign’s possible role in the effort surfacing nearly every day. But imagine for a moment a world in which the Russia scandal didn’t exist. Pretend that Trump didn’t fire FBI Director James Comey, or that Don Jr. never met with a Russian lawyer and a former Soviet spy promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. Forget that Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort had to register retroactively as foreign agents, or even that Trump said he wouldn’t have hired Jeff Sessions if he’d known the attorney general would recuse himself from the Russia probe.

    What you’re left with is still a remarkable amount of other administration scandals—from the State Department’s stay at a Trump hotel to Jared Kushner’s disclosure problems—that would have been major news any other year, with any other president in the White House. Here are a few to remember.

    ***

    Foreign governments are paying Trump

    The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution says the president cannot “without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” This means that many of Trump’s continued business dealings—he has refused to divest from his real estate company—could very well be illegal: For one, Trump has put his name on properties all over the world—from the Philippines to Saudi Arabia—and receives foreign money from his overseas holdings constantly.

    There’s also the issue of the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., which has become a popular destination for foreign diplomats. A week after the November election, about 100 foreign officials were invited to an event at the property, during which they toured the building and sipped champagne. While Trump promised before taking office that he’d donate all profits earned from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury, he doesn’t appear to have kept that pledge. So far, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have all held events at the hotel, but there’s also the trickier matter of how to account for individuals linked to foreign governments. A Trump Organization pamphlet published in May said that “putting forth a policy that asks all guests to identify themselves would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand.”

    In January, the nonprofit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) welcomed Trump to the White House by suing him on the grounds that he was already in violation of the Emoluments Clause. The Justice Department responded with a 70-page legal brief defending the president’s conduct and calling for the suit’s dismissal.


    The Defamation lawsuit

    During the 2016 presidential campaign, 15 women claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Trump, going on the record to accuse him of groping them—in planes, offices, hotels, even golf and tennis tournaments. The then-presidential nominee vehemently denied any accounts of misconduct, and suggested the women weren’t attractive enough to merit his attention. But in January, Summer Zeryos, a former “Apprentice” contestant who had accused Trump of kissing her, grabbing her breast and thrusting his groin toward her in 2007, but whose accusation Trump had dismissed as “totally made up nonsense,” sued Trump for defamation. Zervos’ suit claims that Trump’s malicious response to her and others—he repeatedly called her and other women who came forward “liars”—resulted in “threats of violence, economic harm, and reputational damage.” In March, Trump claimed that as president, he should have immunity from Zeryos’ suit. It will serve only to “distract a president from his public duties to the detriment of not only the president and his office but also the Nation,” wrote his lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, in a filing. In July, Kawowitz filed a motion for dismissal. It hasn’t yet been granted.


    The White House promotes Melania’s jewelry line

    The first lady’s bio on the White House website, as first published in January, noted her modeling accolades and charitable causes, but also included what many saw as a blatant endorsement of her products. “Melania is also a successful entrepreneur,” the bio read. “In April 2010, Melania Trump launched her own jewelry collection, ‘Melania™ Timepieces & Jewelry,’ on QVC.” The episode was added to the growing evidence of blurred lines between business and public service in the Trump administration. Facing backlash, the White House quickly removed the QVC plug from the website.


    Kellyanne Conway endorses Ivanka’s clothing line

    When Nordstrom announced it would stop selling Ivanka Trump's clothing line in February, Trump took to Twitter to defend his daughter. Later that week, not even three weeks after the Melania QVC debacle, presidential aide Kellyanne Conway delivered a ringing endorsement of the brand herself from the White House briefing room, urging Americans, “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff.” The rules are clear on this: Executive branch employees can’t use public office for private gain, to endorse any product or for the private gain of friends. The Office of Government Ethics wrote that “there is strong reason to believe” the action had violated the Standards of Conduct, and Conway was supposedly reprimanded for the mistake by Trump himself—but no disciplinary action was taken.


    Wilbur Ross keeps investments that he affects as commerce secretary

    In February, the Wall Street Journal wrote that Trump’s then-nominee for head of the Commerce Department, Wilbur Ross, planned on keeping $8.7 million to $41.5 million worth of his investments, primarily in companies that invest in shipping and real estate financing. While Ross said he would sell at least 80 other funds and assets, the holdings he refused to give up include a private company registered in the Cayman Islands, an oil tanker company and a co-investment with the Chinese government. Ethics watchdogs and democratic lawmakers highlighted potential conflicts of interest, given the Commerce chief’s regulatory power and involvement in foreign trade negotiations, but despite these concerns, Ross was confirmed for the position later that month. In his new role, Ross sits on the Committee on Foreign Investment, which deals extensively with China; and he has broad authority under the Oil Pollution Act “with regards to oil-spill response and environmental restoration,” which could have implications for his investments in the medium-range oil tanker operating and owning company, Diamond S. Shipping. Ross has pledged not to take any action that would benefit one of his investments.


    Mar-a-Lago jacks up its rates

    Trump might travel to Mar-a-Lago—the historic Florida estate his aides have branded the “Southern White House”—to get away from the stresses of 1600 Penn, but guests travel to Trump’s Palm Beach resort to get closer to power. And they’re willing to pay Trump handsomely for the privilege: After the inauguration, the club doubled its initiation fee to $200,000. It’s not only foreign dignitaries that stay at the resort hoping to brush shoulders with the president and his staff—wealthy clubgoers also include New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and actor Sylvester Stallone.

    Ethics watchdogs aren’t comfortable with the arrangement—not to mention how expensive it is to transport a president, his aides and security detail down to Palm Beach (or, more recently, his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey) weekend after weekend—but security officials are also wary: Trump has been known to conduct sensitive business with foreign dignitaries on the terrace, in open view of Mar-a-Lago guests, who can enter the property without a background check. And then there’s that time a guest happily posted a photo online of the soldier who carries the nuclear football.

    In March, Democrats proposed legislation titled “Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness Act,” (fondly known as the “Mar-a-Lago Act,” which would force Trump to release the resort’s guest records. In July, CREW won its own ethics lawsuit demanding that the Department of Homeland Security release Mar-a-Lago’s records by this fall.


    Trump’s campaign pays his businesses

    In February, Federal Election Commission reports revealed that Trump’s campaign paid $12.8 million to his own companies over the course of the 2016 election. Those millions were funneled to Trump’s TAG Air, for campaign trips; Trump Tower, for rent and utilities; Trump Restaurants; Trump Ice, for beverages and office supplies; Trump’s Florida club, Mar-a-Lago, his golf clubs; and his son’s Charlottesville vineyard, for rent, catering and lodging.

    And as one election ended, soliciting campaign donations for the next one quietly began. A Wired analysis this July found that Trump had already spent $600,000 of his 2020 reelection campaign funds on rent at Trump Tower, legal consulting for the Trump Corp., golf at Trump’s golf course, Trump’s hotels and Trump’s water bottles.


    The Kushners tout Jared’s White House connections to do business in China

    In May, Jared Kushner’s sister Nicole Meyer pitched Chinese investors in Beijing on a Kushner development project in Jersey City, telling them that if they put at least $500,000 into the project they would be rewarded with EB-5 investor visas (also known as “golden visas”) to immigrate to the United States. Kushner, whose role in the White House includes advising on China policy, stopped running his family’s company in January; but Meyer mentioned her brother by name at the Beijing event, reminding guests he was now serving in the White House and adding that the project “means a lot to me and my entire family.” Critics immediately sounded the alarm: It appeared the Kushners weren’t averse to using their high-ranking White House connections to buoy their business. They pivoted quickly, canceling future visits to China in the wake of intense scrutiny and issuing an apology.

    But in July, CNN discovered that Kushner’s name has again been used to lure Chinese investors for the same New Jersey development, this time in online promotions written by businesses working with Kushner Companies. He’s referred to as “the celebrity of the family,” and in a post that has since been removed, as the guy who “got Trump elected.” CNN also found a post by the Chinese company Qiaowai, also recently deleted, again mentioned Kushner and his connection to the White House, adding, “Given this, in the Trump era, the EB-5 program is likely to receive support and be expanded.”

    When asked by CNN about the Web pages, a Kushner Companies spokesperson said they were unaware of them and would be “sending a cease-and-desist letter” to the companies who used Kushner’s name without his approval.


    Kushner fails to disclose key assets

    In May, a Wall Street Journal investigation revealed that Kushner neglected to disclose large stakes in the real estate investment platform Cadre, valued at $800 million, when he filed his government financial disclosure form. Kushner’s ties to Cadre mean he’s also entangled in business with Goldman Sachs and billionaires George Soros and Peter Thiel, fellow investors in the company. Also absent from his form? Nearly $1 billion in loans. In July, CREW filed a lawsuit against Kushner, asserting, “It is impossible to ensure that senior government officials are behaving ethically if they fail to disclose key assets.”

    In the wake of the July revelation that Kushner had joined his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr., in a mysterious meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer and former Soviet spy, Kushner released a revised form. It revealed, among other things, that he and his wife, Ivanka Trump, made at least $19 million in outside business; that they shared an art collection worth $5 million to $25 million; that Kushner had left out more than 70 assets worth more than $10 million from his first form; and that, although he has recused himself from “particular matters” in sectors that might affect Cadre, his previously undisclosed stake in the company is valued at between $5 million to $25 million.

