Everyone's falling out of love with the bipartisan ACA bill - Axios
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Everyone's falling out of love with the bipartisan ACA bill

Policy experts aren't so sure Alexander-Murray is a good deal any more. Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Just a few weeks ago, the Affordable Care Act stabilization bill from Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray looked like a common-sense fix with a decent shot at finding its way into Congress' big end-of-the-year package. But that was before Republicans were on the cusp of repealing the individual mandate. Now the bill's constituency is eroding — on every front.

The bottom line: I asked several of the smartest experts around whether they'd rather enter this new reality with or without Alexander-Murray. They were unanimous — they'd rather take their chances without it, keeping higher premium subsidies instead.

  • Democrats liked Alexander-Murray on its own, but Sen. Susan Collins is now framing the bill as a trade-off to help her support repealing the law's individual mandate, and Democrats can't go for that deal.
  • Many Republicans never supported Alexander-Murray. The Wall Street Journal reports that it won't be attached to the two-week spending bill Congress takes up this week, and that House Speaker Paul Ryan was never part of any agreement to pass the bill to help get Collins on board with Republicans' tax overhaul.

Independent experts are also souring on the proposal. "I don't think it's good policy," said Duke researcher David Anderson. He's been beating this drum for a while, and more analysts are starting to agree with him. Here's the argument:

  • President Trump's decision to cut off the ACA's cost-sharing payments ended up artificially inflating the ACA's premium subsidies, to an extent many experts simply hadn't anticipated. For many people who get those subsidies, insurance is more affordable now than ever before.
  • Undoing Trump's actions through Alexander-Murray would also undo that subsidy bump. And experts increasingly think that's not worth it.
  • "The current setup is weird, and I think that kind of offends some people's sensibilities. But it's working, so I don't think there's a compelling need for Alexander-Murray right now," the Kaiser Family Foundation's Larry Levitt said.

The bottom line: Everyone agrees that repealing the individual mandate will lead to higher premiums and probably less competition among insurers. No one is quite sure how bad those effects will be, which makes it hard to say for sure how much Alexander-Murray would help or hurt. But given the choice, experts say they'd rather try to figure out a post-mandate world without Alexander-Murray than with it.

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BP buys stake in solar company

Photo: Julie Dermansky/Corbis / Getty Images

European oil and natural gas giant BP announced Friday it's investing $200 million over three years in Lightsource, one of Europe's largest solar companies, to acquire a 43% stake in the business.

The big picture: This is another sign of how big oil is slowly and gradually investing in lower-carbon technologies, alongside continued investments in oil and natural gas, driven by a series of overlapping factors, such as the notion of slowing oil demand and investor concern about climate change.

Yes but: This is a drop in the bucket compared to BP's nearly $2 billion net profit it disclosed as its most recent quarterly earnings. BP's renewable-energy assets, which also include wind farms in the U.S. and biofuels in Brazil, aren't "making a material difference to the bottom line," BP CEO Bob Dudley told an oil conference earlier this year.

Go deeper:

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Report: Trump never held a high-level meeting on Russian interference

Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

President Trump thinks conceding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election "would give ammunition to his critics," and becomes agitated by the mere mention of the issue by his aides, according to a Washington Post report.

Why it matters: Per WaPo, Trump "has never convened a Cabinet-level meeting on Russian interference or what to do about it," and his aides think he'd treat it as "an affront" if they were to even raise the matter. A former Russia adviser to Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton told the Post: "Putin has to believe this was the most successful intelligence operation in the history of Russian or Soviet intelligence."

  • A former senior intelligence official said raising the issue "takes the [presidential daily briefing] off the rails," so information on the topic is sometimes only included in the written briefing, not in the oral presentation.
  • He was "raging mad" that Congress tied his hands by overwhelmingly passing Russia sanctions; WaPo reports it took four days for him to be persuaded to sign the bill. Aides told him: "If you veto it, they'll override you...and you look like you're weak."
  • Senior advisers abide by a policy of "don't walk that last 5 1/2 feet" when it comes to sensitive Russia issues, meaning not to go into the Oval and give "Trump a chance to erupt or overrule on issues that can be resolved by subordinates."

Go Deeper: Read the full Post report.

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The White House plan to shift Americans' views on immigration

Relatives separated by the border wall betweeen Mexico and the United States meet. Photo: Herika Martinez / AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration is planning a push to convince the American public that the current U.S. immigration system is "bad for American workers" and "bad for American security," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told AP.

Between the lines: In exchange for a legislative fix for DACA recipients, the White House wants funding for a border wall and a switch from the existing family-based immigration system to a merit-based one. They plan to use data on chain migration and the number of immigrants in U.S. jails to make the case that the current immigration system is an economic and national security threat.

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Trump has now appointed most ever federal appeals judges in 1st year

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Senate Republicans on Thursday confirmed President Donald Trump's twelfth federal appeals court nominee, setting a record for the most circuit court picks confirmed in a president's first year.

Why this matters: The federal courts carry significant weight in almost every area of policy: gun rights, executive power, LGBT rights, freedom of religion, etc, and have blocked multiple Trump initiatives in his first year. Trump's picks of young, conservatives judges for the lifetime appointments will far outlast his presidency.

Background: Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy successfully appointed 11 appeals court judges in their first year.

