In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s Democratic opponent is taking to the airwaves to hit him for his burgeoning sex scandal.

Democrat Doug Jones has a new ad out featuring self-described Republicans who say they can’t vote for Moore, alluding throughout the ad to the on-record accusations from five women that Moore pursued sexual encounters with them, including one who was just 14 at the time.

The ad has voters  — four Republicans and three Democrats — alluding to the “awful” story before pledging to vote for Jones.

“You read the story and it just shakes you,” one Alabamian says in the ad.

“Don’t decency and integrity matter anymore?” another asks.

“I’m a Republican, but Roy Moore – no way,” a third says.

Moore has aggressively refused to drop out while accusing the women of lying and describing a conspiracy against him from establishment Republicans, Democrats and the media. That’s true even after a fifth woman stepped forward Monday to accuse him of sexually attacking her when she was just 16 years old.

Jones is looking to score what would be a huge upset win for a Democrat in Alabama by running against Moore’s temperament and fitness for office — an argument that has been given a huge boost by the burgeoning scandal.

Republicans still hold out hope they can force Moore from the race and back a write-in candidate, and the local Republicans in charge of whether they’ll cut Moore loose have scheduled a meeting for later this week to decide whether or not to stand by him.

Jones also released a web video featuring Republican Steve Duncan, who ran for local office a few years back and says he’s backing Jones.

“Look in the mirror, check your heart, check your soul,” Duncan says in the spot. Before you pull the lever, remember, do you want someone like Roy Moore? Who’s gonna continue the divisiveness — or how about Doug Jones — who just might bring unity to this country and to this state. I choose Doug Jones. Yep, I’m another Republican. I’m Steve Duncan, I want to be on the right side of history. That’s why I’m voting for Doug Jones.”

Here’s the TV ad’s full script:

Supporter 1: I’m a lifelong Republican, but I just can’t do it.

Supporter 2: I can’t vote for Roy Moore.

Supporter 3: He’s already been removed from office twice.

Supporter 4: This time it’s even worse.

Supporter 5: You read the story and it just shakes you.

Supporter 6: Just awful.

Supporter 7: I just don’t trust him.

Supporter 3: He’s too divisive.

Supporter 5: Don’t decency and integrity matter anymore.

Supporter 4: I’m a Republican, but Roy Moore – no way.

Supporter 1: I’m for Doug Jones.

Supporter 2: I’m another Republican for Doug Jones.

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As national Republicans ramp up the pressure to force Roy Moore to drop his Alabama Senate campaign, the small group of local GOP power players who will ultimately determine Moore’s political fate are taking reluctant steps towards deciding whether to cut him loose.

The 21 members of Alabama’s Republican Party central steering committee are the only ones who can pull Roy Moore’s nomination and potentially block his path to the Senate. After days of mounting allegations that their Senate nominee had sexual contact with teenage girls while he was in his 30s, two Alabama GOP sources tell TPM they’ve finally decided to hold a meeting later this week to hash out whether they can stand by his side.

“We are still weighing the evidence, but realize some decision or statement must come from the state party soon,” said one Alabama Republican.

Most members of the committee have so far stayed silent, worried about fury from Moore backers if they reject him and damage to their own political careers no matter what they do.

But as the allegations pile up against their nominee, they’re creeping towards making a decision on whether to stand by Moore or pull the party nomination and back a possible write-in campaign, a move which further dims their hopes of holding the seat.

Under state law, it is too late to remove Moore’s name from the ballot or replace him with another candidate. If his nomination is withdrawn but he still gets the most votes in the Dec. 12 election against Democratic nominee Doug Jones, it’s unclear what happens. Some interpret the law as saying the election would be null and void and the governor would need to call a new one, while others say the second-place finisher would be declared the winner, whether that’s Jones or a write-in. Lawsuits would be likely.

Beverly Young Nelson the latest accuser of Alabama Republican Roy Moore, reads her statement at a news conference, in New York, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. Nelson says she was a 16-year-old high school student working at a restaurant where Moore was a regular. She says Moore groped her, touched her breasts and locked the door to keep her inside his car. She said he squeezed her neck while trying to push her head toward his crotch and that he tried to pull her shirt off. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Beverly Young Nelson, the latest accuser of Alabama Republican Roy Moore, reads her statement at a news conference, in New York, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The committee’s decision to hold a meeting and call came Monday afternoon, shortly after a fifth woman came forward to say Moore pursued her when she was a teenager. Beverly Young Nelson said that Moore violently tried to force her to have sex with him, initially refusing to let her exit his car and leaving bruises on her neck from where he tried to pull her head to his crotch. Moore called the latest allegations “absolutely false.”

