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Where "repeal and replace" rhetoric goes from here

Republicans say they'll try again to repeal and replace the ACA. Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

Congressional Republicans have failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but some of them aren't ready to stop campaigning on that promise. "I don't see any problem with talking about repeal and replace. We still want to do it. It's not over," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said.

Why it matters: Some Republicans are loathe to admit defeat in a battle they've been waging for years. But the only thing worse than breaking your promise once is breaking it again and again — and that's where some conservatives fear their party is headed. "They can't stop themselves. It's an addiction and an unhealthy one at that," one former GOP aide said of the repeal and replace effort.

What they're saying: After campaigning — and winning — on a repeal-and-replace platform since 2010, some Republicans are hesitant to let the promise go.

  • "We're going to keep trying. We'll try a third time. If it doesn't work, we'll try a fourth or fifth or sixth or seventh. We'll eventually get it done," Sen. John Kennedy said.

But many Republican policy experts — and some elected officials — say it's probably time for the GOP to refocus its health care energy toward smaller changes to the ACA and the system overall. And they're afraid a continued political focus on repeal-and-replace would make it harder to achieve anything.

  • "I think that language has proved unhelpful and the messaging should be changed," said Doug Holtz-Eakin, an advisor to John McCain's presidential campaign. "Time to leave that baggage behind."

Between the lines: Republicans never fully agreed on what "repeal and replace" would have looked like, and might need to redefine that promise if they intend to keep campaigning on it.

  • "This is a question of do you make the marketplace to where it's not only affordable for the taxpayer, for subsidies, but affordable for the individuals that purchase," Sen. Richard Burr said. "If you create a different individual market, you have repealed and replaced."
  • Repeal and replace "was a slogan, and apparently many Republicans didn't believe it. And really, to tell you the truth, someone's sloganeered up here repeal and replace, but really if you went to every Republican campaign throughout the last 10 years, we talked about repealing it," Sen. Rand Paul told me.
  • "So far, we haven't been able to demonstrate that we can get 50 votes for a repeal and replace alternative. So, you know, how you phrase it and how you message it probably is somewhat at work," Sen. John Thune said.
Mike Allen 6 hours ago
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A huge clue about Mueller's endgame

Robert Mueller testifies before Congress in 2013. Photo: Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

Axios has learned that special counsel Robert Mueller has focused on events since the election — not during the campaign — in his conversations with President Trump's lawyers. The top two topics that Mueller has expressed interest in so far: the firings of FBI director James Comey and national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Why it matters: That suggests a focus on obstruction of justice while in office, rather than collusion with Russia during the campaign. But both sagas are interwoven with Russia: Trump himself has linked Comey's firing to Russia, and Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition.

Amy Harder 7 hours ago
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Column / Harder Line

The swamp’s tug-o-war over America’s ethanol mandate

American eagle with corn in its claws
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

A biofuels standard Congress passed more than a decade ago in the name of rural development, energy security and climate change has devolved into an arcane fight over market share that has nothing to do with those initial three goals.

Why it matters: The law — called the renewable fuel standard that requires refineries to blend biofuels into gasoline — is a textbook example of how regulations create winners, losers and unintended consequences.