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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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President Trump pointed to the premium hikes a guest of his at the White House Tuesday was facing as his reason to “do something” about the Affordable Care Act — a move that may come in an executive order as soon as this week.

Never mind that the guest Trump cited was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who is 94 years old and thus eligible for Medicare. It is unlikely that Kissinger is getting his insurance from Obamacare’s individual market, yet Trump claimed that he did not want to “pay 116 percent increase in his premiums.”

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Less than two hours after the Trump administration unveiled its widely expected move to gut Obamacare’s birth control mandate, the American Civil Liberties Union announced Friday that it was filing a lawsuit challenging the regulation change.

The lawsuit is being filed on the behalf of a Notre Dame Law student, Kate Rochat, as well as members of a union, Service Employee International Union-United Health Care Workers West. The ACLU in its press release said they “are at risk of losing their contraception coverage because of where they work or where they go to school. ”

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The Trump administration officially unveiled Friday a long expected regulation change that would roll back the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate by significantly expanding the opportunity for employers and other entities to get an exemption from it.

The so-called “interim rules,” posted on the federal register, tracks closely with a draft leaked to Vox last Spring. It is expected to draw legal challenges by women’s health groups.

By treating the regulation change as an “interim rule,” the Trump administration is using a fast-track process that avoids the typically months-long public comment period. Interim rules go into effect immediately after they are posted to the Federal Register (though a public comment period will happen while it is in effect.) When the draft version surfaced last spring, legal experts pointed to the process as making the rule more vulnerable to legal challenge, not less.

On the substance, the rule represents a dramatic shift in the federal government’s position on Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. The Obama administration, in the many lawsuits it faced challenging the mandate, argued that the government had a compelling interest in guaranteeing women’s access to contraceptives. The Trump administration is now doing a full reversal on the position in the two interim rules published Friday.

“Although the Departments previously took the position that the application of the Mandate to certain objecting employers was necessary to serve a compelling governmental interest, the Departments have now concluded, after reassessing the relevant interests and for the reasons stated below, that it does not,” the new rules’ preamble said.

The new regulation goes on to grant an exemption to the mandate not just to those with religious objections but entities with “moral convictions” against offering birth control coverage. Under Obama’s HHS, exemption-seekers had to go through a notification process that triggered a third party offering the contraceptives instead — a process that was subject to litigation that was never fully settled. The process still exists under the Trump rule, but employers are now not required to follow it and instead may merely end coverage of birth control once they’ve informed their employees of the change in their coverage plans.

Furthermore, the new rule opens up the exemption to basically anyone who wants it: from a giant, publicly held cooperations to educational institutions to even individuals who object to contraceptives being included in their plans.

The Trump administration quickly downplayed the effects of the regulation change on women seeking contraceptives. The rule document pointed to the government programs that separately offer some access to birth control (programs the administration has sought to cut) and to the fact that there are already some non-compliant Obamacare plans not covering the services that were grandfathered in.

Top women’s health groups were quick to disagree with this assessment of the regulation’s impact.

“The interim final rules released by the Trump administration today are a discriminatory, damaging attack on women’s health and economic security,” Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said in a statement.

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As voting rights advocates had long suspected, a document Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was photographed holding while meeting then President-elect Donald Trump included a proposal to weaken the National Voter Registration Act, which has been an obstacle in Kobach’s quest to implement a proof-of-citizenship requirement for registering to vote.

The document became public Thursday as part of an ACLU lawsuit against Kobach challenging the proof-of-citizenship requirement he’s tried to implement in Kansas.

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A member of the President Trump’s voter fraud commission is continuing his separate crusade of bullying localities into purging their voter rolls, even as a witness at a commission meeting last month questioned the formula the commissioner has used to bring his claims.

For years before J. Christian Adams was named to Trump’s voter fraud commission, he led a private group that sent letters and in some cases brought lawsuits against counties alleging that they had bloated voter rolls in violation of the National Voter Registration Act. To make those claims, he has compared the Census Bureau’s estimate of the number of a county’s citizens of voting age to the number of registered voters on its rolls.

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Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his son-in-law are engaged in an ugly legal battle that escalated last week with the son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, alleging that Manafort was part of a conspiracy to mislead a federal bankruptcy court.

It’s not clear whether their ongoing tussle in a federal bankruptcy court in California will be of interest Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, which reportedly is examining Manafort’s financial practices. Regardless, it illuminates the complex legal and financial situations Manafort has wrapped himself up in over the years. His mounting legal bills are reportedly one of the reasons Manafort recently switched to a different law firm for representation in the Mueller probe.

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Acknowledging that his committee had “hit a wall” when it came to assessing the credibility of the so-called Steele dossier — a controversial document that made a slew of Russia-related allegations against President Trump and his associates— Senate Intel Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) made a personal entreaty  Wednesday urging the dossier’s author to cooperate with the committee’s investigation.

Burr’s comments came during a press conference on Capitol Hill to provide an update on the status of the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Investigation of the explosive dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele has been one area where the committee’s probe has stalled.

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The “general consensus” of the Senate Intelligence Committee thus far is that the  intelligence community was correct in assessing that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 election, the committee chairman said Wednesday.

“Given that we have interviewed everybody that had a hand in the ICA [Intelligence Community Assessment], I think there is general consensus among members and staff that we trust the conclusions of the ICA,” Senate Intel Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) said in a briefing to update reporters on the status of his committee’s Russia investigation.

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Additional reporting by Sam Thielman

It’s been more than three months since the Department of Homeland Security made the shocking revelation that election systems in 21 states were “potentially targeted” by Russian hackers. Yet, understanding what happened where and why some state officials were kept in the dark is still quite convoluted.

The DHS took a major step forward, about a week and a half ago, in bringing about some transparency, by officially notifying the 21 states that had been “targeted.” But even the way that disclosure went down was messy, and prompted some states — some rightfully, some in a bit of posturing — to publicly bash the DHS for the unneeded confusion.

“We spent a lot of time unnecessarily trying to figure out who knew what when,” Reid Magney, a spokesperson for Wisconsin Elections Commission, told TPM Friday, after the commission said in a statement that the DHS had “incorrectly claimed” that Wisconsin had previously been aware of the Russians’ attempted hack.

California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla issued a blistering statement Friday slamming the DHS for being “a year late” and giving the state “bad information.” Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, on the same day, sent DHS a letter calling for it to “correct its erroneous notification.”

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