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Vitals

Happy actual Friday! We're getting a better picture of the Obamacare replacement plans the House committees will start working on after the recess. But they're still figuring out critical details, like any numbers at all, and they're nowhere close to getting all Republicans on board.

Surprise! It was "A Better Way" all along

Giphy

We've all been in suspense, chasing the details of what House Republicans will do to replace Obamacare — and now it's clear we could have been reading House Speaker Paul Ryan's "A Better Way" plan the whole time. The briefing document from yesterday's House Republican meeting sticks closely to the Ryan plan from last year, at least in the parts it includes.

The big things that are being picked up from "A Better Way":

  • Tax credits (fixed amounts, based on age, not income)
  • Health savings accounts
  • Medicaid reform (choice between per-capita caps and block grants)
  • "State Innovation Grants" (can be used for high-risk pools)

The big pieces that are left out:

  • Limiting the tax breaks for employer health coverage (Republicans are still talking about it)
  • Medicare "premium support" plan (President Trump's not interested)
The backstory: None of this should be a surprise. Ryan has been the driving force in the House on health care reform all along, and he noted yesterday that his former colleague, Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price, was "one of the primary architects" of the Better Way plan. The Senate still has to buy off on it, but the thinking among House GOP aides is that the House has more leverage because Ryan has been working on these ideas for years.

They haven't solved the Obamacare Lite problem

The big signal that House Republican leaders are sending with the Obamacare replacement plan: The Freedom Caucus doesn't get to run the show.

  • The conservatives have insisted that the law needs to be repealed before they worry about a replacement. And earlier this week, Rep. Raul Labrador said they don't want to pass anything that looks like "Obamacare Lite" — another huge overhaul of the health care system that just happens to be more conservative.
  • But House Republicans are clearly headed for an ambitious overhaul, and they even brought in Price to tell the rank and file that President Trump wants the repeal and replacement to happen at the same time.
  • Labrador made it clear the new plan didn't avoid the "Obamacare Lite" trap. "No," he said when I asked him. "So far it just sounds like Obamacare Lite."
  • He said he wanted to find out more about it, but "there were only two minutes of time for members to ask questions." Rep. Jim Jordan had the same complaint.

Why it matters: The House leadership is calling the bluff of the Freedom Caucus — but they do need their votes to pass the plan. And then they'll have to keep the conservatives on board if the Senate tries to moderate the plan.

FWIW: Caitlin Owens reports that none of the Senate Republicans she asked had read the House plan. They didn't know it was out.

Ryan on the big problem: Medicaid

Here's what Ryan said at his weekly press conference yesterday: "I think it's 32 states, if I am not mistaken, have Medicaid expansion. Mine did not. We're going to have to find a solution that accommodates each of these two concerns."

What's in the plan: States that expanded Medicaid could keep getting their extra federal funds "for a limited period of time," but they'd go back to the regular federal matching rate "at a date certain." Republicans are still figuring out what those dates will be, but the goal is to stop the states that expanded Medicaid from enrolling new people.

What's missing is what matters the most

The briefing document lays out all of the ideas but includes almost none of the specifics that really matter, like the size of the tax credit, the amount of the "state innovation grants," or the ways to pay for all of it. That's partly because Republicans are still getting official cost estimates, but those are the details that will really make a difference, according to outside analysts:

  • Harvard's John McDonough, former Senate Democratic aide and member of the Axios board of experts: "What is the size of the credit? Why so shy about this? Why the veil over the most important single item in a plan? Maybe because revealing the number will allow experts to figure out quickly how many will lose coverage."
  • Chris Condeluci, former Senate Republican aide and member of the Axios board of experts: Key questions are whether it really repeals all Obamacare taxes right away or phases some out gradually, and how to be fair to states that expanded Medicaid and the ones that didn't.
  • Zeke Emanuel of the Center for American Progress: "How much is the subsidy? We don't know their value so we cannot say what it will cover ... There is not enough information but what appears is that people will pay more and many people will find insurance impossible to buy."

How the FTC’s new competition chief could affect health care

President Trump's acting Federal Trade Commission chairwoman, Maureen Ohlhausen, is wasting no time shaking up the agency. Bob Herman reports that she named Tad Lipsky the new acting director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition yesterday — the office charged with policing mergers and acquisitions for most of the health care industry.

