Jonathan Swan
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White House pressures leadership for Friday vote

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

The White House is insisting to House Republican leadership that they vote on the GOP health care bill tomorrow — and it looks like it's going to happen.

President Trump's message to leadership: give me your vote list and tell me which members campaigned since 2010 to repeal Obamacare and then wouldn't vote to do it, said a source privy to the private conversations. The plan now is for the House to vote tomorrow, and the latest changes to the bill — stripping out the law's "essential health benefits" — will be made through a rule to be written overnight.

The GOP leadership's view was that they're still short on the vote count, and they wanted to be assured of 216 votes before putting it on the floor. They think if the bill comes to the floor with less than the required number, the vote will collapse on them. They say simply calling a vote is not going to cause the whip count to go up. Members don't want to vote on something that will fail.

The White House took a different view, according to two sources familiar with the conversations happening at the highest level. Top administration officials believe the vote is close, that it needs to happen tomorrow, and that if they get a deal with Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows it will give them enough momentum to get it done.

Members made "battle" pitches: At a GOP conference meeting tonight, Rep. Tom Cole told his colleagues that "this is not a test for President Trump, he's already leading. This is not a test for our leadership. This is a test for us," according to a source in the room. "If you vote against this because you think it's 'not good enough,' that's not legislating, that's not leading."

And Rep. Brian Mast, an Army veteran, got a standing ovation when he told Republicans that while he's never been in battle with a perfect plan, he's never lost a battle when the troops were unified.

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The new reality on Trump and the Freedom Caucus

Evan Vucci / AP

House leadership has been hoping that President Trump would turn the screws on the Freedom Caucus. They'd love nothing more than for Trump to threaten Freedom Caucus members like Mark Meadows with primary challenges. In fact, they were banking on Trump doing that. They thought he could break the Freedom Caucus.

The emerging reality: Trump is doing nothing of the sort. He was joking when he told Meadows in the GOP conference meeting earlier this week that he'd come after him. And in today's White House meeting Trump did not brow-beat the Freedom Caucus members or make a hard sell on a "final offer."

According to three sources in the room for the meeting, Trump didn't demand loyalty tests, and there was lots of laughing, jokes, and stories.

"He is not being heavy handed," said a White House official. "[The House Freedom Caucus] made clear all week they appreciate respect and engagement from the White House but are upset that they feel leadership excludes them."
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The 2 bad outcomes that could hit House GOP leaders today

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Whatever the outcome today, it's bad for House Republican leadership in general and for Paul Ryan specifically.

  1. Outcome 1: Trump cuts a deal with Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows, effectively hijacking the floor and the policy agency. Trump will have learned that if he wants to get anything done, he needs to deal directly with these guys. Meadows will have proven that he can keep his ultra-conservative caucus, which many expected to crack up now that Trump is president, together under the pressure.
  2. Option 2: Trump can't cut a deal with the Freedom Caucus and the bill fails. This is also terrible for leadership. It would show that Ryan oversees a truly ungovernable conference.

Also consider: No matter the outcome of today, Breitbart will go thermonuclear against Ryan. The website's biggest goal, shared by a number of members of the Freedom Caucus, is to remove the Speaker. Watch for that campaign to ramp up as soon as next week.

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Obamacare repeal loses support of key GOP moderate

The leader of the moderate faction in the House, Charlie Dent, issued a statement late Wednesday evening saying he can't support the current healthcare bill. Key quote:

"I believe this bill, in its current form, will lead to the loss of coverage and make insurance unaffordable for too many Americans, particularly for low-to-moderate income and older individuals ... I hope that the House can step back from this vote and arbitrary deadline to focus on getting health care reform done right to ensure that American families have access to affordable health care."

Between the lines: Dent's statement is obviously catastrophic for the bill in its current form. But it should also be interpreted as a shot at the Freedom Caucus, which is in the midst of negotiating a deal with the White House to make the bill substantially more conservative. This is Dent, as leader of the moderate Tuesday Group, providing cover for the moderates. He's signaling that they won't be bullied into voting for a bill that could turn the 2018 midterms into a bloodbath.