National Republicans moved swiftly against Moore on Monday, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) unequivocally calling on Moore to quit the race and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-CO) saying the Senate should vote to expel Moore if he does win his election.

“The women looked believable and the stories looked believable,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told reporters Monday, calling the accusations “very disturbing” and repeating his suggestion that Moore should drop out of the race.

Shelby and other Republicans buzzed about possible write-in candidates. But two of their most obvious options seemed to take themselves out of the running on Monday.

Two sources close to Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he’s told Alabama Republicans he’s “not interested” in returning to the Senate seat he gave up to become attorney general. Session’s appointed successor, Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who lost to Moore in the GOP primary, told reporters Monday that it’s “highly unlikely” that he will run.

Alabama Republicans said there’s almost no chance of Moore stepping aside, even if more accusers come forward — and even if President Trump himself calls for Moore to drop out in the coming days. Moore is famously stubborn, has long clashed with establishment Republicans in the state (including some on the steering committee) and has twice been forcibly removed from the state Supreme Court for refusing to follow the rule of law.

“It doesn’t matter what the party does. It doesn’t make a difference. He’s not dropping out, look at his history. He’s been forcibly been removed from office twice. He wants to be martyred,” another senior Alabama Republican told TPM.

Despite the seriousness of the allegations against Moore, state Republicans face a no-win situation politically. They can yank a nomination Moore won fair and square in the primary in spite of heavy opposition from the party establishment, infuriating his die-hard backers who hold significant sway in the state party and face severe blowback and accusations that they’re rigging the game. Or they can stand by a candidate whose toxicity is damaging both the state and national Republican Party and causing deep embarrassment for the state of Alabama.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., flanked by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., left, and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, holds a news conference at the Capitol after President Donald Trump overruled congressional Republicans and his own treasury secretary and cut a deal with Democrats to fund the government and raise the federal borrowing limit for three months, all part of an agreement to speed money to Harvey relief, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “I believe the women, yes.” (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The party is split heading into the high-stakes meeting. Some have finally had it with Moore, worry about more allegations, and want to see him drop out of the race immediately or lose the state party nomination. Others are furious at what they see as a concerted effort by establishment Republicans, Democrats and the media to destroy Moore’s life along with his political career.

“The part I can’t understand and don’t think has even registered with too many people is what part of the word ‘accusation’ do you not understand?” Republican National Committeeman Paul Reynolds, a member of the state steering committee, told TPM. “To the people who are so up in arms, these are accusations until there is hard, fast proof.”

“It’s just politics. Donald Trump had to go through the same thing,” Perry Hooper, the Trump campaign’s chairman in Alabama, who’s not on the committee, told TPM.

Others privately disagree — some of them vehemently — but the pro-Moore voices are louder and more aggressive.

“I’ve heard they’re going to have a call this week. But let’s be honest: I don’t see them doing anything,” an Alabama Republican who dislikes Moore and has talked to a number of people on the steering committee told TPM.

“The people who are for Moore are vocal and totally off the ranch. And the other people have lives, they work and are committed to the Republican Party, and they always supported Republican candidates,” that Republican continued. “The easiest thing for human beings is to do nothing and let the people of Alabama decide.”

Many on the committee have their own political careers to worry about. Roughly a quarter of the committee’s members are running for public office next year and face competitive primaries where they need backing from Moore’s supporters. Others depend on GOP contracts for their livelihood, or on relationships built through the state party for company business.

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 31: Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore is questioned by the media in the Capitol on October 31, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES – OCTOBER 31: Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore in the U.S. Capitol on October 31, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Further complicating the situation is the current disarray of the state party, which has been wracked by multiple scandals. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) assumed office just months ago after former Gov. Robert Bentley (R) was forced to resign under an ethics cloud. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the state’s most powerful Republican, can’t get publicly involved because of his current position. Strange is a lame duck after losing to Moore in the primary. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) is the only elder statesman left in the party — and he has little sway and even less trust with the state’s hardline conservatives, who challenged him in a primary just two years ago and were furious he backed Strange over Moore.

Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan didn’t answer multiple phone calls requesting comment, while party Executive Director Harold Sachs refused to discuss the party’s approach to Moore when reached by TPM. Lathan told Monday that it was “very unlikely” Moore would lose the party’s endorsement.

But the state’s smart Republicans know something must be done — even if they don’t want to be the ones to do it.

“All those people are elected and they’ve got to look at it. He’s got to make his own decision,” Shelby told TPM when asked what he thought the steering committee should do. “But I tell you, it’s drip by drip, cut by cut. It doesn’t look good.”