What this means: Potentially less oversight, but not for all health care players. Lipsky replaces Deborah Feinstein, who went after some large hospital and health system mergers. However, her group has been lax on many transactions involving drug companies, pharmacy benefit managers and retail pharmacies.

  • Former FTC staffers say Lipsky is a pro-business conservative who is less aggressive in challenging M&A, but he also is knowledgable about health care and likely won't slow down reviews on hospital mergers.
  • Former FTC antitrust attorney John Kirkwood: "This is not choosing a Steve Bannon ... This is like choosing another establishment figure to the right of Debbie Feinstein."

Key quote: Here's what Lipsky said to U.S. News & World Report in December after Trump won: "The purpose of antitrust is not necessarily to prevent firms from succeeding, even when they become very dominant in their industry."

A few big moments at the Seema Verma hearing

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services nominee didn't answer all of the questions at the Senate Finance Committee hearing yesterday — especially on the new Obamacare rule, which came from the agency she'll be running. But there were a few standout moments:

  • She defended the Indiana approach to Medicaid, which requires low-income people to contribute to their health care: "It gives dignity to individuals ... We don't assume that just because someone is poor, they don't want choices about their health care."
  • She said she doesn't support what Sen. Bill Nelson called a "voucher" system for Medicare, meaning the premium support model that Ryan wants — a sign that the Trump team has given her full permission to brush it away.
  • She might actually be a fan of pharmaceutical benefit managers, which are taking a lot of grief lately for their possible role in contributing to rising drug prices.
  • She said the MACRA bill, which reformed how Medicare pays doctors, was an "important step forward" for outcomes and providers.
For more highlights, read Caitlin Owens' roundup here.

For more Obamacare replacement light reading ...

Republicans went on a tear yesterday with the bill introductions, as they unloaded more details of other pieces of Obamacare replacements. Bookmark these and make someone read them for you:

Between the lines: The pre-existing conditions bill reads a lot like Obamacare — it looks like Republicans suddenly decided to just cover all sick people. But it's supposed to be paired with a "continuous coverage" bill, which would allow people to be charged more if they didn't keep themselves insured. It's also possible that the Trump administration will take some of their own steps to promote continuous coverage, as we noted yesterday.

What we're watching next week: National Governors Association winter meeting, Washington, Feb. 24-27. Also: what's the reaction to the House GOP plan? And what will be the next Obamacare town hall video to go viral?

Have a great weekend, and tell us what you're hearing and what else we need to know: david@axios.com.

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Trump’s Earth Day message defends science approach amid protest

Sait Serkan Gurbuz / AP

President Trump issued an Earth Day statement Saturday that promotes his environmental approach and underscores his sharp break with Obama-era policies.

Why it matters: Trump's statement arrives amid the "March for Science" in Washington, D.C., and cities worldwide, where demonstrators are in the streets decrying Trump's moves to cut funding for science programs, and unwind various environmental and climate regulations.

My Administration is committed to keeping our air and water clean, to preserving our forests, lakes, and open spaces, and to protecting endangered species.
—President Trump

What it doesn't say: The statement breaks with many of Obama's Earth Day messages by omitting any mention of climate change.

Battle lines: The 188-word statement seeks to parry arguments that Trump's aggressive deregulatory push will hurt the planet, arguing that the administration is "reducing unnecessary burdens" while being mindful of the environment.

  • It also appears to respond to the March for Science without mentioning it directly. "Rigorous science is critical to my Administration's efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection," it states.

Quick take: The statement has language that's consistent with the administration's skepticism of the scientific consensus on human-induced global warming. "[R]igorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate," it states, using the type of phrasing that's common in climate-skeptic circles.

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Behind the James Comey NYT story

Cliff Owen / AP

A lengthy report from the New York Times details how James Comey tried to keep the FBI from being too political in its investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, but how his handling — a mix of acting independently, against the bureau's policies, and other times working collaboratively — had a lasting, partisan impact on the 2016 election.

The money quote: An adviser asked Comey before his public announcement about investigating Clinton's emails:

Should you consider what you're about to do may help elect Donald Trump president?

Winners: "In the case of Mr. Trump, he conducted the investigation by the book, with the F.B.I.'s traditional secrecy."

Losers: "In the case of Mrs. Clinton, he rewrote the script, partly based on the F.B.I.'s expectation that she would win and fearing the bureau would be accused of helping her."

