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Tierney Sneed

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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After hobbling with crutches onto a podium in the Capitol, Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) gave reporters his account of Wednesday’s shooting at a practice for the GOP’s congressional baseball team.

“We were sitting ducks,” Williams said. “You had 40 people on a baseball field at seven o’clock in the morning. He just decided to shoot.”

Williams injured his ankle while diving into the dugout on the practice field, where he was joined by one of his his aides, Zack Barth, who had been shot.

“We landed in each other’s arms. He held me, I held him,” Williams said.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), a Tyson Foods lobbyist and two Capitol Police officers were also shot before the assailant was taken down. All five victims of the shooting survived, while the man identified as the shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, died from injuries sustained in the shoot-out with law enforcement.

According to Williams’ account, he was on third base hitting ground balls with Reps. Trent Kelly (R-MS) and Ron DeSantis (R-FL) before the shots rang out and had just rounded the first base side to hit Scalise ground balls when the firing began.

“I heard the first shot, and wasn’t sure, I thought it was maybe the back firing of a car. But then the second and the third and everybody yelled, ‘He’s got a gun, run for cover.’

Williams ran towards the first base dugout, which he estimated was about seven feet deep in the ground, and dove into it like a “swimming pool with no water.”

His staffer, Barth, was also running into the dugout, having been shot in the leg, and once in the dugout, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) used his belt has a tourniquet on Barth’s leg, Williams said.

“Zach is probably 23 or 24. All the time he was bleeding and we were under fire, he was texting letting people know we were under fire and that we needed help,” Williams said.

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) called 911, Williams said, while the lawmakers also sought to take care one of the sons of Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who was at the practice and with the Republicans in the dug out.

“There were a lot of heroes today, among my friends,” Williams said.

Williams said that he heard that the Alexandra police arrived after a few minutes, but in the moment it felt like the shooting went on for “forever.”

Williams said he has not had an opportunity to personally thank the Capitol Police officers who were present and helped to take down Hodgkinson, but Williams said he plans to in the future.

“They saved all of us out there, there is no question about it,” Williams said. “We had no arms, all we had were bats.”

The shooting has prompted a discussion of whether security protocols for lawmakers needs to be changed. The Capitol Police were only present at Wednesday’s early morning practice because of Scalise, who gets a security detail because he is a member of congressional leadership. Williams said that “we probably ought to take a look at” what kinds of security measure are taken when groups of congressmen are gathering together.

Williams declined to weigh in on the politics of the shooter, whose social media pages showed him to be critical of Republicans and a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I don’t know this person, evidently he had an issue. I don’t think it was a Democratic or a Republican issue, he just had an issue,” Williams said. He added that the tone of general political rhetoric “could be turned down a little bit.”

Williams praised the decision to hold the congressional baseball game Thursday night, as planned, against the Democrats’ team.

“I’ll be the one coaching third on crutches,” Williams said.

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The lack of transparency around Senate Republicans’ efforts to repeal Obamacare—an effort that will affect millions of people’s health coverage and stands to remake one-sixth of the economy—has prompted intense, reporter-filled stakeouts outside their closed-door health care working group meetings, admissions from rank-and-file GOPers that they’re not sure what’s going into the repeal bill, and some dramatic confrontations with Democrats who’ve been shut out of the process.

“We have no idea what’s being proposed. There’s a group of guys in a back room somewhere that are making decisions,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) vented at an unrelated hearing last week.

The scrutiny over the extraordinarily secretive nature of the Senate repeal effort amped up this week with reports that they could send the draft bill they’re close to finishing to the CBO before posting it publicly, as some Republicans have indicated they could vote on it as early as this month. There are no intentions to hold any public hearings on the draft.

But if you asked Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), a member of the GOP Senate leadership team as well as the working group negotiating a health care deal, he would describe what the Senate GOP plans to do on health care as an “open process.”

“The House bill is what, 100 and some pages? People are able to read that in an amount of time, it doesn’t take too long,” he said, when asked how much time the public would get review their legislation. “How long does it take you to read 100 pages?”

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Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has taken the expedited, secretive process that the House Republicans used to pass their Affordable Care Act repeal legislation and put it on steroids.

The lack of details about the Senate’s version of the legislation, which stands to affect the insurance coverage of millions of Americans while remaking one-sixth of the economy, is a feature, not a bug, from McConnell’s perspective. Shielding his conference members from scrutiny, McConnell has set up a process that will bypass committee hearings, tamp down outside analysis, and bring a bill to floor for a vote soon after its text is first released publicly.