What's next: The House GOP conference is meeting at 9am. We'll have a better idea then how many moderates have been lost if the bill makes a last minute lurch to the right.

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Trump administration weighs last-minute Obamacare replacement changes

Alex Brandon / AP

Trump administration officials are seriously considering whether to make substantive last minute changes to the House Obamacare replacement bill to convince Freedom Caucus members to vote for it.

Two sources with direct knowledge — working on the side pushing the bill — tell me that the White House is debating making some changes to how the House bill trims Obamacare's insurance regulations and its "essential benefit" requirements before putting the bill on the floor. One source said failure was not an option. In one source's view it's not realistic to think that the bill can be kicked into next week and that something might miraculously change.

Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows has made it clear he can't vote for the current bill and won't unless more is done to lower premiums. He's demanded the House bill repeals more Obamacare insurance rules.

Why it matters: Republicans are still looking for votes. In the White House meeting today the team pushing the bill suggested to the Freedom Caucus that they could get changes made in the Senate version. But the Freedom Caucus folks made it clear they don't trust the Senate. Leadership's view is that the changes aren't possible under the rules for the budget "reconciliation" bill that's being used for repeal, since everything in it has to affect spending or revenues. But there appears to be growing openness within the White House to testing that proposition.

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Top Dem on Intel Committee calls out Devin Nunes

J Scott Applewhite / AP

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has lambasted chairman Devin Nunes for revealing confidential information to the media and the president before presenting it to the committee. Describing Nunes' conduct as a "profound irregularity," Adam Schiff said in a statement that he'd expressed his "grave concerns with the chairman that a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way."

Why this matters: The intelligence committee is currently examining Russian interference in the election, including possible ties between Trump's team and Moscow. These unusual circumstances make it even more important that the committee operates in a bipartisan manner, as it historically has. Nunes' actions today raise serious concerns on that front.

One new nugget: Schiff says Nunes told him in their conversation late this afternoon that most of the names in the intercepted communications were masked, "but that he could still figure out the probable identity of the parties."

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Devin Nunes creates his own "big, gray cloud"

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

On Monday, House Intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes lectured FBI Director James Comey for putting "a big, gray cloud" over the Trump White House. Two days later, Nunes floated a new gray cloud — this time over the Obama Administration.

Most extraordinarily, Nunes wouldn't rule out the possibility that the surveillance of Trump and his transition team was a politically motivated act by the Obama Administration. That's probably why Trump said afterwards that he now feels vindicated for his wiretapping tweet, even though Nunes still says Obama himself didn't order a tap of Trump's phone.

Bottom line: Nunes' actions today were extraordinary. They raise both substantive and political questions. Was Trump being inappropriately surveilled? Were they appropriately surveilled and inappropriately unmasked? And is Nunes risking his credibility as intelligence chair by giving the administration a giant political gift?

What Nunes revealed, shortly after he briefed President Trump at the White House:

  • Nunes says a person or people — he wouldn't give any more detail than that — brought to him intelligence reports that showed the Obama Administration collected communications related to President-elect and his transition team.
  • He said what he'd seen concerned him and we should have more information by Friday.
  • Nunes said the surveillance had nothing to do with Russia, was "incidental collection," and probably legal, which means Trump or his team were likely talking to an intelligence target or targets whose surveillance was approved by the FISA Court.
  • Incidental means the Trump folks were not the target, but by questioning whether the targeting was appropriate Nunes raises questions about political motive.
  • Some of these names — and he strongly hinted the President was among them —were "unmasked." That likely means one of 20 or so people on the NSA staff decided there was a reason to change the names of the Trump folks from "person A" to their actual name.
  • The intelligence reports naming the Trump team people are circulating around the intelligence community and Nunes doesn't know how many people have seen them.
What Nunes wouldn't reveal:
  • The names of the Trump transition team members under surveillance.
  • What was said in the conversations: "I think it [the surveillance] should bother the President himself and his team... because some of it seems to be inappropriate."
  • The names of the foreign targets of the surveillance. Evan McMullin, a former CIA operative who opposed Trump in the election, tweeted: "If what @DevinNunes says is true, Trump was communicating with persons of intelligence or criminal interest."
  • Who ordered the surveillance.
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Freedom Caucus heading to White House ahead of Trumpcare vote