    Financial disclosure forms are commonly revised, but former Office of Government Ethics Director Don Fox told the Wall Street Journal that “the number of omissions on Mr. Kushner’s initial form was unusually high.” Ethics experts worry that failure to disclose potential conflicts of interest mean Kushner could make policy decisions motivated by business strategy without public accountability.


    Ivanka and Jared are still making a lot of money from their businesses

    Ivanka’s first financial disclosure went public in July, revealing that even though she’s stepped away from leadership roles within the family business and her fashion brand, the first daughter has received at least $12.6 million in income from her business ventures since early 2016. In fact, Jared and Ivanka’s most recent disclosures show the couple continues to cash in from a wide-ranging business empire worth as much as $761 million as they carry out their government service—a big problem, according to ethics experts warning about the potential for conflicts of interest.


    Trump’s products aren’t made in America

    In July, the president traveled around the country for Made in America week. He rode firetrucks, waved flags, and most of all heralded the importance of buying and manufacturing in America. But soon it became clear that he doesn’t practice what he preaches—his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line is not made in America, and his restaurants and hotels are actively hiring more foreign workers. Similar hypocrisies came to light when, during the election, Trump placed emphasis on buying American while it was revealed that dozens of other goods he produced were manufactured overseas. In her defense, Ivanka’s brand president, Abigail Klem, told the Washington Post that manufacturing goods in the U.S. “at a large scale is currently not possible”; and in 2015, Trump defended his China-manufactured ties by arguing that “[the Chinese] have manipulated their currency to such a point that it’s impossible for our companies to compete.”



    The government writes Trump a $15,000 check

    In July, a FOIA request by the Washington Post revealed that the State Department in February shelled out $15,000 to stay in Trump’s new Vancouver hotel when members of the Trump family traveled there for the hotel’s grand opening. The Secret Service, which handles security for domestic travel, has already spent millions on stays at Trump Tower in New York and at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property in Florida. But this was the first real evidence of the State Department spending taxpayer money at Trump-branded properties. The State Department didn’t say explicitly why it accompanied the Trumps, telling the Post, “Embassy and consulate personnel work with the Secret Service to provide assistance on security matters as necessary for conditions in the particular host country.”


    The administration sidelines climate scientists

    When Mark Zuckerberg flew to Glacier National Park in July, the Facebook CEO was to be shown around by two of the park’s climate experts, Daniel Fagre and Jeff Mow—but at the last minute, top officials at Trump’s Department of the Interior made sure the tech billionaire wouldn’t be meeting either of them. The administration defended the cancellation as a move to save money, saying it would be a waste of government resources to send Zuckerberg into the park with such a large group; but Fagre, a research ecologist, and Mow, who focuses on Glacier’s retreating ice sheets, were puzzled. The tour was kept quiet on social media, too, after the Trump administration forbade National Park staff from posting about it online.

    To many, this was interpreted as another of the Trump administration’s moves to undermine the long-held scientific consensus that man-made climate change is happening. Since Trump took office, the Interior Department and EPA made revisions to their Climate Change websites, deleting much of the substantive content on environmental risks. In June, dozens of top Interior officials, including those focused on climate and other environmental issues, were involuntarily reassigned to unrelated departments; and in July, Trump nominated climate-change skeptic Sam Clovis, a campaign aide with no experience in science, to be the head of science at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


    To America, It Looks Like Chaos. For Trump, It’s Just Tuesday.


    It started Monday morning with Donald Trump calling his own attorney general “beleaguered.” It continued with an Air Force One flight to West Virginia and a rambling, partisan speech to thousands of hollering Boy Scouts. And it kept going with...

    It started Monday morning with Donald Trump calling his own attorney general “beleaguered.” It continued with an Air Force One flight to West Virginia and a rambling, partisan speech to thousands of hollering Boy Scouts. And it kept going with another manic jag of tweets on Tuesday, as the president took a second shaming swipe at Jeff Sessions, delegitimized the acting director of the FBI, urged senators to “step up to the plate” on getting rid of Obamacare and railed away in his exclamation-laced syntax about Democrats who are “obstructionists” and the “Witch Hunt” of the Russia investigation. Meanwhile, his new communications director was threatening to fire his entire staff for leaking as rumors swirled about Cabinet-level departures. Chaos bordering on crisis.

    This is how Trump ran his business, and it’s how he ran his campaign. For six months now, it’s how he’s run his White House. But within the whirl of these past two nonstop, dizzying days, it has reached blinking-red-light levels. To people who have been around him, and those who still are, from Trump Tower to the West Wing, this can be unnerving. To people across the country and the world, it can feel dismaying or disorienting or just plain insane.

    For Trump, though, it feels like … the start to another week.

    “This is Donald,” former Trump Organization Vice President Louise Sunshine told me Tuesday. “This is his style.”

    “He’s operating just like he always has,” former Trump Shuttle President Bruce Nobles said in an interview.

    “The prince of chaos,” said Trump biographer Gwenda Blair.

    The spawn of Norman Vincent Peale and Roy Cohn, Trump has stomped through life armed with the obstinate, self-centered tenets of optimistic thinking and the sneering, deep-seated lessons of attack, attack, attack. He creates chaos, and then he responds to that chaos, withstanding it, even embracing it, feeding on it—and then he outlasts the outrage, emerging not only alive but emboldened.

    “Hey, look, I had a cold spell from 1990 to ’91,” Trump said almost a quarter-century ago to a reporter from New York magazine, referring to the breakup of his marriage to the mother of his first three children, his affair with a busty, B-movie actress and the reckless spending and negligent management of his company that left him nearly a billion dollars in debt—all of which was covered breathlessly by the press. “I was beat up in business and in my personal life. But you learn that you’re either the toughest, meanest piece of shit in the world, or you just crawl into a corner, put your finger in your mouth, and say, ‘I want to go home.’ You never know until you’re under pressure how you’re gonna react.”

    This crisis was formative, and Trump survived because of family money, permissive banks that were tied to him as much as he was tied to them, the Houdini-esque work of a lender-mandated financial rescue artist and far more than his fair share of chutzpah. The close scrape with personal bankruptcy and business ruin didn’t chasten Trump. It did the opposite. “The fact that he got through it,” former Trump Organization Vice President Barbara Res said, “made him believe he could accomplish anything, conquer anything.”

    His path from The Art of the Deal to The Art of the Comeback to "The Apprentice" consisted of a media-stoked stew of self-promotion and provocation. WrestleMania antics and celebrity feuds were fuel. And he talked when he could about running for president. It was always a bluff. Until, of course, it wasn’t.

    His campaign was a rolling crisis. Beset by backstabbing and infighting, careening from one five-alarm fire to the next, Trump’s unprecedented presidential bid seemed perpetually on the edge of political viability. And he won.

    “Chaos creates drama, and drama gets ink,” former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg told me Tuesday. “This is a new kind of presidency. He’s followed the tabloid model, and it got him to where he is, and it’s the model that will be followed until it doesn’t work. And it has worked. He’s sitting in the Oval Office.”

    On Monday, at the fairly standard hour of 6:40 a.m., he kickstarted a particularly agitated sequence of tweets by labeling Washington not a “Swamp” but a “Sewer” and yelling “Fake News!” He insisted there’s “Zero evidence” of his or his campaign’s collusion with Russian officials. Then he called Sessions, the first senator to endorse him and for a long period during the campaign his most credible surrogate, “beleaguered.” Then he called a member of Congress “Sleazy.” Then he poked Republicans about their “last chance” to “Repeal & Replace.” Then he boarded the presidential plane to go talk to the Boy Scouts.

    In Glen Jean, West Virginia, at the National Scout Jamboree, at a gathering of “the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training,” Trump pledged to the crowd of an estimated 40,000, mostly boys between 12 and 18 years old, that he wouldn’t talk about policy fights or political disagreements. “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?” he said. He did. The president talked about Tuesday’s health care vote and called Obamacare “this horrible thing that’s really hurting us” and found ways to criticize Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and told the amped-up teens stale stories about his big win of 2016. “USA!” they chanted back.

    By Tuesday morning, he was back on Twitter, blasting the FBI boss and Sessions, too, for his “VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes” and “leakers.” He also praised John McCain for being a “Brave” “American hero” after disparaging him for being captured in Vietnam not once but twice before. (Trump never apologized.)

    This is not the way it’s supposed to work, or at least not how it has. “I have not seen any indication of a normal appreciation of the functioning of government coming from the president,” former Senate attorney and Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste told POLITICO on Tuesday. But while members of Congress scrambled to respond, their assessments of the president’s latest behavior ranging from confusion to condemnation to twisted justification to tepid defense, the people who have watched Trump for a lot longer simply shook their heads.

    “Typical Donald,” Sunshine said.

    “I’m not surprised by anything I’m seeing,” said Nobles, the former Trump Shuttle boss. “He’s always liked chaos.”

    “He’s spent his life creating and surrounding himself with chaos,” Res said, “so that he can be the one person who can emerge in charge. The winner. The guy on the top. It’s a way of slaying his enemies.”

    “If you’ve ever been on a construction site, they’re always chaotic,” Billy Procida, another former Trump Organization vice president, told me Tuesday. “And he’s good at construction.”

    But he’s no longer on a construction site. He’s the most powerful person in the world.

    “This is certainly different. It’s certainly new,” Nunberg said. “But it’s what people want.”

    Chaos? All the time?

