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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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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) broke with President Trump’s reported assessment of former FBI Director James Comey as being a “nut job.”

“Yeah, I don’t agree with that, and he’s not,” Ryan said in an Axios Q&A Wednesday.

“I like Jim Comey,” Ryan went on to say, adding that the axed FBI director was put in an “impossible position.”

Trump, who fired Comey earlier this month, is said to have called Comey a “nut job” in a conversation with Russian officials the day after his removal, according to the New York Times.

Ryan was also asked about the New York Times report that Trump asked Comey to ease up on the investigation into former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.

“I don’t know the veracity of these thing,” Ryan said. “That’s why we have an investigation. So, what I am not going to do is comment on things that are under ongoing review.”

 

 

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The Senate Intelligence Committee is continuing its efforts to obtain documents from former national security adviser Michael Flynn, after he refused to comply with a committee subpoena this week in its investigation of Russia interference in the 2016 election.

Intel committee Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) announced Tuesday after a closed door committee meeting that they would be sending a written response to Flynn’s lawyers, questioning their rationale for invoking his 5th Amendment right against self incrimination as the basis for not complying with the committee’s subpoena of his documents.

They committee leaders also said they were in the process of sending subpoenas to two of Flynn’s businesses, seeking additional documents. The lawmakers said they did not believe the businesses could invoke the 5th Amendment.

“While we disagree with General Flynn’s lawyers interpretation of taking the 5th, it is even more clear that a business does not have the right to take the 5th if it’s a corporation,” Warner said.

The two Flynn businesses that will be issued subpoenas, according to Warner, were Flynn Intel, LLC and Flynn Intel, Inc.

The letter the committee sent to Flynn’s lawyers would also address claims by the lawyers that the committee’s document requests lacked specificity, Burr said.

“We have been very specific in the documents now that we have requested from General Flynn,” he said.

Burr did not rule out further steps, including holding Flynn in contempt, if he continued to refuse to comply.

“We have taken the actions that we feel are appropriate right now,” Burr said. “If in fact there is not a response, we will seek additional counsel and advice on how to proceed forward. At the end of that option is a contempt charge, and I’ve said that everything is on the table. That is not our preference today.”

Burr also explained why the committee is not considering offering Flynn immunity. “It’s a decision that the committee has made that we are not the appropriate avenue in a potential criminal investigation,” Burr said. “As valuable as General Flynn might be to our counter intelligence investigation, we do not believe that it is our place today to offer him immunity from this committee.”

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This story has been updated.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats would not comment during a Senate Armed Services hearing Tuesday on the Washington Post report that he was asked by President Trump to push back on the FBI probe into Russia-Trump campaign links.

Asked if by Armed Services Chair John McCain (R-AZ) if the Post report was accurate, Coats said he did not feel it was “appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president.”

“I have always believed that given the nature of my position and the information which we share, it is not appropriate for me to comment publicly on any of that,” Coats said.

The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) followed up on the report and asked specifically about its revelation that other White House officials reached out to the intelligence community seeking that the investigation into former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn be dropped.

“I am not aware of that,” Coats said.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) asked if Coats would turn over to former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who has been appointed special counsel in the FBI’s probe,  any memos he had documenting conversations with Trump regarding the Russia investigation, to which Coats replied that he had no such documents.

She then asked if he would testify in front of the Senate Intel Committee for their Russia investigation.

“I do believe the information, the discussions that I have with the president are something that should not be disclosed,” Coats said. “On the other hand, if I am called before a investigative committee, I will certainly provide them with what I know and what I don’t know.”

Coats went on to say, when asked by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), that he would be forthcoming with Mueller on the details about his conversations with Trump about the Russia probe if Mueller sought those details.

Towards the end of the hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked Coats if he discussed with National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers — who was also reported by the Washington Post to have received a request from Trump to push back on the Russia probe — efforts by Trump to “stifle” the investigation.

After a long silence, Coats dodged the question.

“That is something that, I, um would like to withhold, that question at this particular time,” he said.

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Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats appears in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday morning after a bombshell Washington Post report revealed that he was asked by President Trump to push back publicly against the FBI probe into allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. He is testifying in an unrelated hearing on “worldwide threats,” but it is likely that the allegations in the Washington Post report will come up.

