In it, but not of it. TPM DC

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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President Donald Trump has made it clear, both in private and to reporters, that he is not pleased Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price spent more than $400,000 of taxpayer money to travel around the country on private jets.

The President told reporters this week that he is “not happy” with Price, and when asked if he would fire the health secretary, Trump replied, “We’ll see.” Behind closed doors, Trump has fumed for days; according to several reports out Thursday, the possibility of firing Price has been floated, but Trump hasn’t indicated he will actually dismiss the health secretary.

Since the reports on Trump’s anger came out, Politico revealed that Price and his aides also spent more than $500,000 to travel abroad on military planes.

Trump’s anger with Price has grown in the last day or so, according to a New York Times report out Thursday night. The President told a person close to him that he reserves the right to fire Price, and that the health secretary’s pledge to pay for his seats on the planes would not necessarily save him his job, according to the Times.

Some advisers to Trump have suggested he fire Price, although the President indicated he’s not ready to ask for Price’s resignation, per CNN’s Thursday evening report.

The New York Times reported that Trump was “incensed” by Price’s spending on charter planes, complaining to aides and lamenting that Price’s travel practices do not align with his “drain the swamp” campaign message.

Names are already being floated for Price’s replacement in case the story worsens, according to CNN and Axios. The two outlets reported that Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma both have been mentioned. Axios also reported that former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has been floated.

In addition to the frustration over Price’s private plane usage, Trump is likely disappointed that the HHS head was not able to sell Congress on a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Back in July, Trump joked that he would fire Price if he didn’t secure the votes for a repeal bill.

“By the way, you’re going to get the votes?” Trump said to Price at a July speech for the Boy Scouts in West Virginia.

“He better get ’em. He better get ’em. Oh, he better,” Trump added. “Otherwise I’ll say, Tom, you’re fired. I’ll get somebody.”

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Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Thursday urged President Donald Trump to implore his Cabinet secretaries to stick to the most cost-effective modes of travel possible.

Grassley wrote a stern letter to the President amid a slew of reports revealing that members of Trump’s Cabinet have spent thousands on private and government planes to attend official events.

“Federal regulations specifically prohibit official travel by chartered jet when it is not the most cost-effective mode of travel ‘because the taxpayers should pay no more than necessary for your transportation,'” Grassley wrote in the letter to Trump. “Considering the many travel options to and from Washington, D.C., I’m urging you to emphasize to Cabinet secretaries the necessity of using reasonable and cost-effective modes of travel in accordance with federal restrictions.”

He noted that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has spent more than $400,000 on private planes, and that both EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are under investigation for their own use of non-commercial flights. Since Grassley sent his letter to Trump, it has also been revealed that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took private and government flights this year.

Price has said that he will pay the government back for his seats on the charter planes—not for the full cost of the flights—and he has halted his use of charter planes while the HHS inspector general reviews his travel.

Grassley urged Trump to issue a hold on non-commercial flights for all departments under review. Grassley also asked the President to share with the steps the administration has taken to make sure that Cabinet officials are using the most cost-effective modes of transportation possible.

Read the letter below:

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National Democrats are seriously weighing whether to go big to try to keep controversial former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) out of the Senate.

Following Moore’s solid primary victory over appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), Democrats are doing the research to see if there’s a real path for former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones (D) over his divisive foe. And while they’re not ready to commit major resources to a state as crimson red as Alabama at this point, Senate Democrats are already making initial moves to support Jones with individual donations while voicing cautious optimism about having a shot at their first Senate victory in the state in nearly three decades.

“Alabama’s obviously tough territory but this is a special situation,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told TPM on Thursday. “We believe Alabamans will want someone who they will be proud of, someone with character and integrity, and that’s Doug Jones. That is not Roy Moore.”

Democrats are clear-eyed that Moore remains the heavy favorite, and are wary about raising expectations. But they think there may be a path for Jones, who’s best known in the state for successfully prosecuting the Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a black Birmingham church in 1963 and killed four little girls, against Moore, whose decades-long religious crusade against gay rights and secularism has alienated many business-oriented Republicans in the state. While no Democrat has won a statewide race in Alabama for nearly a decade, they point out that Moore won just 51 percent of the vote in his 2012 state Supreme Court win.

There’s been almost no public polling of the race, and a smattering of public and private surveys have shown a conflicting picture of the race. Some have had Moore up big, others show a tighter contest.

“A bunch of things need to happen to get us into a place where we can be competitive  — and they’re all happening,” argued Jones adviser Joe Trippi, a veteran of a number of presidential campaigns including Howard Dean’s, which emphasized winning in deep-red territory long ignored by Democrats.

