In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Next Friday’s omnibus budget deadline may be Congress’ last best chance for passing a bill to stabilize Obamacare’s volatile individual market and prevent premiums from shooting up just before November’s midterm elections. But the bipartisan effort that has dragged out since last summer may crumble in the face of opposition from conservative lobby groups and demands from President Trump and House Republicans that Democrats say are “poison pills.”

Even if Congress manages to pass some form of the bipartisan package lawmakers have spent months negotiating—restoring the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers terminated by the Trump administration last year and implementing a national reinsurance program—health care experts and some lawmakers say that won’t do enough to stop the bleeding.

“When Alexander-Murray was originally crafted and we all signed onto it on a bipartisan basis, the sabotage was still limited,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) told TPM in a sit-down interview in her office Tuesday. “There’s been so much more since then, so what might have been much more than a Band-Aid right now is more limited in how much it can do.”

Read the latest reporter’s sum-up (Prime access) on GOP efforts to undermine Obamacare »

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This story was originally posted at 11:45 p.m. Tuesday and has since been updated.

Democrat Conor Lamb declared victory as he clung to a slim lead over Republican Rick Saccone in the race for an open House seat in heavily conservative southwestern Pennsylvania early Wednesday morning, as the election’s results sent a chill down the spines of Republicans bracing for the 2018 midterms.

Lamb led Saccone by just 579 votes out of more than 220,000 cast with all precincts reporting shortly before midnight EST. The Associated Press has yet to call the race, as absentee ballots in some portions of the district have yet to be counted, and Saccone suggested he might be ready for a recount challenge.

After a series of close calls in GOP-leaning districts last year, Democrats may have flipped their first House district of the Trump era.

The essentially tied race comes in a district that President Donald Trump carried by 20 percentage points in 2016 and President Barack Obama lost by double-digit margins in both of his elections.

“It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it,” Lamb told his supporters around 1 a.m. EST.

That victory lap may be premature, but the huge shift in the district toward Democrats is the much bigger news than who wins the seat, especially after a series of huge gains in other special elections over the last year-plus.

While GOP strategists sought to spin the close race away, some admitted that Tuesday night’s results were alarming no matter which candidate prevailed.

“Regardless of who ultimately wins, this is not a good result for the GOP,” former Republican National Committee Communications Director Doug Heye tweeted. “Look for more retirements to come.”

Republicans have long argued that Saccone was a flop of a candidate, and they’re right, but that only partly explains of the election’s photo finish. Saccone struggled mightily with fundraising, had a highly antagonistic relationship with unions – a real problem in the labor-heavy district – and proved to be far less charismatic than Lamb, a fresh-faced former Marine. But Saccone was no Roy Moore, and in a normal political environment even a lackluster candidate should have been able to win with little problem.

Tuesday night’s result is the latest sign of a building Democratic wave, and suggests it may not be limited solely to suburban areas. While Pennsylvania’s 18th district contains a good chunk of better-educated Pittsburgh suburbs, much of it covers blue-collar and more exurban territory, it’s overwhelmingly white, and though it’s ancestrally Democratic, Republicans have won there for decades. The rural and poorer portions of the district did not shift as dramatically toward Lamb as the more educated areas, but he showed marked improvement compared to Hillary Clinton’s performance in the district in 2016.

If Democrats can keep fighting to a draw in districts like this, they can win in plenty of places where Republicans were all but guaranteed victories in past years, as there are 119 GOP-held House seats that are more Democratic than this one.

Lamb was a strong candidate with an impressive resume who helped himself by breaking with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). But Democrats won’t need the same type of lopsided edge in candidate quality to win in easier districts this fall, as evidenced by the more than three dozen state legislative seats they’ve flipped in the last year-plus, their upset win in Alabama’s Senate race, surprisingly strong margins of victory in gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey last year and an overall shift in most elections’ margins towards the party in House elections they’ve lost in red districts.