  • Former President Barack Obama successfully appointed three appeals court judges in his first year in office in 2009, as well as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. His predecessor, George W. Bush, got six confirmed.

What they're saying: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has spearheaded the effort, said Republicans were having a "historic week."

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, lambasted Republicans, saying that the "speed at which these judges are being rammed through the process is stunning."
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Trump spoke with Putin today

Trump and Putin at the G20 summit over the summer. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke over the phone Thursday. Trump thanked Putin for praising the U.S. economy and the two of them discussed the North Korean nuclear threat, per the White House.

The backdrop: The call came hours after Putin said allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin were "invented" by Trump's enemies at an annual press conference, AP reports. Putin said, “This is all made up by people who oppose Trump to make his work look illegitimate ... Look at the markets, how they went up; that speaks about investors' trust in what he does," echoing Trump.

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Costco continues to hold its own against Amazon

Shares in Costco rose in after-hours trading, following the company's announcement of better-than-expected profits, combined with its 14th-straight month of same-store sales growth.

Costco's secret sauce is a mix of low prices, well-trained staff, and an ever-changing, but limited assortment of products, which have all kept Americans flocking to Costco outlets when other retailers have lost business to the Internet.

The most important number in Thursday's report was a 43.5% increase in e-commerce sales year-over year.

  • Though Costco stock is up more than 18% this year, it has lagged competitors like Amazon and Walmart over fears that the company is clinging too tightly to its profitable retail warehouses—these numbers will assuage some of those concerns.
  • During a call with analysts Thursday, CFO Richard Galanti stressed that Costco is experimenting with e-commerce "in our own way," and also, "pretty cheaply," using experiments like buy online and pick-up in store, which has the added benefit of driving traffic to its warehouses.
  • It's a delicate balancing act that, so far, investors are cheering.
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Trump's "really diverse team" is mostly white

President Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

Omarosa Manigault, who was the only African American woman among President Trump's senior White House staff, drew attention to the Trump administration's lack of diversity when she resigned on Wednesday. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders maintained that the White House has "a really diverse team" across all departments, and are always trying to add to it.

The reality: Manigault, along with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, was one of two black officials among Trump's three dozen-plus team of Cabinet members and senior staffers.

Lack of diversity of Trump's cabinet: Ben Carson; Elaine Chao, who is Asian American; and Nikki Haley, who is Indian American, are the only non-white members of Trump's cabinet.

Omarosa also suggested traces of racial tension within the White House, as she said on "Good Morning America": "

"As the only African-American woman in the White House, I have seen things that have made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally, that has affected my community and my people."
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Shervin Pishevar leaves his venture capital firm

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals

Venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar has left Sherpa Ventures, the San Francisco-based firm he co-founded in 2013, following multiple allegations of sexual harassment. He has denied all of the claims, including one made on-the-record to Axios.

Sherpa's statement:

We thank Shervin for his contributions and service in co-founding Sherpa Capital. The Sherpa team remains focused on supporting our founders and portfolio companies, serving the interests of our Limited Partners across all of our funds. We are deeply committed to our culture of integrity, inclusion, and respect and will continue to put these values into action through all of Sherpa Capital's activities, including the founders and companies we support.

Pishevar, who is best-known as an early investor in Uber while with a previous VC firm, already had taken a leave of absence from Sherpa and his portfolio companies boards. He also is pursuing a lawsuit against a political opposition research firm that he claims is behind a "smear campaign" against him.

Pishevar's statement, which he posted via Twitter:

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The most (and least) fuel-efficient U.S. airlines

Fueling manager Jarid Svraka looks on as he fuels an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 jet. Photo: Elaine Thompson / AP

For the seventh year in a row, Alaska Airlines was the most fuel-efficient airline among U.S. carriers, according to a study from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

Why it matters: Naya Olmer, the study's author, said Alaska Airlines "burns about 13% less fuel than the industry average, it's a profitable airline, and it's done this for seven years running...So, it's possible." The report also notes that aviation accounts for around 2.5% of global CO2 emissions, and U.S. carriers make up 30% of that.

  • But, but, but: As U.S. carriers saw a 10% spike in overall revenue passenger miles between 2014 and 2016, energy effienciy fell by the wayside and CO2 emissions jumped by 7%.
  • The other leaders in fuel-efficiency include Frontier and Spirit, which use "cleaner fleets, higher load factors, denser seating configuartions," and more.
  • Virgin America was the least fuel-efficient U.S. carrier in 2016; Jet Blue came second-to-last.

One more thing: Alaska Airlines bought Virgin American last year. Dan Rutherford, aviation director at the ICCT, told Axios that "a back-of-the-envelope suggests that Alaska would have lost its fuel efficiency advantage over Frontier, Spirit, and Southwest in 2016 if the merger had gone ahead then. But Alaska's future efficiency will depend on how it actually operates Virgin's leased A320s, and also for how long."

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Trump: "I think Senator Rubio will be there" on tax bill

Screengrab via White House livestream

President Trump says he's confident the GOP tax bill will get Sen. Marco Rubio's vote despite a Washington Post report that Rubio is threatening to vote against the plan unless it includes the child tax credit expansion he has been advocating for.

Trump made the comments at a White House event where he "cut the red tape" of government regulations and claimed his administration has ended 22 old regulations for every new one created.