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An Alabama woman on Monday said Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager, the fifth woman to accuse Moore of making improper sexual advances on her in recent days.

Beverly Young Nelson said a during press conference with attorney Gloria Allred that the alleged assault occurred when she was 16 years old.

Mr. Moore attacked me when I was a child. I did nothing to deserve this sexual attack. I was frightened by his position, by his power,” Nelson said.

Nelson said Moore offered her a ride home from work, then attempted to force her to have sex with him, leaving bruises on her neck as she struggled to free herself and refusing to stop when she asked.

“I tried to open my car door to leave, but he reached over and he locked it so I could not get out. I tried fighting him off while yelling at him to stop. But instead of stopping, he began squeezing my neck, attempting to force my head onto his crotch. I continued to struggle. I was determined that I was not going to allow him to force me to have sex with him,” Nelson said. “I was terrified. He was also trying to pull my shirt off. I thought that he was going to rape me.”

Moore eventually stopped, Nelson said, and warned her no one would believe her if she shared her story.

“He said, ‘you’re just a child,’ and he said, ‘I am the district attorney of Etowah County, and if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you,'” she said.

Allred showed a page from the woman’s high school yearbook she said Moore had signed with a flirtatious note.

“She was sexually assaulted by Roy Moore,” Allred said, calling for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on the matter and subpoenaing Moore to testify.

Nelson is the fifth woman to accuse Moore of having made sexual advances on her when she was a teenager — including one who was 14 at the time.

But Moore has remained defiant.

“Gloria Allred is a sensationalist leading a witch hunt, and she is only around to create a spectacle. Allred was the attorney who claims credit for giving us Roe v. Wade which has resulted in the murder of tens of millions of unborn babies,” Moore campaign chairman Bill Armistead said in a statement released before Allred’s press conference began. “We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: Judge Moore is an innocent man and has never had any sexual misconduct with anyone.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called for Moore to exit the race Monday morning, declaring he believed Moore’s accusers and talking about a possible write-in campaign.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-CO) went a step further immediately after Nelson’s press conference, calling for a vote to expel Moore from the Senate if he wins.

“I believe the individuals speaking out against Roy Moore spoke with courage and truth, proving he is unfit to serve in the United States Senate and he should not run for office. If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate,” Gardner said.

National Republicans can’t do anything to force Moore out of the race, however. There’s no way to remove him from the ballot itself. The state Republican Party can decertify its endorsement, disqualifying him as a candidate and backing a write-in candidate to run, but that’d take a vote from local party leaders to do so.

It would take 67 votes to expel Moore from the Senate if he does win the Dec. 12 election. Initial polls after the first allegations surfaced on Thursday showed Moore in a competitive race with Democrat Doug Jones in deep-red Alabama, and the latest allegations could further damage his campaign.

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In the wake of allegations that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore pursued relationships with teenage girls while in his 30s, GOP party leaders have distanced themselves from Moore. But the hard-right conservative’s most loyal allies have contorted themselves in an attempt to defend Moore from the allegations.

Moore was quick to deny the claims, first published in the Washington Post, including one from a woman who said Moore groped her when she was 14. He painted the Post report on the accusations as a political attack from the left.

His allies jumped on board, blaming the story on liberals trying to keep Moore out of the Senate. Some of Moore’s defenders also dismissed the allegations, either arguing that the claims did not amount to much or stating that the accusations were not enough to prompt them to abandon the Republican candidate in the race.

It’s a political attack

Evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. defended Moore from the allegations on Friday, dismissing the allegations as a “desperate political attack.”

Alabama state Rep. Ed Henry (R) said that Moore’s accusers may “been offered money by entities that surround the Clintons and that side of the world.”

“We know they will pay to dirty anyone’s name that’s in their way. If you believe for a second that any of these are true then shame on these women for not coming forward in the last 30 years, it’s not like this guy hasn’t been in the limelight for decades. I call B.S. myself. I think it’s all lies and fabrication,” Henry told TPM Thursday.

Sallie Bryant, the chair the Republican party in Jefferson county, Alabama, told Politico that the Washington Post report was “politically motivated.”

“I am party chairman, and so therefore I am for the party’s nominees and for our candidates, but I really feel like the timing of this is very suspicious,” Bryant said.

Breitbart News fueled the conservative narrative that the Washington Post report was the result of a conspiracy against Moore with an article that the paper worked to convince one of the women to share her story. Nancy Wells, the mother of Leigh Corfman, who accused Moore of initiating a sexual encounter with her, told Breitbart that Corfman only spoke out because of the Washington Post. Wells also said that Corfman chose to speak up for “for personal reasons,” not political ones.

