The Senate's health care circus is just getting started - Axios
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The Senate's health care circus is just getting started

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

We still don't know — no one knows — how the Senate's health care process is likely to end. But it's now well under way. And as the lopsided defeat of the Senate repeal-and-replace plan last night showed, there could be plenty of surprises ahead.

Here's where things stand as we barrel toward some kind of conclusion tomorrow night.

  • The Senate last night voted down a modified version of Republicans' larger repeal-and-replace bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act. But BCRA is not necessarily dead. Last night's version included provisions that haven't been scored or reviewed by the parliamentarian.
  • Another, simpler version — like the most recent one scored by the Congressional Budget Office — could still come up later in the process, a senior GOP aide told us.
  • Technically, last night's vote was procedural, but it's extremely reasonable to take that vote as a proxy for the policy itself.
  • The next vote, scheduled for early this afternoon, will be on the updated version of the 2015 repeal-only bill. That, too, is expected to fail.
  • All signs point to a vote-a-rama Thursday night, perhaps into Friday morning.

The hot new thing: "Skinny repeal." If neither BCRA nor straight repeal looks to be gaining any traction, the next option in the rotation appears to be a bill that would repeal small parts of the ACA — like the individual mandate and a tax or two.

  • The goal here wouldn't necessarily be to settle for that outcome, but to pass something that would trigger a conference committee with the House. Normally designed as a way to hammer out specific differences in House and Senate bills, a conference here would function more like another opportunity to write another bill — albeit under many of the same restrictions.
  • House Republicans aren't sure yet how they feel about this option. They're waiting to see what — if anything — the Senate actually sends them. But anything that keeps the process alive would be a good thing, a senior House GOP aide told Axios' Caitlin Owens.
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Four female senators say #MeToo

Senators Elizabeth Warren, Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp, and Mazie Hirono told their stories of sexual harassment on "Meet the Press," joining the #MeToo social media movement that arose after the many allegations against Harvey Weinstein came to light.

Why it matters: As Chuck Todd said, "The Harvey Weinstein story has brought to light...the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault. Many of us, men mostly, were not aware or chose not to be aware of how common this kind of behavior apparently is." The #MeToo movement's purpose is shine a light on how many women, and men, have experienced situations like these.

The other senators' remarks:

  • Sen. McCaskill, while working on getting a bill out of committee in the state legislature, was asked "did you bring your kneepads?" when she approached the Missouri Speaker of the House for advice.
  • When Sen. Heitkamp was North Dakota Attorney General, she spoke out against domestic violence. At one event, a law enforcement official told her: "Listen here, men will always beat their wives, and you can't stop them."
  • Sen. Hirono said: "I've been propositioned by teachers, by my colleagues, and, you know, you name it."
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How the Iran deal might impact North Korea talks

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un receives a military briefing in Pyongyang. Photo: KRT via AP Video

Trump's decision not to re-certify the Iran deal "sends an unmistakable signal to North Korea," Senator Tim Kaine said this week, which is that the "U.S. will back out of a nuclear deal even when it's being complied with." This, he says, drives "the chances of a diplomatic resolution in North Korea down to zero."

Why it matters: The potential for productive talks between the U.S. and North Korea is tenuous, even as tensions and militaristic threats ramp up.

North Korea isn't just taking a cue from U.S. behavior with Iran. The regime is likely also considering...

  • What happened in the 90s after the North and the U.S. came to an agreement that ultimately collapsed.
  • Libya, and the demise of Muammar Gaddhafi 8 years after he agreed to end the country's WMD program.

Where things stand:

  • Secretary Tillerson said last month that the U.S. has "three channels" of communication open to North Korea, but his spokesperson, Heather Nauert, was quick to clarify that "North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or ready for talks regarding denuclearization."
  • North Korea has said it will never give up its nuclear program, but the U.S. is demanding denuclearization. If the U.S. goes to the negotiating table with that demand on the table, the Pyongyang may never budge, Jim Walsh, who has been to Pyongyang to talk with officials about nuclear issues, tells Axios.
  • For any negotiations to be successful, Walsh says, it's "going to require that people enter talks without preconditions." His conclusion is that "any agreement — if there is an agreement — would first include a freeze, with the hope that over time the deal would include a rollback" in nuclear ambition.

Although this apparent dilemma comes with one big caveat: The likelihood that North Korea comes to the negotiating table in the first place is low, with or without a breakdown in the Iran deal.

