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President Trump said in an exclusive interview with "Axios on HBO" that he'll reinstate protections for pre-existing conditions if a lawsuit — which his administration supports — guts the Affordable Care Act. But Republicans have never come up with a replacement plan that would offer the same level of protection as the ACA.

The intrigue: Trump also said Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn't give him a heads-up before urging a court to throw out the ACA's provisions on pre-existing conditions. But Sessions has said Trump signed off on the move.

The big picture: The Justice Department is arguing that the courts should strike down the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and toss out its protections for people with pre-existing conditions in the process.

  • If that position ultimately prevails, millions of people could lose their coverage or see their costs skyrocket.
  • Republican attorneys general want the court to strike down the entire law, which would have the same effect.

“It wouldn’t matter” if those ACA provisions are struck down, Trump said, “because pre-existing conditions, on anything we do, will be put into it.”

  • “I support terminating Obamacare, but if we terminate it, we will reinstitute pre-existing conditions in whatever we do,” he said.

Trump has said this throughout the midterm campaign season. But in the eight years since the ACA passed, Republicans have never proposed an alternative that would offer the same level of protection.

  • Their proposals have either been underfunded or have left gaps that would still expose some people to higher costs and denied coverage.

Where it stands: Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, is expected to rule any day now, and oral arguments seemed to go poorly for the ACA’s allies.

  • DOJ’s position in the case has already caused plenty of headaches for Republican candidates in the midterms.

Axios asked Trump whether Sessions had told him that this was coming.

  • “No, he didn’t, actually,” Trump said.
  • But Sessions has said he took this politically explosive position “with the approval of the President of the United States.”
  • The Justice Department referred questions about the discrepancy to the White House.
  • “Litigation decisions are typically handled through the White House Counsel’s office on behalf of the President,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said when asked about the conflicting answers. “The issue presented in this case is a technical constitutional issue and does not represent the Administration’s general position on pre-existing conditions.”

Go deeper:

Go deeper

21 mins ago - Health

FDA advisory panel endorses Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine for emergency use

Photo: Illustration by Cezary Kowalski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday recommended the authorization of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot coronavirus vaccine for emergency use.

Why it matters: The FDA is expected to make a final decision within days on the J&J vaccine, which was found to be 66% effective against moderate to severe COVID. An emergency use authorization would allow distribution to immediately begin, helping streamline and speed up the vaccine rollout across the U.S.

Dave Lawler, author of World
23 mins ago - World

Schiff: "Definitive" Khashoggi report sends clear message to Saudis

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The report released Friday on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was short on evidence or new information, but Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tells Axios that the “definitive” statement assigning responsibility to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) speaks volumes.

What he’s saying: Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, says that while some intelligence couldn’t be published because of the need to protect sources and methods, “we rarely see something published that is this definitive and I think that's an important accomplishment for the administration.”

Exclusive: Law enforcement organizations back Biden pick for assistant AG

Vanita Gupta Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Local and federal law enforcement officials are backing Vanita Gupta, President Biden’s nominee for associate attorney general, according to letters sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee and obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The Major County Sheriffs of America noted Gupta “emphasized that she does not support efforts to ‘defund the police'” and highlighted her desire to improve criminal justice through methods that include increased training for law enforcement officials.