With the unwavering support from his allies after the allegations, Moore on Sunday threatened to sue the Washington Post over its decision to report the allegations.

The allegations aren’t a big deal

Alabama state Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) told the Washington Examiner that the allegations are “much ado about nothing.” Zeigler said that even if the allegations are true, Moore never had sexual intercourse with any of the women. He also dismissed the revelations because the accusations are from “40 years” ago and Moore ”

“The allegations are that a man in his early 30s dated teenage girls. Even the Washington Post report says that he never had sexual intercourse with any of the girls and never attempted sexual intercourse,” Zeigler said.

He also compared Moore to biblical Joseph.

“Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” Zeigler told the Washington Examiner

Though none of the women who spoke with the Washington Post accused Moore of initiating sexual intercourse, Corfman said that when she was 14 and Moore was in his 30s, he kissed her, took off her shirt and pants, and touched her over her bra and underpants.

David Hall, the chair of the Marion County, Alabama, Republican Party brushed off the allegations in an interview with Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale, emphasizing that the incidents took place decades ago and arguing that there’s nothing wrong with a 30-year-old dating a teenager.

Breitbart Editor Joe Pollak emphasized that all but one of the accusers were 16 or 18 years old at the time of their encounters with Moore. He used those accusations, which he suggested were not problematic, to try to discredit all of the Washington Post’s reporting.

“If this story is true — and I think that any story about sexual misconduct, especially with someone who is underage, is very serious — why would the Washington Post wrap it with all kinds of perfectly legitimate relationships as well as all kinds of other political clutter?” he told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi on Thursday.

Pollack did say that if the allegation that Moore groped a 14-year-old girl is true, “he’s really got some serious problems and I think that we need to drill down and find out what that is.”

Moore still preferable over Democratic candidate

Jerry Pow, the chair of the Bibb County, Alabama, GOP told Dale that he would still vote for Moore even if the allegations are true if only because he does not want the Democratic candidate to win.

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On Monday morning, President Donald Trump unveiled his pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, which has been leaderless since Secretary Tom Price resigned in late September over his use of private jets on the taxpayer’s dime.

The nominee is Alex Azar, a former executive at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co., who worked at HHS under President George W. Bush.

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A number of top Alabama Republicans were quick to defend Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) following allegations that he’d sought sexual relationships with multiple teenagers — and quick to attack Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for throwing Moore under the bus.

McConnell said Moore “must step aside” if the Washington Post’s story was true that Moore, then 32, initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl in 1979. It was a line echoed by most senators.

That infuriated a number of Republicans back in Alabama, many of whom defended Moore’s character and suggested the women were likely lying.

“I think it’s just a bunch of bull,” Perry Hooper Jr., President Trump’s Alabama state chairman, told TPM. “Mitch McConnell should know better to make a statement like he made unless he gets all the answers. We’re right in the political zone right now, the election’s December 12th. This is the same campaign issue the left ran against Donald Trump on, they’re doing the same thing against Roy Moore.”

Hooper, who’d backed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) over Moore in the primary, called the allegations “ludicrous” and “gutter politics” unless they could be proven.

“The same thing went on when President Trump ran for office, there was about 15 ladies who ran to the press and said the same thing,” he said.

When asked how the claims could be proven, he suggested the woman take a polygraph.

“Maybe she just needs to take a polygraph test. And the people who are pushing her, they need to take the same test too to see if they’re telling the truth,” he said.

Alabama State Rep. Ed Henry (R), Trump’s other Alabama campaign co-chairman, was even harsher.

“I believe it is very opportunistic and they are just looking for their chance to get on some liberal talk show. I’m sure they’ve probably been offered money by entities that surround the Clintons and that side of the world. We know they will pay to dirty anyone’s name that’s in their way. If you believe for a second that any of these are true then shame on these women for not coming forward in the last 30 years, it’s not like this guy hasn’t been in the limelight for decades. I call B.S. myself. I think it’s all lies and fabrication,” Henry told TPM.

When asked about McConnell’s comments, he erupted.

“Mitch McConnell, and you can quote me on this, is a dumbass, a coward, a liar himself and exactly what’s wrong with Washington, D.C. He would love for Roy Moore not to be in Washington, he’d much rather have a Democrat. Mitch McConnell is scum,” he said, putting the chances at “zero” that the state party would un-endorse Moore.

And he said he’d need photographic evidence to believe the women.