    “Entertainment,” Nunberg said. “Entertainment.”


    Trump Is a Bad Negotiator


    Six months on, the gap between President Donald Trump’s grandiose promises on foreign policy and what he’s actually achieved seem galactic in scale. Not only are his headlines bad, but the trend lines for wins on many big, important issues seem grim...

    Six months on, the gap between President Donald Trump’s grandiose promises on foreign policy and what he’s actually achieved seem galactic in scale. Not only are his headlines bad, but the trend lines for wins on many big, important issues seem grim as well.

    From what we’ve seen so far, is Trump the consummate negotiator, the former real estate deal-maker par excellence whose “America First” strategy abroad was going to be so successful that Americans got sick of winning? Has Trump demonstrated the wily negotiating skills of a Henry Kissinger or James Baker, earning respect on the world stage and leaving his interlocutors reaching for their wallets?

    Hardly. Granted, international diplomacy is a lot tougher than cutting real estate deals in New York, and there’s still a lot of time left on the presidential clock to make Trump great again. But half a year into the Trump era, there’s little evidence of Donald Trump, master negotiator. Quite the opposite, in fact: In several very important areas and with some very important partners, Trump seems to be getting the short end of the proverbial stick. The president who was going to put America first and outmaneuver allies and adversaries alike seems to be getting outsmarted by both at every turn, while the United States gets nothing.

    Putin Plays Trump

    Let’s start with the president’s recent encounters with the president of Russia, a man who admittedly has confounded his fellow world leaders for nearly two decades. Apparently without any reciprocal concessions, the world’s greatest negotiator bought into Russia’s plan for Syria, where U.S. and Russian goals are in conflict; ended America’s covert program of support for the moderate Syrian opposition, then confirmed its highly classified existence on Twitter; and had an ostentatious one-on-one meeting with the Kremlin strongman at the G-20 dinner, sticking a finger in the eye of some of America’s closest allies. It’s bad enough to give Putin the global spotlight he craves while accepting Russia’s seriously flawed vision for Syria. But to do so without getting anything in return gives “the art of the deal” a whole new meaning. Trump’s failure to hold Putin accountable for Russian interference in the presidential election is the most egregious example of putting Russia’s interests first and America’s interests last, but it’s hardly the whole of the matter. There’s no other way to put it: Trump has become Putin’s poodle. If it weren’t for Congress, public opinion and the media, Trump would be giving away more of the farm on sanctions, Russian aggression in Ukraine and other issues that divide the United States and Russia. That’s not winning; it’s losing.

    The Saudis' Pushover

    Frustrated by President Barack Obama’s policies, particularly the Iran nuclear deal, the Saudis were looking forward to a change in administrations. But there’s no way they could have imagined how lucky they’d be with Trump’s election. Since January, Trump has bonded with the aging King Salman, while Trump's son–in-law Jared Kushner has established close ties with the king’s son and new crown prince.

    The Saudis have milked Trump’s inexperience and gullibility for all it’s worth; they’ve convinced his administration to ramp up its support for their disastrous war in Yemen and somehow persuaded Trump to back the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, over the objections of his own secretaries of state and defense. It’s now clear that the timing of the move against Qatar was triggered by Trump’s visit to the kingdom — remarkably, his first stop on his first foreign visit — and the Saudi conclusion that Trump had their back. Instead of creating a measure of distance from the Saudis, Trump has forfeited U.S. leverage, allowed Riyadh to set the agenda and to drag the U.S. into local conflicts in Yemen and between two U.S. security partners in the Gulf.

    None of this furthers U.S. interests. In fact, if Trump’s willingness to accommodate the Saudis results from his desire to enlist them in a campaign to contain Iranian influence, he may have produced the opposite effect: Saudi pressure on Qatar has only deepened its dependence on Tehran, which is re-supplying Doha in a bizarro Islamist rendition of the Berlin Airlift. U.S. presidents have worked closely with the Saudis for decades, relying on Riyadh for help in a troubled Middle East. But Trump is letting them dictate the terms of the relationship.

    The Kim and Xi Tag Team

    Hampered by the absence of a coherent strategy and a set of options ranging from bad to worse—sanctions, military pressure, threats of regime change and pre-emptive military strikes—the White House has given Kim Jong Un an opening to barrel ahead with North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. And here’s the great paradox: The man who fancies himself the world’s greatest negotiator has so far refused to sit down with Kim to try to find a negotiated solution to the North Korean problem, even though Trump said during the presidential campaign that he would be happy to do so over a hamburger. Instead, he asked the Chinese to carry America’s water with North Korea and got taken in by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s promise to tighten the noose on Kim. The Chinese, as they did when Obama tried the same basic approach, failed to ratchet up sanctions in any serious way. Beijing fears the collapse of the North Korean regime would bring chaos, not to mention South Korean and U.S. troops, to China’s doorstep. In response to Xi’s dithering, the administration slapped sanctions on Chinese individuals and entities enabling North Korea’s ballistic missile program. But Xi had already gotten what he wanted: the royal treatment at Mar-a-Lago and softer Trump positions on trade, Chinese currency manipulation and Chinese military operations in the South China Sea. Some deal.

    A Free Ride for Netanyahu

    As with the Saudis, the president, eager to free U.S.-Israeli relations from the tensions of the Obama years, has given the Israelis a free pass on the peace process. He continues to talk in fantastical terms about the “ultimate deal” — a final-status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that is simply not possible now. And yet he refuses to validate the central assumption behind any such deal: the creation of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel, living in peace and security. By failing to recommit the U.S. to this basic principle, he gives Netanyahu room to undermine it further, leaving the future of Mideast peace in serious doubt. Israel has already ramped up its unhelpful settlement program, and this week there are reports that Netanyahu’s Likud party is preparing to formally abandon the two-state concept altogether, something even Netanyahu has previously at least pretended to support. Let’s be clear: There’s little chance of reviving a serious peace process on the big issues. But in the Middle East, things can always get worse, and violent actors often fill the vacuum. The current crisis in Jerusalem may well be defused, but Israelis and Palestinians almost certainly face a future of serious violence and confrontation. Not everything is Israel’s fault—hardly—but Trump has in effect allowed Netanyahu to set the table on his terms and created the impression that the U.S. agrees with him. And in exchange for Trump’s willingness to abandon the two-state solution—a departure from at least two decades of U.S. policy—the president has gotten absolutely nothing from Netanyahu.

    ***

    Our knock on Trump is not that he hasn’t solved the world’s problems in six months. Nobody could—not even genuinely masterful negotiators like Kissinger and Baker. U.S. interests diverge fundamentally from those of many of the leaders with whom Trump deals, and his leverage isn’t all that great. No, our problem with Trump is that he’s behaving not as a smart and tough negotiator but as a president who readily succumbs to flattery and personal attention without having any negotiating strategy at all, while his negotiating partners rob him blind. Far from the master deal-maker with transformative goals, Trump is emerging as a guy whose America First mantra actually ends up putting America last. That’s bad news for Trump’s presidency—and a tragedy for the American people.


    Trump the Disloyalist


    At the Boy Scout Jamboree on Monday, President Donald Trump ventured off script as he ticked off the values the century-old youth organization drills into its devotees. “A scout is trustworthy, loyal,” he said, before ad-libbing, “we could use some...

    At the Boy Scout Jamboree on Monday, President Donald Trump ventured off script as he ticked off the values the century-old youth organization drills into its devotees. “A scout is trustworthy, loyal,” he said, before ad-libbing, “we could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that.” As he spoke, the president was already undercutting an attorney general who had taken a great political risk to endorse his campaign and given up a safe Senate seat to serve in his Cabinet.

    Trump kept at it on Tuesday, dismissing the very idea that he owed Sessions anything. “It’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement,” he told the Wall Street Journal. Then he left the AG twisting in the wind, refusing to say whether he would let his first major supporter keep his job.

    This behavior should not have surprised Jeff Sessions. Trump’s life has been a long trail of betrayals.

    His mentor was attorney Roy Cohn, who had been Senator Joseph McCarthy’s right-hand man. Cohn schooled him in the shadier sides of public relations, New York City politics and the law. Trump benefited greatly from the relationship, but when Cohn contracted AIDS in the 1980s, Trump turned his back on him, transferring his business to other attorneys. When the funeral came, Trump didn’t speak. “Donald pisses ice water,” Cohn reportedly said before his death.

    Trump’s ex-wives would probably say the same thing if they were not bound by non-disclosure agreements. He was especially disloyal to his first wife, Ivana, the mother of Donald, Jr., Ivanka and Eric. During their breakup, he told a writer for Vanity Fair: “When a man leaves a woman, especially when it was perceived that he has left for a piece of ass—a good one!—there are 50 percent of the population who will love the woman who was left.”

    If Trump was willing to dump close friends and wives, he was ruthless about betrayal in the business world. Last year, a review by USA Today found at least 60 lawsuits, along with hundreds of judgments, liens and other documents showing how many people had accused Trump and his firms of stiffing them for their work. “Trump crawled his way to the top on the back of little guys, one of them being my father,” said the son of a contractor who had to fight for even a partial payment. “He had no regard for thousands of men and women who worked on those projects. He says he’ll make America great again, but his past shows the complete opposite of that.”

