In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

When Republican senators arrived at the Capitol on Thursday morning, they were inundated with a tidal wave of questions regarding revelations published the previous night that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice with the Russian ambassador in 2016 but then said in his confirmation hearing that he did not have contact with the Russians during the 2016 campaign.

As the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate burst out of the gate accusing Sessions of perjury and demanding his resignation, Republicans fell into three camps: most gave a full-throated defense of Sessions and dismissed the accusations as a Democratic stunt; a handful called for Sessions to recuse himself from ongoing investigations of Russian meddling in U.S. politics, and a few key lawmakers said that Sessions should recuse himself only if the attorney general himself is the subject of an investigation.

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This post has been updated.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions encountered the Russian ambassador twice during the 2016 campaign, and by Sessions' second interaction with Sergey Kislyak, talk of Russia's role in hacking the Democratic National Committee already was playing an outsized role in the election.

The then-senator did not reveal that he had met with the Russian official during his confirmation hearing. Sessions has dismissed concern about his failure to disclose the matter, and his spokeswoman emphasized that that at the hearing Sessions was asked specifically about discussions with Russian officials about the election.

There's no evidence Sessions and Kislyak discussed the campaign in either of their two meetings. Concerns about Russian cyberattacks on the DNC and other organizations, as well as ties between certain Trump associates and Russia, were all over the news by the time of their second meeting, however.

In the days immediately preceding that Capitol Hill sitdown, Hillary Clinton hinted there might be a link between the DNC hack and Trump’s candidacy, while Trump heaped praise on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump even appeared on the Kremlin-aligned RT television network on the same day Sessions sat down with Kislyak, telling Larry King that it's "unlikely" Russia was trying to influence the U.S. election.

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In a topsy-turvy twist to the Obamacare repeal saga, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) set out Thursday in search of the House GOP's Obamacare repeal bill supposedly kept under lock and key in a secure basement room in the Capitol complex. With reporters tweeting his odyssey, Paul brought unwelcome attention on the House GOP's odd tactics for avoiding political fallout from the bill that is number one legislative priority for Republicans.

Before embarking on his "National Treasure" quest in the bowels of a House office building, Paul blasted the move to allow only Republicans members and staff of a House committee to review the current draft Obamacare repeal legislation, and to prohibit making copies of the bill.

"I am very upset that they’ve made the Obamacare proposal classified," said Paul, who has been critical of the direction House leadership is said be moving with the repeal. It was reported Wednesday that the bill would be available Thursday for Energy and Commerce Republicans to read, but under conditions akin to a secret intelligence meeting.

"We’re going to be trying to get a look at the Obamacare proposal, but I think the reason that they're keeping it in secret is that it’s Obamacare-lite " Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill. "Conservatives, I can tell you, on both sides of the ... House and the Senate, are very unhappy that they're now making the Obamacare proposal classified. It's under lock and key and we’re not allowed to have a copy of it. I think that’s crazy."

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Facing growing pressure over the revelation that he failed to disclose two meetings with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 presidential campaign, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his backers are arguing that those meetings occurred in his capacity as a senator and not as a surrogate for Donald Trump.

“He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign—not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee,” Sessions spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores told the Washington Post Wednesday.

Yet Sessions was clearly identified as a senior adviser to the Trump campaign ahead of the first of his meetings with the ambassador, and his ties to Trump world are deep and far-reaching. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump; served as chairman of his national security advisory committee; is seen as an intellectual godfather of key Trump administration policies, like the travel ban against citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries; was a frequent presence at Trump Tower during the post-election transition to the White House; and loaned key members of his senior staff to the Trump campaign, several of whom ended up with plum roles in the administration.

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Republicans on a House committee with jurisdiction over the Obamacare repeal legislation will be viewing the current version of the bill in secret in a basement room of a office building adjoining the Capitol Thursday, the Washington Examiner, Bloomberg and other outlets reported. GOP members and staff of the Energy and Commerce Committee will only be able to look at the legislation and will be prohibited from making copies, Bloomberg reported.

The opaque process comes after a leak of a draft version of the legislation last week sent the House Republican conference into disarray over disagreements about the draft provisions. Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Greg Walden (R-OR) (pictured) told Politico that members were viewing an "initial staff draft," but declined to go into any more detail about the next steps.

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This post has been updated.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with Russia's ambassador to the United States twice before the election while he was a senator and also a surrogate for President Donald Trump's campaign.

The Washington Post first broke the news and a spokeswoman for Sessions, Sarah Isgur Flores, acknowledged that Sessions did meet with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The attorney general did not disclose his contact with Kislyak during his confirmation hearing in January.

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President Donald Trump's first budget proposal is full of red meat for conservatives: a massive hike in military spending paid for by deep cuts to domestic programs that are perennial targets for Republicans, such as the Environmental Protection Agency.

But one key piece of the plan has run into a buzzsaw of opposition from Republican lawmakers: a bid to slash the State Department's funding by more than a third.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) bluntly told reporters this week that a budget with such cuts could "probably not" pass the Senate, and several members of his caucus confirmed to TPM that they would oppose such a move.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told TPM his response to the proposed cuts is: "I don't agree." Asked to elaborate, McCain vehemently repeated "I don't agree" several more times.

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In case anyone was unsure, White House aide Sebastian Gorka emphasized Tuesday that the Trump administration’s foreign policy will remain filtered through the lens of “radical Islamic terrorism.”

The President’s one line on the subject during his speech to a joint session of Congress was the “most important” takeaway, Gorka told Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

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A leaked draft of legislation that represents the closest that congressional Republicans have come to signaling their way forward on repealing the Affordable Care Act is already up in flames, in part due to a revolt from the caucus’ hard right wing over a proposal that has been a mainstay of GOP health plans in recent years.

The objection by conservative members and outside groups to the draft proposal – and especially its inclusion of tax credits for Americans to use on individual insurance – shows how far GOP lawmakers still have to go in resolving the differences within their party over basic health policy questions.

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Additional reporting by Tierney Sneed

WASHINGTON, D.C.—For several days, Republican leaders in the House and Senate have been assuring reporters and the public that President Donald Trump would deliver a “positive” address to his first joint session of Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday afternoon that he was expecting “an upbeat portrayal of what America could be with the kind of changes we are in the process of implementing.”

What Trump ultimately delivered was somewhat more subdued than the apocalyptic rhetoric of his RNC acceptance speech and inaugural address. He vowed at the outset of the speech to "deliver a message of unity and strength,” and he struck a compassionate note by expressing concern about the recent waves of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries.

But after that relatively moderate opening, Trump went on to paint a dark and often misleading portrait of a country with "dying industries," "crumbling infrastructure," a "terrible drug epidemic," "neglected inner cities," and a general "environment of lawless chaos."

It was, in short, "American carnage" all over again, though less angry.

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