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Cameron Joseph

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.

Articles by Cameron

From Laguna Beach, with love.

Russia’s favorite congressman is claiming that a months-old report proves “the so-called hacking of the Democratic National Committee before last year’s elections could not have been done by Russians, but was instead an inside job made to look like Moscow’s handiwork.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) famously said was one of “two people I think Putin pays” besides President Trump, has long been Russia’s leading defender in Congress. He’s now out touting a report from retired intelligence officials released back in January, claiming it shows that Russia couldn’t have been involved.

“The findings of these specialists destroy the credibility of the charges that Russia hacked the system, disclosed the emails, and thus greatly impacted the outcome of the last election,”Rohrabacher said in a press release from his congressional office. “These bogus charges have done great damage to our ability to work with Russia and have distracted the American people from the real threat of radical Islamic terrorism. This phony campaign has been used to disrupt the right of our new president to accomplish his goals and set the policies approved by the American voters.”

Rohrabacher said in his Thursday press release that he’d circulated the report by retired intelligence officials among his GOP colleagues to push back on the bipartisan consensus that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

That report, however, came out months ago, before Trump was even inaugurated. And rather than offer any evidence that the entire U.S. intelligence community’s analysis that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election to help boost Trump over Hillary Clinton was wrong, it only questions those findings and called on Trump to get to the bottom of things.

Rohrabacher has long been a strident Russia defender — and the FBI reportedly warned him back in 2012 that Russian spies were trying to recruit him as an asset. The congressman brags that he once lost a drunken arm-wrestling match with now-Russian President Vladimir Putin back in the 1990s, and has defended many Russian actions viewed as dangerous by other politicians, including its invasion of Ukraine and meddling in Syria.

But what once seemed like oddball views have taken on a new light in the wake of the past election — and Rohrabacher’s once-safely Republican seat has moved rapidly away from his party. Trump lost Rohrabacher’s district by a narrow margin last year, and House Democrats have named him as a top target in the 2018 elections.

Democrats were quick to pounce on Rohrabacher’s latest bear-hug of Russia.

“Congressman Rohrabacher’s representation of Russia instead of his constituents has long been seen as a comical distraction by Republican leadership in Washington. But with the American intelligence community having already stated that Russia attempted to influence our election, and a mounting pile of evidence showing that he has done Vladimir Putin’s bidding in Washington, Congressman Rohrabacher’s peddling in conspiracies and lies to protect his Russian puppeteers is outrageous,” a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman said in a statement.

Gen. John Kelly sailed through his Senate confirmation to head the Department of Homeland Security. President Trump’s next nominee isn’t likely to be so lucky.

Democrats raised few objections when Trump picked Kelly to head DHS at the beginning of his presidency, viewing him as the best they could hope to oversee the implementation of Trump’s controversial plans on undocumented immigrants and refugees and deciding to use their efforts to battle other more vulnerable cabinet picks.

Many knew Kelly from his time as a high-ranking marine, and hoped he would stand up to Trump on some of his most draconian and unrealistic demands. He cruised through his committee hearing and was confirmed by the full Senate on an 88-11 vote as Senate Democratic leaders left him off their list of Trump nominees to target for defeat.

Since then, however, Democrats have been sorely disappointed that Kelly hasn’t done more to fight Trump’s worse impulses or rein in his ICE agents as they dramatically ramped up deportations and split up families. With his exit to become Trump’s chief of staff, there are signs that whoever the president names is in for a battle.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee isn’t exactly set up to be a home for the anti-Trump resistance — four of the committee’s seven Democrats hail from states Trump won, and three of them face reelection next year. But some of those Democrats indicate they’re ready to show more backbone this time around.

“There’s going to be an opportunity to recap what they’ve done and why they’ve done it and see if we can make it so that families aren’t torn apart,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who backed Kelly’s nomination in the committee and the full Senate, told TPM Monday evening. “It gives us an opportunity to make the process work better. We’ll see in the end, but it gives an opportunity to ask some important questions.”

While there have been reports that Kelly has stood up to the president on certain issues including the Muslim ban, many Democrats have been dismayed by his company man attitude and his fierce defense of ICE agents as they executed wholesale roundups of undocumented immigrants, split up families and dismissed normal protocols for prioritizing the deportation of violent criminals ahead of otherwise law-abiding border-crossers. Kelly fired back hard at any criticism of his agents or his department, telling lawmakers in public and private that if they didn’t like how his agents were doing their jobs they should change the law.

