Axios
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Comcast, Charter and Sprint in discussions for a possible deal

Jeff Chiu / AP

Comcast and Charter are talking about partnering with, or potentially buying, Sprint, the Wall Street Journal reports. Each cable giant already said it wouldn't go ahead with wireless deals for a year without permission from the other one — which could also mean a joint agreement of some kind. Two possibilities:

  • Charter and Comcast could work with Sprint to provide wireless service. They'd provide funding to Sprint but not buy the company outright, the Journal reports.
  • The companies could buy Sprint together.

Worth noting: The talks are reportedly blocking merger discussions for now between Sprint and T-Mobile, a long-watched possible combination that would better allow the companies to compete with Verizon and AT&T.

Why it matters: Communications companies are increasingly seen as needing to do more to compete. Sometimes, as in the case of AT&T, that means a broadband and video company buying content producers. But it could also mean the combination of cable companies and wireless providers. Charter and Sprint declined to comment, and Comcast did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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White House warns of "heavy price" if Assad goes through with chemical attack

AP

The White House statement:

"The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children. The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack. As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. If, however, Mr Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price."

The statement seemed to come out of nowhere — even to some in the Pentagon. Per Buzzfeed News, "Five defense officials... said they not only did not know where the potential chemical attack would come from, but they were unaware the White House was planning to release the statement."

Flashback: Three days after April's deadly chemical attack, President Trump ordered missile strikes on the airbase from which the Syria regime had launched the attack.

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Conservatives say they're gaining momentum for deficit-growing tax cuts

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Mark Meadows, the chairman of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus tells me there's "a growing acceptance among conservatives to expand the budget window to 20 years that would allow for more robust tax cuts."

"Providing for tax cuts over a 20-year period is about as permanent as you can find on Capitol Hill," Meadows told me on Monday.

What he means: Meadows is referring to a non-traditional idea that's gaining momentum in conservative circles — to change budget rules so that tax cuts that add to the deficit can last for 20 years or longer, rather than expiring after 10 years. If Republicans do this, they'll be able to cut taxes dramatically without worrying about raising new revenue to "pay for" the cuts for at least two decades. By then, their theory goes, the economy will be roaring from a streak of economic growth, and politicians will likely do another round of tax reform.

Why this matters: Though Paul Ryan still insists tax reform needs to be revenue neutral, his preferred method to pay for tax cuts is politically dead. The border adjustment tax — which would raise more than $1 trillion over ten years by raising taxes on imports — has no hope of passing the Senate or being signed by the President.

Conservatives like Republican Sen. Pat Toomey believe that leaves two broad alternatives:

  1. "Really weak tax reform" — i.e. cutting taxes but getting nowhere close to Trump's promise of a 15 percent corporate rate, and then removing some deductions so these cuts don't increase the deficit.
  2. Cut taxes dramatically, and either keep the current window — meaning they would expire after 10 years — or extend that window to 20 or 25 years. But Toomey says letting corporate tax cuts expire at the end of 10 years is unworkable. It wouldn't give businesses enough certainty "to make the kind of decisions we want them to make in response to a better tax code."

Toomey says the Trump Administration is "seriously looking at" the window-extending idea. "They like it," he told reporters last Thursday. "They get this. [Budget Director] Mick Mulvaney said the same thing." As Bloomberg's Sahil Kapur has written, other supporters of the idea include Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch..."as well as anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and conservative groups such as the Club For Growth."

  • Toomey added that the administration's two point-men on tax reform, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump's top economic advisor Gary Cohn, are "very open to this."
  • "They get the logic, they understand the dilemma that we face, they know that the President has been advocating for a net tax cut and they're fine with that...so how else do you get that done in a way that also reforms the corporate code?"
  • "If the consensus of the Republican conference in both bodies were to go here, I don't see why leadership would object," he added.

Reality check: A lot of Republicans remain uncomfortable with an approach that extends deficits as far as the eye can see. It won't be hard for their political opponents to paint the idea as fiscally irresponsible.

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Susan Collins is a "no" on Senate health care bill

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine tweeted that she would be voting "no" on the Senate health care bill hours after the CBO released its estimate that 22 million fewer people would be covered under the plan. She explained that she wanted to "fix the flaws in ACA. CBO analysis shows Senate bill won't do it. I will vote no."

Why it matters: Collins is the sixth senator to come out against the bill in its current form, and the third to say she'll vote against a motion to bring it up for a vote. That means the bill is stalled unless changes are made to convince senators to change their votes.

The other skeptics: Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Dean Heller.

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Facebook, Microsoft and YouTube form counter-terror group

Noah Berger / AP

Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google's YouTube will be involved in a new coalition aimed at making the companies' "hosted consumer services hostile to terrorists and violent extremists," in the words of YouTube's blog post on the matter. The group has been dubbed the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism.

What it will do: The companies will share information with outside groups, work on technology to address extremism and "commission research to inform our counter-speech efforts and guide future technical and policy decisions around the removal of terrorist content."

Why it matters: Online platforms are under increasing pressure from governments — particularly in Europe — which think they should do more to crack down on terrorist content they host. Platform companies have long resisted being held legally liable for what users do.