According to the Post, Trump reached out to Coats after then-FBI Director James Comey revealed in public testimony that the FBI was investigating links between Trump affiliates and Russia. Coats did not comply with Trump’s request to shoot down the claims about the investigation, as a former senior intelligence official told the Post, “The problem wasn’t so much asking them to issue statements, it was asking them to issue false statements about an ongoing investigation.” Trump went on to fire Comey earlier this month.

Watch the hearing live below:


ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

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The Senate GOP’s progress on Obamacare repeal has been hard to decipher so far, with lots of public assurances that negotiations are continuing but few tangible results.

The process, which Republicans claim began even before the House passed its repeal bill, has been notable for what it’s been missing. It’s unclear, publicly at least, who is leading the effort, the direction they’re taking and whether there’s even agreement on how far the Senate will stray from the deeply unpopular House proposal, which guts Medicaid while scaling back the Affordable Care Act’s widely-liked consumer protections.

The Senate GOP’s 13-member working group initially unveiled to iron out an approach that could bring 51 votes was quickly met with ugly headlines about the lack of women, while rival groups have popped up among the members left out of the original task force. GOP leaders have since stressed that all Republicans are invited to participate in the talks, which happen twice or thrice weekly in Capitol, behind closed doors.

In the meantime, trial balloon after trial balloon has been floated with anonymous leaks, only to be immediately popped by other Republicans, who sometimes are only hearing of alleged proposals directly from the press.

An automatic enrollment option for states? That was quickly labeled “corporatist single payer” by a Republican staffer.

Maintaining the individual mandate for a transition period? “Lord, comma, no, exclamation point,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) responded, when asked about the idea.

A short-term measure to stabilize the market while longer-term reform is still being hashed out?

“I don’t think there’s anything in particular that’s happened,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) told TPM on Thursday. “I am not sure we have resolved that. There’s an awareness, but I don’t think there’s a point on it.”

If Senate Republicans are close to coming up with a plan to repeal Obamacare that can pass their chamber, they’re certainly not making a show of it.

GOP senators participating in the ongoing health care discussions say they want to avoid airing the negotiations in public. However, the lack of the details may also reflect how far the GOP Senate still has to go in cobbling together a health care bill that 51 of its members will support.

“This is going to take some time. There are a lot of different points of views and a lot of different conflicts here,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said last week.

“We’re still in full discussion stage,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) told reporters.

There have been “good conversations about health care,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who added, “I am not going to comment on the subject of individual conversations.”

Since House Republicans surprised Washington by reviving their zombie health care bill, the American Health Care Act, and narrowly passing it earlier this month, they’ve passed the politically toxic hot potato to the upper chamber, where GOP senators have stressed it will be slow-going on their end to write their own legislation to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

“We are going to meet diligently and work together until we come to solution, but that’s going to take some time,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) told TPM last week.

Contrast that with the enthusiasm Republicans showed last year in describing a lightning strike-like process that would make way for tax reform and other agenda items.

While GOP Senators swear their not adhering to any specific timetable, some deadlines do in fact exist. To stay on track to pass both Obamacare repeal and tax cut legislation this year, the Senate will likely need to wrap up their health care talks this summer. More pressing, however, is insurers’ filing deadlines for their 2018 plans. Insurers would like to see more certainty on what the marketplace will look like, including what will happen to key ACA subsidies Republicans have previously attacked.

According to a Politico profile on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) role in the effort, the hope is to have a final vote in June, or by July at the latest.

“He’ll have to make some decisions. I’m sure it will be with the recommendation and input from our members, but there will come a point in which we’ve talked some of this stuff to death,” Sen. John Thune (R-SD),the Senate GOP’s No. 3, told Politico about MccConnell’s approach.

All the divisions in the House that stalled their repeal efforts exists to perhaps a greater degree in the Senate. Twenty GOP Senators represent Medicaid expansion states, and many have expressed discomfort with how quickly the expanded program is wound down in the House bill. Senate conservatives have pushed for an even more aggressive timeline to scale back the program. Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) are leading the talks around a compromise, but those discussions are reportedly getting nowhere.

Then there’s the longer-term overhaul of Medicaid in the House bill, including its transformation of the traditional program from an unlimited match rate into a so-called per capita cap system, in which there’s a limit on the funding states will receive on a per enrollee basis.