The takeaway: Despite the perceived partisanship in Comey's handling of these investigations, Trump decided to keep him as the FBI director — and he's now overseeing the continued investigation into Trump's ties to Russia. Comey's decision to act independently in the past came from a place of losing the public's trust, but now that it's clear the investigation into Russian meddling is more important to most than Clinton's emails, look out for a more collaborative handling of that matter moving forward.

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Trump PR power play

AP

As a former businessman, Donald Trump certainly understands PR power plays. His latest: announcing a rally in Pennsylvania next Saturday — the same night as the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Don't forget: Trump said last month he wouldn't attend the WHCD.

Why this matters: Holding a newsworthy rally the same night as the WHCD essentially forces White House reporters to either skip the annual event for the rally, or attend the dinner and risk the backlash for wearing fancy clothes, rubbing elbows with celebs, and laughing along with a comedian who has a history of ridiculing Trump.

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The real story behind Trump's tax cut promise

Susan Walsh / AP

When President Trump told AP's Julie Pace yesterday that he'd announce a "massive" tax cut for both individuals and corporations next week ("bigger, I believe, than any tax cut ever"), he "surprised Capitol Hill" and left his own Treasury officials "speechless," as the N.Y. Times put it.

Between the lines: Insiders tell us the surprise was deliberate: Trump wanted to light a fire under his own aides, who are working on the tax package this weekend.

Trump's vow to unveil the plan "Wednesday or shortly thereafter" puts the announcement just after Congress returns from the two-week Easter recess — and just ahead of Friday's deadline for avoiding a government shutdown, and Saturday's 100-day mark for his presidency.

Sources quickly told Axios' Jonathan Swan that it would be kind of principles, plus: a 100,000-foot document, with no real path for how to get there — just targets.

No BAT: Bloomberg correctly reported that the plan "likely won't include a border-adjusted tax that House Speaker Paul Ryan has proposed." (Awkward!)

Despite breathless reporting about House action on health reform next week, a Republican lobbyist told me there's zero chance to pull that off at the same time you're negotiating a continuing resolution to avoid a shutdown: "You'd have a better chance of repealing the laws of physics."

Here's the real timeline: Health care passes the House by the end of May ... Health care passes the Senate by the end of July ... Tax reform to the president's desk by the end of the year.

P.S. In case you wonder how closely Trump tracks timelines, he told Julie Pace: "I've only been here now 93 days, 92 days. President Obama took 17 months to do 'Obamacare.' I've been here 92 days, but I've only been working on the health care, you know, I had to get like a little bit of grounding, right? Health care started after 30 day(s), so I've been working on health care for 60 days. ... we're very close. And it's a great plan ... we have to get it approved."

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Uber and Lyft are being sued for their software

Richard Vogel / AP

Apparently, the software that you rely on to hail an Uber or Lyft from your phone was dreamed up in 1997. At least that's what Hailo Technologies, LLC. says after suing the two ride-sharing companies for allegedly infringing on their patent that was granted in 1999.

Sounds familiar: The patent covers an "automated vehicle dispatch and payment honoring system" that allows users to select a mode of transportation, enter in the number of passengers and your desired destination, which will then provide an estimated cost for the trip and accept your digital payment.

Programming note: Hailo Technologies, LLC. has no relation to Daimler's Hailo, the ride-sharing service that operates in Europe and North America.

Why it matters: While it's unclear how much this could actually hurt their brand from a consumer's perspective, this is just another legal battle Uber is facing in a growing list of controversies from the past few months alone.

Get up to speed: We've written about their lawsuit from Waymo, including the full history of their legal fight, their PR and self-driving car execs leaving the company, and the allegations that they used secret software to track Lyft, among others.

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How Marine Le Pen follows the populist playbook

Michel Euler) / AP

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen could become the country's first female leader. But what's more interesting is that her campaign, if successful, could spark a right-wing, populist revolution.

Flashback: We've written about the three ingredients necessary to become a populist leader (here). As Axios' Shane Savitsky summarizes it, here's what you need:

  • An unequal economy: Make sure that most gains are at the top.
  • A disgruntled working class: No populism without the people.
  • An "other": Be creative! Something to get the people going.

