In it, but not of it. TPM DC

A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday morning introduced a bill aimed at ensuring the proper criminal record information makes it to the background check system used to approve gun purchases.

“For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement. “Just one record that’s not properly reported can lead to tragedy, as the country saw last week in Sutherland Springs, Texas. This bill aims to help fix what’s become a nationwide, systemic problem so we can better prevent criminals and domestic abusers from obtaining firearms.”

The legislation follows the deadly shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, earlier in November. The Air Force failed to report past criminal conduct by the alleged gunman as was required.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), one of the most vocal gun control advocates in Congress, and Cornyn led the effort to craft the bill. Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) have also signed onto the bill.

Despite the bipartisan support for the legislation, the bill likely faces an uphill battle in Congress, since many Republicans oppose any changes to gun laws. After the deadly Las Vegas shooting in October, some Republican senators expressed support for a ban on bump stocks, but that effort has since fizzled out.

The legislation, titled the Fix NICS Act, would require the head of each federal agency to certify twice a year that they have submitted the proper records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and would mandate that each agency develop an implementation plan for ensuring that all records are submitted. If the agency fails to certify which records it has submitted to NICS or fails to follow its implementation plan, political appointees in that agency will not be eligible to receive bonus pay.

The bill also allows the attorney general to use funds for NICS to provide assistance to agencies as they submit records and establishes a program run by the attorney general focused on making sure domestic violence information is reported to the NICS system.

Murphy acknowledged that he would like to see more gun control legislation passed in Congress, but he said that this bill is an important step.

“It’s no secret that I believe much more needs to be done. But this bill will make sure that thousands of dangerous people are prevented from buying guns. It represents the strongest update to the background checks system in a decade, and provides the foundation for more compromise in the future,” he said in a statement.

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The Alabama Republican Party decided not to disqualify Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy at a Wednesday night meeting, likely ending the GOP’s best hope to get rid of Moore before the Dec. 12 election.

After hours of tense deliberation, the 21 members of the state party’s steering committee decided not to do anything for the time being — rejecting arguments from some who wanted to pull their support from Moore as well as Moore loyalists who wanted the party to issue a public statement defending him.

That do-nothing approach means the party is still behind Moore — and has no plans to un-endorse him, the only way they could make almost certain Moore won’t become Alabama’s next senator. If they had disqualified him, under Alabama law, he’d still be on the ballot but any votes for him wouldn’t count.

That (non)decision, confirmed by TPM, comes after Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan warned earlier this week that any Republicans pledging to oppose Moore or back a write-in could be thrown out of the party and denied ballot access — a major threat to the quarter of the steering committee’s members, who are running for local office next year.

It never looked likely that the group would move to ditch Moore — crossing his rabid in-state supporters could be political suicide for many on the committee, and hurt their careers. But its members’ cautious approach forecloses on the best chance for the party to rid itself of Moore, who has adamantly refused to drop out even as the list of women who accuse him of unwanted groping, sexual overtures when they were teenagers and sexual assault grew to nine people Wednesday night.

That decision comes as national Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) grow increasingly desperate in their quest to find a way out of the no-win situation, where Moore either loses and costs them a must-have Senate seat or wins and comes to Washington a toxic figure that will further damage the party brand ahead of 2018 and give McConnell regular headaches.

McConnell’s team is assessing the legal feasibility of convincing appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) to quit the race now in order to let Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) call a new special election at a later date.

But that plan seems like an even longer shot than previously discussed plans to push a write-in candidate. Strange told the Washington Examiner on Wednesday that he won’t resign and plans to finish his term. And even if McConnell could convince Strange to do otherwise, Ivey has repeatedly said she will not move the Dec. 12 election — and has also said if Strange does resign she’d just appoint a caretaker to the seat until the December election’s winner can be sworn in.

“The election date is set for Dec. 12. Were he to resign I would simply appoint somebody to fill the remaining time until we have the election on Dec. 12,” Ivey told AL.com.

And even if Ivey and Strange change their minds and go along, experts say the move may not even be constitutional.

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An already chaotic, confusing open enrollment period, run by an administration openly hostile to the Affordable Care Act, just got worse.

As health care consumers across the country find themselves with half as much time to enroll, and with far fewer resources for information and assistance, many people across the country are also receiving renewal notices from their insurers showing wildly inaccurate estimates of how much they will have to pay in premiums.

Government officials and health care experts fear many consumers will not do the research necessary to learn that they qualify for far lower premiums than these letters suggest—depressing overall enrollment and weakening Obamacare’s already vulnerable individual market.

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In a bizarre Wednesday press event, Roy Moore’s embattled campaign demanded the high school yearbook of the woman who has accused him of violently sexually assaulting her.

Moore campaign chairman Bill Armistead and attorney Phillip Jauregui accused Moore’s latest accuser of lying about his sexually assaulting her when she was 16 — and want to get their hands on the yearbook the woman showed at her press conference that included a flirty note allegedly written by Moore.

