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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

UNC race conscious admissions process upheld by judge

Students walk through the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Aug. 18, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill can continue its race conscious admissions process, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

Why it matters: The case could end up in the Supreme Court after the conservative nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) vowed to appeal the judge's ruling that UNC didn't discriminate against against white and Asian American applicants in its policy that it said was designed to increase diversity.

SEC debunks conspiracy theories about meme stock mania

Photo: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The SEC issued its long-awaited report on the meme stock mania, which downplayed the narrative that a "short squeeze" was the primary driver behind GameStop's historic stock moves — and shot down conspiracy theories about the event.

Why it matters: The postmortem was highly anticipated, largely because of what it could hint about what the regulator thinks should be done in wake of the saga. But the report stopped short of specific policy recommendations.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Breaking Biden's diplomatic logjam

Expand chart
Data: Center for Presidential Transition via Congress.gov; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The logjam for reviewing and confirming President Biden's ambassadorial picks is finally starting to break.

Why it matters: Biden is far behind his predecessors in the rate at which his ambassadorial picks have been confirmed. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a series of high-profile hearings and votes this week to finally begin chipping away at the backlog.