Le Pen is taking a page out of Trump's playbook. Her Feb. 5 campaign announcement speech painted France as a weak nation threatened by multiculturalism and economic liberalism, all of which she says she can fix by restoring her view of civilization. "After decades of cowardice and laissez-faire, our choice is a choice of civilization," she said. "Will our children live in a country that is still French and democratic?"

Here's how Le Pen has used the three ingredients to becoming a right-wing, populist leader in what she hopes is a recipe for success:

An unequal economy:

  • She wants to drop the euro, instead using a lower-value currency, "nouveau franc" that would make French exports more competitive.
  • She wants to maintain Brexit. "The EU forbids us everything, punishes us, reprimands us -- and the end result is unemployment and poverty," she said during the first televised campaign debate.
  • Her "France First" policies echo Trump's "America First" agenda. "The state must give priority to French companies and not foreign companies," she said. "I'm not here to create jobs for our neighbors."
  • French companies that move to other countries would be subjected to an import tax, and she'd tax companies that hire immigrants.
  • She has pledged to fight tax evasion and cut income taxes for the poorest workers.
A disgruntled working class:
  • "I'm against the Right of money, and the Left of money. I'm the candidate of the people!" she said during a speech in Lyon.
  • Her supporters, at least those who show up to her events, are usually factory workers and veterans, per NYT.
  • She targets these people through her proposed tax cuts on low-income earners and through her events which are titled "In the Name of the People."
  • Instead of promising to make France great again, Le Pen instead promises a return to order and sovereignty — something the working class can visualize through her plans to focus on increasing French jobs.
  • A retired military officer who attended one of her speeches told NYT: "She's got a real program, in the name of the people, for the workers, and by the workers. It's for the nation, and not for the financial sector and the banks."
An "other":
  • Le Pen has identified "the other" as the elites, "Islamist fundamentalism," and even the European Union.
  • Her speeches often speak to this idea of the people vs. the other by talking about jihadists carrying out attacks on French soil, crime-committing immigrants, or the EU elites stealing jobs from the French.
  • She wants to secure the country's borders and free the country from the "nightmare" EU to protect jobs
  • It comes full circle: she paints the EU as the "other" by arguing that multiculturalism, which she finds threatening to France's sovereignty, is encouraged by the union.
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American Airlines is having a United moment

Alan Diaz / AP

An American Airlines flight attendant challenged a passenger to fight him, after the man threatened to hit the attendant, according to a new video that surfaced late Friday night. The flight was traveling from San Francisco to Dallas when the two men almost started fighting before the flight took off.

Flight club: A woman, who was traveling with her baby, wanted to keep her stroller on the flight with her. An AA crew member allegedly "violently" took the stroller from her, "hitting her and just missing the baby," per Surain Adyanthaya, the passenger who recorded the video and put it on social media. A male passenger can be seen getting up from his seat to defend the woman, telling the flight attendant "You do that to me and I'll knock you flat." The flight attendant challenges the man to actually hit him, before the two are separated.

Damage control: The flight attendant has reportedly been suspended. "What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers," AA said in a statement. "The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care. In short, we are disappointed by these actions. The American team member has been removed from duty while we immediately investigate this incident."

Buzz: The news quickly took off on Twitter, as people were reminded of the United Airlines incident with Dr. David Dao that happened less than two weeks earlier.

Don't forget: This is another example of the big lessons learned from the United situation — that anything airline employees do can (and most likely will) be recorded and shared on social media.

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Uber accused of stealing Waymo's self-driving car device

Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving car unit, says that Uber has been hiding a secret device designed using stolen trade secrets by a former Waymo employee, according to new court documents. And for that reason, it's asking the court to bar the former employee, Anthony Levandowski, from working on Uber's self-driving car technology.

Why it matters: Uber's defense in the case has hinged on claims that it only has two self-driving car device designs and neither resemble Waymo's tech. However, Waymo's latest claims could mean Uber has been lying all along.

What's next: A hearing is scheduled for May 3 in regards to Waymo's request for a preliminary injunction to halt Uber's self-driving car efforts.

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Trump's secret weapon

Alex Brandon / AP

The 1996 Congressional Review Act (CRA) can overturn "midnight rules" created by an outgoing president. Until President Trump assumed office, it was successfully used only once. Trump has used it 14 times.

Between the lines: The CRA says that once a rule is killed, the executive branch can never come back with a rule that is "substantially the same form." When Democrats controlled Washington from 2009-2010, they avoided using the CRA, opting instead to re-regulate any unfavored Bush-era rules.