    During a debate in the fall of 2015, CNBC host Becky Quick pointed out what Trump’s Atlantic City bankruptcies had done to bondholders and contractors. “Bankruptcy is a broken promise,” she said. “Why should the voters believe the promises that you're telling them right now?” He was unrepentant. “I built a net worth of way over $10 billion, and I have done it [bankruptcy] four times out of hundreds. And I’m glad I did it. I used the laws of the country to my benefit, I’m sorry.”

    In The Long Goodbye, the novelist Raymond Chandler could easily have been describing Trump’s business practices: “Maybe the head man thinks his hands are clean but somewhere along the line guys got pushed to the wall, nice little businesses got the ground cut from under them and had to sell out for nickels … and the big law firms got paid hundred-grand fees for beating some law the people wanted but the rich guys didn’t, on account of it cut into their profits.”

    And then there was Trump University. During the Great Recession, this enterprise tricked thousands of people into buying worthless courses that they could not afford. “I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” one sales manager testified, “and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.” (Trump settled fraud claims in a class-action suit over the scam for $25 million in March, after insisting he never settled.)

    Loyalty is about strength. It is about sticking with a person, a cause, an idea or a country even when it is costly, difficult, or unpopular. A strong man would have stood by his mentor when he fell ill. A strong man would have tried to honor his commitments to wives, creditors, contractors and customers. But that is not Trump. He is a weak little man who pretends to be a big strong one.

    His defenders might point to his success in business and politics as evidence of his strength of character. But the record suggests otherwise. His father gave him vast wealth and a network of business contacts. New York City’s corrupt culture of business and politics enabled him to enlarge his fortune by lying and cheating. And he won the presidency because he had an unpopular opponent named Hillary Clinton and a powerful supporter named Vladimir Putin.

    Trump likes to project his faults and flaws onto others. So, on Tuesday, Trump revealed something important about himself about when he tweeted: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!” It is telling that this attack on a loyal official included the word weak. Deep down, Trump may be dimly aware of his own weakness. He is surely afraid that Bob Mueller will expose the extent to which Russia meddled in the election on his behalf.

    The Russia investigation concerns the issue of loyalty. When Donald Trump, Jr. received an email offering “high level and sensitive information [that] is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump,” a loyal American would have immediately called the FBI. But it did not even occur to him to do that. If Mueller or congressional investigators turn up further evidence of collusion, then the questions of loyalty get deeper and more disturbing. And a loyal president would be helping the probe, not undermining it.

    Trump was right about one thing: We could use some more loyalty.


    'Skinny' repeal could have big ramifications for Obamacare markets


    Senate Republicans are hoping a “skinny” repeal bill can solve their stalemate over dismantling Obamacare. But this partial Obamacare repeal — which is gaining steam in the Senate — could destabilize already wobbly Obamacare insurance markets,...

    Senate Republicans are hoping a “skinny” repeal bill can solve their stalemate over dismantling Obamacare. But this partial Obamacare repeal — which is gaining steam in the Senate — could destabilize already wobbly Obamacare insurance markets, make premiums jump and increase the number of uninsured by millions, health policy experts say.

    “I call it the 20-percent-increase-in-premiums-and-at least-15-million-out-of-insurance plan,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said. “It’s a terrible idea.”

    The slimmed down repeal bill, H.R. 1628 (115), is the Senate GOP’s fallback if they can’t agree on anything more comprehensive. The idea is to get rid of the unpopular individual and employer mandates, as well as a tax on medical devices, but leave everything else intact — and get the 50 votes needed to pass it. Killing the individual mandate would take away the primary mechanism that helped build the Obamacare insurance markets. The CBO estimated 16 million fewer people would have coverage in a decade without the individual mandate tax penalty in place, based on an analysis requested by Senate Democrats.

    Chris Jacobs, a conservative health policy analyst, points out a historical irony if the Senate passes legislation that only nibbles at the edges of Obamacare. Two years ago it was conservative hardliners in the Senate who rejected similar House legislation because it didn’t go far enough in undoing the federal health care law.

    But that was when then-President Barack Obama was certain to veto any repeal measure. On Wednesday, the Senate rejected a straight repeal bill modeled on the 2015 legislation, with seven Republicans joining Democrats in defeating the measure.


    Scrapping the individual mandate, the heart of the skinny bill, is the problematic piece. The tax penalty for failing to obtain coverage is the most unpopular provision of Obamacare. But most health care policy experts believe it’s necessary to have a mandate or some other cudgel to persuade relatively healthy people to get covered. Otherwise, young and healthy people will take their chances, while older and sicker people drive up insurance prices.

    Senate Republicans say those fears are overblown. They don’t expect this fallback proposal to be the end of the story. It would merely be a means to get beyond the repeal impasse. It would then go to a conference committee between the Senate and the House, which passed a much more extensive repeal bill in early May.

    "If they move to the skinny solution, I don’t think anybody’s looking at it as a solution that would actually be the solution that the House and Senate together would come to,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) “I don’t think anybody’s thinking the House would just pass that and it’d be the end of it."

    Passing legislation that could raise premiums is problematic for Republicans since they’ve repeatedly cited reducing premiums as their No. 1 goal in pushing forward with repeal efforts.


    But many experts say that’s precisely what would happen.

    “There’s no doubt it would increase premiums,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president for special initiatives at the Kaiser Family Foundation, even if experts don’t agree on quite how much.

    An analysis by the liberal Center for American Progress predicts that premiums would increase by an average of 20 percent — or about $1,200 per year — if the individual mandate is scrapped, in addition to the CBO estimate of 16 million fewer insured.

    Many conservative health care policy analysts scoff at those numbers. They think CBO overestimates the power of the individual mandate to compel people to get coverage. But even they acknowledge that there would be significant premium increases that would gradually diminish marketplace enrollment.

    “It’s going to be something like 25 percent,” said Joe Antos, a health care finance expert at the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute. “The fact that you’re going to have that kind of increase is inevitably going to discourage people from signing up.”

    In the past, states such as New York and Washington that have required insurers to accept all customers regardless of medical condition without adopting a coverage requirement have seen their markets implode in a “death spiral.” The markets only attracted customers with expensive medical needs, premiums spiraled upward and insurers eventually headed for the exits.


    In Washington state, for example, 19 insurers were selling individual plans before the state eliminated its individual mandate in 1995. Within four years there were no insurers willing to sell that coverage.

    But a death spiral is unlikely for the Obamacare markets even if the individual mandate is eliminated, according to health care finance experts. That’s because generous subsidies would remain in place, which more than 80 percent of Obamacare customers receive. That means they’re largely protected from big premium increases and would have little incentive to drop their coverage.

    “Neither the New York or Washington experiences are analogous here because those states didn’t’ have significant subsidies,” said Levitt. “The subsidies are really important in preventing a full-on death spiral.”

    In fact, Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, a Democrat, argues that the individual mandate is less important in the current environment than getting certainty around whether Obamacare’s subsidies will remain in place. That includes cost-sharing payments, estimated to be $7 billion this year, that President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to eliminate. Those payments, which are made to insurers, are meant to cushion low-income people from out-of-pocket expenses like co-pays and deductibles.

    “You’ve got to make sure those subsidies remain in place or you run a very serious risk of collapsing these marketplaces,” Kreidler said.

    He points out that one of the state’s major insurers has already significantly scaled back its Obamacare footprint in large part because of uncertainty about the future of the marketplace.

    “Insurance companies are conservative by their nature,” Kreidler said. “All of this saber rattling makes the markets that much less stable."

    Adam Cancryn contributed to this report.


    How the GOP brought Obamacare repeal back from the dead


    As Mitch McConnell strode to the Senate floor on Tuesday, with no votes to spare to keep the GOP’s Obamacare repeal campaign alive, he knew where everyone in his conference stood. Everyone, that is, except for Ron Johnson.The ornery Wisconsinite had...

    As Mitch McConnell strode to the Senate floor on Tuesday, with no votes to spare to keep the GOP’s Obamacare repeal campaign alive, he knew where everyone in his conference stood. Everyone, that is, except for Ron Johnson.

    The ornery Wisconsinite had been needling the Senate majority leader for weeks, accusing McConnell of a “breach of trust” in selling a health care plan to his caucus. So when Johnson sprinted to the Capitol basement after a party lunch for a meeting with FBI director nominee Christopher Wray, just as a critical procedural vote got underway, Republicans had no idea where he would land, said a person who knows the senator well.

    When he finally emerged, Johnson headed to McConnell’s desk on the Senate floor. The two engaged in a tense, 10-minute face-to-face talk. McConnell’s face turned increasingly red, and the GOP leader threw up his hands multiple times.

    “Sen. Johnson, like others, had some objections to the process, which is admittedly cumbersome,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who was hanging around the McConnell-Johnson conversation, with his arms crossed and a grimace on his face. “He was expressing some of his frustration. But I’m glad he voted to proceed to the bill.”

    That McConnell even got to this point was remarkable. Just a week ago, the GOP’s repeal-and-replace effort was practically declared dead, as the GOP leader himself said it was “pretty clear” there weren’t 50 votes for a health care bill. But Tuesday’s dramatic roll call — capped by Sen. John McCain’s return to Washington less than a week after a cancer diagnosis and a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence — allows President Donald Trump and his fractured party to continue their long-shot campaign to scuttle the Democratic health care law they’ve spent seven years railing against.

    Yet every step of the way has been agonizing, and Tuesday was no exception.