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Anti-establishment billionaire wins in Czech Republic

Czech billionaire Andrej Babis takes a selfie after casting his vote Friday. Photo: Petr David Josek / AP

"The Czech Republic stood on the brink of a populist new era ... after voters heavily backed a billionaire businessman ... while overwhelmingly rejecting establishment parties," The Guardian reports:

  • "Amid public disdain towards 'politics as usual,' the ANO [means 'Yes' in Czech, and stands for Action for Dissatisfied Citizens party] led by Andrej Babis, the country's second-richest man, [will be] the biggest party in parliament and in prime position to form a coalition government."
  • "Slovakian-born Babis, 63, has been accused of seeking to undermine democracy by plotting to weaken parliament and buying up large swaths of the media to silence criticism. Babis campaigned on an anti-immigration platform — capitalising on popular opposition to EU migrant quotas."
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The five ex-presidents gather in Texas

Photo: LM Otero / AP

"The five living former presidents ... appeared together for the first time since 2013 at a concert to raise money for victims of devastating hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands," AP's Will Weissert reports:

  • "Democrats Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and Republicans George H.W. and George W. Bush gathered in College Station, Texas, home of Texas A&M University, to try to unite the country after the storms."
  • "Texas A&M is home to the presidential library of the elder Bush. At 93, he has a form of Parkinson's disease and appeared in a wheelchair at the event. His wife, Barbara, and George W. Bush's wife, Laura, were in the audience."
  • "Lady Gaga made a surprise appearance."
  • "The appeal backed by the ex-presidents has raised $31 million since it began on Sept. 7, said Jim McGrath, spokesman for George H.W. Bush."
  • President Trump "offered a video greeting that avoided his past criticism of the former presidents and called them 'some of America's finest public servants.'"
  • "Four of the five former presidents — Obama, George W. Bush, Carter and Clinton — made brief remarks that did not mention Trump. The elder Bush did not speak but smiled and waved to the crowd."
  • Donate here.
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The future of Wall Street

Traders on the NYSE. Richard Drew / AP

Bloomberg has a job-by-job look at Wall Street functions that could be wiped out by automation — machine learning, natural-language processing, robotic-process automation and predictive analytics:

  • Why it matters: "The tools will relieve staff of routine tasks and offer an edge to those who stay. But one day, machines may not need much help."
  • For example: "Firms are trying to build economists. They're toying with natural-language processing to sift central bank commentary for clues on future monetary policy. They're also experimenting with algorithms that scour far-flung data, like oil-tanker shipments from the Middle East or satellite images of Chinese industrial sites, to forecast growth."
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Trump's JFK announcement came after a chat with Roger Stone

Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963. Photo: Jim Altgens / AP

President Trump tweeted his plan to allow the release of National Archives files on the JFK assassination after chatting by phone Thursday with his on-again, off-again outside adviser, Roger Stone, who wrote "The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ."

  • To get a sense of what he had told Trump, I asked Stone what he expects to learn from the trove. Stone thinks the main takeaway will be that Lee Harvey Oswald's ties to the CIA and FBI were "longer and more extensive" than has been proven.
  • I then asked if the documents could cause chaos: "No. ... Everyone is involved is dead ... [T]he American people like transparency."
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Corporate America vs. Congress over Dreamers

Yurexi Quinones, 24, of Manassas, Va., a college student who is studying social work and a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, rallies in support of DACA outside of the White House. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Some of the biggest names in corporate America this week will launch an expensive lobbying campaign for fast action to protect "Dreamers," undocumented immigrants who came here as children.

But I checked around on Capitol Hill and found that both the House and the Senate plan to stick to tax reform for now.

  • What's new: The Coalition for the American Dream, rolling out midweek with an ad in the Wall Street Journal, includes a much broader swath of corporations than ever came together for comprehensive immigration reform: Microsoft, IBM, Facebook, Google, Apple, Cisco, Intel, Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Spotify, Under Armour, Chobani, Marriott, Hilton, Ikea, Best Buy and more.
  • Why it matters: These corporations — along with trade associations and advocacy groups, including FWD.us — plan to focus completely on Republican lawmakers, with this message: "Our mission is to seek the passage of the bipartisan Dream Act or similar legislation that gives Dreamers the permanent solution they deserve in the calendar year 2017."

Although Speaker Paul Ryan has told "Dreamers" they can "rest easy," leadership aides poured cold water on the speedy timeline envisioned by the corporations:

  • A House aide: "[A]nything that is perceived as complicating tax reform is not going to go over well."
  • A second House aide: "[T]here is bandwidth but ... the will for an immigration deal hinges — as always — on border security. If Dems can wrap their heads around that sooner than later, the more real it becomes."
  • A Senate aide: "Would be an enormous lift before the end of the year — unless Dems were to agree to a real border security package."

Be smart: This outlook is fresh evidence that even when a lot of powerful people agree something should be done in Washington, that doesn't mean it will be.

  • Despite the companies' desire for action this year, the DACA protections don't expire till March 5. And when Congress has time, it generally will take it.
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The independence movements around the world

Protesters hold signs reading 'Freedom for the two Jordis' during a march to protest against the National Court's decision to imprison civil society leaders, in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Emilio Morenatti / AP

Catalonia's push for independence from Spain seized headlines this month, capturing international attention as a potentially successful separatist push within the relatively stable confines of Western Europe. Catalonia's secession would raise a whole host of questions for a range of international bodies — most notably, the European Union — that they'd prefer to ignore.