“We demand that you immediately release the yearbook to a neutral custodian… so that our expert can look at it,” Jauregui said.

But neither he or Armistead offered any proof that any of the five women accusing Moore of inappropriate sexual interactions when they were teenagers — including one who says she was 14 ears old when Moore undressed her — were lying.

Both refused to take questions from reporters, and neither offered a shred of evidence that either was lying.

The hastily arranged press event occurred just as the Alabama Republican Party steering committee was about to begin a meeting to determine whether it would pull Moore’s endorsement and disqualify his candidacy, back his campaign, or do nothing and let the situation play out. It was held outside state party headquarters, where the party was holding the meeting, though many members planned to call in.

He also claimed that Moore had been the judge who presided over the woman’s divorce in the late 1990s, a claim that he said contradicted her claim that she’d never seen him since he assaulted her. The lawyer didn’t offer any specific evidence that Moore and the accuser had contact during the divorce case, however.

“Judge Moore has been falsely accused of something he did not do 40 years ago,” Armistead said. “We cannot just stand by idly and let false charges go without some answering.”

It’s unclear what Moore’s campaign hoped to accomplish with the abbreviated press event — not a press conference, which involves questions and answers with the media.

 

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The only group of people with the power to force nominee Roy Moore from the Alabama Senate race is heading into a crucial meeting Wednesday afternoon with no guidance from President Trump on what to do.

The Alabama Republican Party steering committee, the only organization that could revoke Moore’s endorsement and disqualify any votes for him, meets at 4 p.m. Alabama time, 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

The meeting is the first time its 21 members will discuss whether to disqualify Moore as a candidate and possibly back a write-in campaign, publicly stand by him, or — the most likely option — do nothing and hope the problem goes away on its own.

While many members had hoped for an indication from the president on whether they should force Moore out, Trump didn’t address the issue in his first media appearance on U.S. soil since four women came forward to accuse Moore of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers last Thursday — including one who said they had a sexual encounter when she was just 14 years old. A fifth woman has since come forward to say that Moore violently tried to force a relationship.

The president took no questions from reporters at the White House as he gave an extended statement on his recently completed Asia trip.

If Trump had decided to follow Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and many other Republicans to call on Moore to drop out or lose the party’s support, the members of the committee who want Moore gone would have had much more political cover to push for his removal. Now, there may not be the energy to cut Moore loose.

“I’m not sure people have the courage to throw Moore off,” one senior Alabama Republican who has talked to multiple committee members told TPM Wednesday afternoon. “If they don’t do anything my assumption is they won’t meet again.”

The meeting comes as the pressure mounts from all corners of the national party for Moore to quit the race – something he’s defiantly refused to do.

On Tuesday night, Fox News host Sean Hannity gave Moore a 24-hour ultimatum to give “a satisfactory explanation for your inconsistencies” or drop out of the race — a major reversal after defending him on-air for days after the accusations dropped. That comes after both the Republican National Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled their support.

But in Alabama, most in the GOP establishment seem very wary of pulling Moore’s support and enraging his supporters.

“I’d be real surprised if the president comes out one way or the other. He loves Alabama, Alabama loves him. Roy Moore won the election fair and square,” Perry Hooper, Trump’s Alabama campaign chairman, told TPM shortly before Trump spoke. “I think they keep everything as is, and if that’s the case that means they’re supporting the nominee. They don’t have to have any statement, they can just say he’s the nominee, period.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), who told TPM Tuesday that he wanted the state party to yank its endorsement of Moore, said Wednesday that he’d “vote Republican — but I’ll probably write in a good candidate,” and wouldn’t vote for Moore.

But he was skeptical how much impact President Trump’s comments might have.

“He’d have to consider would it make any difference this late? Because if he weighed in, could we get another candidate? The problem is, could you substitute anybody, see?” he said.

Ahead of the meeting, Moore allies in the state sought to put added pressure on the state party to come out in favor of Moore, with two local organizations issuing statements of support for their candidate. Both local organizations, the Shelby County Republicans and the Fifth District Republicans, are run by people close to Moore’s two most vocal backers on the state steering committee.

Moore remains stubbornly defiant, attacking McConnell, the media and his female accusers.

And to add extra pressure to the state GOP, Moore’s campaign announced that it’ll be holding a press conference with Moore’s attorney in front of the Alabama Republican Party headquarters, where the meeting will take place, at the same time the meeting begins.

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Despite warnings from one of their own that repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate will hike the insurance premiums of millions of middle class Americans, Senate Republicans are moving forward with a tax bill that includes a provision gutting the mandate.

When asked by TPM if the mandate’s repeal would be a “death blow” to the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) first answered “kind of,” then, chuckling, amended his answer to “I hope so.”