Senate Republicans said their bill would differ from the House’s repeal measure, but they haven’t elaborated much on how. The potential changes that have been reported don’t appear to alter much its basic outcomes. The House’s American Health Care Act, according to the CBO, would result in 23 million fewer people with health coverage, roll back Obamacare consumer protections, and slash $834 million in Medicaid funding.

GOP senators were told to keep quiet about the negotiations, though they have signaled that once they settle on a set of proposals that would garner support of most of their conference, they’d push it forward quickly.

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Those who were hoping that to see the Senate GOP Obamacare repeal bill before it was sent over to the Congressional Budget Office shouldn’t hold their breath.

Republican staffers are close to finishing a draft, perhaps even by Monday evening, Axios reported, but aren’t planning to release it once they complete it and send it to the CBO for a score. It’s unclear just at what point of the process between now and when the Senate votes on the legislation that the full text becomes public.

Ongoing discussions around the draft, which could be tweaked to get consensus, was cited in the Axios report as being a reason it won’t be posted once it was done.

“We aren’t stupid,” a senior GOP aide told Axios.

It’s not uncommon for draft proposals to be sent to the CBO privately as part of the larger legislative efforts, as a way of providing feedback to members negotiating a bill. But Senate Republican also intend to bypass the committee process in their repeal effort, an extraordinary move, given the scope and the potential impact of their health care legislation.

The CBO analysis of the House repeal legislation, the American Health Care Act, estimated that it would cost 23 million people their health care coverage.

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The Justice Department asked a court to dismiss the lawsuit brought by a watch dog group alleging that President Trump is in violation of the Constitution’s Emolument clause. The filing from the federal government on Friday argued that neither the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW), nor the businesses that have joined the lawsuit, have the standing to bring the legal challenge, while asserting that the Emoluments clause does not apply to the sort of profits Trump is benefiting from through his businesses while in office.

“As explained below, the Emoluments Clauses apply only to the receipt of compensation for personal services and to the receipt of honors and gifts based on official position. They do not prohibit any company in which the President has any financial interest from doing business with any foreign, federal, or state instrumentality,” the court doc said.

Soon after he took office, Trump was targeted with the lawsuit, which claimed he was in violation of a constitutional clause that bars office holders from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

The Justice Department on Friday said that CREW’s claims of harm, in the form to the legal resources they were devoting to the issue, were “abstract” and “insufficient,” while arguing that the businesses that have joined the lawsuit should not be considered competitors to Trump’s restaurants and hotels.

The Justice Department said that the plaintiffs were misrepresenting the meaning of “emoluments” in their lawsuit.

“It would be unnatural to describe a public official’s receipt of benefits from a business venture unrelated to his office as ‘accept[ing] of [a] present,’ and nothing indicates that the Framers would have intended the Clause to be applied in that way,” the court doc said.

“Nor can the term ‘present’ naturally be read to include benefits tendered to a U.S. official by operation of law, such as foreign trademarks, licenses, permits, and approvals granted to an official’s private business, as Plaintiffs allege,” the filing added.

The Justice Department pointed to the business ventures that past presidents dating back to George Washington, as well as other Cabinet officials, were involved in.

“Had the Framers intended the Emoluments Clauses to encompass benefits arising from a federal official’s private commercial transactions with a foreign state, or in case of a President, with a foreign, federal, or state instrumentality, surely someone would have raised concerns about whether foreign governments or government-owned corporations may have been among the customers of the farm and other products regularly exported by early Presidents,” the court doc said. “Yet, there is no evidence of these Presidents taking any steps to ensure that they were not transacting business with a foreign or domestic government instrumentality.”

Read the full filing below:

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Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) encouraged former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who topped the ticked that rivaled Biden and President Obama in the 2012 campaign, to run for Senate in a closed-door event with donors, Politico reported.

Biden was appearing at Romney’s annual E2 Summit in Deer Valley, Utah, and the two were leading a discussion in front of the summit’s attendees Friday evening. Politico’s report is based on two unnamed sources who were at the event.

There has been speculation that Romney could run for the seat currently held by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the longest-serving Republican in the Senate. Hatch has suggested he has decided to run again, only to later walk back those remarks by saying “it’s just too early to make a decision.”

According to the Politico report, Romney responded to Biden’s recommendations with merely a smile. Biden’s spokesperson did not respond to Politico’s request for comment.