“We’re definitely tweaking the House bill on that,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said, when asked about the formulas used in the House bill to raise the caps each year.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) is lobbying for states to be able hold on to savings in years their Medicaid programs perform below the caps, so they can bank on the savings in years their programs go over. Moderates are also hopeful that a more robust tax credit scheme — which is being ironed out by Thune — will help cushion the landing on Medicaid cuts.

However, any extra money thrown into Senate bill will have to be offset elsewhere, as the savings in the Senate bill must match those in the House’s.

Perhaps the most closely-watched factor, at least in the near term, is the release of the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the final version of the House legislation expected on Wednesday.

The score will determine the savings targets Senate Republicans must hit for their bill to be eligible for reconciliation, the complicated process by which the GOP can avoid a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.

It will also set the tone for the political climate they will be operating in while writing of their bill. The CBO score of the original House GOP bill estimated that 24 million people would lose coverage over the next 10 years — a number that was clearly unacceptable for many Senate GOPers. A round of changes to the House bill before it passed scaled back pre-existing conditions in a way that is unclear how it will affect coverage numbers, while Republicans hope that it at least brings average premiums down — an effect that many GOP lawmakers have said is their primary goal in the repeal effort.

There’s an off-chance that the numbers in the House bill shake out in a way that might require another House vote, if it is found that the legislation did not save enough money total or did not save enough money in the proper committees of jurisdiction. But if those bars are cleared, as expected, there will be pressure for the Senate to get past some of its stalling.

“I can act quickly,” Hatch said, of what happens after the new CBO score is released. “I don’t know how quickly you can bring everyone together.”

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The White House and House Republicans are seeking to continue a hold that has been placed on a case that could determine the fate of crucial Obamacare subsidies that President Trump has suggested he’d end, according to the new court filing Monday.

On the one hand, the move means that the White House will not take the opportunity to end them immediately by withdrawing the appeal of a ruling against the subsidies, which the Department of Justice under President Obama had been defending.

On the other hand, the Trump administration could still seek to end them at any time, even if the 90-day delay the White House has requested is granted, which would permit the subsidies to continue, if Trump so chose.

A previous report in Politico last week suggested that Trump was leaning towards ending the subsidies, though White House officials have stressed no final decision had been made. Meanwhile, a GOP source for a Washington Examiner story on the expected filing in the court case spun it as a sign that “the Justice Department is working with House Republicans in good faith” to keep the payments going.

The uncertainty is not doing the insurance industry any favors as they approach the filing deadlines for the 2018 plan year. Insurers are already warning of major premium increases due to the unknowns around the subsidies, known as cost-sharing reduction payments.

The payments subsidize insurers for keeping out-of-pocket costs like deductibles and co-pays down for low-income consumers, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. House Republicans sued the Obama administration in 2014 claiming the subsidies were illegal because they weren’t explicitly appropriated by Congress. A federal judge agreed last year but let the subsidies continue while the case was appealed by Obama’s Justice Department. The Republicans successfully sought a pause in the proceedings after Trump was elected so that both sides could figure their next steps — a pause that it appears could continue for another 90 days.

More than a dozen states, however, have sought to intervene in the case and lift the hold on it so they can take up the legal defense of the subsidies. The House GOP and the Trump administration said in Monday’s filing it would respond to the states’ effort to intervene separately.

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Texas Republicans ramped up their efforts to pass changes to the state’s voter ID law that they hope will prevent the state from being put back under the Voting Rights Act regime that would require them to get federal approval for election law changes.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) requested late Sunday night that a Senate bill modifying the law be considered an “emergency matter,” putting it on track for a Tuesday vote in the House, the Austin Statesmen reported. The legislation previously was passed in the Senate, but also has been added as an amendment to a House elections administration bill as a back-up plan to get it passed through both chambers, according to the Texas Tribune.

The bill codifies the changes to Texas’ 2011 voter ID law the state was ordered to make by a court after the law was struck down by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last summer. Voters without the required ID can still vote if they sign an affidavit and show another form of identification — such as a utilities bill or paycheck — with their name and address, per the court-approved agreement between Texas and those who sued the state challenging the law.

However, the legislation also imposes a stiff penalty that carries up to 10 years in jail for anyone who lies in signing the declaration that says they faced a “reasonable impediment” to getting the types of ID required by the 2011 law.

