Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters as Republicans prepare to use their majority to confirm President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, despite calls from Democrats to delay until requested emails are released, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Obamacare repeal effort is the most chaotic, rudderless, un-Senate-like piece of legislating since … the House revived its bill back in May. But snark aside, the level of confusion and the lack of a real plan for getting the bill (which bill??!) through the Senate is probably unprecedented. At least nothing like it in recent memory.

Tierney Sneed, Alice Ollstein and Cameron Joseph are all over it for us on the Hill today as the key procedural vote is expected this afternoon.

Here’s the very latest: an emerging possibility that the Senate will pass the narrowest of repeal bills and punt the whole process to conference committee.

What that means isn’t entirely certain, but lacking the votes to pass much of anything at this point, McConnell is trying to buy time AND muddy the waters. Once he gets to conference committee, they can remake a bill in negotiations with the House and then give muscling reluctant senators into compliance another shot later.

Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks to members of the media in the Brady Press Briefing room of the White House in Washington, Friday, July 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

I mentioned yesterday that Anthony Scaramucci’s brief – as evidenced by his actions in a few days on the job – looked a lot more like chief advisor or even chief of staff than communications director, which is, paradoxically, a not terribly visible role. Sure enough, according to an overnight story in the Post, Scaramucci has a brief to purge ‘disloyal’ staffers and bring in more people from Fox News.
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Just in from Sen. John McCain’s office:

“Senator McCain looks forward to returning to the United States Senate tomorrow to continue working on important legislation, including health care reform, the National Defense Authorization Act, and new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 17, 2017. The Senate has been forced to put the republican's health care bill on hold for as much as two weeks until Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., can return from surgery. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Senate Republicans still don’t know which Obamacare repeal bill they’ll be voting on this week, or when. The votes don’t seem to be there for either of the two main options under consideration: “repeal and delay” or “repeal and replace.” And yet … they’re not dead either. Both options strip health insurance coverage from tens of millions, but the Senate GOP is trundling along as if it’s no big deal that they don’t know what they’re going to vote on.

Mitch McConnell seems to be calculating that if he can get a majority to vote as soon as tomorrow on a motion to proceed, which would kick off debate on a bill, he can pressure his conference with a combination of amendments, side deals and strong arming to get some bill – ANY bill – passed. All in all, it’s probably not a bad strategy. He hasn’t been able to make that work before now, but it may be the only viable strategy left. It worked for Paul Ryan in the House.

Things are so far gone now that senators are openly speculating whether Sen. John McCain’s surgical incision is sufficiently healed to withstand the pressurized cabin of a jetliner for the flight from Arizona to DC to cast a decisive vote, if needed. No one quite knows what bill he’d be casting a vote on.

I want to clarify and expand on something I noted yesterday. The President stands accused, now with a mounting array of evidence, of conspiring with a hostile foreign power to win the Presidency. He has now made clear that he will not permit any investigation of those accusations.
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With the flurry of news over the last 24 hours over President Trump’s expanding war on Robert Mueller, we’ve heard a growing chorus of voices comparing this battle to that between the Clinton White House and Independent Counsel Ken Starr during the Whitewater/Lewinsky investigations. The comparison is quite simply lazy, baseless and stupid. It is fair to note that I am a bitter critic of President Trump and during the 1990s was a strong supporter of President Clinton. So my perspective is not disinterested. But I think the facts of the matter are so elementary that the case can be argued on the merits in a very convincing way.

Let’s go through some basic facts. 
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The Times and the Post tonight both have stories out reporting the Trump legal team’s expanding war against Special Counsel Robert Mueller and – hyperbolic as it may sound to say – the law itself. While there are a number of individual dimensions to the stories, the larger story, especially from the Post, is that the President refuses to allow the law to apply to himself or his family.
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A host of stories are out tonight on the Trump White House’s new war about Special Counsel and former FBI Director Robert Mueller. But I want to focus on one thing. The Post reports that the President has been canvassing his lawyers about the possibility of pardoning aides, family and even pardoning himself.

From the Post

Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

Remember I explained on Monday how the Trump team’s obsession with getting hacked emails from Clinton’s (allegedly hacked but very likely not hacked) private email server may have spurred the Russian intelligence effort to hack and disclose the DNC and Podesta emails.

Look what this top Trump campaign official was looking at a month before the Don Jr. meeting …

Entirely unsurprisingly, the new New York Times interview with President Trump shows he has learned nothing from the biggest mistakes of the first six months of his presidency. He has turned completely against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of his staunchest loyalists, who he now blames for essentially launching the Russia probe. He is also lashing out at Rod Rosenstein. Sessions and Rosenstein, were complicit, substantively if not legally, in firing FBI Director James Comey, what I believe is to date the greatest impeachable offense of his Presidency.  He is setting out the terms upon which he will fire Robert Mueller. He inexplicably admitted to using his second conversation with Vladimir Putin to discuss the issues that had come up a year ago in that Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr.

You’ve heard about those. What I was almost more interested was the litany of bizarre and often inexplicable statements and claims that came before he even got to those issues. So I took a moment to annotate each of these passages …
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Remarkable NYT interview today with President Trump in the Oval Office, in which he castigated his own attorney general as being “extremely unfair … to the president” for recusing himself from the Russia probe, accused James Comey of using the Steele dossier as leverage over Trump to keep his job, and warned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller would cross a red line if he investigated Trump family finances beyond any Russia connection. There’s much more.