“A number of my colleagues have said to me they regretted their vote for him,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), one of the 11 Democrats who voted against Kelly, told TPM.

The big question is who Trump will nominate. Rumors have flown that Attorney General Jeff Sessions could be moved over to the department.

“We’ll see what happens with the attorney general, that’s certainly a matter of major interest right now. There’s been talk about him taking Homeland Security. That would be extremely contentious,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) said.

But that seems unlikely since Trump has even less trust in Sessions’ deputy than his former close ally turned punching bag, and the move would set up a huge fight over Sessions’ replacement, as well as an eventual battle to confirm Sessions himself (that would be delayed since Sessions has already been confirmed by the Senate fir his current post).

Democrats also say they know little about Elaine Duke, Kelly’s former deputy and now the acting head of the agency. Duke could be the pick, sidestepping a bigger confirmation fight since she’s already in charge. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), a Trump loyalist but one that is respected across the aisle, could also face less of a fight.

But controversial Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has long pined for the position and has been rumored to be in the mix as well. A Kobach nomination would likely spur a brutal confirmation fight focused on his long involvement in anti-immigration efforts (he wrote Arizona’s draconian immigration law and many other states’) as well as his crusade against voter fraud.

Democrats say that they’re bracing for a fight over the nomination, planning to use it to reevaluate how the department is being run and spotlight Trump’s anti-immigrant crusades, which many say have flown under the radar as other Trump scandals and the GOP’s Obamacare repeal fight have dominated the headlines.

“We should take a look at exactly what has happened as opposed to just the words people speak about their intentions. There was a lot of what happened in the confirmation hearings writ large that was about ‘who will speak truth to power’ and I think the time that has passed since that first wave of confirmations has given us the chance to really see whether people really speak truth to power and walk truth to power in terms of their actions,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), the lone Democrat to vote against Kelly’s confirmation on the committee.

“The solution here is not rounding people up who are undocumented in this country and deporting them,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) said. “I’m looking for somebody who is fair and balanced … who understands that on the front lines the men and women in [ICE] have discretion and they need to be given guidance on how to use that discretion.”

Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

This story was updated at 9:34 a.m.

Still dazed from the spectacular collapse of their efforts to repeal Obamacare, Republicans are now confronted with the question of whether they’ll seek to help Americans in states where insurers are pulling out of the individual marketplaces and premiums are rising without trying to gut the program.

Until now, most Republicans have been happy to watch some state-level individual health insurance exchanges sputter along, using those struggles as their main talking point for how Obamacare is failing under its own weight as the Trump administration exacerbated some of the exchanges’ problems.

They assumed they’d be able to execute a broader policy change rather than worry about shoring up the markets. But after admitting defeat (at least for now) on a broad overhaul of the law, Republicans are beginning to come to grips with what to do going forward.

“We’ve got to do something. The repeal effort’s dead so I think the next logical thing is we have to try to reach out and figure out where we can make health care better,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) told TPM Friday, just hours after the Senate failed to pass a placeholder bill to keep Obamacare repeal efforts moving. “This is kind of all new territory for us, we’re getting our sea legs under us.”

Democrats are hopeful that their GOP brethren will be ready to move forward and craft a plan to stabilize the exchanges in the states that have been struggling.

“I think at the very beginning we should stabilize the system. We should make permanent a cost sharing, which keeps people’s premiums down and keeps the counties that are covered up,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a press conference Friday morning, a few hours after the GOP bill failed on the Senate floor. “We should look at reinsurance.”

But it’s unclear if Republicans are ready to move on and help fix the very real problems of some state-based exchanges in places like Iowa and Missouri where parts of states are left with just one, or even zero, health care options.

President Trump, the man with by far the most power over that issue, has indicated he’s happy to let the exchanges continue to struggle — and threatened over the weekend to intentionally torpedo them.

Trump has said many things he’s failed to follow through on. But the Trump administration has sought to undercut the Affordable Care Act ever since he was sworn in, from kneecapping efforts to get more people enrolled in the programs (and consequently bring down costs) to signing a vague executive order on his first day in office implying the IRS might not enforce the individual mandate’s tax penalties to removing any references to the ACA on the Health and Human Services Department website, making it harder for people looking for information on how to get enrolled to find it.