    Ten minutes after McConnell and Johnson began chatting, McCain entered the chamber and provided the 49th vote. Only Johnson remained. Left with the option of being the Republican who killed Obamacare repeal or the one who saved it, the Wisconsin senator quickly flipped a thumbs-up into the air to vote yes.

    “It wasn’t really a matter of prevailing; I just wanted him to understand I wanted to proceed to be a positive influence on the process,” Johnson said of his conversation with McConnell. He laughed heartily when asked whether he seriously considered voting no: “Sure … you’ve got that binary choice.”

    In the end, it was McConnell’s binary choice argument that reeled in the 50 votes. McConnell relentlessly laid out his reasoning to senators ranging from conservative Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to vulnerable incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.): A vote against even debating Obamacare repeal is a vote to keep it in place.

    It worked on the likes of Heller and Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), all of whom had indicated to leadership they’d be willing to vote to proceed to the bill over the past 48 hours. McConnell then prevailed on Paul, his Kentucky colleague, on Tuesday morning to at least vote to debate the measure, promising he’d get his vote on what he calls “clean repeal.” Paul flipped from a hard “no” to a “yes.”

    But even with Johnson, Paul and some centrists on his side, McConnell had no margin for error.

    Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) had aired her objections for days, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was also viewed as a lost cause. She privately relayed to colleagues during the GOP party lunch on Tuesday that she would be a “no” on the floor, according to multiple senators.

    One of the final holdouts was Sen. Mike Lee, a conservative Utah senator who believed GOP leaders had listened to his ideas for weeks only to ignore them in the end.


    On a Delta flight from Salt Lake City to Washington on Monday afternoon, Lee sat in the middle seat, furiously texting about his latest thinking in the health care debate, according to an eyewitness who sat next to Lee and described the messages to POLITICO.

    In one text, Lee told a recipient that he might still vote to proceed to the repeal debate, but that it was “still too early to do so in good conscience because we’re not being told anything.”

    “This leadership line of pass something, anything, is dangerous and potent,” Lee typed out in another message, written in a large enough font that fellow passengers could easily read his words, according to the eyewitness. In another text, Lee wrote: “This bill is nothing more than bailing out insurance companies with a few minor reforms thrown in for good measure.”

    Lee’s office did not dispute the messages when asked about them by POLITICO. He has aired similar complaints publicly, though in milder language.

    “We are not going to authenticate any of these statements; doing so would only encourage the most boorish, voyeuristic behavior in an already too-uncivil town,” a spokesman for Lee said. “Sen. Lee has been having honest discussions with people in the White House and Senate about health care. If one narrow part of one of those conversations was observed by a third party, it would only show how thorough the senator has been in his deliberations.”

    Ultimately, Lee chose to advance the Obamacare repeal measure, hesitating a little when he proclaimed “aye” during the tense vote that stayed open for a half-hour. So did Republican Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas, Capito, Portman and Heller — all GOP holdouts over the past several weeks who sided with their party on Tuesday. Democrats were silent at the desks, refusing to vote until all Republicans had.

    McConnell received a boost from an erratic player in the debate: Trump himself. The president had confounded Republican leaders for weeks, changing positions on a near-daily basis. But after McConnell’s latest draft had been abandoned by Moran and Lee and failure looked certain, Trump hauled the entire Republican Conference to the White House.

    Capito, Portman and Heller had been begging GOP leaders for weeks to revamp their approach to Medicaid, sweating the political and practical fallout that would accompany a vote to dramatically cut future Medicaid spending by hundreds of billions of dollars. They hoped McConnell could be persuaded to add $100 billion in spending aimed at blunting those cuts, but leadership was caught between them and fiscal conservatives.

    Yet in front of McConnell and the rest of the caucus, Trump told Republican senators that “we’re going to add this money to the bill,” according to two sources familiar with the matter. Portman huddled with McConnell and Cornyn on Monday, with the Ohio senator declining to tell reporters his intentions on the bill.

    But leaders already had reeled him in, and on Tuesday his amendment was included in the initial round of votes. It won’t succeed, but it gives more centrist senators an avenue to express their support for more spending for low-income Americans.

    “I have a commitment from our leadership to support it,” Portman said.

    Even then, however, the whip count was fluid. With two “no” votes assumed, a third “no” could have caused many more GOP defections, given the resistance among Republican senators to going along with a process with no clear idea what the end product would be. Republicans needed a boost.

    On Monday afternoon, senators began buzzing that McCain could return after receiving a brain cancer diagnosis less than a week ago. Cornyn said McCain’s doctors were being consulted, and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) mused optimistically about the possibility of a surprise appearance.

    Late Monday, McCain’s office confirmed the news: Less than two weeks after having a blood clot removed from above his left eye, he would be back in the Senate.

    Finally, McConnell had the momentum.

    “He deserves a lot of credit for coming back,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said of McCain.


    With McCain back, McConnell’s allies began cautiously predicting victory. The Arizona senator helped deliver the win in classic fashion, excoriating the process his party was employing for the health care repeal — right in front of his Republican colleagues.

    Let the committees “hold hearings, try to report a bill out of committee with contributions from both sides,” McCain said, to a loud ovation from Democratic senators who stood up and applauded. After that died down, McCain added: “Something that my dear friends on the other side of the aisle didn’t allow to happen years ago.”

    The Arizona senator left open the question of whether he would help his fellow Republicans eventually pass a bill now that debate has begun. And though clearing Tuesday’s procedural hurdle was almost certainly McConnell’s most hard-fought victory of the year, passing legislation is another matter.

    The end goal is likely a stripped-down repeal of Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates and the law’s medical device tax, perhaps with more add-ons. The GOP will now pass whatever can garner 50 votes, no matter how scaled-back McConnell’s ambitions of repealing Obamacare “root and branch” have become.

    Their hope is to get something to the House and get it off the Senate’s plate. With any luck, senators say, they will end up in a bicameral conference and finish the job later this year. And now that McConnell has won a vote to proceed to an uncertain outcome, no one is counting him out.

    “I was surprised that there was just two of us in the end,” Collins said of her and Murkowski’s opposition. “But that’s OK. We’ll proceed from here and see where we end up.”


    Scalise discharged from hospital


    House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was discharged from the hospital on Tuesday and will now begin “intensive inpatient rehabilitation,” his doctors at MedStar Washington Hospital Center announced Wednesday.The Louisiana Republican has made...

    House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was discharged from the hospital on Tuesday and will now begin “intensive inpatient rehabilitation,” his doctors at MedStar Washington Hospital Center announced Wednesday.

    The Louisiana Republican has made “excellent progress in his recovery from a life-threatening gunshot wound six weeks ago,” the hospital said in a statement. Scalise took a bullet to the left hip when a gunman opened fire on a congressional baseball practice in June.

    “He is in good spirits and is looking forward to his return to work once he completes rehabilitation,” the statement reads. “He and his family are grateful for the care he received from the trauma team as well as the other doctors, nurses, and staff of MedStar Washington Hospital Center. The family also appreciates the outpouring of prayers and support during this time.”


    What happened to Trump's war on data?


    On May 16, three months' worth of data vanished quietly from the website of the U.S. Census Bureau. The figures included age, sex and employment data, crucial for calculating key statistics like the monthly unemployment rate. Their disappearance set off...

    On May 16, three months' worth of data vanished quietly from the website of the U.S. Census Bureau. The figures included age, sex and employment data, crucial for calculating key statistics like the monthly unemployment rate. Their disappearance set off alarm bells among researchers: President Donald Trump had repeatedly cast doubt on the accuracy of the unemployment rate during his campaign. Was some official now actually interfering with the basic measurements of the economy?

    That wasn’t the case, it turned out. For all the worry, the data had disappeared because of a technical issue with the online portal, according to a Census spokeswoman. The files were back online before the end of the day.

    The scare about the Census data was just one episode in a long and anxious drama that has played out in 2017 about the fate of government data under Trump. The government collects and posts vast amounts of information online, much of it concerning the climate, jobs, immigration and other politically sensitive areas. During the presidential transition, researchers scrambled to download datasets across the government, setting up “guerrilla archiving” events to preserve federal data that the new administration might suddenly find inconvenient. News organizations ran numerous articles about academics panicking about the potential loss of data; the University of North Texas and University of Pennsylvania spearheaded efforts to copy government webpages and monitor them after Inauguration Day. The Trump administration, many worried, at worst could represent something of an existential threat to science itself, willing to wipe out decades of meticulously collected information in the pursuit of its political goals.

    Six months into his presidency, however, this “War on Data” hasn’t materialized. In fact, according to the Sunlight Foundation, which has been tracking the issue closely, just one main dataset has gone down since Inauguration Day—a database on violators of two animal protection laws, whose removal was already under consideration before Trump took office. All climate data remain online. The Environmental Protection Agency even posted an exact, fully clickable replica of its website as it stood on January 19, the last day of Obama's presidency—a step toward transparency that surprised many observers.

    To Trump supporters, the false alarm proves that researchers dramatically overreacted during the transition, suspecting the worst and wasting countless hours backing up data that was never going away. The administration, they argue, is imposing a businesslike approach to government—and businesses rely on data for even small decisions.

    This does not mollify all of those skeptical researchers, however: relieved as they are that their worst-case fears haven’t become a reality, they still argue that the Trump administration is chipping away at data-driven policy in other ways, such as removing references to climate change from government sites. They worry that the administration could still underfund statistical agencies or eliminate programs that collect data. And, they fear, the data could still disappear at any minute.

