Here's what's in 'skinny repeal' - Axios
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Here's what's in 'skinny repeal'

Senate Republicans are still editing their "skinny repeal" of the Affordable Care Act, but it's changed since yesterday to include slightly more than the law's mandates but no repeal of the law's industry taxes, per two senior GOP aides.

Here's what's now in it:

  • Individual mandate repeal
  • Partial repeal of the employer mandate
  • A one-year defunding of Planned Parenthood
  • More money for community health centers
  • A provision addressing the ACA's 1332 innovation waivers. The Senate replacement bill would have made them much more flexible, allowing ACA regulations like essential health benefits to be waived. It's unclear how much more flexible they'll be under skinny repeal, especially because it remains unclear whether the original expanded waivers complied with budget rules.
What's not in it: A repeal of the ACA's medical device tax.

Caveat: They're still working. Leadership needs to see how much money is available and what members want to do. It's going to be a long day.

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Two Chinese men charged with distributing opioids in the U.S.

Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

Two Chinese men have been indicted by federal grand juries in Mississippi and North Dakota for allegedly manufacturing fentanyl and other opioids and running a massive drug network in the U.S. Three Americans were also charged for affiliation with the two men. Law enforcement officials were able to intercept thousands of lethal doses worth of acetyl fentanyl. One of the men, Jian Zhang, was also charged with acting in a way that resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

Why it matters: The DOJ heralded the indictments as the first ever against Chinese manufacturers of fentanyl, the powerful opioid that killed more than 20,000 Americans last year.

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Trump denies telling widow her husband "knew what he signed up for"

President Trump sitting next to Sen. Claire McCaskill Gary Cohn during a meeting at the White House. Photo: Susan Walsh / AP

President Trump insisted Wednesday that he never told the widow of a fallen soldier that her husband "knew what he signed up for," as Frederica Wilson, the Democratic congresswoman who was with the woman at the time of the call, claimed he did.

"I didn't say what that congresswoman said, I didn't say it at all... and I'd like her to make the statement again... I had a very nice conversation with the woman, the wife who sounded like a lovely woman."

Alexander-Murray health care bill: Trump walked back his previous signs of support for the bipartisan bill, instead stating that he thinks it's "fine" if the Senate can reach a bipartisan agreement, but he "won't do anything to enrich the insurance companies." The bill funds subsidies to insurers who cover low-income customers.

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Sessions denies being interviewed by Mueller probe

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is sworn in before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions explicitly denied that he'd been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of the federal government's investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election. During a heated exchange with Sen. Pat Leahy during a Justice Department oversight hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions hesitated and hinted that he'd have to clear his answer with Mueller before his denial.

More on Sessions' interactions with Russians: Leahy also asked Sessions if he'd discussed a few different topics with any Russian officials since the start of the 2016 campaign: emails ("I don't recall"), Russian interference in the 2016 election ("No"), sanctions like the Magnitsky Act ("I don't believe I've ever had any discussion at any time about the Magnitsky Act"), and Trump's positions ("I think that's a possibility").

More from Sessions' testimony:

  • On discussing conversations with Trump: "I can neither exert executive privilege nor can I disclose the content of my private conversations with the president."
  • On his refusal to assert executive privilege: "[T]he burden is on those who want to breach a core privilege of the president…to show precisely what it is that you'd like him to waive it on."
  • On Comey's firing: "I don't think it's been fully understood the significance of the error that Mr. Comey made on the Clinton matter."
  • On Mueller's probe: "He will produce the work in the way he thinks is correct — and history will judge."
  • On whether the U.S. is doing enough to prevent future election interference: "Probably not."
  • On the travel ban: "It's a lawful, necessary order that we are proud to defend."
  • On DACA: Sessions said the legal basis to rescind the policy came via its blanket implementation when the Office of Legal Counsel had approved its use on an individual basis. He refused to discuss any discussions with Texas' attorney general regarding the state's suit against the policy, claiming privilege via work product.
  • On supporting DREAM Act with border security: "I have not supported explicitly anything about citizenship but I am prepared to say…I think something could be worked out on this but it can't just be one-sided."
  • On DOJ defending Trump in emoluments cases: "It is the responsibility of the Department of Justice to defend the office of the presidency in carrying out its duties against charges that are not deemed meritorious…We believe this is defensible."
  • On the process behind the pardon of Joe Arpaio: "The president has the power to issue pardons with or without the DOJ involved…I'm just saying to you that I'm not personally at this moment prepared to give you an accurate answer."
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Automation is raising pay before it cuts jobs

Boxed's Union City warehouse. Photo: Christopher Matthews / Axios

UNION CITY, NJ — Visit Boxed headquarters, and you'll find lighthearted employees working right alongside an automated picking machine that retrieves items without human help, two miles of conveyor belts that move items faster than people can, and other robotic devices. The online retailer, a competitor of Costco and Sam's Club, has attracted years of fawning publicity for carrying out all this automation at its warehouses without laying off a single employe. Plus, it is even raising salaries.