Their biggest potential sabotage may still be to come — and will be the first major test for whether Republicans are ready to work in a bipartisan way to help Americans after their efforts collapsed, or whether they’ll look to hurt the markets for political reasons to try to force Democrats to the table, as Trump has threatened.

The administration faces a deadline next month to pay out subsidies to insurers known as “cost-sharing reductions,” which were the target of a 2014 GOP House lawsuit and Trump has threatened to halt in order to implode the individual market.

Past those basic payments, some state individual exchanges do need support — be it more federal subsidies or program tweaks — to get them functioning better. And while lawmakers in both parties aren’t crazy about the idea of just throwing more money at insurers to entice them back into those markets, most admit they need to do something going forward.

Republicans are split on whether to do either, though most believe that pulling the CSR payments would be policy malpractice, intentionally hurting Americans to make a political point, and carry big political risk.

“I have said since December that while the CSR payments are not constitutional they need to be made in a legal way so that the market does not collapse. I have not changed my mind on that. We have to put the consumer first,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), whose committee is responsible for large chunks of healthcare policy, told TPM Friday morning. “If we don’t make the CSR payments, it’s the consumer that suffers.”

Still, as they woke up to the realization that they may be stuck with Obamacare in spite of holding unified control of Washington, plenty of Republicans weren’t feeling as charitable.

“This is not the day to talk to me about putting more money into a system that’s failing,” grumbled Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), Walden’s predecessor as Energy and Commerce Chairman. “We don’t want them to fail but everybody that’s been voting no needs to come up with a plan that doesn’t cost more money and lowers premiums. If they can do that then come see me, but don’t come to me with more federal subsidies. That dog doesn’t hunt.”

There are some positive signs of bipartisan efforts. The chairman and ranking member of the Senate committee tasked with dealing with the largest chunks of healthcare, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) have expressed interest in working in a more bipartisan way to handle legislation on the topic going forward.

“I voted to take the next step toward what I believed was our best opportunity to repeal and replace Obamacare. The Senate’s failure to do this leaves an urgent problem that I am committed to addressing: Tennessee’s state insurance commissioner says our individual insurance market is very near collapse,” Alexander said in a statement after the vote failed.

And a bipartisan group of House lawmakers are slotted to unveil a plan to help stabilize state health exchanges while shrinking the employer mandate on Monday.

But even those Republicans who say they want to work in good faith to improve things in the short term aren’t sure what can be accomplished, given a deep distrust that Democrats will work with them in good faith to make changes in spite of repeated overtures from across the aisle. And they hint they’d been so focused on repealing Obamacare, they weren’t prepared with plans if it stood.

“I haven’t really thought about this very much,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) told TPM Friday when asked what to do to stabilize the markets, before thinking out loud about his options. “I’m not for letting things fail but … throwing good money after bad indefinitely is not going to work either.”

House Republicans are “frustrated” and “disappointed” that their Senate colleagues let their push to repeal Obamacare collapse early Friday morning — and after years of taking guff as the more dysfunctional chamber, they are more than happy to fire back.

As they came out of a Friday morning meeting where they’d expected to be discussing how to proceed with Obamacare repeal only to wake up and find the efforts had failed, congressmen took aim at an upper chamber many described as fickle, byzantine and incompetent.

“It gives you a sense of our frustration. Maybe now the rest of the American people get to see that even with as cantankerous and fractious [a conference] as we have in the House, we’re getting our work done. It’d be nice to actually have the Senate step up and do theirs,” Rep. Dave Schweikert (R-AZ) told TPM before laughing at a reference to an old Washington saw — and relaying his own version.

“You’ve all heard that joke: You’re a brand new member and the guy pops up next to you and says ’see across the hall, that’s the opposition. The other side of the capitol, that’s your enemy.’ Turns out, it could be true,” he said.

Schweikert is a hardline conservative who once mulled a primary challenge to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the man who dealt the death blow to the Senate bill early Friday morning. But even normally circumspect GOP House leaders wanted to make sure everyone knew who to blame.

“People are frustrated. We did our job and we’re not able to move forward with the Senate as a partner at this time,” House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), a key player on health care, told reporters. “We needed some vehicle from them in order to get into conference and we did not get that despite trying to help them in every way possible.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) led the closed-door meeting by reciting lyrics to the old song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” a ballad about a ship sinking just miles from shore — “Does any one know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours? The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay if they’d put fifteen more miles behind her.”

