In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday did not deny that he called President Donald Trump a “moron,” amid a bombshell report that his relationship with Trump has been rocky since early in the summer.

NBC News reported early Wednesday morning that Tillerson openly disparaged Trump as a “moron” after a July meeting at the Pentagon, and threatened to resign later the same month after Trump made a political speech at a Boys Scouts rally.

In an unscheduled statement to reporters Wednesday, Tillerson did not deny that he characterized Trump in that way.

“I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” he said.

Trump nevertheless claimed in a tweet after Tillerson’s statement that the secretary of state “totally refuted” the report of friction between them.

Tillerson claimed NBC News’ report that he had to be talked down from resigning earlier this year was “erroneously reported” and said he has “never considered leaving” his position.

“My commitment to the success of our President and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as secretary of state,” Tillerson said. “To address a few specifics that have been erroneously reported this morning, the vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of state, because I have never considered leaving this post.”

According to NBC News’ report, Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis leapt into action to reassure Tillerson after he threatened to leave Trump’s administration. Pence gave him a “pep talk” and Mattis and Kelly “did beg him to stay,” according to the report. Those efforts ultimately prevailed.

Trump over the weekend did little to contradict reports of conflict, instead undermining Tillerson’s remarks to reporters that the United States has a direct line of communication with North Korea, and is using it for negotiations.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump tweeted. “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

Nik Steinberg, a former speechwriter and counselor to former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, on Wednesday accused Tillerson of “running the State Department into the ground.”

“I know far too many people at the beginning or middle of their careers — with many diplomatic tours ahead of them — who have decided they can no longer bear to serve in the current administration,” Steinberg wrote for Politico. “The U.S. government is quietly losing its next generation of foreign policy leaders.”

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After blowing past a self-imposed September deadline for passing a bill to stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s volatile individual market and prevent massive rate hikes from hitting people across the country, the negotiations around that bill are on life support, languishing without the backing of Republican leaders.

“We don’t have an agreement yet,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee told reporters Tuesday. “We’ll keep talking.”

Asked if Senate Republican leadership is encouraging him to continue the negotiations, Alexander laughed. “I’m telling them that I am continuing the talks,” he quipped. “My hope would be that they would want to put it on the floor.”

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A group of Obama administration alumni, celebrities, and health insurance industry leaders is launching this week an outreach campaign to spread the word about this November’s Obamacare open enrollment period.

Josh Peck, the former chief marketing officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, says the effort is meant to help mitigate the damage of the Trump administration’s gutting of Affordable Care Act outreach, severing of outreach partnerships, and shortening of the open enrollment period.

“We’re of the mind that if the administration makes it clear they won’t take open enrollment seriously, we have to step up and get the word out,” he told TPM. “There’s a huge chasm between what we’re able to do and what should be done, and what was done last year. But [the Department of Health and Human Services] has set the bar so unbelievably low this year for outreach that even a relatively small organization can move the needle and have an outsized impact.”

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Former Vice President Joe Biden returned to the trail on Tuesday for an old friend in an unexpected place — and predicted a huge political upset in crimson red Alabama.

Biden stumped for former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones (D), who he’s known for decades, the first major surrogate to swing into the state in a budding effort to stop controversial former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) from joining the Senate.

“When he wins this race it will send ripples throughout the country,” the former vice president predicted to raucous cheers. “But don’t do it for that reason. Do it for Alabama.”

Democrats are debating whether to heavily invest in Jones, who’s best known for successfully prosecuting Ku Klux Klan members who firebombed a Birmingham black church and killed four little girls decades after the murders, against Moore, best known for twice being thrown off the Alabama Supreme Court for rejecting the rule of law and defying higher court orders on gay marriage and a Ten Commandments statue.

Jones gave them another reason to take a close look on Tuesday with a rousing speech.

“They have told me time and again that this race is a long shot. Well, folks … when you are on the right side of history and the right side of justice you can do anything,” he declared.

Biden talked up Jones’ character in the speech before the big upset prediction.

“I can count on two hands the people I’ve campaigned for that have as much integrity, as much courage,” he said, saying Jones “helped remove 40 years of stain and pain from this state” with his KKK prosecution.

“This state has changed. Doug said no more. The Klan needed to know that justice would follow them to the gates of hell if need be,” he said before calling Moore an “extremist.”

Early polling of the race suggests Moore begins it with a single-digit lead —  not a huge one, especially given how conservative Alabama is. Moore won his last statewide election with just 51 percent of the vote.

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Late Monday night, House Republicans unveiled a plan for reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which Congress allowed to lapse this past weekend.