Why it matters: The fast-track tactic to reverse Obama's legacy fulfills Trump's campaign promises, but is also a blunt approach to gain political points. The divide between right and left is intensifying, as Democrats see the CRA as an abuse of power to appease the far right and special interests.

The overturned regulations:

  1. Federal Contractor blacklisting rule, which required companies to report any law violation from the last three years when bidding on federal contracts over $500,000. (Feb. 1)
  2. The Stream Buffer rule, which restricted coal companies from dumping waste into streams. (Feb. 2)
  3. Bureau of Land Management venting and flaring rule, which reduced air pollution from methane. (Feb. 2)
  4. Social Security Service's Second Amendment restrictions, which added additional mental health background to gun sales. (Feb. 2)
  5. SEC's resource extraction rule, which required oil and gas companies to disclose foreign payments. (Feb. 3)
  6. Bureau of Land Management planning 2.0 rule, which gave the public greater control over in natural resource and land use planning. (Feb. 6)
  7. The teacher preparation rule, which required states to issue annual ratings for teacher-prep programs. (Feb. 7)
  8. The education accountability rule, which required states to evaluate their schools and holds them accountable for students performance. (Feb. 7)
  9. The state retirement plan rule, which encouraged state governments to offer retirement savings plans for private-sector workers. (Feb. 15)
  10. The local retirement plan rule, which exempted local municipal retirement savings plans from strict pension protection laws. (Feb. 15)
  11. The national wildlife hunting and fishing rule, which banned predator hunting not approved by the federal government on national wildlife refuges. (Feb. 16)
  12. The unemployment insurance drug testing rule, which limited drug testing for unemployment benefits. (March 14)
  13. FCC internet privacy rules, which would have required companies get their customers' permission before sharing their data with advertisers. (April 3)
  14. Title X abortion funding rule, which restricted states from withholding federal funding to Planned Parenthood and groups that provide abortion services. (April 13)

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Behind the "First DREAMer deported under Trump" story

Juan Gastelum / National Immigration Law Center via AP

Juan Manuel Montes was deported to Mexico in February, leading to a USA Today report Tuesday declaring him the first DREAMer deported under President Trump. The Department of Homeland Security disputed that report, as the Daily Caller first noted.

Trump said Friday that DREAMers should "rest easy" and that his administration is "after the criminals," not those protected under Obama-era rules about undocumented immigrants that came to the U.S. as children, per the AP. Notably, Trump called Montes' case "a little different than the DREAMer case," but did not specify why.

Based on conversations with both sides, either Montes' account is incomplete or false, or the DHS deported a protected DREAMer and kept no record of having done so.

Why it matters: Reports that a protected DREAMer had been deported were taken as a sign that Trump was further ramping up immigration enforcement, and Montes' case is due to come before Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who Trump once deemed unfit to hear his Trump University case because of Curiel's Mexican heritage.

Below is a timeline of the deportation, from Montes' original claims until after the USA Today story went live.

What Montes says happened:

  • Nora Preciado, one of Montes' lawyers, tells Axios he was apprehended unlawfully "on or about" April 17 after encountering Border Patrol upon leaving a friend's house in Calexico, California.
  • She says he wasn't allowed to retrieve documentation proving his DACA status (valid through 2018) from his friend's car where he left it "either earlier that day or the day before."
  • Then he was driven to the port of entry and deported, possibly in the early hours of the 18th.

DHS Spokesman Dave Lapan tells Axios DHS has no record of an encounter with Montes on the 17th or the 18th — which Preciado calls convenient. Preciado says Montes was not given documentation of this deportation

South of the Border, Preciado says two individuals mugged Montes with a knife and assaulted him, and Preciado says because he was scared for his life, he tried crossing the border back into the U.S.

DHS says Montes was deported on the 19th — and only the 19th — after being intercepted while trying to climb the border fence. This, Lapan claims, makes the deportation lawful because Montes would have forfeited his DACA status by leaving the U.S. without advanced parole.

One last discrepancy: "Juan Manuel knew two things for certain: 1) he had authorization to be in the U.S. and 2) he couldn't leave the U.S. without permission, which means he has never left voluntarily." But Lapan says Montes never mentioned his DACA status during his "arrest interview" on the 19th.