And the speaker was pointedly critical of the Senate in his public statement.

“We were sent to Washington to fulfill the pledges we made to our constituents. While the House delivered a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, unfortunately the Senate was unable to reach a consensus,” he said. “I am disappointed and frustrated, but we should not give up. I encourage the Senate to continue working toward a real solution that keeps our promise.”

Rank-and-file members were even more pissed off.

“They tried to do the most minuscule thing they could that was said to be relevant to [Obamacare] but it turned out they were way too ambitious,” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) groused to TPM as he left the meeting. “I have never, ever seen a situation where the senators were calling to say ‘look, we can only pass this bill if you promise us you won’t pass it.’ I’ve never, ever heard that.”

This post was last updated at 6:28 p.m. EST.

Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

A quartet of crucial Senate Republicans said they won’t back Senate leadership’s “skinny repeal” of Obamacare on Thursday unless they get a guarantee the House won’t just pass it into law, enough to kill the effort to repeal the law.

“There’s increasing concern on my part and others that what the house will do is take whatever we pass… go directly to the house floor, vote on it and that goes to the president’s desk,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), flanked by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA).

“The skinny bill as policy is disaster. The skinny bill as replacement for Obamacare is a fraud,” Graham continued, referring to GOP leaders’ plan to pass a bill that eliminates the individual and employer mandates of Obamacare while touching almost no other parts of the law. “I need assurances from the speaker of the House and his team. … If I don’t get those assurances I’m a no.”

McCain concurred, saying “I am voting no” unless he has a guarantee of support.

Johnson made similar comments, saying “Just give us the assurance that whatever we pass tonight will go to conference,” while Cassidy was critical though less specific about his plan.

Afterwards, Johnson told reporters he’d been texting with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and that Ryan knew they’d planned the press conference.

The senators hold plenty of leverage — if they vote no it dooms the bill, as GOP leadership has just two votes to spare heading into a late night vote-a-rama that will determine whether their partisan Obamacare repeal efforts keep going or fall apart.

But that guarantee isn’t something House leaders have yet been willing to promise — and it’s not exactly clear how they could make it ironclad since once the Senate passes a bill, the House can just send it along.

House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) told TPM shortly before the conference that the plan was to “gather with our members” and figure out next steps, repeatedly refusing to rule out passing whatever the Senate passes if they find it palatable enough.

“We’ll wait to see what’s coming out of the Senate and make a determination on conference or accepting it. So not yet known, really depends on what the Senate sends out,” he said.

Other senior Republicans were more explicit.

“They can demand anything they want but I’m not giving any commitment to any senator,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) told reporters less than an hour before Graham’s comments, shortly after GOP leaders told members to keep their travel plans loose in case there are weekend votes.

“If we’re voting on Saturday, it would be the skinny bill,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), a close ally of President Trump who helped negotiate a part of the original House bill that won over some moderate New York Republicans.

And a spokeswoman for Ryan emailed just as the press conference was beginning that “Conference Committee is one option under consideration.”

Graham’s demands were a lot more specific than GOP leaders, who have put their good faith in House leaders to go to a conference committee where both sides would negotiate a plan both sides could pass.

“We’re going to get this bill out, and get it to them, and trust them to do the right thing,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said Thursday afternoon.

But if conference fails and the Senate bill is the only option besides failure, it’s still easy to see how the House would decide to try to push through the Senate’s legislation.

Even Graham was unclear when asked what type of ironclad promise Ryan and company could make him to relieve his concerns enough.

“We don’t have it,” he said. “It’s like pornography: You know it when you see it.”

Once more unto the breach.

The Senate returned to session Thursday at 10 a.m. ET with 10 hours of debate left on the official clock before the start of an expected hours-long “vote-a-rama” on amendments. That is expected to end with a crucial vote to repeal Obamacare late Thursday night or, more likely, past midnight on Friday morning. But what exactly that vote will be on—and what comes in between now and then—are mysteries to most senators.

The only vote that was officially on the schedule as of Thursday morning was a GOP amendment put up by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) to try to force Democrats on the record as to whether they support a single-payer plan for healthcare.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the leading champion of single payer, has already said he’ll vote against it, and most Democrats are expected to follow suit when the vote comes to the floor around 2:15 p.m. ET.