Like its Senate counterpart, the bill lays out five years of CHIP funding, but reduces the amount of federal money going to help states cover low-income children and pregnant women after two years. Unlike the Senate bill, the entire package is funded by cuts to Medicare and the Affordable Care Act’s prevention and public health fund.

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Over the weekend, Congress allowed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which covers nearly 9 million children in low-income families, to lapse—failing to pass a reauthorization by Saturday’s deadline after spending most of the year attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The expiration of the program will not affect all states equally. Some are already scrambling to move money around to make sure no child sees their coverage lapse while others have a healthy amount in reserves that will last them well into next year if Congress does not act.

Though the Senate will hold a markup on the reauthorization on Wednesday, its passage remains uncertain. The House has not yet unveiled its version of the bill, and a House Democratic aide told TPM that while negotiations are ongoing, the parties are still fighting over whether to maintain the same level of the federal funding match for CHIP and whether to require cuts to other parts of the federal budget to offset CHIP’s cost.

“We have yet to reach an agreement,” the aide said. “It’s pretty upsetting that the time tradeoff has been an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”

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Cameron Joseph contributed reporting.

Congress may have failed spectacularly to meet Saturday’s deadline for passing a bill to repeal Obamacare with only 50 votes, but Republicans are promising to keep the zombie effort lurching along into 2018—allowing it to cling to future reconciliation bills that GOP leaders had wanted to use as a vehicle for tax cuts. 

Though the Senate budget unveiled Friday does not include provisions to allow for another Obamacare repeal vote, it would allow the Senate to continue to chip away at pieces of the law, such as the individual mandate.

Rank-and-file lawmakers are insisting, meanwhile, that more votes on full repeal are possible next year.

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Well, that was worth it.

Former Rep. Tom Price’s (R-GA) move to President Trump’s cabinet opened up a seat that ended up costing national Republican groups $18.8 million to keep in their hands, part of the $60 million spent total on the most expensive House race in U.S. history. Now he’s been pushed out after spending hundreds of thousands of government money on unnecessary private jet travel.

Price was sworn into the cabinet as Health & Human Services secretary on February 10th — 231 days ago. That means the National Republican Congressional Committee, Congressional Leadership Fund, and other national Republican groups were forced to spend a whopping $81,490 for every day he was in the cabinet, burning through campaign cash like Price burned through jet fuel.

That’s $570,432 a week, $2.7 million a month.

Those groups aren’t exactly pleased with how things played out, and wouldn’t mind some payback.

“While it was certainly fun destroying [Democratic nominee] Jon Ossoff and attacking Nancy Pelosi for three months, I am hopeful Dr. Price will use his newfound fame and leisure time to jet around the country and help make up for some of the $7 million we spent on the Georgia special election,” Congressional Leadership Fund Executive Director Corry Bliss told TPM.

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In a letter to the embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on Friday afternoon, Democrats in the House and Senate who work on health care policy demanded answers about a host of recent HHS decisions—including an abrupt order to all 10 regional offices to stop participating in local open enrollment events.

“We urge you to immediately reconsider and reverse this harmful directive to HHS Regional Offices,” the Democratic committee leaders wrote. “The Trump Administration’s latest effort to sabotage health care will likely lead to additional confusion, creating unnecessary barriers for patients and families seeking to purchase insurance.”

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Democrats may have a real shot to pull off a shocking upset in Alabama’s Senate race, according to the first public poll released in the general election.

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) leads former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones (D) by 50 percent to 45 percent in a poll released Friday by campaign handicapper Decision Desk HQ, a fairly tight race.

Individual poll results should always be taken with a grain of salt, and this poll conducted by Opinion Savvy Research was only in the field for two days, shorter than the three-day stretch many reputable pollsters insist on. The only other recent public surveys of the race, from Emerson, found Moore up by a wide margin in one and Jones within four points in another, so more polling will be helpful to get a clearer picture of whether or not the race is truly competitive.

But if the results are even close to accurate, that should be a siren for Democrats that they should step up for Jones against the divisive Moore — a prospect they’re already seriously considering.

The survey seems close to what’s expected in an Alabama race — President Trump has a 55 percent approval rating in the poll, with 43 percent disapproving, almost identical to the numbers Gallup has found, and the sample was 24 percent African American, roughly in line with normal elections in the state. It’s also notable that Moore is so controversial that he’s running behind Trump in the deep-red state.

More pollsters are undoubtedly in the field to see whether Moore’s nomination might have put deep-red Alabama in play for December, and a clearer picture of the race will likely emerge in the next week or so of whether Democrats will seriously contest the race. But this survey should give them some cautious optimism that the reason Moore won just 51 percent of the statewide vote in 2012 is his own inherent weaknesses, and that they might be able to capitalize on internal GOP divisions and have a outside shot at an upset that would rock the political world.

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