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After declining on multiple occasions to affirm the United States commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty – the mutual defense provision that treats an attack on one NATO country as an attack on all members of the alliance – President Trump explicitly made that commitment during a press conference in the Rose Garden Friday with Romanian President Klaus Werner Iohannis.

“I am committing the United States —and have committed—but I am committing the United States to Article 5,” Trump said, “and certainly we are there to protect and that’s one of the reasons that I want people to make sure we have a very, very strong force by paying the kind of money necessary to have that force. But yes, absolutely, I would be committed to Article 5.”

Trump’s remarks came in response to a question about Article 5 in the context of a Russia threat in the region around Romania. Trump did not address the Russia aspect of the question.

During his presidential campaign, Trump questioned the NATO alliance, and said that he would defend its allies from attacks if they “fulfill their obligations to us.” In an address to NATO countries during Trump’s oversees trip last month, an affirmation of Article 5 was conspicuously missing, reportedly to the surprise of his top national security advisers who had sought to have such a commitment included in Trump’s remarks in Brussels.

Correction: This story misstated the name of the Romanian president. He is President Klaus Werner Iohannis.

 

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While most of the attention on Capitol Hill Thursday was focused on former FBI Director James Comey’s Senate Intel testimony, Health and Human Service Secretary Tom Price was also appearing in front of the Senate Finance Committee, an opportunity Dems used to bash Senate Republicans for their Obamacare repeal efforts.

Democrats are now touting this exchange prompted by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), in which she confronts Finance Chair Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who is playing a key role in the writing of the Senate bill, over the lack of public hearings planned for the legislation.

“We have no idea what’s being proposed. There’s a group of guys in a back room somewhere that are making decisions,” McCaskill said.

Awkwardly, Hatch appears thrown off by McCaskill’s questions, and an aide rushes to his side to feed him talking points, which are caught by his mic.

Earlier this week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) began the procedural mechanics that will allow the Senate GOP to bring directly to the floor, bypassing the committee process. Republicans still have a few key decisions to work out in their repeal legislation, but are expected to send a draft to the Congressional Budget Office in the hopes of bringing it to a vote soon after they see a score.

Watch the exchange, via the Senate Democrats’ Twitter account, below:

 

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In a sign that Senate Republicans are close to—but not quite at—a deal to bring an Obamacare repeal bill to a vote, the fault lines within the GOP over efforts to impose major cuts to Medicaid are becoming publicly exposed, in what have been otherwise closely guarded negotiations.

One front of the battle is whether to soften a phase-out of the Medicaid expansion program, which is wound down starting in 2020 in the already-passed House repeal legislation. Another front of the battle is how Republicans craft their longer-term overhaul of the traditional Medicaid program. The GOP intends to transform Medicaid into a “per capita cap” system, in which states receive a set amount of federal funding per beneficiary, rather than an unlimited match rate from the feds. There is disagreement, however, over how they design the caps.

“On the discussion we had [Tuesday], that was marked ‘TBD,'” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the No. 2 GOPer in the Senate, told TPM this week, referring to a slideshow presentation on health care Republicans held.

“We haven’t made decisions on that yet,” he said.

Is A Medicaid Expansion Compromise On The Horizon?

The House bill, the American Health Care Act, eliminated the Medicaid expansion by freezing enrollment in 2020 of beneficiaries who would receive the higher federal match rate under Obamacare. Any new enrollees after that would receive only the traditional match rate (which differs state to state, for an average of 57 percent).

Republicans have argued that “Nobody on Medicaid is going to be taken away.” But in fact, due to the high churn of the program, such a freeze would wipe out the expansion rather quickly, according to the CBO:

CBO projects that fewer than one-third of those enrolled as of December 31, 2019, would have maintained continuous eligibility two years later. Under the legislation, the higher federal matching rate would apply for fewer than 5 percent of newly eligible enrollees by the end of 2024, CBO estimates.

Thus some GOP senators who hail from expansion states are seeking a so-called “glide path” that they argue would soften the effects of the cuts in federal funding. A few—including Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who has been a point person for Medicaid expansion—are backing a seven-year “glide path.” The details are still very vague, but under such a transition, states would see the match rate for expansion enrollees they receive from the feds slowly decrease from the 90 percent enhanced rate under Obamacare to the traditional rate over the course of seven years.

