(J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

Despite GOP senators' adamant declarations that they don't want their "skinny repeal" bill to become law if they pass it, there's at least a decent chance that's exactly what happens, some staffers openly say.

"Coin. Flipped," one senior aide responded when I asked what the chances were of the bill becoming law.

Yet GOP senators are saying the bill is merely a vehicle to get to a conference committee with the House, saying the policy itself is bad. "The skinny bill as policy is a disaster," Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters earlier Thursday.

An outlier: Sen. Mike Lee is evaluating the bill in its face, his office said, as if it passes it's "very" likely to become law. When asked why, spokesman Conn Carroll said it's the "path of least resistance."

And while some Republicans said they received further assurance from Speaker Paul Ryan on a call this evening, spokeswoman AshLee Strong said the speaker told them "exactly what his statement said: that we'll go to conference if they pass something tonight. And then the onus is on the Senate to show it can pass a real plan with 51 votes."

What could happen:

  • As House Republicans say openly, the Senate has yet to demonstrate it can come up with a replacement plan that gets 50 votes. There's yet to be a reason for this to change in conference.
  • If it turns out that once again nothing can pass the Senate, the House will still have the skinny repeal bill. And President Trump really, really wanting to sign something.
  • That puts a lot of pressure on the House to pass the bill. So if one thing leads to another, skinny repeal passes and becomes the law of the land.
  • Disclaimer: One senior House aide told me that "I don't think we can pass something completely anorexic."

Go deeper

Harry Reid on eliminating filibuster: It's a matter of "when," not "if"

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday addressed the question of whether Democrats will eliminate the legislative filibuster if they take control of the Senate, telling CNN that it's "not a question of if it's going to be gone, it's only when it's going to be gone."

Why it matters: Current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said that "nothing is off the table" if Republicans move ahead with replacing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the election — a threat that likely includes abolishing the Senate's long-standing 60-vote threshold in order to pass sweeping legislation.

How "naked ballots" could upend mail-in voting in Pennsylvania

Trump signs in Olyphant, Penn. Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court ordered state officials last week to throw out mail-in ballots submitted without a required inner "secrecy" envelope in November's election, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The state of play: The decision went under the radar alongside the simultaneous decision to extend the time that mail-in ballots could be counted, but Philadelphia's top elections official warned state legislators this week that throwing out so-called "naked ballots" could bring "electoral chaos" to the state and cause "tens of thousands of votes" to be thrown out — potentially tipping the presidential election.

Commission releases topics for first presidential debate

Moderator Chris Wallace. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace has selected what topics he'll cover while moderating the first presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden next week.

What to watch: Topics for the Sept. 29 debate will include Trump and Biden's records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, economic policy, racism and the integrity of the election, the Commission for Presidential Debates announced on Tuesday. Each topic will receive 15 minutes of conversation and will be presented in no particular order.

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