The Democratic Congressional Committee took a premature victory lap, congratulating Lamb on his “incredible victory” shortly before midnight.

“These results should terrify Republicans,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) said in the statement.

But Saccone wasn’t ready to concede, telling supporters around the same time that “We’re going to fight all the way into the end.”

“This race is too close to call and we’re ready to ensure that every legal vote is counted. Once they are, we’re confident Rick Saccone will be the newest Republican member of Congress,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Matt Gorman.

Republicans did all they could to stave off a loss in the district. President Trump visited twice, campaigning for Saccone as recently as Saturday, and a bevy of administration officials including Vice President Mike Pence and adviser Kellyanne Conway swung by to help him as well. The NRCC, the Congressional Leadership Fund super-PAC and other GOP groups combined to spend more than $10 million on the race. But their efforts appear to have fallen just short.

Compounding Republicans’ concerns: The CLF spent millions on TV ads to try to make Lamb pay for his opposition to the GOP tax overhaul, testing a line of attack they’d been planning to make a major part of their 2018 argument. Those ads didn’t seem to move the needle much, as the group moved onto more culture war-focused attacks in the race’s final two weeks as they looked to dent Lamb’s tough-on-crime reputation.

National Democrats largely worked to keep their help below the radar, with the exception of a visit from former Vice President Joe Biden.

The huge effort from both parties comes even though this district won’t exist after this year. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has adopted a new congressional map for the November election, and Lamb is expected to run against Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA) in a new district that leans a bit Republican but not nearly as heavily as the one Lamb just won, while Saccone may run in a new more conservative district that overlaps with much of the current one. The deadline for filing for the 2018 fall elections is just a week away in Pennsylvania, so both candidates may have to file for the next race before they know for sure who will be heading to Congress for the next nine months.

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Polls have officially closed in Pennsylvania’s hotly contested House election, a race that’s drawn more than $10 million in Republican spending and two visits from President Trump in the hopes of staving off an embarrassing defeat.

Democrat Conor Lamb, a former Marine and prosecutor, has run a strong race against Republican Rick Saccone. Expect a close result, as recent public and private polling have found a tight contest, but strategists in both parties both privately expect Lamb to win.

That would be a stunning result. Trump carried the blue-collar district, which stretches from suburban Pittsburgh to the West Virginia border, by a 20-point margin in 2016, and President Obama lost it twice by double digits.

A Lamb victory would give Democrats their first House special election pickup of the Trump era, and be the latest warning sign of a building Democratic wave for the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats have picked up more than three dozen statehouse seats across the country, pulled off a shocking upset against the deeply flawed Roy Moore in Alabama’s Senate race, and ran up the margins in gubernatorial wins in New Jersey and Virginia late last year.

Trump’s approval rating is at about even in the district – a warning sign in and of itself given his big win there less than two years ago. While the district does contain some of the type of suburban territory that’s trended hard against the president, it also has broad swaths of deep-red, more populist rural area, a sign that Democrats are bouncing back in all types of districts. And while Saccone ran a lackluster campaign, it shouldn’t matter in such deep red territory.

A close Saccone win would be a temporary relief for Republicans and provide them with their latest House special election win, but still a warning sign of what may be to come since this race shouldn’t have been competitive in the first place. But if Lamb wins, as is widely expected, Republicans’ alarm over the upcoming midterms will only escalate.

Stay tuned for the results.

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The news that President Trump had abruptly fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson while he was on an overseas trip hit Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, as details trickled out throughout the day about the unclear circumstances of the ouster and what will happen in the weeks ahead.

“The State Department is in chaos,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) exclaimed to reporters, shaking his head as he stepped on the escalator in the Capitol’s basement.

Reacting to the news about Tillerson and another top State Department official fired Tuesday for contradicting the White House’s version of events, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) quipped: “At the rate this administration is hemorrhaging staff, pretty soon the President’s barber is going to play a big role in American foreign policy.”