    “We were really concerned with datasets being removed and we continue to think there’s reason to be concerned,” said Gretchen Goldman, a research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “No one would say the data is safe.”

    THAT RESEARCHERS HAD so much data to protect is a testament to the breadth of government recordkeeping, tracking everything from the country’s population, which it has been doing since 1790, to student debt levels. But it is also a testament to the Obama administration’s efforts to put huge amounts of that data online. Just a few months into office, Obama launched data.gov, a central repository of information that has around 195,000 datasets today, all available for download to any citizen. He hired the government’s first chief information officer, chief technology officer and chief data scientist and implored agencies to make data easily available, most notably in his 2013 “Open Data” order—known as M1313—which gave agencies specific instructions for publishing data, such as making it machine-readable and imposing no restrictions on its use. It also created new open-source tools for the public to access data.

    “It was a very clear principle in the Obama administration that open access to government data made sense and that we would do everything we could to facilitate that,” said John Holdren, who was Obama’s top science adviser. Holdren pointed to initiatives across government to improve public access to data, including the “blue button” initiative at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which gave veterans access to their health records and the “green button” initiative, a collaboration with private sector companies to give utility consumers access to their energy-use data.

    The Trump administration has never professed a similar commitment to open data, and it sent a number of worrisome signals at the start. For instance, all past presidential memos—including the M1313 memo—were initially no longer available at whitehouse.gov, although they remained available at the archived version of Obama’s White House website. M1313 was returned to the site, along with other memos, months later, but good-government experts said the long absence was a worrisome signal. “That was pretty alarming,” said Josh New, a policy analyst at the Center for Data Innovation. More concerning was the White House’s decision to take down its open data portal—open.whitehouse.gov. The White House said the site was redundant, as the data were available on other government websites—at a cost of $70,000—and most data experts seem to agree. But New said the decision sent another signal to researchers about the Trump administration’s priorities.

    In May, the worst-case fears of researchers seemed to be confirmed when the Washington Post reported that the number of datasets available on data.gov had fallen from around 195,000 on Inauguration Day to just over 150,000—meaning nearly a quarter of public data had vanished from the site, a huge drop in just a few months and a clear sign the Trump administration was actively taking data out of the public domain. Except it wasn’t true. A technical issue with how the site itself counted data caused the mix-up. Today, data.gov still has around 195,000 datasets and the number of datasets added to the site each month has remained consistent.

    “I was concerned about Trump undermining things like the unemployment numbers, or his claim there were 3 million fraudulent votes,” said John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation. “So far, we have to put that in the category of presidential rhetoric. We are so far not facing a crisis of trust in American statistical data.”

    In fact, experts can point to just one main dataset that has disappeared since Trump took office—and the circumstances around that one are a bit murky. In early February, a dataset containing information on individuals and businesses that inspectors at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in the Department of Agriculture determined were breaking animal welfare laws went offline, setting off outrage from the Humane Society and other animal welfare groups.

    “We’re a transparent society where information is supposed to be available on the Internet,” said John Goodwin, senior director of The Humane Society’s Stop Puppy Mills campaign. “These aren’t nuclear secrets.”

    Was the Trump administration burying the data? It’s complicated: APHIS said it had been conducting a review of information on its website and “in 2016, well before the new administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records.” The agency was also sued in February 2016 by two brothers who compete in horse competitions and said the publication of the data violated their privacy, possibly precipitating the review. But Goodwin and other animal welfare experts remain suspicious, especially after former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he had previously declined a similar recommendation from APHIS staff.

    In the months since, the agency has put some of the data and reports back online, but much remains unavailable. Tanya Espinosa, an APHIS spokeswoman, said that two-thirds of inspection reports involve individual or homestead businesses and haven’t been reposted because they contain personal information. “APHIS is diligently exploring options for promoting transparency while working to protect personal information, which is of greatest concern for these types of licensees,” she said.

    Beyond the animal welfare dataset, changes have been more subtle. Many climate experts have pointed out that their data and reports are less visible on the EPA’s website, with almost all references to climate change expunged from the site itself. The White House has also proposed eliminating funding for climate data collection efforts, including the EPA’s Climate Change Research program and a NASA program that collects data on the distribution of carbon dioxide. In May, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said climate change research programs are “a waste of your money.”

    But the EPA and other agencies haven’t gone as far as to remove data altogether, and they appear to be going to some lengths to prove it. Since mid-February, the EPA has included a link at the bottom of its site that takes visitors to a replica of its website from January 19, effectively freezing the site as it was before Trump took office. Almost every link remains working and climate change remains prominently displayed. The move represented such an act of transparency that multiple experts I spoke with wondered whether the replica site had been created by career employees or was legally required after the EPA was flooded with Freedom of Information Act requests for data and reports. “You have to wonder how much independent action there has been in this space,” said Holdren about whether open data moves like the replica site came from the Trump administration’s political figures or career employees. The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.

    IF RESEARCHERS’ WORST fears haven’t materialized, what has happened to data under Trump?

    The truth is that not that much has changed—so far. Based on such limited changes to government data policies, the administration appears to be just beginning to understand the scope of data collected by the federal government and how it can use it.

    Straightforward as “data collection” may sound, in practice there’s often a strong political component to government data. What information to collect, about whom and how it’s collected are critical questions that don’t always have one objective answer. “Data is inherently political,” said Wonderlich. “And how it’s used depends on who’s collecting it and what they’re representing about the world.”

    Sometimes, those questions fall on Congress, such as when lawmakers created the unemployment rate—as unbiased a statistic as exists today—in the 1930’s. According to a history of the U.S. Census, the unemployment rate was the subject of a fierce political fight upon its creation, including how often to collect data on unemployment and who would be counted as unemployed. President Herbert Hoover and his allies thought that the crude unemployment figures, which came from limited Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys and business reports at the time, were adequate measures during the Great Depression. Democrats and many labor economists disagreed and called for additional surveys to determine the true extent of unemployment—and the federal response necessary to alleviate it.

    Often, though, the White House has wide latitude to implement surveys and collect data. Every administration uses that power accordingly, accumulating information that can then be used to support a certain policy agenda. This isn’t nefarious, as long as the data aren’t manipulated. But it still can provide evidence to drive a specific agenda.

    The Trump administration is just beginning to harness this power—not by erasing data, but by collecting it. For instance, Trump issued an executive order in January that directed the secretary of homeland security and attorney general to collect data on the “immigration status of all [incarcerated] aliens.” Another executive order directed the same Cabinet members to publicly release data on the number of foreign nationals in the U.S. who have been charged with a terrorism-related crime or who were radicalized after entry. The agencies have not released any data yet, but selectively highlighting crimes by immigrants—as opposed to crimes by any other group—could be used to support an immigration crackdown, giving a scientific-looking basis for an agenda that immigration advocates have labeled racist.

    Many people have objected to this new data collection, saying it would be used to misleadingly villainize immigrants. Holdren, on the other hand, said he was fine with more information, as long as politicians use it honestly as they develop and lobby for different policies. “What I have seen so far is that data show that the crime rate among U.S. citizens is higher than the crime rate among undocumented immigrants,” he said. “How could I object to making those data known? If the data turn out to show a different thing, we ought to know that too.”

    In other cases, Trump is rolling back Obama-era changes to data collection efforts. For instance, an agency in the Department of Health and Human Services, the Administration for Community Living (ACL), proposed removing an LGBT-related question from two surveys. First, on an annual survey used to identify service gaps under the Older Americans Act, the Obama administration added a question about sexual orientation and gender identity in 2014. ACL removed it in March, but after a swift backlash—nearly 14,000 comments in total—it added it back to the survey. The second survey provided information on programs that help disabled Americans stay in their homes. The Obama administration added an LGBT-related question to the redesigned survey in January; in March, the ACL under Trump removed it. The agency is currently reviewing comments for that proposal and will release the final survey later this year.

    An ACL spokesperson said the agency is required by law to minimize paperwork for survey respondents and only include questions that help the agency conduct proper oversight. “Given that the questions weren’t generating reliable data, they did not meet that standard,” she said.

    Trump also eliminated the White House visitor log, a high-profile move that drew a swift backlash from good governance groups. The visitor log wasn’t a traditional piece of government data, since it wasn’t collected through a survey or scientific research, and it didn’t contain the names of every person who visited the Obama White House—there were some exceptions. But it still provided journalists and the public with a powerful resource to hold the Obama administration accountable for who got access to the president. That the Trump administration has discontinued it appears to be a sign about its commitment to transparency, if not data.

    Still, more broadly, the administration hasn’t made many other changes to surveys or data collection efforts. “I’ve seen less of that than we anticipated,” said Goldman, who pointed out that other administrations have sidelined inconvenient data. That brings up another concerning possibility for open data advocates: The White House simply doesn’t care much about data one way or the other. In other words, the Trump administration doesn't oppose open-data policies, but doesn't support them either.

    There’s some evidence to support this position. For instance, the White House budget proposes small cuts to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Economic Research Service and Energy Information Agency, all of which gather and publish copious amounts of data. (Although in a budget with huge cuts to domestic programs, these cuts were relatively small.) Notably, the budget significantly underfunds the Census Bureau, which needs an influx of resources as it ramps up for the 2020 census—the government’s largest data-gathering effort, and a key to accurately tracking the nation's changing demographics. The administration has also not named a permanent replacement for former Census Bureau Director John Thompson, who stepped down at the end of June; it’s a sign to many census-watchers that the administration is not invested in the decennial, a responsibility enshrined in the Constitution.