Jones may need as much structural as financial support. He announced he’d surpassed $1 million total raised on Wednesday and predicted he’ll eventually out-raise Moore, and his campaign says grassroots donations have jumped in recent days, but that’s likely about a fifth as much as he’ll need for his race. He also needs  well-trained staff ready to help build a field operation from scratch in a state where Democrats have almost no infrastructure, a costly and more time-consuming process that takes early investment and needs to happen now.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is already providing logistical and organizational support to Jones, and is in regular contact with his campaign. The big questions the DSCC and other national Democratic groups are looking to answer before investing significant resources are whether enough Republicans might cross over to back Jones in a state President Trump won by a 28-point margin last fall and where racially polarized voting makes it extra tough for a Democrat to get much higher than 40 percent in statewide races.

That’s a daunting task, and Democrats are wary about overselling their chances, still stinging from a special election House defeat in Georgia and worried about wasting valuable resources ahead of a year where they’re defending 10 seats in states Trump won.

That tension was displayed when former DSCC Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT), one of the senators facing a tough reelection, told TPM “you’ve got to play in the race” — but joked that it better not come at his own expense.

“If it’s going to take away from my race, absolutely not, no!” he said with a laugh.

“They’ve got to do the assessment on Alabama and if it looks like it’s possible to win, make the necessary investments to win,” he said, turning serious.

Those who know Jones best in Washington are pushing for the party to help him as much as possible.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) first met Jones back in 2002 — one of his top staffers who’d worked for Jones in Alabama introduced them early in his political career — and described him as “the greatest.” He thinks having Jones in the race — and Moore as the GOP nominee — has given the party a real chance.

“We went from probably a five percent chance of winning that race if Luther had been renominated to multiples of that. I’m not telling you it’s 50-50, it is Alabama, but Doug is very well-known and well-liked,” he told TPM. “We have a person who’s a great American hero in this race. Let’s support him.”

Kaine talked up Jones during a Democratic caucus luncheon earlier this week, and said he’s given the legal maximum donation to the candidate.

Other big-name Democrats are coming in to help as well. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has a decades-old friendship with Jones, is headed to Alabama next Tuesday for a fundraiser and rally.

The Congressional Black Caucus is also stepping up to help an ally. The group recently hosted Jones at its annual CBC foundation luncheon, and many members are agitating the national party to step up its efforts.

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a civil rights legend who grew up in Alabama, endorsed Jones early on as well and plans to head back to the state to help him out between now and the December runoff.

“The party should go all-out in supporting him. He’s a good man, he’s a great candidate. I grew up in Alabama and I’ve been knowing him for a long time, since he was U.S. attorney, and all that he did to try to make things better and seek justice for the people who’ve been wronged,” Lewis told TPM. “It’s worthy of spending time, effort and money.”

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On Wednesday’s deadline for insurance companies to submit their individual market rates to the federal government, North Dakota lost one of its three remaining companies. Citing “the uncertainty that currently exists around cost-sharing reductions,” the state’s insurance commission announced Thursday that the insurer Medica quit the state’s market, leaving just two options for consumers in North Dakota.

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After spending most of the month on yet another failed bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act and block-grant Medicaid, Congress is set to leave town without reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or payments for hospitals that serve the uninsured – and without passing a bill to stabilize Obamacare’s individual market, leaving it vulnerable to President Trump’s whims.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who sits on one of the key committees in charge of health care, confirmed to TPM that Congress will likely allow CHIP to lapse by Saturday’s deadline, putting the health insurance of millions of children in jeopardy.

“I’m confident the money will come but obviously it’s not going to come on time,” she said wearily.

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In a blistering statement Wednesday afternoon, the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) called out the Trump administration for its rushed consultation of the committee before announcing it would lower the refugee cap next year.

Grassley and Feinstein complained that they learned of the refugee cap in the news before they had a meeting with the administration, despite asking months ago for a meeting on the issue. State Department officials met with the members of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday afternoon, and only scheduled the meeting on Tuesday, per Grassley and Feinstein.

“We are incredibly frustrated that the annual consultation for refugee admissions, which is required by law, was finalized just one day in advance. It is simply unacceptable to read in the press that the administration had reached its decision on the refugee cap before the mandated meeting with Congress had even been scheduled,” Grassley and Feinstein said in the statement.

“Since August, our offices have made bipartisan requests to the State Department on this meeting. Congress and the law require real engagement on this important subject,” they added. “An eleventh-hour meeting to check a legal box is not sufficient.”

The Trump administration has yet to formally announce next year’s refugee cap, but plans to limit the number of refugees accepted into the U.S. to 45,000, down from the 110,000 the Obama administration aimed to admit in 2017.

The Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), seemed less upset about the Trump administration’s consultation process, praising the plan in a statement Wednesday evening.

“For generations, the United States has been a safe haven for those around the world fleeing persecution in their home countries. The Trump Administration’s refugee ceiling for the coming year maintains our nation’s generosity toward those in need, and importantly, ensures limited resources are used wisely and our citizens are protected in light of ongoing terrorist threats,” Goodlatte said in a statement.

 

 

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