The cruel twist: Boxed is already shrinking the number of added workers required for expansion — one executive said that to triple business at the warehouse, he'll only need to hire 33% more labor. That aligns with an axiom of automation — that jobs offering the best chance of rising pay are usually in industries that are growing and adding labor-saving technologies at the same time, before the number of jobs eventually declines.

What the data say: In a study published in June, MIT economist David Autor looked at 19 countries over 35 years, and showed that automation doesn't kill overall employment, but reduces jobs within automating sectors.

  • Boxed CEO Chieh Huang tells Axios that his company is growing quickly enough that it must add both technology and workers in order to meet demand. And Boxed may end up being an outlier to the larger trends — after all, Amazon, too, is reporting big hiring plans even while automating aggressively.
  • But the bigger picture is a process that is disruptive to workers' lives. "We find that industry-level employment robustly falls as industry productivity rises, implying that technically progressive sectors tend to shrink," Autor writes.
A little-appreciated rule of automation: A little-appreciated rule of automation: Robots require people skills, but while the jobs working next to them may pay better, their numbers are fewer. One example is manufacturing, whose employment peaked back in the late 1970s, but has continued to set productivity records.
  • Jobs in the sector pay better than average, while often not requiring more than a high school degree — manufacturing jobs still pay 10.9% higher than those in the rest of the economy, when controlling for required education levels, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
  • And the appeal of manufacturing jobs goes further, like offering stable predictable schedules and involving making things rather than providing (sometimes demeaning ) services to others. The loss of manufacturing employment, therefore, has a broader, sociological impact.
  • For many years, the effect of automation in manufacturing was not that employment was being lost, but that no new jobs were being created on net, even as the industry sold more and more stuff.

But it's more complicated, too: Autor tells Axios that automation can only tell part of the story of the decline of American manufacturing employment. Trade plays a huge role in the plunge of manufacturing jobs, he says, with China's 2001 accession to the WTO a major factor in convincing American employers to move jobs there. "Although the predominant force that has slowly eroded manufacturing employment in the post-WWII era is productivity growth, that's not the right story for the 2000s," he writes in an email.

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Paul Ryan comes out against Alexander-Murray health care bill

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis). Photo: Patrick Semansky / AP

House Speaker Paul Ryan's press secretary, Doug Andres, told Axios Wednesday that despite the bipartisan push behind the Alexander-Murray health bill, "The speaker does not see anything that changes his view that the Senate should keep its focus on repeal and replace of Obamacare."

Why it matters: This is a huge setback for the bill. Even if the measure can get 60 votes in the Senate, it still needs to pass the House. With Ryan against it, the odds of it passing aren't looking good.

Go deeper: Sen. Alexander told Mike Allen Trump "engineered" his health bill. Minutes later, Trump said he'd never support bailing out insurance companies.

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Nielsen to measure subscription streaming, Netflix is skeptical

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Nielsen, the decades-old TV measurement company, announced Wednesday that it will now independently measure viewership of subscription-based streaming content, like Netflix. Nielsen says eight subscription-based streamers are already on board, including A&E Networks, Disney-ABC, Lionsgate, NBCUniversal, Warner Brothers and others.

Netflix isn't buying it: Netflix, which is by far the largest subscription streaming company in the U.S. is skeptical. "The data that Nielsen is reporting is not accurate, not even close, and does not reflect the viewing of these shows on Netflix," the company said in a statement to Variety.

Why it matters: Nielsen has been considered the gold standard of TV measurement for decades, but has been criticized in recent years for using outdated techniques to measure TV viewership, especially as viewers migrate to digital streaming. This is the latest of steps the company has taken to resolve this, including doing away with "diaries" or written accounts of household TV viewership and adding more cross-platform TV measurement services.

