In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Alex Azar, President Trump’s nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services, has taken great pains leading up to his Senate confirmation process to send the message that he’s nothing like his ideological firebrand predecessor Tom Price, who resigned in disgrace in late September.

But under questioning from lawmakers on Wednesday, Azar confirmed that he aligns with Price on the policies Trump has implemented to weaken the Affordable Care Act, including the gutting of the ACA’s outreach and navigator assistance funding, the halving of the open enrollment period, the defunding of subsidies for low-income patients, and the severing of enrollment partnerships with grassroots and state level organizations.

Read More →

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship wants to make the jump from prison to the Senate.

Blankenship was convicted of conspiring to violate mine safety and served a year in prison for his role in failing to prevent an accident at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 people in 2010. He was released from prison last May — and has now decided to run against a longtime foe, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), according to WHCS TV.

The former mine executive has remained unrepentant for his role in the accident, instead blaming federal regulators, while attacking Manchin for how he handled the explosion when he was governor.

Blankenship has been aggressively critical of Manchin for years, and last month put out a TV ad accusing Manchin of having “blood on his hands” — a line Manchin used about Blankenship during the trial.

Blankenship, an extremely wealthy self-funder, has long been a major player in West Virginia GOP politics. But given his conviction, he’s far from the favorite to face Manchin — Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey (R) are already in the race.

Read More →

The first woman who came forward to accuse Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of inappropriate sexual behavior is firing back at his claims that she’s a liar — and questioning how low the hardline religious conservative will go to deny what she says happened.

Leigh Corfman says Moore seduced her when she was just 14 years old, undressing them both in a sexual encounter. After Moore personally called her a liar earlier this week, she fired back with an open letter to, the state’s largest newspaper group.

“I demand that you stop calling me a liar and attacking my character. Your smears and false denials, and those of others who repeat and embellish them, are defamatory and damaging to me and my family,” she says in the letter. “I am telling the truth, and you should have the decency to admit it and apologize.”

Eight other women have come forward to accuse Moore of inappropriate sexual behavior — including one who says he sexually assaulted her when she was 16 years old — and others have come forward to say it was well known in Moore’s hometown that he sought to date teenage girls. Moore’s campaign has responded by questioning Corfman’s claims as well as her character while providing almost no evidence to back up their own claims, and Moore himself went after her and the other accusers on Monday.

“I do not know these women,” he said Monday. “I have never engaged in sexual misconduct with anyone. This is simply dirty politics.”

That was the final straw for Corfman, who hand-delivered the open letter to the newspaper group on Tuesday.

“When you personally denounced me last night and called me slanderous names, I decided that I am done being silent. What you did to me when I was 14-years old should be revolting to every person of good morals. But now you are attacking my honesty and integrity. Where does your immorality end?” she writes in the letter.

The special election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old seat in the Senate is Dec. 12, and recent public and private polling shows a tight race between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, with the numerous allegations dogging Moore’s campaign in the solidly Republican state.

Read More →

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) walked out of a lunch meeting Tuesday with President Trump and Senate Republicans with a broad smile on her face, telling reporters that promises from the president to support two separate health care bills left her “encouraged” and more amenable to voting to repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate—something just weeks ago she warned would devastate the middle class.

Despite Trump’s purported backing, however, it is far from certain that either one could pass both chambers of Congress. And even if they did, several independent experts have said that both these bills combined would not protect the individual health insurance market by the harm caused by repealing the mandate.

“One of the major concerns I had was the impact on premiums of repealing the individual mandate,” she said Tuesday, referring to government estimates that repealing the mandate would raise insurance premiums by at least 10 percent as healthier consumers leave the market.

Read More →

The Republican senators who have been the most critical of their party’s tax overhaul plan came out of a lunch meeting with President Trump Tuesday sounding more like yes votes, telling reporters that Trump promised many of them he’d back the various policy changes they want to see in the bill.

Key former hold-outs like Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Bob Corker (R-TN) all exited the meeting sounding significantly more optimistic that they will be able to support the bill, with Collins and Corker both saying Trump promised them support for the changes they want to see.

“A lot of my concerns, it appears, are going to be addressed,” Collins told TPM during a conversation with reporters.