Such a “transition” still wouldn’t help states that have included in their expansion trigger provisions that undo the program as soon as federal funding decreases. And some health care experts think most states would stick to a 2020 enrollment freeze, even with the option for a longer phase-out.

Regardless, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been willing to offer a three-year phase out, according to various reports, perhaps fearing that going any farther would lose the votes they’ll need from the conservative bloc to get to 50.

Outside conservative groups, meanwhile, are raising hell about letting the Medicaid expansion drag on any later than what was prescribed in the House bill. In a tweet storm, Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America, the political advocacy arm of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, railed against the proposal:

Few Answers On How To Raise Limits On Medicaid Funding

The other major Medicaid debate has been less at the forefront, but arguably more important to the long-term reach of the program. Republicans have more or less agreed to overhaul Medicaid’s structure so that it will no longer be an unlimited match rate. Instead, states would receive a set amount of federal funding, based on number of enrollees per state, and what types of enrollees. (Costly seniors would likely get a larger per-beneficiary payment, for instance, than children, who tend to be cheaper to cover.)

A key question that will determine how large a spending cut these limits stand to impose on states is how the caps raise over time. The House bill sets this inflation metric at the Consumer Price Index for Medical Care—with the cap for seniors and the disabled getting an extra boost at CPI-M plus-one-percent, since those beneficiaries are particularly expensive. States would receive a cut right off the top, because the 2020 caps would be set according 2016 spending levels. But as time went on, the burden states would have to bear would grow even larger, because CPI-M is about 2 percentage points lower than the growth in Medicaid costs before the expansion (the influx of young, childless adults since expansion has made the more recent growth rate artificially lower, because those enrollees are cheaper to cover).

The CBO said that the expansion and the caps together cut $834 billion total in federal Medicaid funding, resulting in 14 million people fewer on the program, but it didn’t break down how many of those losses stem from the expansion rollback versus the caps. However, Brookings did an analysis on what the House proposal would have looked like if it had been enacted in 2004. By 2011, the average cut for states would 11 percent, but with wide variation. One state would see a 77 percent cut in that time period, and eight others would face at least 25 percent decrease in the federal funding for their programs, according to the report.

Conservatives senators, or at least, their allies on the outside, are seeking an even slower growth rate in the caps than what the House bill proposed. Michael Needham, the chief executive officer of Heritage Action, and David M. McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, penned an op-ed in the Hill suggesting preference for a growth rate tied to broader inflation metric, Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U).

“The only way to put Medicaid on a truly sustainable budget is to ensure it cannot grow faster than the economy as a whole,” they wrote.

So far, it appears GOP leadership is seeking to hold on to the House’s metric. Time will tell whether this, coupled by the push by moderates for a longer Medicaid phase-out, will ultimately cost Republicans enough votes from its conservative bloc to sink the bill.

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Former FBI Director James Comey wouldn’t answer directly whether President Trump’s private comments to him amounted to an obstruction of justice or if an obstruction investigation is underway, prompting Republicans to play down the possibility of such a case against Trump.

“If the FBI director believes a crime is committed in his presence, he has to report it and do something about it. He did nothing about it, zero zip,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters after the hearing, while pointing to Comey’s May 3 congressional testimony in which he denied receiving pressure from an attorney general or senior DOJ officials to stop an investigation.

Graham argued that if former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the Russia probe special counsel, was really looking into whether Trump’s remarks to Comey amounted to obstruction, Mueller wouldn’t have let him testify publicly in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday.

“If you think the special counsel believes there’s an obstruction of justice, he’s the biggest idiot in the world to let his chief witness to go through this. Mueller is not an idiot,” Graham said. “If he really believed he had an obstruction of justice case, would you let the only and best witness go through this?”

But elsewhere in his testimony, Comey didn’t shut down the possibility of an obstruction of justice investigation into Trump. Comey said that he had turned his copies of the memos he wrote about his Trump meetings over to Mueller, and said that it was “Bob Mueller’s job to sort” out whether Trump’s requests amount to obstruction.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) told reporters Thursday afternoon that it wasn’t just Trump’s comments that qualified as obstruction, but rather that Trump went on to fire Comey. In his testimony, Comey cited Trump’s own public words as the basis for believing that Trump fired him due to the Russia investigation. He also said that the administration had “defame[d]” him in their justifications of his removal.

“I don’t think it’s the discussion that’s the obstruction,” Kaine said. “The discussion shows intent. I think when the special prosecutor looks at the obstruction, he’ll look at the firing.”

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