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Trump disputes congresswoman's claim on what he told military widow

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) told CNN Wednesday that President Trump told the young widow of a U.S. serviceman killed in Niger, "Basically... he knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt." Wilson, who said she overheard the conversation on speakerphone in the car, called Trump a "sick man" and said the family was "astonished."

Trump hit back on Twitter:

Get smart: Trump did not specify what that "proof" was. A White House official said Tuesday the conversations the President has with families of fallen service members are "private."

Flashback: Trump's tweet is reminiscent of when he suggested he might have taped his oval office conversations.

More details, per the Washington Post:

  • Rep. Wilson said Trump made Sgt. Johnson's widow, Myeshia, cry. "It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid," Wilson said. "She was in tears. And she said, 'He didn't even remember his name.'"
  • The Post got in touch with Sgt. Johnson's mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, who was in the car during the call from the White House. She said "President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband." And when asked whether Rep. Wilson's account of the conversation between Trump and the family was accurate, she replied: "Yes."
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Airbnb vet launches VC fund

Airbnb

Airbnb's former head of data science, Riley Newman, has quietly formed a venture firm with David Rosenthal (ex-Madrona Venture Group). Sources say that it's called Wave Capital, and is raising $35 million for its debut fund focused on early-stage marketplace startups, with a $50 million hard cap.

  • History: Newman and Rosenthal first met years ago through their wives, who grew up together. They also had business contacts when Madrona put the first check into Rover (i.e., Airbnb for dogs), and visited Airbnb to learn more about its marketplace model.
  • Why now: Wave is telling prospective LPs that it should be able to take advantage of paper-rich unicorn employees at companies like Airbnb who want to launch startups, but remain liquidity-constrained.
  • Regulatory reasons: No comment from Newman or Rosenthal, natch.
  • Déjà vu? Last month we reported that Airbnb vets Andrew Swain and Jonathan Golden are raising a $60 million debut fund for their own marketplace-focused VC firm. One strategy difference seems to be that Wave plans to lead most of its rounds.
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McConnell wants Republicans to work more Fridays, weekends

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Mitch McConnell told Senate Republicans yesterday at their lunch that he planned to keep them working more Fridays and weekends, according to one source in the room and another briefed on his remarks.
Politico first reported the news.
Why this matters: President Trump has been exasperated by the Senate's glacial progress and it's been a point of contention between him and McConnell. The Senate has a ton of work to get through, and dozens of nominations are banked up.
Behind the scenes: A number of the older senators aren't keen on the idea of working weekends, but several younger senators have provided cover for McConnell. Georgia Sen. David Perdue wrote a letter and was supportive of McConnell. "In August, we sent a letter to Leader McConnell and asked him to postpone the August state work period so we could confirm more nominees and make progress on agenda items," Sen. Perdue said. "Now--with 36 legislative days left in the year--we have been raising these concerns again and urging Leader McConnell to turn the Senate on full-time so we can get all of our priorities done from the budget, funding the government, and tax this year."
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Trump's alternative reality, part two

Trump in the White House Rose Garden yesterday. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

I wrote yesterday about President Trump's war with the truth, after a stunning string of false statements during double-header press avails. But his war with his own Cabinet, over his own ideas, is equally stunning.

It's a feature, not a bug, of this White House for Trump to say one thing about policy, and for his Cabinet or hand-picked officials to say or do the exact opposite:

  • Yesterday, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai subtly shot down Trump's threat to revoke NBC broadcast licenses: "I believe in the First Amendment."
  • SecState Rex Tillerson says North Korean diplomacy "will continue until the first bomb drops"; Trump tweets that he's "wasting his time."
  • SecDef Jim Mattis tells Congress that holding onto the Iran nuclear pact is in the interest of the national security of the United States; 10 days later, Trump threatens cancellation.
  • Trump blames "both sides" for racial violence in Charlottesville; Tillerson says the president "speaks for himself," and economic adviser Gary Cohn says the administration "must do better."
  • Trump threatens extreme action on immigrants, Muslims, "Dreamers," trade, NATO and more, but aides and advisers wind up softening or delaying most — with the notable exception of the Paris climate deal.

Why this matters: This dynamic — like the spreading of fake news or false statements — makes it hard for the media, Republicans and his Cabinet to determine when to take the leader of the free world seriously.

Sound smart: This is not a plot of evil genius to keep friends and foes guessing. It's the inevitable output of an improvisational president who often says whatever pops into his head.