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President Donald Trump’s decision to fire Rex Tillerson as secretary of state Tuesday morning was not surprising — the rift between the two had been apparent for months — but it seems that the timing of his firing caught Tillerson himself off guard.

Trump unceremoniously announced Tillerson’s ouster in a Tuesday morning tweet, and the statement that followed focused largely on praising his replacement, CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

It appears that Trump’s tweet may have been Tillerson’s first indication that he was fired, as a senior State Department official told NBC News.

If Tillerson was given a heads up about his ouster, he did not hear it from the President directly. The Washington Post reported that “Trump last Friday asked Tillerson to step aside, and the embattled diplomat cut short a trip to Africa on Monday to return to Washington.” Post reporter Ashley Parker later tweeted that a White House official told Tillerson on Friday that his days were numbered.

CNN reported that White House chief of staff John Kelly told Tillerson that he would be replaced. Bloomberg News reported that Kelly gave Tillerson the warning on Friday but did not say when Trump would make the announcement. However, the Associated Press reported that Kelly’s warning to Tillerson was more vague. A State Department official told the AP that Kelly only told Tillerson to expect a tweet from Trump that would concern him, without specifying what the tweet would say or when exactly Trump would publish it. Kelly called Tillerson again on Saturday to tell him that Trump’s decision to fire him was “imminent,” a White House official told NBC News.

The State Department issued a statement Tuesday morning indicating that Tillerson was caught off guard by the announcement. Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein said that Tillerson did not speak with Trump and that he did not know the reasoning behind his firing. Goldstein was later fired over the statement that contradicted the official White House narrative.

“The Secretary had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security. He will miss his colleagues at the Department of State and the foreign ministers he has worked with throughout the world,” Goldstein said in the statement. “The Secretary did not speak to the President and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes that public service is a noble calling.”

Speaking to reporters outside the White House Tuesday morning, Trump also suggested that Tillerson had little heads up about his ouster.

“I really didn’t discuss it very much with him honestly. I made that decision by myself,” Trump told reporters.

The announcement that Tillerson would be replaced came after Tillerson broke with the White House in blaming Russia for the poisoning of a former British spy, but it’s not clear whether Trump made the decision to fire Tillerson before then.

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A group of immigrants whose Temporary Protected Status was revoked by President Trump, and their U.S. citizen children, filed a class action lawsuit against the Trump administration on Monday afternoon at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Lawyers on the case tell TPM that the immigrant parents, many of whom have lived in the U.S. for decades, are challenging the abrupt cancelation of their status as arbitrary and a violation of their right to due process. They are also arguing, citing President Trump’s infamous “shithole” comment and other disparaging remarks about immigrants, that the administration’s decision was unconstitutionally based on racial animus.

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Democrat Conor Lamb has a 6-point lead over Republican Rick Saccone on the eve of a key House special election, according to a new survey from Monmouth University.

Lamb has a 51 percent to 45 percent edge over Saccone in the poll from the reputable pollster. That’s his largest lead in any public survey since the race’s start – though it’s not far off from other recent polling released in the race ahead of Tuesday’s election, both public and private.

Republicans are bracing for a possible loss in the heavily populist-conservative district near Pittsburgh, which President Trump won by 20 points last election and where he stumped for Saccone on Saturday. A loss there would further GOP alarm about its 2018 prospects, especially after Republican groups spent more than $10 million trying to drag Saccone over the finish line.

The poll also found that Trump’s new steel tariffs aren’t doing much to help in the steel-heavy district, possibly partly because Lamb also supports them: Just 3 percent of likely voters said they moved to Saccone in recent days because of the tariffs. It’s the latest sign that major Republican arguments for the election are struggling to gain a toehold even in conservative districts.

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House Democrats are hopeful they can pull of their first major special election upset on Tuesday, steal a heavily Republican blue-collar seat and deepen the GOP’s sense of dread over the upcoming midterm elections.

