Jul 16, 2017

Health care on a scalpel's edge

Alex Brandon / AP

Don Jr.'s Russia scandal may have one little upside for the White House: Two sources close to the health care negotiations told me they're pleased it has distracted the "resistance" movement and moved much of the media spotlight away from McConnell & co.'s negotiations.

Top White House officials and McConnell World sources share a mantra: Every day that passes without a third Republican senator coming out against the health care bill is a victory. That's why the surprise vote delay for McCain's surgery recovery is so perilous: It gives the bill's opponents another week to hold protests, run TV ads, and remind squirmish purple-state Republicans that the ACA has twice as much support as the Republican's alternative (50% to 24%, according to today's ABC/WaPo poll).

"If at end of the weekend nobody else has jumped out of the box, that's a win," says a senior administration official, because it shows a weekend of overwhelmingly negative media coverage wasn't enough to sway senators. But they still have to get through the next big event — the new CBO score. (Although we're now told it may not happen this week.)

More important details:

  • Everything hinges on getting the bill to the floor by finding 50 Republicans who will vote for a "motion to proceed." If McConnell can't do that, it's over.
  • McConnell is privately telling senators, per our sources, that they if they vote against the motion to proceed they're effectively arguing that there's nothing wrong with the health care system and the Affordable Care Act markets are just fine. He's telling them they'll have virtually unlimited opportunities to amend the bill.
  • The White House is trying to preemptively discredit the CBO score of the bill, with officials Marc Short and Brian Blase writing in a WaPo Op-Ed: "Although the media and the political left will certainly seize on it, the CBO's estimates will be little more than fake news."
  • Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval remains a pivotal figure because the administration knows he has a huge sway over Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, a moderate (and hugely vulnerable) Republican who still hasn't decided whether or not to support the bill.
  • Nobody I've spoken to thinks Sandoval – a big fan of the Medicaid expansion – will ever support the bill. So a victory for the White House would be just getting him to keep his disapproval muted.

Bottom line: All the Republicans close to the process are extremely jittery about this bill. "We'll see if McConnell can pull a rabbit out of his hat," one said. "But not every hat has a rabbit in it."

Go deeper

Trump hits back at Mattis: "I gave him a new life"

President Trump speaks at the White House. Photo: Doug Mills - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump unloaded on his former defense secretary via Twitter on Wednesday, hours after James Mattis condemned him for making a "mockery of our Constitution" in his response to mass protests in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

What he's saying: "Probably the only thing Barack Obama & I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General. I asked for his letter of resignation, & felt great about it. His nickname was 'Chaos', which I didn’t like, & changed it to 'Mad Dog'"

Obama praises young protesters, urges mayors to pursue police reforms

Former President Barack Obama called on all mayors to review their use-of-force policies and commit to policing reform in a virtual town hall Wednesday hosted by the Obama Foundation's My Brothers Keepers Alliance.

Why it matters: Obama has addressed the killing of George Floyd and the nationwide protests that followed on social media and in a Medium post, but this was his first time speaking about the past week's events on camera. His voice will add weight to the growing pressure on local, state and federal officials to pursue policing reforms.

James Mattis condemns Trump as a threat to the Constitution

Mattis on Fox in Septemnber 2019 in New York City. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis condemned President Trump for making a "mockery of our Constitution" in a statement to The Atlantic on Wednesday, saying he was "appalled" at the president's response to mass protests in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

Why it matters: Trump’s former defense secretary had refrained from publicly criticizing his former boss since resigning in 2018.