Past that, it’s anyone’s guess how the Senate’s day rumbles along ahead of a dramatic vote for the GOP to keep alive their efforts to repeal Obamacare—most likely using a “skinny repeal” option that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) still hasn’t shared with lawmakers.

“Senators will have the opportunity to consider many, many more amendments here tonight,” McConnell said Thursday morning as the Senate came back into session. “We know it is likely to be a very long night.”

According to Reuters, Republicans’ current plan is to actually write that skinny plan early Thursday afternoon during their weekly policy luncheon beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET. Rumor has it that moderates from states that expanded Medicaid are pushing for money for opioid treatment programs.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) declared Wednesday evening that Democrats wouldn’t offer any amendments until McConnell officially unveiled that plan, which is rumored to contain repeals of the employer and individual mandates as well as the medical device tax, but could contain other options. That means both sides may play a waiting game until Republicans drop their bill — before Democrats unload dozens, and potentially hundreds, of amendments.

It’s still unclear if McConnell actually has the votes to pass his “skinny” plan. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) voiced skepticism about it on Wednesday and moderates like Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have said they want to see what the bill actually is before voting on it.

But most Republicans seem reluctantly on board with the plan to keep Obamacare repeal efforts alive. Lawmakers in both parties expect that McConnell has the votes to squeeze the bill through, allowing it to get to a conference with House leaders where they can try to achieve what McConnell failed to do on his own and come up with a plan that can pass both chambers.

With uncertainty about whether just a few amendments will be offered or a bucketload of them, anyone outside McConnell’s office is purely guessing at what the day might hold.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) told TPM Thursday morning, with a note of uncertainty and a quizzical half-shrug, that he thought votes were expected “late afternoon.”

McConnell’s office said time was likely to expire “this afternoon/early evening,” and promised other amendments after Daines’s, although an aide declined to say what those would be.

“I don’t know if Dems will continue to miss opportunities to have amendments,” said a McConnell aide.

Democrats are even more in the dark.

“We have ten hours of debate left, no sense of anything after 2:15,” one Democratic leadership aide told TPM.

Stay tuned for what could be a wild day, and night.

This story was updated at 2:08 p.m. to more accurately reflect the process of the vote-a-rama.

Senate Republicans predict their “skinny repeal” of Obamacare will never become law if they pass it through their chamber. But their colleagues in the House — and their own leaders — aren’t making any promises.

Rank-and-file Republican senators are girding themselves to vote for a trimmed-down repeal of Obamacare that pulls out the unpopular individual and employer mandates without touching much of the rest of the program, convinced that the House wouldn’t just take their exact bill and send it along to President Trump to sign.

Their argument is the bill buys them time and acts as an empty vessel for congressional leaders to pour the magic potion of a passable replacement into during a conference between House and Senate leaders. They say the worst-case scenario at that point is that no bill materializes and the effort collapses later instead of this week.

The so-called skinny provision is not a resolution to this problem. It only takes us to the next step, where hopefully we can find it,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) told reporters Wednesday.

 

“To think it’s a leap of faith, obviously you have to have 51 votes at the end of [a conference committee] as well,” Sen James Lankford (R-OK) told TPM. “The House is not going to pass it.”

But that’s not a given. There’s no reason to think a conference committee will have any better luck finding a bill that 50 GOP senators and 218 GOP congressmen can support. At that point, there’s a real possibility that whatever the Senate passes would be passed into law by desperate House Republicans before the Senate ever gets to touch it again.

If the Obamacare repeal debate has proven anything, it’s that many GOP lawmakers are a lot more interested in what’s politically possible than what’s good policy. It’s easy to see how passing something, anything, might become the mantra if conference negotiations fall apart, President Trump demands a win while congressional leaders make the “but you promised” argument to reluctant lawmakers. It’s what they’ve been doing from the start.

Senate leaders are already hinting at that prospect. Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) floated the idea of Republicans just passing the skinny repeal into law and calling it a day Wednesday afternoon, telling reporters, “The House could take up the Senate bill and pass that or they could amend it and send it back.”

“I would vote for a skinny plan to get into conference to come up with a replacement. If I thought that was all the conference was going to do I wouldn’t vote for it,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told TPM during a Wednesday afternoon scrum.

When told of Cornyn’s comment later in the evening, Graham responded: “Well then I won’t vote for that. I think that would be a joke, that would be a punt.”