Democrats and Republicans involved in the race agree on a few things. State Rep. Rick Saccone (R) has run a lackluster campaign. Democrat Conor Lamb has proven to be a stellar candidate. Liberals’ fury at President Trump is so strong that even in a blue-collar district he won by 20 points his support for Saccone is a two-edged sword. And the race couldn’t be tighter, a warning sign for the GOP no matter who wins given the deeply populist-conservative nature of Pittsburgh’s suburbs and exurbs.

“Conor Lamb has made it very close, and that’s rather remarkable when you consider the district,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) told TPM. “Conor’s been a great candidate and candidates matter, but this does indicate that we can be competitive in states and districts that maybe a year ago or 18 months ago we’d never considered.”

Republicans privately agree, even as they look to pin the blame mostly on Saccone and downplay what it would mean to lose a deep red, culturally conservative district after a brutal loss in an Alabama Senate race late last year, a beat-down in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, dozens of losses of state legislative seats and a number of close calls in House special elections.

“We’re very concerned about this race,” one national Republican involved in the campaign told TPM. “The enthusiasm’s certainly there for Democrats. We’ve seen that in pretty much every race. That said, this is more an issue of a mediocre candidate, and mediocre is a kind way to describe him, versus a very good candidate.”

Public and private polls from both parties have found a margin-of-error race with the wind behind Lamb, who was down a few points in multiple surveys late last month. As Democrats’ hopes build, Republicans have been increasingly vocal about their frustrations with Saccone, a deeply flawed candidate who has paled in comparison to Lamb both in retail political skill and fundraising ability.

While the telegenic young Lamb has impressed even Republicans with his disciplined campaign, and calculated splits with the national Democratic Party, Republicans have blasted Saccone for weak fundraising, an inability to tell his own story as a veteran, his deep hostility to unions in a union-heavy district, and past mistakes like telling a mother whose kid had died of opioid abuse that addiction was a “family responsibility” and it’s not taxpayers’ responsibility to help, a brutal remark in a district where opioids are a serious problem.

Lamb’s huge fundraising numbers have allowed him to spend more than $3 million on TV ads touting his impressive biography as a former Marine and prosecutor, tout his Second Amendment support (even as he backs universal background checks) and promise to support new Democratic leadership and not House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), diffusing millions of dollars of GOP attacks tying him to her. Saccone hasn’t reached $1 million in TV, leaving it to outside groups to define him, and while national Republicans realized early on Saccone would be a problem and have spent roughly $10 million to tear down Lamb and boost Saccone they admit not much has worked in the race.

In a sign of growing concern, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, the GOP’s main House super-PAC, have pivoted away from their early attacks tying Lamb to Pelosi and blasting him for opposing the Republican tax overhaul, key elements of their 2018 battle plan. Their closing spots have been culture war attacks on sanctuary cities and accusing him of being soft on crime based on misleading attacks on his record as a prosecutor, though Pelosi remains an element of their attacks.

“With all the millions the’ve spent, they’re not anywhere near where they thought they’d be. They’re just dumping in more money because they don’t know what else to do,” United Steelworkers Political Director Tim Waters, whose union backs Lamb, told TPM.

Waters was in Alabama for now-Sen. Doug Jones’ (D-AL) shocking win late last year, and said he’d rarely seen Democratic enthusiasm that strong for a down-ticket race — until Lamb came along.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) refused to weigh in on whose fault it is that the race is so close.

“I’m focused on winning, I’m not going to talk about blame,” he told reporters last week. “I’m not going to do any Wednesday morning quarterbacking until Wednesday.”

The White House also recognizes the threat of losing a seat Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) won with ease for years until an embarrassing sex scandal forced him from office.

Trump stumped alongside Saccone on Saturday, blasting “Lamb the sham” and pushing for support of Saccone because “the world is watching.” But he barely mentioned the candidate he was ostensibly there to back, instead spending most of his speech attacking his own possible 2020 opponents and the media, discussing North Korea and unveiling his 2020 slogan (“Keep America great”) and touting his new steel tariffs, a policy that plays well in the district and both Lamb and Saccone support. The White House has also dispatched Vice President Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway and Donald Trump Jr. to stump in the district.