Asked if he was concerned that repealing the mandate would—as many experts have predicted—drain the market of young and healthy people, spiking the health care premiums for those who need insurance and remain in the individual market, Inhofe told TPM: “Let’s find out. I don’t know.”

new report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that repealing the individual mandate would increase premiums at least 10 percent every year for the next 10 years. Through a combination of people choosing to go uninsured and others being priced out of the market due to these rising premiums, the CBO estimates 13 million more people will be uninsured after 10 years if the mandate is repealed.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) announced earlier on Tuesday that her office had crunched the numbers and found that for many middle class Americans, this insurance price hike would more than cancel out any of the tax breaks they would get from the rest of the GOP’s bill.

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Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has crunched the numbers on repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate, and she does not like what she sees.

The morning after Senate Republican leaders gave their blessing for the tax bill to include a provision gutting the mandate, the Maine senator told reporters that her staff used data from the IRS, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Kaiser Family Foundation to calculate that the large increase in health insurance premiums that would result from the mandate’s repeal would more than cancel out the tax breaks many middle class Americans would get from the rest of the GOP tax bill.

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) on Wednesday afternoon introduced legislation that would overhaul the way Congress handles sexual harassment complaints, in addition to requiring members and staffers to undergo sexual harassment training.

Both chambers in Congress will now mandate that all members and staffers receive sexual harassment training, but Speier, Gillibrand and other members argue that training is not enough. Speier testified in a House hearing on Tuesday that the current process for filing complaints is confusing, insufficient and biased against victims.

She said in a press conference Wednesday introducing the bill that the legislation is about “bringing light to a very dark corner of our society.” Speier said that training is not enough, even though Congress “is quick to pat itself on the back” for “modest” accomplishments.

“Zero tolerance is meaningless unless it is backed up with enforcement and transparency,” Speier said.

Gillibrand said that the current process is “tilted against victims” and that Congress must change the way it handles sexual harassment complaints.

“We should be held to the highest standards, not the lowest,” she said.

The bill introduced Wednesday, the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On (ME TOO) Congress Act, would change the reporting process. Gillibrand and Speier are the lead sponsors of the partner bills, and Speier is joined by Reps. Ryan Costello (R-PA), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), and Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) on the House bill.

The new legislation would do away with requirements that staffers undergo counseling and mediation before filing a sexual harassment complaint and that staffers sign non-disclosure agreements before starting mediation, Speier said. The bill would also give interns and fellows in Congress the same protections when it comes to sexual harassment as paid staffers, according to Speier.

The congresswoman said that the current process only provides taxpayer-funded in-house counsel for the accused harasser and that the ME TOO bill would provide counsel for the victims as well. The legislation would designate someone in the Office of Compliance to work with victims, Gillibrand said.

The bill aims to increase transparency by requiring the Office of Compliance to publish the amount paid out in any sexual harassment settlement, as well as the office in which it occurred, Speier said. If Congress pays a settlement on behalf of a member of Congress accused of sexual harassment, the official will be required to pay the government back under this bill, Speier said. However, staffers would not have to pay back the government for settlements under the legislation.

Speier revealed Tuesday on MSNBC that the House has paid out more than $15 million in settlements on behalf of accused harassers over the past 10 to 15 years.

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Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

No matter how many times the full or partial repeal of Obamacare has died in Congress this year, it continues to claw its way back from the grave.

The latest incarnation, blessed on Tuesday by Senate GOP leadership, is an amendment to Republicans’ long-awaited tax overhaul bill that would repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate. Such a policy change would save the government more than $300 billion but cost about 13 million people their health insurance coverage, and drastically hike premiums for those who remain in the individual market, experts say.

Pursuing such a health policy in tandem with tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations is politically risky—and powerful medical organizations are already mobilizing in opposition to the bill.

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One of Alabama’s most powerful Republicans said Tuesday that the state GOP should pull its nomination of Senate candidate Roy Moore.

“If they pull him then they have another candidate. I said I’d like to see another candidate,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told TPM when pressed on whether the state party should un-endorse Moore and back a write-in candidate.

That’s a step farther than Shelby had previously been willing to go. On Monday he’d told TPM it was a decision for state steering committee, which plans to meet later this week to determine Moore’s fate.

The 21-member committee of local Republicans is the only group with any real power to kill Moore’s campaign. According to state law, it’s too late to pull Moore off the ballot, but if the state GOP withdraws its endorsement that disqualifies any votes for him and would let the party rally around a write-in.

Shelby isn’t beloved by many in the Alabama Republican Party’s conservative wing. He had to ward off a primary challenge last election cycle, and some Moore supporters were furious he backed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) over Moore in this year’s primary. But he’s one of the few left in the state party with major sway, and is by far the highest profile Alabama Republican to publicly say the party should cut Moore loose. His support for doing so could help nervous Republicans on the committee to stand up and fight to have him removed against the members on the committee who want to stick by Moore.

Shelby’s comments come after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) publicly floated the idea that Attorney General Jeff Sessions might come back to run for his old seat as he talked up a write-in option. Sessions may be the only Republican in the state with enough goodwill on the right to cobble together a coalition for a write-in campaign, but sources close to him told TPM on Monday that he’s been telling Alabama Republicans he’s not interested in leaving the Department of Justice to return to the Senate.

For his part, Moore remains defiant:

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