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Kushner team adds high-profile white collar defense lawyer

Evan Vucci / AP

Jared Kushner's lawyer has confirmed the addition of high-profile defense attorney Abbe Lowell to the team representing him amid the Russia investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as first confirmed by Politico.

Kushner's lawyer Jamie Gorelick told Axios in a statement:

"When Bob Mueller left WilmerHale to become Special Counsel and three of our colleagues joined him, we asked Mr. Kushner to get independent legal advice on whether to continue with us as his counsel. He engaged Abbe Lowell to advise him and then decided to add Mr. Lowell to the team representing him in the various inquiries into the Russia matter."

Why this matters: Lowell, who has extensive experience in complex civil and criminal cases, is as well-equipped as any lawyer in Washington to defend Kushner against whatever this investigation turns up. Kushner has said all along that he's eager to cooperate and will testify when required.

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Smiles and hugs as Trump meets Modi

Susan Walsh / AP

President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered warm statements in the Rose Garden Monday evening, with Trump saying the U.S.-India relationship had "never been stronger." Trump gave a special shoutout to their social media skills — each has more than 30 million followers on Twitter.

  • They took no questions.
  • Modi invited Trump and his family to India, and asked Ivanka Trump to lead the U.S. delegation to a global entrepreneurship summit in India.
  • Trump said he hoped the Indian-U.S. trading relationship would become "fair and reciprocal." In that vein, Trump said the U.S. looked forward to exporting natural gas to India but wanted to "get the price up a little bit." Earlier in the day, Trump thanked Modi for purchasing American military equipment.
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White House bashes CBO over health care score

AP

The White House has issued a statement slamming the Congressional Budget Office over its estimate that 22 million more people would be uninsured under the Senate health care plan:

"The CBO has consistently proven it cannot accurately predict how healthcare legislation will impact insurance coverage. This history of inaccuracy, as demonstrated by its flawed report on coverage, premiums, and predicted deficit arising out of Obamacare, reminds us that its analysis must not be trusted blindly."

Trump wants Republicans to push ahead, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he will do so, but the score is fueling resistance in the Senate.

Republicans

McConnell: "The American people deserve #Bettercare, which is exactly what we're working to bring them.... #Bettercare reduces premiums, deficit, & middle class taxes."

Sen. Ted Cruz, a conservative holdout: "At this point, we need to do considerably more to lower premiums."

Sen Ron Johnson, another holdout, said it would be a "mistake" to rush to a vote.

Sen. Mike Enzi, chairman of the Budget Committee, stressed the positives, saying the CBO determined "the draft bill would lower premiums by 30 percent when compared with current law, while also lowering taxes for hardworking families and providing more than $331 billion in on-budget deficit reduction."

Sen. John Cornyn, in a statement: "Our plan will help address Obamacare's ballooning costs for consumers by lowering premiums over time and cutting taxes, and today's estimate confirms that."

Sen. Susan Collins tweeted "I will vote no" because she wanted the Senate bill to fix the flaws of ACA but the CBO score shows it won't.

Democrats

Sen. Brian Schatz: "CBO confirms this thing is a %#$@ sandwich."

Sen. Bernie Sanders: "The CBO analysis of the disastrous Trump-McConnell health care bill gives us 22 million reasons why it should not see the light of day."

Sen. Tim Kaine: "3rd CBO score on a #Trumpcare bill, 3rd horrifying result."

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China's 'big brother' reality

Sheila Scarborough / Flickr Creative Commons

The Chinese government is using facial-recognition technology to help promote good behavior and catch lawbreakers — even jaywalkers, according to the Wall Street Journal. Facial recognition is used to enter buildings, withdraw cash from ATMs and prevent cheating during competitions.

Big picture, big brother: China is installing iris scanners at check points throughout the country. The government already monitors social media, and there are plans to institute a national "social credit" system by 2020, which would give citizens ratings based on how they act at work, in public settings and financially. There are 176 million surveillance cameras in China, compared to 50 million in the U.S..

The tech: Chinese tech firms are competing to create surveillance systems to sell to the government. As artificial intelligence technologies advance, so does facial-recognition.

In the U.S., the FBI uses facial recognition to help catch suspects and the DHS is starting to use it in airports to keep track of foreign visitors. Other U.S. companies are using facial recognition in pilot programs.

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CBO: 22 million more uninsured under Senate health bill

AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

The Congressional Budget Office has delivered some extremely bad news to Senate GOP leaders. Under their health care bill, an estimated 22 million fewer people would have health insurance than under the status quo — almost as big a drop as the House bill.

CBO's projections will make it much harder for Republicans to pass a bill this week — if at all.

  • Coverage: Over the next 10 years, 22 million fewer people would have health insurance under the GOP bill than under the status quo. The House bill would cover 23 million fewer people, per CBO.
  • Premiums: They'd increase for the next two years, but would ultimately be about 20% lower than under current law.
  • Deductibles: An average plan would carry an annual deductible of about $6,000, comparable to some of the least generous plans offered today.
  • Federal spending: The bill would save the federal government $321 billion over the next 10 years — largely thanks to Medicaid cuts that CBO says would add up to $772 billion over the next decade.