But while House Republicans aren’t exactly thrilled with the Senate’s proposal, some say that if they’re faced with a choice between making no changes to Obamacare and repealing the mandates they’ll take the latter.

It would be better than nothing, no doubt,” Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) told TPM.

Collins, a close ally of President Trump and a member of the moderate Tuesday Group who helped negotiate a side deal that got some key New York Republicans onboard with the House’s bill, said he wanted to see a much more comprehensive repeal. But he predicted that if the “skinny repeal” is the only option, it would have a real chance at passing the House.

“Everyone agrees the employer mandate, employee mandate and medical device tax all have got to go. So there’s no disagreement. There would be significant disappointment if that’s all that was but if that’s literally all that was and never anything else, it’s better than nothing,” he said.

Some hardline conservatives sounded open to that possibility as well.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said he was “undecided” about what he’d do if he was left with a choice between nothing and a partial repeal that only targeted the individual markets.

“It’s hard to be thrilled about an action like that. On the other hand, to repeal the individual and employer mandate is a big deal, and the medical device tax,” he told TPM.

Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), a member of the uncompromisingly conservative House Freedom Caucus, sounded a similar note.

“Is it better than doing nothing and keeping Obamacare, which is failing? I don’t know. I have to look at that,” he told TPM. “Intuitively, I would say doing something is better than nothing, but that may not be the case … the whole thing could collapse just like Obamacare.”

House GOP leadership aides refused to speculate about the prospect of taking a vote on the skinny legislation, pointing out that they — and everyone else — had no idea what Senate Republicans would actually vote on, and accurately pointing out that even if they do agree to a conference committee it’s far from clear what might come out of it.

Plenty of other House members have been critical of the rumored skinny repeal plan as well.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said there was “zero” chance of the bill passing.

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), the Tuesday Group member who negotiated the amendment with Meadows which allowed the original repeal bill to pass the House, told TPM that rolling back the mandates without a wider framework change could “hasten the demise” of the individual markets by spiking insurance rates “without any responsible replacement.”

“Just dismantling a couple of pieces of it is a good way to make it worse,” he said.

Experts agree with MacArthur. The CBO has found that average insurance premiums would spike by 20% over current rates and 16 million fewer people would have insurance if the mandates are repealed. On top of that, Republicans privately worry that passing the bill would be politically toxic because they’d hurt the individual markets — and take the blame for all of the markets’ problems, much as Democrats have ever since Obamacare passed.

Some senators argue that even a skinny repeal is better than none if that’s what they get stuck with.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) said the point was to get to conference, but he argued it could help spur future change.

“If that were to occur, then you would have a skinny and a two-year delay, at which time for now everything stays the same and we have chaos in the Obamacare markets for the next two years because there literally is going to be a 20 percent [premium] increase in January,” he said.

But their House brethren caution that the senators who are so cocksure that they’ll get a bill back out of conference report back for a final veto should look a bit more carefully.

“They’re going with Kierkegaard. It’s a giant leap of faith,” said Brat.

In case Senate Republicans’ efforts to pass a bill to both repeal and replace Obamacare didn’t look dire enough already, the Senate parliamentarian has decided two more portions of the bill can’t be included without a 60-vote threshold.

That’s the latest nail in the coffin for the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the main vehicle Senate Republicans had been using for a full repeal-and-replace plan.

According to Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee, the parliamentarian has struck down even larger portions of the bill than before. The latest parts of the bill subject to the so-called “Byrd Bath,” violating the Byrd rule that constrains what can be considered under reconciliation, are the GOP’s plan to allow insurers to charge older Americans five times more for health insurance than younger ones, and a provision allowing small businesses to create health associations that could be sold across state lines.

That’s on top of a whole host of other objections the parliamentarian has made that already were going to force a 60-vote majority to pass and kill the bill, as it currently doesn’t even have majority support in the Senate.

The most major ones are concessions to moderate Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and conservative Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that have yet to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office, and Senate GOP leaders have acknowledged would take 60 votes to pass.

Senate Republicans could theoretically overrule the parliamentarian — but it would gut an age-old tradition in the Senate and essentially eliminate the legislative filibuster. Enough Republicans are wary of doing so, even if they liked the bill, that this isn’t going to happen.

That means this bill — the one Republican leaders had put their backs into for months — is all but dead. Another provision for a full repeal of the bill with no replacement also doesn’t have majority support. That leaves only the “skinny” option  that Republicans are still formulating that is rumored to repeal the individual and employer mandates (and essentially kick the bill to a conference committee with the assumption that this bill is unlikely to become law).