    “The efforts across departments and agencies to gather and analyze data are going to suffer if the budget is approved by Congress,” said Holdren, Obama’s top science adviser.

    The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

    It’s not just underfunding agencies that could undermine the federal government’s data. Experts warn that inattention could prove equally problematic, leading to missing data points or dysfunctional web portals. Wonderlich says the concern so far isn't "data being removed en masse from public websites," but something more subtle. “The question of politics and funding collection is the biggest threat to American data infrastructure,” he says.

    Open data efforts require ongoing maintenance and a commitment to quickly providing data to the public. Obama made such a commitment and expected the rest of administration to act accordingly. On this one the jury is still out: Almost nothing has gone offline yet, but prolonged neglect from Trump could result in technical problems, as obsolescing databases become less usable and up to date. That could lead agencies to make consequential policy decisions without the necessary information, as officials follow Trump’s lead in ignoring data and setting policy based more on instinct, or politics, than evidence. Holdren, for instance, said he can’t understand how Trump officials repeatedly say they don’t know how much climate change is a result of human behavior—but are proposing huge cuts to research programs designed to answer that exact question.

    “It is inconsistent to claim on the one hand we don’t know how much humans have to do with it and on the other hand, to slash the data gathering and research efforts that add clarity to that question,” he said. “I find it quite mind-blowing.”


    How Trump should handle Iran


    Last week, the Trump administration recertified that Iran is complying the nuclear agreement, setting off predictable debate between who those want to exit the deal immediately and those who see it as his predecessor’s signature foreign policy...

    Last week, the Trump administration recertified that Iran is complying the nuclear agreement, setting off predictable debate between who those want to exit the deal immediately and those who see it as his predecessor’s signature foreign policy achievement.

    But for all the will-he-or-won’t-he attention on Trump’s decision, the focus on the nuclear deal is missing the point: The administration’s real agenda on Iran doesn’t hinge on the nuclear agreement—a dangerous deal that puts the U.S. in a impossible situation. Instead, the Trump administration’s priority should be restoring leverage against Tehran, so that we can dissuade Iran from sprinting toward a bomb and create far more favorable circumstances to negotiate an agreement that—unlike Obama’s deal—actually prevents a nuclear Iran.

    Abiding by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the agreement is known, will only enable a nuclear and hegemonic Iran. It provides Tehran significant financial, military and geopolitical benefits, both upfront and over time, in exchange for minimal, reversible and temporary concessions on its nuclear program. As the JCPOA’s restrictions fall away in coming years, Iran will be legally permitted to produce everything it needs for a nuclear weapon.

    Yet, the JCPOA also forfeits what little leverage the United States had – in the form of economic sanctions – with no way to rapidly rebuild pressure. Thus, leaving the deal would free Iran to sprint for a nuclear weapons capability in a year or less, likely far less time than the United States would need to rebuild the international sanctions regime. Our partners to the deal would be unlikely to go along with us, further undermining our leverage.

    This catch-22 stems from earlier failures to develop compelling pressure on Iran, as reported by JINSA’s Gemunder Center Iran Task Force, which we co-chair. The Obama Administration created a false narrative that eschewed military options against Iran’s nuclear program and regional aggression, leaving Congress to focus narrowly on sanctions. These sanctions may have brought Tehran to the table, and helped keep it there long enough hammer out a deal, but alone they could not force it into an acceptable agreement.

    Consequently, the JCPOA puts Iran on track to become as intractable a challenge as North Korea is today, and very possibly worse. Threatening the United States and its allies, including with nuclear weapons, is a core ambition of both these rogue regimes. Yet while Pyongyang’s relentless pursuit of this goal has only isolated and impoverished it, the JCPOA does the opposite for Tehran.

    The Trump administration must not abide this untenable and deteriorating situation. The United States now needs what it clearly lacked before: a comprehensive strategy of robust leverage against all of Iran’s destabilizing behaviors.

    The first step is full enforcement of the JCPOA – including potentially re-imposing suspended sanctions in response to Iranian cheating – as a clear signal that Tehran can no longer flout its nuclear obligations. However, given the damage already done by the deal and the fact time is not on its side, the administration’s ongoing strategic review and threats of renewed sanctions are insufficient.

    American policymakers must also rebuild military leverage over Iran. Contingency plans to neutralize Iran’s nuclear facilities, if it materially breaches or withdraws from the deal, should be updated to reflect its growing nuclear infrastructure and military capabilities under the JCPOA. Just like it already appears to be doing against North Korea, the Pentagon must also develop credible capabilities in preparation for a possible shoot-down of future Iranian ballistic missile tests. U.S. Navy ships must also “fully and responsibly” utilize rules of engagement to defend themselves and the Persian Gulf against rising Iranian harassment.

    It is equally important the United States work with its allies. The recent ten-year Memorandum of Understanding on defense assistance to Israel should be treated as the floor for cooperation, in particular on missile defenses shielding U.S. forces, Israel and its neighbors from increasingly capable arsenals of Iran and its proxies.

    Stronger regional collective defense is also needed. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are shouldering the burdens of countering Iran’s growing footprint around the Arabian Peninsula. Formal U.S. military backing, and possible support from Israel, will raise the costs to Tehran of further aggression while reassuring our worried allies.

    Public announcements and military exercises will make these intentions, capabilities and allied unity abundantly clear to Tehran. Strategic communications can also amplify investors’ continued wariness of the Iranian market and, in combination with human rights, terrorism and missile sanctions, increase internal strains on the regime.

    These concentric pressures – none of which violate the JCPOA – will help deter Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons capability whether it complies, violates or withdraws from the deal.

    They also create the most favorable conditions for a renegotiated agreement – one enshrining many of the parameters initially demanded by the Obama Administration. This should include: “anytime, anywhere” inspections to verify the absence of weaponization activities and secret facilities; dismantling Iran’s nuclear-capable missiles; ensuring Iran could never enrich enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon; and no sunset or end to sanctions or embargoes until inspectors verify the completely peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.

    Neither staying in nor exiting the JCPOA can accomplish America’s overriding priority in the Middle East. Only increased U.S. leverage can prevent a nuclear Iran.

    Ambassador Eric Edelman is former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. General (ret.) Charles Wald is former Deputy Commander of U.S. European Command. They co-chair JINSA’s Gemunder Center Iran Task Force.


    The unnecessary risk with over-the-counter drugs


    In the summer of 2006, I learned that several toddlers in Baltimore had died from the toxic effects of over-the-counter cough and cold medications. As the city’s health commissioner, I convened a group of leading pediatricians from area hospitals, who...

    In the summer of 2006, I learned that several toddlers in Baltimore had died from the toxic effects of over-the-counter cough and cold medications. As the city’s health commissioner, I convened a group of leading pediatricians from area hospitals, who informed me that these medications had never been proven effective in young children and, in fact, had been associated with dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries across the country.

    As nonprescription drugs, the over-the-counter cough and cold medications fell under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration. But the agency had not updated its assessment of these medications since the 1970s, despite the fact that evidence mounted showing the drugs did not work and posed a threat. Only after we petitioned the agency to remove them from the market for young children did the FDA hold a meeting on the drugs and began the formal process for updating those drug labels. Nearly a decade later, however, the agency still has not acted.

    The FDA’s failure to properly regulate such cough and cold medications illuminates a surprising fact: For all its power, the agency does not have the same tools to protect consumers from safety issues in most nonprescription products that it has for prescription drugs. That might seem surprising—since over-the-counter drugs are the most accessible medications to consumers—but it’s been an issue for years, and recent developments have shed light on how much is at stake.

    For example, out of concern of possible liver failure, the agency moved to reduce the dosage of acetaminophen in prescription medications for pain—but not in over-the-counter medications. Similarly, after warning of serious respiratory risks for codeine in children, the agency announced all prescription products would come off the market; yet nonprescription products labeled for children’s use are still for sale.

    This month, as Congress considers legislation to reauthorize user fees at the FDA, lawmakers have a huge opportunity to end this dangerous double standard. They should not pass it up.

    Why is the FDA so slow to police the market for over-the-counter products? The agency is hamstrung by its own law, which requires it to undertake a full regulatory process—including a legal review, public comments and economic analyses—to make simple changes for most nonprescription drugs, such as updating the label with a new warning. Taking major action, such as removing over-the-counter medications from the market altogether, can take many years. As a result, the rules governing over-the-counter drugs have not kept up with science, have not effectively addressed safety issues, and have impeded innovation.

    Compare that with how the agency reviews prescription drugs: The FDA can approve or reject prescription medications for marketing without issuing a separate regulation every time. The agency just needs to review the application and related data, and, when necessary, consider the advice of its public advisory committee. As a result, the FDA often makes these decisions for prescription drugs faster than any other advanced regulatory agency in the world; prescription drugs are often approved in a year or less, and many changes to address safety questions happen even faster.

    The different regulatory regimes put consumers at a disadvantage since they may be unaware of potential risks as the regulatory process limps along. They also undermine manufacturers, who would like their products labeled with up-to-date safety information.