“They got some pictures? That’ll do,” he said. “You can’t sit on something like this for thirty-something years with a man as in the spotlight as Roy Moore and all of a sudden three weeks before a senatorial primary all of a sudden these three or four women are going to talk about something in 1979? I call bull. It’s as fabricated as the day is long.”

Moore is vehemently denying the charges. And while Republicans could pull the plug on his campaign by un-endorsing him and backing a write-in campaign, as long as the state Republican Party stands by him, he’ll remain the GOP candidate.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) also dismissed the allegations.

“These allegations have been made against Judge Moore but at this time that’s all they are, they’re allegations. I know Judge Moore to be a man of integrity and character,” he told TPM. “It’s very interesting to me and very odd that these charges have just now been introduced… People will say and do anything, and you and I both know they will.”

And he wasn’t thrilled with McConnell’s comment.

“It’s always interesting to me when people comment on things before all the facts are available for people to evaluate. I try not to make a rash decision or rash comments about topics that I don’t have all the facts on and I don’t have all the facts on this and I don’t know if Sen. McConnell has all the facts or not,” he said.

They’re not the only ones defending Moore. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Alabama state Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) said even if the report was true, it wouldn’t be a big deal.

Ziegler went even further while talking to the Washington Examiner.

“There is nothing to see here,” he said. “The allegations are that a man in his early 30s dated teenage girls. Even the Washington Post report says that he never had sexual intercourse with any of the girls and never attempted sexual intercourse.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said Moore “wouldn’t belong in the Senate” if the allegations were true, and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has so far refused to endorse Moore. But few other Alabama Republicans look ready to break with Moore immediately over the allegations — and if the state GOP refuses to abandon him, he’s likely to stay the GOP nominee and still have a real shot at the U.S. Senate.

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Senate Republican leaders were quick to distance themselves from Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) after allegations emerged that he’d sought relationships with multiple teenage women, saying if the accusations are true he must drop out of his Senate race.

“If these allegations are true, he must step aside,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement Thursday afternoon, shortly after a bombshell Washington Post report in which a number of women accused Moore of coming onto them when they were teenagers — including a 14-year-old girl who said he initiated a sexual encounter.

“If it is true, I don’t think his candidacy is sustainable, but we believe in a presumption of innocence until proven guilty and so I think it’s important for the facts to come out,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters. “It’s not just an allegation, it’s a story. There has to be something more to it so I’m interested in seeing what substantiation there is for the story.”

Those statements from Cornyn and McConnell offer Moore plenty of wiggle room, as he’s vociferously denying the allegations while calling the Washington Post liars.

“This garbage is the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation,” Moore’s campaign said in a Thursday afternoon statement.

Most other Republican senators took the same “if true” stance as McConnell as the news trickled out.

“If that’s true, then he wouldn’t belong in the Senate,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told reporters shortly after the news broke.

“If the allegations are true, yes, I think he should step aside,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) told reporters shortly after the news broke. “It’s very troubling. If the story’s true, I would hope that he would do the right thing and step aside.”

One exception: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

According to Alabama law, Moore cannot be removed from the ballot — but if the state Republican Party pulls its endorsement, votes for him won’t count and it can run a write-in candidate. There was buzz around Capitol Hill in the immediate aftermath of the explosive report that’s the path Republicans might pursue.

Moore has had a large but not insurmountable lead in most polls against Democrat Doug Jones in deep red Alabama ahead of the Dec. 12 election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat.

But Moore has so far been fiercely defiant, and doesn’t seem likely to listen to GOP leaders who’d endorsed his primary opponent and spent millions to defeat him.

His campaign has so far shown no signs of being ready to quit.

“Judge Roy Moore has endured the most outlandish attacks on any candidate in the modern political arena, but this story in today’s Washington Post alleging sexual impropriety takes the cake,” Moore’s campaign said in a statement. “National liberal organizations know their chosen candidate Doug Jones is in a death spiral, and this is their last ditch Hail Mary.”


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President Trump has repeatedly declared the Affordable Care Act “dead” and his administration has done nearly everything possible to make it so. Yet the first enrollment numbers released Thursday by the Department of Human Services show the program very much alive.

According to HHS, more than 600,000 people signed up for a health care plan in the first four days of open enrollment, beginning on Nov. 1. Last year, under an administration pulling out all the stops to promote enrollment, just over 415,000 signed up in the first five days. Importantly, nearly a quarter of this year’s signups are from new enrollees who did not previously have a health care plan on Obamacare’s individual market.

For experts who predicted signups would crater this year thanks to the Trump administration gutting the budget for outreach and enrollment assistance, the rosy early numbers are a surprise, but they cautioned that anything could happen by the Dec. 15 deadline.

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