 

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit at the G20 Summit, Friday, July 7, 2017, in Hamburg. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

I have never been convinced that our current policy of trying to unseat the Assad government in Syria is the only reasonable one for the US to pursue or even the correct one. A couple years ago I wrote that I wasn’t sure it made sense, or was even logical, to think we could battle ISIS in Syria and the Assad regime at the same time.

I know there are strong contrary arguments. The situation on the ground is now quite different with respect to ISIS and Assad than it was two years ago. But that’s not my point here. My point here is simply to grant that it is not inherently questionable or suspicious to end our covert support for anti-Assad rebels in Syria, as President Trump has just done, according to reports this afternoon. But it is highly, highly disquieting in the context of Trump’s extremely suspicious behavior with respect to Russia in general.
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TPM’s Cameron Joseph talked to some disgruntled GOP House members who cast risky votes for Obamacare repeal only to see it die in the Senate: “I just find it interesting to note the number of geniuses serving in the United States Senate,” said one, after Speaker Paul Ryan warned members not to disparage the Senate. Give it a read.

President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House, Thursday, May 4, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

With the apparent (zombies are undead) collapse of Obamacare repeal, I thought it made sense to republish these handy infographics. Back on May 4th, 2017, the House passed the American Health Care Act, which included devastating coverage loss numbers across the country. House Republicans who voted for it went to the White House shortly thereafter to celebrate bigly with laughs and guffaws and cheers and backslapping all around. Here are some of the best pictures of the celebration with President Trump, with annotations noting how many constituents would lose their coverage in each member’s district.

Click the “read more” link to see the full story where the photos are large enough to easily read the annotations.


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I was discussing with a friend this morning that much of the drama and chaos of the first months of the Trump administration is explained by a simple fact: President Trump thinks running the US government is essentially like running his private family business in which people work for him (it’s a very personalized operation) and people have to do what he says. That’s not how the US government works at all. It’s not even how the executive branch runs.
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From left, White House Senior Counselor for Economic Initiatives Dina Powell, President Donald Trump's White House Senior Adviser Steve Bannon and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster attend a news conference with President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the East Room at the White House, Wednesday, April 12, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Check out our look at some of choicest nuggets from Josh Green’s new bio of Steve Bannon, “Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency,” the first big book of the Trump era. How about the time Bannon raged at Speaker Paul Ryan as “a limp-dick motherfucker who was born in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation”? Broken clock, a way with words … Josh will be taking your questions in The Hive on Friday at 9:00 AM eastern. Get your questions in now and join Josh at The Hive Friday morning.

As you can see, this evening a rapid-fire succession of events appears to have closed the door on Trumpcare 2.0 in the Senate. That doesn’t mean Obamacare repeal is over by any means. But it’s another major defeat. And after a while defeats tend to grow on themselves. I fully expect Mitch McConnell to go back to the drawing board, tinker with the bill and try again. But this is the first time I sense that McConnell’s next attempt may be harder than the last. Or, to put it a different way, it’s possible that this defeat for the repealers may prove a turning point in the grinding war over Obamacare repeal even though it will not be the final battle. 
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In the wake of Sen. Ron Johnson pulling back on his clear support for Senate Trumpcare 2.0, Sens Lee and Moran have now also pulled their support altogether. That leaves Mitch McConnell well under the 50 votes required for passage. Expect other conservatives and moderates to jump off the ship probably as soon as this evening.

This is a big, big development. But it would be quite wrong to see this as the end of Obamacare repeal. Expect McConnell to take at least another crack at rejiggering the bill for eventual passage.

Over the last few weeks we’ve seen a rush of new data points on the Russia collusion front. But there’s one point which wasn’t new to me precisely but reminded me of something I’d lost focus on as the Russia/collusion story has heated up. That is, the GOP quest for Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 deleted emails.

Let’s go back more than two years ago, to March 2015. That’s when news of Hillary Clinton’s ‘private email server’ first came out. Closely coupled with that news was Clinton’s announcement that her lawyers had separated out the personal from professional emails, turned over the latter to the State Department and destroyed the former. I remember this quite clearly and quite painfully because, as I wrote here at the time, I knew this was classic Clinton and would lead to endless bad news. Not illegal, probably not wrong but exactly the kind of decision that would lead to months and years of horrible press and political self-inflicted wounds.
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Okay, I probably do need to say more. We’re just past midway through our annual drive and have a goal to meet by the close of the month. Are you a longtime reader? If you haven’t taken a moment to sign up for Prime, please take a moment to do so today. It’s important and we appreciate it no end.

Our reading for today comes from Seinfeld, Episode #29 …

George: Was that wrong? Should I have not done that? I tell you I gotta plead ingnorance on this thing because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frouned upon, you know, cause I’ve worked in a lot of offices and I tell you people do that all the time.

Some of you will recognize this passage from a classic episode of Seinfeld, which now seems hilariously and painfully familiar. We’ve now heard from the President’s son, the President’s top media toadies and now even the President himself a simple message: Yes, we’d work with a hostile foreign intelligence service to get dirt on and defeat a political enemy. Anyone would. “That’s politics!” as the President put it this morning. In other words, we’ve now gone rapidly from “no collusion, no obstruction” to “collusion is awesome.”
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