    Moreover, the law covering over-the-counter products impedes innovation, hurting patients and companies alike. For example, I once met with the founder of a Maryland company that is developing a more palatable way to provide activated charcoal to children in the event of a poisoning. (Many children receive treatment now in an Emergency Department through a nasogastric tube.) A local emergency department physician informed me that such a product could meet an important clinical and public health need. Yet because activated charcoal is a nonprescription drug subject to a regulation, there was no reasonable path available for the agency’s consideration. Now several years later, I recently checked to find out the product’s status. It remains in a regulatory purgatory, not eligible to be marketed under the current regulation for activated charcoal, but with a full new drug application prohibitively expensive to develop. A much better approach would allow the agency to set appropriate scientific standards for this type of product and for the company to attempt to meet them.

    The good news is that Congress has shown some bipartisan interest in modernizing oversight of over-the-counter medications to make it far more effective and timely. Unfortunately, the House failed to include this topic in the recently passed bill to reauthorize the user fees at the FDA. But there is still hope that the Senate will take action.

    Recently, a pair of senators—Johnny Isakson and Bob Casey—began working on legislation that would more closely align the process for evaluating non-prescription drugs with the process for assessing prescription drugs. The legislation would allow the agency to issue administrative orders, rather than full regulations, for changes in oversight related to safety and efficacy. This long overdue change would have two major effects.

    First, it would allow the agency to move much more quickly to address safety concerns by eliminating the need for a full regulation every time a change is needed, protecting consumers and strengthening confidence in the market for nonprescription drugs. Second, it would allow for new formulations, such as different dosage forms, that are safe and effective to come onto the market without an exhaustive rule-making process or a full new drug application. In ways similar to what works now for prescription drugs, the legislation creates a path for the agency to explain what evidence is needed, to collect data from companies and to make decisions.

    Of course, to succeed under the proposed law, the FDA needs resources. An important reason for the extensive delays for action on over-the-counter products is the review division’s small budget. Today, there are fewer than two dozen full-time scientists responsible for overseeing a marketplace that includes more than 300,000 products with annual sales of $32 billion. The pending legislation would address this problem by providing for user fees that would allow for an increase in staffing. I would, of course, prefer a congressional appropriation, but absent one, user fees are better than stagnation.

    In the case of over-the-counter cough and cold medications, with a push from the staff at the FDA, manufacturers agreed in 2008 to voluntarily stop selling the medicines for children under age 4. That was a great relief to me and to pediatricians everywhere, and health improvements resulted. No company has since tried to jump back into the market, but, incredibly, it would be legal for one to do so. I would sleep better at night if the FDA could quickly close the door.

    It makes no sense that the FDA can neither ensure that widely available medications are safe for consumers, nor provide a reasonable pathway for approval for innovative and helpful nonprescription drugs. The FDA, companies that make the over-the-counter medication, public health groups, and legislators on both sides of aisle now support reform. Congress shouldn’t let this opportunity pass by.

    Joshua M. Sharfstein, M.D., is Professor of the Practice at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the former principal deputy commissioner of the FDA.


    Inside Trump’s snap decision to ban transgender troops


    After a week sparring with his attorney general and steaming over the Russia investigation consuming his agenda, President Donald Trump was closing in on an important win. House Republicans were planning to pass a spending bill stacked with his campaign...

    After a week sparring with his attorney general and steaming over the Russia investigation consuming his agenda, President Donald Trump was closing in on an important win.

    House Republicans were planning to pass a spending bill stacked with his campaign promises, including money to build his border wall with Mexico.

    But an internal House Republican fight over transgender troops was threatening to blow up the bill. And House GOP insiders feared they might not have the votes to pass the legislation because defense hawks wanted a ban on Pentagon-funded sex reassignment operations — something GOP leaders wouldn’t give them.

    They turned to Trump, who didn’t hesitate. In the flash of a tweet, he announced that transgender troops would be banned altogether.

    Trump’s sudden decision was, in part, a last-ditch attempt to save a House proposal full of his campaign promises that was on the verge of defeat, numerous congressional and White House sources said.

    The president had always planned to scale back policies put in place during the administration of President Barack Obama welcoming such individuals in combat and greenlighting the military to pay for their medical treatment plans. But a behind-the-scenes GOP brawl threatening to tank a Pentagon funding increase and wall construction hastened Trump’s decision.

    Numerous House conservatives and defense hawks this week had threatened to derail their own legislation if it did not include a prohibition on Pentagon funding for gender reassignment surgeries, which they deem a waste of taxpayer money. But GOP leaders were caught in a pinch between those demands and those of moderate Republicans who considered the proposal blatantly discriminatory.

    “There are several members of the conference who feel this really needs to be addressed,” senior House Appropriations Committee member Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said Tuesday. “This isn’t about the transgender issue; it’s about the taxpayer dollars going to pay for the surgery out of the defense budget.”


    That’s why House lawmakers took the matter to the Trump administration. And when Defense Secretary James Mattis refused to immediately upend the policy, they went straight to the White House. Trump — never one for political correctness — was all too happy to oblige.

    “[P]lease be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

    The president’s directive, of course, took the House issue a step beyond paying for gender reassignment surgery and other medical treatment. House Republicans were never debating expelling all transgender troops from the military.

    “This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire,” a senior House Republican aide said in an email. The source said that although GOP leaders asked the White House for help on the taxpayer matter specifically, they weren’t expecting — and got no heads up on — Trump’s far-reaching directive.

    While Democrats and centrist Republicans are already blasting the move, one White House official said the decision would be “seen as common-sense” by millions — though likely vociferously protested by others. White House officials also noted that conservatives had pushed for the ban, including in a May letter that was signed by dozens of right-leaning groups.

    “It’s not the worst thing in the world to have this fight,” the administration official said.

    The announcement, multiple sources said, did not sit well with Mattis, who appeared to be trying to avoid the matter in recent weeks. An extensive Defense Department review of the policy was already underway, but a decision wasn’t expected for months.

    Insiders said Mattis felt there was no need to rush upending the policy, arguing the Pentagon needed time to study the issue. Its decision would affect at least 2,450 transgender active-military personnel, according to a Rand report — though military LGBT activist groups say as many as 15,000 soldiers fall into that category.

    That timeline, however, wasn’t good enough for House Republicans. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), the original author of the House’s transgender proposal, attempted to reach Mattis by phone numerous times in recent weeks to discuss the transgender issue.


    Mattis only got back to her the day she forced the matter on the House floor in mid-July. And, according to Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who opposed the Hartzler proposal, Mattis asked Hartzler to withdraw her amendment and give him space to maneuver.

    Lawmakers, including Hartzler, went around Mattis to engage the White House. Mattis knew the ban was being considered and was consulted before the announcement, according to several White House officials. But the decision ultimately came down from Trump and was “White House-driven,” Trump aides said.

    The president was also annoyed by the Pentagon delay, one person said. A different official said the White House had gotten positive reaction from conservatives, an important factor amid their displeasure with Trump’s recent bashing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    The transgender fight first surfaced in the House a few weeks ago. With the backing of almost the entire GOP Conference, Hartzler offered an amendment to a defense authorization bill that would ban funding for gender reassignment surgeries and treatments for transgender active-duty personnel.

    Republican supporters were shocked when a group of 24 mostly moderate Republicans teamed up with 190 Democrats to kill the effort in a 209-214 vote.

    Republicans spent much of a closed-door GOP Conference meeting the next morning steaming about what happened.

    “It’s not so much the transgender surgery issue as much as we continue to let the defense bill be the mule for all of these social experiments that the left wants to try to [foist] on government,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a conservative supporter of the Hartzler proposal, said last week.

    He added: “It seems to me, and all due respect to everyone, that if someone wants to come to the military, potentially risk their life to save the country, that they should probably decide whether they’re a man or woman before they do that.”


    Supporters of Hartzler’s proposal were determined to try again. Last week, they began pushing GOP leadership to use a procedural trick to automatically include the controversial proposal in a Pentagon spending package set for a floor vote this week. The idea was to tuck the provision into a rules package governing the legislation, sidestepping a second potentially unsuccessful amendment vote and adding it to the bill without a floor fight.

    Under intense pressure from moderates in the Tuesday Group to reject the idea, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his team shied away from the strategy, worried that it would make them look hypocritical for circumventing regular order.

    “Leadership should respect the will of the House — and that’s already been expressed,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a centrist who opposed the amendment. “These transgender service-people are serving our country and have signed up and agreed to risk their lives for this country, so we want to honor that commitment as well.”


    That’s when lawmakers turned to the White House for help. They figured the administration could speed up a decision and settle the dispute once and for all.

    “Conservatives were telling [the] White House they didn’t want money in a spending bill to go to transgender health services,” said one senior administration official, noting that it accelerated Trump’s decision.

    Their argument fell on sympathetic ears, White House sources said. Chief strategist Steve Bannon encouraged Trump to deal with the matter now.

    Now, some Republicans are having buyer's remorse. They didn't realize Trump was going to ban transgender people from serving in the military altogether.

    Franks, the Hartzler amendment supporter, told POLITICO that his push was more narrowly tailored to the medical procedures issue — not an all-out ban on transgender people. He wasn't sure what he thought about the broader prohibition, saying he needed to look into it further.

    Still, some, like Hartzler, were elated.

    "This was the right call by our commander in chief, to make sure every defense dollar goes toward meeting the threats that we are facing in the world," she said in an interview. "The entire [Obama-era transgender] policy… is a detriment to our readiness."