Susan Walsh / AP

Members of the conservative Freedom Caucus are heading to the White House at 10:30 am for a last minute sales pitch on healthcare. A Freedom Caucus source says Vice President Mike Pence requested the meeting, and President Trump is expected to attend. It won't be the whole Freedom Caucus attending, but it's a good number and the group's chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows, will be there, the source said.

Why this matters: The White House needs to flip Freedom Caucus members if it's going to pass the Obamacare replacement bill. The whip team has been trying to pick off individual members, and Trump made a joking (or was he?) threat to Meadows in the House conference meeting yesterday.

Bottom line: There's no chance Meadows flips without a change to the bill, but the White House is hamstrung because a shift to the right would lose moderates who are already nervous about the plan's lack of generosity to seniors. If the White House and leadership don't have the votes by Thursday night, they won't put the bill on the floor. Their best hope is that Trump's immense pressure on these holdout members over the weekend forces them to buckle.

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Trump singled out House Republican on Obamacare replacement

President Trump singled out House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-NC) by name in a Capitol Hill meeting with House Republicans today, according to a source in the room.

Trump asked Meadows to stand and then talked about how Meadows supported his campaign early, adding he expects Meadows to support the Republican Obamacare replacement bill in the end. Trump said, according to our source:

"Mark, I'm gonna come after you." — Trump to Meadows, while smiling and winking

In a press gaggle after the meeting, Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) said Trump was "half joking" in his comments. When Meadows emerged from the meeting, he said he was still a "no" on the bill, adding that he didn't anticipate any Freedom Caucus members would change their vote.

This post has been updated to clarify an editing error saying the meeting was at the White House. It was on Capitol Hill.

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Freedom Caucus chair pessimistic about health bill

Susan Walsh / AP

Trump's team is doing its utmost to sell Mark Meadows on its Obamacare replacement bill, but the Freedom Caucus leader ain't buying it.

Here's what Meadows told Axios early Monday evening:

After investing hours and hours and hours of trying to find common ground between our moderate members and conservative members, and believing, because of the White House's engagement in the process, that we could find common ground; I've now reached a conclusion that our leadership is going to put forth a bill that does not address any of the concerns in a meaningful way and will dare us to vote against it.

Why this matters: If the White House loses most of the Freedom Caucus members they can't pass this bill. Meadows was only speaking for himself tonight, but his is a voice to move votes. The caucus will meet tonight, and whether to collectively oppose the bill or not will certainly be discussed.

What Meadows says he needs to get to "yes": He wants Obamacare's market reforms and regulations repealed, including the list of health benefits insurers are required to cover. He says repealing these is "the only thing that will drive down prices." The rest of the problems, like issues with the bill's tax credits, he called "negotiable items that make the bill either more conservative or more moderate."

But leadership says these Obamacare pieces can't be included in budget reconciliation, the method being used to pass the bill, per Senate rules.

Can Bannon help? The administration is working hard to win over Meadows. He was invited to Mar-a-Lago over the weekend and he's in regular touch with Steve Bannon. Politico wrote a smart piece on a recent behind-the-scenes meeting between Bannon and Meadows, but their relationship goes much deeper than that. They text regularly and have the 90-second phone calls familiar to all who interact with Bannon.

Bottom line: Meadows will always listen to Trump and Bannon, but three days out from when leadership wants to put the bill on the floor, he's a solid "no."