That option buys Republicans time. But it doesn’t offer them any clear path forward on how to find agreement on a bill that could eventually pass with just 50 votes in the Senate — especially as the parliamentarian has now struck down more portions of the bill they may have hoped to use in any future version of the legislation.

Updated at 1:16 p.m. ET

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) big plan to keep his Obamacare repeal efforts alive on Tuesday might come down to passing a narrowly tailored bill with provisions that are broadly popular with Republicans, letting them get to a conference committee with House Republicans without having to make any hard decisions.

The plan being discussed among senators would be to get through a motion to proceed to full debate on the House-passed American Health Care Act. Then after every amendment fails — both a straight repeal of the law and the Senate-crafted replacement plan that have failed to get 50 Republicans onboard as well as any Democrats offer to put GOP senators on the spot — the Senate would vote for a “skinny” plan to effectively repeal the employer and individual health care mandates, as well as the unpopular medical device tax, GOP aides tell TPM.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) hinted at that plan on Monday night, and Republican senators were discussing whether or not they could sign onto that plan as of Tuesday morning, just hours ahead of a crucial vote on a motion to proceed to debate on the legislation. If the motion to proceed fails, that could kill the bill once and for all.

“If we get anything out of the Senate, even if it’s narrow, you can then get into conference with the House,” Corker told reporters Monday evening.

And even some of the fiercest critics of earlier versions of the bill sounded ready to get on board with the more narrowly tailored provisions.

“If we cannot pass full, clean 2015 repeal, I’ve also been told we will vote on whatever version of CLEAN repeal we can pass,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) tweeted Tuesday morning. “Repealing mandates & taxes, without new spending and bailouts. This is the path I’ve been urging, and what I discussed with @realDonaldTrump. If this is indeed the plan, I will vote to proceed and I will vote for any all measures that are clean repeal.”

Paul went further during a talk with reporters early Tuesday afternoon, saying the skinny repeal is “what we’re talking about” — and arguing it include more than just repealing the mandates and medical device tax.

“There are ways to combine the 2015 repeal bill with the Senate leadership bill to a certain extent, and there are little items that can be paired together,” he told TPM during a scrum with reporters, saying that’s what senators planned to talk about at their policy luncheon ahead of the vote.

That’s far from a full repeal of the law, might not be workable policy in the real world, and doesn’t offer any clarity on what a final bill would look like. But it would buy Republican leadership time by getting into a full conference with the House and try to craft a repeal bill that could pass both chambers, taking the immediate pressure off of them to pass or fail on a bill on Tuesday.

It remains unclear whether that’s definitely the Republican plan — or that enough senators will go along to pass it — but it seems like the only one that might succeed at this point.

Though there’s broad consensus among Republican senators that the individual and employer mandates and medical device tax should be repealed, and the vote could put a few red-state Democrats on the spot, conservatives and moderates alike may balk at kicking the can further down the road and trusting that McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) can come to agreement on a plan that they’d want to vote for later on.

Hardline conservative Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) office told TPM that he’s “undecided” on voting for such an an approach, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters Tuesday morning that he couldn’t support that plan.

“I don’t know if they’ve got 50 but I know that I’m not going to vote for something that’s a scaled down version, that’s a political punt,” he said, according to Politico.

But Paul’s support is big — and could signal other conservatives getting onboard.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) signaled Tuesday morning that he could support the so-called “skinny repeal.”

“I think it’s critical to honor our promise to repeal Obamacare,” Cruz said.

McConnell’s office didn’t deny that plan was in the mix, though they refused to offer any details.

“We haven’t made any announcements on amendments or predictions as to what amendments will be offered/succeed,” a McConnell spokesman said via email.

But Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the GOP’s No. 2 in the Senate, told reporters that the plan is “getting to conference.”

Democrats are looking to recapture their status as the party of the people after working-class voters abandoned them in droves in 2016 — and see an opening with Republicans’ push to cut Medicaid and Medicare.

Top Democrats unveiled their 2018 slogan Monday afternoon, promising a “better deal” for working families as they look to frame up a positive agenda that can woo back the blue-collar workers who swung to President Trump last fall.