Democrats in the state Senate voted mostly against the bill in March, and saw their amendments to soften the penalty and make student IDs an acceptable form of identification rejected. Democrats are also skeptical that the bill should free Texas from being placed back under what’s known as pre-clearance, the process by which certain states have to get federal approval for elections policy changes under the Voting Rights Act. Texas was unable to implement the 2011 voter ID law due to pre-clearance until 2013, when the Supreme Court gutted the VRA formula that put Texas and other states with a history of racially discriminatory voting practices under the pre-clearance regime.

However, a separate provision of the Voting Rights Act says that states that are found to have passed laws with intent to discriminate can be subjected to the pre-clearance regime. A district judge has twice ruled that Texas’ 2011 law was passed with the intent to discriminate against minority voters.

“Regardless of what we do Tuesday, regardless of what we do this legislative session, does not erase the discriminatory intent in 2011,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, chairman of the Mexican American Legal Caucus, according to the Statesmen.

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The top Democrats on the congressional committees with jurisdiction over health care are requesting more information about an alleged offer a top Trump administration official in the Health and Human Services Department reportedly made to insurers for their support of the House GOP Obamacare repeal bill.

A spokeswoman for Seema Verma, the Trump-appointed administrator of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, has pushed back hard against a Los Angeles Times report last week that alleged she floated to insurers funding for key Obamacare subsidies as a bargaining chip, with a statement to TPM last week that said the report was “completely false.”

“The assertion that Administrator Verma offered to fund the CSR in exchange for support for legislation is preposterous,” Jane Norris,  the CMS Communications Director, said.

But Democrats are digging in, sending Verma a letter requesting “documents and communications” pertaining to the alleged offer, as well as information on any other CMS officials who suggested such a deal, any vetting that was done of such an offer, and other kinds of deals floated to insurers in exchange for their support of the House bill.

“Your reported actions suggest you are using the operation of the American healthcare system as a tool to gain leverage in political negotiations,” the letter said.

It was signed by Senate Finance ranking member Ron Wyden (D-OR), Senate HELP ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA), House Ways and Means ranking member Richard Neal (D-MA) and House Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone (D-NJ).

The fate of the subsidies, known as cost sharing reduction payments, remains in flux. They are the target of a House GOP lawsuit dating from the Obama administration, and President Trump himself has suggested he’d end the payments. The payments subsidize insurers for keeping out of pocket costs down for low income consumers. If they are halted, its anticipated that insurers will jack up premiums or exit the marketplaces altogether.

Read the full Democratic letter below:

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More than a dozen states have sought to defend in court crucial Obamacare subsidies that President Trump has threatened to halt and are the target in a House Republican lawsuit dating back to the Obama administration.

The 15 states, joined by the District of Columbia, filed a motion Thursday in the lawsuit pending against the subsidies, known as cost-sharing reduction payments, seeking to intervene in the case, which has currently been paused. The Obama administration had been defending the subsidies, and had appealed a district judge’s ruling from last May against the subsidies, which were allowed to continue during the appeal.

However, after Trump was elected, Republicans were able to pause the proceeding so the House GOP and new administration could figure out their next steps, and next week the two parties are set to update the court on their progress. The states, in their motions, asked the court to lift the hold on the case and let the states intervene so the subsidies will continue to be defended. The subsidies go to insurers to keep out-of-pocket costs down for low income consumers, which is mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

If the lower court ruling was left to stand and the payments were halted, it’s expected to cause chaos in the individual market. Premiums are estimated to go up by 19 percent, and some insurers may just pull out together. Already there are signs of premium hikes for the 2018 plan year due to the uncertainty around the payments.

The states move to intervene in the case comes as President Trump reportedly told his aides this week he favors ending the payments because he believes it would make Democrats more likely to negotiate with him on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Before Trump was inaugurated, a pair of individual Obamacare enrollees sought to intervene in the case to defend the subsidies, but were unsuccessful.

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President Donald Trump told advisers in an Oval Office meeting Tuesday that he favored ending crucial Affordable Care Act payments to insurers, Politico reported, a move that would almost guarantee chaos in the individual health insurance market.

A White House official said in a statement that the administration had made a commitment to Congress to make the payments only for the month of May. “No final decisions have been made at this time, and all options are on the table,” the official said.

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