Read More →

As the Senate races toward a vote Thursday or Friday on a 250-plus page bill to overhaul the American tax code, with no hearings and without a complete analysis of the bill’s impact, a cadre of Republican senators say they’re working “feverishly” on a last-minute rewrite. Skeptical of the wild economic growth GOP leadership promises will make up for all the revenue lost in the legislation, the change they’re seeking would create a “backstop” or “trigger” mechanism to undo some of the deepest tax cuts in the bill after several years if that magic economic growth doesn’t materialize.

Read More →

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) has regained a slight lead against Democrat Doug Jones in the first post-Thanksgiving poll, a sign that while the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct have bruised his campaign, he’s not done yet.

Moore leads Jones by 49 percent to 44 percent in a new online survey from Change Research, reversing a small 3-point lead Jones had held in the pollster’s first survey after the allegations against Moore surfaced two weeks ago.

The poll shouldn’t be taken as gospel: It was conducted completely online using a methodology some pollsters are still wary of; no single poll should be used to fully judge a race; and the pollster isn’t well-established in the industry, so there’s no lengthy track record to judge it by.

But the survey provides the first public numbers of where the race is since Alabama voters have had time to digest the accusations of nine women that Moore acted inappropriately towards them, including one who accused him of sexual assault when she was 16 years old and another who was 14 when she says Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her. Moore has denied the allegations.

Polls conducted in the immediate aftermath of the accusations and before Thanksgiving painted a mixed picture of the race, with Moore leading by as much as 10 and Jones leading by as much as 6 points, though all pollsters showed a shift towards Jones since the allegations surfaced.

Moore held a narrow 47 percent to 45 percent lead in a one-day Strategy Research survey released last Monday, numbers that were actually good news for Jones since that pollster had found him trailing by 11 in its previous two surveys.

The online poll of 1,868 self-reported Alabama registered voters was conducted from Nov. 26-27.

Read More →

With a vote on the controversial Republican tax bill expected in the Senate later this week, GOP leaders are furiously whipping the handful of lawmakers who could make or break the bill’s success. But for every vote they pull on board, more seem to fall off the wagon.

On Monday, yet another Republican senator aired concerns about the bill, particularly estimates that it would balloon the federal deficit by $1.2 to $1.4 trillion. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) told reporters in a Capitol Hill press conference that he’s skeptical the promised economic growth will fill that hole, and refused to say how he will vote on the tax bill itself.

Read More →

President Trump won’t campaign with Alabama Senate candidate and accused child molester Roy Moore after floating the idea last week, according to the Associated Press.

A White House official tells the AP that Trump won’t head to Alabama to help Moore, whom Trump is standing by even as other party leaders including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have moved to dump him.

Trump stuck by his endorsement of Moore last week even though nine women have come forward to accuse Moore of sexual misconduct — including a number who say they had encounters with Moore when they were teenagers. In a brief conversation with reporters, Trump questioned whether those women were telling the truth, attacked Moore’s opponent, Democrat Doug Jones, and said he’d let them know this week whether or not he’d stump with Moore.

He’s doubled down on the anti-Jones attacks in recent days.

Even if Trump won’t campaign with Moore, his support is providing cover for the controversial candidate as he tries to weather the storm of accusations that he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl, initiated a consensual sexual encounter with a 14-year-old, and regularly hit on teenagers. It’s unclear whether Trump will go further than his current tweets backing Moore and record robocalls or campaign ads for the embattled Republican, whose campaign struggles could risk the GOP’s control of the Senate.

White House officials didn’t immediately respond to requests from TPM to confirm the AP’s report.

Moore, for his part, has blamed everyone from Democrats to journalists to McConnell and establishment Republicans for trying to scuttle his campaign.

In a new TV spot, he attacks all three groups while not mentioning Jones.

“Roy Moore has been intensely scrutinized, and not a hint of scandal,” the ad’s narrator says. “But, four weeks before the election, false allegations — a scheme by liberal elites and the Republican establishment to protect their big government trough.”

Most polls taken since the scandal broke two weeks ago show a close race, with the accusations taking a toll on Moore.

Read More →