“Average families feel they’re being pushed around by large economic forces and are losing that traditional American faith in the future,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said at a rally with other top congressional Democrats in rural Virginia. “We are here today to tell the people of Berryville and the working people of America: Someone has your back. American families deserve a better deal so this country works for everyone again.”

The slogan isn’t exactly as catchy as “Make America Great Again.” But it’s being billed as a back-to-party-roots effort by Democrats after many blue-collar workers abandoned them last fall, costing them the White House and Senate.

Hillary Clinton won voters from households making less than $50,000 annually by just 12 percentage points, down from the 22-point advantage President Obama had among that group in 2012, according to exit polls.

But midterm elections are almost always a referendum on the party in power. And Democrats hope that Republicans have undercut the populist tone that Trump effectively pushed by moving to slash future Medicaid spending in their Obamacare repeal, gut Medicare in their budget and potentially give huge tax breaks to the wealthy in their proposed tax reforms while failing to move on infrastructure investment. They want Republicans to own Trump’s personal unpopularity without any of the benefit of his populist rhetoric.

“The more that people see what the Republican agenda would actually do, the more vulnerable they become to questions that they’re betraying the middle class on the economy. And health care repeal is issue number one in making that case,” said Jesse Ferguson, who worked on House Democrats’ campaign efforts from 2010-2014 and on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a senior House Democrat who is close to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), told TPM that “working families don’t believe that we understand the nature of their lives the economic struggle that they’re engaged in.” She said Democrats made a big mistake by focusing too much on cultural and personality issues at the expense of pocketbook ones 2016, allowing Trump to “jump into the void” with a populist economic message.

“Now people are rethinking that,” she said, arguing the Obamacare repeal bill and House GOP leadership’s budget bill show they’re “hell-bent to hurt the American people.”

This approach isn’t exactly novel. Democrats have been beating up Republicans for wanting to gut social programs for decades. Their warnings about Speaker Paul Ryan’s Medicare cuts weren’t enough to help them overcome a difficult map to retake the House in 2012 — or avoid sweeping defeats in 2014. But Democrats say voters are taking those proposals a lot more seriously now that they could actually become law.

“People undersell the extent to which Republicans obfuscated what their true agenda was for the last eight years,” said Ferguson. “The problem is that snake oil doesn’t sell once people see the snake.”

Republicans scoff at another ham-handed slogan, pointing out that the policies in the new agenda were proposed by Hillary Clinton last year: Tax credits for apprenticeships, antitrust rules and regulations on prescription drug prices.

But they warn that their party needs to tread carefully on entitlement reforms, admitting they don’t always sit well with the blue-collar voters that fueled Trumpism and gave Republicans control of Washington.

“The key to all of this is you have to have a good messaging campaign, explain what you’re doing, and I’m not sure Republicans are really doing that,” John Feehery, a Republican strategist who worked for GOP hill leaders, told TPM.

Feehery said during the 2005 debate over Social Security privatization, his Republican father had a clear message to him: “If you fucking touch my Social Security, I’ll fucking kill you.”

Many voters agreed. That push was the beginning of the end for President George W. Bush’s approval ratings, and contributed to the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006.

It remains to be seen whether Democrats put their money where their mouths are in 2018.

While a number of red-state Democratic senators facing reelection are likely to campaign hard on pocketbook issues and protecting programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare — that’s how Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) got elected in the first place — House Democrats haven’t yet proven that they’re willing to invest big money in poorer, less educated districts that have moved sharply away from them in the last decade.

House Democrats spent millions in an unsuccessful effort to win a well-heeled open seat in Georgia even while they invested almost nothing in even more Republican, more rural districts in Montana, South Carolina and Kansas where Democrats over-performed expectations.

Schumer declared the question of whether they’d invest in rural or urban areas a “false choice” during the Virginia press conference, and some Democratic strategists like Ferguson have argued that focusing on more educated, upscale districts that rejected Trump is at least as important as looking to recapture the working class.

But populist-minded Democrats say that the renewed focus on an economic message is a big improvement over where Democrats were six months ago — even if it’s just talking points.

“Even in the worst case scenario that I don’t buy that this is lip service, the fact that they’re laying out this agenda shows they’re realizing they have to tell people they’re for something,” said Pete D’Alessandro, who worked on Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid and is gearing up for a House bid against Rep. David Young (R-IA) in a district Obama won but swung hard for Trump last year. “Once you say it, you’ve opened the door. In a good way they’ve lost control of it now because people are going to be running on those issues.”

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