While Lamb has intentionally kept the national party at arm’s length, he welcomed Vice President Joe Biden into the district last week, who compared Lamb’s call to serve to his own late son’s, Beau.

All this effort comes as the candidates battle for a district that almost certainly won’t exist after this year. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has struck down the map, and Lamb is likely to run next fall against Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA) in a much less conservative district than the gerrymandered one he’s currently trying to win.

“It’s just amazing that both people are running for a [district] that’s going to last for a few months and then they’ve got to run again and not even against each other,” Rep. Bob Brady (D-PA) told TPM.

And while other national Republicans want to blame Saccone for most of the mess, they concede that the perfect storm has hit — and may blow over other candidates even in seemingly safe seats if they’re not prepared next fall.

“It’s no secret 2018 is going to be a challenging year and quality candidates and quality campaigns matter,” said Congressional Leadership Fund spokeswoman Courtney Alexander.

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Longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen on Saturday morning took a page out of his boss’ playbook and lashed out at the media for covering his email use as opposed to the February jobs report.

NBC News reported on Friday that Cohen used his Trump Organization email address while arranging a $130,000 payment to porn actress Stephanie Clifford, who uses the stage name Stormy Daniels, in exchange for her silence.

Cohen allegedly pushed Clifford to sign a “hush agreement” barring her from discussing her alleged relationship with Trump. Clifford sued Trump this week, claiming that he never signed the agreement, rendering the agreement invalid. Cohen has acknowledged that he paid Clifford, but he denies that he did so with any expectation that Trump would reimburse him.

Reports about the agreement have roiled the White House this week, as more news about Cohen’s payment to Clifford and the non-disclosure agreement surface.

Asked on Wednesday about reports that Cohen sought to silence Clifford through a temporary restraining order and initiated arbitration proceedings, Sanders told reporters that Trump denies the allegations and that the arbitration case had been won “in the President’s favor.” The comment appeared to acknowledge that Trump was somehow involved with Clifford and the hush agreement.

Sanders’ comments at the press briefing irked Trump, who felt that she fueled the fire on the Stormy Daniels story, according to CNN.

Asked again about Trump’s alleged relationship with the porn actress on Friday, Sanders said, “We’ve addressed this extensively and I don’t have anything more to add.”

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House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) is none too pleased that the White House brushed off his requests for information on who knew what when in regards to the allegations of domestic abuse against Rob Porter by two of his ex-wives.

White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short blew off Gowdy’s pointed questions as well as the deadline he’d given for answers, responding in a letter received by the committee yesterday and first reported by TPM by repeating what the White House had said more than three weeks ago.

Gowdy’s staff fired back at White House officials for ignoring the chairman’s questions on why Porter was allowed to continue to work and to keep his access to highly classified information long after they knew of the allegations of spousal abuse, and why they falsely claimed they didn’t know until shortly before he was fired in February and what procedures for allowing temporary security clearances had been in the White House at the time.

“The Committee is in receipt of Mr. Short’s letter to the Committee dated March 8, 2018, including the memo made public on February 16, 2018. The Chairman finds the White House’s response inadequate, and we have communicated to the White House that we expect full compliance,” Oversight Committee spokeswoman Amanda Gonzalez emailed to TPM Friday evening. “We are in the process of scheduling a meeting between Chairman Gowdy and the White House to discuss next steps.”

The response suggests Gowdy is not ready to give up on this endeavor after letting the White House skate on some other major areas of concern. But it falls far short of Democrats’ demands that he subpoena the information the White House is refusing to provide, as well as call in White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House Counsel Don McGahn to explain what they knew and when. It’s unclear whether Gowdy would be willing to do so if the White House continues to stonewall him.

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