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David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

Four GOP senators demand some kind of assurance from the House that if the Senate passes “skinny repeal” of Obamacare, the bill will go to conference – and not simply be passed by the House.

The problem, one of many, actually, is there’s no formal mechanism for the House to assure the Senate that it won’t pass a bill the Senate just passed! This isn’t how it works!

Three senators with the capacity and perhaps the propensity to blow up the Senate GOP’s march toward passing a so-called skinny repeal of Obamacare are about to hold a hastily arranged press conference on the Hill. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Ron Johnson. Stay tuned …

The vote is being kept open as the Senate awaits John McCain’s arrival. He flew into DC from Arizona a short time ago. If the vote goes as expected, he’ll be the 50th vote, creating a tie that Vice President Mike Pence will break.

The final gavel has not fallen yet, but the only two GOP no votes right now are Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME). The only other GOP senator who hasn’t voted yet is Ron Johnson (WI). It’s not clear why Johnson hasn’t voted yet. He and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are currently talking on the Senate floor.

The scene of a dramatic return by McCain seems by design, perhaps to cloak the bizarre process in some seriousness.

Update: McCain cast 49th yes vote, and Johnson cast the 50th. No final gavel yet. But should be soon.

Key movement in the last few minutes that suggests the motion to proceed on Obamacare repeal is likely to pass later this afternoon. We don’t have all the undecideds nailed down yet, but a key senator in the saga–Dean Heller (R-NV)–just came out with a statement saying that he will vote for the motion. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who were seen as likely to move in tandem, have also just come out in support of the motion to proceed.

Just to give you a sense of the feel of things, via our reporters on the Hill: This has seemed to be moving in the direction of passing the motion to proceed. That’s the general sense from talking with senators, mainly because aside from Susan Collins, the moderate Republican from Maine, no other senators are taking a firm line against proceeding.

Senators are already spinning “skinny repeal” (what an awful phrase) as a legit option.

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.

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 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.

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