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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

Updated 2 hours ago - World

500 Hong Kong police officers raid pro-democracy newspaper

Chief Operations Officer Chow Tat Kuen (front 2nd R) is escorted by police from the Apple Daily newspaper offices before being put into a waiting vehicle in Hong Kong on Thursday. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong's Apple Daily said 500 police officers searched the pro-democracy newspaper's offices and arrested five senior executives on Thursday.

Why it matters: The arrests of the paper's chief editor, Ryan Law, along with its chief operating officer, two other editors and the CEO of Next Digital, which operates Apple Daily, were made under China's national security law — which gives the government broad power to limit people's political freedom.

World Bank rejects El Salvador's request to help implement bitcoin

President Nayib Bukele, giving a speech in El Salvador's legislative assembly in San Salvado earlier this month, pushed for bitcoin to become legal tender. Photo: Emerson Flores/APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images

The World Bank has rejected the government of El Salvador's request to help the country implement Bitcoin as legal tender, Reuters first reported late Wednesday.

Why it matters: The international lender's rejection could hamper the government's goal of making the digital currency accepted across the country within three months.

Updated 6 hours ago - Science

China launches first astronauts to new space station

The manned Shenzhou-12 spacecraft from China's Manned Space Agency onboard the Long March-2F rocket launches at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, Gansu province, China, on Thursday morning Beijing time. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

China's Shenzhou 12 mission carrying three astronauts launched into orbit on Thursday morning Beijing time.

Why it matters: Astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo are set to occupy China's new space station. This will be the country's longest crewed space mission ever and the first in almost five years.