Why it matters: There are separatist movements all around the globe — even in most U.S. states — but the world tends to focus on those that have the potential to upend our understanding of the world and reshape geopolitics as we know it.

Catalonia

Already an autonomous region within Spain with its own government and language, Catalonia held a contested independence referendum on October 1. Spain had previously declared the referendum illegal, and Spanish police raided polling stations in an attempt to disrupt the vote. 43% of Catalans turned out — those against independence abstained from voting — with 92% voting for independence. Catalonia's president later declared independence for a matter of seconds before suspending his declaration with the hope of jumpstarting negotiations with Spain. Catalonia's refusal to back down from independence has led Spain to begin to invoke constitutionally-allowed procedures this weekend aimed at taking control of Catalonia's regional government.

Kurdistan

After Iraqi forces moved in to oil-rich Kirkuk mid-October, Kurds started fleeing the disputed area, some heading for the Kurdish capital of Erbil, 60 miles to the north. Reports of clashes came about a month after Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence, a vote Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said was unconstitutional and said sending in troops was necessary to "protect the unity of the country." The backstory here is that the Kurdish forces, knows as Peshmerga, took over Kirkuk in 2014 after ISIS knocked out the Iraqi army in the area, and now Iraq can say is returning the territory to the status quo before ISIS while the Kurds boast majority support. The takeaway: instead of a statehood, the Kurds got a conflict. Kurds have been trying to forge an autonomous region in northern Iraq since 2003, and now there's a chance civil war could erupt.

Scotland

Scotland roundly rejected the possibility of independence during a 2014 referendum, choosing to remain part of the United Kingdom by a 55-45 margin. However, last year's Brexit vote again stoked tensions as Scotland — the only constituent portion of the U.K. to choose to remain — pondered its place outside the European Union. Proposals by the Scottish National Party, which heads Scotland's devolved regional parliament, to hold a second independence referendum were discarded by U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, who in March declared that "now is not the time" to reconsider independence. The SNP's push for a second referendum may have caused the party to lose seats in the U.K.'s 2017 general election, further imperiling the possibility of Scottish independence.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia

These separatist movements in Georgia were borne out of Soviet-era tensions: Soviet troops moved in to crush a demonstration in Georgia in April 1989 and by 1991, Georgia had held a referendum on independence. And yet, Abkhaz and South Ossetians wanted to remain within the Soviet Union. Ethnic tensions erupted into full-on conflict between 1989 and 1990, including the deadly "March on Tskhinvali," in which tens of thousands of Georgians moved in to the South Ossetian capital. Georgia then effectively denied both regions' independence and ran an economic blockade, followed by open violence, guerilla-style resistance, and some cease fire agreements. Russia got involved, too, and claims its actions in the 2008 Georgian-Russian war were on behalf of its citizens. Georgia has expressed concern Russia is seeking to annex both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Ambazonia

Cameroon's Anglophone-majority western provinces have begun calling for independence after the Francophone government began a series of crackdowns against English speakers over the past year. Earlier in 2017, the government instituted a 93-day Internet blackout in Cameroon's English-speaking regions in an attempt to crack down on political dissent. Earlier this month, some Anglophone Cameroonians declared themselves to be the independent region of Ambazonia, prompting the government to ban public gatherings, deploy military forces, and allegedly restarted the Internet blackout, per Al Jazeera.

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America's drug problem, by state

We mapped out which drugs cause the most problems in each state, according to the number of sentences given out for each drug-related crime. The U.S. as a whole has a meth problem, while marijuana crime sentences were relatively low in 2016 except for Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Heroin is prevalent in West Virginia and Ohio, states which are often highlighted as centers for the opioid epidemic.

Big picture: Both sides on criminal justice reform will use these numbers to bolster their side of the argument — whether to lower sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug crimes as suggested in the Grassley-Durbin bill or keep the harsher sentences as promoted by tough-on-crime, hardline conservatives.

Data: United States Sentencing Commission; Graphic: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

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Fox renewed O'Reilly's contract after a sixth harrassment settlement

Photo: Andy Kropa / AP

Bill O'Reilly's contract with 21st Century Fox was renewed — with an approximate $7 million pay raise — after O'Reilly made a $32 million agreement to settle sexual harassment allegations, the New York Times reports.

What happened: Lis Wiehl, an analyst at Fox News, notified O'Reilly of her sexual harassment lawsuit in early January. Five days later, the two reached a settlement, per the Times, and Wiehl agreed "not to sue Mr. O'Reilly, Fox News, or 21st Century Fox," as well as destroying texts, photos, and other communications between them. The four-year contract extension with the network was granted in February, the Times reports.

Why it matters: This was the largest settlement made by O'Reilly and 21st Century Fox; it was also the sixth one of its kind.